§ 3.5 p.m.
§ Lord Clinton-Davis rose to call attention to the transport problems of London and the South East; and to move for Papers.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, in every debate on transport over the past seven or eight years, the script read by a succession of Conservative Ministers has been virtually the same: a litany of statistics suggesting a roseate picture of a transport system that has never been better, but, in reality, characterising a purblind and misleading approach to the essentials.
§ Of course, the travelling public know the truth. They experience it day in and day out, whether they are travelling by road or rail. They suffer utterly deplorable conditions. For example, frustrated drivers and passengers are obliged to sit in private cars on hopelessly congested roads and motorways; Network SouthEast and London Underground are congested, expensive and dirty, with concerns about safety and quality standards combining to represent, in comparison with our main European competitors, a very sorry picture.
§ All those problems were recently brought to a head when traffic virtually came to a grinding halt in the snow. British Rail experienced "the wrong sort of snow" which led to additional chaos for the 1395 commuter. Of course, it is true to say that the situation was compounded by the appalling outrages which took place at Paddington and Victoria stations and elsewhere; and by unforgivable hoax calls for which clearly no administration could be blamed. However, those distressing facts should not be allowed to deflect attention from where responsibility truly lies for the transport chaos.
§ The Government's transport policies in London and the South East, and indeed nationally, have been utterly confused. They have been confused in terms of refusing or failing to recognise the need for an integrated transport system, utilising the different modes of transport in a complementary way; by failing to ensure that analyses in relation to what is required are always undertaken right across the different modes; and also by failing to ensure that the overall value of any transport activities are judged by quality of life objectives.
§ For nearly 12 years the Government have compartmentalised their thinking in relation to transport. They have applied wholly different rules to each mode and distorted competition between them. Cars and lorries are most certainly given preferential treatment over rail so far as concerns infrastructural costs. That ignores the fact that rail is one of the most environmentally friendly forms of surface transport. It also ignores the fact that, according to the CBI, the costs borne by industry—and thus by consumers—of road congestion amount to something in the order of £15 billion a year nationally. Moreover, London and the South East, which represent the most populous part of our country, bear a very high proportion of that burden.
§ However, over and above all that, one has to add the cost of environmental damage—that is, increased noise and pollution and the destruction of local communities—whereby the quality of life in inner London, and also in towns and villages in the South East, is hugely impaired. There can be no doubt that that abdication of responsibility over so long a period threatens the economic well-being of our country, especially as we move towards 1992.
§ In London, the ideological obsessions of the Government have demolished the possibilities of real strategic planning. It is the only major city in Europe which is denied a strategic planning authority which could reconcile different travel, environmental and planning needs and thereby meet the demands of all sectors of society.
§ I suppose that all that is not altogether surprising, having regard to what I referred to before as "a succession of Conservative Ministers" of Transport. Indeed, since May 1979 there have been no fewer than eight Secretaries of State. That represents a shelf life of 16 months and three weeks for each of them. There have also been four Ministers of State and 11 Parliamentary Under-Secretaries of State, the shelf life of whom is even more limited. I suppose that we should be thankful for small mercies in that the House is pleased that at least the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, has been returned to the fold.1396
Although it is the Opposition's contention that it is essential that we should look at the various modes of transport in the South East as a whole, for convenience in the debate I shall identify, albeit briefly, the main problems, as I see them, affecting each of the individual modes of transport in the region, although I shall not have time to deal with aviation. I deal first with railways: the Financial Times stated in an article on 23rd February:
At bottom there were only two possible causes for the widespread collapse of BR services in this month's well-forecast cold snap: blundering incompetence on an epic scale, or inadequate investment".
The chairman of British Rail, Sir Bob Reid, went on what he called "a voyage of discovery" after taking on the full-time chairmanship last October. He came to some remarkable conclusions in relation to his original conceptions. He concluded:
Although a big investment programme was under way in projects such as the electrification of the East Coast Main Line and works related to the Channel Tunnel, the routine refurbishment of the railways existing assets was still being neglected".
He identified outdated signalling systems and rolling stock maintenance depots falling into a state of decrepitude. He went on to say:
If you want a modern, reliable railway, you have got to spend money".
§ What is needed are not huge government subsidies but for British Rail to have the freedom to borrow on the capital markets to fund new rail services. It is abundantly plain that a much higher level of investment is required, going well beyond the borrowing limit of £653 million a year. British Rail is inhibited from doing that because loans of that kind count as public sector borrowing controlled by the Treasury. Why should British Rail not be free to enter into joint ventures with the private sector, major construction companies or City firms to promote new services?
§ I only wish that government transport Ministers would go on a similar voyage of discovery—although in their case I see no reason why they should feel under any obligation to make a round trip; a one-way ticket would suffice. In the South East, the consequences of government policies have been less service, fewer seats, greater overcrowding, increased cancellations and inadequate investment in rolling stock and infrastructure. The average age of the geriatric rolling stock of Network SouthEast is 18 years. According to evidence given last Friday to the Cannon Street inquiry, the worst damaged coaches were more than 60 years old and did not meet international construction guidelines. How on earth can that be acceptable?
In the 1988–89 annual report of the passenger watchdog body (the Central Transport Consultative Committee) the following appeared:
The Committee was unanimous in the view that the quality of British Rail services have been adversely affected by the reduction in subsidy and … Senior BR staff often cited this as a reason for cuts in service quality".
Despite that, the Government have set Network SouthEast a target of breaking even by 1992–93. No other railway system in a major conurbation operates
on such a basis. The effect of that ideological approach is to slow down modernisation, accompanied as it is by income from property sales which have been severely hit by the recession, and the cash box is increasingly diverted into eliminating subsidy. Lower capital investment also means a less safe railway. So it is no small wonder that the quality of Network SouthEast is deteriorating rapidly. There is overcrowding, poor arrival times, longer ticket waiting times, more people inconvenienced on trains by having to stand throughout their journeys, trains becoming shabby and dirty and journeys taking much longer. Fares on average rose by about 22 per cent. between January 1989 and January 1991.
§ Notwithstanding all that evidence, the Government continue to assert that they are providing real help to British Rail while they phase out the PSO grant. In the end, it will fall to the consumer to pay for the investment needed—and pay through the nose.
§ So far as the Channel Tunnel is concerned, plans which were designed to equip Kent with 100 mph electrified Networker class trains, station improvements and other possible electrifications have been deferred. What a commentary when one considers that the French TGV will travel up to 200 mph through France right up to the Channel. What a contrast with Britain. Our trains will travel at a relative snail's pace—40 mph to 50 mph—a real case of L'escargot anglais.
§ The tale is similar so far as London Transport and London Underground Limited are concerned. Although it is true that the Government have increased London Transport's external financing limit for 1990–91 by £55 million and will change its 1990–91 EFL from £448 million to £510.55 million, that will self-evidently not produce an answer to London's transport problems. Demand for the tube and buses is not declining, although that was senior management's prediction. What is happening is that London Transport is cutting staff levels and train services. The inevitable result will be the generation of even less revenue and therefore more cuts in the future—a sure prescription for disaster. Special provision, apart from other investment, needs to be made for safety following the King's Cross, Charing Cross and Clapham incidents. London Underground Limited should not, in our judgment, be forced to borrow from next year's EFL to stave of its present crisis.
§ The truth is that the Government have been bent on an ideological mission to try to establish that British Rail can manage without subsidy. Its passengers have been treated as guinea-pigs as part of an experiment unique in the world of railway policy. The truth is that on both Network SouthEast and London Underground tight financial targets imposed by the Government (after all Network SouthEast has to become commercially profitable by 1993 and London Underground operationally profitable by the same date) are causing short-term cuts in the quantity and quality of service.
§ Peak hour services on the Central, Northern and Victoria Lines are to be reduced. Booking offices outside central London will in the main be closed in the evenings. Extra security introduced on the 1398 southern branch of the Northern Line in 1988 is to be withdrawn. On London Underground, safety investment and Central Line improvements only are certain to continue. Major investments have been cancelled. The reality is that the actual levels of investment for 1990–91 and 1991–92 will be considerably less than the Government have claimed.
§ So far as the roads are concerned, the degree of congestion is exemplified by the fact that peak hour traffic speeds in central London are now little more than 11 mph. That is a problem that extends way beyond London to other urban centres. Congestion on the M.25 is notorious. Future traffic flow projections look extremely pessimistic. The Government themselves believe that there will be road traffic increases of between 80 per cent. and 142 per cent. by 2025. The Government's responses to those problems are hopelessly flawed.
§ As I do not intend to enter into a statistical battle of the Somme with the Minister, let me summarise what we believe needs to happen. First, there is need for a new, directly elected strategic body responsible for co-ordinating transport in the capital. Secondly, there has to be a long-term investment programme in new cross-London rail and Underground links. Thirdly, steps must be taken to reduce the use of the private motor car. Traffic congestion and further traffic growth will make a terrifying impact on the environment, particularly with carbon dioxide emissions.
§ Fourthly, major action must be taken to reduce overcrowding and improve service quality on Network SouthEast and the London Underground. It is intolerable that many of the Network SouthEast lines are underused while other parts of the system are grotesquely overcrowded.
§ Additional trains, increased train capacity, improved signalling and the extension of some platforms to cope with peak time demand are required. Outside these periods, extra trains are needed to make the service more attractive. Extra staff are also essential. On London Underground, additional and higher capacity trains and a wide range of improvement works at stations which suffer the worst congestion are required. The Underground ticket barriers contribute to congestion and also represent a safety hazard. London's buses are becoming older and are often unserviceable. They must be given priority by increasing the number of bus lanes and bringing in more bus priority schemes such as traffic signals and bus access only to main shopping areas.
§ Public transport in London is worse and more expensive than in most other European capitals. That is not good enough. We must have a planned expansion of rail and tube networks. Light rail schemes should be encouraged, particularly in outer London on suburban networks and radial links. Women passengers must be given important priority in terms of transport services as regards safety, frequency and reliability. The same applies to people with mobility handicaps.
§ Taxis are an important part of the transport system. Insurance and safety standards of minicabs 1399 must be brought up to those of the traditional black cabs. We shall review the roads programme, bearing in mind the high cost of environmental damage. The ill-conceived red route system, imposing intolerable strains on local commerce and the London boroughs affected, should go.
§ We need tougher penalties and enforcement of the law to discourage illegal parking. We need steps to ensure that the provision of company cars and other related perks, such as free petrol or free private parking, are fairly taxed. That is certainly not the case at present.
§ We need a range of measures to restrict car use in the most congested areas, including the use of road pricing. Pedestrians must be helped through greater pedestrianisation and better facilities for crossing roads. We need a network of strategic cycle routes along the lines suggested by the London Cycling Forum.
§ I do not have time to engage in the argument about the importance of freight but it is critical to our economic objectives. We need to encourage better priority for essential road freight within a traffic restraint system.
§ I conclude on the most important note of all: the need to ensure that we make the best use of the different modes of transport within the capital and the South East. As many on both sides of the House reminded the Government during the course of recent transport legislation, the Government pay inadequate attention to the environmental consequences of their misbegotten policies at their peril, but, infinitely more important, at the peril of the communities of London and the South East. I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.23 p.m.
§ Lord Lucas of Chilworth
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, for the introduction of this subject. However, one has a feeling of déjà vu. Against a background of 30 years of dereliction in investment by governments of all persuasions, we arrive at today's situation which the noble Lord eloquently and somewhat rhetorically described to us.
That there are problems no one has ever denied. It is inevitable that any remedies we seek to put in place will take time. Time is the least of the elements available; certainly money alone cannot provide all-embracing solutions.
If there were time, I could go through the extraordinarily long catalogue of measures which the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, sees as necessary and which are presumably part of the Labour Party's transport manifesto. However, what he did not and cannot say is how much it will all cost and where the money will come from. Noble Lords on his side of the House continually beg that question.
