§ 3.8 p.m.
§ Lord Underhill rose to call attention to the transport needs throughout the country, and in particular to the problem of traffic and transport in the Greater London area; and to move for Papers.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving the Motion standing in my name, I would stress that the question of transport is becoming increasingly one of national importance. We are therefore particularly pleased that so many speakers have put down their names to take part in this debate. I also think that it is very helpful that the Minister will be speaking early in the debate after I have sat down, and will also reply at the conclusion of the debate. That should be extremely helpful.
§ Complaints of congested roads are so many and so widespread that the problem does not need spelling out. These complaints are generally accompanied by concern at the inadequacy of public transport, again in all parts of the country. Transport development, both road and rail, is essential to enable all regions of the country to achieve the benefit of fast freight trains through the tunnel into Europe. I must ask whether the necessary road and rail infrastructure will be ready for the single market in 1992 and for the Channel Tunnel in the following year, 1993. That seems to be important.
§ Most goods are moved by road. Therefore there must be a good primary road network with adequate local feeder roads. In this debate I am not dealing with air and sea transport, but there must be excellent routes both to the airports and the ports of this country. Of other European countries, Germany moves 51 per cent. of its freight by road: France 52 per cent.; Belgium 59 per cent.; but Britain moves a staggering 79 per cent. of its freight by road. Other countries give greater assistance to their rail systems. Of six Community countries, Britain gives the lowest percentage of GDP to assist rail, including the movement of freight.
§ The Government White Paper on roads published recently states that 65 per cent. of haulage journeys are of 50 miles or less and repeats the road federation argument that if there was a 50 per cent. increase in rail freight that would mean a decrease of only 5 per cent. of present total road haulage. But it is stated by those who are conversant with the facts that longer distances make the movement of freight by rail viable. British Rail is making strenuous efforts to do this, as was seen by the successful Rail Freight 1989 conference and exhibition of the varied wagons for speedy movement of freight, which I had the pleasure of attending.
§ More co-ordination is needed. Department of Transport officials present road schemes to Ministers. But British Rail has itself to submit proposals to the Secretary of State which must be justfied by a 7 per cent. return. The Government should themselves initiate possibilities of rail development, including transhipment depots with Customs facilities on site and withiadequate roads to such centres. There should be plans for passenger and freight trains from the north of Watford to 403 proceed round London to the tunnel. Greater efforts should be made to market the facilities available under Section 8 and Section 36 grants for the transfer of freight from road to rail and waterways, instead of waiting for applications to come in. The present criteria of the nature of roads which can be involved in these schemes should be extended.
§ There have been some helpful rail developments, but there is much to make up. The Government have not provided investment but allow British Rail to spend its own money on approved projects on which a 7 per cent. return is desired. I am assured that no money has been given for investment purposes by the Government for at least the last five years.
§ There has been a decline in the public service obligation grant for Network SouthEast and the provincial services. In fact, the government grant to railways will plunge from £1 billion in 1963 to a projected £477 million by 1993.
§ Transport should be considered as a co-ordinated whole, not considered with the road network in isolation from rail, for example. Freight operators will select the transport mode which they consider to be most appropriate. It is obvious that movement of freight from road to rail will help to relieve road congestion and improve the environment. Most passenger travel is by road. The car is with us, although many households, particularly women and the elderly, have no access to a car. Still for many in rural areas the bus is virtually non-existent. We have to consider how to cope with these facts to make life more tolerable. There have been useful road developments, including bypasses, which have brought much improvement in life for many people, but the problem of congestion is still there. I understand that some 600 national and local bypass schemes in the pipeline are still outstanding.
§ A recent CBI report complains of decades of neglect of the transport system and points out that road congestion costs industry, and thereby consumers—you and I—no less than some £15 billion a year. The CBI is pressing for improved road and rail links.
§ The growth in the number of cars and the increase in road traffic has exceeded all planning expectations. The National Audit Office in October 1988 strongly criticised the underestimation of traffic in connection with road schemes and in particular cited the M.25, with its almost daily tailbacks, which all of us hear about when we listen to travel news on the radio. Traffic densities on our motorways and trunk roads are the highest in Europe. The Government's recently issued White Paper on roads states that road traffic increased by 25 per cent. since 1980. It has nearly doubled on motorways and increased by 50 per cent. on trunk roads. In the same period the number of vehicles has increased by 3 million to over 23 million.
§ The roads White Paper sets out a programme for the primary road network which has long been awaited, but it deals only with inter-urban links. These inter-urban links have to start and finish at towns and it is there that the serious problem of congestion occurs. The White Paper refers to 404 stop-start congestion on motorways, but there is no specific reference to delays at motorway interchanges, arrangements for maintenance contraflows and the handling of accidents and emergencies. Is it suggested that the intended widening of motorways will be the answer for all these issues or must further research be carried through?
§ The consultation paper on possible private funding—I am grateful to the Minister for sending me a copy only 48 hours ago—and the responses to that paper will need our most careful study. The involvement of private capital in the Docklands Light Railway extension, the Heathrow-Paddington link and also the Dartford crossing are helpful schemes but I believe we must be very cautious before there is overenthusiasm for the adoption of toll roads on our motorways and other primary networks. Such schemes can involve toll delays. Those of us who go through the Dartford Tunnel will realise the toll delays that can occur despite the numerous lanes that are in operation at Dartford. If there is a suggestion of toll roads, we must ensure that we do not find ourselves drifting into the creation of first-class and second-class road users.
§ The Government have gone a long way to frustrate the Public Transport Authority-Public Transport Executive structure, but I am certain that few will honestly deny that the PTAs greatly improve the development and co-ordination of transport in the metropolitan conurbations, including the important cross-boundary services and grants made to British Rail to assist with rolling stock and passenger services. Public transport cannot be considered apart from land use. The provision of transport is linked to other services and this is most appropriate where the local authority operates the bus services. That would be my reply to Mr. Michael Portillo, the Minister for Public Transport, who asked why local authorities should have transport companies. Now the Government are urging the Passenger Transport Executive to split its bus companies into smaller units. I must ask: why? Do not Ministers recognise that some operators, especially former National Bus Company subsidiaries, are taking over other operators to form larger companies? That is called market forces and free enterprise, but it is being denied absolutely to local authority transport companies.
§ Transport was not helped when the Government changed the transport supplementary grant to be confined to local authority capital projects for more major roads and traffic management. But now even that is to end. As a result of the operation of the poll tax the Government have stated that in future the rate support grant to local authorities will take account of a needs assessment. But strangely enough there is not to be a special needs assessment for transport. That is to be merged in a block assessment with 32 other services. It appears to indicate the narrow importance with which certain Ministers and people in the department regard the whole question of transport.
§ However, that is a most important matter because, as I have already stressed, congestion on urban roads is as great a problem as that on the primary road 405 network because that is where the traffic must start and finish. Highway authorities must have adequate financial resources to tackle the problem and also to deal with the deterioration in the condition of local roads. There must also be early legislation on the Home Report recommendations on street works which also aggravate congestion.
§ The Motion makes special reference to London. The Department of Transport forecasts that London traffic will increase by 2 per cent. each year and that there will be a 30 per cent. growth in car ownership in inner London within 15 years. Although road congestion is such that London could easily snarl up, it must be said that 83 per cent. of commuters to central London travel by public transport—that is, 40 per cent. by rail; 36 per cent. by Underground; 7 per cent. by bus and only 14 per cent. by car. But in outer London 80 per cent. of the residents' journeys are made by car. The other 20 per cent. of journeys are mainly by bus, often with inadequate services.
§ Yet there is no easy solution to the congestion problem. The Department of Transport's document Transport in London states that it sees no case for building new roads into central and inner London. Therefore, I must ask why we are going ahead with the London road assessment studies, some of which appear to suggest the possibility of further roads in inner and central London.
§ On 9th December, 1988, Mr. Peter Bottomley, the Minister for Roads and Traffic, said that strategic reporting would do more good than strategic planning as the answer to London's congestion. Can the Minister tell me exactly what that means? I may be a simple soul but I do not understand what it means.
§ In paragraph 29 of its report the CBI strongly criticised the piecemeal attitude to London transport and what it calls the lack of satisfactory liaison between divisions of the Department of Transport. London is the only major capital without a central authority. London in particular needs a single regional authority responsible for transport to deal with the condition of the bus, Underground, commuter rail services and also traffic management. Most other major cities provide substantially more financial help fro their transport undertakings than is given as revenue support to London Regional Transport. In fact, London Regional Transport support is being progressively reduced. Alongside that the financial objective set for the improved investment in British Rail Network SouthEast involves the need for increased fares.
§ I welcome the Government's acceptance of some of the proposals of the Central London Rail Study—in particular, the acceptance by the Secretary of State of the expenditure of £1.5 billion to update existing Underground lines. But in order to solve the problem London needs the new lines which are recommended in the report. Consideration should also be given to the 25 short-term initiatives to ease London's road congestion as set out in the CBI report.
§ Such matters could well assist other cities with their congestion problems. I shall single out only a 406 few. Illegal and inconsiderate parking causes considerable congestion. There is the lack of enforcement to deal with these matters. There is a vital need to cope with street works. There must also be an increased provision of station parking in the suburbs.
§ Many sections of the last report of the London Regional Passenger Committee expressed concern about London's transport problems. They include the increasing congestion; train and Underground overcrowding; increasing unreliability and use of second-hand buses. The committee also opposes the proposed deregulation of London buses and the extension of one person operation. That criticism is made strongly by the CBI in its report.
§ The committee makes absolutely clear that it would regard it as unacceptable that passengers should be expected to pay considerably higher fares to meet the substantial costs of the rail study developments. In paragraph 37 of its report the CBI likewise suggests that such a substantial increase in fares would have an adverse effect and drive commuters to their cars.
§ In conclusion, I stress that the main theme of the debate is that there must be effective planning and co-ordination of transport at national, regional and local levels. In a debate on transport in the other place on 7th February, 1989, the Secretary of State said that the Government were wise to do away with central transport planning and to put in its place market forces. Congestion and essential transport and road developments cannot be left to that kind of chance. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.27 p.m.
§ Lord Brabazon of Tara
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, for providing the House with the opportunity for a debate which will touch on many aspects of this important subject.
Transport needs are growing throughout the country. This is the result of unprecedented economic growth in recent years. This growth has stimulated very large increases in demand for all forms of transport. It is important that we meet these demands in order to keep business moving and grasp the major opportunities presented by 1992 and the opening of the Channel Tunnel in 1993. To do this, the country must have modern transport systems which are safe and efficient and which have proper respect for the environment. That is the Government's aim.
As transport resources are a major element in the economy and a key component in the country's overall economic performance, we want to see them utilised and expanded in the most efficient way. We believe this can be achieved by fair competition between the different forms of transport and investment which represents good value for money. The quality and capacity of the transport systems will become even more important with sustained economic growth, intensified European competition and our position at one edge of the single market.
The Government have already pursued a wide range of measures to meet these challenges. For example, investment on British Rail is running at 407 the highest level since the transfer from steam to diesel; and over £2.5 billion has been spent since 1983. In the past six years BR has significantly reduced its dependence on public subsidy through increased efficiency and large increases in passengers and revenue. It is now probably the most efficient railway in Europe.
Capital investment in trunk roads in England has increased by nearly 60 per cent. since 1979. Some 880 miles of new and improved trunk roads have been completed, including 98 new bypasses. Continuing concentration on road and vehicle safety measures has given us the best road accident record in the European Community.
We have deregulated local bus services in England outside London and privatised the National Bus Company. We have taken steps to create an openly competitive environment for the port industry and have undertaken a substantial programme of improvements to ferry safety in the light of the loss of the "Herald of Free Enterprise".
We have involved the private sector in the Channel Tunnel and the Dartford Thurrock Bridge and in other matters referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill. As the consultation document New Roads by New Means, issued earlier this week by my right honourable friend explains, we believe private finance has a growing role in the provision of transport infrastructure.
But that is not all. Plans exist for more investment and initiatives. For example, BR is planning to invest over £3.8 billion over the next five years. By the end of the decade BR will have renewed over 85 per cent. of its diesel passenger trains and electrified a total of 60 per cent. of InterCity and some 30 per cent. of its total rail mileage. The Channel Tunnel will enable direct passenger and freight rail links to be provided from London and other parts of the UK to the heart of Europe and will encourage the use of rail for freight traffic on long Continental hauls.
While rail is important, it can meet only a small part of the increased demand for transport ouside the major city centres. So the plans to improve the road system which my right honourable friend announced last week and published in the White Paper Roads for Prosperity emphasise comprehensive improvements to the inter-urban motorway and trunk road network. They respond to new traffic forecasts by doubling investment in the programme from over £5 billion to over £12 billion, which is unprecedented. They will make a significant contribution to our target of reducing road casualties by a third by the end of the century.
How does this fit in with our achievements and plans? London is of vital importance to the national economy. Its population and that of the surrounding South-East region accounts for around 30 per cent. of the country's total population. Its economy generates about 17 per cent. of the gross domestic product and accounts for 16 per cent. of national employment. It is one of the world's most important international centres for business, finance and tourism. It therefore needs to be linked with the national and international transport systems. But its transport demands are so huge that where it is sensible to do 408 so, they need to provide through traffic with good alternative routes around the capital.
This is why we built the M.25 motorway, why we are improving it and why the roads White Paper identifies further plans and studies for increasing its capacity and providing it with further relief. It is also one of the reasons why we have given substantial support to the development of regional airports and why we want them to take as much traffic as they can attract.
After decades of decline, the numbers of people living and working in London are decreasing, and its economy is booming. There is strong development pressure and there has been an upsurge in the demand for transport, on both road and rail, which could not have been foreseen. Action is therefore necessary to deal with overcrowded trains and congested roads. This is in hand.
It is being taken within a broad strategic framework within which the London boroughs, the transport operators and others with transport responsibilities can work and plan their own decisions. The framework has five main elements.
First, we want to promote safe, efficient and attractive public transport systems which meet the growth in demand for rail transport to, from and within central London and which provide London with thriving, competitive and innovative bus services. Public sector investment in London's rail systems is running at around £650 million to $750 million a year. British Rail is planning to invest over £1 billion in Network SouthEast over the next five years, the bulk of it on higher capacity, more comfortable and efficient rolling stock. This will help NSE relieve the overcrowding and quality of service problems that have arisen on some lines at certain times of the day with the unexpected 26 per cent. increase in passenger usage.
London Regional Transport will be investing over £400 million this financial year. This is 70 per cent. more in real terms than in 1984–85. The investment programme includes a wide range of measures to ease congestion at stations and on trains as well as all the items identified by London Underground as being essential for safety following the Fennell Report on the King's Cross fire. London Buses have begun a fundamental reorganisation of its management structure as a prelude to the deregulation of bus services that we aim should take place in the early 1990s.
The Docklands Light Railway, which opened in August 1987, has been a great success in stimulating development in Docklands. The capacity of the existing system is being increased to keep pace with development.
Two major rail studies have been commissioned. The Central London Rail Study, published earlier this year, put forward proposals to improve services and meet future demands, including new lines under London. We hope to make a decision on the way ahead on this later in the year. If the proposed schemes were to go ahead, trains would be running on the new lines by the mid-1990s. My right honourable friend will also shortly be receiving the report of the East London Rail Study which is 409 examining the best options for further improving rail access from central London to Docklands and beyond. The Government have already indicated that they would wish to see a new line built, subject to the conclusions of the study and suitable contribution from developers.
The second element of the framework is to improve London's trunk roads to take traffic around central London, improve the links to the M.25 and remove the worst congestion spots. Thirty eight major schemes are planned or under construction with a works cost of over £1 billion. Priority is being given to improving orbital movement around the North Circular Road and improved access to Docklands and East London. A series of studies is looking at ways of improving conditions in areas largely untouched by the present programme. These include the London assessment studies which are looking at public transport as well as road options.
The third element is support to major borough road schemes, such as those to provide town centre relief and improved industrial access. Record support is being given to 41 major schemes estimated to cost some £445 million. Overall the aim is to increase London road investment to about half that planned on rail.
The fourth element is support to the use of new technology, such as advanced and responsive urban traffic control systems and route guidance sytems such as Autoguide, in order to improve traffic management. The Road Traffic (Driver Licensing and Information Systems) Bill now before Parliament, which your Lordships have passed on to another place, demonstrates our commitment to new technology. Other traffic management measures include small-scale engineering measures on trunk roads with specific traffic management and safety objectives and improved signing on London's major routes.
