§ 3.11 p.m.
§ Lord Tordoff rose to call attention to the deteriorating state of London's traffic and the need for comprehensive initiatives to tackle the problems; and to move for Papers.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, the purpose of this debate is to give your Lordships the opportunity to discuss the discussion document on initiatives to tackle the problems of traffic in London which was issued by the Department of Transport in December. Before I continue, perhaps I may say how pleased I am that so many Members of the House have put their names down to speak. In fact, I rather wish now that we had made this a longer debate, but one can never judge these matters in advance. Indeed, normally transport debates attract only a limited number of speakers. At the same time, I should like to suggest that noble Lords be absolved from the necessity of thanking me for putting forward this Motion. I think that that will probably save about 20 minutes.
§ I do not think that there is any need for me to dwell upon the magnitude of the problem. There seems to be general agreement that the traffic situation in London has reached a very serious stage; nor is there much reason to argue about the major cause, because I think that there is also general agreement in that respect. The fact is that there are too many motor cars in too little space. The answers to the problem become more controversial. We could of course increase the space available, but in a city like London it becomes increasingly difficult to do so unless you do so to the detriment of the rest of the community. But even if you did expand the space, cars would tend to expand to fill the space available. That is the new "Parkinsonian" law, of which there are many examples throughout the world.
§ We must try to do something to reduce the number of cars, otherwise we simply move the problem from point A to point B. However, in doing so we must not forget that the motor car is a great liberating force for many people. It provides the ability for people of all shapes and sizes to move from door to door without having to wait at draughty bus stops or on crowded railway platforms. Moreover, it is weatherproof, it is warm and dry and it takes a lot of luggage.
§ The problem is that we rather cheat ourselves when costing our journeys. We treat each individual journey as if it were costing the marginal cost of 1064 petrol. We only mentally reckon that fact when deciding whether to go by car or by public transport. We forget the depreciation, the maintenance and the insurance. It is a very seductive argument to say, "I'll go by car because it is a bit cheaper". Therefore the answers to the problem lie in the area of trying to dissuade car users from bringing their cars any more than is absolutely necessary into a crowded city like London. We must also make public transport more attractive. At this point I suspect that we begin to diverge.
The Government are locked into a political philosophy which, I believe, inhibits the bringing forward of necessary measures. Perhaps I should state clearly that I do not believe that the free operation of market forces will relieve London's congestion. There must be co-ordination; there must be intervention; and there must be financial support on a large scale. On the question of co-ordination, my attention was drawn to an interesting article which appears in today's Evening Standard. It reads:
The same traffic flows in and out of Westminster, Kensington, Chelsea and Camden. It is too unrealistic for example to imagine that the borough authorities and London Transport and the relevant minister could actually decide or be ordered to set up special bodies to plan and co-ordinate London traffic and transportation and take responsibility through the electoral system for the results?
The fact that the article was written by Mr. Enoch Powell gives me some pause for thought. But, nevertheless, I think for once that we are on the same side.
§ I believe that the discussion document is flawed because it does not accept those facts. I have received an enormous amount of correspondence since this Motion appeared on the Order Paper. I should point out that all of it, to a greater or lesser degree, has been critical of the document. Two basic comments have been made. First, a public transport system in a great city such as London cannot rely on fares alone without becoming unattractive; and, secondly, there is some need for a London-wide authority capable of co-ordinating road, rail and Underground systems. However, instead of that we are in danger of further fragmentation.
§ When we consider how far the Government proposals will discourage cars and encourage the use of public transport, what do we find? We find, for instance, that Network SouthEast is having its subsidy reduced which means that fares will rise and that will in turn encourage people to get into motor cars. We also find that British Rail is having to consider schemes only on the basis of their commercial attractiveness and therefore, Park-and-Ride schemes are less profitable than others and have so far been dropped from the future programme. Again, we have a missed opportunity.
§ We are told that London Underground is increasing its fares in order to dissuade people from travelling. That, again, will encourage people to travel in motor cars. In each case the separate organisations are pressurised to maximise their own sectoral balance sheet. That is to the detriment of the traffic situation as a whole. Meanwhile, the investment situation has been terribly slow and there is an enormous backlog. As we know, trains are 1065 old-fashioned, signalling is antiquated, buses are unreliable and staff are demoralised and under-paid in relation to London living costs.
§ Yes, there is greater investment in the pipeline. But, again, we find that the reliance on market forces distorts the decisions. The badly needed British Rail cross-London links are at least delayed. For example, the east-west link is delayed for a year at present and may be delayed even further, and the north-south link seems to have disappeared from the agenda.
§ However, we are to have a Jubilee Line extension. That is nice to know. We are to have this because it will go to Canary Wharf and because the private sector is injecting money into it. I have no objection to encouraging private sector funds to be directed into our transport system. But this particular line makes the least possible contribution out of all the possible lines to relieving congestion. Moreover, any cost benefit analysis of the various schemes would have given the lowest priority to the Jubilee Line extension.
§ I do not pretend for a minute that there is not a massive cost to be faced. For example, new rolling stock is necessary for Network SouthEast, with better acceleration and sliding doors which will speed up the station stops and provide the opportunity for more trains to run on the system. Higher wages are needed to attract key workers into areas such as signalling, where safety is involved, and to produce more drivers so that there are fewer train cancellations on our commuter lines because of driver shortages. Instead, Network SouthEast will lose all its PSO grant within the next couple of years, which will lead to higher fares and more cars.
§ However, the discussion document has a magic ingredient. It is called "Red Routes". We are told in the document that they are a fundamental part of the Government's approach; that people's aspirations to own and use a car should not be artificially constrained. There we are: a motor car free-for-all lies at the heart of government policy. Therefore, we must not restrict parking spaces; we must not have physical restraints; we must not increase the tax on company cars; we must not increase the tax on fuel; and, at all costs, we must not have road pricing. The answer lies in none of those solutions nor a combination of them; the answer is red routes so that more cars can be encouraged to go more quickly to the big jams in the middle of the city.
§ All right, with red routes and with severe penalties, our major roads may be freed to a degree. That is not necessarily a bad thing. The RAC is broadly in support, but it points to the fact that enforcement will not be easy. To enforce the type of parking restrictions that there will be on 300 miles of red routes is no mean feat, so Batman is to be brought to the rescue in the shape of the traffic director of red routes. However, we find that he is not to be in day-to-day organisational control. He will merely be there to monitor the activities of the local authorities and the police.
§ We shall have a new breed of traffic warden —if they can be recruited. The AA points out that at present the force of traffic wardens has been under establishment for years. The department blames that 1066 upon the uncertainty of future employment. That may be, but I do not believe it. It is more likely that people do not become traffic wardens because it is a rotten, uncomfortable, unpopular and underpaid job. If a full establishment of traffic wardens is not achieved red routes will fail.
§ If the proposal succeeds, it will help to free the bus lanes. Buses are a crucial element in disentangling the London traffic problems, If they run to time, buses provide a vital link within the transport network; but at present they are being strangled out of existence. Otherwise, the vicious circle continues: more cars, more congestion, less reliable bus services, more cars, worse bus services, and so we go on down the terrible spiral until nothing moves and London literally chokes to death.
§ I say "literally chokes to death" because I have not so far discussed the environmental problem. Last summer I believe that we came close to experiencing the type of situation which occurs, or used to occur, in Los Angeles. We were on the brink of a photochemical smog, where the sunlight acts on the gases produced by car exhausts to produce dangerous conditions in the air. By 2001, the beginning of the next millenium, the CO2 level in London will be 50 per cent. higher than it is today, so when I say "chokes to death" I mean it literally.
§ In the short time that I have, I cannot deal with the whole range of other aspects of this complex problem. The difficulties of the disabled are one instance. GLAD (the Greater London Association for Disabled People) estimates that about 500,000 Londoners are handicapped by poor public transport. I hope that that is an issue to which we can return when the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, finally manages to get a Question on to our Order Paper. I should like to contribute to that debate when we reach it.
§ I have not discussed the impact of the Channel Tunnel, which will cause considerable problems in Central London; I have not mentioned the need for a speedy rail link to Heathrow, which is crucial to the development of our aircraft and airport policy; I have not mentioned helicopter access, although I understand that there is likely to be an increase in the number of helicopters flying into the Charing Cross area; I have not talked about the better use of the Thames; I have not talked about the dangers of the deregulation of the buses which, heaven forfend, the Government may spring on us one of these days. I beg them not to deregulate the buses in London because that will be the death of the London bus service.
§ I have not talked about single manning on the buses, which is another extremely contentious problem. I have not talked about the problems of pedestrians, pedal cycles and motor cycles. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Falkland will touch on that subject when he speaks.
§ All those problems, and more, need investment on a far larger scale than the Government are prepared to contemplate or support. They need a comprehensive and co-ordinated approach which will be achieved only by a London-wide traffic and transport authority. The dogmatic, penny-pinching and piecemeal approach of the Government, which 1067 is contained in the discussion document, does not begin to address the problem of London's traffic. I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.26 p.m.
§ Lord Lucas of Chilworth
My Lords, in the short time that I have at my disposal I should like to concentrate primarily on four principles, and none of the detail, contained in the discussion document. I give a general welcome, albeit somewhat guarded, to the document. I said when my noble friend the Minister repeated the Statement on 14th December that there was a general welcome for it. Whatever one may think about red routes or through routes, in a certain measure they will take some of the traffic away from crucial areas. That is not the point of what is before us, because in the discussion document the department talks about the change since 1983. In fact, the change has been occuring since about 1953. Successive governments have failed to recognise the importance of traffic and transportation for the country's general economy; hence they have always put it near the bottom of their investment list.
We now arrive at a crucial point which demands serious consideration by the department. It commissioned four studies. The great pity was that there was no co-ordinating body among those four separate consultants. All have produced worthwhile reports, but in the discussion document they have been treated as four separate issues —as four villages, if one likes to put it that way. Unfortunately, in looking at each of those villages, the Government have dispensed with the more radical, dramatic and bolder solutions which the consultants put forward.
First, we have a four village summary, unconnected apart from a traffic director. I share the concerns expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, over the traffic director's responsibilities. In parenthesis perhaps I should thank my noble friend the Minister for responding to my Question on 14th December about the traffic director's responsibilities.
I have always wanted, looked forward to, and even now believe that we should have, a co-ordinating body, because no one director with the limited authority which I perceive he will have can embrace the interests of those four villages.
I move quickly from that point to question of expense. The department has sought to discover the cheaper —if there is a cheap option —option for solving London's traffic problem. I do not believe that the more expensive option is necessarily the correct one, but I believe that the bolder and longer-term attitude is the right one to take, almost irrespective of cost. When he comes to wind up, my noble friend the Minister will no doubt tell us of the amount of money that is currently being invested in the general road network and in this problem, which we discussed in December. That is not true. There is no total and firm commitment over the long term —10, 15, 20 years —to spend a particular amount of money. It will always be subject to the Treasury and to the PES round, and one cannot enter into a long-term investment with those kinds of constraint. So I see real problems there.