On the contrary, the present Administration have proposed some good ideas which I shall discuss in a moment. I shall not follow the noble Lord in his tirade against the railway system. I had my say about that in rather more modest form on Monday. I merely 1400 suggest that it is intolerable that South-East region commuters should have to travel under such difficult and sometimes disgusting conditions.
My concern is frankly more about roads. In considering the problem, I welcome the Goverment's intention to spend £16 billion over the next three years. The commitment has been given and I hope that my noble friend the Minister, Lord Brabazon of Tara, will reaffirm it. Much of the £16 billion will be spent on public transport improvements in London and the South East.
I welcome many of the provisions of the New Roads and Street Works Bill now in another place for their contribution to the relief of congestion particularly in London. I shall not discuss today measures contained in the Road Traffic Bill which will shortly come before your Lordships' House. I shall however wish to discuss it at some length over the next few weeks.
Within the £16 billion of government expenditure to which I have just referred, the road programme in England includes the improvement of 600 miles of existing motorway, the conversion of 175 miles of all-purpose dual carriageway, the construction of 45 miles of new motorway and the upgrading of about 1,500 miles of single carriageway. Again, much of this is in the South East. The programme includes widening between Rochester and Gillingham junctions; widening to the Frimley junction; the motorway at Winchester; the construction of the missing link from Maidstone to Ashford and so on. There are innumerable plans in progress which will give some but not total relief from the congestion which the South East sadly suffers.
I welcome very much the appointment of Mr. Alan Whitfield in my noble friend's department. He is the New Road Programme Director. In a recent talk to the all-party roads study group, he gave an indication of new thinking on how better use could be made of existing roadways. He mentioned widening, the use of central reservations and so on. The one point which I am not entirely happy about is the proposed experiment on the Chertsey-Leatherhead section of the M.25, reducing lane widths and speed. I do not believe it will be tremendously successful, but it is only an experiment.
What worries me about the roads programme is whether it is adequate. It is extensive, but there are a number of concerns. There is the question of the delivery of the programme. Even with the substantially greater funding now to be made available, it really is inadequate to deliver the programme in the 10 years promised by the former Secretaries of State, Paul Channon and Cecil Parkinson. I hope that my noble friend can say a few words about the 10-year programme. We recognise that planning difficulties exist. We have discussed them in your Lordships' House. We recognise that there are problems with planning periods and timings. The compensation factor should help there.
Huge and massive improvements could be made to the radial roads in London. There is a case too for improved orbital roads. The abandonment a year ago of the proposals in the London assessment studies left 1401 huge gaps and a vacuum. So far we have heard little about how the vacuum might be filled. That is a matter of some concern. To some people the proposals had brought an expectation of traffic relief and improvement in their quality of life. The abandonment of the studies means that those people do not know what will happen.
I have mentioned road widening and road extensions. Before anyone suggests that we shall end up with a great concrete jungle, I wish to make two points. First, it is an absolutely fanciful notion that much fright or many passengers can be transferred from road to rail. Road is the dominant transport mode in this country and will remain so.
I admit that I take the following figures available in some isolation. However, one can see that the land take from roads in West Germany accounts for a figure of 1.7 per cent. In Belgium it is 3.5 per cent. and in the Netherlands it is 2.3 per cent. In Great Britain it is only 1.2 per cent. If one considers the matter in terms of kilometres of roads to total kilometres of land, one finds that the same proportions result. On the international basis of calculation, one finds that in the South East, including Greater London, 1.9 per cent. of the land is taken up by roads and in the North-West of England 2.9 per cent. I accept that those are narrow figures; nevertheless, they reveal that there is room for further road construction.
The problem is one of population imbalance and the attraction of London and the South East for commerce and business. We should reinvigorate our efforts to encourage the internal migration of people, business, commerce, and perhaps government departments. We should certainly improve car storage and car parking in the central area. That could be achieved through planning requirements. Undoubtedly we need to improve public transport facilities which are frankly falling apart largely because of the negative attitudes the providers of public transport bring to their planning. I mentioned this matter on Monday; I repeat it today. Traffic management schemes are available and a host of new efforts could be brought to bear to make a much better fist of what is a very indifferent service.
§ 3.34 p.m.
§ Lord Ezra
My Lords, the House is indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, for introducing this debate on the transport problems of London and the South East. By my reckoning it is the ninth debate on one or other aspect of this subject to be held in Parliament in the past two years. The frequency with which the issue is debated reflects the continued concern of Members of both Houses about the very serious transport problems in this part of the country.
I propose in my remarks to concentrate on the problems in London. The sobering fact is that, unless radical solutions are devised and put in hand quickly, the present transport congestion and delays in the capital could grow far worse within the next decade. It is estimated that by the year 2001 there could be an increase or at least 20 per cent. in the number of cars used in the capital and an equivalent increase in the 1402 demand for public transport. It is difficult to visualize how the already overcrowded roads and the already over-utilized public transport services could cope with such a situation.
While it cannot be denied that certain measures have been taken to extend the rail and Underground facilities serving the capital, and it is intended to introduce the so-called "red routes" to speed up traffic on selected priority roads, these measures do not go nearly far enough to cope with the problem. A major difficulty is that, as the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, has so effectively emphasised, there still does not appear to be an overall strategy for dealing with London's transport problem. There are a number of piecemeal measures, some relatively large, some smaller, which are introduced from time to time. The situation is complicated by the large number of different authorities involved in transport in London. Apart from the 32 separate London boroughs, there are some eight additional authorities including various government departments. It is impossible to visualize how a co-ordinated approach can be applied in such a situation.
There is an essential inter-relationship between the various modes of transport and the skill is to find the right balance between them. At present the balance has been tilted too far in the direction of the motor vehicle. The need is to persuade more people not to bring their cars into London and to use public transport instead. But this is difficult to achieve as public transport facilities are already generally overcrowded and considered to be unreliable.
Let me start with the Underground. There is little doubt that an improved, more efficient, more reliable, less crowded Underground system could do much to syphon off road traffic. We are continually being reminded that there was a sudden upsurge in use of the Underground from 1985 onwards. How long have we to wait before this is reflected in increased facilities? This is not just a question of adding new lines, which necessarily takes a great deal of time and capital expenditure. The permanent way of the existing lines has suffered from years of neglect. There has not been a carefully thought-out policy for asset replacement and renewal. Such a policy could considerably increase the capacity of the system and also its safety, which has been a matter of such concern following the King's Cross disaster. Rolling stock and stations need refurbishment. Closed-circuit TV systems need to be installed for greater security.
Of course these developments would cost money—the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, emphasised that—perhaps up to 50 per cent. more than is presently being spent each year. But this would be entirely justified expenditure. It would be vastly less than the cost of congestion as estimated by the CBI and said to amount to no less than £10 billion per annum in London and the South East.
A similar approach is necessary with respect to the buses. Here the major problem arises from traffic congestion on the roads. Unless there can be better control of parking and some diminution in the number of cars coming into the capital, the buses will 1403 not be able to perform their task. Better control of parking can be achieved only by having more people doing the job. Again, that extra expenditure could be justified on the basis of social benefit. Reducing the number of cars coming into the capital can be achieved only by offering an effective public transport alternative and at the same time by some measure of disincentive. Road pricing has often been debated and should be looked at again, as the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, mentioned.
As with the Underground, so with the buses. An effective asset replacement policy needs to be introduced. There are many buses on the roads today which have exceeded their acceptable timespan. A more regular upgrading of the bus fleet would make for greater comfort, efficiency and safety. It would also give encouragement to the manufacturers to devise new models and penetrate export markets with greater confidence.
Other desirable measures would be the installation of video cameras on all buses, which could have the effect of reducing vandalism and petty crime. While they would be costly to install their payback would be a significant reduction in repair costs.
The problem which assails all intending bus passengers is to know when the next bus is coming. There is a need for passenger information at bus stops. That could be similar to the information provided at many Underground stations. It would advise passengers of the delays to be expected in the arrival of buses travelling in different directions. I understand that trials which have been carried out of such a system have been enormously welcomed by passengers. Finally, work must continue to make buses more accessible to people with disabilities.
One of the factors contributing to road congestion is coach traffic. Coaches provide an important transport service and benefit large numbers of people who wish to move around at relatively low cost and with some degree of flexibility. Nevertheless, the tendency of coach operators in London to park at will and to take on and discharge passengers at any point convenient to them adds seriously to traffic congestion. Some greater degree of regulation is essential if that particular traffic problem is not to become worse.
An additional problem connected with coach traffic is the Victoria coach station. It is the only coach station in London and was never designed for the purpose. I must declare an interest here because I am chairman of the local residents' association. The existence of the coach station in an already congested area is causing serious and continuing difficulties. There have been many proposals either to move the station elsewhere or to diminish its size. So far all the proposals have come to nought. The result is that the coaches overflow into residential streets, causing serious environmental disadvantage.
London Transport, which operates the coach station, has now decided to refurbish it at a cost of some £4 million. That will no doubt provide better 1404 facilities for passengers, but it will almost certainly lead to increased coach traffic in the surrounding residential streets. Some limit must be imposed on the coaches' use of those residential streets. I know that Westminster council is studying the problem and it is to be hoped that it will soon take appropriate action.
To sum up, London's transport problem, which is already serious, could get far worse in the next decade and beyond. The measures so far taken to deal with the issue are inadequate. Above all, they lack co-ordination. A more comprehensive and imaginative scheme is required to diminish the number of cars coming into London and to increase and improve public transport facilities. The cost involved could be saved many times over in economic and social benefit.
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ Lord Ardwick
My Lords, this is a sad little debate. I am as gloomy as was my noble friend. I noted that even the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, who loves the internal combustion engine and its fast-rolling wheels, fell into despair when he discussed public transport. The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, was equally depressed, but at least he gave us some practical ideas for some immediate remedies as well as looking at the strategic position as a whole.
A variety of ills as well as a variety of benefits confronts the London citizen of today. One of the grosser ills, alongside the mortgage, the noise, the pollution and the poll tax (unless he lives in a couple of favoured areas), is the daily struggle to get to work and then to get home again. It is surprising how long it took for that grievance to enter the political arena. I always thought that it should be there, and there was a time when I madly contemplated running for election on that single issue—"vote for the commuter's best friend". However, I lacked the nerve and left the subject to gloomy conversations and furious letters to local newspapers.
Today we have before us, for the ninth time, the plight of the millions who live in and around this enormous capital and who have to earn their daily bread by a daily penance. Even that is becoming harder as the SouthEast is now in the forefront of the rise in unemployment.
Nobody knows today how long a journey will take, even without the bomb scares. Diligent workers may arrive late, tired and frayed before they start their day's work. As their journeys are more costly than anywhere else in the kingdom, and possibly most places in Europe, their employers have to pay them more in wages. In a time of recession that may be a contributory cause of employers in the service industry cutting down on staff or closing their businesses.
The travel problem might have been tackled more successfully in the days of the Thatcher economic miracle than it could be now. However, in those days there was little action, but many studies. Mr. Ridley set up four in 1984 at a cost of £10 million. But seven years later it is no easier to move around London and the environment is no better. The trouble has been that too many people in positions of power have made 1405 a basic assumption that everybody must be able to drive everywhere at any time. So they have tried to identify ways of relieving congestion by road building, road widening, road tunnels, bridges, underpasses, and flyovers. The contribution that has to be made by better public transport was disregarded for a time by the eminent consultants.
However, the citizens of London, regardless of their party loyalties, set up pressure groups and a series of societies making expert studies of traffic around London. One of these days they may produce a Napoleon of Notting Hill. Those people made it clear that the road options would not work and last year Mr. Parkinson wisely dropped them—or was obliged to drop them. However, as there has been no significant advance in public transport in 1991 the situation, is worse than it was in Mr. Ridley's day.