The final element is encouragement to better parking controls, which can make a major contribution to keeping traffic moving. The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, referred specifically to those. Carefully devised schemes can help to balance the needs of residents, short-stay parking and the need to ensure that through routes are kept clear at peak times. New regulations to simplify and rationalise the order-making procedures will be laid shortly. In parts of London much progress has been made with wheel clamping and vehicle removal to secure a better level of compliance with parking controls. Improvements in the enforcement arrangements generally are under discussion following the report of the Home Office working party on parking enforcement.
I hope this brief review of the Government's transport aims and policies will help to reassure noble Lords of the Government's commitment to meeting the country's transport needs and that they are playing their full part in overcoming the transport problems that London is facing, largely as a result of its economic success.The Government have achieved long-term structural improvements to the economy and we are determined that through fair 410 competition and value for money the transport systems will contribute to further economic prosperity.
§ 3.40 p.m.
§ Lord Ezra
My Lords, I consider that the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, is absolutely justified in introducing yet another debate on transport. We have had many in recent weeks but as we face here one of the most serious economic and, indeed, social problems in the country today I believe that bringing the subject to the Floor of the House at the present time, particularly in the light of the two recent government publications, is entirely appropriate.
Both the noble Lords, Lord Underhill and Lord Brabazon of Tara, indicated that there are problems. The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, emphasised the economic aspects and the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, referred to overcrowded trains and congested roads; so there is no division of opinion on those aspects. Much has been spoken and much has been written about this subject in recent times. Indeed, if debates, documents and media coverage could solve problems we should now have one of the best transport systems in Western Europe. Unfortunately, almost the reverse is true. I believe that we should spend a little time considering how this has come about and then consider what remedial action is being, or could be, taken.
I believe the situation has developed for two reasons. Over the years the main means of transport have remained in the public sector—roads, railways, Underground services and, indeed, the air space which is now also getting congested—and there has been a tendency for the amount of public expenditure in this sector to be limited. Although the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, spoke about the increasing amount spent on roads and railways, and indeed on the Underground, measured against actual needs clearly that expenditure has so far been inadequate; otherwise, we would not have the problems that we now face.
The regrettable aspect is that, under Treasury control, the objectives which have been set, for example, to railways and the Underground have generally been to cut costs rather than to meet the needs. The noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, referred to the railways as the most efficient in Europe. I do not know how he judges efficiency. If he judges it by the reduced measure of public financial support, he is probably right; but if he judges it in relation to efficient working and comfort for the consumer I suggest that he is far from right, as anyone who uses railways on the Continent can assert.
Therefore, it is a matter of judgment as to what we are seeking to do. Are we simply trying to save money and show what is regarded as value for money—cost-efficiency, or any other of those jargon phrases—or are we trying to provide the sort of transport system that we need in order to enable the economy to thrive and to provide comfort for the travelling public? I suggest that the Treasury should introduce a new factor in its assessment of cost. We are accustomed to all these factors now that the various privatisation measures are going through. We have the famous K factor, for example. We have 411 X and Y factors, and so on. I suggest that the Treasury introduces the C factor—the congestion factor—in that on every investment project in transport the C factor should loom large.
The CBI has estimated, as has already been stated and as is now well known, that the annual cost of congestion is £ 15 billion. That is the total national cost of this C factor. If only half of that amount had been used to improve the transport system in recent years that would not only have saved half of the cost but, of course, it would have immeasurably improved transport facilities. Therefore, I believe that although more is being spent on public transport it is not yet related to the true needs.
Secondly—and I am looking at the past—let us come to another major factor that has intervened—the continuing reluctance of the Government to accept that there is an interrelationship between the different transport modes. The fact is that we have government publications addressing this transport problem but they all specifically relate to one aspect at a time. We have had recently the important White Paper which makes a lot of sense in putting right previous statistics on the inter-urban roads system, the trunk roads system, with more money to be dedicated to that; but at the same time the secondary roads system which links into the trunk roads system, and which is in the hands of local authorities, has apparently had total expenditure cut in half. I do not see how; the two are inter-related. Trunk roads lead into secondary roads. People use both. How can the Government be virtually doubling expenditure on trunk roads and at the same time having the expenditure on secondary roads? That requires some explanation.
We then have the problem within London itself, which is an important part of this debate. Innumerable studies are being conducted on how to deal with the problem of congestion in London. It has been estimated that there are no fewer than 30 different assessment studies at present. The trouble is that while the consultants carry on researching, the congestion mounts. These studies take a long time to mature. Some of the road assessment studies have now been going on for a number of years and when they do mature they create a great deal of discussion and debate before action is taken.
Let me illustrate the point with an example with which I have been connected as chairman of a local residents association in the Victoria area. For over 10 years we have been trying to get some alleviation of the concentration of coach traffic in Victoria. It is extraordinary that at a time when coach traffic is being encouraged by various means London still has only one central coach station. Many searches have been made and many places mentioned. For example, there is the nonsense of having north-bound coaches coming south to pick up passengers rather than starting from north London. Places like King's Cross, Marylebone, and so on, have been mentioned, but every time these ideas have fallen down because they have been left in the hands of competing authorities. The resident local authority has not been interested; the London 412 Transport Executive apparently has not had sufficient powers and the Government have not intervened, so the result is that a simple problem of this nature which should have been resolved many years ago has been left in the doldrums.
Now we have the Government's White Paper on road expenditure. This certainly makes clear that much more is to be spent and the estimates have been revised sharply upwards. I should like to know how soon the project will get under way. For example, it has been stated that very little of it will in fact be even started in the course of the next two or three years. Is it correct that the preliminary work will take all that amount of time? We should like to know.
Secondly, how is this going to link up, particularly with the railways? That point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill. I read the report with some care. Reference is indeed made to the railways but it is estimated that even a substantial expansion of railway facilities would do relatively little to alleviate this traffic problem. On the other hand, we understand that in France imaginative development of their fast trains has led to a substantial increase in railway traffic which has eased the problems on the roads.
Has this aspect been addressed? Why are we minimising the prospects that may arise from a much greater expansion of railway facilities than we presently envisage? The Channel Tunnel is indeed a very imaginative transport development, but there is the increasing fear that on the British side at any rate we shall be creating perhaps another massive area of congestion unless we get adequate road and rail facilities to service the tunnel.
We come to the question of the introduction of private finance. The Government have brought forward their consultative document and already a number of doubts have been raised in the minds of the motoring organisations, contractors and various public bodies. For a start, it is not clear what part the toll roads are going to play in the total road transport strategy. As I read the document they are going to arise ad hoc. A contractor will go along, have a look at a certain part of the country and say, "Right, I believe that this is a good spot at which to have a toll road". How is that to link up with the overall road transport plan? I do not see how these two factors will work together. There is the juxtaposition of the toll road, on the one hand, and the non-toll road, on the other. Mention has been made of first-class and second-class road users as something that may arise.
There is also the way in which this money is to be raised and the conditions that will be applied to it. There is an interesting little section on additionality, which is the famous Treasury approach to financing which virtually nobody, apart from the skilled mandarins in the Treasury, can understand. As far as I can follow there is not, and yet there is going to be, additionality as regards these private roads. It is said that individual roads will probably not be considered for additionality, but that the totality of them will be.
As I understand it, therefore, at some stage the amount of private money that goes to road 413 expenditure will be deducted from the amount of public money that would otherwise have been used for such expenditure. Is this the right interpretation? Is this a way of presenting to the public, on the one hand, a very ambitious plan for substantial increases in public expenditure on roads and, on the other, and virtually the next day, to bring forward a document in which, as a result of private financing, that public contribution will be automatically reduced? Is that what the plan is? We are entitled to know how the two fit together.
There is a certain amount of concern regarding the way in which this transport question is to be tackled. There must be satisfaction that the Government recognise that there is a transport problem. They have produced the White Paper. But we must wait for the other parts of the jigsaw to fit into place. How effectively are the intra-urban traffic problems to be dealt with amid this plethora of reports and studies that are taking place? How effectively are we to expand the railways and the Underground system to provide the comfort and ease of travelling that is so much needed?
Finally—and this is a point that the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, so effectively emphasised—what we really need to be satisfied about is that there shall be much closer co-ordination in the approach to transport problems, particularly in London.
§ 3.54 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Southwark
My Lords, I too wish to express the appreciation of many of us to the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, for an opportunity to debate and think about this highly topical and difficult subject for which the little debate on 3rd May was a useful trailer. Despite the known predilection of clergymen for steam engines—the psychological roots of which are probably better not explored—I do not believe that bishops have any particular claim to wisdom where public or private transport is concerned. But I am clear that this is a matter that has an enormous impact on the quality of people's lives. It has moved centre stage in any discussion of what it is like to live and work in London today. As we have already heard, it also has major economic consequences for business and industry.
It happens that the Diocese of Southwark covers the whole of South London and East Surrey. My own home is in Streatham which is one of the outstanding black spots in South London and the subject of one of the special reports recently commissioned by the Government. Against that background, I wish to make one general point about transport policies. In the process I realise that I shall be covering some of the same ground that has already been covered by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra. However, I am coming at it in a slightly different way. I wish to make a more detailed comment about the situation in London.
Dealing with the general point: in looking at the problems that we now face both between cities and within them, we are looking at the consequences of increasing population, wealth, and increasingly efficient technology. The subject concerns all those matters at least.
414 The result is a society dominated by the lorry and the car to such an extent that the quality of life is manifestly beginning to decline. I find it difficult to go along with the piece of paper sent to me recently by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders that states bluntly that cars, buses and trucks give us a better standard of life. There are other things to be said. The fact is that there are many towns and many parts of the country where this may still seem to be true, and where the people may wonder what we are on about. But in the eight-and-a-half years that I have lived in South London (and where I have to travel constantly as part of my work) and since leaving the Tyne, the stress of traffic noise and fumes has steadily increased. The adequacy of public transport has slowly declined, and it has become difficult to move around at many times of the day. That experience can be repeated in many places in London and the South East and in other modern major conurbations.
All this means that the cities we have and the countryside as a whole, cannot stand much more pressure. We shall all be the losers unless we are willing to regulate our vehicles and our movements in a way that makes better use of the space available which cannot be indefinitely expanded. I know that so much of this is fairly obvious; but the logical result of taking this matter seriously is that we cannot solve these immense problems by so-called market forces alone. Efficiency is one thing and we need all that we can get of it. Competition, in the usual sense of the word, cannot provide the answer when you are constrained by existing roads, buildings, safety requirements and ecological demands that must be respected if we are to leave any future worth having to our children and grandchildren.
During his speech on 3rd May, when responding for the Government, the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, used the phrase "value for money" five times. He used it once again today. It had already appeared in the Motion itself so it was understandable. The title of the new White Paper is Roads for Prosperity indicating a particular priority for schemes that will keep freight and commercial traffic moving.
I do not want to quarrel with the slogan "value for money" if it means an emphasis on such things as efficency, good management, properly designed and built roads, getting rid of wasteful practices, and so on. I do not want to quarrel with the importance of good roads to our national economy. But all transport exists to serve people, to move goods around, to help people to go to work, to see friends and family, to get to school, to shop, to go on holidays, and so on. If one lives in a city, especially a large city like London, one needs to be able to move around it in order to lead a balanced life. "Value for money" has to mean a transport strategy which actually gives value to people by enabling them to lead a more human kind of life, where they can do their more essential travelling without too much difficulty and at reasonable cost.
It also means moving goods around in a manner which is efficient and economical, certainly, but not in such a way that people's lives are made almost unbearable through noise, dirt, fumes and vibration. It is essential to define this objective "value for people" before going on to consider the various 415 options which may be drawn into a policy which is then thought to give the best value for money in the circumstances.
In all cities, but especially in London now, the key task is to find ways of drawing more people out of their cars and into efficient, frequent and reliable public transport. On 3rd May the Minister said:We believe that where passengers obtain benefit from new investment there is no reason for subsidy to be paid unless there are demonstrable benefits such as the relief of road congestion".He made it sound as if that was likely to be a rare occurence. In Streatham it is a permanent feature of life for 12 hours a day. Furthermore, it is not just for the benefit of passengers. It is for the benefit of everybody that road traffic should be reduced in peak hours and throughout our cities so that other forms of transport, including buses, can move around more freely. The noble Lord then went on to argue that fares should continue to rise beyond inflation in order to pay for new rolling stock on the railways because,most rail users in London are better off than the majority of taxpayers".—[Official Report, 3/5/89; col. 239.]Where does that argument take us? If fares rise higher and higher then of course the surviving rail users who can afford them will be the better off. Where does that leave the less well paid who cannot get housing in central London at an affordable rent or purchase price and who have to move further out? Provide a reliable, frequent and inexpensive public transport service and a substantial indirect contribution is made to the well being of millions of people, including pensioners, industry, commerce and many others, and particularly those on low incomes who are otherwise trapped but who are part of the whole fabric of our society and our communities in cities like London.
As I said earlier, I live in Streatham, a suburb with a narrow high road forming part of the A.23 to Brighton and with the South Circular running across the top of the district. About seven minutes walk from my house is British Rail Streatham station, conveniently located on the main road. There are trains to London Bridge and to Blackfriars. Outside the rush hour there are only two per hour to London Bridge and one through train—the Thames Link service—to Blackfriars. One of the two London Bridge trains is sometimes cancelled. I should like to travel by train more often, but what is the use of a 30 minute or hourly service which cannot then be relied on and which is itself fairly infrequent? That is how far we have gone with public transport in a certain place. It is typical of many others.
On the train journey to Blackfriars there is quite a long stretch between Loughborough Junction and Elephant and Castle, passing through Camberwell and Walworth—hardly uninhabited areas—where there is no British Rail station or Underground station. The people of those substantial districts have to use cars or buses. I contrast this with those areas that do have Underground lines which at least have trains that run frequently; or better still with Tyneside Metro, which not only runs frequently but has stations at short intervals so that many more people have easy access to the train. The Docklands Light Railway works on the same principle.
416 Experience in this country and elsewhere suggests that the provision of various types of railway which run frequently and in some cases have frequent pick up points is one of the most effective means of easing the pressure on the roads. All over south London there already exist rail tracks, many of them not heavily used except in the rush hour. Could not some of these be converted to something like the Tyneside Metro? There are also the other measures which have been spelt out for us in recent reports and in the speeches we have already heard. This would not be too difficult to do and it would not take too long to relieve the immediate pressures.
I believe that the people who live and work in London are now desperate for strong and decisive measures to be taken. Almost all of them know that the car has to be tamed for the sake of us all. They are not impressed by piecemeal gestures, nor by suggestions that more roads or more competition on the bus routes will solve the problem. They recognise that we are looking for a whole package of different measures. Recent reports, including the Government's own report, now at last seem to be acknowledging that that is so. They certainly do not want more houses knocked down to make new roads which suck in even more cars and move the congestion to a different place. They are looking, in short, for an integrated approach to what we all know is an immensely difficult problem, an approach in which the needs of the whole community are recognised and an approach which cannot be adopted without asking us all to accept some limitation on our choices and to make some contribution to the cost.
§ 4.7 p.m.
§ Earl Attlee
My Lords, I should like to start by declaring an interest in that approximately three years' time I shall be in receipt of a small pension from British Rail. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, on initiating this debate. It brought to mind something which happened a few years ago. A noble Lord with a slightly critical tone in his voice said that we always seemed to be debating the disabled. I replied that the reason for that was very simple—we needed to do so. The same complaint could well be aimed at us today in that this is by no means the first debate we have had on transport. Again the answer must be that we need it.
This month I have travelled from my home in Hampshire to the House six times by car. It is a round journey of just over 90 miles. Two points have struck me. I come up on the A.3, a good part of which has three lanes in each direction. However, we seemed to be driving on a two-laned highway because the inside lane was virtually unused. One finds exactly the same thing in London. There are so many parked cars that where there could be two lines of traffic there is only one.
There is one aspect of the matter which has always puzzled me. We clamp cars so as to reduce the terrible congestion in London, but when a car is parked illegally it will perhaps be there for 10 or 15 minutes. However, if that same car is clamped then it might be there for several hours. I do not see how that can reduce the terrible mess we have in London today. However, that is a byline.
417 I have also noticed when coming into London, and certainly when leaving the city in the evening, what happens to the nice bus lanes which are meant to be there so that the buses do not get held up. On returning home last night during the rush hour, I stayed outside the bus lane. But what happened? The bus lane was full of private cars. Indeed, the same thing happens in Oxford Street. Private cars are meant to be banned from that area. But what happens? One can see dozens of private cars happily going up and down that street. Why do not the police take some action in this respect?