1068 I believe that when examining the longer-term considerations we must consider the planning implications. We must streamline the planning procedures, which are desperately expensive and time consuming. As each year goes by, the cost of road building increases proportionately. We cannot allow that: we should take some notice of what happens on the Continent. The general planning of the route should be prescribed and those injuriously affected —and only they —should be allowed to enter the inquiry. They should be properly recompensed; in its submission the RAC talks of something like 140 per cent. This is the type of principle which I do not believe the Government have addressed.
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ Lord Jay
My Lords, I hope that we can all agree that the present traffic confusion cannot be ended by building major new roads in inner London. Those of us who in the 1960s opposed inner London motorways always argued that major new roads in inner London would simply generate more traffic. That has since been proved correct. Minor improvements, yes, but major new roads and widening schemes would cause great destruction, involve enormous cost and simply shift the bottlenecks half a mile or more further on.
The London problem is mainly the commuter rush hour to and from the centre. There are basically only two ways in which that can be eased. I say "eased" because cured I do not think it can be. One way is by slowing down and steering more of the commuters off the roads and on to the Underground and suburban railways. The other way is a wider use of regional policy which will restrain the pressure of employment and population on London and the South East and use instead the capacity and labour unemployed elsewhere. However, at present the Government are doing almost exactly the opposite in each case. They have virtually abandoned any effective regional policy.
Further, far from making it easier for people to travel by rail rather than road, the Government have imposed financial targets on both British Rail and London Regional Transport which have led to crippling shortages of manpower on those services, a sharp rise in fares and delays in maintenance, all of which have in turn worsened the service and in some cases, I believe, threatened safety.
Far from learning from these lessons, the Government are now cutting still further the revenue grants to both British Rail and London Transport. The latter will receive no more revenue grants at all by 1993–94. Since 1984 British Rail has cut its staff by 25 per cent. London Regional Transport has stated officially and candidly that the rise in fares is intended to deter passengers from using the Underground. The effect of deterring commuters from the Underground can only be to push them back on the roads, unless they are to give up working altogether.
The purpose and justification of a revenue subsidy to public transport —as almost every other capital city in Europe has found —is to avoid the chaos otherwise produced on the road. I do not blame the 1069 management either of British Rail or of London Regional Transport. They are simply trying to carry out the Prime Minister's decree that in all this the profit and loss account must come before service to the public and everything else.
To give one example, at least one constructive and sensible policy on this issue has been introduced by British Rail in the past few years. That is the development of large free or cheap car parks on surplus land at suburban stations around London. That is a policy which benefits everybody by reducing the traffic in London and by helping the commuters at the same time. But we now learn that British Rail have been compelled by these financial cuts to cancel plans for their further programme of developing these suburban car parks. That seems to be folly.
What can be done now in practice? First, that foolish decision on station car parks around suburban London should be reversed. Secondly, a continuing revenue grant should be restored to British Rail and London Transport in compensation for their public service in at least helping to keep some traffic off the London roads; and the present undermanning and lack of staff on both rail and bus services should be ended. Thirdly —and here I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff—we should proceed with the Jubilee Line from central London to Docklands. I think that the Government have the priority right there. Fourthly, we should do something effective in the Budget to check the present major abuse of what are called company cars. They certainly contribute to the chaos.
Finally —and this costs very little —the Government should enforce efficiently parking restraints on main London roads both by night and by day. Unless the object of the whole operation is to improve public services rather than simply to save money, very little will be achieved.
§ 3.42 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Southwark
My Lords, in his response to the debate last May on this subject, the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, outlined the steps which the Government were then taking to improve road conditions in London and which are further described in the report. He then dismissed the need for a strategic authority for transport in London on the grounds that we want, "action and not bureaucracy". However it is difficult to avoid the clear impression that the Department of Transport is actually being forced to set aside more and more resources in order to provide some kind of strategy for London's traffic. Good and comprehensive initiatives require good strategy, as the noble Lords, Lord Tordoff and Lord Lucas, have already pointed out.
There is surely no necessary connection in a pejorative sense between having a central strategy and bureaucracy. No other capital city that I know of leaves major decisions about transport needs to this curious mixture of a department of central government and numerous independent local authorities.
My concern as a London Bishop is twofold. First, there is the social cost of doing too little and too 1070 late. I know that "social cost" is a vague phrase and we do not yet have precise ways of measuring it in financial terms, though it exists in part for assessing road building schemes. But it is surely beyond dispute that certain things are happening which exact a very high toll on increasing numbers of people and that these are directly attributable to the state of London's traffic and transport.
I should have liked to say more about this, but I shall simply mention briefly these factors: accidents; pollution (immediate and long term); stress and ill-health; consumer costs. Nobody intends that these should happen, they flow from a rising standard of living and a multitude of individual decisions which we all make to use a car or a lorry because it seems to be cheaper or convenient or both. But now we are beginning to realise the cumulative impact and to see that the operation of the market in transport is actually delivering a set of consequences in our cities which it is becoming impossible to contain.
The Victorians learnt the hard way. Their successive governments found they had to tackle public sanitation, health issues, public education, the problem of the mentally ill and other matters because neither market forces nor private charity could cope with the scale of the problem. There were social needs and social costs in the new cities which the whole community had to recognise and address in other ways.
My second concern relates to the question of rail fares and the danger of putting rail travel beyond the reach of the low paid. We have already heard that fares may be put up literally to dissuade people from using the train. Last May the Minister said:it is BR which runs the railways and not Ministers … A blanket subsidy to keep fares artificially low perpetuates inefficiency and insulates management from the customer. It cannot be justified".We all accept that British Rail manages the railways. I am equally clear that we do not wish to perpetuate inefficiency or overmanning. However, it is the Government who decide the level of capital grants which British Rail and the Underground receive, as well as their capital spending. Without more help it is difficult to see how one can avoid further deterioration through lack of investment as well as fares rising well above their present level and driving yet more people onto overcrowded buses and roads.
I wish to stress that point more strongly by comparing it with housing. It is an important comparison to make. Both adequate transport and adequate housing are basic needs of a civilised community. Strenuous efforts have been made to reduce indiscriminate subsidies in the housing field, as these have contributed to artificially low rents for people who could afford to pay more, as well as distorting the market in house prices with mortgage interest tax relief. This has been done by putting more funds into the Housing Corporation and by introducing thereby mixed funding. However, all the time there is a balance to be maintained between subsidising the building and subsidising the person.
What is now absolutely clear in the housing field is that one cannot do away with capital subsidy altogether if one is to provide adequate housing for 1071 all at rents people can afford, especially those on low incomes but incomes that are just above the level which would entitle them to housing benefit. Such subsidy must be considerable in London and other places where land values are high. The point I am making is that the same thing surely applies to public transport in London.
I, alas, am running out of my time but I wish to stress that we must learn the lesson that we are learning in one area and apply it to this other crucially important area too. That is absolutely essential if we are to have a comprehensive set of initiatives which takes genuine account of the present unacceptable social costs which all of us living in London now endure in one way or another.
§ 3.43 p.m.
§ Lord Quinton
My Lords, I hope that I shall not try the patience of your Lordships' House if I begin my few remarks with a short personal recollection. Some years ago when driving through the recently reconstructed Bullring area of Birmingham —that area was not particularly familiar to me, anyway —I found myself faltering in deciding which way to go. I was amazed when a policeman came up to me and addressed me in the local dialect. Although I was not able to interpret precisely what he said, his message was clear enough. It was that I should get a move on. That was an extraordinary experience as I do not think it had ever happened to me before when driving in England. Usually every influence that is brought to bear on a driver is directed towards slowing him down.
In Paris, the faces of the police are set in rictuses, if that is the plural of frenzy, while they endeavour to get one moving freely. In New York, there is a special category of public official. These officials are dressed in brown uniforms and are known as traffic police. They supplement the mechanical and insensitive inadequacy of traffic lights at busy intersections by overriding the instructions of the traffic lights in order to enhance the rapid movement of cars.
I hope that the corps of traffic wardens, in the envisaged enlargement of their responsibilities, will take on more of this work and that it will compensate for what was quite rightly referred to as one of the unattractive features of their present employment, which is that they tend to generate a measure of hostility as their immediate contact with the public is of a somewhat distressing nature to those they address. That contact excites revengeful attitudes.
The role I envisage for the traffic wardens is one along the lines of the New York traffic police. That role will bring upon them only gratitude for preventing unnecessary clogging at intersections. I regret to say that much of that clogging is brought about by a certain form of individual enterprise; that is to say, by people who "shoot" the red light because it looks as though they can get into the intersection. As a result of that, although the intersection is crossed it becomes blocked and an enormous magnification of delay is brought about.
I do not believe in the general principle that was implied by something said by the noble Lord, Lord 1072 Tordoff, that a given increase in the volume of traffic passing through a road system leads to an absolutely arithmetically correlated converse increase in delay, or an arithmetically correlated decrease in speed. There are all kinds of lubricating or palliative actions that can be performed. One simple one would be some slightly more far-seeing way of giving licences for building work, of which there is a great deal in London at the moment. The number of streets on which people appear to be licensed to have skips permanently parked, as it were, on either side of the road seems to represent some kind of administrative breakdown. I should have thought that a large Battle of Britain type map which indicated the sites of licensed building work would at least ensure that no building work was allowed to start in a given bit of roadway until the work that was already being carried out had been brought to its close.
Perhaps the same principle could be applied longitudinally, as it were. In recent months, for example, drivers on the M.40 have been experiencing something like the existence of a damned soul in hell. One passes the Hillingdon ski slope where one has been warned that delays are likely from April 1988 but one imagines they will continue into the distant future. After a long digestive ordeal, one proceeds down the hill and not far away is Acton where highly desirable but readily deferrable barriers are being interposed between the two main lanes of traffic. My earlier suggestion about not allowing building work on both sides of a road was for the benefit of traffic. My next suggestion may be more to the benefit of drivers. I believe that general congestion would be alleviated if it were rationed out so that one given approach to London did not sustain so much of it at one time.
Noble Lords have rightly alluded to the fact that they are in one way or another opposed to any attempt to alleviate the problem by massive road building. That surely must be correct. However, there is one area where we seem to be in a position to benefit from foreign experience and that is along the banks of the Thames itself. The traffic in Paris in recent years seems to have benefited from those fast, low-slung roads hanging onto the sides of the banks of the Seine. I should have thought it was trickier to construct such roads along the Seine than it would be along the Thames, which is a considerably wider river. No doubt there is an engineering problem as regards putting supports under such roadways, but one would not have to buy anything from anyone; nor would anyone have to be displaced. Further, one would not have to interfere with any continuing activity on the banks. The next danger to avoid would be that of having too many exits off such roads. However, at this point I must cease to unveil any other intoxicating possibilities of improvement.
