HL Deb 27 January 1993 vol 541 cc1266-306

3.7 p.m.

The Viscount of Oxfuird rose to call attention to the case for the control of combustion-engined road transport in city centres; and to move for Papers.

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, it is my pleasure to welcome this afternoon my noble friend Lord Cadman, our maiden speaker. I am sure that his contribution will be significant, particularly in regard to the City of Bristol. I am grateful also to other noble Lords for their support in the debate and I am sure that all contributions will be important in this complex subject.

In calling attention in the debate to the need for the control of combustion-engined road transport in city centres, I should like to structure my remarks this afternoon into the format of a new standard published by the British Standards Institution. The new standard—BS7750 —for environmental management systems was published in March last year and is currently being piloted through about 300 enterprises of all types in the United Kingdom. Its contents have had a significant influence on eco-audit regulations published recently in Brussels and it was commended in the recently published 12th Report of your Lordships' Select Committee on the European Community and its activity within the context of the eco-audit scheme.

That should therefore provide a framework for the debate. The standard calls first for commitment, demonstrated not only by the presence of your Lordships here today, but also by the work being carried out by the Government, the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution and a host of other organisations. Next it calls for an initial review followed by the formulation of policy. From that formulation would evolve an organisation for the achievement of objectives and targets and for operational control over the programme. Records and audits should be properly maintained. Finally, there should be a review of the whole programme.

The initial review is under way. The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution is currently undertaking a study to explore the options for developing transport strategies aimed at reconciling the necessary movement of people and goods with the need to protect the environment. The Department of the Environment and the Department of Transport have already issued a joint memorandum by way of evidence to the Royal Commission and it is clear that the need to address the problems of transport-related inner city pollution is central to the study.

Your Lordships will recall that Her Majesty's Government came away from the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in June last year with a firm commitment to reduce carbon dioxide emissions back to 1990 levels by the year 2000. It is my belief that, within the context of this debate, the significance of reducing levels of carbon dioxide cannot be overstated. In the UK, approximately 20 per cent. of all carbon dioxide emissions result directly from fuel used in transport. About 90 per cent. of this figure is derived from road transport alone, and of this, a staggering 67 per cent. is derived from private cars, vans and taxis.

Air pollution from transport has grown with the increase of traffic everywhere, particularly in the inner cities. Road congestion is making the problem worse as combustion engines work less efficiently in heavy traffic. In addition to carbon dioxide, emissions from combustion engines include, first, the oxides of nitrogen, split 60 per cent. to 40 per cent. between petrol and diesel-engined vehicles; secondly, hydro-carbons, which arise largely from petrol car exhausts; thirdly, carbon monoxide, almost all of which emanates from petrol engined vehicles and which in the UK accounts for 90 per cent. of emissions of this type; fourthly, particulates emissions, the source of most of which come from those diesel-engined vehicles which have been poorly maintained; fifthly, lead, mostly from petrol-driven vehicles. However, lead content in the atmosphere of our inner cities is declining dramatically because of government fiscal measures supporting the use of unleaded petrol. Sixthly, and finally, there is sulphur dioxide, of which transport only contributes about 3 per cent. to total emissions.

Another aspect of combustion-engined transport which has been a focus of technology is that of traffic noise. In inner city areas, where cars move at slow speeds, engines, gearboxes and exhausts have been the primary cause of this noise, while at higher speeds the surface contact between the tyre and the road has been responsible for the most harrowing of screeches and noises in our streets.

The third environmental challenge we face is urban congestion and the impact of the combustion-engined vehicle on towns and cities. Road traffic in metropolitan areas increased by 20 per cent. between 1983 and 1990, and as the joint memorandum by the Departments of the Environment and of Transport recognises, urban congestion has gradually spread from the inner cities to the suburbs. The fourth is the issue of inner city crime, and in particular the escalation in the theft of vehicles.

These are all facts that we encounter in the reality of our everyday lives. The key issue before us is what objectives and targets should be set to ensure greater control over these machines so as to achieve the proper management of combustion-engined vehicles within our environment.