However, the biggest problem which I have noticed during my six journeys to the city this month is the number of cars containing only one person. If we assume that the majority of these people are making that journey every day, we must ask ourselves why they sit or drive in a car, with all the associated strain, and battle through London to their place of work when they could perfectly well take the train and the Underground? It seems to me that the answer is very simple: most of the people who drive into London drive company cars.
The company pays for the petrol, the insurance and indeed it pays all the expenses. These people have a car and therefore they will use it. Moreover, if they were to travel by train, the chances are that they would be worse off. But the businessman having driven from, say, where I live in Hampshire to central London must be worn out, with his nerves all jangling, when he could make the same journey very easily by train.
It is easy for people to say that the services on the trains and on the tubes is becoming worse. In fact, that is not true. What has happened is that over the past few years more and more people have changed from travelling in by private transport to travelling in by British Rail and the Underground. I do not like to quote statistics because, being dyslexic, I tend to get matters muddled up. However, I know that between 1985 and 1988 the traffic on Network SouthEast and the Underground has increased by 114,000, while in the private sector the figure has been reduced by 37,000.
I understand that the Government are spending £12 billion on the roads. It seems to me that that is probably money well spent outside the major cities, but there is nothing that can be done in London. It is popular to talk about the M.25—indeed, I must admit that I have done it myself—and say that the planners should be sacked. However, I found out the other day, when speaking to one of those planners, that when they were told to design the M.25 they were given a certain amount of money. Therefore, they may have wanted to make four or five lanes each way, but the money was not available.
Where the planners are at fault is that they did not think ahead. We have all seen the little cards which one can put on one's desk which say, "THINK AHEAD" with the "D" dropped at the end. All right, there are three lanes of traffic and it seems that, "When we have the money or the time, we will put in some more lanes". But, when the motorway was being built. why on earth did they not build the bridges so as to allow for further development? I say that because now with the increase in the number of 418 lanes all those bridges must be pulled down and rebuilt. I think that that is a shocking waste of money.
The London Underground is running near enough at saturation point. The only way in which to increase traffic is by building new lines under London; one is East-West and the other is North-South. However, that could be very expensive. The cost of building one mile of railway on the East-West line is £200 million and as regards the North-South, the cost is still £100 million per mile. There is nothing that London Underground can do.
The future lies in Network SouthEast. I do not know about the situation in the rest of the country, but I use Network SouthEast. More trains cannot be slotted in. However, it has been decided to lay modern lines and install modern signalling. With the modern signalling, the headway—that is, the space between the back of one train and the front of the following train—can be reduced. New stock is also being built which will be quieter, more comfortable, and will have better acceleration and deceleration. But, best of all, the lengths of the trains will be increased. This can be done because the network has the ability and facility to lengthen platforms, which of course London Underground cannot do. In the future, a new type of train will be introduced. It is called the Networker. This train will be all aluminium; there will be many more seats; and there will be more trains and more comfort.
But the fact is that such innovations are very expensive. Therefore the money must come from somewhere. Who will pay? As has been said, it is no good putting the fares up too high because a stage will be reached where people will say, "It is so expensive now. Bother it. I shall go by car". If at the turn of the century all those people who wanted to travel by car did so, it has been estimated that such traffic would require a parking area four times the size of Hyde Park. Moreover, even then, how would people get to Hyde Park when there would be such terrible congestion in the area? When one had parked one's car, just imagine how one would find it again. How would one get to one's place of work? Here, again, is where Network SouthEast comes into its own. At present Network SouthEast has more car-parking space than in the whole of London. Outside London land is cheaper and therefore the network can afford to build more car-parking spaces.
Mention has been made of the proposed toll roads. I am not interested in whether this is carried out by government or by a private operator. However, there is one thing of which we can be sure and that is the person who will use them. Who does not give a damn—if noble Lords will forgive the language—about how much it costs? It is the business traveller. That is because the company is paying; he is not paying. Therefore if the charge is £1 per mile, so what? He could not care less.
However, what will happen to the ordinary private motorist going on a family holiday? Such people cannot afford to pay £1 a mile, or indeed anything. Therefore there is a great danger that the money being approved for toll roads will not be spent on the roads which ordinary people—I think that includes 419 most noble Lords, as well as myself—wish to use. I shall not pay a high price to travel on a private motorway. We must do something. I am talking mainly about the rush hour—seven o'clock to ten o'clock in the morning and the equivalent length of time at night. Something must be done. At one time we spoke about flexitime. It was tried everywhere. They tried it in Hong Kong. It does not work. If we cannot persuade people to stagger the time that they go to work and the time they go home the only thing to do is to provide increased capacity and more comfortable trains. We must reduce the necessity for people to stand.
I have noticed several times recently when travelling on the Underground that when a packed train comes in people force their way on. They struggle, heave and push. They cram themselves like sardines into the trains. I am an asthmatic and so I say, "No way" and I wait. The next train comes in. It is probably half empty. I even get a seat. People want to leave at a certain time and that is the time they leave. They are not sufficiently flexible.
A comparison between this country and the Continent is usually made. The Minister said that we probably had the finest and mos efficient railway system in Europe. I agree with him. We must also remember that France is a big country compared to ours. They can afford to build a nice straight line which runs for several hundred miles. The loss of land does not mater. The loss of land in this country matters because we are a small island. That is why we are having a great deal of fuss about the fast rail link to the Channel Tunnel, which has to go through Kent. Everyone agrees that it must go through Kent but people say "so long as it does not go through the area in which we live". We must be realistic. If the Government will put up the money, we shall have a rail system on the surface, and underground, which will be the envy of the world.
§ 4.22 p.m.
§ Baroness Fisher of Rednal
My Lords, I too should like to pay a tribute to my noble friend Lord Underhill for initiating the debate. I shall not follow his remarks about London. I should like to continue the observations he made about the break up of the metropolitan transport groups. It is worth reminding your Lordships that under Section 61 of the Transport Act 1985 the Government have certain powers. They are bringing those powers into operation at present. In the West Midlands, the area upon which I shall concentrate, West Midlands Travel Ltd. has been required to divide itself into smaller units.
To give them their due, the Government have said that the prime aim of the division is to safeguard the best interests of bus passengers. That of course is what West Midlands Travel has been doing since deregulation. When Ministers make such remarks I wonder whether they obtain their advice from their civil servants or their advisers or whether they ever go and see for themselves.
Has the Minister or any of his advisers travelled to the West Midlands to see the West Midlands Transport Authority in operation? Have they spoken 420 to the passengers who use the buses? Have they travelled the network to see how it links up the various cities that it covers and complements the rail links? Have they read the attitudinal surveys which are regularly conducted by West Midlands Travel? If they came to the West Midlands perhaps they would like to meet the pressure group Bus Watch, which constantly ensures that the travelling public is dealt with in what it calls fair and just ways.
West Midlands Travel is in constant contact with the blind through the Birmingham Institution for the Blind, of which I am president, and through the city's organisations for the disabled. I am sure that if the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, were here she would be pleased to hear what has been done by West Midlands Travel about special platforms for the disabled and the elderly. If the Minister has not been to see us, perhaps I may extend an invitation to him to do so. He will be made most welcome. I hope that it is a nice day like today so that he can see the beauty of the West Midlands.
West Midlands Travel serves the urban conurbation of the West Midlands and the surrounding towns and villages. That of course includes the Black Country Urban Development Corporation, a part of the West Midlands into which the Government are putting a tremendous amount of money to try to restore the dereliction which has arisen from the demise of the steel industry.
The whole of the West Midlands operating area was once the heartland of the British engineering industry. It was one of the most prosperous areas in the country. I put into my notes that that was until the Conservative Government gained control in 1980, but I thought that that was not the thing to say. Although recently the West Midlands has been through a serious economic recession, we are now, thank goodness, in a period of recovery which we hope will continue.
The travel patterns of the West Midlands as a whole reflect workers travelling to the large industrial districts, which are all within that conurbation. That includes the commercial centre of Birmingham. Although many other towns are included in the West Midlands, Birmingham is a particular draw because it will have the largest shopping area.
Before deregulation it could have been said that West Midlands Travel was a barrier to competition in the area. The Government felt that it deterred competitors because it was a large organisation. That has not been the case since deregulation. There has been an acceleration of major bus groupings moving into the West Midlands since 1987. When I refer to major bus fleets, I mean those with a substantial number of buses and considerable resources. Those bus companies have shown themselves to be ambitious and determined to grow. They have not shied away from competing against West Midlands Travel in their search for growth.
The large competitors started after the National Bus Company was broken up. The competitor fleets which operated in the West Midlands were called Midland Reds. There were four Midland Reds and they were broken up. There were management buy-outs originally. Midland Red West now has 400 421 buses, which is many more than it had originally. That company is the product of a management buy-out from National Bus. It has been acquired by Badgerline Holdings Ltd., which already owns five other bus operators and has a total fleet of 1,750 buses. Midland Red North, another management buy-out from National Bus, now has 250 buses, which is an increase. It was acquired by another large bus company, Drawlane Holdings Ltd., with a total fleet of 1,560 buses. It sounds wonderful, the way the Government broke up National Bus just to forge a monopoly of three or four other companies, but that is what happened.
Midland Red South, another management buy-out from National Bus, now has 220 buses and it is part of Western Travel Group, another bus company. Cheltenham and Gloucester, another big company with 425 buses operates nearby. The last company, Midland Fox, was the former National Bus Company Midland Red, which has grown large by acquiring many smaller operators. It now has a fleet of 430 buses and 30 per cent. of the company is owned by Stevenson's of Uttoxeter, a private bus company. The combined Midland Fox/Stevenson group has a fleet of 630 buses.
So much for the operations area of the West Midlands and the competition. It is a densely populated area, with high ridership levels compared with the rural and suburban areas around. The Minister said this afternoon, "What we want is fair competition". I went to the European Parliament with my noble friend Lord Ardwick, who is now sitting next to me, and we used to listen to remarks about fair competition. I remember on one occasion that we had an economic discussion on the subject of fair competition being real competition.
The Minister spoke about fair competition this afternoon, but West Midlands Travel, unlike its competitors, is penalised. It cannot operate under the fair competition rules: it is restricted by law as to the area in which it can operate. All the other bus companies which have taken over can come into the West Midlands and vie for business in competition with West Midlands įTravel, which can do nothing outside its area. When the Minister speaks about fair competition, I should say that on this occasion he speaks with his tongue in his cheek.
Since deregulation we have seen bus companies large and small acting in competition with West Midlands Travel. But also in the West Midlands there is a strong rail network, which the Minister would see if he came, with 64 railway stations all operating in the area. I am not including the inter-city trains going out of the region. Since deregulation a new railway station, Snow Hill, has been built in Birmingham, which has improved local rail access from the conurbations. That will be extended by a new line from Walsall and Hednesford. As the Minister may know, it is being subsidised by Staffordshire County Council.
The PTA also has plans to develop an extensive light rail network serving the main commuter corridors. A private Bill is making progress through Parliament at the present time. In the West Midlands, West Midlands Travel do not have a monopoly of the travelling public in the area. The 422 company is facing up to the competition from the bus companies and railways and it is experiencing substantial competitive pressure. It does not mind that: it has lost mileage and it has lost nearly 500 buses since deregulation, but it accepts that it is in a competitive market and that such things will happen.
Something that has arisen from the competitive pressure being placed on West Midlands Travel is the benefit to passengers resulting from fare restraint. Because West Midlands Travel has kept its fares down, competitors' fares have been kept down, which has been of great benefit to the travelling public. It is a point which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark used—we must have cheap fares in order to encourage people to travel on the buses, because that is the only way in which certain sections of the public can travel in any case.
If we can keep fare levels down, we can make provision for concessionary fares—something of which we in the West Midlands are extremely proud. We can keep down the cost of those discretionary fares, which local authorities have to pay for by subsidies. Despite the difficulties which London and all the other authorities have had to face with vandalism and graffiti on public transport, West Midlands Travel decided to be extremely tough. It took all those responsible before the magistrates' courts, and that had a salutary effect on vandals and graffiti artists. For those carrying out much more serious criminal damage, video cameras were put on all the double decker buses. While Big Brother watches up there, we may not like it but it protects the travelling public.
In conclusion, during nearly two years of operation as a company, West Midlands Travel has been successfully maintaining a comprehensive network of services, making a profit and incurring corporation tax of approximately £4 million, which is paid to the Government. It is facing up to the challenge of competition, which is what it was told to do after deregulation. In my view, there will be no benefit to bus passengers, nor to the travelling public at large, from a division of the company. I ask the Government not to let political dogma break up a bus service which satisfies the travelling public and operates in the competitive market for which the Government have asked.
I hope that the Minister will give serious consideration to the representations which have been made from West Midlands Travel. In my view, any change will be to the detriment of the travelling public and could result in increased fares, and the concessionary fares which are so helpful to the elderly might again be placed in jeopardy. I hope that the Minister will be able to give me some satisfaction when he replies later in the debate.
§ 4.38 p.m.
§ The Earl of Shrewsbury
My Lords, like the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher of Rednal, I wish mainly to address some of the problems concerning the West Midlands. I too should like to express my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, for giving your Lordships the opportunity of holding this debate. Anyone who undertakes travel within the country at 423 present can only be acutely aware of the severe problems encountered on nearly all major roads and in towns and cities.
With that in mind I must congratulate Her Majesty's Government on the publication of a most welcome White Paper, Roads for Prosperity, the effects of which will go a great deal of the way towards easing the worsening situation in which we find ourselves at present. The vast extra spend will not only help to ease the appalling congestion, it will also provide extra jobs and investment and as a demonstration of continuing confidence in the construction industry it will have far-reaching effects upon peripheral industries such as construction equipment manufacturers.
At present with long delays on motorways and major trunk roads, industry must surely lose a colossal amount of money in wasted time, fuel and resources, and additional wear and tear on vehicles, not to mention delayed deliveries of goods with all the consequences of customer frustration that that entails.
It is most interesting to note the results of an exercise carried out internally by JCB, the construction equipment manufacturers based in Staffordshire. That company spends annually £6.6 million on United Kingdom transport costs. It estimates that improvements carried out on a 10-mile stretch of the A. 50 Uttoxeter to Stoke-on-Trent road have cut the time for transporting goods to and from its factory at Rocester by an average of 15 minutes. That represents an annual saving of over £165,000 from a single road improvement. It is quite astonishing.
Moreover, if an M.1-M.6 two-lane link carriageway were constructed between Derby and Stoke-on-Trent JCB estimates that its minimum annual transport saving would be over £660,000. Those are figures for one company alone. A general upgrading of the road system in the United Kingdom would produce savings for that company of over £1.5 million a year. Translated into national corporate transport terms, the savings and benefits of an improved, or even partially improved, road system are quite staggering.
The benefits are not only in transport terms. More efficient transportation means less stock needs to be held; firm delivery dates can be met; customer confidence can be maintained, and less working capital is tied up over long periods. The plus points go on. For far too long this lack of money in an expanding and successful economy has been the cause of major congestion on our roads. Many roads are old and cannot cope with the increased volume of heavy traffic. At last Her Majesty's Government have grasped the nettle and plans for major improvements and upgradings are to be put into action.
But the problem will not go away no matter how much money is thrown at it. Our road system will constantly need major attention and improvement so long as it exists. It must be like owning a country seat—I am delighted to say that I do not—which needs constant maintenance and repair and is a 424 never-ending demand on one's resources. However, the Government's country seat, our road system, with the new building and improvements mooted, can and will produce great dividends for this country. I suggest that it is an investment well worth making.
May I now turn briefly to passenger transport, especially in the West Midlands, which is another area of frustration to many. I am greatly relieved that I do not have to commute from the outer London area. We in the West Midlands have to bear our share of commuter misery, just like those in the South. The problems around Birmingham, Wolverhampton and the Black Country are made worse because of the great revival in the area's fortunes which is currently taking place.
It is a great pity that Dr. Beeching's railway cuts hit the area so hard. The need now is to reopen some of the redundant lines. Indeed, a line from Hednesford to Cannock has recently been reopened by Staffordshire County Council which also provided funding. It has proved a great success. Your Lordships are shortly to hear in this House about the Midlands metro, an electric tram-like passenger transport system which is to run between Birmingham Snow Hill Station and Wolverhampton, with stations every 700 metres. This light rail rapid transit system using an old railway line will surely ease the burden on the inner-city road systems in Birmingham; it can only be good for the area.
Her Majesty's Government are showing enthusiasm and considerable initiative in transport matters. The new schemes being planned and carried out by both Government and other bodies are highly commendable. They will be of great benefit to the passenger including the commuter, to commerce, and to industry, and therefore to the economic health and well-being of the United Kingdom. Let us have more good transport news soon.
