§ Debate resumed on the Motion moved on Wednesday last by Lord Kimball—namely, That a humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as follows:
§ "Most Gracious Sovereign—We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament".
§ 3.6 pm
§ Lord Brabazon of Tara
My Lords, I am very glad that the House is having this opportunity so early in the new Session to debate the subjects of transport and 121 the environment. It is timely to debate them so soon after the publication of the Government's White Paper on the Environment, This Common Inheritance. For my own part, I am particularly glad to have this opportunity to explain the Government's transport policy, and especially how it links into the Government's policies on the environment, with which my noble friend Lady Blatch will deal in greater detail later.
The Government are pursuing a balanced transport strategy. We do not seek to determine which form of transport people should use. We believe that ordinary people are the best judges of the form of transport that is most suitable for them. Therefore, we want to give people greater choice, and so we are seeking to improve all forms of transport so that each can make its proper contribution to a safer, more environmentally sensitive and more efficient transport system.
We are bringing about improvements, both through investment and through liberalising transport services. In aviation, the Civil Aviation Authority is investing heavily in improved air traffic control facilities. The United Kingdom Government have been in the vanguard in pressing for liberalisation both in Europe and further afield. We have enjoyed considerable success in removing layers of pointless regulations and replacing them with arrangements within which airlines can compete fairly.
I should now like to speak at slightly greater length about land transport. In pursuit of the Government's balanced transport policy, we are investing in the strengths of both road and rail. A year ago we announced a step change in the level of investment in both roads and railways. This year, as announced in the Autumn Statement by my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer last week, we have made further increases, especially in the railways.
British Rail will be investing more than £4 billion over the next three years, its highest level for 30 years, and 58 per cent. more in real terms than in the previous three years. It has been suggested in some quarters that this increase is all very well but that it is on top of historically low levels of investment. I must point out that that is totally incorrect. Railway investment in the last three years has been at a higher level, in real terms, than at any time since the war, apart from the great modernisation between the mid-1950s and the mid-1960s.
It is on top of those already high levels that there will now be this further large increase. British Rail will be able to go ahead with its ambitious programme of investment in Channel Tunnel services, in new trains for South-East commuters, in further new rolling stock for InterCity and provincial services, and in the modernisation of the trainload freight business. A total of over 1,500 new passenger coaches will be delivered during the next three years. The settlement also provides British Rail with £330 million for specific safety measures—all that it asked for.
The settlement will allow London Transport to invest up to £3 billion over the next three years, an 122 increase on the previous three of over 90 per cent. in real terms. The Government will be providing £2.5 billion in grant over that period. The highlights of LT's investment programme include East-West Crossrail, linking Paddington to Liverpool Street, the Jubilee Line extension to Stratford via Docklands and Greenwich; the complete modernisation of the Central Line with new trains and signalling; reconstruction of Angel station; and refurbishment of trains. London Underground will invest approaching £400 milion in further safety improvements over the three-year period.
Improving the road network to meet the needs of the economy, by providing good communications within the country and with the Continent of Europe, remains a major government priority. Investment in trunk roads and motorways will rise to £5.6 billion over the next three years, an increase of about 25 per cent. in real terms compared with the previous three years.
This year's settlement will provide additional resources to help us to make better, more efficient use of our existing network. The additional funds will allow a fast start to be made on motorway widening. This method of increasing road capacity can in most cases be carried out more quickly than building new roads and with less impact on the countryside. We shall be able to get ahead with red routes to ease the flow of traffic in London. We shall be putting more money into developing driver information systems which will tell motorists about the road conditions ahead and alternative routes to take. Work will also continue on bypasses and relief roads. There are over 150 projects in our current programme.
The Government, in their commitment to providing an efficient transport infrastructure, also recognise that those whose homes are affected should be treated as generously as possible. Improvements to compensation are proposed in the Planning and Compensation Bill
Before I leave the subject of transport infrastructure I should like to say just a few words about our ports. The Government will be introducing a Trust Ports Bill to enable trust ports to draw up schemes for privatisation without having to go through the cumbersome process of each promoting a private Bill. The Bill will enable the ports to enhance their development prospects through access to share capital and to diversify their businesses. It will also stimulate the development of land.
The Bill will give the trust ports the chance to share in the opportunities open to the already privatised ABP and to take maximum advantage of the abolition of the Dock Labour Scheme. Ports are, and will continue to be, a vital link between every region of Britain and the Continent of Europe.
We must recognise that as a nation we are now and have been for some time heavily dependent on road transport. Over 90 per cent. of passenger traffic and over 80 per cent. of goods lifted go by road. Road traffic has risen dramatically. For example, the average daily flow of vehicles on all roads in Great 123 Britain has increased by almost 50 per cent. since 1979 That is mainly the result of prosperity. As people have become more prosperous under this Government, their mobility has improved and their desire to travel has increased. Road traffic is expected to grow further, not least because there is still great scope for higher car ownership in this country. We are still well below other developed Western countries in the car ownership league.
However, although road transport has many advantages, it affects the environment locally, regionally and globally. At local level it creates noise and Dollution. It can also sever communities by making it difficult for people to cross the street. Regionally, road traffic contributes to acid rain and low-level ozone. At the global level, it contributes to the accumulation of carbon dioxide—one of the major greenhouse gases about which there is now widespread international concern. The Government are certainly not complacent about those environmental effects. We are committed to civilising road transport and we are doing so through a package of measures. Let me now explain the main elements of that package.
First, we want to encourage attractive and efficient public transport so that people have an alternative to using cars. Public transport of all kinds must attract passengers through quality, reliability and good marketing. Public transport has a particularly important role in urban areas, where there are large flows of people travelling in a similar direction. I have already mentioned our support for the current massive investment in rail.
Some people would have us believe that if only there were more and better rail services road traffic could be significantly reduced. In fact, it is quite unrealistic to expect a major national shift from road to rail because people prize highly the convenience and flexibility of road transport and because the sheer scale of the shift required would be so massive. At present rail accounts for only about 6 or 7 per cent. of passenger traffic in Great Britain. Even a 50 per cent. increase in rail traffic would reduce road traffic by less than 5 per cent.—less than one year's growth in road traffic, as recently experienced.
Nevertheless, the Government certainly want to see the railways playing as full a part as possible. The completion of the Channel Tunnel presents the railways with a new opportunity; and British Rail has published its plans for through international services to serve both passengers and freight. For passengers, the railways will become much more competitive with the airlines, particularly over the relatively short distances between London, Paris and Brussels. For freight, the much greater length of through haul made possible by the tunnel will again improve rail's competitive position. Initially, BR expects to carry 6 million tonnes of freight a year through the tunnel.
In some urban areas investment in light rail schemes may make good sense. Light rail vehicles can penetrate urban centres more extensively than heavy rail. They arc able to carry more people than buses, and more quickly where they are segregated from other traffic. Light rail may thus help to attract people 124 away from cars. The Government are prepared to consider grant for light rail in appropriate cases. For the Manchester Metrolink we are paying a grant of about 50 per cent. towards the estimated cost of £120 million.
For many communities bus services will continue to offer the main means of public transport. Buses have the advantages of being much cheaper and more flexible than rail. The Government's policy of deregulation has encouraged the exploitation of these advantages and has led to an 18 per cent. increase in bus mileage. The Government are now particularly keen to work with the bus industry and local authorities to find ways, through better traffic management, of helping buses to provide faster and more reliable services. In London, the proposals in the forthcoming Road Traffic Bill for a red route scheme will benefit buses through the introduction of bus lanes and traffic signal priorities.
The second main element in the Government's package of measures to civilise road transport is our effort to relieve traffic congestion. Unreliable journey times impose extra costs; and stop-start traffic is much more polluting than traffic moving freely. In some cases the best solution will be to build a bypass. We have provided, since 1979, over 100 trunk road bypasses which have provided much needed relief to local communities.
Many more bypasses are planned, along with our major programme to widen the most heavily congested motorways. However, the Government will not provide, or encourage local authorities to provide, more road capacity simply to facilitate more car commuting into already congested urban areas. In urban areas traffic congestion can often be relieved by better traffic management, which can also help to improve conditions for pedestrians and cyclists as well as public transport. I have already mentioned our red route proposals for London. These will involve severe restrictions on parking, stopping and unloading on the selected priority routes within the capital. The measures proposed on those routes will be aimed specifically at helping people and goods to move more easily, reliably and safely throughout London. In most urban areas, traffic management is the responsibility of the local authorities, but the Government are helping by sponsoring research and by issuing guidance.
On Thursday of last week, your Lordships gave a First Reading to the New Roads and Street Works Bill. It is designed, first, to facilitate privately funded roads and, secondly, to make utilities fully responsible for their street works, improve the speed and quality of their repairs to the road surface and enable local highway authorities to co-ordinate both their own and utility street works so as to reduce the disruption they cause. It is part of a package of transport legislation, the most comprehensive for many years, which shows the Government's determination to deal with road congestion and road safety and to diversify the ways in which transport infrastructure is provided. We shall 125 be debating that Bill very soon and I therefore propose to say nothing further to your Lordships at the present time.
The third way in which we are civilising road traffic is by reducing vehicle emissions and noise through fiscal and regulatory action. We have introduced regulations to reduce the maximum permitted lead content of leaded petrol by two-thirds. We have encouraged the use of unleaded petrol through the favourable rate of duty. Unleaded petrol now accounts for well over a third of all the petrol sold in this country; and that proportion will rise steadily because from 1st October effectively all newly manufactured cars must be able to run on unleaded fuel.
Regulations have been introduced to control other vehicle emissions and noise. By the end of 1992, virtually all new cars will have to be fitted with catalytic converters. That will mean a dramatic reduction in emissions of local and regional pollutants from road transport. We are now pressing the EC to adopt the strictest practicable emission standards for goods vehicles and buses. The noise a new lorry is permitted to make now is roughly half the level permitted in 1980. And we shall be looking for further progress as the Community considers another round of tightening the limits next year.
Fourthly, and very importantly, we are seeking to encourage greater economy in the use of fuel. Unfortunately, there is no means to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, other than by burning less fuel. To a large extent, it is up to individual motorists to adopt a more responsible attitude. They can choose more economical cars. Before starting each car journey they can consider whether it is really necessary to use the car. Perhaps they could walk, or cycle, or use public transport instead. If they must drive, they should do so in a responsible fashion. Drivers can reduce fuel consumption by up to 15 per cent. simply by adopting better driving habits such as smoother acceleration. The Government warmly welcome the guidance which the AA and the RAC have prepared to encourage such improvements. And the Government are also preparing better guidance for motorists.
We are also proposing to introduce an emissions check into the MoT test to encourage motorists to keep their engines in tune. In the Road Traffic Bill, we are proposing measures to improve the enforcement of speed limits which will bring benefits in terms of fuel economy as well as road safety. The Government will consider whether it would be appropriate to encourage greater fuel economy through changes in the taxation of fuel and vehicles.
I should like to turn now to another area where we have taken account of environmental concerns; namely, aircraft noise. There are various well-established noise abatement measures in place at major airports, such as noise preferential routes, restrictions on night flights and noise insulation grant schemes. I should like to take the opportunity of this debate to refer to two recent developments.
126 As announced in the White Paper on the environment, we are reviewing the current arrangements for dealing with aircraft noise, particularly with regard to small airfields, to ensure that they afford sufficient protection for local people. In addition, we will be examining whether there is a need for action to limit the temporary use of land for helicopter take-offs and landings.
I am pleased to announce to the House that only a fortnight ago agreement was reached in the international civil aviation organisation on a framework of phasing out those aircraft which do not meet the latest internationally agreed noise standards. The United Kingdom has been a driving force in securing this major advance towards an improved noise climate.
Your Lordships may recall that the Government recently implemented a ban on the addition to the UK register of these older aircraft, known as Chapter 2 types. Phasing them out over the period 1995–2005 will substantially reduce community noise disturbance. The necessary legislation will be introduced at the earliest possible opportunity and well in advance of the operative date.
I have spoken at some length about the contribution of transport to economic growth and how transport can contribute to the Government's environmental objectives. I should like to say, finally, just a few words about transport safety. Safety on all forms of transport is the top priority. I have already mentioned the very large sums being invested on specific safety projects by both British Rail and London Transport.
On the roads, our target is a reduction in casualties of one third by the year 2000. In the Road Traffic Bill we shall be bringing forward major reforms of road traffic law in the light of the North Report's recommendations. The Bill is designed to improve the contribution which the law makes to road safety, through its influence on driver behaviour.
This Government are investing record sums in transport, to improve the infrastructure in all forms of transport and to improve public transport services. We are bringing forward a wide range of measures to civilise road transport and to improve the environment. And we shall be introducing in this Session the most comprehensive package of transport legislation for many years to enable us to improve road safety, to make better use of the existing roads network and to increase the scope for the private sector to contribute towards providing new roads and developing the trust ports.
§ 3.25 p.m.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, the noble Lord will forgive me if I do not respond to the particular points that he has been making about transport and instead revert to the subjects for debate this afternoon as they appear on the Order Paper. My noble friend Lord Underhill will be responding on the transport side at the conclusion of this debate.
I hope that the House will also forgive me if I treat the environment rather more widely than it is treated 127 in the gracious Speech. I do so for two reasons. The first is that the Queen's Speech is modest to the point of invisibility about environmental issues. The only major legislation proposed on the local government and planning front is a Planning and Compensation Bill which, I understand, is to have its First Reading this week. We shall be debating that in a couple of weeks' time. Perhaps it would be better if our detailed discussion of that Bill were postponed until then although it would be very helpful to have an introduction to its provisions from the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, when she replies to the debate.
The other reason is that the debate has now gone very much wider than the modest legislative plans of this Government. They are facing either the last full Session of Parliament or the last Session of all. What is proposed in legislative terms is not critical to political debate in this country. What is critical now is the policies of the next Labour Government which will be in power in the 1990s. Therefore, I propose to refer to those policies rather than indulge in attacks on the dying phase of the present government.
I wish to concentrate on two particular aspects of environmental policy. The first is the environmental issue as raised by the Government's White Paper published in September. The second is the particular issue of local government. I hasten to say that I shall not be attempting to cover all of the ground on any of these issues. My noble friend Lady Nicol will have something to say about the environment and my noble friend Lady Hollis will have things to say about local government and its finance. My noble friend Lord Dean will be making a contribution from the depths of his very extensive knowledge of housing policy.
I wish to speak in more general terms about the Government White Paper and to consider to what extent, if at all, it is adequate to the needs of this country and of the world as a whole. My right honourable friend Gerald Kaufman described the 1983 Labour election manifesto as the longest suicide note in history. The kindest way to describe the Government's environmental White Paper is as the longest, most beautifully produced and the most recyclable damp squib ever produced by this Government and possibly by any government. Each time one looks at the policies where there is a clear need for a policy commitment, one finds a withdrawal. One finds a qualification and an "if" or a "but" rather than any real commitment to action.
The most obvious example is global warming. This country has already been completely isolated on many occasions, and most recently last month, concerning targets for the reduction of greenhouse gases in order to prevent what is now universally acknowledged to be the very real threat of global warming. It is agreed by virtually every major developed country that if we are to bring down the rate of increase in global warming, let alone to freeze or to reduce global warming, we must have a complete freeze on emissions of greenhouse gases by, at the latest, the year 2000, and a reduction thereafter. What do the Government say? They say that there will be a freeze by the year 2005 but only if other countries adopt the same policy.
128 There is not even a clear commitment to a freeze by the year 2005 let alone by the year 2000, which is an almost universally recognised international objective and which is indeed the objective and the commitment of the Labour Party.
Let us look at the whole issue of how to encourage green behaviour, if I may put it that way, or environmentally friendly behaviour by government and by business. Here the White Paper is almost entirely silent. The only positive proposal is one which has already been blown sky high—the proposal that there should be in each ministry concerned with environmental matters a nominated minister. It is significant, is it not, that the Secretaries of State for Transport and for Energy have nominated themselves as being the Ministers to be concerned with the environment. In other words, they want to be absolutely sure that they will not be outranked in a Cabinet committee by the Secretary of State for the Environment and that they can go their own sweet way without let or hindrance.
The Labour Party's proposals, on the other hand, provide for an effective environmental unit in each department; in other words, an effective executive influence on the policies of these departments. We provide for an independent Environmental Protection Agency rather along the lines of the Health and Safety Executive. We propose that there should be a European environmental audit rather like the Valdez principles which your Lordships agreed only last month should be included in the Environmental Protection Act. We propose that there should be improved environmental statistics to help government and business to achieve universally recognised environmental objectives.
§ Lord Harmar-Nicholls
My Lords, would it not be fair to acknowledge that the fact that the chief Minister in that department takes on the role himself is proof that the Government attach some importance to the matter, and not the other way round, as the noble Lord appears to suggest?
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, I may be more cynical than the noble Lord but I rather think that the reverse is the case. I think that they are there to hold their corner and to make sure that they are not outnumbered or outranked in any Cabinet committee. I could be wrong, and it might be that with different people there could be different results. But I do not think so.
It is well recognised by many noble Lords that Europe is a central force for improving environmental quality. All the White Paper proposes is strong monitoring of compliance with European directives. The Labour Party proposes that there should be majority voting on environmental directives to increase their effectiveness against those who might be recalcitrant. We support the European Community Environmental Charter and we support the European Community Enforcement Agency. That is a very much more positive approach to environmental issues than that taken by the White Paper.
129 I turn now to energy, which is one of the most important elements of environmental policy, as the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, recognised in his opening speech. What does the White Paper say? It says that the Government will encourage energy labelling, although we now understand from their intervention in European negotiations that they propose that there should be energy labelling only for good appliances and that there should not be any compulsion for less good appliances, which I should have thought was absolutely essential if energy labelling is to mean anything. They say that they will monitor energy efficiency standards in new buildings. They do not say that they will impose higher energy efficiency standards in new buildings but that they will monitor the energy efficiency standards that now exist.
They also say that the work of the Energy Efficiency Office will be expanded. That is literally true, but it is not true in real terms. What has happened is that the Energy Efficiency Office has been given responsibility for the Department of Employment scheme for energy efficiency in low-cost housing. Inevitably, the budget which used to be with the Department of Employment is now with the Energy Efficiency Office. That is the only increase in the real budget of the Energy Efficiency Office. The budget for the Energy Efficiency Office, taking aside that transfer of functions, stands at £15 million, which is therefore a reduction of 10 per cent. in real terms. How the Government can seriously say that they are encouraging energy efficiency measures when they are cutting the budget of the Energy Efficiency Office by 10 per cent. in real terms is beyond belief.
The Labour Party, on the other hand, says that we must have mandatory energy labelling and that it should cover bad appliances as well as good appliances. We say that there should be a continuing improvement in building standards. That is certainly technically possible and there is no reason why the Government should not support it. We say that there should be particular government support through local authority capital spending where it is environmentally friendly. We say that an Energy Efficiency Agency should be given the resources to do the job, resources which are patently being denied to the Energy Efficiency Office as things stand.