For some, the objective is to eliminate the combustion-engined vehicle from our streets forever. For others there is to be no limit or restraint on the use of cars and lorries in our inner cities. A more realistic objective would be to accept that 67 per cent. of British households own a car. It is not the job of government to tell people when, where and how to travel. The Department of Transport forecasts car ownership rising between 18 and 31 per cent. by the end of the century, and between 48 and 77 per cent. by the year 2015. In greater London alone there are estimated to be 2.32 million cars. If all those cars were parked on the M.25 at one time there would need to be 50 lanes to accommodate them. Moreover, the Department of Transport's projections to the year 2010 suggest a further increase of nearly 50 per cent. to 3.4 million—another 24 more lanes on the M.25. Can one imagine such a car park with 74 lanes the length of the M.25? Car use, as measured in vehicle kilometres, is expected to increase even more rapidly. Furthermore, many car journeys cannot be conveniently made by public transport. The truth is that public transport provision varies within and between our cities. Most routes in London are radial rather than orbital. Towns are served better than rural areas.

The car is therefore here to stay. Today we are debating whether or not the environmental costs of combustion driven engines can be contained and controlled. It is my contention that they can be, and that British industry is playing a significant, if often unrecognised, part in providing technical solutions to the challenges posed by increasingly stringent environmental targets. And if we were to place greater emphasis on technical rather than commercial or political solutions, we would not only drive forward Britain's advanced technology base, but would also arrive at solutions which are acceptable to both UK commercial interests and the range of political interests represented in this House.

The British record for providing technical solutions is remarkable, if seldom remarked upon. I once spent some time with a Danish consultant working on a new type of medical pump. His comment was, "If you want something invented you go to Britain". Today the same philosophy applies but now we can produce as well.

I hope that in this debate we will be able to draw attention to the achievement of British industry—in particular its scientists and engineers—in providing solutions to environmental challenges. The most successful solutions are likely to come from both the engine component manufacturers and the oil industry working closely together with legislators to achieve real reductions in emissions rather than artificial standards which vary significantly from country to country. The oil industry is already doing much to lower the lead and sulphur content of fuels. Sulphur emissions, while lower from the transport sector than the quantities emitted by power stations, still contribute to the creation of acid rain. An EC directive which is due to be in place by October 1996 aims to reduce the sulphur content in diesel to 0.05 per cent. At the same time, motor and components manufacturers have combined to improve engine and emission control technology. There can be no doubt that these technical solutions, particularly when combined with fiscal incentives, have had a profound impact on air quality. No longer the Stygian gloom of Limehouse in the 1940s.

The effect of improved technology on air quality is dependent on the emission characteristics of vehicles in use. Dr. Franz Pischinger has shown, in a report for the European Commission's Symposium on Auto Emissions 2000, that diesel engine technology, has been refined to a degree beyond which it was thought possible two decades ago".

Dr Pischinger reminds us that the emission behaviour of cars is determined largely by maintenance. Insufficient maintenance increases the emission factor by more than two. He goes on to note that in respect of the life of an engine diesel cars are better. There is only a modest deterioration over the vehicle's life. Diesel engines burn fuel more efficiently, using 30 per cent. less fuel than the equivalent in petrol cars and producing about 20 per cent. less carbon dioxide per mile, a factor which the Chancellor has already recognised by widening the fiscal advantage of diesel over standard petrol. Cleaner cars using unleaded petrol, catalytic converters, diesel fuel and engine technology have been developed through European-wide scientific and technical co-operation.

It is essential that the United Kingdom should continue to play a role in joint European motor and group industry research programmes to tackle road transport emission problems in a co-operative spirit. I shall highlight to your Lordships some of the areas in which I know technical solutions are being sought; for example, hydrocarbon based fuels—all of which pollute and all of which can be made cleaner.

BP, along with other major oil companies, is studying the role of fuel chemistry on emissions' performance and as a measure of its commitment, has recently invested £12 million in an acute, clean fuel laboratory at its Sunbury research centre. British Gas and Johnson Matthey are doing serious research work to improve catalytic converters and pressurised gas. Lucas Industries are developing electronically controlled fuel injection systems which offer significant emission advantages over the present mechanical systems as well as improving fuel consumption and overall performance.

However, there is no single fuel formulation which has been found for diesel or gasoline that offers the complete panacea. There will have to be collaboration for these technical solutions both between industries and with our European partners. An example of that collaboration was the invitation from three oil companies, Agip, Elf and Fina, to British manufacturers, like Lucas, to discuss joint research initiatives in the presence of European Commissioners. That collaboration between oil, engine and fuel injection manufacturers has led to the development of joint standards.