§ 4.44 p.m.
§ Lord Mountevans
My Lords, in addressing your Lordships this afternoon I must begin by apologising publicly, as I have already done in private, to the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, to whom I am grateful for giving us the opportunity to enjoy this debate on transport today. I must also apologise to the Minister and to your Lordships' House because I find myself in something of a cleft stick today. On the one hand, we have this quite enchanting debate, and on the other hand, there is the opportunity for me to go to an RSA lecture. In fact, I accepted that opportunity a long time ago.
At the lecture I shall hear Dr. John Prideaux, the director of InterCity, tell us how, by getting his product and his prices right and by cutting his costs, he has turned InterCity into a profitable railway. I believe that this an achievement for which both he and his many colleagues in British Rail should be congratulated. Your Lordships will understand that I find myself caught between the groaning cheeseboard and the delightful dessert trolley, and I hope that your Lordships will, with your customary 425 indulgence, allow me to have a nibble at both and allow me to leave early.
Much of the debate so far, apart from the Minister's speech, has been critical. But I feel that our transport situation is much stronger than perhaps one might be led to believe after having listened to other noble Lords. I feel that the Government's policy is broadly right, and that that framework having been set the operators, be they rail, road, air, or even shipping—which I think no noble Lord has touched on—have seized the opportunities that have been given to them over the last decade. To reduce subsidy is not necessarily wrong, although one might believe so if one had sat through the debate. I believe that to encourage competition and freedom of choice is right.
My own interest is in rail, and I believe that the railways are getting it right. Subsidy is falling. As I have said, InterCity went into profit in the last financial year. That is a quite splendid achievement by any worldwide standard. Freight and parcels are already profitable. The subsidy is falling in terms of Network SouthEast, as it is in terms of the provincial sector.
Privatisation—en bloc, I hasten to add, and not in any fragmented form—which has been quite inconceivable right through my life since nationalisation in the late 1940s, is now something to which I look forward. But I can foresee an investment problem before we untap British Rail's enormous potential by putting it into the private sector. In recent years all BR's investment has been funded by internally generated funds or by property disposals.
But I wonder whether that will be enough when we come, in the 1990s, to the King's Cross development, the Channel Tunnel link and the East-West cross rail—and I gather that we can look forward to a Bill for that in one House or the other next autumn.
There will be the King's Cross development; the Channel Tunnel link at £1.7 billion; the East-West Cross-Rail at perhaps £1.3 billion; and perhaps a North-South Cross-Rail to follow later. Noble Lords are agreed that those links are needed. When they are under construction I foresee that investment elsewhere in British Rail will be severely penalised. Indeed, the levels of investment in recent years have done a great deal to generate the extra traffic.
The roads White Paper has been very generous with our money. But what do we do about the railways? Do we look to fares? Obviously the user should pay. I think that is a fairly reasonable assumption, and after all I am the ultimate public transport user, never having held a driving licence. Should we look to property developments, as has been canvassed? That may be feasible in regeneration sites, but I do not believe that it is feasible in terms of London Transport's refurbishment of the Central Line, or of the cross rail links.
We can look to EC funds. Or perhaps I should say: can we look to EC funds? Or can we look to a local employment tax, as is levied in Paris? When London Transport comes up as an oral Question, frequently the Back-Bench colleagues of the noble Lord the Minister ask him why cannot we follow Paris? But 426 I wonder whether the captains of industry on the Conservative Back Benches would really wish to follow Paris if they knew that it was funded by a swingeing local employment tax?
Alternatively, can we look to the Government, as we do with roads, for what one might call a capital grant? That is not something that British Rail has had for many years. But there is a national benefit argument here as well as a congestion alleviation argument, which I suggest would certainly justify capital grant being considered. However, that would also be the case if the railways were partly funded by means of capital grant. We should be able to look for a cross-rail link that would not be dependent on revenue subsidy.
Turning to the roads, I welcome the White Paper as a palliative for congestion. However, so far as I can see, the White Paper was not greatly welcomed by private industry except in the capacity of contractor. I took advice from Trafalgar House Investments which took the view that this was good news for the company as a contractor but that there was not much in it for private investment otherwise, except perhaps in terms of a few estuarial crossings and infill schemes.
It seems to me that Trafalgar House Investments had anticipated the Green Paper which came out yesterday. My friends there added that toll lanes on existing roads were a non-starter, not because of the first- and second-class arguments that have been advanced by other noble Lords this afternoon, but simply because one cannot run single lanes on that basis. When one lane is closed one has to be able to change from the publicly owned to the privately owned lane and vice versa. How can one reasonably fund on that basis and make sure that those who use it are paying their share:
Last week I looked at the announcement of the building of the M.1 in the early 1950s. I was somewhat shattered to find that tolls were being considered then. We are all agreed that we need to do something about our transport infrastructure but—if I have the date of the M.1 anouncement right—it has taken us 38 years to get as far as even beginning to think of a toll road scheme. It is a very modest start, a very welcome one, but is the fact that it has taken us 38 years good practice, or does it simply show that we have overlooked our transport infrastructure, be it publicly or privately funded, for far too long?
Turning to aviation, I find the policy of liberalisation, as I am sure most noble Lords do, totally acceptable. The Government have set the scene and the operators are taking the opportunities. I know that I am benefiting. However, there is a blot on the Government's transport policy escutcheon in the aviation field. I am referring to Prestwick. To preserve Prestwick's status as a transatlantic gateway flies against all that I understand by the Government's ethos of freedom from regulation and freedom of choice for the consumer.
It may be very plausible to talk about building new roads and railway stations to make Prestwick more popular. I should say that there will be a few Conservative seats in the neighbourhood that will 427 be made more attractive, as was touched on in a Question last week. However, it would do nothing to increase Prestwick's status as a transatlantic gateway because people do not want to travel via Prestwick. As I said many years ago, if a customer wants steak it is no good telling him that you can offer him the best salmon in the world. That is what we are doing now.
What does preserving the unique status of Prestwick achieve? It frustrates British Airways' attempts to meet customer demand. It frustrates international airlines' wishes and attempts to meet customer demands. In other words, the customer is totally frustrated. One sees not Prestwick as the beneficiary but Manchester, which has been marketed aggressively not only to the consumer but also to the operator. That will be the airport which will offer the South of Scotland the choice unless the Glasgow-Prestwick arrangement is ended.
Almost every noble Lord has spoken against the fall in subsidy. I have to ask myself what is wrong with the fall in subsidy. More and more I come to believe that transport subsidy or support, like social security, should be a matter of need and not a matter of right. For example, I feel that it is wrong that we subsidise Network South East. As has been said, London and the South-East are the powerhouse of this country. Access to car ownership is high and many households have two cars. Why should we subsidise them unless we justify the subsidy as a palliative for congestion?
However, in Tyne and Wear, for example, subsidy meets a need because car ownership is very low. In Glasgow city car ownership is low and in parts of Strathclyde it is low. In those areas I think that there is a case for subsidy. I believe that there is a need for subsidy for the provincial railway network if we are to preserve it. I feel that there is a need for subsidy both for surface transport and for shipping in the Highlands and Islands, and again I feel that a need is being met there and the subsidy is justified.
In effect, when opening my remarks I apologised for sinning. I have sinned again because I have considered transport in its different modes whereas, as has been said today, one should look at it as a totality. Consider, for example, the Channel Tunnel—that enchanting private enterprise prospect. Noble Lords will know that the gauge of railways in Britain and most of Europe, apart from Iberia and Finland, is the same; the tracks are the same distance apart. Noble Lords who follow transport matters will know that private sidings and wagon load traffic are no longer even a dying art in Britain: they do not exist any more. They exist and are very common in France and Germany. Noble Lords will also know that because we were the first on the railway scene we have a very narrow loading gauge. The rails may be the same distance apart but the widths and heights permitted in Europe are very much greater.
If one looks at transport as a totality I wonder what the Government are doing to address a problem which I foresee. When the tunnel opens, many European railway companies will be greatly encouraged and will freight their wagon loads to 428 Cheriton. They will not be able to take them any further. The British bridges are too low and too narrow. I fear that we will thus have a massive transfer of freight to road.
Are we proposing to solve that problem by integrating road and rail at Cheriton? Or are we addressing that problem by encouraging and funding British Rail to enhance its infrastructure so that the full regional benefits of the Channel Tunnel can be achieved by industry in the provinces using rail, among other options?
Perhaps I may put another point about integration, and it will be my last point. I come back to the Heathrow Express Railway Bill. One could look at that proposal in isolation. However, coming up there is the East-West cross-London route—Paddington, North-West London and beyond to Liverpool Street and East and North-East thereof. We also have a golden opportunity to put a decent coach terminal somewhere in the vicinity of Paddington on derelict land. That would solve the problems of some Westminster spokesmen in this House, including the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, who has just vacated his seat. It might upset others. However, I believe that we must look at all those options as a totality and not one by one.
§ 4.58 p.m.
§ Lord Lucas of Chilworth
My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Underhill will allow me to use this opportunity to concentrate mainly on the Government's recently published White Paper. Before doing so, however, there is an overriding question with regard to the road and rail issue which I should like to pose to my noble friend the Minister.
It appears that it is the Government's policy to let road and rail fight their own corners in their own ways, and may the better man win. I do not believe that that is the right way to go about the problem. If one considers freight in particular, it is obvious that, certainly in the UK and probably in Europe, the bulk of freight will be carried by road. That is because the cabotage system is shortly to be introduced with its ease of loading, and because most private sidings have now disappeared and it is unlikely that large manufacturing companies would rebuild those sidings.
Where passengers are concerned, although the car population in this country per household is a good deal lower than it is in France or West Germany, distances are different and there is a different ethos about owning a motor car. Therefore, most passenger traffic will be carried by road. Nevertheless, I believe that the Government could devise schemes that would encourage a greater transference of freight to rail and create an environment in which the railways could compete more fairly against road.
Perhaps I may turn for a few moments to the White Paper, Roads for Prosperity. In the earlier part of his remarks, my noble friend Lord Shrewsbury spoke about the benefits and gave certain examples with which I concur. I give a warm welcome to the White Paper. I have not read of any organisations—whether motoring, commercial or road building organisations—that have not given a warm welcome to the White Paper, which certainly sets aside many 429 of the criticisms that we have levelled at government for the past five or six years. I assume that the White Paper is an expression of a firm commitment to that kind of expenditure—the expenditure set out in the White Paper—over a period of 10 years. If that is so, one might perhaps ask a number of questions of principle.
I turn now to the annexe to the White Paper which deals with forecasting. There is not a great deal of point in looking back over one's shoulder at the mistakes of the 1980 and 1984 forecasts. I fear that we shall have to wait until June to see the complete 1989 national road traffic forecast breakdown. Paragraph 4 of the annexe refers to a forecast increase in vehicle miles for all traffic between 1988 and 2025 of a low of 83 per cent. and a high of 142 per cent.
Most of us will be more concerned with the relevant period covered by the White Paper; that is, the next 10 years. What are the relevant forecast growths up to, say, the year 2000, which is in effect the period to which the proposals refer? I have seen some suggestions of figures that give a low of 28 per cent. and a high of 49 per cent. Are those figures about right? It is important that those forecasts are right for the future because a great deal of commercial vehicle and business planning depends on them. It is sad that we have been so far adrift in the past.
Perhaps I may now turn to the part of the White Paper that deals with the proposed studies. I shall use two examples to illustrate the point that I intended to make. I notice that a proposed study of a major route or corridor is the east-west strategic route between Kent and Hampshire. If one couples it with the A.31-A.35 Southampton to Exeter assessment, one has a whole east-west roadwork. That would go some way towards feeding the Channel Tunnel, when it is completed, and the additional business that will accrue from it. At the moment, the Government appear to believe that only the one major route—the upgraded M.20, and so on—will satisfy the traffic needs to and from the tunnel.
I must question whether that provision is adequate. It is contrary to what our partners in the tunnel project think. In the Pas de Calais region, they have developed their entry to and exit from the tunnel on a three major route—east-west, and south—principle. I must ask whether there is any kind of European co-ordination in the Dover area. It seems that the French are thinking about different volumes of traffic than we envisage. There must be a balance somewhere and I wonder whether we have found it.
If one looks at the schemes as well as the studies—table 1 is a very detailed table—I presume that there is some kind of time-scale and some order of merit or priority. I wonder whether that will be published. Again, I think it is necessary to have a 10-year plan involving many routes right across the country, a great deal of expenditure and an invitation to private development. I believe that one should know the kind of time-scale envisaged for some of the more major studies and the more major schemes. Similarly, if that could be done, details could be 430 given of the department's breakdown of the spending of the £12,000 million on a year-by-year basis from, say, now until the year 2000. Again, that might be helpful, although I accept that it might well have to be hedged in with a number of limitations because the criteria may vary from year to year. Nevertheless, all things being equal, I cannot see any reason why that kind of schedule cannot be produced.
Perhaps I may now turn to the paper that was published yesterday—New Roads by New Means. There are three areas upon which I wish to touch. The first of those is in paragraphs 26 to 28, which deal with exclusivity. I am not sure at this stage whether I am in total agreement with the Government's thinking on the matter. Schemes can quite easily cost a million pounds and it seems to me that more schemes might be put forward if the exclusivity argument were looked at a little further. In paragraph 28, the Government say:it would not be practical to devise a formal system to compensate a firm which claimed to have originated an idea or proposal which was eventually undertaken by another firm".Surely there is something in the rights of intellectual property ownership that might provide some comfort with regard to that proposal. A number of proposals have been made. It has been claimed by one major contracting company—I believe that it was Mowlem; the other company will forgive me if my memory does not serve me well here—that it was deterred from bidding for private schemes because of that exclusivity point.
Secondly, I wish to refer briefly to the subject of tolls. The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, and, to a certain extent, the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, were pretty dismissive about them. I am not so dismissive about tolls as perhaps I would have been a few years ago because I believe that we are now fast approaching an overall road network which could compare quite well. If there were an alternative route—east-west or north-south; in other words, a toll road—I can see no objection to paying for it, whether it is business or private individuals. In France private individuals prefer to go on the motor routes from the north to the south of the country. That adds about £30 to the journey. They are mostly holidaymakers, but some business people and commercial operators use them. I see nothing wrong with that provided there is a reasonable alternative route.
Lastly, I should like to place on the record a point about paragraph 44, which deals with additionality. I do not think that there has been any misunderstanding about additionality. As we have seen through the rates and the European contributions, it has not added to the total spend. The Government have stated:the annual level of expenditure on the road programme is determined by the Government in the light of the economy generally".That is fully understood. Then:The private financing of a scheme already in the road programme, and for which public expenditure resources have been allocated, will not free that public expenditure for other projects".There is not any additionality there.
431 Toward the end of the paragraph—incidentally there is a printing error in it—it is stated:The Government therefore gives the assurance that it will not subtract privately financed roads from public sector provision on a scheme-by-scheme basis".Those two statements do not appear to me to be totally in concert. Because it is a technical question, perhaps my noble friend will drop me a line on that specific and particular point in due course.
§ 5.12 p.m.
§ Lord Ardwick
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, will no doubt forgive me if I do not follow him into the complications of the White Paper. I must confess that it lies unread on my desk. I too should like to ask the Minister a question. He spoke with pleasure of the conversion of diesel locomotion into electrical locomotion. I should like to know whether that means any increase in the freight capacity of the railways.
I must thank my noble friend Lord Underhill for introducing this debate and for saying what most of those who have spoken from this side of the House have echoed this afternoon. I should like to give them all red berets; they have proved the Guardian Angels of the hard pressed commuters. We do not need to be told that there is a transport crisis in this country. We suffer it day by day whether our journeys are short or long, in good or bad weather, and even when nobody is on strike. Each morning, as we listen to the news, we hear that an accident has blocked one or more of the motorways leading into London. It is such a commonplace occurrence that unless it is a horrific catastrophe there is no news value in telling us who was hurt or killed. The news value lies solely in the inconvenience that the accident causes to travellers.
Such accidents are so frequent that one can only deduce that our motorways are overcrowded, that the skills of even professional truck drivers are inadequate or that there is something wrong with the design of long vehicles. Certainly, those vehicles are driven too fast for their size, weight and braking power. If one wants to drive at 65 miles per hour (which is only 5 miles per hour below the legal limit) one finds oneself being overtaken by long vehicle after long vehicle, some of them doing more than 70 miles an hour. Driving in the centre lane or the overtaking lane, one finds a heavy vehicle dangerously close behind, snorting up one's exhaust.