I shall say only a few words about transport. I do so for completeness although my noble friend will cover this subject. It is interesting that all the White Paper says about transport policy is that the Government will continue with the £12 billion roads programme and will consider whether further changes to fuel and vehicle taxes are needed to encourage greater fuel economy. One could hardly have a less firm commitment than that. Our policy would be to review the roads programme with environmental considerations in mind, which hitherto has clearly not been the case; to encourage and allow pilot schemes for road pricing; to tax large cars more heavily; to provide greater investment in rail infrastructure; and 130 to boost public transport. That is a very much more effective programme of environmental improvements than that proposed in the White Paper.
I turn to the issue of waste. After all, your Lordships spent many long hours during the last Session debating the Environmental Protection Bill. Here again the White Paper is fatally cautious in its approach to what could be done regarding waste disposal both at home and world wide. It refers to an objective that developed countries should be self-sufficient in due course in their own waste disposal. That is not what is required. What is required is global control of toxic waste and an end to the commercial trade in toxic waste. That is what the Labour Party is committed to. We have to have a national waste strategy which enables us to deal with dangerous polluting wastes in the most effective way. To that extent a greater role must be given to local authorities, which are already deeply concerned in these matters and have the expertise to deal with them.
I shall pass very briefly over the issue of water because that matter can be dealt with by other people. I shall just look at the difference, when we turn to the issue of dumping at sea, between the Government's commitment to aim to stop dumping at sea and the Labour Party's commitment to stop dumping at sea. That is typical of the difference in approach which is to be found throughout the White Paper, throughout our response to it and throughout our response to these substantive issues.
The White Paper says almost nothing on food and agriculture. There is no reference to the opportunity which is now available to replace the common agricultural policy, or large parts of it, with green premiums which would provide income for farmers and yet would stop the production of foodstuffs which are far too expensive and which put up food prices in this country and throughout Europe.
When I turn to deal with the countryside, I risk treading on the ground of my noble friend Lady Nicol. However, it is a commitment of the Labour Party—and I should say this from the Dispatch Box—to carry out the commitment which the Conservative Party had in its last manifesto; namely, to implement the policies of the Common Lands Forum and to encourage the possibility of opening up rights of way where they exist and where they have been extinguished.
Therefore, when we look at the Government's environmental White Paper, we find it in every respect defective, silent and timid. Moreover, in comparison with the policies which are necessary and which will he the policies of the next Labour government, we find the Government's approach to be wholly inadequate.
I should like now to deal with the question of local government. I do so not so much because there is any particular reference to it in the gracious Speech—and certainly not to go into detail on the issue of the poll tax; others are far more qualified to talk about it than I am—but because even the very small Planning and Compensation Bill which we are now promised, although much of it is perfectly welcome, is evidence 131 of the continuing determination of this Government to centralise everything that they can lay their hands upon. It is rather like the old army saying, "If it does not move, paint it", except that this Government would say, "If it does move, centralise it and bring it under the control of Marsham Street". There is nothing wrong with the Bill's improved provisions for enforcement and compensation for those affected by compulsory purchase orders. I do not think that there is anything wrong with the proposal for simplified planning zones. However, on every issue where there is any real choice to be made between the powers of local authorities and those of central government, the Bill will take the side of central government.
Let us look at the issue of controls over planning gain, over what used to be called Section 52 agreements. What is happening is that the determination or planning gain is no longer being left to local authorities which, after all, reflect the views of local people who are affected not only by planning policy but also by the resources available to the local authority. No, this is now to be the sphere of the Secretary of State.
Let us also look at the question of disposal of vacant land which in these straitened times has become a very important source of revenue for local authorities. It is now proposed that the Secretary of State shall have the power to order the disposal of named pieces of land to named individuals, if necessary below the market price. Moreover, there appear to be provisions for wholesale disposal of vacant land. I suggest to your Lordships that that is yet another example of unnecessary and undesirable centralisation. I could go on in this respect. There is no provision in the planning Bill for the territory of the urban development corporations to be included in plans as they should be if a comprehensive structure plan is to be effective and complete. In my view these are all symptoms of the determination of the Government, who have become more powerful as the years have passed, to centralise everything in sight and discourage all the ideas of pluralism and local democracy which I thought were dear to the hearts of the people of this country.
I know it is true that all oppositions are decentralisers and all governments are centralisers. I am perfectly well aware of that fact. If anyone wished to look back, I have no doubt that they would find examples of Labour governments acting in a high-handed way in relation to local authorities. Moreover, if there were ever Liberal governments, I am sure that they would do the same. For example, a Liberal government might like to do something about Tower Hamlets; that is, if they knew how to control it.
§ Lord Tordoff
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I thought that the complaint by the Labour Party was that Tower Hamlets had decentralised control within Tower Hamlets and that in fact it worked on a very decentralised system.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, I rather think that the compliance complaints about Tower 132 Hamlets are closer to the sphere of the criminal law than they are to the issues of decentralisation. However—
§ Lord Tordoff
My Lords, with all due respect, I think that that remark ought to be withdrawn. To suggest that my friends in Tower Hamlets are somehow at odds with the criminal law is not a proper remark to make in this House.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, I believe that there are matters which will go before an election court and the truth or otherwise of the noble Lord's observations will be seen in court. Neither he nor I will have any influence upon them. That is perhaps the best conclusion of all.
However, if we are looking at the way we want our society to progress and if we want our society to reflect technological and social change, we must break ourselves of the habit of seeking to control everything from Whitehall and Marsham Street; in other words, from the centre. Of course that is a very difficult thing to do. It is very difficult to tell local authorities—as we would wish to do—that they must have minimum standards. If I object to this Government saying that local people cannot spend money on that which they want to spend it on—and I do object to that—it follows that I must allow certain things to happen. For example, in Sussex, which does not really have any nursery schools, I must allow its local authorities not to have such schools. That is their choice and although I think it is wrong, we should not be imposing minimum standards if we object to the idea of imposing maximum standards. That is the extent to which all of us, whether in Government or Opposition, must recognise the values of a plural society and the values of decentralisation and decision-making.
Everything we have learned about government over the past 20 or 30 years has led us to recognise the fact that big is not beautiful and that the analogy which was made in local government in the 1960s and 1970s with big business, where you needed to have large-scale units for efficiency and for a wide range of services, is no longer true. The nature of management and of local government has changed. The sooner we recognise that change, the sooner we shall provide a society in which people feel that they are involved in their local community. They will then want to vote in local elections and take part in local democracy. To that extent, the changes of the kind that have been introduced over the years by this Government are not only irrelevant, they are actually damaging. I leave noble Lords with that thought because I believe it to be the crux of the difference between the approach of the Labour Party and the approach which this Government have increasingly adopted over the past 11 years.
§ 3.47 p.m.
§ Baroness Robson of Kiddington
My Lords, as has been said, we spent an enormous amount of time in the last Session of Parliament discussing and trying to amend the Environmental Protection Bill. Many noble Lords in this House attempted to improve that 133 Bill by moving amendments and putting forward suggestions for the Government to consider. On the whole, the answers which we were given were either that the amendment was not appropriate for that Bill or that we should wait for the publication of the White Paper.
We have now seen the White Paper and, as has already been said, it is full of good intentions. It outlines the situation as the Government see it, but it is completely lacking in suggestions as to how we might put the matter right. I looked forward to the opportunity in the Queen's Speech for the Government to legislate in respect of some of the problems with which we are faced. But, as has been said, we have had a Queen's Speech which is not really full of legislation. It would have been an opportunity to do something about a problem which is perhaps the greatest one we have; namely, our own environment and the future of our planet.
However, there was nothing much in the Queen's Speech, except, I believe, for four Bills on transport upon which the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, spent quite some time in his opening speech. If I understood it correctly, there is very little in what is proposed—I know that my noble friend Lord Tordoff will speak on this subject at the end of the debate—which stops and prevents carbon dioxide emissions. The noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, admitted that that is one of the big problems. He suggested that we should encourage better driving habits. That is true, but we cannot solve the problem merely by hoping that people will acquire better driving habits.
The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, mentioned tax incentives to help reduce carbon dioxide emissions. We are generally agreed that the bigger the car the greater the emissions of carbon dioxide. What is wrong with having a differential tax system for motor cars? In other words, one pays more tax if one drives a large car and less if one drives a small one. It is not a new idea. We had such a system. When I first came to live in this country one paid a great deal to drive a big motor car but only a little to drive a small Morris. I cannot see why that should not be one way of attempting to control carbon dioxide emissions from motor cars.
The only other point relating to the environment that I can find in the Queen's Speech is the creation of a natural heritage agency for Scotland. On the Second Reading of the Environmental Protection Bill on 18th May many noble Lords said, when discussing Part VII, that they could not understand why, if it was right to merge the two bodies in Scotland, it was not right to merge them in England. In that debate the Government admitted that in a year or two we should do the same in England. I am still convinced that it is wrong to put that issue on one side now so that we shall have to have a second lot of legislation and upheaval instead of dealing with England in the same way as Scotland.
As the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, pointed out, there is nothing in the Queen's Speech which reflects the Prime Minister's special interest in global warming 134 and ozone depletion. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh: I was devastated that in Geneva the Prime Minister was unable to agree with our Community partners that 2000 should he the date by which to stabilise CO2 emissions. The Government continue to insist that 2005 is the earliest date that that can happen. We are again lagging behind our European partners. We all regret what the United States is doing with regard to this question. I am a little nervous that this country, with what it claims is its special relationship with the United States, may be hoping that that will stop us from having to take unpalatable decisions. That is not right. We should be able to do what our Community partners are hoping to do.
Your Lordships would be surprised if I did not say that I was disappointed that there was nothing about CFCs in the Queen's Speech. As my Private Member's Bill passed through the House, I had hoped that the Government might be prepared to accept some of the proposals that it contained.
The Queen's Speech was deficient in another way, and that is a great tragedy. As was discussed on Report on the Environmental Protection Bill, one of the best ways to stop polluting our environment is to minimise our use of energy. There is no doubt that we could reduce the need to produce more energy if we became more efficient users of our planet's limited resources. I introduced on Report an amendment relating to energy conservation. It included insulation, combined heat and power and energy-efficient light bulbs. That amendment reflected, word for word, what was contained in the Government's White Paper. It was not accepted by the Government, but I should have thought that the topic was one that the Government might have included in the Queen's Speech for this Session. It is completely in line with proposals contained in the White Paper.
The Government's reply to that amendment was that it was unnecessary because it was all contained in the White Paper; but governments do not govern through White Papers. They govern by Acts of Parliament to ensure that local authorities and private individuals conform to a set of standards. It is not enough glibly to say, "It is in the White Paper". Legislation is needed to enforce such requirements.
We who are alive today have a great responsibility to ensure that we do not do more damage to the environment than we have already done. We must ensure that the environment that we pass on to future generations is in the same or better condition than that which we inherited.
§ 3.57 p.m.
§ Baroness Stedman
My Lords, in a way it was encouraging to realise that the Queen's Speech proposed, for this Session at any rate, no major local government Bill, because over the past 10 years local authorities have been under consistent and relentless attack from central government. However, would it not have been nice, in what is perhaps the last Session of this Parliament, to have seen a change of heart by the Government and to have had just one more Bill 135 which might have given local authorities the power to do anything that was in the interests of their area so long as it was lawful?
I am talking about a power of general competence; that is, the power to act and undertake any activities not specifically prohibited. If local authorities had such a power, they would be able to run their services in a much more innovative way. They would not have to hunt for statutory authorisation to take action, and they would not be in fear of legal challenges. The whole climate within which councils operate would change dramatically.
Concern for the environment is a well established local government principle, but there is still a need to build up awareness of the indirect effect of our actions, both locally and nationally. All economic decisions have an environmental impact whether they relate to new power stations, new large scale developments or even the raising of interest rates or increasing the level of external debt.
We say that we believe that the polluter should pay, and it environmental protection legislation relating to industrialists using high technology in their manufacturing processes there has been the incentive to adopt the cleanest available technology because the law says they must do so. What incentives are the Government offering industrialists to encourage them to go further and to develop even cleaner technology? If charges were to be made for pollution, industrialists, with all their knowledge and resources, would find ways of cleaning up processes which cause pollution. We could even have a pollution tax which, if it were successful, would not raise revenue but would encourage people to act. By taxing dirty technology and products, the economy could be transformed and could become much more environmentally friendly. In effect, we should be starting to make the market work for the environment.
I welcome the new planning legislation for tighter and speedier planning enforcement procedures. Town and country planning has always been concerned with amenities. We need to extend the protection afforded to the habitat, to the SSSIs and AONBs, and I welcome the proposal for the new Midlands forest. But planning needs to look more to greening our urban areas and to meeting the challenge of the changing rural economy.
Our social and economic policies must ensure that the countryside does not suffer from adverse change. Many parts of our country have lost much in recent years because of changes in agriculture. The opportunities now created by reduction in the demand for land ought to be used to create better amenities for all. The countryside is a living environment but it is also a place where the decline in work opportunities causes not only personal hardship but also a downgrading of the countryside.
I welcome the decision also to retain the county structure plans for effective strategic planning. Through those plans we can hope to see a pattern of new settlements which might minimise the need for travel, particularly by private car. We can protect the 136 open spaces in our towns and villages and refuse developments which adversely affect the SSSIs, the national nature reserves and other sites. We can require all new industrial development to incorporate waste treatment facilities. We would also be able to check on mineral workings and their impact on the environment.
I should like to have seen more emphasis on housing. Yes, more money has been made available for housing associations and the problems of homelessness; but not enough to provide sufficient low cost, affordable housing to rent and buy. Nowhere is this more important than in the rural areas where local authorities and local estates have been selling off many properties. If the local country people cannot afford the available accommodation, then strong communities cannot be maintained. We will not maintain strong, rural communities if the village shops have to close because of the impact of the uniform business rate and if public transport becomes less and less, and even non-existent.
I have a friend in the Lake District. No public transport passes nearer than five miles from his village. Although he is only in his forties, he has suffered a severe stroke which has left him with little sight and a weak arm and leg. He can no longer drive his car or even walk safely along the country roads because he cannot see the traffic coming. I advised him to apply for a mobility allowance, to help to keep the family car on the road and perhaps to provide an occasional outing away from home. He applied; he went for a medical and was told that he was not eligible because his disability did not prevent him getting on to public transport. That is fine if there is public transport, but not so good if one has to walk five miles to the main road and back to catch an infrequent bus either to Keswick or Penrith. Perhaps some flexibility in situations like this could be looked at in the improvements proposed for disabled persons. Transport needs to be much more flexible in the rural areas than in the towns. It should be geared to the needs of particular groups and for particular purposes.
We have to accept that the UK economy is probably road-based at the moment. Better roads will significantly reduce pollution if they remove congestion. However, we also have to accept that the United Kingdom is on the periphery of Europe. The other regions of the United Kingdom also need good road links to the growing markets of the South East and mainland Europe.
All new public transport facilities ought to be planned with the disabled and the elderly in mind. All new buses and coaches and all new railway coaches should provide standards of access and mobility to enable the disabled and the elderly to enjoy the same lifestyle benefits that the rest of the community are able to enjoy.
The toll road proposals are interesting but I suspect that they will be on a very minor scale and are no panacea for our problems. I hope that the Government will also look at road pricing because I believe that a consistent system of road pricing would 137 be better. It would finance road maintenance, which is one of the big problems today. I shall be interested in the development of the toll roads, but I am reminded that the original turnpikes were toll roads and they did not last that long.
I welcome the proposal for increased expenditure on public transport. We need more bus lanes and more cycle ways; we need to do something about single occupancy of private cars, which should be restricted to slower lanes, as in parts of the United States. We need more use of park-and-ride facilities and more effective policing of bus lanes and parking in our busy urban streets.
I conclude by referring back to housing. The Building Employers Confederation recently issued a gloomy report on house building. In 1989, 71 per cent. of its members were working at full capacity. Now only 23 per cent. are at full capacity; most of them are working at two-thirds or three-quarters of their capacity. The restriction of local authority spending on building houses for rent, the high interest rates and inflation all work against help for the tens of thousands of homeless persons living in bed-and-breakfast hotels or sleeping in doorways. It seems to me inconceivable that we have so much need of affordable housing and yet we have building operatives unemployed. At a national level, employment in the building industry fell this year by 50,000. It is expected to fall by a further 50,000 in 1991.
In the Autumn Statement a considerable sum was allocated towards the relief of homelessness. I hope that that money will be spent quickly. Labour and building materials are readily available, so please will the Government urge the authorities concerned to do something quickly to help the homeless and the depressed construction industry?
§ 4.7 p.m.
§ Lord Nugent of Guildford
My Lords, as I follow three interesting speeches on the environment and I wish to say a few words about transport, I realise that my speech does not key in as well as I should like with what has gone before. I sympathise with the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, about the need to preserve village life by maintaining the single village shop. That is all we have in my village; it is next to the village school and it is vital in order to keep the village going. My word, we certainly try hard there to do that. The noble Baroness mentioned other matters which I shall not follow up since my speech concerns transport.
I begin by congratulating my noble friend the Minister on his major programme of transport legislation. I especially liked his concluding observation on his intention to civilise road transport. I agree with him, but he has quite a long way to go. In my experience of 40 years in this House and in another place, four transport Bills in one Session is a record. I particularly congratulate my noble friend on getting our old friend the street works Bill in. I am sure it will receive a welcome from the noble Lord, Lord 138 Underhill. If ever there was a Cinderella, it is that Bill, which was first proposed for legislation, I believe, 50 years ago.
Every Minister has looked at the legislation and decided that there were not many votes in it. Therefore it has always gone to the bottom of the list. In fact, it is a very important Bill and I congratulate my noble friend on bringing it forward. I look forward to debating it and supporting him as he takes the Bill through the House in the near future. My noble friend's proven track record in the world of transport will be especially valuable in dealing with this heavy programme.
As my noble friend said, transport is a major element in the lives of all of us today. It has a major influence on the cost of everything that we buy. Comfort is a major factor in every journey that we make. I speak as a daily commuter on British Rail and London Underground. I hope that some of the 1,500 new trains which are to come into service will be used on the Portsmouth line, but I have not seen any of them yet.
The Government's investment programme for transport—road, rail and civil aviation—amounts to £16 billion. That is a tremendous sum. It is substantial by any standard and it will provide many valuable improvements. Even so, we have to expect a staggering increase in road traffic movements over the next generation, of the order of 100 per cent. There will be greater use of vehicles and there will be more vehicles. Therefore, irrespective of the very heavy expenditure which my noble friend is to provide, the utmost increase in capacity that we can provide cannot meet our needs. As well as hard cash, more hard thinking is needed to develop the best solutions.
I should like to offer my noble friend two thoughts in that context, one of which he has partially taken on board. The first concerns the greater application of scientific traffic management such as the admirable prototype which my noble friend is to introduce in the Road Traffic Bill for the London traffic management scheme. However, for the general development of traffic management more traffic engineers are required, by which I mean engineers who study the movement of traffic, which is not the same discipline as that of engineers who build roads to carry traffic —county surveyors please note.
