HL Deb 17 January 1990 vol 514 cc708-32

7.32 p.m.

Lord Mountevans rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether present policies towards road and rail reflect each mode's potential to satisfy the nations future transport needs.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, at the outset I declare an interest and also my gratitude to other noble Lords who have put their names down to speak in this debate. I do not intend to call for more investment in rail or road. The Government's recently announced plans for some £12 billion of expenditure (possibly increased by privately funded toll roads) seem to me more than enough. In respect of rail, Sir Robert Reid's remarks to the Institute of Transport that BR's annual level of investment, running at about £1.25 billion per annum, is about the maximum that it can physically manage deserved wider publicity than they received.

I am more concerned about the conclusions reached by the European Conference of Transport Ministers during the recent period of British chairmanship when they collectively agreed that mobility is essential to economic development and that transport users should bear the costs which they impose on the infrastructure and the environment. Those are European sentiments which I think we can all share. Close at home we are all aware of industry's needs for efficient transport. They were articulated by the CBI in its recent report Trade Routes to the Future. That report was unanimously adopted as policy at the confederation's conference last autumn.

We are also aware of the transport requirements posed by our need to be competitive in a single European market and of the opportunities posed by the Channel Tunnel. At a purely personal level we are all aware of the problems of congestion and we cannot ignore the demands of the environment. It seems to me that all those matters have an influence on the financing of transport investment, which in turn has an influence on how or if users pay.

British Rail's investments are largely funded by internally generated funds. By far the largest source of funding, if I read its corporate plan correctly, comes from fares and charges. Those are expected to rise at a greater level than inflation. The user is quite rightly paying his share of investment costs and can be expected to go on doing so provided that fare increases do not reach a level which will drive him to use other transport modes. I believe that the principal choice is in fact only one mode; namely, road transport.

The second largest source of funding for BR is its highly successful property board which raises money by disposal of assets, rental income and joint ventures. Income from that source reached a peak last year, is expected to fall a little this year, recover slightly next year and then fall quite sharply through 1993–94. Therefore, I wonder whether we can really look to the property board as an ongoing and major source of finance for British Rail's investment.

Thirdly, there is the public service obligation grant which includes an element for investment, renewal and replacement. However, we must remember that that PSO grant has been falling and will fall yet further. In fact by 1993 it should be payable only in respect of the provincial network. As a source of investment funds I feel that the grant will fall in terms of importance.

The fourth major source is borrowings from the Treasury. In recent years BR has been a repayer under that heading but it will become a borrower as its share of major privately financed ventures like the London to Channel Tunnel link costs come on stream. One must not overlook the fact that in terms of the sources which I have already described the fare payer or freight customer—the user—will be funding the interest and eventual repayments of those loans.

One other major financial source of income is private capital. As I welcomed in my opening remarks the possibility of private capital for roads in joint ventures such as the Channel link and the Heathrow express, so I hope we shall make progress in finding private capital for rail.

How attractive are such opportunities for the private sector? Returns are certainly not particularly eye-catching if perceived through the short-termist City eyes with which we now seem to have to live. Meanwhile, the legislative process is quite simply discouraging and one can only repeat the hope—because that hope has been stated before in this House and, indeed, in another place—that both Houses will find a formula more appealing in terms of the private sector's potential to contribute towards our infrastructure costs. The private Bill procedure must be simplified.

There are other lesser sources of funding such as the welcome contribution to investment made by the passenger transport authorities. On the horizon there is the possibility of capital grants. They have hitherto been available under some circumstances to those building metro railways in provincial cities but have only recently been an option to British Rail.

Last month the Secretary of State published new objectives for British Rail. Hitherto in terms of investment any BR proposal for investment had to demonstrate an 8 per cent. return on the assets, but in setting out the new objectives, the Secretary of State announced that where such a rate could not be demonstrated, BR and the Department of Transport should carry out a cost-benefit analysis to see whether capital grants would be justifiable on wider social or economic grounds. That was another remark that did not receive the publicity it deserved.

I should like to ask the noble Viscount, Lord Davidson, whether it is an option for part-funding of, say, the London cross-rail proposals. It seems to me a far more rational approach to solving our congestion problems than does the recently announced but unspecified level of private funding contributing to the unquantified costs of the Jubilee Line extension. That is an instance where, for me at least, the availability of some private sector funding seems to have given us the least useful of the many rail proposals being discussed for London.

Alternatively, I ask the noble Viscount whether grant is a possibility for longer projects such as electrifying the North or South Wales railway lines. For example, the EC is keen on the electrification of the North Wales line. Our friends in Ireland are also keen on electrification. Would grant be a feasibility in funding or part-funding the Midland main line electrification? I tend to think that that and the Edinburgh-Glasgow northern electrification are probably the two most desirable electrification projects at the moment, but British Rail cannot justify either of them on the return on assets criteria. The remarks of the Secretary of State were somewhat hedged with "ifs" and "buts"; however—and this is only a possibility—is grant only a matter for urban projects such as the proposed suburban electrification in Birmingham?

Let me now turn to the sources of road investment funds. If I am briefer than I have been on rail it is because road financing is much more simple—almost entirely from public funds. I do not dismiss the contribution made towards direct costs by the road haulage industry; nor do I overlook the contributions made by private developers in local contexts. I hope, as I have already said, that the Government will be successful in attracting private funding for road development, but I wonder whether the noble Viscount can report on progress.

In the longer term, because it is mostly private funding, it seems to me that the principal source of road investment will continue to be the nation as a whole. At a lower level this means the corporate and the personal taxpayer, whether the tax be national or local. As long as that remains the case, the roads ability to deliver point to point, from A to B, at any time of day or night will always seem more attractive than rail's ability to move large volumes of passengers and bulk shipments of freight.

The investment regime seems to distort the picture in terms of even-handed competition. This distortion recurs in terms of payment for use. The rail passenger pays his fare. The road user hardly ever pays a toll. The rail user pays through his fares for the policing of the railway network; he pays for litter removal. It is worth mentioning that the green Bill, given its Second Reading in another place last night, puts additional obligations on the railways in this respect. The rail user pays for the listed buildings. There are whole books on the number of listed buildings which the railways preserve. I assume that there are listed structures on the roads, but I also assume that, again, they are paid for out of the great national pot. The road user finds all these costs borne by the nation—lucky road user!

Turning to safety, the Government have published their aim to reduce road casualties by one-third before the end of the decade. That is a very laudable aim, not least when one notes that over 5,000 people were killed on the roads in 1988, whereas the rail figure was 97. The average figure for deaths on the railways over the five years to 1988—here I quote the railways inspectorate's annual report—was only 79, a rather smaller number than were killed on the roads of Dorset in the first 11 months of last year. Indeed, it is a considerably smaller number than those killed on the roads of Hampshire in the months of June, July, August and September last year.