Last Friday I had to make a trip to Manchester. I was warned by people who make that journey as often now as I used to make it that I should avoid the M.1 and the M.6, particularly as it was a Friday. I decided to travel by the Watling Street route, which is the old A.5. A motoring organisation told me to go to Richmond and pick up the North Circular road from there. That was pretty poor advice. One and a half hours passed before I was within approaching distance of the A. 5. Noble Lords can imagine the character reading that even the most benign of wives gives to a husband who chooses such a route, particularly on a hot Friday. In the end I managed to find a road that took me off the North Circular. It led me not to the A. 5 but on the the M.1.I endured 432 that for about 25 miles and then found my way to Watling Street. So had a lot of other drivers.
It is obvious that the A.5 is now being used to supplement the overcrowded M.1. It would be quite a good supplement if some dual carriageways were built to permit safe overtaking. The A.5 is a long straight road but it is narrow. If someone in front of you is driving slowly you are stuck there for quite a long period.
To return to one of London's problems, four years ago there were great debates in this House on the Local Government Bill. It was the Bill which destroyed the Greater London Council and put its principal roads under the Department of Transport. Despite the resistance of noble Lords, echoing that of Londoners in general, these roads were designated as trunk roads whose main function was to expedite long-distance through traffic. Ministers did their best to persuade us that any alarm we might feel about trunking was misplaced. Four years later all over Greater London there are hundreds of thousands of people who believe that such fears were not misplaced.
Perhaps because I live in south-west London I am among those who feel that this part of London is particularly under threat. Living there, we are all conscious of the dreaded North Circular Road which stretches in a great concrete arc on the other side of the Thames. There is a widespread belief, which words from the Department of Transport will not destroy, that the department still has lingering ambitions to produce a South Circular Road of similar character to the North Circular. That suspicion has been fuelled by traffic assessment studies set up by the Secretary of State five years ago.
Three of the four studies are devoted to the so-called South Circular Road and to the road joining it from the south coast. The consultants whom the department appointed were eminent firms of highway engineers. It would have been surprising if their instinctive response to the traffic problem had been other than to build newer better roads. In fact the options that the consultants proposed for further study are all based on widening existing roads at the expense of gardens and homes or building new roads through cherished open space, over railway tracks or through residential areas.
South London has reacted to these proposals with indignation as well as fear. In these quiet suburbs mass meetings have been held of a size previously unknown, and threatened neighbourhoods have presented to Ministers petitions bearing signatures from almost every household. Borough councils of different political complexion—Tory in Wandsworth, Labour in Lambeth and SLD in Richmond-upon-Thames—have joined together for the first time to present alternative options based on a more constructive approach than the pouring of concrete.
How does the department deal with these fears? The same kind of response has been received by individuals, organisations, councils and MPs. It is simply this. "Don't worry. If the consultants in their final report due this summer suggest any environmentally unacceptable option, the Secretary 433 of State—God bless him—will turn it down". Nevertheless, Ministers are adamant that the study of all the options must go on until finality. Nothing can be discarded until then, however solidly oppposed local opinion may be.
I have the good fortune to live by Barnes Common—the first substantial piece of green on the way out of London to the south-west. There are two options in the West London Assessment Study which suggest a new motor highway straight across our beautiful and beloved common. Confronted with this proposed despoliation, Ministers indicate that they would deplore it. Yet they refuse to curtail expenditure on the detailed development of the options. In the meantime whole communities live in fear that their environment will be shattered. And when they have to sell their houses they do so with great difficulty. To be fair, in the present state of the housing market it is difficult to say what contribution is being made to the blight by economic conditions, the penal rate of interest on mortgages, and what contribution is being made by the prospect of a new motor highway or road widening close at hand. There is no doubt that both factors play an important part in the property blight in our area.
The attitude of Whitehall is remarkably complacent. It says that there is no acknowledged blight until a road improvement has been officially decided upon. It is firmly believed locally that the Government have recommended that borough planning officers should not disclose the assessment studies to would-be purchasers unless they are specifically asked. Then, of course, they should tell the whole truth. This alleged advice not to disclose unless asked has been rejected by responsible borough councils, I am glad to say.
We need Ministers to assure us that they differentiate between the problems of upgrading road infrastructure between towns—which is very necessary—and the problems of traffic within towns. The problems of dealing with traffic congestion in Hammersmith Broadway are entirely different from those of building a better road to Manchester. There is now, I think, in Greater London a consensus which sees the alleviation of metropolitan traffic problems not in terms of new road widening but rather in terms of fair traffic management, imaginative traffic restraint, effective use of rail and of the Thames, and above all in much improved public transport.
New and wider roads solve congestion for a brief time. Then they generate new traffic. They beome clogged up and they spew more and more vehicles on to other stretches of road that are virtually impossible to improve. Let us never forget the traffic generation accomplished by the M.25, a valuable road nevertheless.
Millions of pounds have been pencilled in to cover the Department of Transport's possible ideas for the London roads that have been trunked. If only Ministers had the guts to shake off the obsessive hand of their department and spend the money on providing adequate public transport, we should have a better chance of keeping London moving.
I am not immediately enamoured of the proposals for inter-city toll roads. Nevertheless, I believe that 434 road pricing of some kind is the most likely solution of the urban problem created by there being too many vehicles and too little road space. Road pricing might both diminish the number of vehicles and make it possible to find the money and space for a superior system of public transport.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Lord Mancroft
My Lords, I also should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, for instigating this timely debate. I only hope that when it is over the thoughts and ideas expressed here will not be relegated to a bureaucratic shelf and left to gather dust.
One of the main rules of public speaking, I was always told, was to make only one main point in each speech. But I am afraid that my remarks today are a collection of my meandering thoughts and would do better in a letter to an agony aunt, signed "Frustrated of Battersea". Unlike other noble Lords, I can claim no expertise in the problems of Greater London transport and traffic except that I was born in London and have lived here all my life. I have therefore witnessed the deterioriation of all forms of transport in the past 25 years. I have used all forms of transport during those years and do so today. I am therefore only a humble user of transport, both public and private, but it is clear to me that those who are responsible are seemingly unable to cope.
As a driver myself, I think it appropriate that I devote my few remarks to traffic problems. There are two obviously interrelated problems. One is parking, which was mentioned, but only in passing, by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill. The Minister told your Lordships that it was under review, about which I am delighted, and he said it was improving, which I doubt.
There are clearly not enough parking spaces available. Therefore they must be created. First, on long-term parking, garages must be built underneath the parks and squares of London such as that under Hyde Park at Marble Arch and those under Cavendish Square and Cadogan Place. While appreciating the maze of sewers, pipes, cables and Tube lines under London, if the car parks I have mentioned could be built, then so can others. I understand that the planning authorities have only recently made car parks under new buildings, both commercial and residential, a condition of planning consent. I hope that my noble friend can confirm that even though it is 20 years too late.
However, until more off-street parking is provided it is ridiculous to provide meters which allow only two or four hours' parking and when it is an offence to feed a meter. First, it is unenforceable. Secondly, if adhered to, it leads to motorists driving needlessly around looking for a new meter when the old one would have sufficed. I have yet to discover why so many gaps, marked by yellow lines, are left between parking bays. They are not for unloading or waiting, as there are signs forbidding that. Perhaps they are provided so that local residents can enjoy the view. Perhaps they are to allow pedestrians to get run over with greater ease. Alternatively, are they, as I suspect, merely thoughtlessness on the part of local authorities?
435 The Minister implied in his remarks that clamping was deemed a success. I do not doubt it; but for whom? For the clamp operators, it is, undoubtedly; for the police, possibly; but certainly not for the motorist. His life was already difficult enough before the authorities decided to help him by immobilising his car while he was going about his lawful business and then charging him a fortune and wasting his valuable time for the privilege of restoring his property to him.
The usual scenario is that a motorist, sometimes with a load to carry and sometimes with children, has searched fruitlessly for a parking space and finally, late for an appointment, has left his car in any space that he can find. Imagine his feelings when he returns to find his car clamped, leaving him unable to continue to his next appointment for which he is already late. Of course, if one is on a meter for which time has run out, the space would be unavailable for any other motorist probably for the remainder of the day because he will have been clamped. There is also a rule whereby if a meter is jammed, broken, full up or cannot be used, no car may park at that space for fear of being clamped even though the motorist's inability to pay was the meter operator's fault. Whoever thought that one up really is a fool.
The system is a complete abdication of responsibility whereby the authorities are saying, "We cannot cope, so we are passing the buck to you, the beleaguered motorist". Anyone would think that people drive and park in central London for their pleasure, that they have no business to be there. However, they should be helped, not hindered. The wide-scale removal of cars by the police is also comparatively new. It would work better if only cars causing an obstruction were moved. But that unfortunately is not the case.
I also suspect that the removal trucks cause more obstructions than the culprit vehicles. Certainly that is true outside my own house where new studs suddenly appeared in the road, blocking off 20 spaces where there was already a shortage. I was informed by an official at Wandsworth town hall that the police had requested the studs to make it safer for pedestrians to cross, even though there is no pedestrian crossing there. The studs could only be removed if the decision was reversed by a full council meeting. That example in itself is unimportant, but the rules surrounding and governing it are the work of a seriously unbalanced mind. That I may add, rather neatly brings me to my next point.
I have used the term "authorities" because like most people I have no real idea who is responsible for traffic in London and no means of communicating with them. I am aware that local authorities control the small roads and that central government control large ones, whereas the police manage the flow, or rather lack of flow, of traffic. But practically speaking it is a very haphazard way of going about things and must be reviewed urgently.
I suggest that the Government employ an intelligent life form to review the maze of regulations and responsibilities and appoint an overall accountable body to run our roads and traffic within 436 London itself. I also suggest that a special force of traffic police—I know that idea has been voiced before—be formed to administer those rules. Too many officers are tied up with clamping and dishing out parking tickets and they could be far more usefully employed elsewhere. Further, it does the police image no good to be continually ticking off normally law-abiding citizens. The police too hate continually badgering motorists for crimes which are not really very criminal.
Lastly, I should like to pose three questions to my noble friend. I do not ask for immediate answers, but he may wish to pose them to his experts. First, most of the great cities of this world are built on rivers, as is London, yet most that I have visited arrange the road system in such a way that the roads on the banks of those rivers which are main roads are one-way, rather in the way that Park Lane goes up one side and down the other. Perhaps that might be a good idea for London.
Secondly, there seems to be a gap in the rail system whereby it is becoming increasingly difficult for large numbers of passengers arriving by train at Victoria and Waterloo to get to the northern part of London, to the City, W1 or W2, and vice versa. Will my noble friend consider introducing direct rail shuttles underground or overground between the main railway stations in north and south London? I noted that this problem was discussed in the government proposals, but only for east to west travel.
Thirdly, I understand that the hoppa buses are a great success. They travel, as your Lordships may know, in circles within London itself. Unlike other cities which have similar schemes operating, in London the circle routes at no point touch or overlap. That is a mistake and means that passengers may need to take three journeys where two would be sufficient. Perhaps my noble friend will consider something that makes London unique among hoppa bus operators.
While the Government are to be congratulated on their White Paper for roads, I suggest to my noble friend that a rapid review followed by even rapider action is the order of the day for London's traffic chaos.
§ 5.33 p.m.
§ Lord Sefton of Garston
My Lords, some 20 years ago central Government commissioned a report entitled Traffic in Towns. Colin Buchanan was the consultant, an ex-civil servant who was appointed by the Government together with a team of notable people of the day as the steering committee. The report coincided with a period when Liverpool was beginning to get over its massive slum problem and was beginning to resolve it. In order to create a better life Liverpool had to create some commercial investment, so it took careful note of Buchanan's report and we complied, in agreement with central Government and I assume Whitehall, with the principles.The principles in the main were that we should separate through traffic from the centre; we should have some distributor traffic with the third hierarchy or level for the people who were using Liverpool for shopping or leisure activites.
437 We did that and made very good progress. In addition, we created perhaps the first modern railway service for commuters. We linked the Wirral with Liverpool. I do not think we could follow the principle of having traffic on the Mersey because it is rather wider than the Thames, but I noted the question raised by the noble Lord. There is also the question of bridges which in London are suffering from old age and are another problem. We complied with those principles in Liverpool and we were congratulated. However, we had the feet kicked from beneath us by the fall in investment in industry. Rightly or wrongly, central Government, which by now had changed their colour, decided for reasons best known to themselves, that the best thing for this country was a reduction in economic activity. They encouraged the decimation of industry in Liverpool.
In his speech earlier the Minister said that the need for transport has grown. That does not apply to all parts of the country, because the need for transport has not grown in Liverpool. In those 10 to 12 years the population in Liverpool dropped from 800,000 to 500,000. I can remember the day within the last two decades when on a Friday morning you could not walk down Castle Street—the street in front of the town hall—because of the population in the street. Nowadays on a Friday morning there is hardly any activity at all in that street. In fact, Liverpool is an illustration of what happens when the need for transport, the cause for transport, is taken away. When one takes away the economic lifeblood from an area the need for transport drops. It could happen in the rest of the country above a line from the Wash to South Wales.
The problem with our country—I hope your Lordships will note that I do not say "the Government"—is the consistent refusal, mainly supported by the Civil Service and the Whitehall mandarins whatever the political nature of the government, to look at the real problems, particularly the congestion in London. I quote Michael Heseltine who certainly is not of the same political colour as myself, when he said the other evening that the Government have to tackle the obstructionists in the Civil Service who will do everything they can to preserve their privilege in the City of London and the South-East.
I was doing a little light reading the other day concerning the future of King's Cross. I believe that I was reading a typical example of the wrong thinking on transport. Sir George Young, with whom I do not claim any political liaison, said that King's Cross—that is the development of the area not just of transport—fits in with the transport planning and the regional policies of this country.
What is King's Cross? It is not just a terminal because he went on to say that if it could be funded for planning gain, what was wrong with that. I will tell him what is wrong with that. If King's Cross in some ways contributes to relieving congestion, then to tie it with planning gain means that at the same time the same scheme will increase congestion. There is not a single body in the country prepared to sit down and analyse whether the benefit of reduced congestion is outweighed by the disbenefit of the 438 congestion created by the development that will go along with the King's Cross scheme. There is not a single body prepared to do that, but there was once: it was called the Greater London Council. The Government saw it as a political threat and sought to abolish it. But at least, whatever else it had, it had a strategy about the development of the Greater London area.
The Government decided to get a better body and find a better way of creating strategy for London. What was the result? The mountain trembled and out came the mouse of LRT. From the same King's Cross debate it appears that even the Government agreed that that is the strategy body for transport and transport allied matters in the Greater London area.
As a result of the kindness of the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, I went yesterday to a meeting where we met representatives of LRT. I thought that I would try them out on this strategy business and see what they know and what they think about strategy. When the Greater London Council was trying to resolve the problems of congestion it had a strategy, part of which was called "fares fair". It was meant to use cheaper fares in order to divert people from using their motor cars and on to the public services. Some people thought it right and some thought it wrong. The Government thought it wrong, but it was a strategy. The council knew what it wanted. It did not want any more large roads to be built in London. It certainly did not want the deregulation of buses because it had the strategy of believing that in order to control the transport system in London there must be one central authority which took the decision by which others had to abide. It had a strategy.
There were planners among the representatives of LRT—planners involved with transport. My first question was, "Do you have a strategy about fares policy?". The chairman did not know whether he did, but his brief reply to that question was, "Fares should be affordable". I tried to press him on what he meant by "affordable" but he did not appear to believe that we had the time to go into that matter. Therefore, I assume that "affordable" means that while you can still get the fares they are affordable and you can keep running the system. As soon as the fares become unaffordable there will be no system because nobody will use it. That is supposed to be the strategy of the body appointed by this Government which are interested in the congestion in London.
I asked about deregulation. If ever there is a strategy everyone should know what it is. "Oh", said the chairman of this wonderful strategic body. He thought that deregulation had some benefits. I tried to press him on what they were but I did not make any headway with that subject either.
I then came to my third question about strategy. I asked, "Do you believe that LRT should have a policy input as regards major development schemes in the Greater London area? For example, there is a site on the south side of Vauxhall Bridge which will shortly be developed and there will be a choice. Either you can develop it for blocks of offices, which I suspect will be the case, or you can develop it as a large-scale housing site in which you can house 439 people who work in the City of London. In that way you can remove the necessity of congesting the tubes and buses by having them commute". That was in line with the Greater London Council's strategic policy for London.