We can learn from the United States, where there are eight times as many motor cars as there are here, although it is true that it is a bigger country; but nevertheless it manages to keep the traffic moving very well. Every American city of any size has a traffic commissioner and a team of traffic engineers continually studying traffic movement and working out methods of improvement, including tough disciplines which are enforced stringently. In London there is a team of traffic engineers, but it is split. with half coming under the Department of Transport and half under the Metropolitan Police. It is a great credit to the officials working in those two separate teams that the system works at all. It is an illogical split, presumably a product of history from the days when traffic intersections were controlled by policemen 139 wearing white gloves. The officials have produced the London traffic management scheme and deserve great credit for it. I believe that it promises a significant improvement in the movement of London traffic.
Over the country as a whole it is a rare exception for a city to employ a team of traffic engineers. It is common form for the county or city surveyor to be responsible, and usually he knows more about building roads than managing traffic on them. Here, I welcome the observation by my noble friend the Minister that his department is advising towns on traffic problems. I know that his officials have been advising Guildford, but those who have tried to motor through Guildford will know that the advice has not penetrated very far yet. More than advice is needed. With a few honourable exceptions—Birmingham is outstanding—city and county engineers are not interested in traffic engineering.
Years ago, when I was Parliamentary Secretary for Transport in the 1950s, I visited the United States to make a brief study of traffic management in that country. I learnt that the Americans had developed the applied science of traffic engineering which they had successfully applied to their urban traffic movement. All cities of any size in the United States had a traffic commissioner and a team of traffic engineers. The benefit to their traffic movement was obvious. I returned to England with a clear intention to introduce traffic engineering here.
When I consulted MoT officials they informed me that my plan was stillborn. There were no traffic engineers and no university offered a course in traffic engineering. I was astonished. However, two universities—one of which was Birmingham—wished to set up postgraduate courses in traffic engineering, which would mature in the next five years. However, I learnt that a course could be started immediately if I could raise £150,000 privately to finance the first few years before the UGC took it on. The motor industry, the oil industry and the insurance industry rallied round splendidly. I raised the £150,000 and the money was delivered to Birmingham, which set up a postgraduate school. It was running within 18 months under a splendid character called Professor Kolbuszewski, who ran it with great success and trained a number of valuable traffic engineers.
Picture my horror and disappointment when, two years ago, I learnt that Birmingham University was closing down its postgraduate school of traffic engineering. No clear reason was given, but it appeared to be a lack of funds and lack of demand for students. It is devastating that now, when traffic problems bedevil us every day—and heaven knows what they cost us—we should be losing one of the few schools of traffic engineering in the country just when we most need traffic engineers. Words fail me.
I mention that sad affair to illustrate the general indifference throughout local authorities and the ignorance and indifference in my noble friend's own department. Traditionally the attitude has been that we did not need it. My word, we need it today! I welcome the fact that my noble friend said that he was helping some cities. They certainly need that help. I 140 urge my noble friend to take on board the message that there is an acute need to look at the universities. I believe that Newcastle still offers a postgraduate degree. Is there any other? We need far more. Every town in the country and every county highway authority needs traffic engineers to apply the science of the movement of traffic to make the best use of their roads.
I repeat that I welcome what is being done in London. That is a splendid prototype which I hope will be followed in the rest of the country. I congratulate my noble friend on that initiative.
My second point concerns road pricing. No doubt the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, will have something to say on the subject, and the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, mentioned it. Road pricing is one of the management techniques which can be applied to urban traffic to improve traffic movement. It is my belief that the natural growth in traffic over the next few years will swamp us. We shall have to introduce disciplines of that kind.
My idea in this respect is fairly simple. I believe that there is very little experience of road pricing. Singapore has apparently tried it, but I suspect that the form of government in Singapore is different and the scheme could not necessarily be applied here. Nevertheless, there are lessons to he learnt from studying what has been done in Singapore. The gleam of hope comes from Cambridge, and I see the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, sitting there. Apparently they wish to set up a scheme of road pricing in Cambridge. What splendid people. Good luck to them. It is going to be uncomfortable and it is going to be painful. It is frightfully difficult to get a scheme that will be fair to rich and poor alike, but nevertheless I am sure that we shall need to do it.
If my noble friend could get an important city like Cambridge to set up a scheme and try it out, it could be carefully designed with all the help that he could give it. It could be carefully monitored to see how it worked, so that after a few years it would be possible to say what is the best way of setting up road pricing schemes for cities. I am sure that we shall want to do it within the next few years, however much we may spend on the many improvements that my noble friend is making. This really would show us the way. If the benefits were achieved, then the Government could legislate for general application.
All this would take some years. It would take five years for Cambridge to set up a scheme and have it working for enough time to see that it worked all right. By the end of that time—five years—I should think that the worsening traffic jams would make every town in the country say, "Let us have a road pricing scheme". But in all seriousness I say to my noble friend that this is something we need to learn about. It is full of problems, but for heaven's sake let us get splendid Cambridge set up with its scheme to show us how it might work. I conclude by congratulating my noble friend on his immense transport programme and I give my best wishes for its progress.
§ 4.22 p.m.
§ Lord Hatch of Lusby
My Lords, so now we know. After all the hype, all the rhetoric, all the months of labour, we find in the gracious Speech the one tiny sentence:My Government will promote further international co-operation on environmental issues.And that is all we are going to get. It bears out what my noble friend Lord McIntosh said during the debate on the Environmental Protection Bill that there will be no more legislation on the environment during this Parliament.
Within a few days of the gracious Speech being given to us it was the inter-governmental panel on climate change, the leading 600 scientists in the world, who were warning humanity that if we are to prevent the increase in global warming which has already started and which is already taking place then it would be necessary to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 60 per cent. They proposed that there should be a cut of 20 per cent. by the year 2005. They warned us that if the rise in carbon dioxide emissions and its accompanying global warming continued as it has already started, then within the next quarter to half a century we shall see the seas rise, storms increasing and increasing in severity, floods, drought, famine and the mass movement of peoples escaping from their destroyed environment. Every human being living, and generations yet unborn, will be affected by this forecast and the prospect of this catastrophe. What do this Government do to meet that challenge? They will continue to co-operate internationally.
In the transport Bills, the Bills on the use of roads and cars, is there anything there connected with the reduction or even the stabilisation of carbon dioxide emissions? Is there anything said about catalytic converters? The Government have been rich in words, in rhetoric. Those words need to be tested by their performance. For example, the White Paper that we have awaited for so long includes only one really new proposal—the emphasis on energy conservation. It was promised that the Government would step up the work of the Energy Efficiency Office.
Only last week the Prime Minister in Geneva was promising ambitious programmes to promote energy efficiency. Rhetoric, my Lords. What was the performance? As my noble friend Lord McIntosh has already pointed out, in the Autumn Statement last week the energy efficiency budget, the conservation budget, was in real terms cut by 10 per cent. because of inflation and because of the additional burdens that it has to carry. How does that measure up either to the promises in the White Paper or by the Prime Minister in Geneva? It is to be £.15 million this year; a cut in real terms by 10 per cent. I wonder whether the noble Baroness who is to wind up will answer that point?
Again the White Paper referred to the Government pressing the European Community forminimum energy efficiency standards to be set for a range of appliances.142 That was the rhetoric in the White Paper. And yet it was only last week that the government representatives were opposing the European Community's proposals on energy saving standards for domestic appliances. Rhetoric and performance. How can they be equated?
I understand that California had perhaps the most imaginative environmental scheme that has yet seen the light of day politically. But I understand that unfortunately it has been defeated, and that the main agents in that defeat were Shell, ICI, and BP, who contributed massive amounts to fight that environmental Bill. It makes one wonder whether the same kind of commercial pressures have been applied here in this country.
Above all in this contrast between rhetoric and performance, between promise and action, we come to the second world climate conference held last week. Britain was the only one of the European Community members to stand out against the agreed target of stabilising carbon dioxide emissions by the year 2000. Why? I believe because they are frightened of the effect on electricity privatisation; on the cost in connection with the power stations plus, of course, their fears of the coming general election.
How is it that, when the Prime Minister can tour the world and make these rousing speeches about the environment, it is her Government that opposes the European Community's target of the year 2000, when the West Germans have promised to cut their carbon dioxide emissions by 25 per cent.—cut them, not stabilise them—by the year 2005? That is the year by which the British Government say that they can stabilise emissions. The Netherlands has promised a 5 per cent. cut by the year 2005. The GDR has promised a 20 per cent. cut. Whether or not it will be able to achieve it is a different matter, but that is its target. Britain is lagging behind and is relying upon the other poor members of the EC to make up the leeway in order to achieve the EC target by the year 2000.
I should like to ask another question of the noble Baroness. The British Government continually state that they are pledged to stabilise carbon dioxide emissions by the year 2000. Does that statement include their previous reservation that the pledge is conditional upon other nations making a firm commitment, or are the British Government sufficiently courageous to say that they will go ahead regardless of others?
At the end of the week the agreement was signed in Geneva, but it was signed without targets. It is to be welcomed that the Japanese came into the picture and that there is to be participation by the United States of America and the Soviet Union when negotiations commence next February. The fact that no targets were laid down shows that the politicians are defying the advice of the scientists—and this time there is no doubt about the unanimity of scientific opinion.
In the final agreement, what was said about the important use of renewable energy in order to reduce the greenhouse gases; for example, wind, solar, hydro-electric and wave energy? What part did the 143 British Government play in introducing those elemenis into the conference? Their record on renewable energy does not bear examination, particularly when one considers the way in which the prospect of using wave energy was virtually destroyed in 1982.
It is puzzling why the Government find so much difficulty in producing a positive policy. They appointed Professor Pearce to produce a report on pricing carbon and pricing roads. What have they done with it? One does not have to agree with everything that the Professor states, but as far as I know the Government have made no response whatever to the report. Professor Pearce is supposed to be the adviser to the Secretary of State for the Environment. This issue is not as tremendous as is often pointed out, and indeed as the Government often try to point out in order to demonstrate that they are doing something marvellous in stabilising carbon dioxide emissions.
In the United Kingdom the per capita emissions of carbon dioxide were only 10.5 per cent. higher in 1988 than in 1950. In recent years there has been a drop in emissions caused by the increasing use of natural gas. We are possibly totally stable in regard to emissions and we have achieved that without trying or planning. Would it be impossible to increase the drop by 20 per cent. through positive action by the year 2000?
At this point self-interest merges with environmental interest. Environmental considerations are not a burden on industry. There may be some initial expense but many industries have found that they cut costs by reducing the use of energy. If one reads the booklet produced last week under the patronage of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, Your Business and the Envirorment, one sees that companies like IBM, Marks and Spencer and even St. Thomas's Hospital are saving money by the introduction of energy consenation. The one thing that business in this country has refused to implement, whereas it has been done very successfully in West Germany, is the concept of environmental audit. The audit has shown that in many West German companies like AEG there is an incentive to protect the environment within the industry.
However well the business world conducts itself (and we are way behind the business practice of continental companies), intervention is essential. At that point our party parts company with the Government—or does it? I wonder, because last week the Secretary of State, Christopher Patten, had this to say:I don't pretend for one moment that it is enough to use market forces. Invisible hands are all very well but they need some direction".If that is Mr. Patten's philosophy, he would be very welcome as a member in the Labour Party because that is the central issue of division between our two parties. We believe that intervention is essential in order to protect our planet—intervention wherever possible with industry. It is being done on the Continent and some companies in this country are trying to achieve the same ends. They are also 144 pleading for legislation to help them. Due to the obsession with market forces and non-intervention on the other side, they have so far failed. However, if the Secretary of State has been converted to that way of thinking, perhaps there is hope for the future.
Finally but by no means least, we must never forget that we are living in a privileged society which is being subsidised by the poor of the world. We live in a society which uses 70 per cent. of the energy used throughout the world, although we have only a quarter of the world's population. The remaining 30 per cent. is all that is available to three-quarters of the world's population. We should also remember that we have caused the pollution of this planet. From the time of the Industrial Revolution we have been endangering its future as a habitat for the human being. The three-quarters of the world's population that is today living in poverty is demanding better standards of living, standards that will at least sustain life. That part of the population is rapidly increasing. The population of the world is 5 billion and by the end of the century it will be 6 billion. The extra demands upon energy and resources will be a tremendous menace to the future of humanity. We have a responsibility to meet that situation.
What are the Government doing in terms of giving aid to developing countries so that they can develop, not in our dirty way, but in more modern, environmentally benign ways? What arc the Government doing to help provide the technology that alone can prevent this massive disaster which now faces us? These people have a right to live, and to live decently. To do so they have to effect a revolution in their economic world. Unless they are given better help and the opportunity to do so, the whole of the planet is in danger.
§ 4.40 p.m.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
My Lords, I should like to start by complaining to the Leader of the House and the usual channels about the format of our debates on the Queen's Speech. I think that they might split the subjects up a little better. I know that transport has much to do with pollution but the two do not really go together. The noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, made an excellent speech full of technical points about what will be done. It is ridiculous that the poor chap has then to listen to the remainder of the debate; and for the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, to reply on a different subject. That does not appear logical. It should not be beyond the wit of the usual channels perhaps to split the subject into two. We could then hear from Ministers who know something about the subject. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, is enormously knowledgeable. She is learning fast on agriculture from me, I understand. The noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, is listening throughout the debate, looking nearly interested. If the subject were split she could reply on agriculture - a subject about which she knows a great deal.
I hear constant complaints too about defence and foreign affairs being lumped together. The speeches become mixed up. Although defence, or war, was supposed to be an extension of foreign affairs, it does 145 not appear to me always to be a tight debate. I therefore hope that the usual channels—including my noble friend who sits in front of me—will take note. Perhaps we could spend more time on the gracious Speech with a less mixed-up approach.
Agriculture is coupled with the environment debate. I am not sure whether that is a compliment —it certainly has a great deal to do with the environment—or whether it is an insult that it is not in the economic section because it is of enormous importance to the well-being of this country, especially in view of the enormous deficit in our foreign trade at the present time. However, although agriculture is placed with environment, I shall take the matter out of the realms of the ducks and daisies, which appear to be the main subject of the environmentalists' concern, and move into the realms of agriculture and the people on the land who have a great deal to do with the environment.
The world about which the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, has been so eloquently extolling, suffers from industrial pollution and from population expansion. I know from my work in the Council of Europe that the Government are not doing nearly enough to help the United Nations to fund population control. In Mexico and Sri Lanka such measures have been most successful in controlling population.
The gracious Speech states that the Government will strive to perfect the performance of the CAP and to push forward the negotiations on GATT. Those of course are of tremendous importance. The Americans have put forward proposals of a radical nature on agriculture. However, I suspect that their proposals are more concerned with regaining their dominant place in the world than in not protecting their own farmers as their subsidies are in excess of the subsidies spent per head in Europe on farming.
We must accept that Europe has a perfect right to feed herself. What she has no right to do is to subsidise production and to export it on to the world markets to the ruination of a great many primary producers in the developing countries and the very competent producers in Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
My Lords, I do not believe that it would be right to do that. However, I hope that I shall receive a "hear, hear" that Europe has a right to feed herself and to export a sensible proportion. There would obviously be a carry-over in bad times —because we shall have bad years as well as good. The common agricultural policy is in a mess because for years the Council of Agriculture Ministers for political reasons did not listen to the proposals of the Commission. It allowed prices and production to rise to an extent which has led us into the present surplus position and the enormous expense from which we suffer today in Europe, and in this country, because of the large amount spent mostly on export subsidies to remove the surpluses and to dump them on the world market.
146 Despite that, the curious paradox is that farmers as a whole are in a very bad way. Extraordinary changes are taking place all over the country. When I went to farm at Benshie 45 years ago, I put in a day, and we had 12 full-time men on the farm, quite apart from the casuals for the fruit and so on. Today I believe that there are three men on that farm. On Saturday while out shooting I met an enormously efficient young man who was farming 600 acres with one man. I reckon that he will survive. But what an extraordinary change has taken place the countryside when one considers such figures.
I speak anecdotally, but some interesting surveys have been carried out. A survey on full-time farms was carried out in two parishes in Lincolnshire. I cannot give the exact origins. There were 13 full-time farms in 1970; in 1990 there were five. That is an enormous drop of over 60 per cent. In over 282 farms in 16 parishes, 35 per cent. lost their independent full-time status in 20 years. That makes an enormous difference to the environment in those parishes.
I do not speak in a nasty way, although it may appear so. I am all for the environmentalists but I believe that they have some things wrong. In the Guardian—a paper much read by the other side, I dare say—it states that many farmers are now on the knife-edge of economic survival in sharp contrast to the big cereal farmers whose incomes continue to rise. That is absolute and total rubbish.
I spoke to a most distinguished economist in the farming business, Mr. Murphy from Cambridge University, and I now have the figures from 1978 to 1988. In relation to mixed cropping, the figures showing real income per hectare are £246, £251, £189, £152, £200 and £326. The figures for 1984 onwards are £145, £62, £160, £26 and £31. They relate to East Anglia, an area of large farms, and they show clearly that the industry is in a precarious state.
A number of farmers who are competent and fully capitalised and who are not borrowing large sums of money will continue to make money. If the situation continues they will be able to take over the smaller farms at lower prices. There will be opportunities for people who are competent and who have money. However, that will be no good for the environment and the countryside. We cannot support small farmers with up to 200 acres. They cannot make the kind of living that they have a right to expect, given the prices that we can afford or that should exist given the great advances in agriculture.
As regards the environment and agriculture, the Government must be more definite about their policies. It is true that a small experiment in organic farming is taking place in Scotland. The Government's set-aside schemes are alleviating the surpluses a little in various districts. However, none of them will touch the heart of the problem. In any common agricultural policy there must be a bottom in the market. The myriads of primary producers in agriculture are subject to the ebb and flow to a ridiculous extent. A figure that I constantly quote is that a 5 per cent. surplus can produce a 50 per cent. drop in price.
147 The Government must now make a definite promise. It is curious that the Minister of Agriculture has said that he will stand by the farmers and will not let them down while at the same time backing a 30 per cent. cut from 1986. That is only a bargaining figure. If the GATT negotiations are to succeed it is likely that the figure will be higher. It may well be that with competence the larger and well-capitalised farmers will be able to withstand such a cut. However, the small farmer, the social backbone of the countryside, will be unable to do so. The Government must put forward a definite set-aside scheme for extensive or organic farming. At the same time there must be a proper standard of marketing for such produce. There is a large market, although it is not major.
In regard to the environment, the Government must support the hill farmers. The hill farming subsidies per head must be retained and adjusted. They must take account of the admirable income which can be obtained by reducing the number of sheep, planting heather and then providing grouse shooting for people who are foolish or good enough to pay the prices. That provides a great deal of extra income for the countryside.