§ 3.48 p.m.
§ Baroness Phillips
My Lords, in a debate of this kind everyone will have a story to tell and a remedy to propose. I would only say that in 1930 when I used to travel from Fulham to Westminster —I have 1073 always lived in the same borough —it took 20 minutes on a No. 11 bus. Last week when I travelled from the Savoy to the House of Lords in a cab it took 40 minutes, mainly because of the roadworks down the Strand, Whitehall, Parliament Square and Trafalgar Square. I do not understand why it is necessary to dig up the middle of the roads. There was no formal explanation for that.
The Government's proposals are interesting but, in my opinion, totally useless as they again suggest transferring more responsibility to the boroughs. Such a system is bound to be inefficient as each borough will operate a totally different policy. That will only add to the total confusion. The introduction of a new traffic director for roads has been proposed. However, as we have heard this afternoon, everyone is hammering the case of the car. Let us not be mealy-mouthed about this. We encourage people to buy cars. It helps the economy. However, if they use the car they are polluting the atmosphere and clogging up the roads. If they park on a double yellow line they will receive a stiffer sentence than if they hit an old lady over the head. So we already hammer the car user.
My solution is different. I am delighted that the previous speaker mentioned the matter for the first time. Why do we allow so much freight to pass through the capital city? This morning coming along the Embankment I noticed that there was something like five very large freight lorries to every car passing along the embankment. No other capital city allows that. The policy of previous govenments —one of which I had the honour to serve in —was to have a co-ordinated approach combining road and rail. That has all gone by the board. Of course freight is cheaper by road. Consider the problems created by deliveries. When I sat as a magistrate deliveries had to be made before 8.00 o'clock in the morning. What has happened to that regulation? I attribute the slowness of traffic through the city to the fact that we allow too much heavy freight traffic.
As for the property developers, they epitomise the Government's view of what our society should be like. They pull down a perfectly good building, tart it up again and charge the unfortunate tenants three times as much. In the course of that process they clog the roads with delivery lorries. Having an office in central London I have suffered as a result. Vans deliver one piece of wood and are left there for the rest of the day.
Some of the remedies are immediately to hand. However, I say only that there has to be a co-ordinated approach. The GLC could have carried out such an approach. It is no good suggesting that there will be a few red routes and that responsibility will be handed over to the boroughs. That will not work. There has to be a co-ordinated plan.
Why do people not want to travel on public transport? I have lost staff because they will not come into London. London Underground is dirty and slow. Trains wait for hours in tunnels, and it is dangerous. People will not travel on the Underground as they used to. Heaven help us, you would never get anywhere now if you travelled by bus.
1074 We have to recognise that there has to be a co-ordinated approach and that freight is as much at fault as the private car.
§ 3.52 p.m.
The Viscount of Falkland
My Lords, traffic in London has become intolerable to those who use the city roads every day. I have long since taken to two wheels. I admit that I am rather lazier than I was and I now use a motor cycle to come to your Lordships' House although I have on occasions used a pedal cycle. It is on behalf of those who use or could use the pedal cycle that I should like to devote my limited time in your Lordships' debate today.
Every day some 12,000 people use company cars in the London area. That is a monstrous waste to the taxpayer. It costs more than £2 billion a year. Nevertheless the company car seems to be part of our culture. It is a matter of status. I have known from my own experience endless wrangles within companies about the kind of car that is given to different grades of executive. Valuable executive time is used up in arriving at those decisions. Even then those who receive the company cars are not satisfied. They get into their company cars and sit in traffic jams all day. Indeed today I saw in the newspaper —I think that it was in the Evening Standard—that on average each week people who use their company cars regularly lose about two hours eighteen minutes, stationary in traffic jams.
If one considered the transfer of those people from cars to bicycles what a difference that would make to the life of the nation. I suggest that it would not only ease the problem that we are discussing today, it would have an immediate effect on the environment by lessening pollution. It would reduce the wear and tear on the roads. It would have an enormous effect on the fitness of those who used bicycles.
I am told by the organisation which deals with cycling in London that according to their records —I do not know how they check this —in the London area there are about 1.25 million bicycles. I am afraid that during the week most of those bicycles are kept in basements or chained to railings because for one reason or another people prefer not to use them. It was noticeable that during the recent Tube strikes the number of people cycling increased enormously. The number of people who walked also increased. It may seem a trivial matter but there seemed to be, rather as there is in this country during wartime, an enormous difference in people's manner and behaviour.
Normally if one looks at people in a traffic jam one notices the pallor of their faces, the tension on their faces and the white knuckles on the steering wheels. On one occasion last week I happened to be behind a lady who was at the head of a queue at a temporary traffic light at roadworks. She had clearly had some bad experiences with roadworks because every three seconds she pumped on her horn. Such was the fury and anger of her impatience that everybody was astonished and nobody complained. In the end she went against the red light, nearly causing an accident. I suggest that such was the strain and stress of travel to that lady that she had become 1075 nearly unbalanced. I do not suppose that she is the only one—indeed, yes, my Lords, that also apples to men. I should not like to enter into that argument.
More people could use their bicycles and would like to do so. There needs to be encouragement from government and the idea should be promoted, particularly with the railways. The railways used to offer free transport in the guard's van for bicycles so that people could bring them into London on the train. Now that is very rare. When that became difficult I bought a bicycle which folded up. It was known as a Creaker. I put it into a bag and put it onto the luggage rack. That was not a satisfactory arrangement because one day it folded up on me involuntarily as I was going round Parliament Square. So I should not recommend that solution to your Lordships. However, I believe that British Rail could be encouraged to provide facilities for people to take their bicycles on trains.
I see that my time is up. I do not believe that I have done the subject justice but I hope that noble Lords get my drift.
§ 3.58 p.m.
Viscount St. Davids
My Lords, this is a problem which has many possible answers. I do not believe that any one of them will solve the whole problem. It is a matter of a number of different solutions, each of which will produce some effect.
I have looked at the situation in Los Angeles where the problems seem to be even worse than it is here. They always seem to be a little ahead of us. They have recently tried out a joint venture between private enterprise and the municipal authorities involving investment in small electrical runabout vehicles. I do not call them cars because I believe that a full-sized electric car is possibly not the answer.
We are not talking about pollution, although the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, mentioned it. We are talking here about road pollution and the blockage caused to our transport facilities. That is mainly due to the fact that every individual on the road uses far too much road space. Although I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, that we must not try to rationalise these matters, we must have some way of making sure that people use less road.
For that we need smaller vehicles. That is what Los Angeles is doing. It is going in for small, electric runabouts which take up less road space and can be used from special municipal parking areas. They take up much less road space than the vastly expensive cars do at present.
One does not need much horsepower to navigate our roads. Bicycles use little horsepower. Although motorbikes are noisy and use a great deal of horsepower, they take up much less space. We do not need to use all the space that we use at present per car. It is a matter of using small cars, bicycles and motorbikes.
I am keen to deal with the question of pollution; but, with respect to the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, perhaps I should deal with that in another debate. However, on the question of what one might call 1076 road pollution —the taking up of too much space —I stress that we must go in for much smaller vehicles. We must make more use of the small electric runabout and of public buses, although they already carry many people in a small amount of space. There must be a general realisation that we are now talking about the amount of space per human being. That is what we should now consider.
§ 4.4 p.m.
§ Lord Gisborough
My Lords, we have worried about the amount of traffic in cities for many years. It is certain that, as the roads improve and more cars use them, traffic will become worse. Sooner or later it will be necessary to face the facts and some unpalatable decisions must be taken over the next 100 years.
I should like to make four points. First, one can divide traffic in London into four categories. One cannot expect residents not to keep cars in London. However, the noble Lord is quite right, we must encourage by economic means greater use of small cars, electric cars and bicycles. I recommend bicycles from personal experience. There are then delivery vans which one cannot do without; but, again, they should be economically encouraged to make greater use of night-time and early morning. There are casual visitors who must come in for one reason or another. But the one great problem is the rush hour. We see people clogging up the capital, usually with only one person per car. It will one day be necessary —we should prepare for it now —to say that they cannot come in, and to close the gates between 8 and 9.30 in the morning. In that case, there must be park-and-ride facilities, but they cannot be offered at the moment because there is such a crush on the tube services. There is more room in a sardine can than in some of the tube services at rush hour.
Secondly, there is a vital need for more and better public transport so that people may park and ride, but that might take 20 or 30 years to sort out. There is little inclination now to park and ride because of the crush. If there were fewer cars on the road, buses would move much faster.
Thirdly, London's connections with Heathrow and out to the north and south are crowded and few and far between at certain times of the evening. It is easy to miss an aeroplane because of the lack of tube services to Heathrow. There is to be a fast train service from Paddington. If one is going on holiday and there is no time factor involved, one can take two hours to reach the airport by the tube service. That is fine. The people who need the fast train to Heathrow are those from the City, Whitehall and Fleet Street who are on a flying visit to or from the continent and when time matters. I wonder whether they will take the tube from the City, trundle away to Paddington, wait 10 minutes and then catch the train. They will probably take the tube all the way. Plans must be made now to extend the fast train service from Paddington to Whitehall and the City. Once there is a fast train to the City with very few stops, it should also serve the park-and-ride facilities so that people from the City may go straight to their cars near Heathrow. That kind of transport will encourage people to use park-and-ride facilities.
1077 My final point concerns Heathrow. Every time I come down from Teesside, the aircraft is delayed in taking off and is then an hour late landing. That is usually because it has then missed its slot or because there are too many aircraft coming in to Heathrow. That situation will only become worse as the years pass. We must plan for the next 100 years —certainly 30 years —and support plans for high-speed trains and monorails into the City centre in order to take the pressure off aircraft travel.
We should plan our transport needs not only for 20 years ahead, but for 100 years ahead. We must think in those terms. It takes a long time for large structural plans to be achieved. As the population and its wealth increases, the number of cars will increase and we must therefore prepare for some radical decisions.
§ 4.8 p.m.
§ Earl Attlee
My Lords, I read in the papers the other day that, according to a recent survey, the Exchequer loses £113 million a year through people failing to licence their cars. My poor mathematics therefore leads me to believe that over 1 million people dodge the tax. It would be a great help if, instead of going into the Exchequer, that money went towards helping London. Eighty per cent. of all cars going into London receive some financial help. Of those, at least 40 per cent. are company cars. I am not against company cars but it seems to me that most of the cars only have one person in them —that is, the driver. I must admit that I myself do not often drive into London. I hold the strong belief that people are given company cars as a status symbol. That is fine but therefore they use those cars. They drive into London, park—possibly in a company car park —and in the evening drive home. They never use the car during the day.