I know that the chairman of this body has been in office for only a few days. But surely he must have experience of transport and development, otherwise why would the Govenment put him there? He is one of the experts whom the Government are bringing in to tell us how to do the things which local authorities have been tackling for a long time, so he must have some experience. His reply was, "I am not quite sure which site the noble Lord is talking about". So he could no make a comment.
Those are the three inquiries about strategy which I made of representatives of LRT. I do not condemn the answers. I condemn very much the fact that they did not have the faintest conception about what they were being asked. There was a planner present. All I can say is that if any planner in this country believes it is right that he should talk about transport infrastructure without at the same time talking about the development of major sites generating traffic or reducing it, then it is a prostitution of the word "planning" and it should not be allowed to go on.
That is the situation we have reached as regards congestion in London and congestion in the whole country. That is the situation as regards our relationship with Europe. It was said earlier that, because of the different guages involved, there is a danger that long-distance travelling trains in Europe would come through the tunnel and stop because we do not have the right infrastructure in our tunnels to take them to the North of England. That is perfectly true. What is more, it will remain true if British Rail has its way.
I have letters here from no less a person than the Chairman of British Rail. He says that British Rail will provide the infrastructure for places such as Liverpool which is one of the main ports in this country. It will provide the infrastructure for through lines to Europe if it is profitable and when the market is there. What a situation!
The whole of Europe is laying down lines with plenty of subsidy. There are many square miles of land ready for development, but we are allowing British Rail to talk about providing services when the market is there. We shall have lost out long before the tunnel is built because if those links are to be built they must be built now and the nation must take care of it, otherwise it will be more beneficial to run rail on the Continent because the distances are longer. We shall have effectively cut long distances in the United Kingdom by the thrombosis that exists in the South-East.
I make no apologies for talking about the details of traffic congestion. Everyone sitting in this House knows about the details of traffic congestion in London. They have known about it for years. I described it 25 years ago in a letter I wrote to the Evening Standard. Some civil servant complained about the possibility of being shipped to Siberia from somewhere around Liverpool. He said that he 440 was used to living a civilised life in capital cities such as London. I said, "Do you consider living like packed herrings in tubes, travelling for three hours each day to work and back, as civilised?" I think that he did and I think that people still do.
It is time that the Government began to look at the real issue of London Weighting. It costs no more to buy a pound of potatoes at Sainsbury's in London than in Merseyside and the North-West. It costs no more to buy a suit in London than in Liverpool. There are few items which can justify the high expenditure of London Weighting but it is very lucrative for the Civil Service here. One can weigh up the millions of pounds which are spent on London Weighting as a levy on the rest of the country. We now face the situation that when we move into Europe practically most of the United Kingdom will be barred from the benefits that that will bring because of the Government's refusal even to look at the possibility of providing the environment schemes in the Kent railway system. The Government and Margaret Thatcher and others who have been dragged along in her trail will not pay for that. There is not much chance of her paying for any improvements to the rest of the rail service in London.
Perhaps I may choose one item from this glossy White Paper. Paragraph 10 states:The Government has considered various ways to eliminate unacceptable levels of congestion on inter-urban roads".They may have considered various ways but they have not considered them all. One such way sticks out a mile; namely, to remove from London all those who need not be there in order to leave some space for the people who must be there. That means resolutely tackling the question of decentralisation of the Civil Service.
The other document that I have is more relevant to the modern day because the Minister has been telling us how much the Government will spend on roads. It states that a new procedure will avoid the need for a Bill for each scheme. It relates to the private toll roads which are to be built somewhere. All I hope is that if any toll roads are to be built, they are built in the South and not in the North. To avoid the need for a Bill for each scheme means that there will not be any public inquiry or a chance for anybody to ask awkward questions.
The report states that the trunk road programme will be more than doubled and:The Government is committed to construction of a programme of this size and will be increasing annual expenditure on the road programme".That seems quite a definite statement by the Government that the £12 billion will be reality. If one reads the small print it states:The amount and timing of additional expenditure will be for decision in the Public Expenditure Survey in the usual way".That means that at the end of the day before the schemes are approved, the Treasury will have its say and will determine the amount. I only ask this one question so that the Minister can give me a straight answer: Do we rely on that £12 billion being committed or does it in effect mean that that amount will be spent providing that the Treasury agrees at the appropriate time?
§ 5.52 p.m.
§ Viscount Cross
My Lords, I too should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, for initiating this debate. Perhaps I may say a few words about the Government's recently announced expanded road programme and about road design, a few words about the proposed rail link from Paddington to London Airport and, finally, a few words about the Great North Road—the A.1.
Why are the roads of this country in such a parlous state? Cynics will say, "Oh, there are no votes in roads". That is not so any more when the economy of the country is in danger of being greatly harmed by the lack of transport links. I am sorry to say that it is always a little too late and that it is a case of parsimony and unwillingness to spend money on roads.
How have other countries coped with that situation? The two dictators before the war gave Germany and Italy their motor roads and the French have built some very fine roads since the war. In this country we have very fine Roman roads but we have had the Dark Ages in between.
I must not bore your Lordships with too much history and many of your Lordships will remember more accurately than I what has happened. Many years ago we had the Road Fund and we had the horsepower tax. I am sorry to say that the money from the Road Fund which was supposed to be spent on roads, was raided by Mr. Winston Churchill when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer and has been raided by Chancellors ever since.
After that there was a flat rate tax of £10 on all cars and then we had a petrol tax instead. Then we had both. The £50 road tax is now £100. There was a cry at one time for "no taxation without representation". The cry could still be "no taxation without roads". I have some rather unhappy things to say about the Department of Transport. I am sorry I have to say it but it needs saying and so I shall say it.
The M.1 has been totally full from nose to tail in all three lanes for some years now all the way up as far as the Coventry and Birmingham turn-off. I ask myself whether the officials in the Department of Transport ever leave their offices to go and have a look at the state of that road. The congestion has not come about suddenly but has crept up on us year by year and it has been apparent and obvious what the result would be.
Perhaps I may now turn to the design of roads. Unfortunately, the Preston By-Pass on the M.6 was designed all those years ago with two lanes. The M.1 near London was designed with two lanes, as was the M.5. At enormous expense and disruption all those roads had to be widened to three lanes. Again, very recently, parts of the new M.40 were going to be built in 1989 to a two-lane standard. I am thankful that that has been changed and that it will have three lanes; that is marvellous.
I am afraid that the department will like this even less. I must say that it is designing dangerous roads at present. I mean the sort of by-pass road which is almost straight but there is a long bend in the road. The public are deceived into thinking that it is safe 442 to overtake at the legal limit of 60 miles per hour. Someone coming in the opposite direction is also deceived and believes that it is quite safe to overtake at that same speed. The approach speed is 120 miles per hour and there have been and, I am afraid, will be some terrible accidents.
Perhaps I may quote from an article in the Financial Times of Monday 15th May. This article is about Devon and the West Country and in particular the North Devon Link Road. It states:The road is in the right place and goes to the right place. It begins at junction 27 on the M5, just south of Taunton, and is now complete for some 25 miles to the approaches to South Molton".The next part of the article is irrelevant. It then goes on to say:But the road is neither what the transport operator nor the private driver wants or needs. It begins well enough with a dual carriageway which is akin to motorway standards as far as Tiverton. Thereafter, it is for the most part either a three- or two-lane carriageway.Where it is two-lane, it can be dangerous, as the skid marks on the road already testify. Where it is three lanes, it can also be almost as dangerous because the road winds and dips and is frequently blind to on-coming traffic, encouraging drivers to take chances.The road, in the short time since its opening, has already claimed one fatality and locals are drawing comparisons with the nearby Ilminister bypass on the A303 in Somerset, which has also been built as a single carriageway in each direction, and which has seen the deaths of three people.With either slow vehicles (of which there are a lot) or heavy transport on the North Devon Link road, traffic quickly builds up in long queues. Frustrations lead drivers to take high-risk chances. Accidents are inevitable.Why the Government should have been so penny-pinching is difficult to understand".I seriously suggest that, for safety reasons, all new roads from now onwards should be built to dual carriageway standards. Also may we have motorway anti-glare barriers built into the central reservations? It is possible to make a six-hour journey at night on motorways and be faced with a wall of head-lamps coming in the opposite direction. That is very tiring and very wearing to the driver; and a tired driver is a dangerous driver.
The Government's expanded road programme sounds very good indeed and I should be grateful and delighted that the Government are to spend so much money. It would be ungrateful and ungracious of me not to be delighted. However, I must tell your Lordships that instead I am horrified at what is about to happen. The Government propose to add a fourth lane to various motorways. The current example of adding a fourth lane to a motorway is, of course, the M.25—on the stretch from the A.3 at Wisley to the Staines turn-off. No bridges have had to be altered but great disruption has taken place and the road is still not finished.
Do your Lordships realise—the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, mentioned this—that all the bridges on the M.25 and, indeed, on the M.1, will have to be altered and reconstructed because there is no room for a fourth lane without rebuilding them? I ask your Lordships to think of the chaos which will ensure throughout the country.
I have even worse news. This is a 10-year programme but by the year 1999 or the year 2000 443 the increase in traffic will have caught up with these proposed fourth lanes. All that money will have been spent in vain. It will have been wasted. Therefore, what are we going to do? I suggest that there is only one thing that we can do. I know that there will be cries of horror, but we must build an eight lane motorway alongside—either inside or outside—the existing M.25 and another alongside the M.1, at any rate as far as the Coventry and Birmingham turn-offs. When it is built—probably not for 10 years—that new eight-lane motorway will be for traffic travelling in one direction only. All that will then be necessary will be to take away the central reservation of the existing motorway and we shall then be left with a beautiful seven-or eight-lane motorway for traffic travelling in the other direction. Such a project would save very much expense and disruption. The finished road will, for the very first time in this country, be ahead of the projected increase in traffic. Therefore, we should build it before the land at the junctions is covered with supermarkets and industrial estates.
At this point, I ask that we should not touch any of the bridges on the M.6. These were built by Sir James Drake, the county surveyor and bridgemaster of Lancashire at the time the M.6 was built. The bridges are all different. Each is beaufitul in it own right. Each bridge has been carefully placed where it is and I suggest that the bridges should be left alone.
The proposed new rail link to London Airport is desirable and much needed. It took 40 years before a railway ever went anywhere near London Airport. What other country in the world would build an airport and not until 40 years later think about how to get people to and from it? I suppose the problem was to decide who was going to pay for it. It is easy to be wise after the event, but surely if everyone had chipped in something it could have been done. I understand that the new link will follow the line of the former Great Western Railway track and then turn left. If the problem is the Green Belt I can only say that all railways radiating out of London of course cross the Green Belt. The railways were here first and the Green Belt came later. All aircraft coming into and leaving London Airport most probably cross the Green Belt. I cannot see what harm a railway crossing the Green Belt can possibly do. Air passengers must be given the means to reach central London.
Finally, I refer to the Great North Road—the A.1. Many of your Lordships, and particularly those who live in Yorkshire, will probably know that Great North Road better than I do. This road has a great history and it is possible that English Heritage might be interested in it. The road can go back to coaching days and the days of the highwaymen. At the beginning of this century the reliability runs by the Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost from London to Edinburgh were carried out on the Great North Road. Those runs produced the finest and most reliable cars in the world.
In the 1920s and 1930s the great cars of the day—the Bentleys, Invictas and Lagondas—were given their head on that road. We then had the 444 post-war period when the road was converted to dual carriageway. It is a beautiful road on which to drive. It is straight, it is fast and it follows the contours of the countryside. It is very different from a motorway; it is not on an embankment and it does not suffer from crosswinds. One is not being pushed along by traffic behind you that wishes to go ever faster. It is possible to drive in a relaxed manner on it. By all means give some of the roundabouts the under or over treatment, but please do not turn the A.1 into a motorway. If the M.1 could be improved in the manner I have suggested then perhaps the A.1 can be allowed to remain as it is.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ Baroness Lockwood
My Lords, the contribution of the noble Viscount, Lord Cross, is indicative of the very wide-ranging debate that we have already had. Like other noble Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for introducing the subject. All of us in your Lordships' House experience transport problems in London as we struggle to get into Parliament day after day. For some there is the struggle too to get home again in the early hours of the morning. But there are problems in other areas. In the north of England there is a feeling that the balance of attention between the North and the South is in favour of the South. Therefore it it perhaps not surprising to your Lordships that I intend to talk about the North and the problems of Yorkshire.
A number of your Lordships have already mentioned the White and Green Papers on roads. The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, referred to a number of other government publications on aspects of transport. But we have had no government publication on an integrated transport policy. Roads are not synonymous with transport; they are but one part of it. The last government publication on an integrated transport policy was the 1977 White Paper which covered the whole range of forms of transport. It included the social and economic consequences of transport policies and their implications for national and local government.
Neither of the two recent government publications has attempted to do this. They are too limited in their scope. We are very much in need of an updated strategy and a policy for an integrated transport system. Moreover, the publication of a roads policy on its own pre-empts the possibility of a comprehensive transport policy. For example, in the north of England recently consultations have been taking place under Section 40 of the Transport Act 1985 on the subject of the freight distribution rail network for the North in preparation for the Channel Tunnel. The outcome of those consultations I do not know. I ask whether the opinions expressed have been taken into account in the publication of the roads White Paper? Surely a rail freight network for the North will have an effect on the kind of road network that we need.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, believes that the bulk of freight will be carried by road. I am not so sure that he is correct. I dare say that manufacturers in Yorkshire will welcome the announced improvements to the M.25 motorway because they 445 will see them as being of some assistance in getting their freight through to the Channel. But we need to assess whether what is proposed is the best way of moving freight. I see no evidence that this factor has been taken into account.
We have to ask how far improvements in the road programme will work against a public transport system. I can illustrate this from an example in my own locality. About five years ago there were plans to close the local commuter rail line from Ilkley to Leeds and from Ilkley to Bradford. There was such an outcry led by the local rail passenger users' committee that the scheme was abandoned. A modified curtailment of services was introduced instead. But so tremendous has been the growth in the use of the line that the service has had to be extended beyond what it was a few years ago. The line could have been closed so easily on tenuous economic grounds. Additional cars and motor cycles would have clogged up and added to the pollution of the Wharfe and Aire valleys. There would also have been the cost of new road construction and repair. All that could have happened in my locality had the road improvement policy been introduced before the growth of traffic on that line.
The Department of Transport is producing forecasts of the extent of traffic on the roads. Those forecasts have been widely criticised as being inaccurate and complacent. It seems that they are also totally inadequate in their scope. For example, I tried to find out what the forecasts were for West Yorkshire and how they matched up to the road network. I was unable to obtain any information; I was told that it is not readily available on a regional basis.
We may also ask whether environmental and energy factors are taken into account and whether they are balanced by one system of transport against alternative modes of transport. I very much doubt it. Do the forecasts take account of predicted growth of rail usage and of the comparative benefits between the two? Again, I very much doubt it. I understand that the Department of Transport assessment methods used to evaluate investment in roads have an inbuilt bias against railways. For example, road schemes are assessed mainly on the theoretical benefits and savings whereas rail projects have to show a financial profit.
I understand that consideration of where the extra traffic likely to be generated by the new roads will go and the subsequent disadvantages arising from bottlenecks and congestion created further up the line is largely ignored in the evaluation. Surely these are all factors that should be taken into account and form the basis on which investment in road, rail and public transport is made.
I am not opposed to investment in road improvements. Much of the investment proposed in the White Paper is long overdue. It is symptomatic of our transport problems that new infrastructure and services, rather than being planned and introduced simultaneoulsy or alongside the economic growth about which the Minister boasted in his introductory speech, are to follow that growth. The fact is that local authorities and central 446 government agencies in trying to plan for economic growth in the past few years have been sadly held up by lack of investment in our roads and transport system.
Many of the schemes mentioned in the White Paper cover West Yorkshire, and in the context of the Government's approach they are badly needed. I would however enter some caveats. First, the schemes will bring additional environmental problems, such as those mentioned by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark. This is a great worry. Secondly, if they are not to be accompanied by parallel investment in rail and public transport the end result will be merely to fill up more roads with more cars. We have been told on many occasions that this country is behind Europe in growth in car ownership and in the construction of new roads. We are also behind Europe in our investment in rail. No matter what the noble Lord might say about our rail system being the most efficient in Europe, it is a fact that in France and in Germany investment and new railway construction are far ahead of ours.
The noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, recommended a capital grant to British Rail to help with the investment that is very much required. I should like to think that this could be a possibility because British Rail is being starved of funds. Although the Government say that, at £650 million investment this year is the highest for 20 years, little comfort can be drawn from this fact. As my noble friend Lord Underhill said, no public money is available for this £650 million investment. British Rail will have to find its own money. It will have to find it through the sale of property, by further increases in already high fares or by cutting staffing and maintenance costs.