Who pays for the Government's road safety policy? Once again it seems to me that it will largely be the nation as a whole. We know that British Rail's investment plans over the next three years include £125 million for safety and that availability of money will not stand in the way of implementing the Hidden recommendations arising out of the tragedy at Clapham Junction. Who will provide this money? The form book suggests that it will be the rail user. Rail is already treated differently from road in that British Rail bears the full costs of the consequences of its accidents, whereas the costs of road accidents are divided between insurance companies and a whole range of spending departments and local authority bodies.

Before I summarise my sentiments I should like briefly to raise two matters. The first is the so-called Section 8 grant whereby governments can contribute to the costs of railway sidings and rolling stock if this diverts freight from road to rail. In terms of a national transport policy that would seem to be a very practical and sensible proposal. However, it is a laudable concept that has rather fallen into disuse as awards are governed principally by effects measured purely in local terms and taking little or no account of the increasing number of bypasses and motorways that are being built.

I urge the Government to rethink the criterion, not least because it switches freight away from road and thus reduces congestion but also because of the potential arising out of the Channel Tunnel. I can see—I have said this before—a situation where, because of the number of private sidings, particularly in France and Germany, and because of the wagonload of business that is done by the railways in France and Germany, material will be railed to the first convenient point on this side of the Channel Tunnel and then transferred to road instead of going by rail from one end to the other.

I also ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they are taking in respect of the increasing number of instances of road vehicles hitting railway bridges. I have become aware of that in the past two years because three times in that period I have been delayed on a train because a bridge down the line was hit. I am also aware that the railways inspectorate is increasingly aware of this problem. Again, its annual report says that the number of instances where a road vehicle hit a railway bridge rose by over one-third to over 400 occurrences; that is more than one a day. The inspectorate notes that that figure includes a threefold increase of serious incidents. A serious incident is where the track is so distorted that an oncoming train might be derailed, with possibly a major accident.

We have had King's Cross and a very thorough analysis by judicial inquiry of the consequences of fire. We have had Clapham with an equally thorough analysis of the consequences of failure to look after safety. Are we now to have a third major inquiry when we have a substantial rail disaster resulting from a road vehicle hitting a railway bridge?

In exploring the relationship between rail and road I have not asked for more subsidy because I share the view of the Government that subsidy is a matter of need, not of right. Nor have I asked for more investment. What I should like to see is a more even-handed approach to investment appraisal. The 8 per cent. rule applied to railways is, I feel, discriminatory when contrasted with the cost benefit criteria applied to roads. I also ask that road users pay a greater share directly of the costs related to their use of roads. The method for so doing I leave to others, though I notice that think tanks of both political persuasions go against the Government in that the think tanks favour road pricing. That is, I believe, the equitable way to ensure the fair competition between transport modes that Her Majesty's Government seek to achieve.

7.50 p.m.

Earl Attlee

My Lords, I start by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, upon tabling this Unstarred Question, To ask Her Majesty's Government whether present policies towards road and rail reflect each mode's potential to satisfy the nation's future transport needs". I regret to say that in my opinion the answer has to be an emphatic no. In talking about road and rail I shall not be mentioning anything about London because next Wednesday the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, will initiate a short debate that covers this subject. I might mention freight on road and rail; therefore, I should declare an interest. The public relations company of which I am chairman has as one of its clients the firm of Tiphook Plc which is the largest container rental company in Europe. I must also mention the fact that I am in receipt of a British Rail pension.

When we discussed in this House the deregulation of buses and coaches, we said that if it went ahead passengers would get a poor deal, services would decline and costs would increase. In addition, many small villages would be without any bus service whatever. We have been proved right in that respect. There has been a dramatic drop in passenger miles and in all aspects of business to do with buses and coaches.

Turning to motorways I mention the M.25. We are now told that a fourth lane is to be introduced in each direction. I used to believe that this need was the fault of the planners and I wondered why on earth the fourth lane was not built originally. I have been reliably informed that the reason is that the developers were given so much with which to build the orbital road around London and only three lanes could be afforded. When the bridges were being built I would like to know why they were not extended slightly so that if in the future one wished to build a fourth lane there would be no need to demolish the existing bridges.

We are told that the Government are thinking of allowing overtaking on motorways on the inside. A person wrote to the Daily Mail last week and said that this idea was very similar to someone trying to give up smoking and being provided with larger ashtrays. A few days later an American gentleman wrote to the Daily Telegraph and said, "Whatever you do, do not allow overtaking on the inside. We have it in the United States and it is dangerous". I concur with that.

I normally find myself travelling on the M.25 which carries a vast volume of traffic. However, one can be in the middle lane and looking a mile or two miles' ahead see one vehicle on the nearside lane. People will not move over to the nearside lane. It is ridiculous. My fear is that if we have a fourth lane the same situation will occur. Instead of having one lane under-utilised there will be two. It seems to me that so many are not moving over that we should get the police to do something about it.

The same can be said about tailgating. We have had recently a very bad accident in fog on the motorway which people alttribute to all kinds of things. It is not so much a question of speed, but when travelling at 50 or 60 miles per hour cars are so close to each other that it would be impossible to get one car between them. Therefore, if one car brakes there is a smash. If you are a good driver and keep a decent distance from the car in front, you will eventually find yourself being overtaken and you have to pull back further. I believe the good rule is the rule of three. You watch the car in front pass a marker on the road and if you can count to three before you reach that point then you are travelling at a safe distance. If the count is under three then you are too close.

I shall not mention facilities for disabled drivers because I feel sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, will be dealing with the matter. I see that the noble Baroness shakes her head, but I shall still not mention the subject. Reliable studies indicate that if the amount of freight going by rail was doubled it would reduce the amount of freight on the road by only 10 per cent. and that reduction would not be noticed.

I now turn to the subject of rail. As noble Lords know, whenever the subject of British Rail arises I defend it and not because I am in receipt of a pension from British Rail. I worked for seven years as the assistant public relations officer at Waterloo so I know of the problems. Until the other day I can honestly say that I had never criticised British Rail. I was going home the other night in the one and only first-class smoker compartment. There were six seats and there were six male passengers. They started complaining and they all had exactly the same complaint.

I joined in. They said that they had written to the director of Network SouthEast and had not even received the courtesy of an acknowledgment of their letters. I have written twice to the director and I have not received an acknowledgment. Not one of us has received an acknowledgment. It does not matter how good the service is: if you write to the boss you should at least have the courtesy of a reply.

When I worked at Waterloo the general manager acknowledged every single letter to him. I know that because one of my jobs was going through the answers to letters. As a heavy smoker I become very annoyed when, in an eight car train, there may be only one compartment for smokers. And that will always be over the bogies. It may be that smoking is bad for us. But the proportion of smoking to non-smoking seats bears no relationship to the number of smokers.