Collaboration also occurs within the framework of the standards institutions. There are many issues which are defined by these bodies, including the technical specifications, nomenclatures and methods of testing. The collaborative process is greatly assisted by the fact that national trade associations representing national companies are represented within these different bodies at all three levels. Therefore, collaboration is widespread and the relationship between the bodies is close.

Collaboration between local authorities and the public to reduce toxic emissions is already a feature of inner city government. I particularly have in mind Westminster City Council which has just launched its "Exhaust Watch" scheme whereby residents are encouraged to report cars which they see producing visible emissions.

There have been striking successes in reducing noise levels in vehicles over the past 20 years. I understand that Britain is currently one of the leading countries worldwide in the production of environmental noise analysers, a business which is driven by the environmental regulations from our own Government and the European Commission.

Perhaps I may now turn to the problem of inner city congestion. Traffic growth and congestion in city centres across the United Kingdom are serious problems. Projected growth will cause increasingly severe and more widespread congestion, imposing a severe burden on the economy of the region.

One method of dealing with congestion is congestion metering, a process which is currently the focus of research at Newcastle University. The research is being partly funded under a European Commission project called "Drive" and involves a wide range of European manufacturers. The system works on the basis of a charge being levied for a unit of congested road; a unit being half a kilometre or a third of a mile. The system is activated by electric monitoring scanners which are placed on the boundaries of congested areas. When a car crosses the boundary the on-board computer monitor is activated and the charges are registered on a card. The "beacon technology" is developed by Saab in Sweden with the use, in part, of American technology. The research into developing the on-board computers is primarily being dealt with by Newcastle University.

In the past the policy of "park and ride" has been proposed by many local authorities and in many cases it has been rejected by opposing views. However, if we look at what is going on in London and in other cities, that policy is being implemented by stealth. Car owners are parking near public transport junctions such as tube stations and bus stops, with the result that vast areas of residential streets are blocked and are being turned into creeping car parks, denying a source of revenue to local authorities and making life very difficult for the residents of those areas. Surely, the potential for "park and ride" must be one of the alternatives to the present chaos.

In conclusion, I hope that, in tabling this debate, I have created an opportunity for your Lordships to tackle the last part of BS7750; namely, a review of the whole programme. Before rushing to legislate or to implement solutions, we must take care to clarify the facts. We should urge further collaboration and dialogue between interested parties. Technology has driven progress forward a great deal over the past 20 years and that is apparent. However, we must increase our efforts to ensure that this progress is sustained. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

3.27 p.m.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, the noble Viscount, Lord Oxfuird, is to be congratulated on having introduced this Motion at this time. He made our minds boggle with his reference to what might happen to the M.25 if all London's cars were parked along it. I suppose that one beneficial consequence would be that it would be easier to move around in the rest of the city. We could at least walk in peace, ride our bicycles in peace and perhaps go back to horse-drawn vehicles. However, I should utter a word of caution here. I am quite convinced that over a century ago or so, in this very House, there could well have been a Motion from a Peer with a similar interest to that of the noble Viscount, drawing attention to the environmental hazards of the ever-increasing quantities of horse manure which were impeding movement on the roads of London. I am sure that some fanciful projections would have been made as to where that might lead in due course. Very shortly after that the petrol driven vehicle came to the rescue.

Now we are concerned with emissions of a different sort. There is no doubt that this problem is a very serious one. I am glad to note that the Government fully recognise that, because in the second progress report on This Common Inheritance, a document which was issued in October, 1992, it is stated that while pollution from industrial and domestic heating has declined, pollution caused by traffic has grown. Emissions of nitrogen oxides from motor vehicles increased by 38 per cent. between 1986 and 1991 … and in London during December 1991, there was the worst episode of nitrogen dioxide ever recorded in the United Kingdom". The report goes on to say, Diesel vehicles have taken over from domestic fires as the main source of urban smoke". The Clean Air Act 1956 removed smoke from domestic chimneys in built-up areas in Britain. It was one of the most dramatic changes that we have seen in the way we live, particularly in urban areas. But there is now a new menace and pollution from vehicles is the most significant contributor to poor air quality. So I believe that it is extremely timely, in view of this very serious situation with the prospects of ever-increasing quantities of motor vehicles, to have another look at this question.