The Government must also do something about housing in the countryside. Throughout Scotland, there are instances of people coming up from the South to buy houses at prices which local people cannot afford. Government policy and the sale of council houses has not helped the situation one bit. I hope that the Government will support Scottish Homes by providing sufficient money to ensure that rural housing is affordable by people who live and work in the countryside. I know of nothing more devastating than a rural area that is populated by people who have no interest in it.
Not only must the Government provide a subsidy of 50 per cent. towards the upkeep of the walls on hill farms, but they must also provide a subsidy for the planting of hedges and trees. That takes land out of cereal production, for example, and puts it into a product that we need; that is, timber. However, it must be made profitable for the farmer to do so. For instance, if I am making money in farming I am willing to spend 50 per cent. of the cost of erecting something that is pretty or on planting a wood. However, if like many small farmers I am not making money I need 100 per cent. cost and something for my labour if I am to produce environmental improvements.
I could go on and on about the number of steps that could be taken, but the Government know them all. I say only that they must be more serious about them; otherwise we shall have a farming desert in the countryside. A great deal of land will be farmed in a most extraordinarily efficient and competent manner but there will not be in the countryside the people who make it what it is. The farmers do not want feather bedding but the Government must watch that they do not throw the baby out with the bath water when making the proposed cuts in GATT.
§ 4.57 p.m.
§ Lord Lyell
My Lords, the fact that one Angus man follows another is not necessarily down to the usual channels. No one could have described rural depopulation and the plight that affects us all in Angus better than my noble neighbour, Lord Mackie. I pay tribute to what he has done in Angus. It will come as no surprise to your Lordships that on Friday night the Kerriemuir and District Agricultural Association decided that next year's show will he held on the farm that for the past 45 years and until recently was run by the noble Lord, Lord Mackie. That is an indication of his stewardship and the way in which he left Benshie farm. I shall not speak today about farming but will leave that to experts such as the noble Lord.
The gracious Speech contained a phrase which interested and concerned me. It stated:My Government will promote improved efficiency and safety in transport".I had cause to remember those valuable words as I tried to cross the road outside my office this afternoon. I was tempted to think of two types of Peers—the quick and the dead. I remain among the first. I ask whether the Minister can encourage us in one of my long-standing enthusiasms and passions; it is the railways. I declare an interest because in my youth I was a great railway enthusiast at Forfar station. It is in desuetude because there has been no passenger service from the station for 23 years. The only indications that there ever was a station are the remarks made every other Saturday at Station Park, the home of Forfar Athletic football team. I believe that at the moment the station is due to be turned into an upmarket housing estate.
Also, over the years, I have been a great user of railways. Indeed, anybody who lives in our particular region of Scotland needs to use railways. Occasionally we can use air transport to reach your Lordships' House but railways are the standby transport for many of us in rural districts and, above all, over long distances.
When I used to return from Scotland to school in England, that was a major excursion. To go from Dundee, which was then the main station, on the east coast route to London used to take 10 hours. That was in the 1950s. That journey can now be done six, seven, eight or even 10 times a day in six hours or not much more than that. That shows the massive improvement in technology. Let us never forget that that six-hour journey is completed over the same railway track which existed in the 1950s and, indeed, in Victorian times, because, with minor adjustments, it is the same railway track which was constructed by the Great Northern Railway, the North British Railway and the North Eastern Railway all along the east coast route.
That aspect of British Rail and its operations emerges very clearly when one makes the comparison with some of our Continental cousins. The TGV in France and the intercity express system in Germany are thoroughly modern and very impressive, though Germany will soon have to take account of what was 149 the Reichsbahn in East Germany. Nevertheless, both those major operations are rather different from British Rail.
The TGV system in France is held up as a great example of swiftness and modernity in rail transport. Indeed, the new system which is to be opened towards Nantes, the TGV Atlantique, is a most important prospect. However, the TGV which extends south to Lyons and as far as Marseilles runs over completely new track. My holiday in the south of France this summer was enlivened each morning by reading of massive protests in Provence about the construction of a new line to carry the TGV directly towards Nice, avoiding Marseilles. The protests in Provence made anything that has happened so far in Kent seem like a child's teaparty.
In Germany there is no new TGV-type track. The train has its core route between Cologne and Basle along the Rhine. I referred to this in a debate earlier this year. Germany has exactly the same problem as us in not being able to carve out completely new track for a TGV-type train. One has to try to make use of existing track. That is what British Rail has done with outstanding success.
There was a reorganisation of operations in 1982 and the core of the publicity is concentrated on what is called "intercity". That means mainly high speed trains using increasingly high technology. One or two interesting comparisons as regards figures have been produced recently. British Rail's total costs are about £1.50 per train kilometre, whereas in Germany the cost is nearly £6 and in France it is £6.70. Those are the costs per kilometre for a train travelling along existing track. Operating costs show a similar and increasing efficiency on the part of British Rail. Those sets of figures provide a very valuable lesson for our European cousins. I understand that managers from Europe come across to take lessons from British Rail in efficiency and value for money.
We read a great deal about the Channel Tunnel. Earlier this year British Rail announced a new scheme called InterCity 250. I am given to understand that 225 and 250 kph are the cruising speeds of the trains. I believe that 250 kilometres per hour is equivalent to something in the region of 150 miles per hour. That is the speed at which trains will be expected to cruise. The InterCity 250 programme will enable trains to travel from Manchester to London in less than two hours. It will also enable international trains to link Manchester, Liverpool and London with Paris and Brussels, operating by 1993 on what was the old London and North Western route. The old LNWR route, which will be combined with the old east coast route main line, was constructed in the mid nineteenth century and onwards, with one or two minor adjustments. Here we have not had the major operations which one has seen undertaken in France in order to cope with the TGV and its very high speeds. The InterCity 225–225 kilometres per hour is approximately 140 miles per hour—will reduce the journey time between London and Edinburgh to under four hours. I believe that that record, which 150 belongs to British Rail, is second to none. That underlines the robust comments of my noble friend the Minister at the outset of his remarks.
My noble friend mentioned the £4 billion investment which is to be made by British Rail over the next three years, not just in new trains but also in safety. That is far more important, especially in the eyes of my noble friend Lord Nugent. That investment will also help to provide improved and more comfortable stations. Of course in trains, as opposed to on the roads, speed is delightful. However, even in trains speed must be linked to safety. Therefore, it is gratifying that £70 million is to be spent this year and £330 million over the next three years to upgrade every aspect of British Rail's operation so that the speed which all of us will enjoy will be linked to the very highest standards of safety.
The Minister also referred to provincial services. In my youth those used to provide many hours of fascination for me. Sadly, provincial services on British Rail have less and less to do with glamour and individuality and far more to do with reliability, efficiency and value for money. One can no longer spend hours at Forfar station watching the many different locomotives: Forfar station no longer exists and at Dundee the aptly named Sprinters and more recently the 158 series of express trains have been introduced. I have an excellent brochure which I obtained from British Rail called Speeding into the 90's. I believe that my noble friend's department may choose a less controversial motto because, if we try that on our rubber tyres, it could involve us in a clash with the criminal courts. However, speeding into the 90s could be a very valuable motto for British Rail with the Type 158.
I have ridden on two of the Type 158 routes. There are many advantages over the old type of stock, but the particular motto which seems appropriate is mnltum in parvo. It is far easier for me to get into some of the seats, even the first class ones, than it would be for my noble neighbour Lord Mackie. Space is at a premium. I found that the 158 was akin to being on an aeroplane. I tried to remove one of the plastic trays and everything fell into my lap. However, the speed and comfort of one's journey is more than reasonable and I hope and believe the reliability will also be increased.
I have one minor gripe which I do not believe will necessarily concern my noble friend. The Dundee Courier on Saturday indicated that there is a fascinating problem with the Type 158. Your Lordships may be aware, although this has not happened over the past three winters, that in Scotland as well as large parts of England snow occasionally falls in winter. I understand that the Type 158 is not able to operate at full efficiency—and indeed it is feared it may not be able to operate at all—in falls of snow over six inches, or 15 centimetres, deep. In Scotland, with its routes to Aberdeen and Inverness, let alone between Edinburgh and Glasgow, falls of snow of that depth are commonplace in winter. That does not take into consideration the new service sampled by my noble friend Lord Mountevans and me 151 over the old London and South-Western route, Waterloo to Exeter. That route also experiences harsh winters. I hope British Rail will consult the Dundee Courier report. We will pray for a mild winter, and hope to see efficient snow ploughs fixed to he front of the Type 158 so that it will be able to operate in the form and with the reliability that British Rail seek.
I note the encouraging remarks and figures given by my noble friend. I congratulate him upon all that he and his department have done to help British Rail. Investment in new equipment, new track, new signals and the prospects for InterCity 225 and 250 are marvellous. However, I do not believe any of us should forget that it is the immense talent, enthusiasm and dedication of everyone who works in British Rail, from the chairman to the station manager in the Kyle of Lochalsh, Wick, Thurso and Mallaig—all of those far flung areas in Scotland—which contribute to a network that is already second to none. With the figures, comments and encouragement given by my noble friend and his right honourable friend. British Rail can go a long way to fulfil what is set out in the gracious Speech.
§ 5.12 p.m
§ Baroness Nicol
My Lords, before I turn to the environmental matter which most concerns me I should like to pick up a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent. He was kind enough to refer to the traffic scheme proposed for Cambridge. I hate to disappoint the noble Lord but that particular traffic scheme caused a public outcry. I believe a lot of it is about to be dropped.
That scheme included banning cycles from the centre of Cambridge city. It is a small city which at the last count had 60,000 cycles in regular use. Anyone who has been there in the morning when the students are changing lecture rooms, and have only a few minutes in which to do so, would realise the dismay caused by that particular part of the proposal. Therefore, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, that we need traffic engineers, but we need sensible ones with sensitivity to the local conditions, otherwise they will get nowhere.
I turn to the environment part of the gracious Speech, which is the part with which I am most concerned. When my noble friend Lord Cledwyn moved the adjournment of the debate on the gracious Speech, he observed that the forthcoming programme appeared to be less burdensome than previous years—those were his words. We all welcome that. However, there was one notable omission from the programme, a Bill for which many of us have been waiting and which many of us would not have found the least bit burdensome. I refer to the long promised legislation to safeguard common land. It will come as no surprise to the noble Baroness who is to wind up that I raise this matter.
I should like to give the story so far. In 1958 the Royal Commission on Common Land published its report and made a number of recommendations to safeguard common land and improve public access to it. A necessary first step to its recommendations was to 152 compile registers of all common lands. That led to the passing of the Commons Registration Act 1965. Since then successive governments have expressed sympathy with the recommendations of the Royal Commission, but very little has happened.
In 1975 the Department of the Environment set up an inter-departmental working group to make preparations for the next stage of legislation. That report was completed in 1978 and led to wide consultations with interested parties. The registration Act 1965, to which I referred, proved defective in practice. There was concern regarding the lack of progress on further legislation. In June 1983 the Open Spaces Society convened a national conference on the subject under the chairmanship of Sir John Cripps. Arising from that conference was the suggestion that interested parties should be brought together to consider how to make progress. In the autumn of 1983 the Countryside Commission set up the Common Land Forum.
The forum first met in January 1984 and produced its report in May 1986. The forum membership was widely based. It included local authorities, conservation bodies, the Country Landowners' Association and the National Farmers Union, to mention just a few. In addition, over 150 papers were submitted by other individuals and organisations, including the organisation for game conservancy. Following the report of the forum some grouse moor owners felt that their interests had not been fully taken into account and formed the Moorlands Association to resist the recommendations in the report which they felt were detrimental to their operations.
Long and difficult discussions ensued—I put that mildly. Nevertheless, in the Conservative manifesto of May 1987 we find these words,We will legislate to safeguard common land on the basis of the Common Land Forum".Since that time repeated Questions, both here and in another place, resulted in assurances that legislation was intended. I have found 15 such assurances and I am still counting.
We are now debating what could well be the last gracious Speech of this Government's tenure, and there is still no sign of the promised legislation. I am informed that the main stumbling block is the Moorland Association's resistance to unrestricted access on foot to grouse moors. I understand the depth of feeling on the part of both those who ask for access and those who resist it. But while the arguments are raging commons are being lost; once lost they can never be regained.
I plead with the Minister to put the disputed issues on hold and to bring in a short Bill to safeguard our remaining commons before it is too late. There is wide agreement on the need to safeguard what is left of our common land. At one time we had 1.5 million acres. That has now diminished to 1.3 million acres and diminishes further month by month.
As privatisation progresses, such as the privatisation of the water industry where publicly owned land was removed from public ownership and where access 153 therefore immediately became more difficult—other measures are in the pipeline which have the same effect —the remaining common land becomes more precious than ever. It is more important than ever that we should have access to it.
I hope that the Minister will feel able to offer some encouragement that the last phrase of the gracious Speech,Other measures will be laid before youwill include that short Bill which will save what is left of our common land.
§ 5.18 p.m.
§ Lord Brougham and Vaux
My Lords, I have the great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, with her wide experience on environmental matters. I am sure that the noble Lady will not be upset if I do not follow her down that path; she knows more about that than I, and I shall stick to my own personal subject.
I most warmly welcome the gracious Speech which Her Majesty addressed to both Houses of Parliament last week, and in particular the paragraph beginning,My Government will promote improved efficiency and safety in transport",as well as the other measures proposed.
Noble Lords will recall that I had the privilege of introducing a debate on "Road Users and the Law" in April of last year. That was in response to the excellent report of Dr. Peter North into the road traffic law review. That was welcomed unanimously, and at last we shall be putting it into law. I said then and repeat now that when the Bill is passed by both Houses it will have a significant effect on the campaign to reduce road accidents, and the target for a one-third reduction in road casualties by the year 2000 should be accomplished.
The latest accident statistics, published the week before last, regrettably show an upward trend in one or two areas. This is particularly so for total casualties, which are up 6 per cent. on the previous year—the highest for 11 years. On the plus side, the drink-driving statistics show a downward trend. Nevertheless, the figure of 840 deaths is far too high. Total road accidents still account for 14 deaths and 1,000 injuries on the roads every day.
We shall need to look carefully at the proposals when they come before us. Apart from the items given in the press over the past few days such as a dangerous driving offence replacing the reckless driving offence and the new offence of driving badly, both of which I welcome, I am pleased with the proposal for drivers to be convicted of speeding or traffic light offences on evidence obtained by the use of a video camera. Traffic light offences in London are appalling. Every day all types of vehicles blatantly break the law, and that can be extremely dangerous.
I also hope that provision will be made for the strengthening of MoT regulations. To my mind there are far too many vehicles on the road which clearly should not be there. I hope that provision will be made 154 to cover lane discipline on motorways as well as lane speeds. We must cater for the vehicles travelling at very slow speeds, usually in the middle lane. Both areas need to be addressed and I look forward to seeing the Bill when it comes to us from another place. I shall give the Bill my full support as it is a measure that is long overdue.
In the Autumn Statement last week I was pleased to see the increased commitment by Her Majesty's Government to easing congestion and providing high quality, safer transport. A rise to nearly £16 billion is proposed over the next three years an increase of £1.5 billion on last year—with a rise of 25 per cent. in real terms for trunk roads and motorways, thus allowing for a much faster start to be made on motorway widening.
I hope that the M.1 will be at the top of the list of priorities. Noble Lords will know that the northbound section from the M.25 to Northampton is extremely congested due to the weight of traffic. It is so bad that traffic comes to a complete halt. In the main that is due to the heavy lorries grinding their way up the hills. Much time and money could be saved if this section of the M.1 had a better traffic flow.
I would also include the M.4 as an urgent priority. It may interest your Lordships to learn that last Friday, leaving at 2.30 p.m., it took me five hours to get to Bristol—a distance of about 120 miles. I believe that the delay was due more than anything else to traffic management in a contraflow section.
I was also pleased to see in the Autumn Statement that £7 million is to be spent on publicity campaigns to improve road safety and that an additional £10 million will be provided over the next three years for further safety campaigns directed at children. Although I am no longer president of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, we have long campaigned for safety to be taught in schools, so this will go a long way towards meeting some of our requirements.
I also warmly welcome the proposals to go ahead with the red routes in London. We all know that London is slowly grinding to a halt and I am sure that if this proposal is enforced, together with other proposals, the traffic flow in London will be greatly improved. To work and to be a success all the new legislation will have to be enforced so I hope that funds and people will be made available for that purpose; otherwise we shall be wasting our time. In regard to the red routes, I hope that provision will be made for emergency repairs whereby contractors' vehicles can get near to an emergency but not disrupt the flow of traffic.
Another measure which I also welcome is the New Roads and Street Works Bill. This Bill has taken a long time to come forward but I know that the Utilities Group and the highways authorities have jointly developed a number of codes of practice which will form the basis of the Bill. I shall say no more on that subject as we shall be discussing the Bill in greater detail in 10 days' time.
155 All the measures announced in the gracious Speech, together with the increased funding, should go a long way towards making our roads much safer and less congested for road users. I congratulate my noble friend.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Lord Stoddart of Swindon
My Lords, I sympathise with the noble Lord, Lord Brougham, in the problems that he had last Friday on the M.4. I believe the delay was due to a lorry crashing and burning out on a contraflow section. It will give the noble Lord no pleasure to learn that that same accident not only caused a 25-mile tailback on the M.4 but completely seized up the traffic in Reading and Newbury for the whole of Friday evening—indeed, until very late in the evening. Therefore, it is clear that measures must be taken to avoid such accidents occurring and during the course of my speech I shall put forward some suggestions which I hope will achieve that.
It was, and always is, a great pleasure to listen to the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon. He is so reasonable. He puts everything so nicely. Indeed, on this occasion even his message was to some extent acceptable on all sides of the House. Therefore, I can tell him that I enjoyed his speech and that I welcomed it. However, the fact is that we are now suffering from the results of many years of neglect. I remember in the late 1950s and earl y 1960s we had the phrase "private affluence and public squalor". Now of course we have squalor in both areas. However, it is the public squalor that is causing considerable difficulty in so many of our services, particularly transport.
Over the past 10 years we have had the enormous bonus of North Sea oil. We have had £80,000 million of revenue from North Sea oil, but during the whole of that period, when we should have been building up and improving our infrastructure, we have failed to do so. Therefore, there is so much more to be done to make good that neglect.
I have already said that the latest announcements of increases in road and rail transport expenditure are to be welcomed, but I have to say, and repeat, that it is too little and far too late. Furthermore, in spite of the fact that I enjoyed the noble Lord's speech, we see the Government's continuing failure fully to realise that, short of road pricing—there are many difficulties about that; and I say that advisedly to the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, and to my noble friend Lord McIntosh —an enormous improvement in public transport of all forms is the only answer to the massive traffic congestion that is throttling our major towns and cities. That congestion is adding to health dangers, especially for people living on main roads.