I feel that such people are mad, because it is far easier to go by train. If the company car is taken away or priced out, people will then resort to using their own cars and will demand massive increases in their salaries. There is one group of people —company representatives —who use their cars during the day, but for those who do not one of the simplest solutions would be to make a surcharge of, say, £3 a day for anyone who drives into London and parks but does not in fact need his car. That would be a fairly simple matter.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff. He managed to get a wonderful sneer into his voice when he was speaking about red routes. I do not think that red routes will work. Last Wednesday I mentioned bus lanes and the fact that the police never seemed to do anything about cars parked in them. If the bus lanes worked and were free from obstruction that would speed up the buses.
I turn to London Underground. We have been told that it intends to increase fares to such an extent that it will drive people away from the Underground service. They will not turn to the buses at the moment because the buses are unreliable and slow. People will travel by car. That will put even more cars on the road. It is absolutely crazy. London Underground is installing wonderful automatic gates. However, no 1078 matter how often London Transport says that they all work very well, when I started to attend to your Lordships' House there were never any queues going into the stations or coming out of them. Now at rush hour there are long queues in both directions. It seems to me that that is very silly. It is no good saying that the gates work, although I admit that their reliability has much improved.
Presumably the gates have been installed to stop fare fiddling. I think that most of the Fare fiddling was probably done by staff who took the excess fares and put them in their pockets. That is fairly well documented, although I do not make any accusations.
The Government say that they will build more roads in London. That would be a fatal step because, as the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, said, if one builds more roads one will get more cars. The classic example of that is the millions of pounds that were spent on the Hyde Park underpass to relieve the traffic around Hyde Park. It did so; but it simply moved the traffic jams 50 to 60 yards further down the road. That was very silly.
Finally, I think that the idea of the bicycle put forward by the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, is a lovely one except that bicycles are fairly slow and the cyclists breathe in fumes all the time. As an asthmatic I certainly would not do it. I tried commuting on a moped but stopped because I got fed up with continually being knocked off it by motorists.
§ 4.14 p.m.
§ Lord Monson
My Lords, it is obvious that there will be no miracle cure for London's traffic problems. All that one can do is identify a few of the problems and suggest some partial remedies.
One might start at random with the one-man operated buses, which were touched on briefly by the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff. These are buses where the driver collects the fares. The new single decker buses, which have evidently been designed for midgets, are bad enough but at least there is a flat fare of 60p. Far worse are the double decker one-man operated buses where a variety of fares have to be proffered so that boarding takes twice as long, with consequent traffic obstruction. That difficulty could be partially alleviated if books of tickets could be sold at tobacconists, newsagents and similar retailers, as happens in Paris, preferably at a slight discount in order to encourage passengers to buy their tickets in advance at those outlets rather than wait until they board the bus.
As has been mentioned, there is a lack of co-ordination in planning and synchronising road works. Surely that could be partly alleviated by giving local authorities greater powers to regulate such works. Another factor contributing to congestion is that the utilities —both public and, even more shockingly, privatised utilities —have evidently been exempted by the Government, as I discovered the other day, from any requirement to compensate local authorities when those utilities appropriate parking spaces in order to carry out sundry repairs and improvements. For example, 1079 about 250 yards from where I live in London British Telecom sterilised no fewer than three parking spaces for a total period of well over four months. One of the reasons was that British Telecom had botched the job in the first place and had to start it all over again. If the borough council had been allowed to charge British Telecom for every day that each parking space was sterilised, there would have been some incentive to get the job right in the first place and complete it speedily. I suggest that remedial legislation should be introduced as soon as possible.
Another cause of severe congestion —albeit happily less frequent since recent public order legislation was enacted —is demonstrations. By that I mean marches rather than static demonstrations, which cause practically no problems. All such marches in future ought to be confined to weekends, except in instances when the marchers agree with the police to walk in single file along pavements and wait to cross at traffic lights just like everybody else.
Road pricing has hardly been mentioned. It will surely have to come as soon as some foolproof method can be perfected. But it is essential that any such road pricing should bear down particularly heavily on heavy goods vehicles. On no account should it be confined to private cars.
I suggest that two-tier fixed penalties should be introduced. The current fixed penalty is quite adequately severe for motorists who, for example, park illegally at parking meters: after all, such people cause no obstruction. However, for motorists who park on double yellow lines in a busy traffic artery, whether it be on a main road coming into London, such as King's Road, or a narrower but still vital artery such as Beauchamp Place, the present fixed penalty should at least be doubled. Conversely, vehicles should only be towed away when they are in fact causing an obstruction; otherwise, the tow-away trucks more often than not cause more problems than they cure.
I agree with my noble friend Lord St. Davids and the noble Lord, Lord Gisborough, that cars of excessive and unnecessary length certainly contribute to traffic congestion. Let there be a differential road fund licence that varies with the length of the car. There would, say, be the present £ 100 for cars up to 13ft. long, £110 for cars between 13ft. and 14½ft. long and £125 per annum for cars longer than that.
I agree also with the noble Lord, Lord Jay, and other noble Lords that company cars could well be more heavily taxed. I understand that Britain has the highest proportion of company cars in Europe.
Finally —and here I must declare an interest as I hold a handful of shares in the company that at present operates the service —let us do everything possible to encourage riverbus services. The difficulty which this service has encountered stems mainly from the fact that Britain is a nation of litter louts. There is almost as much litter in the Thames as there is on the streets of London, which is really saying something. This flotsam and jetsam fouls the engines of boats so that they frequently have to slow 1080 down or even be taken out of service. Once that problem has been overcome, the Thames can become an invaluable bypass artery which will divert some of the pressure from the almost fatally clogged tarmac arteries of our capital city.
§ Lord Ardwick
My Lords, there is one way, and perhaps only one —I beg the pardon of the noble Baroness.
§ 4.20 p.m.
§ Baroness Gardner of Parkes
My Lords, I would happily have spoken after the noble Lord.
I am delighted that this debate is taking place, because I wish to say something about the loss and inconvenience caused by building works obstructing roads. It enables me at least to mention the point today. I believe that we have to seek a comprehensive solution because the problem is very complex and not easy to solve. Without doubt there could be a larger role for local authorities in helping the flow of traffic. I have heard it said that the GLC dealt with that well. I believe that it was one of the matters that it did handle well, but I do not wish to see such a huge bureaucratic system again. However, control by strategic planning by means of road plans was a very good scheme. I was vice-chairman of one area —such schemes were broken down into areas. I notice that in the article in today's Standard it states that the Greater London area is too big. The area was never operated as a whole but was broken down into a number of areas and a central area. That worked very well.
There are many things that local authorities can do even now. The most important is to be able to take a much greater role in enforcement of existing parking controls. Indeed I have been asked to bring forward fairly soon local government miscellaneous legislation which will seek power for local authorities to carry out the enforcement of parking controls within their own areas. That is supported by all the London local authorities.
As has been mentioned, there are not enough traffic wardens. We all feel that the police would be better off if they were freed from the burden of enforcing ordinary traffic parking restrictions in order to be able to deal with criminal cases or other serious and major infringements of the law.
I believe that the red routes mentioned will be a very good idea. However, everything comes back to enforcement. When a policeman is present in the Brompton Road in the morning, pulling up anyone who is in a bus lane, the bus lane system works very well. For the rest of the day when no one is enforcing the bus lane scheme it is ignored totally. This is the typical pattern almost everywhere. Unless such a system is enforced it is no good.
I mention to the noble Lord, Lord Monson, that the Secretary of State has already confirmed that there will be higher fines for the red routes, although I do not think the fines are as high as they would need to be in order to deter people from stopping on those red routes. I do not believe that Beauchamp Place will qualify for a red route, as the noble Lord had rather hoped.
1081 The most effective means of enforcing parking restrictions is without doubt the clamping of cars or removal of vehicles. People may not like to have to pay a large sum but they are much more irate when they undergo the inconvenience of having to wait until their car is unclamped, or discover that it has been removed when they believe that it has been stolen.
Other things can be done to help the traffic flow. Since time is short, I shall have to run through them quickly. London is one large building site. If one leaves this House and turns into Great Peter Street, half the road is occupied by large building works. The same is true of Brompton Road and Hyde Park Corner. I could go through dozens of examples within reach of this place. I believe that the law we passed last year may give the local authorities the right to do what is called lane charging: that is charging the developers for occupying a portion of the road that is normally available for traffic and instead has been removed from use. I hope that that will prove to be so. I understand that the local authorities are shortly to submit a list.
Last year we had burst water mains causing obstructions in Russell Square for up to four months.
There must be a total strategy for London. I should like to see a small bus moving round the centre of London on a clockwise and an anti-clockwise run. The GLC tried to do that with a large yellow bus which was constantly stuck in traffic. There are numbers of people who wish to go from north to south across Hyde Park, and from Piccadilly to Oxford Street. In order to do so they have to get on and off one bus after another. If there were a small bus circulating, with a flat fare charge, and one hopped on and paid as one went, everyone would be able to get around. I believe that that would move more people more rapidly around the centre of London.
The bus lanes are good in the right place; but they are terrible in the wrong place. I am very pleased that we have been informed that the bus lane immediately outside this House on this side of the road has gone because it has been extremely difficult to get out of our own car park. I hope that that will improve matters a little.
§ 4.25 p.m.
§ Lord Ardwick
My Lords, I apologise to the noble Baroness for jumping in before my turn. I assure her that I do not drive like that. However, I have followed the noble Lord, Lord Monson, so often that it has now become force of habit. I hope that the noble Baroness will forgive me.
There is perhaps one matter on which we can all agree, including Her Majesty's Government. The London traffic problem is bad, it is getting worse; and something must be done about it. But what should be done? There is the rub. I suspect that there is a wide difference between thoughtful Londoners and the Department of Transport. It seems that the Secretary of State has decided wisely, and not before time, to appoint a London traffic director. But to whom is the director responsible? The answer, it seems, is the Secretary of State himself. Surely 1082 Londoners reject this old Romanian idea of democracy and demand that the traffic of this great capital be the responsibility of a directly elected strategic authority.
I admit that there are signs of grace in the Department of Transport. But they are faint. We shall have to make them plainer. By "we" I mean Members of both Houses of Parliament backed by local traffic associations that Londoners have thrown up and by mass meetings that such associations can organise among angry and apprehensive citizens.
The department still believes in the old remedies —once effective but no longer so —for clearing congestion from our streets; namely new roads, widened roads and enlarged junctions. These remedies are no longer effective. Road improvements would be useful only if the volume of traffic was constant and not growing as it is. But the evidence is compelling. Road improvements generate more traffic and impair the efficiency and the resources of public transport. Hope of having managable and flowing traffic in London depends on creating and facilitating public transport, practising firm traffic management and making imaginative approaches to traffic restraint. This will demand over the years massive capital expenditure and heavy subsidies. It is a problem, however, on which Conservatives, Liberals and Socialists can all agree. Five borough councils in west and south-west London, controlled by Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Labour, have a united approach to the problem based on improved public transport and traffic restraint.