There is no doubt that a great deal has already been done, but it has been done on a fairly disparate basis and these various actions need to be brought together in order to have a comprehensive policy to deal with this new environmental menace, which is certainly growing, and will grow, unless more urgent action is taken. In the early part of last year the European Commission issued a consultative document on transport and the environment which attempted to do that on a European basis. I believe that we should have a similar overall review for the United Kingdom and that, rather than waiting for standards to be proposed by the European Commission, we should move ahead and act in advance of the thinking of the rest of Europe.

Within the broader framework at which we need to look, we should consider technical developments, regulations, fiscal measures, traffic management and public transport. A number of these issues were referred to by the noble Viscount, Lord Oxfuird. He was quite right in respect of technical developments in referring to the fact that very much positive and valuable work has been carried out. In a Question asked in the House on Thursday by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, who I am glad to note will be speaking in the debate, attention was drawn to some of the significant technical advances that have been made. There has been progress in the development of lean-burn engines. Above all, there has been progress in the development of catalytic converters, especially the three-way catalyst with which the firm of Johnson Matthey, to which the noble Viscount referred, has been much associated. It is interesting to note that 15 million of its converters have already been sold within Europe alone. There has been a big development in their use and, as a result of the standards that have now been established by Brussels, more and more such converters will have to be installed.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to visit the British Gas research centre near Birmingham, which is developing the natural gas vehicle. This vehicle, to which the noble Viscount briefly referred, is indistinguishable in its performance—so far as I could tell and from what I was told—from any normal petrol-driven vehicle, but its polluting impact is vastly reduced not only in the more obnoxious ground-level pollution from petrol-driven engines, but also in CO2 by some 20 to 25 per cent. The problem associated with natural gas vehicles is the distribution of the fuel, because it has to be compressed. It is, therefore, likely that it could best be used initially for fleets of vehicles where there could be a central point for fuelling. However, what was particularly interesting is that work is being carried out into a domestic-sized compressor, which means that we could each have a small compressor in our garage, link in to the domestic gas supply, and refuel our cars overnight.

That seems an interesting development and it has, in fact, been perfected at Vancouver in British Columbia in Canada. The process is already being used there, helped by substantial government grants. There are already 0.75 million natural gas vehicles being driven around the world and the likelihood is, particularly with the stringent regulations that are being introduced in the United States, and especially in California, that their number could rise to some 2 million by the end of the century. That is a most interesting development.

The conclusion that we can reach is that in the technical sense enormous progress has been made. It needs to be further stimulated, no doubt, but what is much more important is to see how effectively the technical progress which has been achieved can be applied.

That leads to the second issue, which is the question of regulation. There is no doubt that the setting of evermore stringent standards is the only way in which, by regulation, we can help to resolve this problem. The Community now has regulations, applying from the beginning of this year, which will mean that all new cars have to conform to a much more stringent emission requirement. However, the standards set in Europe are below the standards set in the United States on a federal basis, and the United States' federal emission requirements fall below what is now being enforced in California. So, much higher standards are being enforced in other parts of the world. We should study them with care and see what we can do about this matter.

I have been much impressed with the work that local authorities have been doing in monitoring emission concentrations. In the City of Westminster, for example, some very detailed emission monitoring is taking place. As the noble Viscount mentioned, Westminster has introduced an "Exhaust Watch Scheme", which is an attempt to mobilise all who live and work in Westminster to watch out for vehicles with noticeable emissions. A good deal of work in this area has also been carried out in the city of Sheffield and, I have no doubt, by many other local authorities. I hope that they can be encouraged to persevere along this route.

Fiscal measures are another way in which we can help in this area. We have seen what happened with lead-free petrol. There is a growing case for having a graduated vehicle tax to take account of the extent to which vehicles are fitted with what can be called "green accoutrements".

Traffic management is perhaps the most effective method of dealing with congestion, which is another way in which pollution is concentrated. It is estimated that more effective traffic management throughout the country could reduce fuel consumption by some 7 per cent. and journey times by 10 per cent. We all know how much congestion costs everybody. It is estimated that congestion on the roads costs up to £500 per household per year.

To sum up, this is not only a timely debate, but it draws attention to the fact that, although the importance of the issue is fully recognised and although much has been done, perhaps the time has now come to bring together these various facets. Perhaps the Government could consider issuing some consultative document in this area which could bring all these issues together, following on from what they said in their last report, to which I have referred. Perhaps they could indicate whether they feel that further legislation covering all these issues might, in due course, be appropriate on a more general basis than the particular lines which have so far been pursued.