The projected increase in car ownership by the year 2006 shows a minimum of 28.3 million cars on the road compared with the present 20 million. Some estimates go so far as to project a doubling in car ownership to 40 million by the year 2006. Clearly such an increase in traffic cannot be accommodated without enormous damage to the environment and to our quality of life and at a crippling cost to public funds. Therefore, we must seek to ensure that such as 156 scenario is avoided. To achieve that, road transport will have to become much dearer in real terms and public transport much cheaper and more readily available. In addition, older cars which cannot meet safety and environmental standards should be phased out over a shorter timescale than at present. That is not going to be popular but it is one of the options that will have to be considered.
I now come to the railways. I have had some awful experiences with railways, having represented Swindon. I saw the closure of the Swindon railway workshops. The following week its products were required but the workshops had been wilfully closed down. When I first became the Member of Parliament for Swindon I had complaints from places like Faringdon that there were heavy transporter vehicles taking body shells from Pressed Steel Fisher in Swindon to Longbridge. I was most incensed about it. I contacted the firm and asked why it did not send the body shells by rail. The company said that it would love to but British Rail would not accept the traffic. Who would credit that British Rail would not accept the traffic, although there were sidings at Pressed Steel Fisher in Swindon and at Longbridge? Eventually the company did send the bodies by rail but only because of my intervention at the highest possible level.
It may be that that kind of thinking is still prevalent in British Rail. There is still a failure to understand and to get to grips with the needs of travellers. There have been enormous fare increases and cuts in the frequency and quality of services. Countless numbers of people have been driven back to using their cars, hence the greater congestion in London and the desire of 50 per cent. of the people to get out of London in order to live elsewhere. The British Railways Board still does not seem to understand that travellers are customers who are buying something from British Rail. They deserve to be treated like customers and should be encouraged and respected. There is a failure by British Rail to grasp the opportunities that exist to move freight.
The railways and the Government should realise that every heavy lorry displaced is a bonus to other travellers on the roads and reduces congestion in our towns and cities. The railways have an enormous advantage which does not seem to be understood by British Rail. If one goes to see the chairman one is told that 80 per cent. of the traffic must be carried by road. However, 1 per cent. extra carried by rail would make an enormous difference. For example, most large towns and cities have a railway station in the centre. Properly organised, it would be possible to use town centre railway stations and yards to receive the goods for supplying the shops. That in turn would virtually eliminate monster 40-tonne vehicles from town centres and approach roads. They do enormous damage not only to the environment and people's lives but to the roads themselves.
I now turn to the measures to improve traffic management. These are often frustrated not only by road engineers. I agree very much with the noble Lord, Lord Nugent. The road engineers pore over computer programs and out-of-date maps. They never get out 157 by the side of the road to see what is happening to the traffic. They do not seem to realise that there is congestion when they say there is none and that there is no congestion when they say that there is. I agree absolutely with the noble Lord. He has described the situation absolutely spot on.
The problems of traffic management are often aggravated by quarrelling local authorities and the conflicting policies followed within the local authorities themselves. I live in Reading. On the one hand, the local authority, is urging the county council, which is the highways authority, to take measures to reduce the number of cars coming into the town centre. That is absolutely right and I agree with it. On the other hand, in connection with another development it is planned to increase the number of car-parking spaces by 2000. What can be sillier than to tell people on the one hand that fewer cars are wanted in the town centre and, on the other, to make plans to accommodate extra cars?
The local authorities need to understand exactly what they are doing. The pricing policy in Reading and in many other towns is in favour of bringing in the car. It is half as expensive to bring in a car as it is to travel into the town centre by public transport. If public transport is to be encouraged, the reverse has to be the situation. Public transport has to be cheaper and as convenient as coming in by car.
We have heard about red routes, dangerous driving, speeding and so forth. I support all these measures because they are absolutely right. However, they will be completely useless unless they are properly and rigidly enforced. At the present time the great problem is that the measures we already have are not rigidly enforced. One has only to travel along a motorway to see heavy lorries speeding along at 80 and 90 miles an hour only a few yards behind private cars to know that the existing regulations are not being enforced.
I believe that before anyone is allowed behind the wheel of a heavy lorry he should be given intelligence and psychological tests. The behaviour of drivers on our motorways and other roads is frightening and should be dealt with. I have considerable sympathy with the police. They have had duties imposed on them by government, this House and another place which are far beyond their capacity. The police say that they cannot enforce various measures.
I have another experience concerning Reading. There is a need for a peak hour bus lane. However, because the police say that they cannot enforce it, the local authority is now proposing a 24-hour bus lane. We have reached a situation where local authorities are imposing regulations that are 10 times more draconian than they need be because the police say that they cannot enforce the lesser measures. Something has to be done about that. All kinds of regulations are blatantly ignored; we see that happening every day.
I make a suggestion which is not new. However, it is time to take it seriously. The normal police force simply cannot cope with the load of criminal work and 158 traffic enforcement work as well. We have reached a stage where we need separate traffic police. I know that there are arguments against that and I know of the problems involved. But it is time that we examined this measure as a serious proposition. A traffic police force would not only enforce the law but advise and educate as well. I should like to hear from the Government that they believe that this is a proposition which deserves examination in the months and perhaps years ahead. I am sure that I speak for all noble Lords on this side of the House when I say that so long as the Government bring forward decent measures for dealing with the present traffic nightmare they will certainly get our support.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ Earl Attlee
My Lords, I begin by declaring an interest in that I am in receipt of a small pension from British Rail. Noble Lords will probably realise by now that when the subject of the railways comes up I tend to defend British Rail. I am not quite sure that I shall do so today. I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, because I agreed with almost everything he said. I should like to commiserate with him on one point. He said that he lives in Reading. I once tried to shop in Reading. I inquired my way there three times but each time I became lost. I gave it up and have never been back. Indeed I never intend to go back there unless I absolutely have to.
I too enjoyed the Minister's speech. However, I felt that he saw the future of transport and of the environment through rose-coloured spectacles, which is possibly better than the way the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, sees it. He seems to be building castles in the air about a future Labour government but I believe that they are castles made of sand.
I shall speak mainly on transport but I shall refer to the environment where it affects transport. I should like to mention Red Star. I cannot understand why people use private delivery vans for getting goods quickly around the country when, as the noble Lord said, most towns have central stations where people can take their goods. They can then be sent quickly and fairly inexpensively to their destination by Red Star.
The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, said that he has seen heavy goods vehicles driving on the motorway at between 80 and 90 miles an hour. I do not believe that the average heavy goods vehicle can travel at those speeds. I am talking about heavy goods vehicles whose drivers require an HGV licence. In my experience the drivers certainly have brains. If one gives them a little room they are almost without exception courteous and very safe drivers. Coaches and light vans are driven in a terrible way. Their drivers are absolute shockers. But I travel a good deal on motorways and I have never seen a heavy goods vehicle travelling at the speeds mentioned by the noble Lord.
I agree with the noble Lord 100 per cent. about the need for traffic police. It is the obvious answer. I shall refer later in my speech to the number of times the law 159 is disregarded by the public and by the police. It is obvious that what we require is a dedicated traffic police force.
I travel almost every day on what is now Network SouthEast. I use the Basingstoke service from Fleet. Our trains almost always arrive on time. This morning of course the train was five minutes late. We normally arrive on time and we seldom have cancellations. It is a very good service. The rolling stock is old. If one travels first-class one sometimes finds that there are no light bulbs, that the seat covers are torn and that there are no ash trays in the one and only smoking compartment.
§ Lord Stoddart of Swindon
My Lords, the noble Earl referred to the fact that there is only one smoking compartment on his train. I sympathise with him. I believe that there ought to be far more smoking carriages as smokers represent 33 per cent. of the population.
§ Earl Attlee
My Lords, I meant to say that there is a single smoking compartment in first-class and one in ordinary class.
When I travel into London the trains are normally fairly empty. Nearly always there is a ticket collector on the train. Coming back in the evening the first-class smoking compartment will more often than not be full. When we reach the first stop, almost all the other passengers leap out. One can guarantee that very few if any of those passengers have first-class tickets but they know that there are no ticket collectors. Once or twice in the next few months I should like to see British Rail putting a ticket inspector in each of the first-class compartments leaving Waterloo. British Rail would increase its revenue and it might frighten off quite a few people and stop them travelling first-class with a second-class ticket.
The noble Lord, Lord Lyell, said that everyone admires French railways but that people think our railways are terrible. I do not think that is true. Southern. Region is the most highly utilised railway system in the world and has the lowest subsidy. In future, trains will come from all over Europe at high speed. They will go through the Channel Tunnel and for the most part will be fed into the existing track network on Southern Region. If that happens, high-speed trains will be tangled up with commuter traffic and they will creep into London. If we are to have dedicated toll roads, a matter we shall discuss on 20th November, why cannot we have a dedicated twin track from the port into London? Private enterprise could pay for it and could run all the channel traffic. Everyone would benefit.
I use the Underground every day. What appalls me is not the standard of service but the graffiti. It is obvious that nearly all the graffiti on the outside of the trains is rut there in depots. Those who put it there do not do so from platforms. That would be dangerous and would be rather easy to spot. I suggest that the British Transport Police should have watchmen at their depots.
We now have automatic ticket barriers, which seem to be working very well. If one has not paid one's fare 160 or one does not have the right fare, the gates will not open and one has therefore to buy a ticket. I should like to know what increase in revenue per thousand passengers has been produced as a result of the money going to the Underground and not into the pockets of ticket collectors.
§ Earl Attlee
My Lords, perhaps I should say a high proportion of the fares collected goes into the pockets of ticket collectors.
A report appeared in the press the other day which stated that some new H-registration vehicles failed an exhaust emission test. If that can happen to brand new cars, I hate to think what is happening in respect of the majority of other cars. My own car dates back to 1980. I had it converted so that it would run on green petrol. It has recently passed its MoT. However, you have only to look at some of the cars on the roads in London today to see what is happening. I come from North Hampshire, where I have thousands of acres of Ministry of Defence land with its clean air, but when you come into London and breathe the air it really stinks.
I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, mentioned bus lanes. If noble Lords go outside the House and turn left at a time when the bus lanes are in operation, they will seldom see a bus there; but they will see any number of private cars. However, the police do nothing about the situation.
I should like now to deal with speeding on the motorways, but not by HGVs. I know that the A.3 is not a motorway, but it has three lanes each way. When I was travelling on that road yesterday I saw a motor cyclist approaching. As he went past I estimated his speed to be about 120 mph. Obviously the driver in a police car parked on the hard shoulder had similar thoughts. The police car took off. The motor cyclist saw the flashing lights and promptly took the next slip road. I saw him hurtling around a corner to the left, with the police car vainly trying to keep up with him.
On another occasion on the same road I was overtaken by a Porsche which was obviously doing well over the ton. However, the police managed to catch that one. When I caught up with them, the driver was being dealt with. There is an increasing disregard for the law on the roads. People are always jumping the traffic lights. For example, if you wait for the lights to turn green the chances are that someone in the car behind you will flash his lights or honk his horn. Drivers cross the red lights, not just as the lights are changing. They do so deliberately. It is dangerous and there are accidents.
If you drive along the roads today you notice cars which have only one brake light or otherwise are without their full complement of lights. In my experience modern Volvos, which have their lights on all the time and therefore overuse the light bulbs, are among the worst offenders. If you are travelling along a road in the dark and you see one brake light, you are entitled to think that a motor cycle is ahead of you, but possibly when it is too late you may find that it is not.
§ Baroness Phillips
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Earl for giving way. I feel I must speak up on behalf of the police. Last week I urged my driver to move into the bus lane outside the House because I did not want to be late for my train at Liverpool Street station. He did as he was told. However, he was caught by a policeman when he turned the corner in Parliament Square. I wonder whether I was unlucky or whether the noble Earl is especially lucky in this respect.
§ Earl Attlee
My Lords, I must tell the noble Baroness that I do not travel in the bus lane and therefore I do not need to be lucky. In my experience, her driver was unlucky. In any event, he should have pointed out to her that if he did as he was told he would be breaking the law. However, it is easy to say that when one has not been caught.
I turn now to the deregulation of buses. As noble Lords will no doubt recall, when this matter was discussed in your Lordships' House my noble friend Lord Tordoff and myself, among others, pointed out what would happen if buses were deregulated. What we claimed would happen has in fact happened. According to a recent report there has been a 16 per cent. reduction in bus services in some areas and a 6.5 per cent. reduction in the shires. There are no timetables. People do not know where the buses start from or when they run. Moreover, buses in the city tend to operate in packs during the rush hour. They do not connect with the trains. The situation is abysmal. We said that such things would happen and they have happened. God help us!
I am nearing the conclusion of my speech, but I should just like to mention London taxis. When I travel by taxi I always try to talk to the drivers. I ask them about the traffic congestion in London. They always say the same thing. I shall try to paraphrase what they say. They say, "Well, guy, there is one simple answer: it is parking. If you stopped illegal parking in narrow streets, and where people should not park, the traffic would run very much easier". I believe that to be true.
Taxi drivers have also suggested that new rules should be introduced to cover cabbies which would ensure that, when they pass the knowledge test and receive a licence, they work out in the provinces for a given period of time before being allowed to ply for hire in London. The cabbies think that is a good idea. I do not believe that it is a matter of greed because, as everyone knows, when you try to find a cab there are never quite enough of them available.
I believe that the Government's proposals for transport are good, hut, as I said when I started, I wish that they would take off their rose-tinted glasses.
§ 5.56 p.m.
§ Lord Dean of Beswick
My Lords, as my noble friend on the Front Bench indicated, I shall speak mostly on the issue of housing. However, I cannot resist pausing for a moment in order to say something about transport, although much has been said today about that as regards both the railways and the roads. I travel down to London each week by InterCity. 162 However, for two or three weeks now there has been no InterCity service available from Manchester: it is not the first time that has happened. It seems that every time re-rostering is introduced, an industrial dispute takes place and the poor bloody travellers, as we call them, are left waiting on the station platform, twiddling their thumbs in an effort to get down to London.
I do not wish to become involved in an industrial dispute as I understand that there is a possibility that the present dispute may have been settled today. However, if we want to encourage people to use the railways and keep them off the motorways, that type of nonsense must come to an end. Someone needs kicking up the backside. People are becoming sick and tired of the situation and of having to make alternative arrangements.
I turn now to the question of housing. Some noble Lords may remember that in the debate last year I spoke on the same subject. If you are talking about the environment, I believe that housing is one of the most important parts of a person's environment—if not the most important part—because if people have homes they live in them. Of course, there are many who do not have homes.
In the debate last year I indicated some of the immense problems with which we are faced as a nation. I believe that if a child has the bad luck to be housed very poorly, it usually happens in an area where education is also not too good. Therefore, children suffer from the start with deprivation in two aspects of life. It is very difficult for children, even if they are bright and intelligent, to make the best of their abilities when the first six or seven years of their life are spent in such an environment. In my opinion it scars the future of such children and leaves them with scars that cannot be totally removed.
Last year I quoted some figures, and at the risk of being repetitive I have to say that I believe they should be quoted again. Half a million fewer houses are being built by local authorities than would have been built if the system existing in 1979 had continued. By this year there would have been nearly 600,000 more houses available for letting in the public sector.
I quoted figures last year, not from political organisations but from charitable organisations grappling with the problem. They do not relate to homelessness, because that is still growing inexorably. It was calculated more than 12 months ago that 10,000 people were sleeping rough in the City of London. One can scale that down for other major cities, depending upon the size of the city. It was calculated that at the then rate of expansion in the numbers of people sleeping in cardboard boxes and doorways, London would be faced with a situation similar to that of New York with 30,000 people sleeping on the streets.
That may sound daft, but during the time that I have been a Member of another place and of your Lordships' House, I have seen things happening in London that I never thought would happen. One has only to walk along the Strand and other similar areas. The problem is with us and it is worsening. Major 163 cities such as Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds and Birmingham now have nearer 30,000 rather than 20,000 families on their housing waiting lists. That does not reflect the numbers of single young people who have nowhere to go. That is the present dimension of the problem.
What is the latest information? Only this morning I received a publication from the Institute of Housing. It is one that I receive regularly as no doubt do other Members of your Lordships' House. It contains details of a report for the London Housing Associations Council which states:Current policies will condemn nearly half a million London households to homelessness, bed and breakfast hotels, temporary and otherwise unacceptable accommodation by 1995. The report's authors calculate that by 1995 there will be a total of 645,000 households in housing need in the capital unable to rent privately or buy. Over the same period, total lord authority and housing associations new lettings in the capital will be only 223,400, the report estimates. This leaves a shortfall of 421,600 so-called rented units".That is the progress we are making: we are going backwards by any yardstick one chooses to use.
That report calls for an input of £33 billion to deal with the problem which it says is far too big for the local authorities, housing associations (charitable or otherwise) or the private rented sector to hope to deal with. That illustrates the dimension of the problem. I hope that we will hear something from the Government shortly about how they intend to deal with the situation. The local authorities have ample funds available, but unfortunately to a great degree they are locked in. They are denied the use of them. The last figure I saw relating to receipts from the sale of council houses alone was between £2 billion and £3 billion. The maximum that the local authorities are allowed to use in any one year is 20 per cent.. I do not understand the logic of not unlocking that money and using it 10 build houses.
Any section of the media one cares to look at—for example, trade journals or the business section of the press —claims that the building industry is in one hell of a mess. There is talk of 100,000 redundancies in the next 12 months. If we are to provide the structure to enable our people to live in a wholesome environment, the most potent tool is a highly skilled, large and efficient building sector. If the projection for the near future is that 100,000 people will become unemployed in the building sector in the next 12 months, the prospect is bleak.
I want to know what the Government intend doing about the housing programme. Under the leadership of the present Prime Minister we have had almost as many—may be more—Ministers of Housing as we have had Foreign Secretaries and Chancellors of the Exchequers. The Minister has brought in a little extra money—a couple of hundred million pounds. One may say that that is a great deal of money, but it is peanuts compared to what has been taken away since 1979. It is like the burglar who puts back in the till a little of the money that he had taken on a previous occasion.
The Minister made a press statement on 23rd October. I understand that he made the original 164 statement at the Conservative Party conference. He announced that tenants of new town houses were to be allowed to buy on a rental basis. It is a complex statement, and I received it only today. It means that such people will be able to continue to pay rent. They will receive some price reduction but not the full discount that someone buying outright will receive. The Government of course are the Government for all sections of the community, or so they say. But the scheme is open only to people who pay the full rent. In other words, if someone receives the smallest help from the public purse towards housing himself and his family, such a person is disbarred from that scheme; and that is the scheme of a government who wanted to throw open housing to everyone. I do not know whether that scheme will have to come before another place and your Lordships' House before it is introduced. It is one which will require some study.