Mr. Channon, however, called for a rail study and a report was published in 1989. The report's chart outlined in red all the routes on Network SouthEast and the Underground on which there was not just overcrowding but excessive overcrowding. Noble Lords may wonder what constitutes non-excessive overcrowding. It seems that tolerable overcrowding only occurs when there is only one person standing for every one person sitting on an Underground train. It is all right in a modern South-East network carriage if there are only 35 passengers standing and they do not have to stand for more than 20 minutes. Most of the radial routes in Greater London were outside those modest standards and were coloured red on the chart: unacceptable overcrowding.
A number of options were provided for remedial action: extension to the Jubilee Line, an east-west crosslink joining St. Marylebone with Liverpool Street and a new Chelsea to Hackney underground line. I should like to ask the Minister what progress has been made with those schemes. I understand that during the next 12 months the Bill for the Jubilee Line will be passed and the line should be working by 1996. That is hardly rapid relief. However, it seems that the east-west crosslink will be even slower to appear. The Bill is expected late this year—one year after Mr. Parkinson promised it—and with luck the trains may be rolling before the end of the millenium.
For the Chelsea to Hackney line the prospects are less certain than they were. Last month the line was safeguarded, but that is all. There is no timetable. It seems that everything depends on whether the money can be found. So I must ask: will it ever be built? Can the Minister say what its future will be? After all, the Department of Transport, British Rail, London Transport and London Underground in their joint report said that a package of that sort was essential if the worst overcrowding were to be ended. Even if all that goes ahead, according to the most optimistic timetable there will still be grotesque and dangerous overcrowding until the end of the century.
The road engineers thought that the rail developments in prospect would do no more than ease the journeys of existing passengers. They did not think that they would be sufficient to persuade car commuters to take to rail. They are probably right. 1406 The present rail system, which carries three-quarters of the commuters into London, will need not just the uplift that is promised but a transformation if the workers of London are to get to their work in time and reasonable comfort every day.
Yet the fact is that there is no shortage of rail projects which together could end all the overcrowding and also do much to clear the congestion from the roads. Alas, the political will is not there. As the central London rail report makes clear, government policy is to approve investment in railways where it will earn a commercial return. The Government believe that the best returns on capital should be on those schemes which best meet the needs of passengers as assured by their willingness to pay for them. Only in rare cases will the Government be convinced that there are sufficient non-user benefits to justify a grant. In other words, the passenger, the man or woman travelling between home and work, will have to pay much more for his fares if there is to be some kind of final relief for the present situation.
As my noble friend on the Front Bench said, the problem demands strategic planning and long-term investment. Traffic and travel problems are strangling the South East. If the Government are not warned by the sight and consequences of overcrowding and congestion they will have to pay a political price for their ideological blindness, mismanagement, lethargy before a soluble problem and lack of concern for the hard-working people of the South East.
§ 3.55 p.m.
§ Earl Attlee
My Lords, I start by making my usual declaration of interest: I am in receipt of a small pension from British Rail. For seven years I was Assistant Public Relations Publicity Officer at Waterloo Station dealing with the Southern Region (as it was then). I travel every day on Network SouthEast and every day on London Underground. Sometimes I wonder whether I travel on a completely different set of Underground trains and Network SouthEast trains than do other noble Lords.
I did not attend the debate last Monday but I understand that one noble Lord who happens to live in the South East complained about snow. He said that there were only two or three inches of it. I live just outside Aldershot and as a matter of interest at that time I took a steel rule and measured the snow. When I went to bed there was no snow on my car roof but when I got up in the morning three inches of snow had fallen and there were up to five inches of snow in the garden. That is quite a difference.
At the Underground stations one can see a train which comes in crowded and people push themselves on board. If one walks to one end of the platform one can get on an Underground train and usually find a seat. If one cannot do so, one can wait for the next train, which will probably be almost empty. The fact remains that people leave their work at a certain time and want to catch a particular train. They know that if they travel in a certain compartment they will stop near the exit. When the train stops they all rush out and cram the escalators and passageways. If, for 1407 example, they arrive at Waterloo, they go to the same platform and pour themselves on to the same train. If only they would be willing to wait for just a short time, the following train would probably get them to their destination just a few minutes later and they would have been able to travel in comfort.
I admit that I am lucky because I do not have to travel in the morning rush-hour. That is my luck. But one cannot blame British Rail for overcrowding. It is not British Rail's fault. It is the responsibility of the employers in London who want all their workers in their offices and factories at one and the same time. What is British Rail expected to do? One cannot have longer trains on Southern Region because many of the platforms are not long enough. If one were to put on longer trains, filling up the first half and then moving the train up to fill the second half, it would delay them for far too long.
If one looks at the railroad line map one will see outside most stations of British Rail Southern Region that there are masses of points, cross-overs and so on. In order to extend the platform the track would have to be realigned, which would be very expensive. I sometimes think that if there were a survey which asked the average traveller on Network SouthEast what his ideal train service would be, he would reply, "Well, I should like to get to the station in the morning and catch my train. I should like that train to run non-stop from my station to a London terminus". What would he say in the evening? "I wish to get on my train at Waterloo. I want it to run non-stop to my home station".
Mention has been made of the south coast route. I received communications from people who complained that unless Ashford International Station is built, they will lose business and people will make unnecessary journeys. When I was with British Rail we undertook a survey about the south coast route. We asked people, "Do you use it?" If the answer was yes, that was fine. If not, we asked, "Why not?" The most important question was, "Do you want to retain the south coast route?" The vast majority said, "Yes". The catch question was, "Why?" The answer was, "For when my car is off the road". I do not joke. People wanted a rail system along the south coast for those times when the car was off the road or the wife or husband was using it. One cannot run such a rail system. The cost would be prohibitive.
I have referred to overcrowding and whose fault it is. With regard to filth on the trains, BR does not employ one single person to throw litter on trains or concourses. The people who do so are the passengers. They are no longer called passengers; they are customers. It is the customers who make the mess, not British Rail. Yet everyone complains about British Rail. They say, "British Rail crams us on trains under conditions which would be illegal if we were cattle". They are not cattle; they are meant to be thinking people. If they do not like the conditions, let them take an earlier train or even a later train. It is up to them. One cannot blame British Rail for every single ill.
1408 If one wishes to blame the Government, I believe that there is one single factor involved. Investment has not been forthcoming. If we do not receive investment, the system closes down. My home station is often closed in the late evening. That is a danger especially for lady passengers. If there are no taxis and they do not have a car, they do not even have the satisfaction of knowing that there will be a British Rail employee present to look after them.
On Monday a noble Lord who is not present—I shall not mention his name—said quite casually that British Rail staff are disloyal. I do not believe that. It may happen on some lines; but on the line from the coast through Basingstoke to London the staff are kind, thoughtful and courteous. There was a hold-up the other day. The excuses are always met with a grin. The reason why I arrived late in your Lordships' House was that we were stuck outside Clapham Junction because the police had switched off the current. They had lost one of their prisoners and were trying to find him. Everyone said, "That's a new excuse for British Rail"—but it happened to be true.
There was reference in the papers today to the fact that people wanted to open some of the lines closed during the Beeching axe. It sounds lovely in theory. But why were those lines cut? It was because they were uneconomic and did not have the passengers or freight to make them viable. One must remember such factors.
There has been reference, quite rightly, to the use of old stock, which is wrong. I do not blame British Rail for that. The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, said that the coaches in one of the accidents which were badly damaged were all old stock. I refer your Lordships to an accident which took place at Eltham Well Hall. The train came off the rails. It was being driven too fast on a curve. I was there all night looking after the press. The front and rear bogies had sheared off a coach; the shaft was massive. The wheel had gone. But the coach was sitting there. I showed the journalists one end of the coach: one window only was broken. It was a modern coach of modern construction with crumple-free zones and so on. The next day the press used photographs and stated, "This stock is wonderful".
Finally, in comparing southern England with the Continent, one must remember that we have a short route with many stations, thousands of points and lines all over the place. In France or Germany one can travel in a straight line. Of course trains can reach speeds of 200 kilometres per hour. In England we cannot do so unless we build a straight track. If we did that British Rail trains would run just as fast as the French trains.
§ 4.6 p.m.
§ Lord Jay
My Lords, in answering a Question on Thursday of last week about damage to London Transport and London Underground in particular by the financial targets enforced on them by the present Government, the Minister said in effect that it was all a matter for London Underground management and hardly anything to do with the Government. But this 1409 Government took over control of London Transport by the London Regional Transport Act of 1984. The Government appoint the directors. They lay down limits for both capital and current expenditure and have power under the Act to give directions to the enterprise on all manner of subjects. So, whatever else may be the case, it is not for the Government to give orders to London Transport and then blame the resulting damage on the management which is merely trying to carry out the orders that it is given.
As a result of such interference by the Government with London Transport since 1984, it has, frankly, been reduced to a state of disruption and poor services such as has not existed in my memory at any time between 1920 and 1984. It did not exist even in the 1940–1944 Blitz years—and I speak as someone who has travelled on the system since 1917.
The financial cuts have led to acute undermanning and staff shortage throughout the enterprise. Staff shortage in turn has led to failures of maintenance, chronic delays, dangerous overcrowding and not merely risk of accidents but actual accidents on the Underground. Government funding for future capital investment has been increased. However, it is the cut in current expenditure and current grants which is damaging the services. As recently as 1987 the operating loss covered by grants to London Underground was £288 million a year. In 1989 it was announced that this was going to be turned into a profit by 1993–94. The management is now struggling by cutting staff to break even by the end of the present year.
Total LRT staff stood at 56,600 in 1984; and services, including maintenance, were reasonably adequate at that time. By December 1987, staff numbers had been cut to 42,800 and the troubles began A month ago London Underground announced another drop of 1,000 designed to meet present financial targets in spite of all the promises made after the King's Cross fire and the Fennell Report. At the end of the debate perhaps the Minister will say what are the latest staff figures as regards London Underground.
The results of that undermanning are failures of maintenance and signalling, cancellations, delays and incidents which we are all suffering and which are announced almost daily, although inaudibly, by the loudspeakers on the Underground. Driver-only buses and trains are contributing to the further lengthening of journey times.
For all those reasons, in my experience, journeys on the Underground which from 1920 to 1984 took 30 minutes now take 45 minutes. Journeys which used to take 45 minutes now take one hour or more. Of course for that service, we pay higher fares.
Because 2.5 million people use London Underground every day, that slowdown represents an enormous loss of working time to the public in the capital. Indeed, that loss illustrates what I find to be the rather glaring illumination of the double standards which this Government apply to private and public transport. When the department's economists are 1410 assessing whether or not to build a motorway, they work out the time spent by the expected travellers. The larger the income of those people, the greater is the argument for the motorway. However, when it comes to settling the right financial targets for London Underground, I strongly suspect that nobody takes into account the loss of time of 2.5 million people travelling on it every day. If I am wrong about that, I shall be glad to be told so by the Minister. However, that is how it appears to me.
The main economic case for a revenue subsidy to London Underground rests squarely on the fact that the existence of the Underground prevents congestion on the surface which would make roads absolutely impassable. In that way, the Underground gives a huge benefit to the road user for which those road users do not pay. That is a further sound economic argument for a long term grant.
Indeed, that is why the electric railways of Paris enjoy a revenue subsidy of £500 million per year. That covers 60 per cent. of the current costs of the undertaking, leaving only 40 per cent to he covered by receipts from fares. As a result, Paris has a system which is now far better than ours and is a considerable national asset and tourist attraction.