I wish to ask the noble Viscount a question but I do not expect to receive an answer tonight. It concerns subsidies. Here I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans. I wish to know what subsidy is paid at the moment per thousand passengers per passenger mile in the United Kingdom compared with that paid in France, Germany and Belgium? It is my belief that those other railways are heavily subsidised while in the United Kingdom the subsidy to the railways is going down and down.

France and Belgium are building high-speed rail links to the rest of Europe. Unfortunately, if we do not do something we shall be left out of this great improvement. The same situation applied to shipping. Rotterdam became the major port and the London ports became a wasteland. We are going to miss the boat. I do not intend a pun. There is no doubt that we need high-speed trains. This means new lines because the existing ones are not suitable.

I am dead against privatisation of the railways. Were that to happen there would be a terrible danger of trains being run by the private operators during the peak hours only with basically no services at off-peak times. That would be a very sad state of affairs for people who have to travel every day. I have spoken for nine minutes; I shall not take up any more of your Lordships' time.

8 p.m.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, for asking this important Unstarred Question. Many of the present policies towards road and rail are not satisfying the nation. Unless some urgent improvements and changes in policy are made, the present frustrations, which in some areas have already reached an unacceptable level, will bring the country to a grinding halt.

Many people ask why large sections of our motorways up and down the country are coned off with no work in progress. Often one sees single line traffic causing endless hold-ups while two lanes stand empty behind miles of cones. This causes great frustration and must cost industry a great amount of money in wasted time and extra wages for lorry drivers, to say nothing of the inconvenience to car drivers.

In the past year one of the worst roads has been the section of the A.1 between Doncaster and Newcastle. For years now this road should have been given motorway status. It still has intersections, which often cause lethal accidents, and, around the Wetherby area, it even has cows crossing. Over the past two years the escalating volume of traffic, the increased sizes of lorries and the traffic jams, sometimes 10 miles long, have become a nightmare. With the removal of some of the roundabouts on this stretch of the A.1 some improvements have been made but no notice has been taken of the advice of the police to build a hard shoulder. There are stretches on this very busy road with no space should the emergency services have to reach the scene of a crash. It is a very dangerous situation and it is high time the Government gave greater priority on the need for accident prevention and the safety of all road users.

Unless a high priority is put on taking pressure off the M.1 and A.1, the journey between the North and the Channel Tunnel may take as long as in the days of the stage-coach. Do the Government have plans to extend the motorway to Cambridge, with a road which could link up with the under-used Humber Bridge? It is important that the Government should realise that there is a great deal of country beyond Watford. This includes Scotland, which has always had a special friendship with France. Does the Department of Transport realise the importance of another road linking the North and the South? Without one there will be an enormous extra build-up of northern traffic in the London area. We must not be blocked off from the heart of Europe by clogged-up routes.

Recently there was a multiple pile-up of cars in fog on the M.25 motorway. This is a relatively new motorway. Would it not be money well spent to install in the black spot areas where fog often lies more yellow fog lights and flashing warning signs? More should be done in the future to guard against the dangers of fog. Drivers who persistently drive too fast in fog should have their licences removed as they are removed for drunken driving.

There is in society a worrying growth of aggressive behaviour. This seems worse when people drive cars. The most aggressive drivers—I hate to say this as I am the only woman speaking in the debate—tend to be men. They may have been drinking alcohol and they think only of themselves. Again it would be of future benefit to society if research was conducted on the subject of aggression. Something might then be done for individuals to help them learn to control their habits.

The Government may well say that we do not have the worst record for road casualties. That is no reason for complacency. The death or serious injury of a single individual has the same effect on him and his family as the deaths of a thousand upon those individuals and their families. Our National Health Service is experiencing a great many problems in coping with injuries such as whiplash injuries which need treatment in physiotherapy departments. At the physiotherapy departments of Westminster, Charing Cross and St. Bartholomew's Hospitals, one can see the pressure under which these departments are working. No doubt the position is similar in hospitals across the country.

Today I heard on the news that the Government believe that the police have adequate powers to deal with drivers who have drunk too much alcohol. I hope they are right. I congratulate Peter Bottomley on the work he did on this subject when a Minister at the Department of Transport. I hope that the emphasis on the dangers of alcohol and driving will not slip down the list of priorities. Of all the numerous letters and pleas for help that I receive, the most heartrending have been from people who have had a member of their family killed by a drunken driver.

I ask the Government to look seriously at the standards of pedal cyclists. In the past few days I have taken special note of cyclists. Some ride in heavy traffic wearing no bright coloured markings and carrying no lights in bad visibility. Yesterday morning one man in a grey mackintosh shot round Hyde Park Corner in bad light, looking neither left nor right. It is sometimes difficult for car drivers to see cyclists. In the past few days a conference on head injuries has been held at the London Hospital. Would it not be wise for people riding bicycles to wear helmets for protection? A serious head injury is one of the most awful injuries a person can sustain. I suggest that it would be wise to introduce legislation requiring cyclists to wear headgear, as motorcyclists are required to do. Cyclists are a very at-risk group.

As well as driving a great deal I use British Rail. When one sees long-disused tracts of land where the railways have closed lines one cannot help but wonder whether it was wise to close some stations and railway lines. Where I live in North Yorkshire there is now virtually no public transport. As many members of families have to travel to work, each family has several cars. This is one of the developments of a prosperous society. I am a constant user of the line from King's Cross to York. I should like to pay tribute to many of the porters who help disabled people on and off the trains. Disabled people who are severely disabled have many extra expenses. I have heard that in the future only one place per train will be allocated to a disabled person. This is quite unreasonable. I would draw to the attention of the House the fact that the noble Viscount, Lord Ingleby, uses a wheelchair. How many more people with disabilities may want to travel on the same train? With modern technology, it cannot be impossible for the seats to be removed quickly with a press button device. As it is now possible to remove some of the seats, this facility should be improved for the future so that people have a choice to travel either first class or economy class.

I have personally experienced disrupted travel due to vandalism on British Rail. I asked two Questions for Written Answer just before the Christmas recess. I was disappointed by the Answers, which rather indicated that the Department of Transport is not very interested in curbing vandalism. Like Pontius Pilate, the department washed its hands of the responsibility, stating that the problems of vandalism were strictly matters for the British Railways Board and the British Transport Police. Surely the co-operation of the community at large is needed to help curb vandalism and crime of any sort. For example, what about the "Crime Watch" schemes which work due to the co-operation of the police and the local communities?

I am sorry that government departments such as the Department of Transport take this rather unhelpful attitude. On one train in which I was travelling between Leeds and Doncaster metal drums had been placed on the line causing great damage to the train and putting it out of action. It also caused great expense to British Rail and great difficulty to the passengers who had to change trains. Just before Christmas I travelled up to York. The train in front of ours, which was a 125, was an electric train that had broken down due to ropes being placed over the electric cables. They attached themselves to the train, bringing down all the electric cables on top of it. Our train and several others following behind were delayed for over two hours. Moreover, the guard had no way of communicating with the other trains. In this modern day I think that there should be better communication between trains.