3.36 p.m.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, I, too, should like to thank the noble Viscount, Lord Oxfuird, for introducing this debate and to congratulate him on his opening remarks, which were learned and very much to the point. I very much agree with him that it is difficult physically to prevent people from using the form of transport that they wish to use. However, while the Government cannot interfere with freedom to that extent, they could nevertheless refuse to accommodate too large a future increase in vehicles and traffic on the roads.

It is accepted that vehicle exhaust fumes are very dangerous. They appear to be acceptable to people at large because they are invisible, but that makes them no less dangerous. Carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, soot and particulates are undoubtedly harmful substances and are a real cause of many respiratory diseases. I believe that too little research has been carried out into the results of vehicle exhaust fumes. Perhaps if it were made compulsory to add a harmless chemical agent to petrol to colour exhaust fumes (to resemble cigarette smoke, for example) there would be an immediate outcry—perhaps even a call for cars to be banned in public places and a European-wide ban on advertising motor vehicles. That, of course, is not going to happen, because people love their cars, and I understand why. They get them from A to Z reasonably efficiently—except, of course, in town centres—and they go from door to door. Nevertheless, people need to be reminded that exhaust fumes are dangerous to health in the same way as many other substances are dangerous.

The first law of road transport is that traffic expands to fill the available road space. Therefore, of course, the Government must examine their roads programme and pay special attention to what local authorities are doing. Local authorities must be told not to increase road capacity into town centres through the widening of roads unless that is necessary to improve an accident black spot or something similar. The Government should not merely reduce the transport supplementary grant for such schemes, they should say to local authorities, "If you go ahead with that scheme against the Government's will, we shall withdraw from your total transport supplementary grant an amount equal to the sum you are spending on that undesirable and environmentally bad road". That sort of thing can be done by government.

Public transport policies are important and have already been mentioned. They must be based upon a full cost benefit analysis which should include health, the environment and the cost of road building. Public transport must be made more competitive with private transport in terms of cost, convenience and reliability.

When I was chairman of the Reading transport undertaking, my objective was to provide frequent, reliable, comfortable and cheap bus services. It is becoming increasingly difficult to provide such services profitably in competition with the private car. It will become impossible to do so unless the bias against public transport is removed and reversed. Let me give an instance of what happens in Reading, where I live, in relation to bus and private car costs. If a man, his wife and two children go into Reading town centre on a bus, that costs them £3.60. On the other hand if they go in by car, the total costs are £1.80, because they can park in a car park for three hours at 60p per hour. They naturally take the cheapest way and take the car into the town centre. Those costs should be reversed. It should cost them £3.60 by car and £1.80 by public transport. That would be an encouragement to people to use the bus instead of the car.

One of my hobbyhorses is electric vehicles, which I have favoured for a long time. Far too little effort has been put into the development of electric vehicles over the years. We need a spur. The Government should set a deadline of 2003, after which date no internal combustion vehicle would be allowed within two miles of a town centre. That would wonderfully concentrate the minds of vehicle manufacturers. It is no good people saying that that would merely transfer the problem to power stations. It would be different and more easily dealt with than the problems which arise in the thousands of towns and cities up and down our land. If the Government do not want to go that far, they could give substantial assistance to electric buses—trolleybuses, battery-powered vehicles or a mixture of both.

I suppose that I should declare an interest, because I believe that I am still the president of the British Trolley Bus Society. The trolleybus is probably the finest form of stage carriage transport ever devised. It has good acceleration and braking and is a silent, comfortable ride. Of course there is no pollution. The Government should consider giving assistance to bring back the trolleybus.

Let us take Oxford Street, as an example. I expect we have all been to Oxford Street recently. All cars are banned there, but the pollution from oily diesel fumes is a disgrace. A case can be made out for banning diesel vehicles and replacing them with electric vehicles. I hope that the Government will take that point on board.

We need also to do something about the huge goods vehicles which pound our streets and go into town centres. Although I cannot develop that topic, it would be possible to bring bulk goods into town centres by rail. Most of our town centres have a railway station. The goods could then be distributed by electric vehicles. That would help considerably to relieve congestion and pollution. I recommend those suggestions to the Government.