On top of all that, the cuts in London Regional Transport staff due to the Government's financial targets are beginning to pose a serious risk to safety on the Underground. I assure the Minister, having experienced it, that it is no fun waiting on a stationary overcrowded tube train in a tunnel with no idea how long one is going to be there or why one is there—and that is putting it mildly. In November 1987 the Fennell Report on the King's Cross fire found that the fire was due to lack of maintenance on the escalators. The report said:when the budget for escalator cleaning was reduced, the effects were not fully considered at the appropriate level".The lift and escalator engineer said that he did not succeed in monitoring escalator cleaning standards to his satisfaction nor did he have enough staff to do so. That was in 1987. A fortnight ago a crowded Central Line train near Liverpool Street caught fire. It stopped in the tunnel with 500 people aboard for five hours before the passengers escaped. Some of them went to hospital. Of course, we do not yet know whether that fire was due to lack of maintenance on the train or the track or to something else. I imagine that before long we shall be told what was the cause.
In view of that, it is not very reassuring for the 2.5 million people who travel weekly or daily on the Underground to learn that, despite that further incident, the Underground management, in its efforts to save manpower and meet the Government's financial targets, has sent a circular to the staff saying that in future, when driver-only trains catch fire in tunnels, the rescue of passengers must be organised by the passengers themselves because savings are being made by doing away with guards. The Minister did not deny the existence of that circular when I asked him about it on Thursday of last week. Perhaps he can confirm the existence of that circular.
1411 According to the Financial Times of 27th February the circular states also that, in the case of fire or smoke in driver-only trains or in tunnels, drivers will be told to select a responsible passenger and leave the remaining passengers under his care. The responsible passenger will be told also "how and when to discharge tractive currents using the tunnel telephone lines". If that system is put into force, the Government will bear a very heavy responsibility if there are serious accidents in the future.
There is a growing anxiety on the Underground, among both passengers and staff, that the higher priority given to safety after the Fennell Report is now being relaxed in order to save money and staff. I should like to ask the Minister whether that is true. Also, is it true that another cut of 1,000 Underground staff is to be made in the present year? Is it true that orders for improved Central Line trains and the Jubilee Line extension have been postponed again for purely financial reasons? Until those questions are satisfactorily answered, more and more people will conclude that this Government are almost solely interested in saving money and that better service for the public comes practically nowhere in their priorities.
§ 4.18 p.m.
§ Lord Teviot
My Lords, like other noble Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, for giving us this opportunity to discuss the problems of transport in London and the South East. It was a great pleasure to listen to him. When I first came to your Lordships' House I was told to put a smile in the voice. He did just that; there was a smile in the voice throughout his speech. Also, it was only at minute 15 that he casually mentioned buses. Perhaps the noble Lord looked at his list of speakers and decided that all aspects of transport would be catered for. I am sure that in his winding up, the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, will do just that.
Before I speak on the situation of buses, I wish to make a few remarks to put the matter in context. Recent disruptions to public transport in the South East caused by weather and terrorist activities have highlighted public and business reliance on transport. Of course, it is all too easy to highlight the problems and ignore some of the significant achievements.
Demand for transport in the South East is greater than elsewhere in the United Kingdom; for example, three quarters of the demand for United Kingdom international air travel originates in the South East. More people are moved in and out of London by train and road than in any other city in the country. The continued growth of the South East as a centre for business and leisure will place even greater demands on transport. In addition, the expected growth in car ownership—and the United Kingdom has a lower car ownership per head of population than many of our compatible neighbours in Europe—means that grave problems lie ahead. That is not very good news. More cars mean greater environmental pollution as a result of congestion.
1412 However, buses remain the only under-utilised form of public transport. Suburban trains and the Underground are suffering from gross overloading, which has been mentioned by the noble Lords, Lord Ardwick and Lord Jay, and that is totally intolerable. But there is still space on buses.
I recall remarks made by the late Baroness Hornsby-Smith, who represented a constituency in North Kent for many years. Also, I am sad not to see the noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, on the Front Bench opposite, who I am sure would agree with me. North Kent probably suffers worse from crush loading.
Journeys are viable only if the buses can move so more space has to be given to them. Those special lanes must be cleared and rather nasty penalties should be imposed. One sympathises with the milk float and other essential delivery vans, but surely they can be scheduled not to operate in bus lanes at peak hours.
I should like to mention one or two platitudinous phrases, in almost staccato sentences as they stand by themselves. Bus routes are capable of rapid expansion for a nominal cost, and they are the only form of public passenger transport which has no control of its track. Nevertheless, buses pay their way, as was confirmed by the right honourable Nigel Lawson when Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Again, buses are kinder to the environment. I know it was said that trains are kind, too, but buses are kinder than cars. During 1989–90, which are the last figures available, 1.6 billion passengers travelled in London and the South East. That was an increase rather than a decrease over the rest of the country.
If we give buses greater priority, they must become more reliable; and reliability is the key factor in encouraging people to use public transport. The increased use of buses would enable operators to invest in more attractive and, to use a very modern term, user-friendly buses. Given the choice between a modern reliable and moving bus or the congestion and stress of a car in traffic, I am sure that many people would leave their cars at home. In turn, car driving could once again become a pleasurable activity. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Lucas will agree with that. Many of your Lordships must travel here by train, and feel happier and more content than if you had been sitting in a traffic jam.
Clearly the demand for transport in the South East is growing. Therefore we need to ensure that all modes play a full part. It seems a pity to prevent one mode—the bus —from doing its job. Let us give priority to the important part of transport. Let us remember that buses still carry 80 per cent. of all passengers who use public transport. That 80 per cent. merits special consideration.
The Bus and Coach Council has produced an excellent document called Buses mean Business, which encourages local authorities to give greater priority to buses. This was firmly backed by the Minister, Mr. Roger Freeman, in another place as recently as 6th 1413 February. May London continue with this successful tendering process; it has brought competition and sharpened up its own operations.
Lastly on buses, I should like to state that in London it is sociable for citizens of all walks of life to use buses. You are not a non-U person if you do catch a bus, but out of London that is not so. So let us get over these hang-ups which appear in all walks of life. But that means that we have to get the timetables ready. Operators, local authorities and publishers must tell us when the buses run. With more people travelling on buses costs will come down.
At this point, I should quietly sit down, but I have been asked to mention another point to do with rail. East Sussex County Council is still rather concerned about the line from Hastings to Ashford and competition with the Channel Tunnel. I thought that the Channel Tunnel was not in the spirit of this debate, but other noble Lords have mentioned it. I have sent my noble friend a missive, which I am sure he does not have time to answer today. But perhaps he could write to me or I will ask a suitable Question for Written Answer about the upgrading and electrification of the Hastings to Ashford line, so that East Sussex can compete. Hastings is still a very poor relation and it, and other parts of East Sussex, have a very good point.
I welcome the speaker who will follow me, because one happy day last summer I was crossing the forecourt of Victoria station and was waved to by a lady in a very pretty frock. It made my day to see the Lord Lieutenant of Greater London sitting on a bus.
§ 4.29 p.m.
§ Baroness Phillips
My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Lord ended his speech with a compliment because I cannot say nice things in return about his buses. Every time we debate this subject everybody grinds on about his own interest, so I shall come back to mine.
I wonder how your Lordships came to this House today. To judge by the knocking of the car, everybody came by bus or train, or some walked or cycled, and nobody seems to have driven here. Therefore I am rather mystified as to why the car park outside always seems to be full of cars. They must belong to the staff whom we pay so well.
We must realise that the car is with us and it gives pleasure. I happen to be of the generation who remembers when we did not have cars, when it took a day to go from where I live in Fulham to Orpington in order to visit an aunt in the country, as we called it. I am delighted that the car provides me with an opportunity to see my brother and my other relatives and friends easily because even now the railway, I am sorry to say, is not going to make the journey easy.
My noble friend on the Front Bench covered everything so marvellously, as did subsequent speakers, that I shall just give my opinion. Bus travel at the moment is hopeless. I am not quite sure why this is but I suspect that funds were not given to London Transport. A one-man system just does not work. It causes congestion. If there is danger—and I have 1414 neighbours who have been in dangerous situations on buses at night—the driver cannot leave the driving seat. Besides, look at the other danger in all this. If the driver has a heart attack, there is only him.
I am proud to be a Londoner and I still live in the borough I was born in. It is a jolly good borough. We do not have a good football team, but you cannot have everything. We have always used buses and the Underground. But half my neighbours now do not. Why? First, they find the bus dangerous to get in, the steps are extraordinarily high, and some of them are old and they cannot risk it. They are definitely frightened of the Underground—there is no question about that—because of the crime. It is not only the waiting in the tunnels. Again, where are the people to manage? We are always saving on people. When I used the Underground every day you had porters on the platform. Nowadays if something goes wrong there is nobody to go to. We have to put it in order if we want people to use it.
Then again let us look at the question of roads. It is not the car that causes congestion; it is the enormous lorries. No other capital city in the world allows great articulated lorries to go through the centre. I did my own bit of research coming to the House in a car—a hired car, which I have to pay for. I was sitting on the Embankment, and for every car there were three lorries.
Where were these lorries going? I had an example this morning outside my own house. There was an enormous articulated lorry. He was stuck. He could not move. He could not go forward because of roadworks in the road. First the Gas Board dig it up, and then the Electricity Board dig it up, then British Telecom dig it up. Now I believe it is the sewers' turn. So the road is filled up. The man cannot move one way and he cannot move the other way. But the point is that he was trying to get down to a building site on the river. He had come all the way from Sweden. From Sweden! We have a Dutch company building Hammersmith Broadway, and now they have to bring the articles to be used from Sweden. You see, my Lords, if you did not already know, I am no European. We create a lot of this traffic on the roads because we do not utilise our own industries in the way they should be utilised.
The freight must be on the rail. There is no question about that. I helped to produce one of the original Labour Party plans. It is always useful to look back to see how far we have progressed. Well, we have not had a government to progress with since this one. Each plan dealing with transport always stated that it must be an alliance of road and rail. There is no other way to work. The heavy freight must go on the rail.
Now let us look at the stations we have in London. I would advise your Lordships to avoid Liverpool Street. If you actually have to go there, it is exactly like crossing a building site. It is slightly worse than parts of London docklands, and that is saying something. As I want the Olympics here in the year 2000 I hope they are going to sort it out.
1415 What do you want a station for? A station has a simple function. You go there as a passenger, you want a train to get on, you may want a few seats for waiting and you do not want to wait too long. But now, because they want to make money, they are creating shops. When you enter Euston you have to walk about a quarter of a mile to get to a train. There are no porters to help you with your luggage. You cannot get the trolleys up and down the stairs. I do not know what brainwave they had there. Now at Liverpool Street I have been taken across on a trolley because there is no other way to get across. Again we are going to have shops at Waterloo. I speak with some feeling about Charing Cross. I had a small office behind Charing Cross. Charing Cross was practically closed while the building group, Greycoat, actually rebuilt Charing Cross and put in shops. That is not what railway stations are for.
There are two sorts of people that I have got it in for. First, there are the people who carry the heavy freight, the articulated lorries, and, by golly, the property developers. Why complain if a lot of people have to come into London when the only thing that has been built in the city for years now has been offices? Offices, offices, and more offices. They evidently get so much money out of them that they can let them stand empty. Therefore, we have to look at several other aspects when we look at congestion.
I wonder why British Rail had to have those expensive advertisements on television. It is marvellous to spend millions on telling us how lovely it is, but we do not have any option if we want to go anywhere. Why bother to advertise a monopoly? I have never understood that. In the old days too the people at the top came from the bottom, and they understood things. They were not accountants, business managers or PR men. They were people actually who understood transport. That is what we have to get back to; a pride in our transport.
At the moment it is not much good telling us not to use the car because people will use a car as they cannot spend the time, or do not want to run the risk of the danger, or they do not want the discomfort of travelling on public transport. I would make developers pay a much larger contribution for everything they run for their transport costs. I would tax all heavy vehicles very heavily.