A few days later on the same line a signal box was saturated with petrol and set alight. For days there were many hold-ups due to the signals not working. Further, a business friend of mine told me about a journey he made up to Birmingham to visit the exhibition centre. The journey should have taken over an hour but it look him four hours due to a bicycle having been thrown over the electric cables. Unless there is a concerted effort to curb this kind of vandalism it does not bode well for future travel by electric trains.

Other European countries have had electric trains. Why does this country have so many disruptive people? To ensure the safe running of trains in the future perhaps the Department of Transport should look a little more closely at the problem. If the authorities are not satisfied with the present position, perhaps they might put on extra trains at popular times of travel instead of raising the costs and frustrating more people with the difficulty of travelling. That may well help clarify the underlying reasons behind vandalism. I hope that the matter will be looked into seriously.

8.13 p.m.

Lord Dunleath

My Lords, I too should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, for having introduced this topic in his Unstarred Question. I should like especially to thank him for his very informative and obviously well-researched speech in introducing the debate. The matter has been discussed previously in your Lordships' House from various angles but perhaps now it is even more urgent and important. It may be even more topical now than the noble Lord realised when he first tabled the Question.

Perhaps I may be a little more, not theological but doctrinal about the subject. In my humble view we are now facing a critical situation somewhat similar to what our forebears faced 150 years ago. At that time the question was whether the railways, which had been running for only 15 years, would live up to their early promise and whether they would be given the opportunity to provide a revolution in transport in our country. In the event they did; they lived up to their promise and were given the opportunity to do so by means of massive private investment and, on the whole, helpful Parliaments which passed Acts enabling the network of transportation to be developed. What took place was revolutionary to our society, to our economy and, indeed, to our demography.

That was the situation then. We are now faced with another situation which is equally critical. It is not a question of whether the railways will be given the opportunity to open up our country; it is whether they will be given the opportunity to save our country from being closed down. That is the situation which we now face. We are at a turning point.

In the 1950's and 1960's it was not unreasonable to look on future transport policy as being in the construction of more motorways and runways and in the expansion of civil airports. However, that philosophy, whch had its merits—and perhaps its flaws—has now, in my respectful view, become irrelevant. We must look elsewhere for the future. I say that because, with our overcrowded motorways, with our cities and towns having had to endure internal surgery for the benefit of the motor vehicle, with the atmosphere having become polluted by exhaust fumes, with the density of aircraft over the major airports being such that air traffic control is now on the margin of viability and with air channels at peak periods having the semblance of refugee holding camps, it seems clear that more motorways, more vehicle parking spaces, more runways and larger air terminals are no longer the answer.

I take the case in point mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans. The Midland main rail line is only electrified as far as Bedford. Simultaneous to that, the M.1 motorway is now reaching the extent of its capacity to carry vehicles which wish to use that road. Indeed, it is becoming inadequate and I understand that there is a proposal to widen the motorway in the same way as the M.25 is possibly to be widened, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Masham.

Such improvements would cost an enormous amount of money; so indeed would electrification of the Midland main line. I say that because, apart from electrification, the line would also need to be re-aligned to enable average speeds of 100 mph to be achieved. That average speed would be needed to make the line competitive with the motorway. In fact both improvements would involve tremendous capital investment. But as the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, pointed out, the capital for motorway and road investment tends to come from the taxpayer and from public funds.

However, in the case of the railways the policy seems to be verging towards investment having to come mainly from internal sources; for example, from the sale of property, from the revenue account and from the revenue reserve. That is an inequitable situation. If the railways are to fulfil their function and take traffic off the roads, it is necessary for public funds to provide the investment required for that purpose. To make the electrification of the Midland railway effective, it would need to proceed as far as Sheffield and Leeds and perhaps have branches serving Nottingham and Derby as well.

Substantial investment is needed in other areas of British Rail's operation. In addition to the Channel Tunnel link to London, it is necessary to extend such direct communication to the rest of the British Isles. The cross-London link between the Channel Tunnel fast line and King's Cross is essential. The proposed high speed line from Paddington to Heathrow has been mentioned. It is most desirable, but the advantage of being able to get from Paddington to Heathrow in 15 minutes will be eroded if it takes 50 minutes to travel from your Lordships' House to Paddington. That is how it will be if more and more traffic is encouraged on to the roads and is flung at the cities, which will then become congested. No amount of urban clearways or throughways or traffic management will solve that problem.

I subscribe to Her Majesty's Government's view that it is desirable that the railways should, if at all possible, be profitable, but —I throw in this caveat because we have seen it before —if the management decides that it is desirable to close down a service it goes about it by making that service less and less attractive so that fewer and fewer people use it. The seemingly indisputable argument can then be put forward, "We must close it. No one is using it. It is losing money". I suggest that that is unfortunately possibly the case with the overnight service between London and Stranraer. That was a valuable service, especially to Northern Ireland. It will be even more important in the future if it is continued —I hope that it will be continued —once the single market comes in in 1992.

Northern Ireland is on the periphery of the European Community, and maximum use of the shortest sea route (Larne to Stranraer) is essential. The rail link to Stranraer is therefore essential, so we greatly deplore the closure of that service. It is not just that it is to our economic disadvantage: it was most discourteous of British Rail not to consult ScotRail or Northern Ireland Railways before announcing the closure. I understand that in both instances senior executives first learnt about the closure in the newspapers.

With regard to the single European market, it is important that Northern Ireland's internal communications should be as good as possible. There again, it is to be deplored that a potential grant of £50 million towards the upgrading of the Belfast to Dublin main line has had to be deferred because the Republic of Ireland has apparently not yet come forward with its submission. Northern Ireland Railways was promised that the proposal would be considered in May of last year; again in October; and again in December. It has now been deferred once more. I ask Her Majesty's Government, perhaps through the Anglo-Irish Agreement, which we have been told will do so much to assist co-operation between the two states, to put pressure on the Government of the Republic to expedite that matter so that the line between Belfast and Dublin can be upgraded and speeded up to one hour 35 minutes for 113 miles, thus making it competitive with the roads.

As in 1840, there must be developed the political will and financial commitment to enable the railways once again to transform our transport system. I hope that Her Majesty's Government are fully alert to the opportunities that exist and to the dangers with which we shall be confronted if those opportunities are not taken.

8.26 p.m.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, on what he said. He has covered a broad spectrum and if that is theology, well then it is theology that I greatly enjoy. I shall not follow him down the highways and byways of the Irish dimension but what he said has my sympathy, especially in relation to the Stranraer night sleeper. It is scandalous that such a useful service should be scrapped.