British Rail states that the cost-cutting does not jeopardise passenger safety. One hopes that that is so, although accidents in recent months have raised a question mark over that statement. It would be a great pity if safety on British Rail were to be jeopardised. There is no doubt that in the past travelling by train has been much safer than travelling by car. On average, deaths on the road per passenger mile travelled are 10 times as high as those on the railways.
We do not often look into the cost of accidents. However, an answer to a question asked in another place on 1st July 1980 indicated that road accidents cost a tremendous amount of money. If any noble Lord would like to check cols. 515 and 516 of the Official Report of another place for that date and work out the sums involved, it will be found that in terms of 1979 prices the cost of road accidents reaches the staggering sum of £ 1.7 billion per annum.
A great saving could be made by further investment in British Rail as opposed to further investment in the roads. There is also a need for further investment in public transport systems. My noble friend Lady Fisher referred to the public transport system in the West Midlands. Public transport in West Yorkshire has been equally successful despite deregulation. It is the only metropolitan area where passenger usage has remained as high since deregulation as it was prior 447 to it. This has been achieved by co-operation between the passenger transport executives, local authorities, industry and users. A system of integration and co-operation has been built up which I hope will not be interfered with in the future.
Despite this, however, congestion continues to grow in the urban areas of West Yorkshire as in other areas. One of the means of coping with this congestion is to improve the passenger transport system and to introduce more modern methods of passenger transport. Bradford, for instance, is going in for a more traditional system, while Leeds is looking at the possibility of a light rapid transport system. Both cities, if they are to cope with their problems, will need public assistance—assistance both from local authorities and from national funds. Subsidies are perhaps not a popular theme with the Government at the present time, but it we are to solve our transport problems and if we are to cope with the problem of congestion, there must be greater public investment in new and modern services.
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ Lord Teviot
My Lords, I should also like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, for securing yet another debate on transport at a time when the nation is probably more concerned about the subject than ever before. While the noble Lord's Motion gives us great scope for a wide-ranging debate, I wish to confine my remarks to policies affecting bus operators in particular.
Although the number of passengers using buses has declined since deregulation, many of us who know the industry hope that this decline will in time be reversed. In this way the bus can play an ever increasing role in meeting at least part of the total demand for transport which is growing all the time. Regrettably, we seem to be getting further and further behind with our transport statistics. The latest I have to hand are for 1987. These show that for road transport alone total passenger miles travelled were 4.8 per cent. higher than in 1986 and 30.7 per cent. higher than in 1977. For all transport the growth was only slightly lower. What the figures for 1988 will be I do not know. Perhaps my noble friend will be able to enlighten us.
Demand for transport is growing fast. Some but not all of this can be catered for efficiently by the bus, particularly in urban areas. As we have seen in the past, bus operators, local authorities and passenger transport authorities and executives have responded well to the challenges of deregulation. The industry is changing, the market is still settling down and patronage fell by 2.3 per cent. outside London in 1987–88 compared with the previous year.
However, there are three possible policy changes which may cloud the horizon and lead to a further decline in bus travel and even more cars on our congested roads. First, the rebate on fuel duty which the industry receives for its local services appears to be under scrutiny by the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee. Noble Lords may not appreciate that the operators of local bus services are entitled to reclaim the duty they pay on their 448 fuel. That amounted to £118 million in 1987–88, of which £18 million was reclaimed by London Buses Ltd. That represented 20 per cent. of its operating deficit. That rebate, which has been given for over 20 years, is now being questioned.
The industry makes a positive contribution towards relieving traffic congestion. One bus can carry 100 people in the space occupied by three or four cars, which can carry only 16 people. The bus uses scarce road space six times more efficiently than the car. Some external support is therefore justified on a national basis, in addition to the specific support for loss-making socially necessary services which can be given by local authorities and passenger transport authorities under the Transport Act 1985. The industry has just suffered a major cost increase in the last Budget which has driven fares up. That was the increase in vehicle excise duty on buses and coaches. It does not deserve another blow from ending or restricting fuel duty rebate.
Preserving fuel duty rebate will also help competition between modes as the railways pay only a nominal duty on their diesel fuel for passenger services and there is no duty of which I am aware on the electricity they use. That is right and proper, but we must ensure that the bus industry is in a similar position so that it can compete fairly.
Secondly, there has been a threat for several years now that the Government will be obliged to impose a positive rate of VAT on all public transport fares, including bus fares. That will have to be passed on to the passenger in full—indeed, more than in full, as I shall explain shortly—because operators can already reclaim the VAT they pay out. The problem we would have, if VAT were imposed at, say, 6 per cent., is that fares would have to increase by more than 6 per cent. to bring in extra revenue to pay the VAT. The reason, of course, is that as fares rise the number of passengers is reduced and revenue always increases by less than the fares increase. This is very complex but nevertheless it is true.
Thus, we may see a 10 per cent. fares increase as a result of imposing VAT. But, unfortunately, the effects will not stop there. I understand that VAT will affect concessionary fares for the elderly, the disabled, and children. Moreover, what is worse, it may in some circumstances increase the cost to local authorities of funding these concessions at a time when their budgets will be under pressure because of the community charge.
Again, this is a complicated subject and I do not intend to detain your Lordships with detail. However, I hope, first, that the Government will continue to fight vigorously in Europe to keep public transport zero-rated for VAT. Secondly, if we are forced to place this additional burden on passengers I hope that the Government will take every administrative measure they can to reduce the adverse impact on passengers and on local authorities so that patronage can be maintained.
Thirdly, I am more than a little concerned about concessionary fares for the elderly and disabled in particular. Provision for those fares was built into the Transport Act 1985, and, as a recent report from the Transport and Road Research Laboratory has 449 shown, this has worked well. Those who prophesied the end of concessions after deregulation were, thankfully, shown to be wrong. However, concessionary fares schemes will be coming under pressure, like everything else, as the Local Government Finance Act begins to take effect. I hope that my noble friend can reassure the House that his colleagues will ensure—as they did so well in 1986—that the cost of maintaining concessions is taken into account in giving the local authorities concerned central government grants towards their expenditures.
These concessions are invaluable to the many elderly and disabled people who benefit from them. The income they generate is a vital part of most bus operators' revenue and it goes to help maintain service levels for everyone. However, the Permanent Secretary to the Department of Transport, when appearing before the House of Commons Transport Committee last year, stated that some authorities were too generous with bus operators over concessionary fares. I know of no evidence to support that and I view the matter with concern as it appears that the department is attacking the system of concessionary fares. I hope that my noble friend will feel able to reassure the House on the matter and that he will be able to set the record straight concerning alleged generosity to operators.
By continuing fuel duty rebate, opposing VAT on fares and ensuring adequate resources for local authorities as regards concessionary fares, the Government can make a positive contribution to the future of the bus industry. Many solutions to our transport problems can only be implemented over several years. In the meantime, we must continue to suffer delays and congestion. However, the bus industry is flexible and responsive to changing transport needs. It is able to make an immediate contribution towards improving the transport network. I sincerely hope it will not be hampered by the problems to which I have alluded today.
Finally, I should like to add my observations on all the issues raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher of Rednal. I believe that the subject she raised in the context of the West Midlands is part of a wider issue. A further complication which the Government have thrown into the metropolitan counties issue is the Minister's hint, made just before Christmas, that he was considering whether to break up the public transport companies in the metropolitan areas into smaller units.
The noble Baroness outlined the case against this proposal and I should like to draw attention to the difference of direction between what the Minister wants to achieve with those measures and what is happening in the market-place. In the market, bus companies are finding it necessary and desirable to group into large units. One suspects that in the future most competition will be between huge operators which are equally matched, rather than between David and Goliath.
The Monopolies and Mergers Commission report into Badgerline Holdings found that, so far as concerned the passengers on commercial services, the merger was in the public interest because it gave 450 passengers inter-availability of tickets and a higher level of service. Why, in those circumstances, do we wish to create smaller companies which will quickly form again into larger units? I hope that this possibly unnecessary diversion from the business of running buses to satisfy the consumer will not be allowed to get out of hand.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove
My Lords, we should all congratulate my noble friend Lord Underhill on having chosen this subject for debate. In transport terms, it is one of the best debates that we have had for a long time. We should also thank the Minister for speaking immediately after my noble friend and for giving us some helpful figures. He was possibly a little complacent. He seemed to be saying that he was unaware of the fact that London, especially, is grinding to a halt and that some of the roads out of London, in particular the M.1, is in the same position.
With the White Paper being published last week and the Green Paper this week, it was inevitable that they would form an important part of the debate. I should like to deal with some of the points raised. From looking at the annex to the White Paper one gets some idea of the problem that we face in this country. The minimum forecast increase between 1988 and 2025—just under 40 years—in vehicle miles travelledis 83 per cent. and the highest is 142 per cent.
The White paper is something of a panic gesture designed to convince us that the Government are doing, or proposing to do, something to deal with our present congestion. At present there is a big shortfall in our ability to meet existing demand. We should also consider the classic case of the M.25. It showed how much error has occurred in estimating future traffic. It would therefore seem logical to assume that in 2025 we shall need at least two and a half times as much road capacity as exists today, just to stay where we are. In 40 years' time there will be another debate when we will ask what we should do about having more roads. That is the logical conclusion of the report.
Paragraph 5 of the annex states:The above forecast will be used in appraising motorway and trunk road schemes. They will play an important role in the assessment of whether the benefits from a scheme over its lifetime justify the initial cost and standard of provision".That is a fair statement, but it applies to the country as a whole whereas the real problem is that schemes may vary either above or below an estimate. The PAC's conclusions published last week make it plain that it has, to put it kindly, little confidence in departmental estimates. As your Lordships will be aware, that committee is a committee of senior Members of the House. It is one of the prestigious committees.
It is frank, not to say brittle, about its attitude towards the department. In paragraph 14 of its conclusions it states:We do not accept—nor do we believe many of those now suffering congested roads would accept—that the Department's traffic flow forecasting is as reliable as it could and should be. We find their explanations of the variations that have occurred to be unconvincing; and we are concerned at the Department's 451 reluctance to accept that there is a serious problem, which we feel verges on complacency. It is difficult to have confidence in present forecasting methods when traffic flows on some roads have so quickly and so substantially exceeded the forecasts on which design standards were based. Whilst we recognise that traffic forecasting is not an exact science and there are many factors to be taken into account, we strongly recommend that the Department fundamentally review their forecasting methods to seek out the underlying causes of the various inaccurancies that have arisen and apply the lessons that emerge".I have not read that out to be vindictive to the department. I merely ask: on what basis can we take the figures that we have been given? In practically every case examined the figures were way below the actual traffic that used the road once it had been in use for over a year.
In paragraph 16 of its conclusions, the PAC severely criticised not just the figures but the presentation of the forecasting and outrun of the schemes. It suggests that the methodology gives "a misleadingly favourable picture". Those are strong words from such a committee. The example it gave was of a section of the M.25 where the forecast was 49,000 vehicles per day for the year after the opening. That was an underestimate. The figure turned out to be almost 100,000 vehicles a day in the year after the opening. Statistically that would surely mean that there was an underestimate of 100 per cent., but the department's method of expression, which is new to me, was that there was a 50 per cent. variation in actual flow.
Instead of saying that the department's estimate was half of what happened, it took the higher figure and said that it was 50 per cent. less than the flow. I understand that the Department of Transport is now going to incorporate the results of the before and after examination of its new schemes rather more accurately. That is important when we consider the Green Paper New Roads by New Means, which was published just the other day, because private money will want accurate forecasts before tenders are forthcoming for any new schemes.
The basic premise of the private roads paper is false. There is an illogical jump from tolled estuarial crossings to special roads. In a short paper, the RAC showed how unreal is the whole idea of tolled roads.
I shall give my own reasons. All the many great road bridges built since the last war have tolls. They are monopolies of a sort. The detour by land to avoid tolls on the Seven and Forth bridges and in the Mersey Tunnel is considerable, and one must make the choice whatever the traffic conditions. One has to decide early whether one is going to use the toll roads, bridges or tunnels. One assumes that the only real benefit of private roads will be at peak, or near peak, traffic times. At other times, or at night, there will still be the old trunk roads or perhaps even the old-fashioned motorways. The construction industry will no doubt give serious thought to the Government's ever-so-tentative proposals, but as the Financial Times said in its leader yesterday it is difficult to see private industry taking on the risks when the Government have just announced a doubling of the public sector programme. In other words, even if it just sits back, it looks as though the private construction industry will have plenty of 452 work for the next few years if the Government go ahead with their programme.
One of the points raised by a number of your Lordships was that of additionality. I suddenly came across the additionality paragraph when I was reading the Green Paper. I said to myself that the Treasury must have read the Green Paper and decided to toughen it up a bit because paragraph 44 makes it absolutely clear that additionality will be taken away from the total, whatever is allowed. So I do not think that there is any benefit to the consumers unless there is the view that there will be much greater efficiency and the roads will be built much more cheaply.
The Government are really only committed to expenditure of £25 million, to be paid to the planners and consultants to provide schemes which, as was said in the other place, could only be used as window dressing for the next general election. The schemes will probably be just about ready to come out in a nice brochure before the next election. If some noble Lords think that that is cynical, then I feel that there is a great basis for cynicism in the whole production of White Papers.
The White Paper and the Green Paper are beautifully produced but the substance is thin and I doubt whether they will be remembered for very long. The White Paper contrasts, to its disadvantage, with the admirable document of the CBI's taskforce, the report on transport in London. In it there is an attempt to deal with the problem in the round. I must echo the words of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark on the motor car. He said that we must get people out of cars onto public transport and that the car must be tamed.
I am sorry that the CBI did not tackle what is undoubtedly the biggest single problem with the motor car—the unnecessary company car. I just do not believe that we can ignore the non-commercial company car and the problems those cars create on the roads in our major cities every morning and evening, particularly at rush hour periods. They not only take up a great deal of space on the roads, going out to the suburbs of all the cities, including London in particular, but also because they are heavily subsidised they lie in the streets or in subsidised parking places and make it impossible for the occasional user even to attempt to come into city centres for shopping or personal business.
We are aware that the debate on the Order Paper is about traffic in London. Knowing other cities in the country—and other people have spoken about their own areas—I readily accept that London is a special place. On the other hand, many of the problems of London are becoming visible in Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow, Edinburgh and any other heavily populated area in the country. We can all learn something from the mistakes of London and even more from any successful applications of the trial solutions. A vital first step is some overall body to examine transport as a whole in London.
Again, the CBI report gives the quite staggering figures that 90 per cent. of Greater London roads are administered by 33 local highway authorities. On top of that there are British Rail and London 453 Regional Transport, and, as the report says, this is a situation unparalleled in any other single major city in the world. We have had a large number of extremely good contributions today but I believe that at the end of the day we shall solve the problems of urban transport and make our cities fit to live in again by heavy expenditure on public transport. That is the only solution for major conurbations. The car has its place. It is a great boon when properly used. But when wrongly or selfishly used it can be a burden on all of us.
If we look at America and other parts of the world we see what they have found. In certain places in America one is not allowed in the fast lane unless there are at least three people in the car. I myself saw the Golden Gate bridge and was told that the authorities have reached the stage of buying mini-buses to take people over the bridge from the communities because they cannot handle the full amount of traffic if each person travelled over on his own in his own car. San Francisco cannot take the cars that arrrive in its streets. Rome must do something. Traffic there is very severely restricted if not totally prohibited from the city centre. Athens has alternative day permits for motor cars for the centre of the city.
We may not like restrictions. Neither do people in those countries, but sheer necessity has forced them on people and I hope that we shall be far-sighted and look at public transport in our conurbations. I am by no means anti-motor car but there is no doubt that the first way to tackle traffic is to accept that there will be restrictions on the motor car. In order to make that palatable, particularly in our major cities, we must spend a great deal of money on public transport, perhaps not receiving any return for quite a long time.
§ 6.55 p.m.
§ Lord Brabazon of Tara
My Lords, this debate has certainly lived up to its potential in covering such a wide range of transport topics, and doing so in such commendable depth. These are important topics since they affect the fabric of our everyday lives and the performance of the economy on which we all so obviously depend. So I should like to try to respond to as many points as my time allows, but I am quite conscious that with the large number of matters raised I shall not be able to answer every point that every noble Lord has made.