I quote now from a 1974 booklet of the Labour Party:The energy crisis has underlined our objective to move as much traffic as possible from road to rail and to water".We still are not using the Thames enough. There are ways of curing the situation, but the transport system and the roads must be funded properly and for the right reasons, not merely to make shareholders richer.
§ 4.37 p.m.
Lord Wallace of Coslany
My Lords, as a commuter of some 60 years, mainly on routes through the South East of London, I feel it is rather necessary that I should speak in the debate. The last time I took part in a similar debate was on 2nd May 1947, nearly 44 1416 years ago. It took place in this Chamber, then temporarily another place. The debate was led by Ashley Bramall, then MP for Bexley, and the subject was gross overcrowding on trains and delays.
I have a press cutting here from the Daily Mirror. The headline readsMP says packed trains twisted his figure, made him [stand] like the stork".I am afraid that I made that remark.
Here we are today, all over again, debating the same issue. Travelling conditions are not much changed. One big change, however, is the cost. Forty-four years ago the cheap day fare was is 2½d; now it is £2.40. The trains then consisted of single compartments. Now we have larger compartments. But still overcrowding exists. Although attacks, mainly on women, have highlighted the danger of single compartments, many trains still have them. On Monday I had to get in one simply to obtain a seat. It was the only seat available. When are these ancient coaches to be taken out of use? Far too many are in operation.
We are told that improvements are to be made to rolling stock. That appears to be in the distant future. There have been some improvements to stations. However, the staffing situation is worse. Many stations have few or no staff on duty after around 6.30 in the evening. That can be a serious matter.
Charing Cross station has been improved. There are seats on platforms. But there is no seating on the concourse. And it is on the concourse that one must wait when there are delays for one never knows from which platform the train will depart. I used to sit on rubbish bins. They were quite comfortable, having soft rubber on top. Unfortunately, they were recently removed in light of the IRA chaos.
For older people it is no joke standing in a large crowd. The situation is worse when a train arrives. A mass of people try to alight and a larger mass try to get into the train. Overcrowding has become a way of life for the majority of London workers. With extensive office building taking place, including building over many London stations such as Charing Cross, the situation is likely to become worse.
The effect of strain on individual health can be great. It impairs working efficiency and may cause problems at home. Only this week a certain lady I know said that her husband had come home and complained bitterly that he could not stand it any more and intended to pack it in. She reminded him, somewhat forcefully, that he was not the only one involved; most people who have to travel to work experience the same problem.
The effects on health and efficiency at work should be considered. One stands in a crowded train for at least half an hour, races to one's office and attempts to work, and when night comes one returns home in worse conditions than when one set out that morning. It is a matter which needs serious consideration.
Longer trains and platforms are promised. The question is: when? In passing I note that according to the Guardian on Monday, a possible item for the Tory election manifesto is a scheme whereby vouchers will be given for delays on trains or industrial action on 1417 railways. That is no answer to the problem. It is absolute nonsense. In regard to the Dartford area I suggest that a tube extension to Lewisham or possibly Hither Green would make an enormous difference to the overcrowding, in trains and at stations. Another solution is to speed up platform extensions and to allow longer trains, together with the provision of modern rolling stock.
All that will involve considerable financial expenditure. That has already been mentioned, and we must face up to it. Shall we stand still and do nothing? The answer will not be found in privatisation. Railways are a national asset and must remain so. Let us face the facts. We have spent, quite rightly, millions of pounds to fight another war. No questions are asked about that. Why cannot we, the people, put our resources towards funding the necessary works to make our transport facilities adequate for our needs and deal with the matter with the same single-minded approach we gave to the war? There is no other way of dealing with the problem. We must spend the money; we must improve our travel services.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Lord Geddes
My Lords, I begin this afternoon by declaring an interest in that I am a member of the board of British Rail (Southern). It is an unusual system of boards within British Rail. It is purely an advisory body acting as a link between the operating executive on the one hand and the local authorities and—dare I say it?—the paying public on the other. Therefore I shall confine my remarks to railway matters, and more specifically to Network SouthEast.
Over the past few weeks British Rail has taken a great deal of criticism and some of it—it has to be said —was justified. I should like first to deal with the problems that ensued from the terrorist bombs and hoaxes. The size of the mainline stations and the extent of passageways, subways and offices, means that searches take something over an hour to complete, and resources do not allow all 14 termini to be searched simultaneously. As noble Lords will be aware, a number of security measures have been taken including the removal of litter bins, the sealing of post-boxes and the closure of left luggage lockers and offices. Following reopening of stations, service disruption is extensive and inevitable. However, if passenger safety is to continue to be given priority, little can be done to prevent that.
Regarding the vexed question of the weather, contrary to popular public opinion—and, I have to admit, the experience of some noble Lords—the whole British Rail network did not collapse between 7th and 10th February. A limited, albeit sometimes severely limited, service operated on most routes. The real villain of the piece is the system of electrification—known as third-rail electrification—and the method of air-cooling. There are three main reasons why the majority of continental systems operate so much better than we do in adverse weather.
First, such conditions are for them much more the norm and for us the exception. Secondly, they use overhead electrification. The third rail system was 1418 introduced in the South-East in 1915 and is a historical millstone. By definition having the source of power at ground level must make it more susceptible to adverse weather. However the cost of converting the Southern Region alone to overhead electrification would be around £1.25 million per route mile. That is estimated to be in the region of £1.75 billion overall. A figure of such magnitude to convert the entire system within the network cannot seriously be considered.
Thirdly, design problems exist which result in snow damaging traction motors and sliding-door mechanisms. Solutions have been found. British Rail is in the process of undertaking a review of those aspects, including the cost of the necessary modifications. Although I do not suppose it provides much comfort to noble Lords, Parisians suffered the same breakdown of services during the recent bad weather when powdery snow entering the electronic control gear of suburban trains caused severe damage and disruption.
I should like to draw attention to the more general issues concerning British Rail in the South East. The demands for its services are greater than ever. In excess of 2 million journeys are undertaken each week. Slightly under half a million commuters travel to central London each day by British Rail. That is the highest number ever recorded. Each and every passenger has a right to expect his or her train to be reliable, punctual, clean and to have the necessary capacity.
I shall deal with each of those four points in turn. As regards reliability, British Rail's target is for 99 per cent. of train services to be run. In 1989–90, the last year for which statistics are available, only 96 per cent. ran. That is clearly not good enough and British Rail accepts that. On the question of punctuality, British Rail aims to ensure that 90 per cent. of its trains arrive within five minutes of the scheduled time. My own view is that that 90 per cent. is itself too low. Be that as it may, the 1989–90 statistics show that that 90 per cent. was achieved.
As regards cleaning, all trains should be washed outside daily. In 1989–90, only 70 per cent. of that target was achieved. But that was mainly due to water shortage. At the request of the Kent and Sussex water authorities, British Rail reduced washing to an absolute minimum. Indeed washing equipment was not used for over one year. The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, said earlier in the debate that not all the arrows can be pointed in British Rail's direction. There are many mitigating circumstances.
Concerning capacity, the situation is less satisfactory. In 1989–90, capacity targets were exceeded by 3.5 per cent. which means that far too many people did not get seats on their journeys. However, British Rail has constructive proposals for dealing with this problem with the introduction of its new networker service. This train in theory, and it should do so in practice, offers a 10 per cent. increase in capacity while using 25 per cent. less energy and costing 15 per cent. less to maintain. By 1996 it is planned that 1,794 networker coaches should be in operation; in other 1419 words, 25 per cent. of the total fleet. In addition British Rail is planning to complete the CrossRail and Thameslink Metro by 1998. As your Lordships may know, CrossRail will be a tunnel under central London between Paddington and Liverpool Street, linking services from Aylesbury, Reading and Heathrow in the West, to Southend in the East.
That will result in major time-saving benefits to passengers and also relieve congestion on the Underground and roads such as the Cromwell Road. The Thameslink Metro is based on the completion of the King's Cross development and increased capacity at London Bridge. It would allow a significant increase in trains running via Thameslink; namely, through King's Cross, Farringdon, St. Paul's and London Bridge, besides the introduction of through services from Cambridge, Peterborough and Bedford on the one hand, to points south of the River such as Gatwick Airport and Ashford International on the other.
Sir Bob Reid, the present and newly-appointed chairman of British Rail, has said that he regards the improvement of communication to be an absolute priority, not only when services are disrupted but especially at those times. From a personal viewpoint, that point is continually and emphatically raised at every British Rail (Southern) Board meeting that I have attended. We regard as appalling the way in which British Rail customers are not kept informed. It is equally remarkable just how much Joe Public will tolerate if he is kept informed. It is such a basic point. We are hammering it as hard as we can; we hope we are winning.
More generally, over the six months of my association with British Rail (Southern), I have been heartened not only by the proposed improvements of which I was unaware until I did join the board, but also of the very high calibre and attitude of the senior staff. I admit that neither I nor others of my colleagues have been quite so impressed by the attitude of the less senior staff. There British Rail has a major problem on its hands. The Government's approach to British Rail's very real attempts to rise to the challenge are welcome but only as far as they go. I listened with the greatest of interest last Monday to the debate in this House on the EC Report on Community Railways.
My noble friend on the Front Bench, Lord Brabazon of Tara, said in that debate—I am deliberately extracting points to make my point—
we see no case for putting public money into rail investment where no clear external benefits can be demonstrated … the Government do not support increased Community funding of rail infrastructure investment".—[Official Report, 4/3/91; cols. 1243 and 1244.]I am still left with the question: why, or indeed why not?
Therefore the first problem that British Rail has to face must amount to this: what is the Government's policy on rail transport? To what extent are the Government prepared to encourage rail travel to relieve road congestion and its attendant environmental problems? My noble friend also said last Monday 1420 that the Government's financial programmes work on a three-year basis. I understand that, but I also criticise it. He went on to say that,does not prevent British Rail from planning further ahead itself".—[col. 1246.]I hope that I have already demonstrated the extent to which British Rail needs to plan ahead. Some of the projects which it has on its shopping list are for 15 to 17 years ahead. I am not saying today that there is nothing wrong with British Rail or that substantial improvements are not necessary. That would be manifestly untrue. However, British Rail is making a very genuine attempt to improve. With Sir Bob Reid in the chair, we can expect strong leadership from him and therefore the essential change in attitude in British Rail staff to one of pride in their job and of service to the customer. However, how can British Rail plan properly when investment levels more than three years ahead can be based only on educated guesswork? In effect, the Government are asking British Rail to run a marathon but will not tell it the route to take or even provide the proper running shoes.
§ 4.57 p.m.
§ Lord John-Mackie
My Lords, like my noble friend Lord Wallace of Coslany, my qualifications for speaking in this debate are that, although I have not been driving in this area for quite as long as he has, I have been driving mostly in and out of London since 1953, especially in the past 25 to 30 years. In that time I have noted the difference in the traffic. It is interesting to note that as soon as a dual carriageway is constructed which takes traffic out into the country, the traffic increases. That has happened on the A.10 which is the road that I use to come into London. Enormous differences have taken place.
When I was in the other place I always used my car to drive in. That was a distance of 22 miles and I managed to do that in under an hour. I still drive in. My noble friend Lady Phillips is not here so I do not need to apologise to her for using my car, though I am now driven. The journey now takes anything up to an hour and-a-half. If one travels in the rush hour the journey can take nearly two hours. Since I came to this House in 1981 I have used public transport a great deal.