The assessment study report for west London produced by consultants appointed by the Department of Transport echoes the traditional view of their paymasters. However, with scanty evidence the study concludes that better public transport can make no significant contribution to the problems. It states that improvements to British Rail and rail community services would be costly but would not persuade many car drivers to make what is described as a modal transfer and to leave their cars at home. Nor do the consultants seem able to accept that if buses were more frequent, more dependable and less expensive many more people would use them. I would make the modal transfer tomorrow if the Nos. 22 and 11 routes were more frequent and more dependable.
The report too lightly dismisses the park-and-ride facilities used in the United States. It cannot deal with the inadequately taxed company cars which make it cheaper for thousands of people to commute by private instead of public transport. Surely it is common sense to recognise that, with the number of cars constantly increasing, some form of restraint will become eventually inevitable.
Some day, not too far away, a government will have to face that fact. Perhaps it will require a major incident, such as central London being brought to a standstill —it happened some years ago in Kingston —for drastic action to be taken. The solution may require road pricing, rationing by registration numbers, with odd numbers only on odd dates, peak hour restrictions on private cars or discouragement of all-day car parks in central 1083 London. All these solutions sound grim. But so is the problem. So is the condition of the people who stand for long in the cold and wet awaiting an erratic bus. So is the condition of people crammed in the Tube or a commuter train —surely, an unwitting denial of a human right.
§ Lord Howie of Troon
My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, will he accept that it is not really a question of roads against public transport? It is really a matter of roads and public transport. The London system is inadequate—
§ Viscount Ullswater
My Lords, this is a timed debate and the time is very short for each speaker. I think we ought to get on with the debate.
§ 4.31 p.m.
§ Earl Russell
My Lords, the Liberal Democrats are the only party which take a truly empirical attitude to the free market. The Government are in favour of it. The Opposition are against it. We suspect both of them of knowing the answer before they know the question. We should like to know: suitable to what, and suitable to achieving what purpose?
London is one of the places to which the notion of free markets is particularly unsuited. I have been many times reminded recently of the political atmosphere of 1963 when, once again, we came to the end of 13 years of Conservative rule with massive complaints about congestion, overcrowding and homelessness in London. It is not a coincidence that it was car commuting in London that the noble Lord, Lord Jay, was discussing when he said that this was a case where the pursuit of each person's convenience becomes the cause of everyone's inconvenience. But I would not mind so much if the Government were consistent in their own principles. Principles honestly followed usually in the end rub up against experience. What we do not have is a level playing field in London's transport markets.
The roads—and I know that we pay for them in one way or another —are free at the point of delivery. We therefore have a distorted market in favour of roads. We have the tightest requirements of return on capital and the lowest proportion of subsidy to fare in any major city in Europe.
Occasionally I ask myself whether London's transport has really run down as badly in the past few years as I thought. Last week I had the rare pleasure of a night off and watched an old film on television which included some shots taken at Piccadilly Circus Underground Station. I was quite astonished by how clean, smooth and tidy it all looked and that film was made in only 1973. The decline has been even worse than I remembered.
Among many hundreds of examples of the state of London's transport, I shall mention the escalator at Bond Street going down to the Jubilee Line. I regularly have to use it at about 11 o'clock on a Monday night. My wife assures me that for 16 consecutive Mondays it has been switched off. I 1084 was reminded of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, concerning court clocks. It occurred to me to wonder whether the requirements of return on capital for London Transport are acting very much in the way of a cash limit and compelling them to withdraw services, because otherwise they cannot meet their financial targets. It is a point worth thinking about.
We are told —indeed it is in danger of becoming conventional wisdom —that London Transport is reaching saturation point. But when I was young trains used to run through Tottenham Court Road station every 90 seconds. London Transport now claim that the average wait is 3.3 minutes. I do not know any passenger who believes that. Why can we not have more trains? Instead, we are being offered London road assessment studies carried out by a flawed method, rightly described by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, as four village surveys. We are finding, as we found in the debates on the ILEA, that this Government have no concept of a social unity called London, but there are plenty of Londoners who do.
We have had the point made that roads generate traffic. I shall quote in support of that studies by my colleague, Dr. Adams, on the North Circular Road. When roads generate traffic, the cars have to go off somewhere else. So, as in the case of the Piccadilly-Hyde Park underpass, you simply shift the jam from one place to another. Roads also cause vast destruction of housing. I listened with interest to the exciting proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Quinton, for a road along the bank of the Thames. But it occurred to me that one of the casualties of such a road would be this House and I, for one, would regret it.
I have not forgotten either an occasion 20 years ago when I had to stand on the pavement at Swiss Cottage at 4 o'clock on a hot Friday afternoon. In that circumstance, the phrase of my noble friend Lord Tordoff about choking to death seemed entirely apt. We have had surveys quoted which show that the public are opposed, so there is the opportunity of making the situation worse at vast expense in order to lose popularity. I ask the Government: is it worth it?
§ 4.37 p.m.
§ Lord Milne
My Lords, that the position is getting worse is generally accepted, but I do not believe people realise the degree unless they live on a main thoroughfare. In North Barnes, suffering from north, south, east and west traffic, the rush hour now lasts about three hours starting at 7 a.m. and again in the evening at 5 p.m. Observation that this is steadily increasing is borne out by the statistics given in the working document. It points out that the working population, car ownership, incomes, etc., are all on the increase and gives projections for the future.
Due to the closure of Hammersmith Bridge to heavy traffic, our problem is almost entirely car commuting and it is notable, as other noble Lords have said, that almost every car has but one occupant. The fact that 80 per cent. of private cars carried but one occupant was pointed out in 1986, in Stage 1 of the West London Assessment. On the 1085 basis of one occupant per car, it takes 100 cars to carry the same number of commuters as a London bus, though at about 50 times the space.
Yet at Section 4 of the same document the Minister says that,Car commuting into Central London is not the main problem yet.It appears to decry any serious means of physical or financial restraint. At least the Chancellor has seen the light by increasing taxation on company cars, though these are still subsidised.
At Section 5 we learn that, so far as cars are concerned, the expansion of public transport would not much affect the situation; not apparently because the 14 per cent. of car commuters could not be assimilated, but due to their preference for private cars. At Section 2 it is stated that the Government,looks upon restraint of the car very much as a policy of last resort.The Government might like to know that this is not the view held by the inhabitants of our general area, its councillors and local associations. Here in three meetings, each of about 1,000 people, and a petition to Parliament containing about 10,000 signatures, they and the general area have shown their deep indignation at the options proposed and have passed a resolution to the effect that restraint on traffic was number one priority.
I fully appreciate the difficulties involved in organising the car commuter but it is there where I believe the trouble lies and the greatest and speediest benefits can be gained. Most major schemes take years to fructify and in the meantime the trouble becomes worse.
Today, quite suddenly, we have become aware of our environment and of all kinds of pollution caused by the car. I believe that, by an organised campaign pointing out the benefits in terms of time saved and increased traffic flows during rush hours the car commuters could be convinced to make a concerted, voluntary effort to pool their resources. The failure to do so may mean that coercion is the only alternative.
§ 4.40 p.m.
§ Lord Renwick
My Lords, I am glad to be the first speaker to thank the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, for the opportunity to debate the subject, because it is of the utmost importance. London has a tremendous future and a wonderful past but it is being strangled to death. The through-ways of London are important not only to the people who live here but also to those who work here and transport goods. In real terms, the cost of the delays in London's traffic are quantifiable and I do not believe that today they have been too accented.
To an extent the Government's proposals published last December recognised that. Like my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth, I was surprised to learn that four separate consultants were used in the London assessment studies. The problem needs to be looked at strategically. The four consultants were given briefs which were difficult to carry out in isolation and individually.
1086 The problem demands radical thinking. I may be at odds with Her Majesty's Government, but "planning" appears to be a dirty word; it appears to smack of bureaucratic state control, and so forth. However, as regards subjects as important as London's life-blood I believe that an overall planning strategy is important. I welcome the improvements that have been suggested and the extension of the Jubilee Line. An extension of another Underground line will be announced next year. As noble Lords have pointed out, doing too much at the same time causes even more disruption to London's traffic.
The assessment studies present problems because I believe that some of their proposals are flawed. For example, the West London assessment study suggests a western environmental improvement route. As a result of the proposal, I was asked to chair a local association called the Cheney Walk Trust. I was interested to do so not only because I live in Cheney Walk but because of my interest in London as a whole.
The WEIR, as it is called, is neither environmentally desirable nor an improvement. Basically, its purpose is to serve as a bypass around the Earl's Court corridor, which we all know is a bad spot in London. I believe that even the assessment of the Department of Transport is that after the opening of WEIR the Earl's Court corridor will be just as bad and WEIR will be blocked from end to end. I ask Her Majesty's Government to reconsider WEIR and I hope that my noble friend will give me hope.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Lord Sefton of Garston
My Lords, I promised myself that if I was to speak late in the debate and might repeat what had already been said I should choose not to speak because of the time factor. I shall try not to repeat anything that has been said, but I should like to pick up one theme that has been established by almost every speaker. Noble Lords on all sides of the House —I see that most speakers are not members of my party —have pointed out the need for a co-ordinated policy with regard to transport. It is a theme which a quarter of a century ago the government of the day enshrined by allowing a man named Buchanan to prepare a report for the nation entitled Traffic in Towns.
I shall not enter into the details of the problems of London. They have been dealt with ad infinitum so it would be ad nauseam to repeat them. However, I wish to make one small point about the hypocrisy of some people who are responsible for transport in London and the effect of that. I have seen the stupid advertisement placed by London Transport which states that if you are in a bus lane you are a clot and you are clotting the arteries of London. First, I could find a word other than "clot" to describe a person who stops in a bus lane. Secondly, there is a supposition that the only arteries in London are bus lanes. Anyone who drives in London during the rush hour on any evening, particularly anywhere near Clapham Junction, knows that one of the contributory factors to the congestion on Wandsworth Road is the one-man operated bus. The driver takes all the time in the world to allow people 1087 on. What is it for? It is not to improve the bus service but to save money; that is all. That is the hypocrisy that we face.
The Buchanan Report, Traffic in Towns, was widely hailed all over the world as a good analysis of city problems in regard to transport. It pointed out the affinity between land use —that is how you use the land, how you create employment and how you create the demand for transport —and the planning of cities. London Regional Transport has a strategy for policy; it has a strategic officer. As I have said before in this House, during a meeting at which he was present I asked what he considered to be the consequences of building on the site at the south end of Vauxhall Bridge. It was an undertaking which would create 6,000 more demands from people wishing to be moved in and out of the area. London Transport did not even know that the site was to be developed nor where it was. It certainly had no idea of the consequences.
During our debate on the London Docklands Light Railway I tried my utmost to persuade Members of this House that before beginning the building it was necessary to find out the consequences of creating 80,000 more jobs for people who would then need moving through the city. What was the response of this House? I could not even find a seconder.