3.46 p.m.

The Earl of Halsbury

My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Viscount for introducing this important subject. I am looking forward to hearing the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Cadman, who will follow me. I first made contact with this subject some 30 years ago when I became chairman of the Institute of Cancer Research. That was in the pioneering days when the influence of smoking and smog, for example, on cancer of the lung and other pulmonary disorders was very much under investigation.

I have two statistical memories of those early investigations which have stayed with me because they are memorable. The first is that among the non-smoking urban population there is a higher incidence of pulmonary trouble than in the non-smoking rural population. So there is something about cities that is lethal to some people. Secondly, to show how sensitive we are to it, first generation non-smoking New Zealanders are more subject to lung troubles and cancer of the lung than are second generation non-smoking New Zealanders. Most of the first generation would have been subjected to city pollution here with a higher degree of probability than they would be in New Zealand. Once subjected to the polluted atmosphere of the city, one is more liable to run into pulmonary trouble. Whether it is life in the city as a smoker or a non-smoker, there is something objectionable in the city.

I am sure that your Lordships will remember the terrible smog that we had in 1952 when the death rate increased to almost astronomical proportions. There just happened to be an atmospheric inversion layer at that time and several days' accumulation of smog descended upon the City of London.

What could be the causative agent? It is not carbon dioxide. One breathes out far more carbon dioxide than one ever takes in. Carbon dioxide is easy to detect on analysis so it is a good marker for all the other things. In the same way with carbon monoxide, the amount of carbon monoxide that you fix as carboxyhaemoglobin is entirely proportional to the partial pressure of carbon monoxide and oxygen in your lungs. If somebody is suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning, one only has to feed him a little oxygen and he is back to a normal state.

As regards oxides of nitrogen, I have tried for a long time to find out what proportion of NOx in the air is due to manmade pollution and what is due to thunderstorms. There are 1,000 thunderstorms in progress all over the world at any one point in time. All of them are shedding oxides of nitrogen. They are very difficult to isolate because one does not have the apparatus near the thunderstorm at the time.

My own choice of culprit is smoke and unburned hydrocarbons. We all know that tars and such things are active and most unpleasant carcinogens.

There are always the two problems of prevention and cure: the problem of clean-up versus some kind of alternative lifestyle. I wish to introduce your Lordships to this question: why do people commute? Why do they go from low density residential areas to high density city areas once a day, polluting the atmosphere with their cars as they go?

There are various motives but the main one is communication. Those people travel to be close to one another by juxtaposition so that they can communicate. They can communicate with others face to face and even more important, they can communicate with their filing systems. They want to be in touch with other communicators. All that leads to a high density population of communicators which can be rendered low density in the course of development.

Let us take telecommunications, the telephone and its development as the fax. Let us think of the two in combination with a home-based secretary. You simply ring her up, dictate what you have to dictate over the telephone. She sends you back a fax which you correct and send back to her. She then posts it for you. That involves no commutation to the same office.

The face-to-face television will come in the course of the next generation. There is also the distributive filing system. You do not have to have a filing system consisting of paper, boxes, filing cabinets and so on. Your filing system can be merely a series of dots on a microfiche or something of that kind. I look forward to the day when people will not come to large concrete boxes at high density in order to be able to talk to one another or to look up things in their filing system. You will have an electronic sitting room which will have a fax machine, a telephone, a desk computer and a television camera so that other people can see you if you want to talk to them face to face and vice versa. People will not need to leave their homes.

Your Lordships may think that that is all a counsel of perfection. Your Lordships may wonder whether such things will ever happen. I look forward to them happening because I look back at what has happened during my lifetime. I was born in 1908. Bleriot flew the Channel in 1910. The Marconi scandal erupted in 1911. The radio came in and I listened to the Beckett-Carpentier fight in my bedroom on a radio which I had found on the junkheap. I repaired that and got it working myself. That was in 1921. I saw the first television set by Baird. I listened to the results of dialling on the first automatic telephone exchange. I did sums on the first computer. For years I have been accustomed to photocopying devices. Now, there is the latest gift from the communication engineering industry to a hard-pressed Parliament—the fax machine.