There are two problems. The first is the long-term problem which we have been discussing. I hope that the enthusiasm shown by the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, will bear some fruit because British Rail has an awful lot to do. How does one get the tens of thousands of people who travel to work daily by motor car to transfer to public transport and in some comfort? After all, in spite of traffic jams, at least one is comfortable in a motor car. Is there a case for helicopter transport? After all, there is not a great deal of congestion in the air 500 feet above London and one can land a helicopter on a tennis court. I have had one land on my tennis court. I agree it would be expensive but a good many people could afford it. It might well take off the road a few Rolls-Royces, which take up a good deal of room. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, can give that suggestion some thought if he is looking for something to do in the future.
1421 There is the immediate problem of the present chaos on our roads, not only in London but on the roads around London and the South East in general. Need I mention the M.25? The two problems interlock, but let us look first at the long term problem. To relieve the congestion on the roads how can we persuade these tens of thousands of motorists to use public transport? At present public transport is appalling, and I use the word with some feeling. My experience in travelling from Broxbourne—it is not a long journey and I travel home again often in the rush hour—is that the journey can be appalling. If I travel at any time near the rush hour—from 4 p.m. to 6.30 p.m.—I have to stand in the tube from Westminster to Liverpool Street. Then I have to barge through the crowds. People who are going to Bishop's Stortford in order to go to Stansted find that undertaking the journey with their luggage is very difficult indeed. Having to change at Liverpool Street is a bit of a burden as well. On many occasions I have had to stand in a first-class carriage choked full with second-class passengers. Such conditions will not attract motorists off the road at the present moment.
I have spoken about this matter to a railway official whom I know very well. I suggested that we should have bigger trains and more of them. He pointed out to me that this would create more congestion than there is at the moment because the lines are simply not capable of carrying more and bigger trains. He was quite emphatic that extra lines are required. He also pointed out that it would be better if some of the suburban lines—in particular the Cambridge line and the Hertford line into Liverpool Street—could be directed into Charing Cross and so give commuters a seat all the way without their having to make this dreadful change at Liverpool Street.
In addition, there are no elevators at Westminster Station, at Liverpool Street Station or at my local station at Broxbourne. We all have to climb stairs. Some of the flights of stairs are very bad indeed and I have fall en down twice in the past year.
An expansion of the Central Line might be a tremendous help. The line goes right to Ongar through Epping. If that line could be doubled up it would give many people comfort all the way through to the centre of London. Trying to get people to use the trains under the present packed conditions will not work at all. I am sure that the situation I describe is similar to that described by my noble friend Lord Wallace on his line. I am sure that it is the same all around London.
To carry out the suggestions which have been made in this debate would cost an enormous amount of money and, quite frankly, would never be undertaken privately. If public money is not found, we shall never get this enormous number of car drivers off the road. I do not travel a great deal by bus, but I must admit I rather enjoy a ride on a bus. But due to traffic jams they are often late and are not very much better than the railways from that point of view.
There have been suggestions about charging cars to come into London. I wonder where one would start? Would one be charged when one crossed the M.25 or would one need to come to the North and South Circular Roads before one needed permission to come 1422 into the centre of London? How much would the charge be? Would it be enough to force people onto the railways? I should like to hear some ideas about that. I am told that between 70 per cent. and 80 per cent. of cars coming into London are company cars. Their drivers are sometimes not too concerned about expense and might be perfectly willing to pay a large charge. It would be interesting to see how that would work. I saw an advertisement about the setting up of a small company to organise car sharing. I have never seen anything more about that and I wonder whether the idea has got off the ground. I do not think it has, but there is no doubt that car sharing could help.
In the present situation I do not think that charging will do the trick. That leaves us with a ban on cars unless one can prove the absolute necessity of coming into London by car. Again, there are huge problems. Would this work and who would decide the necessity? This point has been put forward and I think it is worth looking at.
Some of the points made during the debate should be insisted upon. There should be no parking within 25 yards of traffic lights. I come down to Smithfield. Two main roads cross there—Clerkenwell Road and Charterhouse Street. There is a tremendous amount of traffic turning right to go down to Smithfield. There are cars parked on the left and there you are stuck. Right-turning cars have to wait for traffic lights and one is left stranded. It is quite frustrating and there seems to be no effort to stop this. I am sure there are many places with similar problems. Some of the biggest sinners are property developers. For nearly a fortnight a full skip sat within 20 yards of the lights. I do not know who was supposed to shift it.
Co-operation between road menders and traffic departments is pretty poor. I travelled out of London through Camden Town the other day. Halfway along College Street there was a huge traffic jam caused by roadworks on the left hand side and parked cars on the right, making it one way at about 5.30 p.m. to 6 p.m. I do not understand why that is allowed.
I should just like to quote my noble and learned friend Lord Brightman who was chairman of the committee which looked at the transfer of Spitalfields Market to Hackney Marshes. I do not have time to quote him in full but his words appear at col. 1564 of the Official Report of 27th July 1989. He said how important it was that this change should be attendant on the spur of the A.11 passing Leytonstone and Leyton, in order to prevent traffic using narrow one-way streets. What stage has that development reached? My noble and learned friend and I would be very interested in the Minister's reply since we both mentioned the point during the debate in July 1989.
My final point concerns slow vehicles on country roads. My industry is the biggest sinner, with tractors moving at 15 or 16 mph being followed by six or seven cars. Many years ago, when the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, was answering for the Government on traffic matters, I tried to make the point that in California it is mandatory for a slow vehicle to move over to the side of the road to allow other vehicles to pass. The noble Lord said that that would not be possible in this 1423 country. I think that it would be. The one problem is that there are far too many people in the South East of England.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ Lord Mountevans
My Lords, having declared my interest I should like to declare also my appreciation to the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, for giving us the opportunity yet again to discuss the problems of congestion in London and the South East. Before I embark on my own speech perhaps I may say that, if one remark sticks in my mind, it is the one made by my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth—that time is not on our side.
Whether we accept the CBI figure of £10 billion as being the cost per annum of this congestion—that figure is by now nearly two years old and so I wonder whether it should not be scaled up a little—or whether we accept the passenger figures that are given in the Central London Rail Study, one has to be aware that congestion is becoming a problem. The Central London Rail Study contained the hard fact that peak hour arrivals at the worst time—that is the morning peak, because the afternoon peak is more spread—had risen by some 23 per cent. between 1988 and 1990 and projected a further increase of 13 per cent. by the end of this decade. One cannot dismiss the magnitude of the problem when one looks at those figures. But nor can we dismiss what has been done about it by the Government, by British Rail and by LUL.
Since I first took part in the one of these debates we have had developments in the pipeline such as the Heathrow Express. We have the Stansted Link. We are promised the east-west crossrail. We are getting the Jubilee Line extension. The Docklands Light Railway is being extended at both ends and its stations are being extended so that capacity may increase. On the question of stations, the reconstruction of Liverpool Street mainline is nearing completion. We have King's Cross International in the pipeline. Both have the particular advantage that they make available longer platforms for suburban trains and thus give a capacity increase on the routes out of King's Cross and Liverpool Street.
There are also huge and costly reconstructions taking place on the London Underground; at the Angel, Mansion House, Victoria, London Bridge, Tottenham Court Road, Holborn Kingsway; and Chancery Lane is in the pipeline. There is a good deal of refurbishment of many BR and LUL stations. Similarly there is a refurbishment of many of the trains. We have new fleets coming on stream for British Rail. Central Line modernisation is going on which I understand will give a 16 per cent. increase in capacity. In the pipeline we have the Northern Line resignalling and modernisation. More remotely, we have Chelsea-Hackney. Closer to hand there is the Thameslink expansion and of course in the not too distant future there is the high speed link through Kent.
I would not dream of saying that all this activity will solve all the problems. The Central London Rail 1424 Study reminds us that there will still be mainline problems between Waterloo and Surbiton and between Liverpool Street and Shenfield. There will also be problems on a number of Underground sections. But I feel that my list—and I have excluded many other matters—meets fairly four square any allegations of government, British Rail and London Underground Limited inertia.
What can we do further to improve the position? We need to look at new means of finance for our public transport infrastructure investment. Additional to the fare box and the property gains which the Government hope to see but will find very difficult in many instances, one has straight grant. That is an important matter. We must continue to have grant for the foreseeable future. My noble friend Lord Teviot mentioned the electrification of the Ashford to Hastings line. I wonder whether it is right that a project such as this, which is not perhaps of national importance but is important to the people in the area, should have been delayed by three years. It is not a costly project—it will cost around £25 million—but it has been delayed for three years due to the vagaries of the economic cycle and also the irregularities of the property business. Similar circumstances are delaying the Reading-Redhill electrification to a point where it is now out of sight, whatever that might mean.
Should we not be looking for more BAA/BR type deals such as the one that is financing the Heathrow Express? Should we be looking at the American system of tax exempt bonds which was used to finance Dallas Fort Worth Airport and the Bay Area metro system? Should we be looking at the system used in France—a selective employment tax charged on Parisian employers to fund developments on the metro and suburban railways? Should we be looking at out and out privatisation, underpinned by subsidy for socially necessary services? Should we be looking at road pricing—that is a bullet, as several noble Lords have said, which we shall have to bite—with the revenue hypothecated to transport infrastructure investment? Should we follow the example of Bergen, and now Oslo, where in effect walls have been put round the cities? Every motorist driving in between, say, 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday has to pay a toll and that funding is ploughed back into transport infrastructure investment. Should we follow the Californian example and seek to penalise the car with but a single occupant? If one thinks of it in a different way that single occupant represents a load factor of 25 per cent., assuming the car is a four-seater.
That leads me to the excellent point made by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, that one of the problems we face is that we all want to get to our offices at the same time. We contribute to congestion and we demand —perhaps require—investment. But that investment is only necessary in perhaps 20 hours of the 168 there are in each week. At other times it is lying spare.
Perhaps I may refer to the load factors on British Rail. On InterCity, across the board it is 33 per cent. If we have peak hour overloading it must mean that outside the peaks it is well below that figure. The trouble with an unused seat, be it on a bus or a tube 1425 train, is that it is immediately perishable. One cannot store it anywhere. If it goes empty it is gone for good. Network SouthEast's load factor is also 33 per cent. across the board. There is plenty of spare capacity there but alas not at the times that we all demand to have it. The peak load factor on London Transport buses is said to be 60 per cent. and off peak it is as low as 14 per cent. Again there is plenty of capacity there if only we can get the buses running reliably and smoothly. Whichever way one looks at the load factors there is plenty of capacity if only we would change our travel habits.
We should ask the operators to re-examine whether pricing has a role to play in dealing with peak hour congestion. I recall that in the 1980s the Monopolies and Mergers Commission prevailed upon British Rail to bring back the early morning so-called "workman's return' which was a heavily discounted ticket either in the form of a day ticket or a season ticket. The experiment was conducted in the Medway towns. It did not do much to solve the problem. However, if one considers the traffic growth figures since the early 1980s, one wonders whether it would not be worth looking at that idea again. Similarly, one wonders whether it might not be worth looking at even bigger discounts to encourage totally off-peak travel. I appreciate that my friends in British Rail might well say that British Rail will lose revenue.
But there seems to me to be a pay-off in that if you can save investment you still have something of a balance: all right, you lose the revenue on one side but, on the other side, you save investment.
There is one final matter I should like to mention which causes me concern. It is an aspect which we must all bear in mind whenever we seek to support any infrastructure development. I refer to the fact that, although infrastructure development is designed to alleviate congestion in the long term, it produces its own short-term congestion.
Perhaps I may give your Lordships one example. We know that London Underground is seeking powers to reconstruct its station at London Bridge. We also know that British Rail will be applying to Parliament next year in order to seek powers to reconstruct the Borough Market junctions adjacent to its London Bridge station as part of the Thameslink enhancement. Further, we know that the Jubilee Line extension is due to take place and it is possible that we shall have the high-speed link and its routing towards King's Cross. If those extensions overlap too much it will cause chaos. Unfortunately, as we need them quickly, it would seem that they will overlap. As my noble friend Lord Lucas said, time is not on our side.