I tabled a Question asking what the Government intended to do about the site at the back of the Tate Gallery, and I hope that today the Minister can comment further on that. The site cost £350 million and the PSA bought it. I asked the Government why they wanted it but they did not know. They knew only how much it cost and that was the end of the matter. Is that planning? Now we are told that MI5, MI6 and God knows what other government departments are to be situated right on top of Whitehall, right behind this Chamber. Ask London's transport authorities, when they are preparing their plans, whether they are taking into account that little effort. The answer will be no.
My time is up. I have been told before that if we have five minutes we have to stop when the clock shows four. I will finish on this one note. Given all the complaints, all the suggestions, concerning London's transport, it is clear that the problems will never be resolved without a comprehensive examination of the question of land use in our capital along with transport and other allied subjects. Creating a new London County Council is not the only way to do it; we need a combination of local and central government. Central government is deeply involved in this question and should by now have sent out of London all those civil servants who are determined not to move. It should also have persuaded all those private industries that have no need to be here to move out of London. The chances of that are very remote when the rest of the country subsidises London to the extent that it does in regard to wage weighting and payments for civil servants. But that is what is needed.
§ 4.51 p.m.
§ Lord Mountevans
My Lords, I appreciate that time is pressing but perhaps I may start with two 1088 personal comments. My first is to express my regret that the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, has had to delete his name from the list. A transport debate, for those of us who specialise in transport, is not a transport debate without the noble Lord. I am sure my transport colleagues will join me in wishing him a speedy recovery.
My second is to thank the noble Viscount, Lord Davidson, who is to reply tonight, for his amazingly detailed response to those of us who were here last Wednesday when we debated railways and roads.
Last week I said that I was not looking for more subsidy or for more investment. Having listened to the debate today I feel that perhaps we do need to spend more, but I hope we will not set out to spend more on the peaks. No one in industry invests to cope with peaks. Shell, BP, Mars and Unilever do not invest to satisfy peak capacity; they set out to spread the demand.
One of our first tasks must be to examine why we are failing to make use of what we have at the moment. I give three examples. The first is, inevitably, rail. It is often said that trains are always full, but British Rail's trains are only full for two hours in the morning and two hours in the evening, five days a week. That is a total of 20 hours which could perhaps be stretched to 24. It means that for six days a week the trains are running at less than 50 per cent. occupancy. Should we be investing to cope for those two-hour periods? I believe we should not.
§ Lord Mountevans
We should seek other means —and there are other means —to cope with the problems we face. One which is very close to hand is flexi-time. This is practised in much of enlightened industry in Britain. It is practised by government departments. In fact, I am indebted to officials for reminding me that the Department of Transport practises flexi-time. However, members of staff must be at work by 10 o'clock and to satisfy that requirement must travel in the peak. So they miss the economic fares available after 9.30. Perhaps we need a culture change to alter our working habits.
Similarly we have a problem on the roads. Roads have peaks. To read the tabloid newspapers or listen to some of the speakers today you might feel that the roads in London are perpetually choked. They are not. There are lengthy periods of time in the 168 hours of a week when travelling on our roads is easy. However, we have an opportunity to make better use of our roads.
§ Baroness Phillips
Perhaps I may interrupt the noble Lord. When is central London not full to the brim whith traffic? Which hour of the day?
§ Lord Mountevans
I walked today from Regent's Park to the South Bank and from the South Bank to Parliament. Between 9 and 10 o'clock this morning the traffic between Regent's Park and South Bank was moving pretty well. I walked along the road between Waterloo and here, across the bridge, and the traffic was moving pretty well. That is an instant 1089 answer for the noble Baroness based on personal experience. During the past five or six years we appear to have lost touch with car sharing. Several noble Lords have mentioned making more use of the available road capacity. We passed legislation on car sharing to make it more simple and the department ran a campaign to make it more attractive. Again on my walk today —and I intended to mention this without prompting from the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips— I hardly saw a car with more than one person in it. Will the noble Viscount tell the House what happened to car sharing? It seems to me that it may be a short-term solution to some of our problems.
Taking the medium term, on the edge of London we have our airports. I am delighted that the Heathrow Express is at last making progress. I am grateful that Westminster has withdrawn its petition against the Heathrow Express Railway Bill. We have what I will call the "Stansted Express", because as yet it has no other name, coming on stream. When the Government blessed and endorsed the Heathrow Express proposals, they promised a study which I believe was called the Heathrow and South West Quadrant Study. Can the noble Viscount tell us anything about progress on that? I ask because the purely local demands of west London are putting that area under pressure.
Airport demands and airport traffic are growing. We thought airport traffic growth would slow down; but year on year it increases. Traffic to Heathrow in December had increased by 7.1 per cent. The M.4 and M.3 corridor traffic is growing. Are we making any progress on road access to Heathrow?
My final point —because my five minutes are up —is to ask: what are we doing about our river, that great unused transport resource that runs through central London? Have the Government any proposals to make?
Taking a five to six year view perhaps I may mention the Secretary of State's new objectives for British Rail. To abolish subsidy for Network SouthEast, I believe, is right. I do not believe that the poverty-stricken citizens of Tyne and Wear should subsidise through their taxes the affluent people who live in the South. However, if we aim for an 8 per cent. return in 1995 on Network SouthEast's assets —perhaps £4 billion to £5 billion —we will not only have to abolish the subsidy, which I think is right, but we will so have to increase fares that people will, force majeure, be driven back on to the roads. That does not seem to me to be the integrated transport policy which so many of your Lordships have asked for today.
§ 4.57 p.m.
§ Lord Nugent of Guildford
My Lords, I welcome the Government's new initiative in their discussion document. I believe that it will make a big improvement as regards London traffic. Incidentally, I have observed that the majority of vehicles in London are light delivery vans, not private cars.
The first and fundamental feature of the new initiative is the appointment, despite constitutional 1090 objections, of a London traffic director by the Secretary of State who will be responsible for all road traffic movement within a designated area which will be bigger than any London borough. The next major point to welcome is the priority attention to be given to the enforcement of parking regulations on all trunk roads in the area during the heavy commuter traffic flows in the morning and evening.
The concept is that these roads must be kept clear of all parked vehicles during those periods: three hours in the morning and three hours in the evening. Even one parked vehicle at the kerb will deny movement to a whole lane of traffic. The logic is simple. The primary objective is to keep the whole width of the road clear for moving traffic. The result is that double the amount of traffic can move along the road. Even loading and unloading goods vehicles cannot be allowed during these peak periods. Obviously much careful planning will be needed to accommodate the central commercial requirement; neither private cars nor skips should be allowed, as one noble Lord observed.
The area chosen for the initiative is essentially the central London area of the West End and the City, including an important area south of the river. There are strong arguments for making it bigger, but the drastic nature of the proposals is such that the right policy is to introduce these stringent new disciplines into a limited area which can be closely monitored so that difficulties can be ironed out as they occur. When this scheme has been proved a success, public support can be won for the extension of the scheme to other areas and, I would hope, to the whole metropolis later.
The relationship between the traffic director and the London boroughs concerned is obviously of key importance. Although the Secretary of State proposes to give the traffic director reserve powers, it is obviously essential that there should be a partnership between them. I also include the City in the partnership. Seventy per cent. of the roads in the designated area are trunk roads and therefore they are already the responsibility of the Secretary of State. Furthermore, he is prepared to pay the considerable extra cost for enforcement and sign-posting which will be needed in the area.
The core area proposed is evidently the minimum which can give a real prospect of increased traffic movement. In American cities it is normal for the traffic commissioner to be responsible for the traffic in the whole city. He can then use his powers to control the traffic flow from the periphery of the city to the centre by co-ordinating the traffic lights and phasing them. Preference is given to through traffic and the crossing traffic is reduced to a small part of the traffic light phasing. I do not doubt that that method will be carried out in the designated area. Eventually I hope that, the scheme having been a success, the Secretary of State will consider extension of the arrangement to the whole area because the full benefit can be achieved only by the commuter flow being given free movement in and out.
The constitutional difficulties have been rightly commented on by the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick. However, the scheme suggested is the only way to 1091 achieve sufficient authority at the centre and funding so as to obtain the maximum mechanical benefit of a traffic flow going from the periphery to the centre to the benefit of everybody. My noble friend and his right honourable friend the Secretary of State will have to get out and about in order to persuade local authorities and the general public of the benefits of the scheme for everybody. In that way the Secretary of State will have a fair wind when he comes to legislate. He has a formidable task.
§ 5.2 p.m.
§ Lord Ezra
My Lords, the stage has been reached in this important debate, so effectively introduced by my noble friend Lord Tordoff, to begin the winding-up process. I propose to do so under four heads. The first is the problem. It is very clear from every noble Lord who has spoken in this debate that they all feel that not only at present is there a very serious transport problem in Greater London, but that in all likelihood it is going to get worse.
Many noble Lords have contributed their own particular horror stories by telling us of the problems that they or people they know have encountered in getting around London. The cost of this problem has been very carefully evaluated by the CBI. A number of figures have been mentioned, taking the situation on a country-wide basis, though the problem is even greater when applied to Greater London where congestion is greater. The cost of congestion in one form or another, whether commercial or personal, adds up to £5 per household per week which is equivalent to two pence on income tax. If ever there was a factor bearing on inflation that is it, and the sooner we eliminate or reduce it the better.
Secondly, there are the solutions. The solutions so far tried have been piecemeal. Noble Lords who have spoken also felt that was so. Something has been tried here and there. The most recent proposition that the Government have put forward is the red road system. That is a system of traffic management which has many attractions. However, it is only one part of the whole problem. The fear is that if we go on applying piecemeal solutions, the piece that is dealt with will in turn only create more problems for the other pieces which are not being dealt with at the same time.
I come to my third point. What should be the solutions? They are much more fundamental and long-term than anything that has been proposed so far. The first and obvious truth that emerges from consideration of the London traffic problem is that we have too little road space for the vehicles using it. That was a point made initally by my noble friend and repeated by many other noble Lords who have spoken. Simply adding to the road space will not solve the problem because that space will be very quickly filled to overflowing.
Very clearly, there has to be some plan for bringing the number of cars coming into the metropolis into line with the space reasonably available. That cannot be achieved, even by the most repressive measures, unless there is an alternative way of getting into the capital. I have been advised that Singapore 1092 introduced road pricing on a large scale. Initially the scheme did not work because the level of alternative public transport was inadequate. However, as soon as public transport was improved, the scheme began to work. Therefore, the second leg of the exercise is that, very clearly, we have to concentrate on improving public transport.
To begin with, the mere fact of restricting the flow of cars into the limited road space will itself free the movement of surface public transport. In addition, we have to do very much more with the Underground system. I use Sloane Square station and each time I get out there I have to trudge up to street level because nine times out of 10 the elevator is not working. I then think of the many questions that have been asked about this in the House: when are we going to get the system working properly and adequately? That is just one part of the problem.