I start by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, for mounting this short debate. It is always a pity that transport subjects attract so little participation and so little interest in your Lordships' House, when transport is one of the major factors of our daily lives. Like the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, I started my notes by saying that there is a short answer to the question and that short answer is no. The present situation is clearly totally inadequate. Our roads are congested and will be inadequate for the foreseeable future. Rail has the potential to carry infinitely more traffic, both freight and passenger, than it does at the moment, and is limited only by the level of investment and the capability of advanced technology which could and should be employed but is not yet employed, again because of lack of investment.

There are two fundamental errors in current British transport policy. The first is the general under-investment, especially in the transport infrastructure and research and planning. The second is the fallacious assumption that a transport undertaking making a profit on its own account is necessarily serving the best national interest. One sometimes wonders whether the only period of a coherent transport strategy in Britain was at the time of the Romans. At least they had a clear idea of what they wanted from their transport system and they went out and achieved it with some straight roads. In fairness, I suppose that the latter part of the 18th century was also a good time for transport stategy, when the newly engineered roads—many of them toll roads, incidentally —were built to facilitate the running of the new express coaches.

The noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, mentioned railways in the 1840s and so on. It is true that that was a time of a great blossoming of the railway industry, but one must remember that it led to the unrestrained competition which produced a considerable over-capitalisation of the railway system, to the great detriment of our road system, which took a long time to recover. Although I too am a supporter of expanding the railway infrastructure, I hope that we shall not go down the route our forefathers took in the middle of the previous century.

Today, however, we have the free operation of market forces and, as one would expect, the problems are worse than ever. The unfortunate result is that the less the nation's transport requirements are subject to strategic analysis, the less we have a coherent network and the more the demand is pushed onto the roads. After 50 years of piecemeal transport strategy, the demand on the roads is even greater than before. It will grow, we are told, by a minimum of 20 to 25 per cent. every 10 years. There is no limit to the demand for road transport unless we produce a strategy in which road and rail transport, both public and private, each plays a proper part in a coherent network of services.

The amounts of investment have clearly been shown tonight to be too low. They are almost all piecemeal. I know that the Government will proudly tell us at the end of the debate that vast sums are being invested by British Rail. But as has already been pointed out, a lot of that has come from the sale of assets which admittedly probably ought to have been sold, but there is a limit to how far we can go on selling assets off.

If we compare recently announced investments—higher though they may be —at 1989–90 prices, the difference between this country and France is quite startling. In terms of millions of pounds, at 1989–90 prices, starting with 1988–89, British Rail investment is expected to be £465 million; for 1989–90, £618 million, for 1990–91, £724 million; then £901 million, £961 million and £870 million. The French railways however are expected to invest £2,000 millionin each of those years. In other words, over the six years British Rail will have invested £4,500 million but the French will have invested £12,000 million, on top of an already well-funded system.

Looking at exhibit 19 of the CBI's Trade Routes to the Future, it is quite clear —to a certain extent this answers the question of the noble Earl, Lord Attlee —that we spent 0.2 per cent. of our GDP on financial support to rail in 1987, compared with twice that in the Netherlands and 3.5 times that in West Germany and France. Investment in Italy and Belgium was even higher. The idea of having to fund the railway entirely from fares —which is what we are faced with —gives wrong signals, as the CBI rightly says. The problem is that people travelling by car have in their minds only the cost of petrol for the journey. They cost each journey at the marginal cost. An accountant will tell you that that is wrong, but nevertheless it is a perfectly understandable thing to do.

The figures given by the CBI in its booklet show that a journey from London to Newcastle by car will cost £18.66. The standard rail charge is £42. If there is a family in the car as well it makes a tremendous difference, in spite of all kinds of railcards. The truth is that the pressure of price all the time moves people away from rail and onto road. That cannot be good for the state of the nation as a whole, particularly for the environment not just in this country but worldwide.

There are now further reductions in funding. It was depressing to read the other day that because of those reductions British Rail has to take out of its list the park-and-ride schemes. Those schemes seem to me to be absolutely essential if we are to persuade people to get onto the railway and leave their cars outside the major city centres. I do not wish to go too much into the situation in city centres, particularly in London, as the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, has pointed out that we shall have a debate on that next Wednesday.

We also have the problem that Underground fares are being raised by 10 per cent. in February. There will be further real annual increases. Why? In order to suppress demand, we are told. It will not suppress the demand of people trying to get into London to their jobs. All it will do is to suppress the demand to use the railway. People will bring their cars instead.

In the present situation the excess demand always goes to the roads. Here again we are at the bottom of the league. Like the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, I do not wish to see too much money spent on roads. Schemes are needed to relieve congestion but I do not see massive new road schemes as being the answer to our problems. Apart from anything else, the very presence of roads tends to create more traffic, as the Americans have learnt in Los Angeles and other places.

There is a need for some alleviation of traffic congestion by the building of some roads. We spent only half the percentage of GDP here in the period from 1982 to 1985 compared with West Germany. The Department of Transport's projected demands show an expected increase of between 27 per cent. and 47 per cent. between 1988 and the year 2000.

Reading the Independent on Monday I noticed that Mr. Robert Atkins had written to Transport 2000. The article said: Robert Atkins, the Minister for Roads and Traffic, has written to Stephen Joseph, the group's director, stating that 'it is not possible or desirable to meet forecast levels of demand. They are not a target or option which the department has set itself the objectives of achieving'". What does that mean in relation to the road schemes that were announced in May last year in the Government's publication Roads to Prosperity?They were justified on the basis of demand forecast. Have the rules changed? I think that we have the right to know whether the rules have changed and if they have, what the new rules are. On what basis are by-passes being agreed to?

Some noble Lords may remember that I asked a Question about the Ilminster by-pass on the A.303. The noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, said that it was built with a single carriageway because demand did not justify a dual carriageway; it was done on the basis of projected demand. That by-pass has now been open for 18 months and already there have been six fatalities. It is a main trunk road which is now becoming dual carriageway for most of the way until we reach the by-pass at Ilminster, when it suddenly becomes single carriageway. Not unnaturally, people who have been used to banging along at 60 and 70 miles per hour find themselves restricted to 50 miles an hour. To be honest they do not obey the signs.

The Department of Transport says, "Oh well, it is all the fault of the drivers because they do not stick to the speed limit". Yes, it is their fault, but it is perfectly understandable when there are 13.5 kilometres of open road in front of them with no turnings off for people to feel somewhat inhibited on a main trunk road when they have to drive at 50 miles an hour with virtually no opportunity whatsoever to overtake.

I quote from a well-known periodical called The Star, produced in Taunton. It is pushed through my letterbox free each week, for which I am very grateful. It states that: Mr John Myer, a spokesman for the Department of Transport … revealed that when the proposals for the by-pass were made it was decided to build to the modern standard of a … single carriageway. 'Generally it is not common practice to build dual carriageway by-passes' he said. 'The standard design is now a single carriageway.' Mr. Myer admitted that the main reason for this was the cost". There is nothing to do with meeting the demand in that statement and nothing to do with safety. It is a case of building to the minimum cost and then blaming the fatalities on drivers. I ask the Minister to clarify the basis on which new roads will be built in the future.