I believe that we must recognise the fact, without being panglossian, that Her Majesty's Government, British Rail and London Transport are doing a great deal to tackle the congestion problem. One can only hope that means will be found to enable more to be done in this connection.
§ 5.21 p.m.
§ Lord Pitt of Hampstead
My Lords, I too should like to thank my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis for giving us the opportunity to discuss the transport problems of London and the South East. I am sure 1426 that noble Lords will understand if I confine my remarks to London: it is the place that I know best. In speaking about London Transport I am speaking from personal experience.
London differs enormously from other areas in Britain in its demand for movement and for peak hour journeys by road and rail. It also differs because of the interaction of public and private transport, the multiplicity of destinations and networks, the concentration of employment in central London and the length of the journey to work. Those are factors which apply only to London and not to other British cities. The density of traffic in London is 10 times greater than the national average and off-peak traffic levels in central London are 50 times greater. Altogether, London has about 40 per cent. of the road mileage of Great Britain concentrated in 0.7 per cent. of the area and carrying about 10 per cent. of all traffic.
As everyone knows, the roads in London are terribly congested during peak hours. Congestion increases the costs of all public and private services which are dependent upon road usage. It also slows down construction and impedes maintenance both on roads and on buildings. Further, as my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis said, it has an increasing impact on the environment in terms of carbon dioxide emissions which affect global warming and atom-spheric pollution.
London is the capital and the cultural, administrative and financial heart of the nation. As a consequence, it maintains many special facilities and attracts a large number of tourists and visitors both from home and abroad. Indeed, more than 7 million people live in London. They all need to travel in connection with their work and also during their leisure time. In addition, more than ½ million people travel into the city every weekday to reach their place of work.
When people travel they want comfortable and efficient transport at a reasonable price, but unfortunately they do not get it. Perhaps I may give noble Lords an example. The buses run in convoys. Instead of a bus arriving every three or five minutes, passengers are often obliged to wait for 15 or 20 minutes, and sometimes even as long as half an hour, after which three or four buses arrive, as I said, in convoy. The first two will be overcrowded, the third will not be quite so full but the fourth bus will be half empty.
Journey times for buses also vary considerably. It can sometimes take half an hour to complete a particular journey on a bus route but the same journey may take as long as an hour and a half. It all depends on the time of day, the day of the week, the weather or indeed the season of the year.
While the Underground is better in terms of the time taken to complete the journey, travel is also made difficult because the trains run irregularly. The frequent announcements bother me. I do not know whether other people feel the same. They usually state that trains are not running on a particular line or that 1427 they are not stopping at a particular station. What is worse is that the announcements are usually either inaudible or very unclear. Moreover, the trains are dirty and the escalators and lifts unreliable and unsafe. I agree with my noble friend Lady Phillips that we need an increase in the number of staff on the Underground if we are to improve safety. Further, as we heard earlier, the fares are the highest in the world; indeed, they are twice the average of other European Community capital cities.
The Underground needs to be renovated and new lines must be built. Several speakers have already mentioned some of the new lines which it is anticipated will be built. Unfortunately, however, investments are being postponed or cancelled and tight financial targets are being imposed upon the network. It strikes me that, although they hold out the prospect of improvement through investment in the future, the Government appear to be happy to preside over declining services at present. I find the situation quite ridiculous. We need more investment in our public transport services, both as regards trains and buses, and we need better management of the fleet. Congestion should be tackled by using technology to speed up the buses. We must also impose some form of road pricing.
The Greater London Council carried out a study of the effect of supplementary licensing. Serious discussions took place during the time that I worked in County Hall about the possibility of introducing such a scheme. However, there are more sophisticated methods of road pricing. I believe that the Government should be giving serious consideration to the adoption and introduction of such a scheme at the earliest possible opportunity. For the past 30 years there has been the fear that London will grind to a halt. It is about time action was taken to remove that fear. Let us act now.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Lord Underhill
My Lords, unfortunately one of the best speakers today was left off the list! In an excellent speech, my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis set the tone for the debate. Many noble Lords agreed with his criticisms. There is obviously general dissatisfaction with the state of transport in greater London and the South East as a whole. Many noble Lords have not merely made criticisms but have put forward some useful suggestions with which I hope the Minister might find it possible to deal.
My noble friend Lord Pitt said that ½ million people came into central London daily. Figures released only 48 hours ago by the Automobile Association put the number at 1.1 million coming in daily during peak hours. The department has said that 82 per cent. of commuters travelling into central London travel on British Rail and London Regional Transport services.
Reference has been made to the Channel Tunnel. All I shall say on that subject is that unless we proceed quickly with the construction of the high speed link and the development of the rail network we may add to congestion in the South East by attracting more 1428 industry to the region to the detriment of other parts of the country which are looking forward to that rail link.
My noble friend also talked about the rail subsidy. I ask once again: how do the Government justify their policy with regard to the PSO grant to Network SouthEast? It has been drastically reduced over the years. The Government have made it clear that their intention is to phase it out by 1992–93. In an Oral Answer in the other place on 15th February Mr. Roger Freeman, Minister for Public Transport, made it clear that the full operating cost of Network SouthEast should be met by the passengers. As other noble Lords have said, higher fares are not the way to attract people on to rail or any other public service from the roads. Mr. Freeman gave another Oral Answer on 11th February when he said:British Rail is suffering from a severe labour shortage and cannot recruit and retain drivers and guards".No reason was given as to why that should be the position or what it is intended to do about it. Yet in another Answer on the same day in the same column the Minister said:There is no indication that the serious problems with Network SouthEast services have anything to do with revenue subsidy, investment or pay".—[Official Report, Commons, 11/2/91; col. 597.]That contradicts what he said earlier. If that is the position—if investment, subsidy and pay have no effect—what caused the situation described by Mr. Freeman in his original Answer?
Reference has been made to the recent speech made by Sir Bob Reid, British Rail's new chairman. I shall emphasise what Sir Bob Reid asked for. He said on 27th February that BR's long-term investment must be increased by £2 billion to meet large-scale projects which include the Channel Tunnel high speed link; and that a further £300 million a year was needed for British Rail to run more efficiently. The Minister said in our debate on Monday:Government plans allow British Rail to invest up to £4 billion in the next three years".—[Official Report, 4/3/91; col. 1246.]The important word there which I emphasise is "allow". The Government are not investing the money. They will allow British Rail to invest it out of its own funds. If British Rail does not have the revenue it cannot invest unless the Government intend to help out if British Rail does not have the necessary finance.
As many noble Lords have said, many people in London and the South East will continue to wish to use a car for some purposes. I wish to use my car for some purposes. Equally, we must consider how to reduce the use of the car, which causes congestion. As the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, said, in years to come the roads will be choked. I have reasons for using a car on some occasions to come to the House of Lords. I shall not go into my personal details, but there are two factors which cause me to use my car. The first is an inadequate bus service to my tube station; and, secondly, inadequate parking facilities near the tube station at the time when I want to travel. When I 1429 arrive the parking places are often full. If I do manage to arrive time, the parking slot is so far away that I find it almost impossible to walk to the station.
We must pay some attention to the roads. I am not ignoring the roads. We want adequate by-passes, roads to the ports and roads which are adequate for the movement of goods. While we wish to see more goods moved by rail, most of us recognise that a high concentration of goods will still be moved by road. The passage through Parliament of the New Roads and Street Works Bill will help greatly to reduce the congestion on many roads. We all supported that Bill. We had been awaiting the implementation of the Home Report for some five years. We shall discuss red routes when we deal with the Road Traffic Bill. However, we must bear in mind that those and other schemes for urban clearways for through traffic could lead to greater congestion because more people could be attracted to using the through roads into central London. When they reach central London where do they go? I live not far from the M.11. I understand the reason for the M.11 extension to Hackney; but when people reach Hackney where will they go? I have not heard that point mentioned by anyone.
The Government have fortunately conceded that the construction of more roads will not solve London's traffic problem. It is obvious from reading the road assessment reports that the answer is to pay greater attention to public transport. I make that statement and I hope that it will be accepted generally. I do not make it with a doctrinaire attitude but because the only way is to persuade people not to use their cars to come into central London.
Overcrowding has been mentioned. I was surprised —perhaps I should not have been—to read in the Guardian on 5th March a report about the Cannon Street accident inquiry. Mr. Richard Malins, the London regional planning manager for Network SouthEast, said that a recent survey had shown that 230 out of 856 trains running into London between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m. had too many standing passengers. He said that, of the 279,000 passengers on those commuter trains, no fewer than 23,339 were standing when they should not have been.
My noble friend—I call him my noble friend because he is interested in the same subject as I am —Lord Teviot mentioned buses. There must be the maximum possible development of bus lanes. I echo what my noble friend Lady Phillips said: we must consider the abolition of one-person-operated buses in central London. If there is one single problem that causes congestion in central London it is the OPO buses. The problem is bad enough where I live, in a borough just over the border from Greater London. Because people park their cars near the bus stop the bus has to halt nearer the middle of the road. If it is a one-person-operated bus, immediately there is congestion with other vehicles trying to pass.
There must be stricter enforcement of parking restrictions. It is no good having a law unless it is enforced, and the laxity over parking restrictions in many areas is one cause of congestion not only in the central area but in other parts of the South East.
1430 The Government must seriously consider whether to proceed with their intention to deregulate buses in Greater London. I draw attention to problems in my area where practically all our services are contracted out. Some of the buses are in a poor state and when one breaks down the small company has no replacement. That means that my half-hourly service becomes an hourly service. That problem must also be considered.
If we wish to encourage people to use the buses, greater attention must be given to arranging more feeder bus routes and radial services. We must keep in mind that many people do not have the use of a car and in those circumstances buses for feeder and radial routes are the only way of moving around.
I wish to make two final points. Reference has been made to the problem, particularly in London, that we must integrate transport plans with land use planning and economic development. At the moment we do not do so. Transport is considered in complete and utter isolation. As one or two noble Lords have stressed, there is a need for an elected London-wide authority which will not only examine London's transport as a whole but ensure that the needs of transport will be considered with other aspects. We cannot deal with transport unless we consider economic development and many other environmental and social matters. As has been stressed, London is the only major city which has no central, strategic authority. I expect the Government to move fairly quickly on the matter.
I have been told that I must finish no later than 5.45 p.m. and I shall do so.
§ Lord Lucas of Chilworth
My Lords, 5.45 p.m. leaves the Minister one minute short of his 20 minutes.
§ Lord Underhill
My Lords, it will take one minute off my time too. I asked the Clerk and was given the assurance as to when I must sit down and I shall faithfully adhere to it.
The Automobile Association reminded us of the vast number of bodies responsible for various aspects of traffic in London and the South East. I believe that we must take notice of it. The AA is concerned with cars and it states that public transport does not offer what is required in the way of routes and quality of service to satisfy the public demand. I believe that that is important. Those of us who wish to see public transport developed must ensure that it provides the frequency and adequacy of a decent service. That is the way to help solve London's congestion problems.
§ 5.43 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Department of Transport (Lord Brabazon of Tara)
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, on initiating what has turned out to be an extremely wide-ranging and informative debate.
In the short time available I shall set out briefly the Government's approach to transport in London and the South East. I shall also try to respond to points which noble Lords have raised and I apologise in advance if I do not manage to do justice to all the 1431 contributions. The debate has been wide-ranging and time is short. I shall certainly write to noble Lords whose points I do not manage to answer.