I start with the call from the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, repeated by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, and my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth, to encourage more use of rail for freight transport. Of course we believe that fair competition is the best service that meets consumers' needs best. We accept however that there may be environmental reasons for keeping some lorries off unsuitable roads and since 1974 a total of £65 million has been paid in Section 8 grants. We estimate that this keeps well over 3 million lorry journeys a year off unsuitable roads.
It would be unrealistic, though, to expect a massive shift to rail freight and we have to accept that rail is not suitable for all freight transport needs, 454 particularly over short distances. However, we see new opportunities with the opening of the Channel tunnel. There would be considerable journey time savings from Scotland and the North of England and indeed from Liverpool. It is for BR to develop its commercial strategy. It is still working on the matter but it envisages through services from the regional centres, using the West London line around London. That provides more than enough capacity for the foreseeable future, so new freight lines around London are not needed at present.
The noble Lords, Lord Underhill and Lord Ezra, referred to the recent CBI report on the costs of congestion. The Government always welcome constructive proposals for improvements and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State will be meeting the authors of the report shortly.
I would just comment that the basis of the CBI's claim about the real cost of congestion is unclear and we do not believe that there is any way of making accurate overall estimates of congestion costs. In addition, the report gives inadequate recognition to the high levels of investment in public and road transport systems and the major studies currently in hand. Its call for greater cohesion within the DTp also ignores the London Passenger Transport Group, which my right honourable friend chairs and which oversees the two rail operators in planning and providing services.
The noble Lords, Lord Underhill and Lord Carmichael, referred not just to the criticism by the National Audit Office of the department's traffic forecasting which is now being repeated by the Public Accounts Committee. My right honourable friend will of course study the PAC's report carefully, but Roads for Prosperity, the White Paper, addresses many of the PAC's concerns, notably that new higher National Road Traffic Forecasts have been announced and there are included proposals to widen the M.25.
A large number of noble Lords referred to the new roads in inner and central London, and particularly the assessment studies. So far as the roads in inner and central London are concerned, the statement of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State on transport in London said:Present and future traffic management measures will help to improve road conditions in London, but new road construction will also be necessary if Londoners are to satisfy their transport choices and needs, if forecast demand is to be suitably accommodated and if further economic development in London is to be attained. But any proposals for new construction will need to recognise the physical and environmental constraints on road building in London, particularly in the central area, and the high cost of overcoming them satisfactorily".The assessment studies were looking at public transport as well as potential road options. The objective was to bring improvements, including improvements to the environment. We have said that we will not support schemes which do more harm than good. We have also said that we will not be building new motorways in London.
The Transport in London booklet, which accompanied the statement, said:There is no point in building new roads into central and inner London if their main effect would be to cause commuters to switch from rail to road".455 That would not be the point of any schemes arising from the assessment studies. The purpose of the assessment studies is to provide a range of options for relieving the particularly severe transport problems in the study areas. The roads in inner London do not just serve commuters, there are freight and other working trips during the day, and longer distance traffic trips with origin and destination outside the centre, and of course the necessary bus routes.
The noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, urged us to drop the damaging options from the assessment studies as soon as possible. The options published by consultants were of course broad outlines of their ideas and they were not departmental proposals. The consultants are pressing ahead to reach full and objective assessment of options.We agree with the noble Lord that we want the anxiety and uncertainty reduced as soon as possible.
We have said that we shall not support schemes which, as I have said, do more harm than good. We expect to receive the consultants' reports in the late summer. The reports will contain recommendations and proposals for minimising the effects. There will then of course be a period of public comment before we decide which, if any, of the consultants' ideas should be taken forward. All options will be considered within a framework which assesses them against jointly-agreed objectives and takes full account of their environmental impact. All new road schemes are subject to environmental appraisals and cover such issues as land take, housing loss, travel noise, visual impact, air pollution, community severance and accidents.
The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, also talked about roads in London and the need for new roads in London. They are primarly orbital to improve journeys at and around central London and to improve access to developing areas such as Docklands in east London. Six of the department's trunk road schemes in London are added as part of the Government's Action for Cities initiative to help regenerate the inner cities. Railways cannot always compete with roads for meeting demand for transport in outer London as they have insufficient flexibility.
A number of noble Lords talked about our proposals for private finance of roads as outlined in the White Paper, New Roads by New Means. The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, asked whether there would be congestion because of toll collection, and I think cited the Dartford Tunnel. No, we do not believe that that will be the case. The design of roads and links to them will be subject to the department's standards on environmental and safety effects of road building, and of course the private sector would have to attract customers and would lose business if entry to the route was congested.
I have to say that when I visited the Dartford Tunnel about a year ago when the Bill was going through your Lordships' House, I was careful to see what congestion was caused by the toll booths. My impression was that it was very slight indeed. It was only as long as it took to pay one's money. There was a tailback on both sides of the bridge on that 456 day, and it was quite obvious that the toll booths were not the cause of that tailback.
The noble Lord also asked whether there would be first and second-class road users based on income. I think that the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, covered that point as well. No, the level of tolls has yet to be seen. The promoters will have to attract a lot of users to cover costs. All road users will benefit from reduced congestion, including people on "free" roads.
The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, asked how private sector roads would link into the overall road strategy. The Government's objective of course is to extend the role of the private sector in providing transport infrastructure. The Government do not have a monopoly of ideas. We wish to harness the entrepreneurial management skills of the private sector to complement the public programme. We are confident that that will mean more roads overall. The effect of the proposal on the existing road network will be one of the factors considered by the Secretary of State in deciding which proposals should proceed.
The noble Lord and my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth also referred to the question of additionality, which is such an important one in this issue. The Green Paper states that in future we will not subtract privately financed roads from the public sector provision on a scheme-by-scheme basis.
This is a major advance. Obviously the contribution from the private sector to road provision will be taken into account in determining the overall government provision, as it is indeed in housing, but this of course is some time in the future when we have a number of schemes up and running.
My noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth asked about the intellectual property rights of promoters of schemes. We believe that commercially confidential ideas will be protected. Competitions will be on the basis of general terms for corridors, not on the basis of one firm's innovative technical ideas. A company initiating a scheme will benefit from the head start in the competition. If they have what looks like a new idea, we guarantee that they will go on the shortlist. We know of no companies deterred on this basis from bidding, and we would urge them to come forward. But I would remind your Lordships that this is a consultation Green Paper and that we wish to hear interested parties' views on this and other subjects. Some of those views we have heard this afternoon.
My noble friend also asked whether there will be sufficient alternative "free" routes to the toll route. I cannot say in advance how many toll roads there would be. We shall continue however to build and maintain an adequate road network for all types of traffic, and we expect toll roads to complement the public network. The effect on the public network will be a factor that we shall have to take into account.
The noble Lord, Lord Sefton of Garston, asked about having a procedure which avoids the need for a Bill for each scheme, and whether that meant that there would be no public inquiry. No, of course parliamentary time is limited. It is best to have tailor-made alternative order-making procedures as 457 with publicly-financed roads. Orders will be required, as now, to set the line of the road, side-road provisions, compulsory purchase and of course tolling. There will be a public inquiry if there are objections. As with existing procedures, those affected will have the right to put their views.
A number of the noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, and the noble Lord, Lord Sefton, raised the need for a strategic authority for transport in London. We do not believe that there is a need for a strategic body to be set up. There has never been a single transport authority. It is not the answer to congestion and transport problems. We want action to tackle the problems and not bureaucracy, and the roads programme and the studies commissioned are evidence that action is in hand.
I would remind your Lordships that it is only four years since the GLC was abolished. That was the authority for London traffic, and indeed ran London Underground. If it had made such a good job of it in London, I have no doubt that we would be enjoying the benefits now and that perhaps we might not be even have needed to have this debate.
The subject of parking in London was raised by a number of noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, and my noble friend Lord Mancroft. I do not think that we need any research to tell us what a disproportionate effect illegal parking and stopping in London have on the movement of traffic. We recognise the contribution of enforcement of effective parking controls to overcoming traffic congestion in London It is indeed one of the main elements of our approach to overcoming congestion.
Wheel clamping has proved a most effective deterrent against illegal parking in parts of central London since its introduction in 1982. There has been a 40 per cent. fall in illegal parking on yellow lines and a more than 30 per cent. fall in illegal parking in residents' bays.
We recognise that good park-and-ride facilties in outer London and on the edges of metropolitan areas can help to reduce congestion on radial routes. Car parks are provided at 538 of Network SouthEast's 922 stations and at 64 of London Underground stations.
Enforcement of parking controls is a matter for the police, but noble Lords may like to read the report of the Home Office Working Party on Parking Enforcement announced last week. Copies of which are in the Library.
The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, said that revenue support for London Regional Transport was being progressively reduced. We have a clear commitment to supporting the high level of investment needed to modernise and expand the capacity of the system. At over £400 million, LRT investment in 1989–90 will be over 70 per cent. higher in real terms than in 1984–85, the last year of the GLC. The Government grant is to rise by 43 per cent. in real terms in 1989–90 to help fund that level of investment.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark asked for realistic low fares on public 458 transport, particularly British Rail. Fare levels are for British Rail to decide. It is British Rail which runs the railways and not Ministers. Since 1980 real fares have gone up by 5 per cent., but because of the increasing use of discounts such as Savers real fares paid per passenger mile have remained the same. Where BR is investing heavily to improve the quality of service we see nothing wrong in asking passengers to pay more to reflect the benefits they receive. A blanket subsidy to keep fares artificially low perpetuates inefficiency and insulates management from the customer. It cannot be justified.
In the context of the Central London Rail Study the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, asked who would pay for building those links. The new lines will be paid for by a mixture of fares paid by the growing number of passengers who have made them necessary, developers who should contribute in respect of the benefits they will gain, and grants for non-user benefits such as road congestion relief. It is too early at this stage to say what the fares and grants will be.
The right reverend Prelate also suggested that some of the South London railway lines should be converted to light rail. That is an interesting idea. It will be for British Rail to being forward proposals for investment in the first instance, but we suspect that conversion to light rail would be by no means as easy and trouble-free as might be thought. I hope that the right reverend Prelate will be interested to know that the consultants working on the South London and South Circular assessment studies are looking at various options for improvements, including significant improvements to public transport, particularly train services. Therefore the possibility of increased railway frequencies is already being examined.
The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, and the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, referred to company cars and tax advantages. The taxation of company cars is of course a matter for my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Government's aim is to remove the element of subsidy. We have just commissioned a study of all forms of company assistance with travel in the London area. Our aim is to understand how much subsidy there is of all kinds.
The noble Earl also said that the planners did not think sufficiently far ahead when planning the M.25. My noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth also referred to that point. Forecasting has always been difficult. Successive governments have never been particularly accurate. The sheer scale of the M.25 and its proximity to London make such forecasting difficult. There were many uncertainties during the design stage. There was the oil crisis, doubts about the third London airport, abandonment of such schemes as Ringway 3, and objectors at public inquiries argued that the M.25 was not needed at all. It is not always as easy as all that.
The noble Baroness, Lady Fisher, gave a glowing commercial for West Midlands Travel bus company. I listened with interest to her remarks. Ministers have not yet taken a decision with regard to the break-up of the company. The West Midlands Passenger Transport Authority has put a full submission to the Government with its views. 459 Ministers are now considering that submission together with other representations which have been made.
The noble Baroness kindly asked me to pay a visit to the West Midlands. In fact I was there only last Friday. Among the places I visited was Birmingham Airport, which is part of my own area of responsibility. It is a most impressive regional airport, and a most successful one. It is going from strength to strength, thanks, to Government liberalisation policies among other things allowing new services to operate there.
Turning now to the White Paper on roads to which so many noble Lords referred, I am very grateful to my noble friends Lord Shrewsbury and Lord Lucas for their warm reception of the White Paper. I am also grateful for Lord Shrewsbury's good example of how savings could be made to individual companies as a result of road improvements.
My noble friend Lord Lucas asked me to set out the spending plans over the next 10 years and to indicate what commitment I could give. My noble friend will know what my answer is likely to be. The Government are committed to taking the programme forward as a matter of urgency. The amount and timing of the additional expenditure will be for decision in the PES round in the usual way and will be published in the Public Expenditure White Paper in due course. An example of our commitment is the 60 per cent. increase in expenditure since 1979. The noble Lord, Lord Sefton, would probably not be surprised if I say that, yes, of course we have to get the Treasury's agreement before we can spend any of that money.
With regard to forecasts for the year 2,000, details of national road traffic forecasts will be published in June. A number of noble Lords asked about the timescale. There will be a full roads report later in the year which will set out the complete road programme in detail, including existing schemes with supporting information.
The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, asked about local roads expenditure. Most of the traffic is carried on the trunk network and that is why we have introduced the new White Paper. Local roads are the responsibility of local authorities. However, the Government provide continuing and increasing support through transport supplementary grant, which was increased by 7 per cent. this year. We shall not reduce TSG to pay for trunk roads.
How soon will the projects get under way? Work on the expanded programme will be started immediately. Consulting engineers will be appointed as soon as possible to work up, prepare and design the individual schemes using the extra £27 million granted from the reserve for that purpose. The noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, in his opening remarks told us the horror story of his journey north last Friday. He will no doubt be pleased to see in the White Paper that both the M.1 and the A.5 are targeted for considerable improvement.
The noble Lord, Lord Sefton, said that the Government had considered various solutions to eliminate unacceptable levels of congestion on inter-urban roads but not that of moving people out 460 of London. I am sorry to see that he is no longer in the Chamber. As other noble Lords and the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, have said, congestion is not confined to London and there is a need for major improvements on other parts of the motorway network.
The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, and the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, mentioned motorway widening in the context of the White Paper and aspects such as junction improvements and contraflows. My noble friend Lord Cross mentioned that point too. The widening schemes will usually include junction improvements and may also involve the provision of separate lanes linking junctions. In some cases, new off-line routes may be an alternative to carriageway widening. To avoid disruption, where possible the existing motorway format is modified to provide the other carriageway. I believe that it is called parallel widening. Obviously, we shall do our utmost to reduce the disruption where possible.
My noble friend Lord Cross said that all new roads should be built to dual carriageway standard. Many of the roads announced in the White Paper will be dual carriageway, but standards must relate to the projected traffic flows and other factors. My noble friend also asked whether officials in the Department of Transport ever left their offices in London and travelled. Of course they do. The department has nine regional offices all over the country which are responsible for roads in their own regions.
My noble friend also referred to the Heathrow rail link and the subject of the green belt. He may not be aware that the Bill was before the House and that the Select Committee has given its view and adjourned. The promoters will now have to consider whether changes can be made that will enable the Bill to go ahead. The delays are of course disappointing, but the committee clearly felt that there should be changes. That is of course a matter for the Committee.
The noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, asked for a more integrated transport policy. When my right honourable friend made the statement on transport in London, he said that the Government must continue to have an important role in overseeing transport plans. But the primary objective of transport policy must be to utilise and expand the resources employed in transport in the most efficient way so that resources are allocated to the services that people most want and are willing to pay for. Increased efficiency is achieved by fair competition between transport modes and by people choosing which modes to use to travel or to move their goods on the basis of prices which, for all modes, reflect as far as is reasonably practical the costs that they impose by their choice. I remind the noble Baroness of the figures that I gave in my opening remarks for increased railway investment which is at a record level; indeed, the highest level since the 1960s. I shall have to write to my noble friend Lord Teviot on the subject of concessionary fares, VAT and fuel duty rebate.
Time is running out. I said earlier that I doubted that I would be able to cover every single point. However, in conclusion, I should like to stress that the Government are pursuing a wide range of 461 measures to meet the country's transport needs and are tackling the problems in London within a coherent framework. Record sums are being invested in transport infrastructure. Further programmes and studies are in hand. The private sector is contributing significantly and opportunities for further innovation are being pursued. We are confident of continuing to make progress with modern transport systems which will take us into the next century and help us to meet the new challenges safely, efficiently and with improvements to the environment. The system will help to sustain the present economic progress and improve living standards for us all.
§ 7.24 p.m.
§ Lord Underhill
My Lords, I am satisfied that our four-and-a-half-hour debate has served the purpose for which it was intended. Some noble Lords have dealt with the national problems; others have dealt with the serious problems in London; and yet other noble Lords have dealt with problems in other parts of the country. We are grateful to the Minister for the number of replies that he has given to various points, although I am certain that many noble Lords would like to reopen the debate having heard some of the statements he made. I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in the debate. More people have spoken in this transport debate than have spoken on many other occasions, and that is to our satisfaction. I hope that Ministers will take heed of the important points that have been made by noble Lords dealing with all kinds of matters relating to the important subject of transport. My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.
Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.