So there we have it. There is a complete lack of strategy. We have railways which fit the need only where they happen to match that need through historical convenience or historical coincidence. We have the problems of the Channel Tunnel links, which are rapidly becoming farcical. The Government having painted themselves into a corner by refusing to put any public money whatsoever into the Channel Tunnel project, which we said at the time the legislation was going through was a foolish decision, are now wondering where they can turn to produce a railway system which is capable of linking up with the one which the French have on the other side of the Channel. Sir Bob Reid has spoken out in recent days about this matter. One cannot but comment that it would have been much more helpful if he had spoken out on the same subject in the same way a few years ago.

Remarks have been made about the electrification of the North Wales and Midland lines. I certainly agree with those comments. I hope I may put in a local bid for the electrification of the line to the South West and to South Wales. Those areas will be virtually cut off from the Channel Tunnel, apart from one night train. However, one will have to get to Bristol first to be able to get on that train at all.

I have no doubt that the noble Viscount will tell us that all is wonderful. However, I think the debate tonight has shown him, if he is listening, as I am sure he is, that all things are not wonderful and that there is a great degree of anxiety in people's minds in this country and in this House that we do not have a relevant transport strategy for the coming century and that, if we are not careful, the country will suffer badly.

8.42 p.m.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, one of the points that the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, particularly mentioned was that there was little interest in transport debates. That fact always amazes me because there is enormous interest in specific transport problems. Everyone is interested in those, as anyone in the Department of Transport will acknowledge. The department knows that from the large number of letters it receives on the subject. Members are continually harassed by constituents on transport matters.

We should all be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, for raising this debate tonight. He is better informed than most of us on these matters, as his discourse showed. However, the standard of debate, up till now at least, has been extremely high. Many informed comments have been made. The noble Lord spoke about a number of lines which he was surprised were not electrified and where he thought serious consideration should be given to electrification. He mentioned the Midland line and the Edinburgh to Glasgow line. That latter line immediately encapsulated for me some of our transport problems.

I have always taken the view that only a fool would drive from Glasgow to Edinburgh. I use the train a lot for that journey. However, recently the train has reached the point of absolute suffocation. If anyone can find a parking space in Edinburgh during off-peak periods he will be a fool not to drive if he has a car, as the train is becoming quite impossible. Electrification would give us better, bigger and more comfortable trains. We might also get better frequency, although the present half hourly interval between trains is extremely good. If electrification cannot be made to pay on such a line, I do not know where it possibly could.

Having listened to all the speakers from different parts of the country tonight, one cannot dodge the fact that we have a transport crisis in Britain. Our towns and cities suffer from serious congestion and many of our major trunk roads and motorways are a crawling mass of vehicles for at least several hours each day. The pollution which is often caused by the mass of slow moving or stationary vehicles is becoming intolerable. There is a debate going on in London about this, and it is worth mentioning again that traffic in London, at under 11 miles per hour, has now reverted to the speed of the horse and cart. The total cost nationally of road congestion according to the CBI is estimated to be in the region of f 15 billion per year.

I think everyone is more or less agreed that public transport is shabby, unsafe, expensive and capricious. If one does not own or have access to a car, one faces the problem of isolation. At off-peak times women and young children feel a sense of uneasiness when travelling. Poor pay results in low staff morale, which sets off a spiral of still poorer services. That leads in turn to lower morale, and so it goes on. If we treat public transport as a Cinderella we must expect an indifferent response from the workforce. In many cases on an almost daily basis things are kept moving because of the feeling of responsibility that in the main transport staff have somehow managed to bring to their jobs, despite the fact that they have been shabbily treated.

We have all had the experience of friends returning from abroad and telling us how wonderful the public transport system is in Paris, Munich, Hong Kong or Singapore. To those of us who are particularly interested in transport that can be irritating, largely because we know it is true that systems abroad are better than ours. However, in the last analysis —this has been well illustrated tonight by almost every speaker—the answer is simple. We just do not spend as much as other countries on public transport. According to the 1986 report and accounts of the British Railways Board, Switzerland spent 50 per cent. more per train kilometre than we did. Italy spent more than five times as much as us. Capital expenditure is also treated differently in other countries. There are the great French trains and the reliable, smooth, comfortable and clean German, Swiss and Italian systems, with their different grades of train. The top Italian grade of train is extremely good.

The Select Committee on Transport in another place called on the Government to increase public spending on transport. It pointed out that in the past four years spending had fallen by 14 per cent. in real terms. In the period 1985–86 to 1988–89 real expenditure on the roads went up by only 2 per cent. but expenditure on rail fell by 45 per cent. On other forms of public transport, including London buses and the Underground, the reduction was nearly 20 per cent. Yet in the past 10 years overall demand for all forms of public transport has increased by 30 per cent. Transport has surely been the orphan of the Treasury over the past 10 years, with government spending on it at least £2 billion a year less than in the 1970s. Those figures come from the report.

Our rail and bus fares are now among the most expensive in Europe. Revenue from all forms of vehicle taxation has increased from £9 billion in 1978–79 to over £15 billion in 1988–89. In 10 years there has been an increase of £6 billion. However, the money was not used, even in part, to improve our infrastructure. It was used to help fund tax cuts. I suggest that it is not only public transport that is paying for the cheers that greeted the past two former Chancellors when they made their tax cuts. The whole of British industry, education and health is suffering because of the manipulation of the budgets in those years. I believe we must begin to plan a slow increase in revenue support, at least in the short term. This would be used not to reduce fares but to finance improvements in the quality of rail and bus services. I think people would be happy to pay the fares, even increased fares, if the money were spent on the genuine improvement of the service.

I have dealt so far with public transport, but that in no way means that I and the party I represent here are anti-road. We want all investment plans to be judged on a common basis to take full account of environmental, social and economic benefits for both users and non-users.

At present, new road schemes are measured by a full economic and social cost-benefit analysis. New British Rail schemes are judged in purely financial terms. The light railway schemes are judged on cash revenue and to some extent on non-user benefits. An across-the-board assessment methodology will help to ensure that policies on public transport, roads, parking and traffic management are all by and large complementary and not wasteful of investment and of resources.

Sadly, the Department of Transport as it is presently constituted is not an effective instrument to ensure an efficient transport policy. For many years its main concern has been overwhelmingly with new roads. If one looks at the Department of Transport numbers involved in roads and the numbers involved in railways —I know there are excuses for this but they have never quite convinced me —there is no doubt that the leaning of the department is towards roads. The priority must be to change the remit of the department to achieve the proper balance, which has been widely emphasised this evening.