First, I turn to the Government's policy. Our aim is to ensure that the growing demands for the movement of goods and people are met by efficient and safe transport facilities which do not impose unacceptable environmental costs. That aim applies throughout the country. However, as the Motion recognises, meeting the objective in London and the South East represents a particular challenge. The South East is home to 17 million people and it is densely populated. At the heart of the region is London, with a population of 7 million. It is important to remember that London is not just a national capital; it is a world business and financial centre with arguably only two serious rivals —New York and Tokyo. Well over 1 million people commute to Central London each day, many of them from outside the Greater London area. There are over 2 million other journeys to work each day.
Given those figures, it is no surprise that the provision of transport in London and the South East is a massive task. We must also recognise that the standards at which we are aiming are becoming ever more demanding. People expect transport which is comfortable, clean, efficient and above all safe. People demand and expect to see improvements in their quality of life without sacrificing their prosperity. The Government attach great importance to meeting those demands.
Looking at the South East generally, a major priority is to expand and improve the road network. Though the railways carry a lot of freight and a great many London commuters, it is road transport which keeps most of the region's economy moving. That is a point which my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth made. We must continue to improve the links between our towns and cities where increased economic growth has brought more traffic and problems of congestion. We must also provide bypasses which improve people's daily environment by removing through-traffic from their towns and villages.
Many of the problems we face are the problems of increasing prosperity. Motor traffic, for example, has increased by a factor of eight, since the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, started driving 40 years ago. He asked me particularly about the situation on the Hackney to the M.11 link road. Subject to satisfactory completion of the statutory procedures, the main works on the scheme are expected to start by the end of this year and to take up to four years to complete.
The noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, and other noble Lords pressed for more freight to be carried on rail. We give capital grants to increase the use of rail and water facilities for freight. We are reviewing the criteria which include environmental benefits. However, we must recognise that rail freight is not flexible enough to meet all our needs: for example, for retail deliveries in London.
The department's trunk road programme for London and the South East, including East Anglia, amounts to well over £6 billion over the next 10 years. My noble friend, Lord Lucas, referred to many of the 1432 schemes. There will be some entirely new motorway links: the M.40 which opened in January provides a second motorway route between London and Birmingham, relieving pressure on the M.1. A new route is planned to link Chelmsford to the M.25.
My honourable friend the Minister for Public Transport announced yesterday in another place that the Government intend to hold a private finance competition for this route once work on the public sector scheme has identified a preferred route. There are some gaps in the existing network which need to be filled, for example, on the Maidstone to Ashford section of the M.20.
However, much of the work that is being done on roads in the South East is in improving the network that exists: the M.23 and A.23 to Brighton or the A.27-A.259 coast road, for example, where a number of communities including Brighton will benefit from bypasses.
A large proportion of the investment in the roads in the South East is directed towards improving existing motorways, notably the M.25. Some of that road has already been widened; eventually the whole motorway will be improved to dual four-lane standard. The privately financed Dartford Bridge which will be opened later this year will remove one of the motorway's worst bottlenecks. The department recently published an action plan containing proposals for improving the safety and traffic flows on the M.25. Even without these improvements, the average speed on most sections of the M.25 is over 50 miles an hour. This is despite the fact that the M.25 accounts for only 6 per cent. of the country's motorway mileage, but carries 14 per cent. of all motorway traffic.
The M.25 has also played an important role in keeping unnecessary traffic out of London. Partly because of the motorway, the number of heavy goods vehicles entering London has dropped by a quarter since 1983 and the number entering central London has nearly halved. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, will be pleased with those figures. She reminded us of the problems that heavy lorries can and do cause in London.
§ Lord Brabazon of Tara
My Lords, they are a fact, whether or not the noble Baroness believes them. I should not have given way as I have much ground to cover and a limited length of time in which to do it.
Local highway authorities also have major programmes of capital expenditure to improve their part of the road network. The Government help to pay for these, and last December we announced that the Transport Supplementary Grant, which is paid at a rate of 50 per cent. for local roads, was to rise by 17 per cent. This allows all existing commitments on major new schemes to be honoured, and 35 new schemes to be accepted. The South East and London did particularly well, receiving £132 million of grant out of a total of £283 million for major schemes in England.
1433 Road traffic within London itself is likely to go on growing, though more slowly than in the rest of the South East. The Department plans to spend some £1.9 billion on selective improvements to the trunk road system—the upgrading of the North Circular is an example—to remove the worst bottlenecks and accident blackspots. In response to a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, I stress that these improvements are selective. It is not our policy to encourage car commuting into London but rather to provide for the journeys within London that are essential to allow our goods, businesses and services to be transported. My noble friend Lord Lucas asked about the study regarding improved orbital roads. In particular the study of the south-west quadrant in which local authorities have been involved is nearing completion.
We are also working hard to get more out of the existing road network by improving traffic management. I, too, would draw attention particularly to the Road Traffic Bill, which is now before your Lordships' House. The Bill will provide for a 300-mile network of priority routes in London to get traffic—particularly buses—moving more easily, reliably and safely. It will also provide for a better system of parking control throughout London. I should have thought the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, would welcome that step. My noble friend Lord Teviot certainly did.
In mentioning buses, I should pick up a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis. London Transport has had considerable success in halting the long-term decline in bus usage. Patronage remains higher than 10 years ago. Bus reliability has generally improved. Currently over 97 per cent. of London Transport scheduled miles actually operated compared to 96 per cent. this time last year, despite busier roads.
The noble Lords, Lord Ezra and Lord Clinton-Davis, suggested that we should think more about road pricing. The noble Lord, Lord Pitt, also mentioned that. They suggested that road pricing might be an answer to congestion in London. We do not rule that out as a long-term policy but we do not believe that at present the interests of London would best be served by forcing its residents and businesses off the road.
I turn now to carbon dioxide emissions. The noble Lords, Lord Clinton-Davis and Lord Pitt, and my noble friend Lord Teviot referred to that matter. Stop-start conditions in congested traffic increase carbon dioxide emissions. Therefore making traffic run more smoothly—our red route proposals will achieve this—will help. Individual motorists can do a great deal to help by choosing more fuel-efficient cars—models now on the market vary by up to 45 per cent. in fuel consumption—and by keeping their cars well maintained. Our proposal to introduce an emissions check into the MoT test will also help.
But perhaps our biggest priority for London is to improve rail services. London's long decline stopped in the early 1980s, confounding the forecasters who had expected the capital's population and employment to go on falling. Since then the number of central 1434 London commuters has increased by nearly 10 per cent. and there has been a big switch from road to rail. Between 1983 and 1989 the number of rail commuters to central London increased by 22 per cent., while the number of people commuting by road fell by 16 per cent. I hope noble Lords will find those figures encouraging.
The unhappy experiences of many London commuters in recent weeks has perhaps made us all —my noble friend Lord Teviot mentioned this—the more aware of just how much London depends on its rail and Underground services. As my noble friend Lord Geddes reminded us, those services do a remarkable job in getting people to and around London, but no one would deny that there is room for improvement.
Both British Rail and the Government regret the disruption that the severe weather caused recently to rail services. The snowfall exposed a number of deficiencies in British Rail's equipment and procedures. British Rail is reviewing its equipment and procedures, and it is also making comparisons with the way other European countries cope with such conditions. British Rail will consider particularly how best to bring up-to-date information to passengers. My noble friend Lord Geddes referred to that.
Over the next three years London Transport plans to invest approaching £3 billion. That is 90 per cent. more in real terms than in the past three years. During this financial year alone British Rail's Network SouthEast is investing £350 million and has plans for substantial investment in the future.
The Government's commitment to increased investment is already bearing fruit. For example, Network SouthEast is receiving new coaches at the rate of eight per week, and this is set to continue. Lines which have benefited and are benefiting from investment include the Northampton Line which received new rolling stock during 1990 and the Chiltern Line which is in the process of being completely modernised. Marylebone Station has been totally refurbished, resignalling work is almost complete and BR has just taken delivery of the first of 89 new vehicles which should transform the Chiltern Line from one of the poorest performers on Network SouthEast to one of the best. Other projects well in hand include the networkers project for Kent Link routes. Some 400 vehicles are already on order and a £120 million fixed works programme implies the approval of a further 400 coaches in total. Delivery of the new trains is due to start this September.
A number of noble Lords referred to overcrowding. This major investment in new equipment and lines for Network SouthEast will help to tackle the overcrowding problem to which the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, and others referred. Overcrowding is a problem but not on all routes. Even though the numbers commuting have increased by more than 12 per cent. over the past four years, average overcrowding has decreased slightly. That is mainly due to better organisation of services to meet demand.
1435 The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, asked about the subsidy to British Rail. The Government have shown flexibility in their approach to the British Rail subsidy. We have increased the PSO grant by £100 million for 1990–91 and will reconsider the issue, as and when necessary. The noble Lord, Lord Jay, said that driver-only operations lengthened journey times. The introduction of driver-only operations on trains may indeed lengthen journey times initially as drivers become used to the new system; but in the longer term journey times are not increased. Driver-only operation has dramatically improved reliability on lines where it has been introduced. For example, on the Northern Line where train cancellations due to staff shortages were prevalent, they have now almost been eliminated. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Coslany, referred to the important issue—
§ Lord Brabazon of Tara
My Lords, I am afraid I cannot give way. I am almost out of time as it is and I have a lot of other points that I must attempt to answer. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, referred to the important issue of safety on trains and at stations. I refer here to the safety of people rather than of equipment. Network SouthEast is taking steps to improve security and safety standards at stations. Improved lighting at stations and car parks, closed circuit television where appropriate, better shelters and waiting rooms with better all-round visibility will, I hope, improve matters. On trains, all enclosed compartment carriages are being phased out.
The quality of service on trains is important. That is being addressed both by London Underground and by the Government who have set quality of service objectives for reliability, punctuality, peak capacity, availability of lifts and escalators, ticket purchasing facilities, crime levels and the cleaning of trains, buses and stations. Those targets are robust and they must be met by 31st March 1992.
On London Underground we are opening up Docklands and poorly served areas in south-east London with the Jubilee Line extension, costing over £1 billion. The extension of the Docklands Light Railway into the City will open next year. In little more than a year from now new trains will enter service on the Central Line. That is part of a £700 million modernisation of that line. A number of noble Lords referred to that question.
In the longer term we shall see a transformation of rail services in the South East. I should particularly mention, as have noble Lords, the east-west Crossrail which the Government approved last year and which should be completed by 1999. It will directly link British Rail suburban services into Liverpool Street with those into Paddington. The result will be that commuters from Reading, for example, will be able to travel on a new electrified line directly to the West End or the City. I hope that that will reassure the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, that the recommendations of the central London rail study, far from being forgotten, are now being implemented.
1436 The noble Lord, Lord Jay, and the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, talked about equality of treatment between road and rail appraisal. Road and rail schemes are appraised differently because rail passengers pay direct fares whereas road users pay indirectly through vehicle and fuel taxes. We are not biased towards one or the other. That is shown in this year's allocation of funds in which more is being spent on rail, at 55 per cent. for non-road expenditure as against 45 per cent.
I shall deal briefly with the questions asked by my noble friend Lord Teviot about the Channel tunnel link. We are fully aware of the enormous importance attached by local authorities in Kent to the provision of the passenger station at Ashford. Ministers received British Rail's investment submission on 28th January and we shall reach our decision as soon as possible.
To sum up in the brief time that I have left, securing continuous improvements to transport in London and the South East is enormously important both to businesses and individuals who live and work in the region and to the prosperity of the country as a whole. I hope that I have been able to demonstrate the importance which the Government attach to making the necessary improvements and to show that the resources are being made available.
§ 6.3 p.m.
§ Lord Clinton-Davis
My Lords, like the Minister, I should like to thank all those noble Lords who participated in what can generally be regarded as a very interesting and successful debate. I hope that the Minister and his department will give full consideration to the speeches that were made during the course of the three hours. I should like to thank the Minister for the way in which he responded to the debate even though he does not carry me with him in all that he said. However, as ever, he was extremely courteous. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.
Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.