From what has been said one must conclude that a combination of limiting the influx of cars on the one hand and improving public transport on the other, are the long-term proposals. The question which has arisen time and time again is the need for the co-ordination of effort. There are no fewer than 39 different bodies which are concerned with transport in London. There are 32 London boroughs. There is the Minister for roads and traffic who is responsible for trunk roads. There is the Minister responsible for public transport investment. The Secretary of State for the Environment is responsible for land use planning. The Metropolitan Police Commissioner is responsible for parking enforcement. London Regional Transport has its responsibilities, and there is also British Rail. Finally, and much to my surprise, I found out that the London Residuary Body deals with London's computerised traffic signal network and data on road traffic accidents.
How on earth can 39 different bodies deal with a problem which is integrated, linked and ascertainable and which needs effective co-ordinated action? The sooner we have a co-ordinated body either at ministerial or other level to deal with this problem, the sooner we shall get a solution.
§ 5.8 p.m.
§ Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Underhill has a heavy cold and he is sorry that he is unable to be here today. As the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, said, it is hardly a transport debate without the presence of my noble friend. Knowing him extremely well, I am sure that he will read every word of what is said today and he will no doubt raise these matters in a future debate.
There are ways of looking at the transport problem in London. I believe that the final summing up of the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, was most explicit and covered many of the important points. In the first instance, we can look at the immediate problems and solve one or two of the difficulties. But we shall not in that way tackle the real problem of traffic congestion in London. We shall find ourselves continually improvising and thinking that we have improved the position. However, as London becomes even more congested with traffic, any 1093 alterations may make fundamental change even more difficult.
Noble Lords have made many useful and important points in this interesting debate. Several speakers referred to the one-person operated buses and to the delays and dangers caused by them. This point has been discussed in transport debates both in your Lordships' House and in another place. It was said that one-person operated buses may be fine for the suburbs and for outlying areas where there is more space but that they cause problems in the centres of cities. One noble Lord referred to Oxford Street. Assurances were given that these buses would not be used in Oxford Street. Although most of the buses being used in that area have conductors, new buses will be operated by one person. Another difficulty with one-person operated buses is the sheer inconvenience they cause to passengers. I am thinking especially of passengers having to wait in severe weather to board a bus. Everyone wants to get rid of the one-person operated bus in city centres.
One point was raised by nearly every noble Lord. In this connection I could imagine my noble friend Lord Underhill saying, although he would not say it, "I told you so". I refer to the Home Report. My noble friend has referred to it in every transport debate over the past three years. The Government have had the report for about three years but we have yet to hear of their attitude to it, never mind what powers they propose to take to implement it. When first I came to London I thought that the traffic system was better than I had seen elsewhere. A time-limit was given to roadworks and building works. We have heard today that London is virtually one large building site. People complain about builders' skips, portakabins and lorries. As my noble friend Lady Phillips said, lorries sometimes come along with one piece of timber and stay all day. That is possibly an exaggeration but it gives a flavour of how people feel about lorries, roadworks and building sites.
Company cars have been mentioned. I referred to the issue in some detail last week and I notice that more and more noble Lords are raising it. In Britain we have many more company cars than other countries. In some European countries 15 per cent. to 20 per cent. of new cars are bought as company cars. In Britain more than 60 per cent. of new cars are bought by companies for their employees.
Car sharing can help to reduce the number of cars being brought into London. The noble Lord, Lord Nugent, has probably seen some of the problems in San Francisco where out of sheer necessity cars are segregated on the Golden Gate bridge. A car containing only one person has to use the slow lane to cross the bridge. It is claimed that people have been found with tailor's dummies beside them in their cars in order that they can cross the bridge in a faster lane. Car sharing can help but we must not pretend that it is a long-term solution. I agree with my noble friend Lord Sefton, who said in his usual cogent manner that fundamental changes are required and that there should be control over land use planning in the city of London.
The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, made a marvellous introduction to the debate and set the scene very 1094 well indeed. He referred to the Jubilee Line. I do not believe that the Jubilee Line is the answer. It strikes me that the Jubilee Line proposal is put forward in order to help Canary Wharf pay its way. A proposal involving one of the other lines would be very much better.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, about planning permission. A Select Committee of which I was a member suggested some time ago that fairly liberal compensation should be given, although people should still have the right of appeal. We need a controller for London. As the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, said, 39 different bodies look after London. The city used to be admired for its standards of municipal organisation. Now, that organisation is fragmented. Helpful suggestions have been made, but in the long term we must be more radical and shrug off some of our prejudices. We need to get around the table and think of something more advanced than the Minister's suggestion of 14th December.
§ 5.17 p.m.
§ Viscount Davidson
My Lords, I think I can start by saying that this has been a rush-hour debate. I am sure that noble Lords will not expect me to answer or comment on all the points that have been raised but I shall do my best. I can assure the House that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport will read with the greatest of interest the debate in the Official Report. There are two features of debates in this House on transport. One is that all those who speak have their own personal experiences; the other is that they can all find something to complain about. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, for providing the House with the opportunity to debate the important subject of traffic in London, and for providing me with the opportunity to explain the Government's initiatives for tackling the problems.
The Motion before the House calls attention to the deteriorating state of London's traffic and the need for comprehensive initiatives to tackle the problems. During the next 20 minutes or so I intend to prove to the House that the Government are not only fully aware of these problems, but have already put into operation plans to resolve them. Moreover, the Government have announced further programmes which are both far-sighted and far-reaching to deal with the anticipated growth in both road and rail traffic in London in the foreseeable future.
I have to say to the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, that the Government are always prepared to listen to constructive criticism and constructive ideas, but in the end it is the Government who have to take the initiative in implementing many of the measures which are necessary to deal with the problems. And that is exactly what we are doing.
It is worth emphasising that traffic problems are neither new nor unique to London. Other capital cities have many of the same problems. In London's case, many of the present difficulties are the result of the up-turn in London's economy ghat started in the mid-1980s. The Government are proud of having created the conditions that made this growth 1095 possible. And we are responding with a coherent approach which looks at the operation and development of London's transport systems, both road and rail. The main elements of this approach are: providing through traffic with good alternative routes around London; making the best possible use of existing roads; ensuring that London is properly linked to national and international transport networks; tackling congestion black spots in inner and outer London; and meeting the growth in demand for rail transport to, from and within central London.
The aim of this approach for London's traffic is to ensure that people and goods can move around London safely and efficiently. Wherever possible we want heavy and through traffic to move on safer, high standard roads rather than on unsuitable local roads. We are working with the local authorities, the public transport operators, the police and others to achieve that aim. We are improving trunk roads to take traffic around London and to serve developing areas. We are supporting borough road schemes, encouraging better parking controls and using new technology to improve traffic management. In addition, and most importantly, we are promoting safe, efficient and attractive public transport services: rail, underground and bus.
If someone had said in 1980 that we would now be so concerned about growing demand for rail transport and that new lines under London would be a possibility, that person would have been laughed out of court. Throughout most of the 1960s and 1970s, demand for rail travel into London declined, as did investment, while deficit subsidy steadily increased. Then, in the early 1980s, as the economy strengthened, demand for rail travel boomed to an extent that could simply not have been foreseen, and that certainly was not planned for in the 1970s. As a result, the transport operators have had to do a great deal of catching up. Tough financial disciplines set by the Government have fostered a more efficient, productive and responsive railway which has been able to generate more revenue and justify ever-increasing amounts of new investment while reducing its call on the taxpayer.
The action to improve transport in London is being supported by massive investment. The trunk road programme in London will cost over £1 billion over the next 10 years. British Rail plan to invest £2 billion on Network SouthEast over the next five years; and London Regional Transport will be investing £1–7 billion over the next three years. This investment excludes the proposed extension of the Jubilee Line and further additions to London's rail network arising from the Central London Rail Study.
Last month, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport announced a further major series of initiatives for improving traffic conditions in London. These included consultation on a number of ideas for new public transport projects and for a limited number of road schemes, mostly to improve existing roads, arising from the assessment studies. They also included a range of traffic and parking proposals, including the creation of a 300-mile red route network. We are seeking views by the end of February.
1096 I shall now try to deal with most of the points which have been raised during the course of today's debate. The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark spoke of the need for a strategic authority in London. We do not see the need for such an authority. We want action, not more bureaucracy. The traffic director proposed for the red routes and the parking strategy is quite different. He will be there to help existing highway and traffic authorities implement proposals in a coherent manner.
I think that the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, said that more people would be coming into London. I do not think that it is inevitable that more people will do so. Indeed, the number of cars entering London during the morning peak has fallen by 10 per cent. since 1983. The noble Lord suggested that more capacity would lead to more traffic and commuting by road into Central London. Routes provide for orbital as well as radial traffic. The additional capacity can be used to draw traffic off unsuitable side and residential roads and some of the capacity could be used to provide extra facilities for buses. However, we have invited comments on the matter and will listen to the views which have been expressed. The noble Lord also asked why the Jubilee Line was chosen for extension. It is not a question of giving priority to that extension. We are not yet in a position to make a decision on which of the Central London Rail Study lines should be built first.
The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, also suggested that reducing subsidies to Network SouthEast would push up the price of fares and therefore force people on to the roads. We want to see carefully phased reductions in subsidy. That should be possible without excessive fare increases. There is no point in subsidy if people are prepared to pay a fair price. Previous administrations recognised that blanket subsidies are inefficient and benefit the better off. However, we shall consider capital grants for local services where needed to secure external benefits, for example, relief of road congestion.
So far as concerns fares, the objectives do not require massive fare increases. Based on BR's plans, there should be a less than 10 per cent. real increase for London commuters over the next years. There is a general policy that the taxpayer should meet a lower proportion of the cost.
The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, also said that British Rail's investment projects are judged by their commercial attractiveness only. On Network SouthEast, which is supported by the PSO grant, the majority of investment proposals are for the renewal of existing assets. Investment is appraised with the aim of finding out which option is the most cost-effective to continue to run the existing service. There is no requirement to earn an 8 per cent. rate of return in these cases.
The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, also suggested that investment in Network SouthEast is insufficient and slow. Investment of about £× billion is planned for the next three years —as I have already mentioned —of which 70 per cent. will be spent on new rolling stock, both replacing old vehicles and providing for growth. There will be a 30 per cent. 1097 increase in real terms compared to the previous three-year period. That is the highest level of investment for a generation.
My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has approved the construction of 1,000 new vehicles over the past two years. He also approved five major schemes in 1989 worth £450 million. I should point out that this Government have never turned down an investment submission from British Rail. If progress is slow it is the result of the long lead times involved; for example, developing new trains and getting them right for the passenger is a costly and lengthy process, but one which BR would not wish to rush.