In our cities there is little space left to build new roads and yet we still have interest groups urging that there be more roads. In Glasgow, we have a situation where they are trying to get two new bridges across the river. Where the traffic will go to when it gets across the river is beyond me because the city centre is too small to take any more. There is no room unless we knock down some of our best buildings to cope with more roads.

We should appreciate the wisdom of the old Buchanan Report, which clearly showed 20 or more years ago that if one drives at off-peak hours bringing cars into towns is fine, but if like most commuters one must travel in the morning and evening rush hours one is being extremely anti-social. That anti-social facet is getting worse.

One of the problems, which is much less obvious in other parts of the world, is the company car. Whatever the original reason for it—and there were perhaps reasons such as the higher taxation that we had at one period; so the company car was given to offset that —to a large extent the company car has become a perk. Last year in Britain 60 per cent. of all new cars sold were registered by companies. In France and Germany such cars account for less than 10 per cent. of new cars sold, and they are probably closer to the genuine working cars that we all accept are needed in business. One cannot say that the French and German economies are lagging behind ours, so all the pleas that there must be company cars in order to keep the industry going strike me as being somewhat hollow.

I should like to quote from an article in the Observer of Sunday, 7th January by, I think, a very respectable reporter, Adam Raphael. He said he was one of the minority who had a company car. The article stated: As one, I should hastily admit, of the few, let me explain. If I drive the 10 miles from my home in Notting Hill across central London to the Observer's offices … all I have to pay for a comfortable journey" — he is travelling at non-peak hours — listening to the radio is roughly a third of a gallon of petrol —say 60p. Every other cost, including tax, insurance, depreciation and parking is paid for by my employer who in turn is heavily subsidised by the Government. If, on the other hand, I travel by public transport, I am involved in two uncomfortable, unpredictable, unsubsidised bus journeys and one tube journey, taking altogether twice as long and costing £3.40—five times as much. Is there any wonder that traffic congestion is getting worse? He also says it has been calculated that a parking place in central London —also provided by the firm, of course —is worth between £15 and £25 a day.

I am not using those figures to try to be a dog in the manger. I am using them because this is undoubtedly the biggest single problem of cars in the inner cities. I know from looking around where I live in London and where I live in Glasgow that dozens of cars come into the city every day and they do not turn a wheel until they leave at night. Some people come in very early in the morning in order to get a parking place and they leave their cars there all day, slipping out to feed the meters. These are the problems.

We want mobility. We want people to be able to move about. We want greater investment in the railways. We want the roads that are required. As the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, said, certain roads are undoubtedly required, but we have no necessity for some of the huge road programmes that are being suggested, especially if they are valued in a totally different way from the way in which the cost benefits of our railways are assessed.

9.56 p.m.

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, for initiating this stimulating debate and for giving me the opportunity to set out the Government's plans for meeting the future transport needs of the nation.

The Government's policy is that both road and rail should play a full part in meeting the increasing demand for transport. The Government are seeking to ensure that transport infrastructure is improved and expanded wherever it is cost-effective to do so. Investment in both road and rail infrastructure is rising strongly and further substantial increases are planned. Last November the Government announced an unprecedented increase in transport investment in the future, showing our commitment towards a transport system with the highest safety standards, which will tackle congestion and which will be sensitive both to the environment and to the transport needs of the future. We can now afford to invest more because Britain is earning more, and the Government's economic policies have laid the foundations for growth.

That growth is naturally putting a strain on our transport systems, and we have some catching up to do. In the past six years the number of passengers using British Rail has increased by around 10 per cent. The number of passengers on the London Underground has gone up by 70 per cent., and road traffic has grown by 30 per cent.

On the railways, the Channel Tunnel is being built and investment in British Rail is at the highest level for a quarter of a century. Since 1983, over £3 billion in today's money has been invested in British Rail. We have endorsed a further increase in spending over the next three years to £3.7 billion —a 75 per cent. increase in real terms over the three years ending in March. This will include huge investment in new rolling stock, especially for London commuter services, and investment of over £1.2 billion in relation to Channel Tunnel services.

The noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, asked about inter-urban railway electrification and cost benefit analysis. The new objectives for British Rail announced by my right honourable friend last month made clear that cost benefit analysis can be used in circumstances where there are wider social and economic benefits, such as relief of road congestion. This will enable the Government to decide whether capital grants would be justified for new investment in British Rail's grant-supported sectors, Network SouthEast and Provincial. For British Rail's commercial sectors, investment will continue to be appraised on a financial basis. It seems unlikely that improvements to inter-urban services would in general lead to significant external benefits in addition to the benefits for which passengers are rightly expected to pay.

In London the major upgrading programme recommended by the Central London Rail Study and costing £1.5 billion is already under way with both London Underground and Network SouthEast planning record levels of investment. Further work is also under way on the major new lines proposed by the Central London Rail Study to decide which of the options offers the most practical and cost-effective solution for the relief of congestion in the central areas. As the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, said, we are looking forward to his debate next week on London traffic and I shall not therefore say much on that subject tonight save that, subject to the satisfactory outcome of that work, the Government expect to authorise the introduction of a Bill for another major new line in November 1990.

The noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, asked about the possibility of grants. The Government believe that new investment in the railways should in the first instance be funded by those who will benefit from it. The main beneficiaries are likely to be the passengers and it is right that they should contribute through the fares that they pay. Other beneficiaries might include property developers and land owners who would benefit from the improved access which a new or improved railway line would bring. It is appropriate that they should contribute as well. However, the Government do not rule out grant support where the income from such sources is not sufficient and where the grant required can be justified by the benefits which the investment would bring to non-users, such as the relief of road congestion.

The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, asked about international comparisons of subsidy paid to railways. Although he kindly said that he did not expect an answer tonight, I can tell him that accurate international comparisons of subsidy to the railways are virtually impossible to make. The Government continue to give substantial financial support for the railways, but British Rail's need for grant is now much reduced, reflecting greater efficiency and the increase in the number of passengers using the railways. That means that BR is generating more finance internally to pay for new investment. BR is certainly one of the least subsidised railways in Europe, but we believe that that is good news for taxpayers who accordingly get the best value for their grants.

The noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, asked about Section 8 grants for railways freight facilities. The Government are carrying out an internal review of Section 8 grants which looks particularly at the question of environmental benefits from reduced road traffic congestion.

The noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, asked about further electrification —for example, of the Midland main line. The Government certainly welcome worthwhile electrification schemes, as our record shows. It would be for BR to put forward new proposals. In many cases diesel trains can and do offer a very good service and there would need to be significant additional benefits to justify the large capital costs of electrification.

The noble Lord expressed concern about the sleeper service to Stranraer. British Rail's intercity sector which runs the sleeper service to Stranraer has a commercial remit and must decide whether there is sufficient demand to make the service viable. BR regards that service as loss-making which no doubt reflects the competition from other modes such as airlines and coaches. I understand that BR is at present consulting those with a particular interest in that service.