That will not stop; it will continue. That is why, coming to the end of my fairly lengthy life, I do not believe that progress will stop. By all means let us clean up hydrocarbon exhausts as much as we can. However, I believe that we may find that the urban density of traffic, far from reaching the type of astronomical proportions to which the noble Viscount referred, may diminish and we shall be smog free one day.

3.55 p.m.

Lord Cadman

My Lords, I rise this afternoon with some slight misgivings since these words of mine will not only be my first in this House but also my first anywhere in public. I was tempted to begin with the old cliché, but having listened to a number of maiden speeches since taking my seat, some by experienced speakers and some by those less so, and having been encouraged by the splendid and most interesting effort by the noble Earl, Lord Portland, last Thursday, also a "primeur", 1 shall desist.

I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Oxfuird for introducing this Motion. I am sure that his intention is to invite some discussion not only with regard to reducing traffic congestion but also to reducing both atmospheric and noise pollution in our city centres. Controlling access to city centres by vehicles with combustion engines could be construed as being somewhat controversial so I shall confine my remarks to the subject of electric traction.

Our Victorian forefathers introduced electric vehicles, more often than not as part of a railed tramway system, as a solution to the problems of operating such a system with horses. As advancing technology improved the reliability of internal combustion engined vehicles and the availability of relatively cheap petroleum fuels increased, electric tramways found themselves at a disadvantage due to the difficulty and expense involved in adapting the system to the expanding transport needs of the city. A bus can go just where a driver points it but an electric tram or trolley-bus must follow the rails or wires.

Today, however, the wheel has turned full circle and many cities which kept their electric systems are now able to take advantage of that pollution-free method of people movement. I live in Bristol and recently we were introduced by our local bus undertaking to a large and rather cumbersome looking vehicle referred to as a "Bendy Bus". It is a highly sophisticated vehicle which forms part of an urban transportation system known as guided light transit. The bus is 85 feet long and in three articulated sections. It is geometrically designed so that all of the wheels follow exactly the same track. That means that, despite its size, it can be confined to a given section of road. When operated by a road-based guidance system it can be powered by an overhead electric supply.

In fact, the vehicle also has a diesel engine which drives a generator. It can be driven about, away from its guidance system just like a normal bus. In the city centre it is electrically powered, reducing pollution, and in the suburbs it reverts to diesel power where the fumes seem to be less of a problem.

It was fascinating to watch that vehicle negotiating the streets of central Bristol. The system seems to have all the advantages of a tramway, with very few of the disadvantages. Let us hope that Bristol can be in the forefront of the possible introduction of what appears to be an ideal system of pollution-free urban transport.

Once you have most of the buses in the city centre replaced by electrically powered vehicles and, it is hoped, advancing technology making electrically powered goods delivery vehicles more of an economic proposition than they are at present, it should be possible to persuade people to accept some form of controlled access to our cities by combustion engined vehicles. I am sure that a positive approach to the introduction of modern electrically-powered mass transit systems to our inner cities will go a long way to enable people to be persuaded or even directed not to bring their vehicles into our city centres, with a consequential reduction in pollution.

4 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I congratulate most warmly my noble friend Lord Cadman on his notable maiden speech and his contribution to our discussion which has enlightened us about electric traction. I know that as well as speaking on my own behalf I am speaking on behalf of the whole House in saying that we look forward to hearing him again on many occasions in the future.

I should also like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Oxfuird on the clear and thorough way in which he introduced the subject of the debate: the problems created by motor vehicles in cities and towns. I intend to touch on two of the unfortunate effects: pollution and congestion.

My noble friend drew attention to the air pollution caused. In some situations this can lead to unhealthy smog, which we remember from 1952 in London. However, it happens more often in Los Angeles, which has a very bad reputation in regard to this. I believe it also happens in certain Japanese cities, although I have not visited them. In this country the pollution of the air is less obvious but it happens nonetheless where concentrations of motor vehicles are active. The situation can be improved, and the adoption of catalytic converters and other measures, including the increasing use of unleaded petrol, is helping.

Your Lordships may recall that only last Thursday the Government brought us some startlingly good news, mentioned just now by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra. This was in a reply from my noble friend Lady Denton to a Question of mine. A month earlier I had seen a press report of a car engine which cleaned the air passing through it in urban areas. Between the air intake and the exhaust it was reported to extract more pollution than it added. It was indeed "hoovering" the atmosphere. At the time I found this astonishing. It sounded like the eighth wonder of the world. However, my noble friend confirmed that this was happening and stated that government support for experiments of this kind was continuing. Question Time last Thursday was not the best time to pursue the subject further. Other questions, of course, come to mind, such as how expensive is this going to be? How complex? When is it likely to have practical application to most motor vehicles? These questions are still before us, but it is very welcome progress in the right direction and the Government should give full encouragement to those working in this field.