The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, also spoke about the question of London buses. I must tell the House that LRT has been successful in halting the long-term decline in bus usage. The reliability of services has generally improved despite busy roads, and service levels are increasing dramatically —that is, by 4 per cent. last year and another 5 per cent. increase is expected this year. However, more remains to be done and the objectives announced by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport in December give LRT measurable targets for performance.
My noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth spoke about the assessment studies and strategy. I can tell him that the assessment studies are only one of the initiatives pursued to make London a better place in which to live, work and travel. We have a coherent policy, as set out in Traffic in London, for road building where necessary and encouragement of public transport. We propose new initiatives on public transport and the consultants have taken full account of the results from other studies and other studies will benefit from the assessment studies.
The noble Lord, Lord Jay, suggested that the safety of railways had suffered because of BR's harsh financial targets which are set by the Government. I must point out to him that the railways are still one of the safest means of transport; indeed safety is of paramount importance to BR, and the Government support that view. About £250 million in expenditure is already planned by BR on specific safety measures over the next five years. The noble Lord also asked about company cars as did the noble Earl, Lord Attlee. It must be said that some company cars are not just a perk; they are required for essential business use. The Government would be reluctant to take steps to interfere to an unreasonable extent with choices on travel assistance made by businesses. Of course, the level of taxation on company cars is a matter for the Chancellor of the Exchequer. In the last two Budgets car benefit scale rates have been increased substantially and tax charges for fuel have increased. There is no intention to penalise those to whom the company car is an essential tool of their business.
The noble Lord, Lord Jay, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark spoke about pricing off through fare increases. LRT is responsible for fare levels. At present the Underground is running at full capacity and it is necessary to check further demand while investment is taking place to meet future needs. The noble Lord, and other noble Lords, 1098 also mentioned the Park-and-Ride scheme. The Government are encouraging transport operators, London boroughs and commercial operators to look at the opportunities for providing such facilities.
In a delightful speech, my noble friend Lord Quinton raised the question of the need for more traffic police to get the traffic moving. We believe that a more productive solution is the new technology, principally traffic-responsive traffic lights. New urban traffic control systems now cover all of central London and 52 per cent. of all London traffic lights. Moreover, 240 of central London's signals are controlled by SCOOT, with approximately 120 signals being added to the system each year. If noble Lords wish to know what SCOOT is, I can tell them that it is the split cycle off-set optimisation technique. It is a most important innovative development.
There is also the Autoguide system which it is to be hoped will be coming on stream in the near future. We invited private sector proposals for the London Autoguide system last January and in July 1989 the Secretary of State announced the winning proposal. The Government are now negotiating with GEC regarding the licence for the London pi lot scheme. I should point out that the Road Traffic Act 1989 demonstrates our commitment to new technology.
The noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, advocated a co-ordinated transport plan. As I have already said, we believe in a coherent approach to the matter. We do not want a detailed master plan to cover every facet of transport in London. It would take too long to prepare, is inflexible and quickly out of date. The noble Baroness also spoke about heavy vehicles and freight coming into London. I can tell her that the number of heavy goods vehicles in London has declined by about 20 per cent. since 1980. The decrease has resulted in part, of course, from the completion of the M.25.
The noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, asked why BR does not use more guards vans, because the lack of them makes it difficult for cyclists to travel by rail. That is an operational matter for BR. I understand that BR chooses, with its suburban trains, to maximise seating capacity. The train formations depend upon demand. It is for BR to assess that demand. BR will no doubt take note of the noble Viscount's comments.
The noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids, suggested that we should try to reduce the amount of traffic in cities. I fear that that is a pious hope. No doubt many people would like to reduce the amount of traffic in cities so long as they did not have to pay or change their journeys. Pricing would affect people's lives dramatically. They might have to pay a charge to take the children to school, to do the shopping, to visit friends and not just to drive to work.
My noble friend Lord Gisborough suggested that the Heathrow Express line will not be quick enough for business travellers because of the need to travel via the Tube to Paddington. He suggested that there should also be through connections to the City. There will be a faster journey time. It is currently about 45 minutes from central London (Piccadilly Circus to 1099 Heathrow) on the smallest size Tube stock. The Heathrow Express will take 16 minutes from Paddington to the airport on brand new, pupose-built, air-conditioned trains. Cross-rail schemes are being considered (east-west cross-rail schemes from Paddington to Liverpool Street), and a decision will be announced in time for a Bill this year for at least one new line. We shall have to wait until then to see which line is the most viable.
The noble Lord, Lord Monson, and many other noble Lords spoke about the need for road pricing. It is becoming increasingly fashionable to advocate road pricing. It is an ideal market mechanism to remove congestion from our roads, especially in London; but pricing has so many practical drawbacks that there is no possibility of a London-wide road pricing scheme being introduced in the foreseeable future. At present only a handful of cities charge traffic and none is remotely comparable with the size of London. Other problems with road pricing are: how to enforce it; how the exact area to be charged would be chosen; how to cope with the effects at the boundary of the area; what method of pricing would be suitable, proven and reliable; what the level of charge would be; and who, if anyone, should be exempted.
The noble Lord also asked about high fixed penalties. I shall answer that by quoting what my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport said in his red route announcement, which included the following proposal:I strongly believe that the fixed penalty level for illegal parking on the red routes and possibly elsewhere in London should be increased. The Government will consult representative organisations on possible legislation and the appropriate level of fine".My noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes talked about the need for better parking enforcement. Again, I quote from the red route announcement:Effective enforcement of traffic and parking regulations will be a key element. The police and traffic wardens will remain responsible for enforcing parking bans. The role of the traffic wardens will be enhanced. They will be given powers to authorise removals and wheel clamping. Local authorities would take on the control of parking at meters and residents' bays, allowing traffic wardens to concentrate their efforts on the red routes and the more serious offences".—Official Report, Commons, 14/12/89; col. 1184.]The noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, asked about the traffic director. We propose that his main function will be to ensure that local authorities introduce the priority routes on their roads in a timely and orderly way. Once the network is established, we propose that he will ensure that it is managed in accordance with my right honourable friend's objectives and maintained to an appropriate standard. It is also proposed that he encourages better co-ordination of parking controls off the main routes. In short, his job will be to help bodies with their existing responsibilities. On the noble Lord's more general points about improving public transport, I have to tell him that massive investment is already going into public transport, but that will not of itself solve the traffic problems. We need a balanced approach, including road improvements, mostly to existing roads. New roads generate more traffic, but prosperity also generates more traffic. The objective 1100 is take traffic off residential roads on to major routes. We need to provide better access in areas in need of development.
The noble Earl, Lord Russell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, complained that the Underground is unsafe, slow and unreliable. I disagree completely. Great improvements in the quality of service have been made in the past year. Full provision has been made for all safety expenditure in the light of the Fennell Report into the King's Cross fire. Finance will not be a barrier. LUL estimates that £1 billion will have to be spent on safety by 2000. LUL announced quality of service objectives on 20th December last year and it has set performance targets for reliability, mileage, lifts and escalators, and performance against targets will be published regularly.
My noble friend Lord Renwick also mentioned assessment studies. They looked into the four areas of London that suffer from the worst congestion. They came within the Secretary of State's broad strategic approach. Objectives for the studies were agreed with the local authority associations, the London Planning Advisory Committee, major transport operators and the police. He also spoke of his concern about WEIR. We recognise the strength of the opposition of those outside the immediate Earl's Court area, and the feeling among those overlooking the route. No final decisions on WEIR will be taken until after the end of the assessment study consultation period on 28th February 1990. If the go-ahead is given, it is almost certain that a public inquiry will be held before an independent inspector. WEIR is justified because of the severe problems faced by the Earl's Court one-way system and other north-south routes.
The noble Lord, Lord Sefton, asked about transport and land use planning. The Government have issued London local authorities with strategic planning guidance. That addresses the land use issues and includes a transport chapter for the local authorities to take into account in developing their new unitary development plans.
On the question of one-person operated buses causing delays, London Buses takes congestion into account when appraising each route conversion. A high level of pass card usage speeds boarding times. There are no plans for 100 per cent. one-person operated buses, and crewed buses will remain on the busiest routes.
The noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, and other noble Lords, asked about car-sharing. In theory, car-sharing schemes might produce benefits to individuals and to the community; in practice, it has proved difficult to find people willing to share their cars even, for example, where companies have provided services for matching addresses or road lanes have been reserved for high-occupancy vehicles. He also asked about the need to improve road access to Heathrow. All I can tell him is that the objective of the HASQUAD study is to improve the reliability of journey times from London to Heathrow.
I probably have another five minutes left in which to speak, and I shall try to answer the other questions. 1101 The noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, also asked about BR investing to meet peak hour demand and trying to spread the peak. I shall write to him on that matter.
My noble friend Lord Nugent asked about the traffic director, and I welcome his comments. The traffic director will be working with the Department of Transport and local authorities looking at central London and the busiest routes for through traffic, including those in outer London where the traffic growth is greatest and where public transport does not have the flexibility to meet people's needs.
I have more to say, but I want to leave a few minutes for the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff. So in conclusion I should like to stress that the Government are pursuing a wide range of measures and initiatives to deal with the problems facing London's traffic. They are doing so within a coherent framework and in a way which provides a balance between public and private transport. Our prosperity today requires us to invest in infrastructure and equally our prosperity today enables us to do so. Record amounts are being invested in public transport and in strategic road links. The need for them has come about largely due to the success of London as a premier financial centre. Their purpose is equally to maintain London and the City as competitive business and cultural centres in the century ahead.
The Government have a leading role but they are not alone. They need the co-operation of everyone concerned, including the boroughs, the transport operators and the enforcement authorities, and we are encouraging them all to join us so that London has the transport systems it deserves.
§ 5.38 p.m.
§ Lord Tordoff
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. I had a check list of matters that I had not mentioned. I am glad to say that virtually all have been mentioned. One of them was the Horne Report which I left deliberately, because I had assumed that the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, would deal with it. I join with other noble Lords on the normal transport circuit in your Lordships' House and very much regret his absence today. We hope to see him back shortly.
The Minister has assured us that the Government have a coherent approach. That is not altogether obvious from what he said today or from what appears in the discussion document. He said that the Government will listen to what is being said. I hope so. This is virtually the only occasion upon which Parliament will have a chance to debate the issue. The response from the Government Front Bench does not indicate that they will do anything other than assert what they had on their brief before the debate started. I hope that that is not the case.
We are reminded that fares must rise on Network SouthEast because people have to pay for things; that the Underground has to increase fares to stop people travelling on it. All these points have been made throughout the debate. The overwhelming balance of the debate has been very much in favour of the two basic issues that were raised right at the 1102 beginning: namely, that there has to be a restraint on cars, and an overall strategy with a co-ordinating body if sense is to be made out of the chaos into which London's traffic is declining at the moment. The point has been well made from all round the House. I hope that the Minister will take note of what has been said and take some action on that basis. I thank everybody and beg leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.