I mentioned the building industry earlier. I sometimes wonder why it is always to the fore with its contributions towards the Conservative Party election fund and in keeping the Conservative Party going. I do not know whether it is on the basis that people may become ennobled or knighted. It cannot be on the basis of any economic benefit that the industry will receive from the Government. I have always been interested in building and so for many years I have been invited to the Building Employers Confederation annual dinner. Each year I have listened to a succession of Cabinet Ministers from this Government. Most of them have now gone. I have listened to the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Lawson; Mr. Biffin when he was Leader of the House; the present Chancellor; and the right honourable Cecil Parkinson. The same speech was used every year. It was, "How marvellously we are doing, and how well the Government are doing for the building industry". The fawning was nauseating. No reason was ever given why those Ministers should make such speeches. My noble friend and colleague Lord Stoddart, who has left the Chamber, referred to this matter as I did in a Question a few weeks ago, concerning the new money that has been made available to the Government which no other Chancellor of the Exchequer has previously had. I am talking about North Sea oil revenue and privatisation. As I understand it, it has put nearly £100 billion in the coffers of the Government since 1979.
The interesting point to put to the Government is: why is housing in such a mess? On the last Local Government and Housing Bill in this House my noble friend and colleague on our Front Bench, Lord McIntosh, and I pressed the Government strongly about the situation of homeless people. The Government made it quite clear that they would be catered for by the private rented sector because the new Act would make it so attractive for private owners of property that they could not refuse to rent to people. That did not happen. It has never happened, it will not happen and it is a total failure. More people are being made homeless; there are more people without adequate accommodation.
165 Lastly, I wish to turn to something mentioned today by my noble friend and colleague Lady Nicol. Public open space land which ought to be kept for the public has been taken into private ownership. I shall cite a particular case. The area in which I spent most of my life was East Manchester. A wonderful part of it started in Gorton, a strict working-class area, in Debdale Park. The area crossed the borders into Denton and was owned by the old waterworks department of Manchester City Council. There were three or four beautiful reservoirs, surrounded by adequate land, and parts of it became known as a famous walk through. It was a beautiful area. Only a few weeks ago I took my two grandsons through Debdale Park. I do not live in Manchester now but the way the park has been kept is a credit to the city. During the passage of the Bill to privatise the water industry I recall my noble friends Lord McIntosh and Lord Graham warning the Government of the consequences of privatising that industry and what the purchasers would do with the land.
Surprise, surprise: the predators who bought that chunk of privatised land committed daylight robbery. Let me make the point once again that it was originally paid for out of public funds, mainly by the original ratepayers in Manchester—this was started by a Tory-controlled council. The land was taken from the people without one penny in compensation. It was daylight robbery legalised by another place and this House. The people who have got hold of it now have a marvellous free development scheme which will take up all this beautiful land. "Oh, well", they say, "we will compensate and give you somewhere else. You will have to go where we shift you".
I have to tell the Minister that if this scheme proceeds and comes to the Secretary of State for final adjudication, if there is a possible compulsory purchase with a public inquiry, the people of the area and further afield who find it the only recreation area within reach will be absolutely outraged. The Government cannot say that they were not warned. The predators in the water industry do just this sort of thing. This is the first example. I hope that when the matter comes to the Government they will say no as quickly as possible.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Baroness Hollis of Heigham
My Lords, I regret that the gracious Speech contained no mention of local government finance. As your Lordships will know, local government finance is now composed of the poll tax, the uniform business rate and the revenue support grant, a new financial map designed to increase local accountability.
The poll tax has turned out to be divisive, regressive, expensive and, with its transitional arrangements and safety nets, opaque. Even those who gain by it think it unfair. However, we cannot today hope to change the present Government's views on this. As my noble friend Lord McIntosh rightly said, it awaits a change of government. However, there is one aspect that we may ask the Government to review, even now.
166 At the core of the poll tax is the insistence that every voter must pay at least 20 per cent. In an authority like mine, 25 per cent. of the population—students, the young unemployed, women carers, the elderly and infirm and single parents—are required to pay that 20 per cent. Collecting it from the quarter of the population accounts for well over one-third of our soaring poll tax costs, to provide just 5 per cent. of poll tax income.
To put it another way, if we take the figure of £1.15 built into income support and note that some people need to pay weekly or fortnightly, from that £1.15, 43p will go on the giro payment and 30p on back-up administration, leaving 40p for services; that is, if the young mobile do not move. However, as the Audit Commission shows, up to 50 per cent. will move in a year. As the housing market improves, the number will increase. The six compulsory letters that it takes to register a change of address—all required by the Government—at £2 or £3 per time wipe out that 40p.
If the tenant does not tell us, as is likely, and we have to re-canvass, we get into losses. If we have to chase arrears on a couple of payments, as is highly likely, those losses mount. That is to say nothing of second moves, court hearings and liability orders. The Audit Commission estimates that there will be 3 to 4 million court hearings next year, and rising. In other words, the more dutiful local authorities are in pursuing the 20 per cent. payers, the more money they are likely to lose. The burden therefore falls on other poll tax payers. I ask noble Lords, is this sensible?
Every local authority treasurer I know wishes to abolish the 20 per cent. minimum payment, removing at a stroke one-third or more of our paperwork. It would reduce harassment, probably be financially neutral and make a modest and much needed gesture towards equity. Can we hope that the Government will reflect on this?
The second element in local authority finance is the uniform business rate. For next year the Government have raised the poundage by 10.9 per cent. in line with inflation, but the yield will be up by 20 per cent.—from £10.4 billion to £12.4 billion—at a time of penal interest rates and growing recession. That is a burden that no local authority sensitive to its business community would have dreamt of imposing. The UBR is paid in on a national poundage and out on a population basis. The North rightly gains, but what about elsewhere? If we separate UBR from aggregate Exchequer finance, we find that the inner London boroughs pay in more than they did under local business rates and get out far less.
Who are the gainers?—the prosperous rural districts of Surrey, Sussex, Kent, Hampshire, Essex and Cambridgeshire, not the most obvious recipients of regional aid. Behind that, however, is a deeper problem presented by UBR. In the past, Labour cities like my own worked in close partnership with local business. On its behalf, we invested in a local regional airport, in starter units, in training schemes for young people and in key worker accommodation, not just for the jobs but for the long-term wealth, rateable values and revenues that would flow to our city over time.
167 That has gone. Whether or not we aid our business community now makes no difference to the UBR we receive. Why, then, should local authorities bother? Why should we ask local poll tax payers to fund aid to industry when the net result is not a benefit to the local authority but an increase in poll tax? I should have expected this Government above all to have sought to bind local authorities to their local economic communities, to strengthen that partnership. UBR has severed it. Is that sensible?
I turn, thirdly, to central government grant and capping. In 1981–1982 central government contributed 59 per cent. to relevant local expenditure. By 1989–90, the last year of rates, that had fallen to 43 per cent. I remind your Lordships that had that contribution kept its value local rates would have risen by less than inflation in the 1980s. Rates rose to compensate for the withdrawal of government grant and local authorities then found themselves "fingered" when they sought to make good that shortfall. For next year the equivalent figure is lower still, 35 per cent., equivalent to another £84 on the average poll tax bill.
With the latest poll tax capping statement of a week or so ago I suggest that local accountability has vanished. Any authority that spends more than its standard spending assessment and 9 per cent. over last year's budget may be capped. However, 84 per cent. of all local authorities, including nearly three-quarters of all Conservative authorities, last year spent more than their standard spending assessment. The increase this year in SSAs for districts is less than the increase last year in their SSA spending. The 9 per cent. is less than inflation. The Government's capping criteria assume 100 per cent. collection—although, according to the Audit Commission, the poll tax figures so far suggest that it will be less than 90 per cent. or another £20 on poll tax bills. Local authorities have had new duties imposed on them concerning food, litter and dogs and face additional costs such as the teachers' pay settlement and the increased cost of housing benefit. The criteria for capping under-estimate inflation, over-estimate collection and ignore new duties and new costs. It is clear, therefore, that local authorities up and down this land face universal capping. They are not volunteering for it but they face it.
Does educating and training a youngster, employing the construction workers referred to so eloquently by my noble friend Lord Dean, or mending a road really damage our national health, wealth and wellbeing? As Dr. David King, a recent economic adviser to the Government, has pointed out, central government justifies their cuts and their cappings by alleging that tax-raising powers threaten national economic prosperity. However, as Dr. King points out, the OECD figures for 1985 suggest precisely the opposite. They show that the eight most prosperous countries by GNP give local government considerable tax-raising powers while the eight poorest, from Turkey to the UK, give very little. We might ponder on that, my Lords.
More damaging still, however, universal capping gives the Secretary of State the majority vote in every 168 council in this country. The only choice the local authority has is to do what the Government want and to have what the Government choose. So why have local government? As my noble friend Lord McIntosh said in his opening remarks, we have it because local communities, as your Lordships well know, have different needs, different problems and different aspirations. Local government is about that local difference. Capping denies its very essence.
This summer I was privileged to work in Bulgaria with MPs and presidential advisers as they invented local government in that country. Bulgaria is a country where, in the absence of voluntary organisations and local government, the sense of citizenship is somewhat fragile, represented by tacit membership of the CP. Bulgaria is rebuilding itself and doing so, in part, by inventing local government. It is recognised that the sense of active citizenship it confers, the moral adulthood it presumes, the local diversity it recognises and the local accountability it cherishes are all essential to healthy democracy. What Bulgaria is learning we seem to be throwing away.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ Lord Mountevans
My Lords, we were told in the gracious Speech that Her Majesty's Government would promote improved efficiency and safety in public transport. We were also given a legislative programme. Since that speech there has been the Autumn Statement. That gives those of us who are speaking in this debate a great advantage because it announced record levels of investment in road and rail. In addition, we have heard my noble friend's speech this afternoon amplifying Her Majesty's Government's plans. It will come as no surprise to noble Lords who have heard me declare my interest over the years if I concentrate on the public transport elements of today's debate.
In the course of my station judging itinerary I looked not only at stations but also at trains in order to develop a yardstick for measuring how British Rail was performing in the autumn of 1990. In terms of the targets that the Secretary of State set, one first of all looks at reliability: does the train run? Of the 90 or so trains that I used every train ran. One also considers punctuality. Of those trains, 85 were on time or within two minutes of the scheduled time. Some were early, only three were badly late, and the worst delay that I suffered was on a Highland Omnibuses bus. They were also clean, in spite of the great British public's ability to leave litter behind.
I also set other objectives, which the Secretary of State probably feels are not of such importance. I looked to see whether the advertised catering was available. It was always provided. I considered the use of public address systems, which is particularly important to blind passengers who cannot read station names or posters. Where a public address system was provided it was regularly used. That is a great improvement.
Lastly, I looked at the question of revenue protection. If, as British Rail says, it is losing £50 million per annum from fare dodging it is of 169 paramount importance that tickets are checked regularly, particularly on trains. With the exception of two-mile or three-mile journeys in metropolitan areas, I am happy to say that tickets were checked very regularly. British Rail staff appear to be concentrating on that: the message has got through. It is good that that message has got through because if a fare dodger gets away with it, it is we as fare payers, taxpayers or poll tax payers who end up paying the difference.
Lastly, there was scarcely a journey that I made or a station that I judged which did not show evidence of recent investment or investment in progress. I cannot say that stations showed evidence of investment that was to come because I might be shooting myself in the foot. There is a vast amount of investment in the railways. That is good. The investment planned, which my noble friend reminded us is running at record levels, seems to me to be about right.
The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, en passant asked for higher levels of investment. However, we should be very careful before we go down that track. Sir Robert Reid, the former Chairman of British Rail, said in the spring that British Rail could not supervise higher levels of investment, a statement which so far as I know has not been denied publicly by his successor.
There is the question of safety and the implications of the Clapham and King's Cross reports and the calls for additional spending on safety. Safety was regarded as paramount by both the Sir Roberts. It is regarded as paramount by almost everybody in public transport. The noble Lord, Lord King, has said that safety is paramount; Michael Bishop has said that safety is paramount. We must make sure when we invest in safety that we go forward with a degree of knowledge behind us, almost prudence, so that we achieve that utter safety that we all wish to see on rail.
We need especially to take account of the human factor. What brings this to mind is that after each recent accident the unions have been quick to persuade, and the media have been quick to be persuaded, that we need more expenditure, greatly increased expenditure, on safety. But Purley was a human factor accident. Bellgrove was a human factor accident. Stafford was a human factor accident. Reading was a human factor accident. They were all, I believe, cases of drivers, for whatever reason, running through red lights.
I am aware that British Rail is, with the unions, looking hard at this. I have a great friend who is what might be called British Rail's divisional surgeon for the Southampton area, and he is spending a lot of his time looking into this to try to get to the bottom of why it happens. He is having to establish why people run red lights—and after all motorists run red lights far more than trains run red lights. A red traffic light in this country nowadays, despite what the Highway Code says, is regarded almost as advisory rather than mandatory. You have only to stand at the crossroads at the end of Bridge Street to see just how frequently that happens.
170 We must get to the root of the problem and then find out what mechanical or technical means we can adapt and practise to protect drivers and to protect passengers. When we have sorted that out, we must welcome the fact that Her Majesty's Government have given both British Rail and London Regional Transport all the spending authority they need for safety investment. But I hope that that investment is not committed until we have got to the root of the problem.
The third reason why we should be prudent in our investment strategy with regard to British Rail, London Transport and the many light railways that I welcome in our provincial cities is the fact that British Rail, London Transport and the light railway undertakings are only commissioners of investment work. We must make sure that the supplier side of the equation, which will be largely produced by the private sector, is in place.
Those of us who remember the 1955 and subsequent year investment plan will also know that many of the suppliers, for example, of rolling stock are no longer trading. Let us look at the North British Railway Company at Springburn in Glasgow and also at St. Rollox; the Birmingham Railway Carriage and Wagon Company in Birmingham; BTH and English Electric, who flanked me when I was at school at Rugby. English Electric is still trading but those two other manufacturing points have closed down. Gloucester Railway Carriage and Wagon is no longer in the supply of rolling stock. It is only in the repair business. Metropolitan Vickers has also gone. Before we call for more investment we must remember the supply constraint. This is not only in terms of the rolling stock but also in terms of civil engineering ability, and not least—and I come back to safety—in terms of signalling.
We must also look at the quality of life, because if we look forward five or six years under present plans, and subject to private legislation to come before your Lordships' House, we would in inner London have Crossrail, which I utterly welcome; the east-west link from Paddington to Liverpool Street. Either that or the Channel Tunnel rail link could be the 20th century version of the Forth Bridge—a really major railway achievement.
I hope that we shall have King's Cross International. We have the Jubilee Line extension going on. We have London Regional Transport's station reconstructions at Victoria, at Angel, at London Bridge, at Holborn and at Oxford Circus, together—and let us not forget this—with all the roadworks that go on and are mentioned elsewhere in the Queen's Speech.
Should we really be asking for more investment, higher investment levels, or should we, as I believe, make sure that investment levels take account of the industry's ability to supply, of our own day-to-day requirements in life and of, dare I say it, proper planning? I understand that the British Rail and LRT investment programmes will no longer be year to year but will become more a 10-year view, like the building of warships. I think that this is highly welcome.
171 The gracious Speech lists four transport Bills of nationwide importance. There is no Lord Parry in his seat so I can ignore the Severn Bridge. One is to encourage privately financed roads, which is to be utterly welcomed provided that the terms and conditions encourage such projects. I hope that we have all learnt from the shambles, for want of a better word, of the attempt to build a private rail link from the Channel Tunnel to London. Not only the authorisation framework must be right but the rates of return must be reasonable and attractive too. They do not have to be reckless, hut they must be reasonably attractive.
I think we shall all benefit from the street works Bill. The trust ports Bill—a reform Bill, if I can call it that —I find very welcome. From time to time, because I flirt with transport in your Lordships' House, I get briefings, unsolicited mail and assorted other things from ports praying for this. I am reminded in a way of the series of marriage enablement Acts that we used to have in the early 1980s, when certain people, if they wished to marry within the bounds of consanguinity, had to get a Bill through both Houses of Parliament. It seems to me that an umbrella Bill giving the trust ports the right to do this, rather than a whole succession of Private Bills, is a welcome step.
It is additionally welcome since the new powers the trust ports will get, particularly in terms of their ability to raise funds, could tie in with the toll roads Bill. They could invest in infrastructure so that, for example, my friends in Dover who are always complaining about the access road could, if they so wished, get into bed with a civil engineering contractor and build the road that they have always sought, and charge tolls on it. Why not?
As for the road traffic Bill, first I have to echo—I think we all do—what the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, said. It is no good legislating without enforcement. It really is not. I have mentioned the street corner out here where traffic offences are committed at the rate of one a minute. When you come into this Palace you feel utterly secure. There are plenty of police. But there are no police watching that crossroads so far as I can see. The television cameras that hang from the Treasury building which could be used to spot offenders are so far as I know not used. I have to ask why not?
We must address the problem that every month the death toll on our roads, although not widely publicised, matches 12 or 13 Clapham Junction disasters. Therefore, if I can go back to what I was saying a few minutes earlier, we need the greater enforcement of mandatory versus advisory. We need greater enforcement, as the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, said, and we need to change the attitudes of many motorists.
Those of us who are interested in transport will be busy this Session not only on the legislative programme but also on the great tranche of Private Bills that are still to come before us. Our thoughts must be influenced by the investment regime, and that is one on which I congratulate the Government. We 172 must also obviously be influenced by legislative proposals as yet unread. We have not seen the Bills. But may I ask that one of these, the road traffic Bill, takes account of bridge bashing?
This is a subject close to my heart, as those who were here on 17th January will remember. An over-high vehicle hits a railway bridge. You get, as we did in our local paper in the New Forest last Saturday, the report of an incident where the driver says, after he has hit the bridge and closed the railway for two hours, that he did not know how low the bridge was. Yet at the road junction there was a sign to warn him of the bridge and its height. Before he gets to the bridge there is a second sign. When he gets to the bridge the height is actually mounted on the bridge. It was not a matter of him not knowing the height of the bridge. It was—and I find this frightening—that he did not know how high his vehicle was.
As I say, the result is a bashed bridge, a distorted track and a potentially fatal accident. We had one up in Aberdeen around 1975, but it has probably long since been forgotten. The Government are aware of the problem. British Rail and the Railways Inspectorate are aware of the problem. I was delighted to be told by the noble Viscount, Lord Davidson, in answer to my Unstarred Question last January that the Government had totally taken on board the recommendations of the working party.
I should like to ask my noble friend who is to reply when we shall see action upon those recommendations.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Lord Tordoff
My Lords, as usual I am made aware of the fact that it is my turn to speak because the television cameras have gone off and the lights have gone down. That always occurs in relation to a transport debate.
Before winding up on this debate I should like to draw attention to the fact that this is the last occasion on which the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, will be speaking from the Labour Party Front Bench as its transport spokesman. Those of us who have taken part in many transport debates over the years would, I am sure, not wish this moment to pass without offering our thanks to the noble Lord for the enormous help that he has given to your Lordships' House in those many long hours of discussion. He is always better informed than anybody else. He always prepares meticulously everything that he is going to say. He reaches parts of Bills that less assiduous people never reach and, consequently, reveals flaws that other people never find. He is unfailingly calm, courteous and constructive in his criticism. I salute him for the job that he has done.