The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, referred to the investment in Network SouthEast, including park-and-ride schemes. I understand that BR has no programme of investment cuts, but naturally, like any business, it must look at priorities for spending. That is particularly so this year when BR's financial position has been damaged by last summer's strikes. It may be that BR has to defer some small schemes, but major investment is going ahead. BR expects to invest over £300 million in Network SouthEast this year and some £1.2 billion over the next three years. Major schemes worth £450 million have been approved by the Government this year alone.

The noble Baroness, Lady Masham, raised the question of vandalism on the railways. As she knows, preventive measures lie with the transport operators. British Rail and London Underground are well aware of the problems and are best placed to develop appropriate counter-measures with the British Transport Police. I can assure the noble Baroness that the department is not washing its hands of the matter. I know that she is particularly concerned about the security of signalling and vandalism on trains. I am assured that even the most determined individual would find it immensely difficult to tamper with signalling equipment in such a way as to cause a dangerous situation. Improved communication between train drivers and signalmen will improve passenger security, as will the phasing out as quickly as possible of non-corridor compartment carriages.

Baroness Masham of Ilion

My Lords, is the noble Viscount aware of the case in which petrol was poured on to a signal box in the Doncaster area, that that delayed many trains and must have cost a great deal of money, and that the person was caught?

Viscount Davidson

Yes, my Lords, I am aware of that. Let us hope that it does not happen again.

From what I have said about rail transport it is clear that we are fully aware of its importance. But even with continued expansion it can take only a small part of the increase in demand for transport. By and large road and rail serve different markets. One cannot easily be substituted for the other. We must provide for the development of both networks and above all we must respect the public's right to choose the most convenient mode.

The way in which the public exercise their choice today is heavily weighted towards the road network. That is not the result of under-investment in rail; it is the result of greater prosperity and the greater use of roads to meet the varied transport needs that prosperity brings. Twelve times as much passenger travel and 10 times as much freight movement is by road as by rail. The consequence is that, even if rail traffic increased by 50 per cent. and all the extra journeys would otherwise have been by road, the reduction in road traffic would be only 5 per cent.

Last May the Government announced an expanded programme of inter-urban roads in England, more than doubling the previous programme to a total of £12 billion. Provision for the next three years stands at over £4 billion for new construction and over £1.3 billion for capital maintenance. That is a dramatic increase which fully recognises the serious congestion on many of our major roads. The total programme will add 2,700 miles of new or improved trunk road to the national network by the turn of the century.

Many eyebrows have been raised by the recent national road traffic forecasts which suggest that traffic demand could increase by between 83 per cent. and 142 per cent. by the year 2025. But forecasts are not and never were regarded as targets; they are estimates of total increase in demand for road travel. It may not be possible or even desirable to meet that demand in full, but it cannot be ignored. There is no change of policy over that.

Doing nothing is not an option. It would mean adding to the chaos and congestion which are all too familiar to road users today. Congestion imposes higher costs on the consumer; it leads to more accidents; it wastes fuel and it increases pollution. New roads which relieve congestion can also benefit the economy and the environment, both locally and more widely.

The noble Baroness, Lady Masham, spoke about unacceptable delays from road works. Wherever possible works are programmed when traffic is lightest and measures adopted for increasing the capacity of traffic through road works.

The noble Baroness will also be pleased to note that the A.1 is well provided for in the expanded roads programme. We fully recognise its importance as a major north-south route. Substantial improvements are planned. They include widening 33 miles of existing motorway sections and conversion of a further 42 miles to motorway. Major improvements to non-motorway sections are also planned. Studies will investigate the possibility of full motorway status from London to Tyneside.

The noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, mentioned proposals for private roads. The Government will shortly make a statement on the responses received to its consultation document, New Roads by New Means. We have meanwhile been considering private finance bids for a second Severn Bridge, and for the Birmingham Northern Relief Road. Other schemes are under consideration, including a bridge to the Isle of Skye. The Government hope to introduce the legislation outlined in the consultation document at an early opportunity.

On the question of road user costs, all vehicles at least cover their share of the cost of building, maintaining and policing the road —track costs —trough fuel duty and vehicle excise duty. Cars and light vans pay over three times their track costs. Heavy goods vehicles more than cover theirs, and the heaviest pay disproportionately more to reflect their greater social and environmental impact.

I can also tell the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, that the Government have carried out a full review of the problem of over-height vehicles hitting bridges, and that they are implementing an action plan aimed at reducing the risk substantially. Measures include: improvements to the signing of low bridges; use of detector equipment at high risk bridges; and increasing the awareness of drivers of the height of their vehicles and loads.

That leads me to another aspect of the Government's important work in reducing road accidents. I was very moved, as I always am, by the concern of the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, for the safety of cyclists. It is clearly right that they should make themselves as conspicuous as possible by wearing fluorescent or reflective clothing. It is equally important that drivers should look out for them and that they should make themselves conspicuous by sensible use of lights in conditions of poor visibility. The Government recently launched a conspicuity campaign to drive these messages home.

Much evidence is also emerging to show that by wearing helmets cyclists can reduce the seriousness of head injuries or prevent minor injuries altogether. But we have no plans to make any of this equipment compulsory. Legislation would only work if it were generally respected. It is difficult to legislate for cyclists, many of whom are below the age of criminal responsibility. It is better to increase awareness of the benefits and let individuals decide. That is what the Government are doing.

I should mention roads in London, where the Government have developed a broad strategic approach. This includes providing through traffic with good alternative routes around London. The M.25 is being widened, and the new bridge at Dartford is being constructed with private finance. We also want to see the best possible use of existing roads, by better parking enforcement, by the introduction of more traffic responsive traffic light controls and by the boroughs investing in road schemes to eliminate bottlenecks. The Government are ensuring that London is properly linked to national and international transport networks, with major trunk road schemes, and tackling congestion black spots in inner and outer London. We shall be discussing this matter further next Wednesday.

I hope that noble Lords will welcome the Government's commitment towards increasing transport investment. The Government are determined to ensure that Britain has transport systems which will enable it to play a full part in the single European market for 1992. People want to use public transport, and we want to see that they have a safe and efficient system to use. At the same time we cannot ignore the congestion on our roads or pretend that railways can offer the whole answer. There must be increased provision of roads in the interests of both the economy and the environment. That is why the Government plan to spend more on road building and road maintenance, and to make better use of roads by improved traffic management.

Freedom of movement is central to our society and our future prosperity. Ten years ago no one would have predicted the economic growth which has placed real strains on both our road and rail systems. The Government are determined to secure the improvements which are necessary to tackle transport congestion and meet the nation's future transport needs, with road and rail playing a full part.

House adjourned at eleven minutes past nine o'clock.