In winding up, it is not easy to cover the wide range of subjects included in today's debate. I have some sympathy with the complaint of my noble friend Lord Mackie of Benshie concerning the structure of this kind of debate. The truth is that we could easily take a fortnight to debate the gracious Speech, dealing with each subject separately. However, compromises must be made.
173 I am pleased that the subjects of environment and transport have been taken together because they impact very strongly upon each other. In transport debates we do not always consider the impact of transport on the wider environmental picture. Indeed, I wish that the Government would take a more comprehensive view of the matter, because there is a need to study transport in relation to land use planning as well as the ecological impact of various means of transport, both public and private.
There is a massive range of issues on the agenda today. However, the worrying aspect is not the items contained in the gracious Speech but those that have been omitted from it. There may be very good political reasons for that fact, but I believe that it demonstrates the Government's refusal to tackle the fundamental and basic problems in the areas of environment and transport, and none more so than in the field of housing, about which the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, went into some detail. I agree with what he stated. Homelessness is increasing, but where is the sign that the Government see the need to relax the restriction on local authority use of capital resources to build accommodation for rent? Where is there some recognition that private rented accommodation is not —and I believe will not—solving the housing problem? Where is there some retreat from the dogmatic proposition that the trickle-down system will assist the poor: that if one puts plenty of money into the top of society, it will trickle down and the people at the bottom will benefit? That theory was exploded a hundred years ago. It is not surprising that it is failing to work today.
We understand that the Government have come up with a method of solving homelessness. It relates very much to the way in which the Government have solved the problem of unemployment. In other words, they are going to redefine homelessness and tinker with the statistics. I hope that that rumour is not true, but I fear that it may be. That method will not put a single extra roof over a single homeless head.
As the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, stated, the London Housing Association Council has produced a report showing that an extra 422,000 affordable homes will be required in the next five years. That is a horrendous figure. Where in the gracious Speech are the radical proposals for tackling that terrible problem? There are none that I can see. It may be that the light is dawning and that is why the Government have not produced a solution this year. It may be that they realise that their dogmatism is wearing a little thin and that free operation of market forces does not produce answers in every case. If that is the reason for the gaps in the gracious Speech, we must be grateful, but we fear that that is not the case.
Despite the excellent exposition by the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, the transport proposals show an equal lack of coherence. At the moment our roads are overwhelmed by private vehicles and our public passenger transport system is in steep decline. There is no discernible strategy. When I put a question to a member of the Government Front Bench last year I 174 was told that of course the Government have a strategy for roads and that British Rail has a strategy for rail. It is that discontinuity which makes me feel that the Government have not understood the problem. The difficulty is contained in the opening words of the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon. He stated that it is important that ordinary people should have choice, and that that was the basis of the Government's policy-making. He also stated that the Government are not complacent about the vast increase in the use of private cars. Those statements do not hang together. If there is to be uncontrolled, unfettered choice of transport, then people will tend to use the private car if there is no restriction upon its use. The private car is very attractive. You can get into your car, if you have one, at your front door and go to your destination in one bound. It is much more difficult to do so with public transport. However, the environmental and social costs of doing so are something that society can no longer afford, and that is why the interface must be better managed.
One broadly welcomes the gracious Speech. I am sure that the noble Lord on the Labour Front Bench will be only too pleased to welcome the Horne Report, although it will take him some time to look through its many pages. I regret that it has been coupled with the Bill on private roads, which will undoubtedly be contentious. I am somewhat agnostic on the subject of private roads but I shall read the Bill very carefully to see what safeguards are built into it. There are clear dangers from an environmental point of view that private road builders may find themselves in a privileged position in relation to environmental problems and planning consents. There are other dangers such as one finds in France. The motorways there are delightful and one can go miles and miles without seeing a car. They are toll roads. They do not contribute much to the reduction of congestion in places like Lyons and the major centres of population in France, bearing in mind that France is a much bigger country than ours and has some very good secondary roads.
I do not take a position on the privatisation of trust ports. We do not have a dogmatic view but should like to study the matter.
The noble Lords, Lord Brougham and Vaux and Lord Stoddart of Swindon, stated that the road safety provisions would have wide support across the House, but the important point is that there should be enforcement of the regulations in relation to traffic safety, speeding and the laws which are widely broken at the moment.
The second Severn crossing is to be welcomed. I have no doubt that the noble Lord, the leader of the Labour Bench will be only too pleased to welcome extra transport going into South Wales, but I wonder whether it is the best investment and whether the electrification of the railway line to South Wales might not be a higher priority, as might the electrification of the line to the South West of England.
I refer to a somewhat parochial problem, and I am not ashamed to do so. There will be no freight terminals in the West Country beyond Bristol. Rather 175 than building new freight terminals in Plymouth, which are needed to try to bolster industry in Devon and Cornwall, there is a movement away from supporting freight traffic in the South West.
Noble Lords may be aware that British Rail is intending to scrap its Speedlink system into the South West. I received a letter by Mr. Tanner, chief executive of the Somerset County Council, from the South West Regional Planning Conference. It states:In view of our geography, communications through the length of the South West are of paramount economic importance. The availability of rail services is critical to the success of directing a structured distribution of future growth if a high quality environment is to be sustained. If Speedlink is withdrawn, many more heavy goods vehicles will help congest our major roads and use unsuitable minor roads".I give an illustration. Taunton Cider at present uses Speedlink. It would be willing to pay more than it does at present if that would keep the link in existence. However, it has not been consulted on the subject. If Speedlink is taken away from that body it would put, in an average year, another 2,000 38-tonne vehicles on the roads around Somerset, in particular around Norton Fitzwarren which is congested already. That cannot be in the interests of the community as a whole.
I do not blame British Rail because its remit is to produce a return on investment. I blame the Government for not being able to take a broader view so that a decision is taken not just on the simple question of a return by British Rail but on the total cost benefit to the whole community. I use that as an illustration of the fact that there seems to be a discontinuity in the way that the Government approach such problems. There is no sign of electrification for the South West or of freight terminals further into the West Country,
What is absent from the gracious Speech is a greater concern for the environment. It is such absence, rather than the content of the Speech, to which I take exception. Much technical tinkering is no doubt necessary and welcome. However, there is no sign of policies to tackle fundamental problems of housing, local government, agriculture, transport and the environment or any understanding that there is an interaction between all those aspects. It is a non-programme from a Government that has merrily sailed up a creek from which they see no way out. Perhaps, the real explanation for the gaps in the Queen's Speech is that the crew are mutinying, and that the passengers have a total contempt for the captain and are anxious to get off before we all run aground.
§ 6.54 p.m.
§ Lord Underhill
My Lords, perhaps I may start by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, for his kind remarks about my position. I have been spokesman on transport from this Dispatch Box for the past 10 years. My noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis will be taking on these responsibilities. However, I am pleased to say that so important is the question of transport for the economic life of the country and for the environment of people that I shall be acting as deputy to my noble friend on transport matters.
176 It is not my intention to deal with the question of public transport or general transport issues. Over the past 18 months we have had a number of major debates on various transport issues. It will be generally agreed by those who sat through those debates that there is widespread dissatisfaction with Britain's transport. Our debates showed that there was a general concern about transport infrastructure, inadequate levels of investment, and serious traffic congestion in many parts of the country, in particular in the London area.
The gracious Speech made it clear that there will be four transport Bills this Session. However, I share the comment made by the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, that the one thing that is missing from the four transport Bills is specific proposals to deal with the co-ordination of transport development and integration of transport policies. Matters are being dealt with on a piecemeal basis. There is no worked out plan. The question may be asked: What does your party propose? I refer noble Lords to a 25-page printed document which has been widely circulated. It sets out the Labour Party's policy on transport matters.
In October the press carried reports from British Rail sources that BR had been forced to shelve some £1.5 billion of investments aimed at greatly improving two of the busiest rail lines. Since the Autumn Statement it has been said that the investment was less than that requested by BR and because of the serious uncertainty BR will not publish its annual corporate plan. Perhaps the noble Baroness who is to reply will indicate whether that is the position, and give the Government's comment about it.
On 8th November—the day after the gracious Speech—the Secretary of State commented that BR's investment, together with operating losses, will be financed from borrowings, grant and property sales. That would appear to confirm that the Government are creating the impression that they wholly fund that investment. But for the most part it is internally generated. A great deal is generated from fare levels above the inflation rate. It appears that it has been government policy to minimise the public service obligation subsidy to ensure that the transport users —as the main beneficial investors in public transport —should pay through higher fares. We understand that the PSO grant to BR is to be reduced from about £500 million to £345 million over the next three-year period; and that it remains the Government's intention completely to phase out its PSO grant to Network SouthEast by 1993. That surely will present severe problems for the provincial rail services, in particular those covering rural areas and to commuters in Network SouthEast.
Before proceeding further, perhaps I may ask the noble Baroness who will reply to check one point. I raise the matter now; if she does not have the information perhaps she can obtain it. On 5th November the Guardian carried a report that the Government are considering selling off some local authority-owned airports, including Manchester, East Midlands and Birmingham. The report stated that the Department of Transport has confirmed that a 177 decision will be taken after a study by Ministers into the development of the 15 largest airports since they became local authority-controlled companies as a result of the 1986 legislation. I am sure that the House, and those outside the House, would like to know whether that is the position and what the Government propose to do.
In the very interesting speech of the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, if I heard correctly, he implied that there will be adequate funding, investments, or external financing, for BR to do all it wishes in connection with the fast rail link and the rail network generally in connection with the tunnel. Unless the Government have changed their view—which I hope they have—I gather that no public money will be available in connection with Channel developments or the fast link. We shall be interested to know whether the Government have changed their view; they too may be gratified.
It has also been reported that London Underground expects a loss of £120 million during the current financial year. It has been stated that all managers have been sent a list of emergency cuts which London Underground's managing director has admitted may lead to station closures and train cancellations. We understand that London Regional Transport has commented that next year's £650 million external finance limit is less than was requested. Is that correct and what effect will it have, despite the statements made by the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, in his opening speech?
We also understand that during the past few days a report has been published by the Conservative-controlled London Boroughs Association, the Labour-controlled Association of London Authorities and the planning and advisory committee in London. It states that, if we are to solve the problems in London, there must be far greater investment in London Underground and British Rail than is proposed by the Government. There must be a heavy expenditure every year for the next 10 years. The Government may have received the report only recently but I wish to know whether we shall have a statement on the Government's response to it.
Furthermore, can the Minister say what finance is planned for expenditure on our road system? What effect will that have on the Government's proposed road programme? Will the proposal for new roads in the Bill that is to come before us have an effect on that road programme? Will those roads be additional to the programme or will they substitute for some of the proposals in the programme?
The environment White Paper also states:The Government will, where appropriate, encourage the provision and use of public transport".We have not yet heard how the Government propose to implement that statement. What are their proposals?
I wish to refer to a report of a study carried out by the National Consumer Council. It states that the standard of deregulated bus services has deteriorated 178 sharply since deregulation began four years ago. That confirms that bus journeys have decreased by 16 per cent. in the areas of passenger transport executives and by 6 per cent. in the shire counties. It is not good enough for the Minister to refer to increased bus mileage; it is the number of passengers carried by buses which is important.
The NCC spokesman said that the report paints a sad picture. The report comments that schedules are being changed without notice, half the bus stops do not display a timetable and bus operators fail to co-operate with each other on timings and frequencies of journeys. Have the Government considered the report and, if so, what do they propose to do? I am doing my best to travel by public transport. However, I find that difficult, particularly when going home on the London Underground. Not only are three trains one after another going to the wrong place but they are so crowded that my doctor would not be impressed by my travelling on them. In addition I try to travel to my underground station by bus but I am always worried that the half hour service will be changed to an hourly service because a bus has been taken out of service. Those buses have been tendered out to another company by London Regional Transport.
We on this side of the House welcome the proposals in the Horne Report to replace the outdated Public Utilities Street Works Act 1950. As was said by the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, this is a big Bill and we received it only the other day. There are 156 clauses and 9 schedules and it is to receive its Second Reading shortly. I sympathise with the view that it is unfortunate that the Bill covers not only street works, on which there is a general consensus of opinion, but also new road projects with private sector finance—something about which there is bound to be a considerable amount of controversy.
Considerable consensus on street works legislation has been reached by the public utilities through their public utilities group and by the local highway authorities through their national association. The public utilities and highway authorities have worked closely to prepare for this legislation. They set up the Highway Authorities and Utilities Committee, which, with six sub-committees, has agreed a package of measures including codes of practice. It is interesting to note that the public utilities and local authority briefings emphasise the consensus achieved: somehow we should maintain the balance during consideration of the Bill.
I note that a number of clauses deal with the charges that are to be made on utilities for the occupation of road space. The local authorities have said that they would like confirmation that the provision will be an enabling power to be used only if other provisions in the package appear not to be working. It would be helpful to have the Government's views on that matter before the Second Reading debate. It will also be helpful if the Government will say that they are prepared to insert 179 in the Bill provisions for highway authority direct labour organisations to tender for utility work. That was the position as regards the 1950 street works Act.
Parts I and II of the Bill relate to new roads to be provided through private sector finance. My party is not opposed to joint projects using public and private sector finance. For instance, we welcome collaboration on rapid transport systems. We also support the arrangements for the new Dartford bridge. However, provisions in the Bill will need the most careful consideration. The involvement of highway and planning authorities, and the public transport authorities where they exist, must be safeguarded. There must be a good degree of accountability to democratic bodies.
Is it not possible to comment firmly on the proposed Bill on road traffic and parking? We await details of the provisions but the intentions appear to be welcome. I am pleased that the Bill is to deal further with drinking and driving. The fact sheet issued recently by the department setting out the serious nature of the matter will be extremely helpful. I understand that the Bill will contain no provision for random breath testing. Although the idea of random breath testing was dismissed by the Association of Chief Police Officers, a survey shows that the public overwhelmingly support it. I hope that the matter will be further considered, with the provision that, if we proceed with random testing, the results will be properly recorded and monitored.
We debated in detail the North Report when discussing road users and the law in April last year. Many noble Lords made the point which was emphasised today by my noble friend Lord Stoddart that there is little value in having good laws if they are not properly enforced. We must consider that. I am not suggesting that we abolish the laws but we must do something about further enforcement of the good laws that we pass.
I understand that the Bill will include provisions for parking controls and traffic management in London. If that is so, why cannot such provision be available in other parts of the country? The noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, referred to the position of a London traffic director who is to have particular responsibility for the red route network. We have not yet seen the Bill but it appears from reports that have been issued that the director will be a non-accountable individual who will work without any reference to consultation with elected authorities. Perhaps the noble Baroness will comment on that when she replies.
It is also stated that the Bill will give further parking responsibility to traffic wardens, including their deployment on red routes. What steps will be taken to ensure that that responsibility will not deplete the resources available for dealing with illegal parking on yellow lines elsewhere, outside the red routes?
It is also understood that the Bill proposes to transfer responsibility for permitted parking at meters or residents' bays to the boroughs in London. There is anxiety that that could lead to appointed council officers and traffic wardens both dealing with parking 180 enforcement in the same area or even in the same street. Why should not all parking enforcement be passed to the boroughs where they wish to take on that responsibility? Also, why should not similar powers be given in other parts of the country?
My very last point is on the question of trust ports. At this stage we have not yet seen the Bill, but in a debate in the other place the Minister explained that trust ports are not owned or run by a company, local authority or nationalised industry. He added that there are no shareholders. If that is the position, who will receive the proceeds of any sale? Are we to have a situation similar to that which existed with the TSB flotation?
§ 7.12 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment (Baroness Blatch)
My Lords, I begin by echoing the sentiments of the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, when he expressed his sadness that we were listening for the last time to the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, in his capacity as spokesman for transport on the Opposition Front Benches.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, I did not say that because I do not believe it. I believe that my noble friend will be back.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, I welcome that statement. I was referring to the noble Lord's official position. I am sure that we shall hear more from him.
I begin by saying how pleased I am by the welcome extended by a number of noble Lords to so much of our work on transport and the environment. In particular, I mention the welcome for many of our White Paper initiatives by the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, and the welcome throughout the House for the transport Bills in the gracious Speech. I am grateful also for the welcome as regards the high level of transport investment. On coming to the Dispatch Box it is very pleasing to receive plaudits as well as brickbats. That is a welcome tradition in this House. Of course I shall address many of the brickbats in my speech.
My noble friend Lord Brabazon began the debate by describing the Government's action on transport and the way in which we are working to mitigate its environmental impact. I had intended to wind up this debate in similar terms. Alas, as the noble Lords, Lord Mackie of Benshie and Lord Tordoff, found, the subject of the debate has been much broader. However, I consider the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, to be appropriate. We could discuss the gracious Speech for many weeks and still not cover all topics.
First, I should like to say a few words about our Planning and Compensation Bill. I hope to reassure those who feel that we are not legislating sufficiently on environmental concerns. Although the planning system is well established, aspects of it require improvement. We need to ensure that it operates quickly and efficiently. Development proposals must be properly considered without causing unnecessary delay.
181 The Planning and Compensation Bill announced in the gracious Speech will address the main problems which have arisen in the operation of the planning system. It will simplify the provisions relating to the making and adoption of structure and local plans. It will provide for all district council areas to be covered by local plans, which will help to provide greater certainty as to what development is acceptable in particular areas.
The Bill will also strengthen the enforcement powers of local planning authorities and simplify enforcement procedures. That will help to ensure that unacceptable development is not permitted by default. The Bill will also introduce a number of changes designed to make the development and control of provisions operate more efficiently and fairly. Many of the changes have been foreshadowed in consultation papers issued by my department.
Finally, the Bill will make significant improvements to the provisions relating to compulsory purchase and compensation where, after proper consideration of all issues, private property must be taken for transport or other public development. The people involved must be properly recompensed.
I turn now to the individual points raised during the course of the debate. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, compared our White Paper to a wet firework, albeit an attractive one. The White Paper has laid solid foundations for a better environment in this country. It is the first comprehensive statement of environmental policy by any government; for example, it has received general recognition from environmental groups on the quality of the policies. It is important not to underestimate the value of that. The Government will be rightly held to those commitments and above all to making the best instruments both in terms of regulation and the market. There are criticisms that the White Paper lacks firm action, but legislation is already flowing from it; for example, the planning legislation this Session. There will be more in European and international fora. The Environmental Protection Act gives us the power to enforce new standards. The Autumn Statement has given proof of the Government's commitment and has made available more funds for the heritage and countryside bodies for environmental work in agriculture and research in renewable energy. I was disappointed that there was not a single mention of heritage during the course of the debate.
The White Paper is the culmination of a year of positive action which saw new commitments on water quality and sea dumping, on which we have firm policies on the global climate and on the new Environmental Protection Act. The White Paper provides a firm framework for future action by government, by business and by individuals. The Government have shown their intention in setting up a new Cabinet committee and with the appointment of environmental ministers in every department.
I noted the cynical comments about the senior positions of those environmental ministers. Would noble Lords have been equally critical if the 182 Secretaries of State had not been represented or had those posts gone to very junior ministers of the Government?
We are committed to encouraging everyone to play their part. The White Paper is the first step and we are looking forward to taking forward measures with the close involvement of environmental groups. The importance of the White Paper is that consideration of the environmental impact of any activity should become second nature, not just for corporations, business, commerce and bureaucracies but for everybody, individuals included.
The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, mentioned his anxiety about the effect of transport on the environment and that there were no firm commitments on that in the White Paper. Again, the White Paper shows that we take it very seriously. My noble friend Lord Brabazon confirmed all of that in his opening speech. I have also read the Labour Party's strategy, An Earthly Chance, very closely and I believe that it is equally vague on many of those aspects.
The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, and many other noble Lords were disappointed that there would be little further environmental protection legislation this Session. I should like to make three points. First, integrated pollution control is a major undertaking. It bears repeating that it is innovative legislation which will provide a model for action in the European Community. It will mean a significant cost for industry, but we are committed to a firm timetable for its implementation. It is quite clear that there were those who were very critical and scoffed almost at the minimal costs on industry. However, the kind of re-tooling and re-equipping which industry must undertake to conform with those regulations will be considerable.
Secondly, the Environmental Protection Act gives us the power to implement standards, including those from the European Community. In a number of areas we are supporting the development of EC directives which will be applicable in UK law. Those include directives on emissions from vehicles, on tropospheric ozone and on waste incineration. We are also taking the lead in international agreements to address other areas of anxiety. Those include our banding commitments under the Montreal Protocol to phase out the use and manufacture of ozone depleting substances. We have all the legislation we need to tackle the major environmental issues.
Thirdly, we should not forget that the environment is more than anxieties about pollution. I have already said that we are introducing significant legislation to improve the operation of the planning system. The planning system is a major feature in the way our environment is shaped. A more effective planning system means better use of land and a better natural and built environment.
The noble Lord, Lord Hatch, was concerned about catalytic converters or lower fuel consumption. There will soon be jointly agreed European directives making catalytic converters compulsory by the end of 183 1992. The Road Traffic Bill will help fuel efficiency through better enforcement of speed limits, and other legislation will help to free-up traffic movement.
The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, referred to his paper, An Earthly Chance. I was somewhat puzzled by his attempt to compare the White Paper unfavourably with his own party's pamphlet. I looked very hard indeed for more positive comment on action and was disappointed.
The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, referred to his desire for an environmental protection agency. Again, we have talked for many hours in this Chamber about that particular issue. To introduce an agency now, having only just put the Environmental Protection Bill on the statute book, would be precipitate. Those who read the White Paper will appreciate that we have not ruled out the possibility of one day moving and evolving towards the need for an environmental protection agency.
The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, and a number of other noble Lords were concerned about global warming. We are clearly committed to a freeze by the year 2005 as part of the international efforts. There is no fixed consensus in Europe on the year 2000. It is important, first, to obtain a freeze worldwide, as we began at the recent second world climate conference where we were in the vanguard. Reference was made to the Germans and the Dutch. Their targets are still aspirational; there is no sign of full measures yet.
I was surprised by a comment made by the noble Lord, Lord Hatch. He referred to specific targets which were rather better than the UK targets. He admitted that whether they will achieve them is another matter, they are targets. The United Kingdom is not in the business of providing purely aspirational targets. We want targets that are achievable and that will be delivered.
§ Lord Hatch of Lusby
My Lords, perhaps the noble Baroness will forgive me. Can she say why at the Geneva conference last week the British Government refused to agree with the rest of the EC members to make the year 2000 the objective for freezing, and to promise that there would be cuts—not just freezing —by the year 2005? Would it not be part of the Government's attempt to put their rhetoric into practice if they agreed on those target dates with the rest of the European Community?
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, I specifically addressed that point. I would only add that it is not rhetoric. This Government made a firm target and will deliver that target. We are comparing a real target that is achievable with aspirational targets which have no backing.
Another point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, is the extra £4 million mentioned in the Autumn Statement for research on renewables. The White Paper contained eight full pages on market instruments concerning the work of Professor Pearce. There is no country which actually has a carbon tax. We believe that 2005 is the soundest target for our circumstances. Major dislocation and the costs to 184 industry must not be underestimated. I believe they were seriously underestimated by a number of noble Lords in the course of the debate.
The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, mentioned the European Community and the environment. Again, there is strong support in the White Paper, and we fully support a new European environmental agency. The noble Baroness, Lady Robson, said that we need to hand on a better environment to our young people, and was also concerned about the phasing out of CFCs. I entirely agree with the noble Baroness that we need to ensure that we bequeath a quality environment to future generations. That is the keystone of the White Paper. I hope that during the coming year the noble Baroness will be surprised by the amount achieved using existing powers to address the various points she raised, including achievement of CFC controls.
The noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, was concerned with preserving the countryside. I was pleased by the welcome that the noble Baroness gave to many of the White Paper policies. I hope that she will be pleased to see the increase in environmental schemes proposed by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food included in the Autumn Statement; an extra £26 million on improving hill livestock compensation; the extension of the beef and sheep extensification scheme to a national scheme; around £6 million to be spent over the next three years, and a new pilot scheme to encourage the switch to organic farming.
The noble Lords, Lord Hatch and Lord Mackie of Benshie, were concerned about overseas aid. There is a programme of £50 million on energy efficiency in industry and forestry; £160 million to be spent on 150 schemes world-wide to deal with population growth; £17.3 million to be spent on planned parenthood and, in July 1990, there was the international agreement on debt-for-nature swaps. A considerable amount is taking place, although there will be noble Lords who will disagree regarding the degree to which it is occurring.
The noble Lords, Lord McIntosh and Lord Hatch, and others mentioned energy efficiency and the labelling scheme. Both referred to the Government's opposition to energy labelling in the European Community. I suspect that that was based on an article in yesterday's Observer. The article was misleading. The United Kingdom will continue to press—I emphasise "will continue"—and is pressing for an agreed labelling scheme. There are no Commission proposals; and it is because there are no Commission proposals that we intend and suggested that what we do is at least to award labelling to those appliances which meet the set standards. That is hardly a backward step. We are on record as a Government as saying that if an eco-labelling scheme is not agreed, then the Government will press for a UK scheme.
The Energy Efficiency Office's funding for core activities increased. In addition to the transfer of funding for insulation schemes, to which the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, referred, a total of £42 million has been provided in the budget for next year.
185 My noble friend Lord Nugent made a very important point regarding traffic management. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, I am aware of the Cambridge county scheme. I understand the enthusiasm of my noble friend for any scheme that furthers the interest of traffic management. However, the noble Baroness illustrated perfectly in this Chamber the difficulties faced by local authorities, or indeed those at any level of government, who are grappling with very real problems. We must watch Cambridge with interest, and I shall be doing so very closely indeed.
My noble friend also expressed concern and disappointment regarding the closure of engineering courses, in particular at Birmingham University. We are sorry that such a course should close. But I am also able to say that the Department of Transport is actively recruiting civil engineer graduates. Last year it reinstituted an in-house training scheme so that recruits could reach chartered status.
Concern was also expressed regarding fiscal policy. Fiscal policy is not a matter for this debate, nor for this Chamber. It is very much a matter for the Chancellor of the Exchequer and for Budget time. However, there has been a switch of policy from vehicle excise duty to petrol, which will have the effect of inducing people to think carefully about the journeys that they make.
My noble friend Lord Brabazon mentioned many other measures; for example, extending the MoT test to cover emissions and measures to enforce speed limits.
The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, is concerned about the extra fares collected on the Underground following the introduction of automatic ticket barriers. A recent survey by London Underground shows that the introduction of automatic ticket barriers in central London has reduced fraud losses from 6 per cent. to 4 per cent. and saved the Underground an amazing £11 million in one full year.
The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, and the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, were concerned about enforcement, particularly in regard to speeding. Again, I have to emphasise that my noble friend Lord Brabazon referred to the introduction of technology as well as manpower. The important point is that measures need to be introduced to increase and to reinforce the enforcement of the law. It may not be the most popular thing to say, but we also intend to enhance the powers available to traffic wardens, who will be able to authorise wheel clamping and the removal of vehicles. They will also be able to impose endorsable fixed penalties on stationary vehicles. I am not sure that all noble Lords will welcome that.
The noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, raised a number of matters —rural public transport, public transport and the disabled, road pricing and car sharing. As regards the development of a thriving and competitive bus industry, organised to meet customers' needs, we believe that bus deregulation has led to an increase in bus mileage of about 18 per cent. 186 across the country. That in itself has increased choice. Eighty-four per cent. of the vehicles are run by operators on a commercial basis. For example, the introduction in many rural areas of minibuses—which represent 11 per cent. of all public service vehicles—is also helping to provide fast and efficient services where bigger buses are often not able to travel.
New public service vehicles designed with the disabled in mind are improving as new stock is replaced. Again, there is the difficulty of existing rolling stock not being converted, but it is an important point of which we have taken notice.
It may be necessary eventually to consider road pricing but it has not been tried in any major cities. We have just mentioned one brave and courageous scheme which may or may not get off the ground. We shall have to watch this space.
The Government welcome car-sharing schemes. In the early 1980s we took action to remove legal obstacles to such schemes. My noble friend mentioned the American experience. I have to say, somewhat cynically, that I found during my only visit to America that the traffic in Washington at peak hours was unbelievable. However, America has the luxury of space and is able to afford whole lanes that are devoted to full-occupancy car travelling. It is a marvellous idea but I suspect that space is a particular problem in this country.
The noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, is concerned about low-cost housing for rural areas. She referred to the urgent need for such housing, and the Government recognise that need. For example, last year we issued planning guidance which encourages release for low-cost housing of small sites which would not ordinarily be released for housing. That initiative was widely welcomed. The message will shortly be consolidated and extended in a new policy planning guidance note which will go out to local authorities. The Government are also making resources available for an increased rural housing programme. Last week's Autumn Statement indicated that the Housing Corporation provision for gross capital expenditure will rise to over £22 billion in 1993–94. That represents an increase of £250 million on the previous figure for 1992–93 and a doubling of expenditure compared with last year.
There will also be a new rural allocation of £50 million in 1991–92 to enable local authorities to support housing association schemes for low-cost housing in rural areas. That is on top of existing commitments. There will be further negotiations with the Housing Corporation over the target level of provision to be achieved by this programme in terms of numbers of houses. I believe that shows that the Government take very seriously indeed the subject of low-cost housing in rural areas.
Finally, in her very interesting speech the noble Baroness referred to local authority general powers. It is a general presumption of English law that when Parliament sets up a public authority it also determines the extent of the authority's powers. The presumption also applies to local authorities, which 187 are therefore limited to discharging the functions Parliament has given them. Where appropriate, those functions are given in very wide terms. For example, the Local Government and Housing Act of last year gave local authorities power to take such steps as they consider desirable to promote their local economy, subject only to certain limitations set out in regulations. There seems to be no need to recast the powers of local authorities in a form that is alien to the English system by giving them some general, unlimited power.
The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, referred to the planning Bill and the tendency to centralise. His claim that the Bill is a centralising measure is not supported by the examples that he gave. The Bill will strengthen the powers of local authorities in important respects. For example, we shall be honouring our White Paper commitment to allow county councils to adopt their own structure plans instead of having to submit them for the Secretary of State's approval. That is the opposite of a centralising measure. I agree with the noble Lord that we should await publication of the Bill before we discuss the proposals in detail.
The noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, certainly put me on notice that the question of common land would be raised. I knew in almost the dying phrases of the gracious Speech that the matter would be debated today. Comprehensive legislation on common land has been delayed while extensive efforts have been made to reach agreement on the central issues of the management of, and access to, common land. We are disappointed that it has not been possible to achieve that but we believe that it would not be sensible to legislate without some further resolution of these issues. The Government are committed to improving public access to the countryside, but for common land that can only be achieved in the context of better management arrangements which take full account of the proper interests of owners and commoners, and also other important factors.
We are satisfied that the policy set out in the statement which we issued in July will meet the legitimate interests of all concerned. We are reviewing the posit ion in the light of reaction received and will be consulting widely in seeking a resolution. However, I can say that the aim of our policy is to safeguard the status of common land and to strengthen the ways in which we protect and use it.
I welcome the support from my noble friend Lord Brougham and Vaux for the measures proposed in the transport Bills. I hope he will take part in our debates. I welcome the comments of my noble friend Lord Lyell. I got quite excited because I thought we were going to talk about trains again. My noble friend was very supportive and what he said underlined the achievements of the Government's policies towards the railways and in encouraging greater efficiency.
I believe I have covered most of the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, in regard to housing. I put two rhetorical questions to him. Is he saying that he is against the rents for mortgages scheme; or, as I picked up during the debate, is he arguing that the scheme needs even further extension?
188 The noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, surprised me beyond measure in saying that no local government would increase the yield from business beyond the rate of inflation.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, the noble Baroness referred to the Government having levied the rate of inflation of 10.9 per cent. on the business community. I believe she said that would yield an extra £2 billion.
§ Baroness Hollis of Heigham
My Lords, perhaps the noble Baroness will allow me to explain. I said that the percentage increase in poundage was 10.9 per cent. but that that would generate a 20 per cent. increase in yield from £10.4 billion to £12.4 billion in one year. That is a burden about which local industry and commerce is complaining and which no local authority sensitive to its business community at these times of high interest rates would seek to raise—that is, a 20 per cent. increase in yield.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, the figures given by the noble Baroness are wrong. There has been no further revaluation of business and therefore the poundage will yield the same amount. The only element of difference will be the number of new businesses, which will be netted off by any businesses that go out of the system. The record books are positively littered with local authorities, including the local authority of the noble Baroness, that have taken very much more from businesses than the level of inflation. The best example that I can bring to mind immediately is that of my own local authority. In one year it levied a 33 per cent. rate increase on local business which took the business yield from £40 million to £60 million overnight. Under the present arrangements that the Government have put on the statute book that can never happen.
I now turn to the average increases on spending assessments this year for the classes of authorities. For shire districts, the SSAs have increased on average by 28.2 per cent.; shire counties by 18.3 per cent.; metropolitan areas by 18.4 per cent.; and London by 19.7 per cent. The noble Baroness was arguing about the way in which local authorities spent over their SSAs last year and asked us to take that into account. Budgets were taken into account. Those are increases which by anyone's standards are very generous.
The issue that virtually all should contribute something to their local authority finances was also raised by the noble Baroness. That is a philosophical difference between the noble Baroness and the Government. The Government believe that everybody should pay. The poorest in the land are given the wherewithal to meet the 20 per cent. contribution. The uniform business rate and revaluation will give a yield of £870 million a year. That will shift the burden from the South to the North, but it has not increased the burden overall in real terms. As I said earlier, next year's poundage has risen with the rate of inflation. Defending against excess spending, with the introduction of capping and all the safety nets and interregnum arrangements in place, is the right of government.
I now turn to the comments made by my noble friend Lord Mountevans. I welcome what he said 189 about the measures to come before the House later this year. Knocking British Rail is an easy sport and it is very often an armchair one. Nothing is perfect and we all know that there is more to do. There is a discernible improvement in what British Rail is doing. The investment is colossal. It is the greatest ever. During the next three years over £4 billion will be spent. That is the highest expenditure on British Rail for 30 years. Rolling stock is being replaced. There is a discernible improvement at many of our stations.
I had not heard of bridge bashing until today's debate. Ministers are deeply concerned about it. I understand that a working party has already produced a series of recommendations. The implementation of those measures is already in hand. They include simple measures such as putting a note of a lorry's height in the driver's cab.
The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, was concerned about the cancellation of SpeedLink. I understand the anxiety about the possible environmental and economic implications of a reduction in railfreight services. It is worth noting that SpeedLink accounts for only 0.1 per cent. of UK freight tonnage. In general, the environmental effects of any changes that British Rail proposes should be very limited, especially if it can retain much of the traffic. One hopes that people will consider converting to the trainload or the inter-modal operation.
The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, was also concerned about the interaction between land use planning and transport. The Government recognise the close relationship between land use patterns and travel demands. The White Paper has made it clear that we shall be carrying out a study to establish how travel demand might be reduced through planning policies. The intention would be to produce general guidance which will inform individual planning decisions and local and strategic plans.
I lost count of the number of specific questions asked by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill. I hope he will forgive me if I say that there is to be a Second Reading speech very soon. My noble friend will then deal with many of the questions that he posed. If we both miss some out we shall certainly write to him.
The expenditure on toll roads will be additional expenditure to the roads programme. The noble Lord also referred to airports. The recent press reports are speculative.
The noble Lord, Lord Dean, was concerned about the water authorities' land. The Water Act includes provisions under which the Secretary of State's consent is required for the disposal of land which is surplus to operational requirements. I obviously cannot comment on any specific piece of land. We have noted the noble Lord's comments. The Secretary of State will have to consider the matter when it comes before him.
§ Lord Dean of Beswick
My Lords, my point was not disposing of the land but bringing redevelopment to what is now very attractive land used as a public amenity. That was the point I was making.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, I believe the matter has to come before the Secretary of State. He will consider it.
The noble Lord, Lord Dean, drew attention to two related problems about homelessness, including the problems of those living rough on our streets. It was a pity that, rather than drawing on one selected press notice in the name of my colleague, the Minister of State for Housing, the noble Lord failed to give credit for the large sums added to public expenditure for the next three years to meet some of the problems that he mentioned. In addition, he did not have the advantage of knowing about today's statement made by the Minister of more housing and estate action. The general message is that resources are to be better targeted on the needy. I believe that I gave many of the specific statistics to the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman.
The Government fully recognise the importance of a good environment and good transport. We are committed to both. In transport we want to encourage high quality and efficiency which will provide an attractive alternative to the use of the car. Investment in public transport is already at a very high level. It is now set to go substantially higher. We wish to relieve traffic congestion because stop-start traffic is highly polluting as well as economically wasteful. The Government are tackling this through building bypasses, improving traffic management systems, including our plans for red routes, and through our proposals for the reform of utility streetworks. We are reducing vehicle emissions through both regulatory and fiscal means. We are seeking to encourage economy in the use of fuel, for which there is considerable potential.
With the environment we are at the close of a year of immense activity and achievement. That included the carrying through of the Water Act, the setting up of the NRA, £28 billion of investment to clean our waters, worldwide action on the ozone layer and global warming, the innovative Environmental Protection Act, introducing IPC and giving a lead to Europe. The environment White Paper has been the clearest ever commitment by any government to environmental action. In both environment and transport our record is stronger than that of any other government. I very much look forward to detailed and continuing debate on these issues. We shall welcome all these Bills in this Session of Parliament.
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Caithness, I beg to move that this debate be now adjourned until tomorrow.
§ Moved, That the debate be now adjourned until tomorrow.—(Viscount Long.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly until tomorrow.