I now turn to congestion. Besides the inconvenience, there is the substantial cost to the country arising from traffic jams in city centres and from the inefficient use of road space. Some cities have adopted pedestrian precincts, especially for shopping areas, where no vehicles may enter. Some cities abroad stipulate that deliveries to commercial premises by lorries and vans must be made within certain periods during the night. This applies also to rubbish collecting. Is this policy being adopted anywhere in this country yet? I do not know, but perhaps my noble friend can tell us when he comes to reply.

One radical change which has been much discussed is the introduction of road pricing. I understand that the Government are considering the issue of a Green Paper soon on this subject, and again I hope that my noble friend will be able to tell us about that later today. I believe that road pricing will have to be adopted eventually. Difficulties will mainly arise in finding a system which is simple, workable and accurate. I believe that parking must be covered as well as mileage if road miles are to be a factor.

I come now to a further consideration which must not be overlooked, and perhaps I am the most appropriate person to raise it in this debate: that is, arrangements for disabled people. In carrying out pedestrianisation in some schemes in this country, the needs of people who are dependent on wheels must be catered for: those who cannot walk or can manage only short distances with difficulty.

There is a well-known city where motor cars have never been allowed and which can provide lessons for us: that is Venice. There, any fumes which escape into the atmosphere come from the vaporettos, or the motor launches. It is a beautiful city, but difficult for those whose legs do not function. I have been well aware of that on private visits to this city. I could plan my own movements, but your Lordships may be amused to hear of my experience five years ago when I had to be in the chair of an international conference there.

The meetings were on the conference island of San Giorgo Maggiore and the Mayor of Venice had kindly put a launch at my disposal for the period. Difficulties arose only when I had to reach premises which were some distance away from the Grand Canal when I was acting as chairman or host and had to be there. The launch was halted by pedestrian bridges over the smaller canals. Seeing me struggling on my sticks, Italian colleagues started searching ancient Venetian collections for a sedan chair as the best expedient. That was a stark reminder of the problems that occur when no wheels are allowed in an area. It is not only one for severely disabled people but for those with problems in walking.

Turning to central London, severely disabled people have been much restricted because the councils concerned have not accepted the orange badge scheme for parking. That is entirely understandable to me, as I have told your Lordships' House before, because central London could be overwhelmed by tens of thousands of orange badge holders from within a radius of 30 miles or more. Now the orange badge scheme is being replaced by a new scheme involving a personal passport-type identification to be carried by the disabled person. It had been hoped that agreement would be reached with the central London local authorities for this new system to cover their areas too. This is a matter of importance to disabled people, who have reason to reside in, or to visit, the centre of London and for whom taxis are not possible because they cannot get in or out of them. My noble friend Lord Caithness may be able to say more today about the new disabled parking system and whether practical measures have yet been agreed on how the system will operate in central London.

4.8 p.m.

Earl Attlee

My Lords, I too should like to add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Cadman, on his maiden speech.

The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, referred to the silent trolley bus. I like the idea of the trolley bus, but it has its dangers. Being silent means that it is easier for such a bus to run over an unwary pedestrian than a diesel vehicle. I am afraid the same observation also applies to all electric vehicles, although perhaps a bleeper system might overcome that objection. I think there is a future for hybrid diesel/electric and battery vehicles.

With regard to large vehicles, it is worth remembering that a 38-tonne articulated vehicle can carry 25 tonnes of produce at seven miles per gallon, whereas a seven-and-a-half tonne truck can carry, say, only four tonnes at a best possible fuel consumption of 20 miles per gallon. In other words, the articulated truck carries six times as much for less than three times the fuel cost, not to mention lower empty running and driver costs which are incurred when using several smaller vehicles. The emissions from trucks are in direct proportion to the amounts of fuel burnt.

One aspect of control of road vehicles is the MoT testing of vehicles, and also the testing of drivers. The MoT test has now been made stiffer, and the vehicle's engine will not be so polluting, and therefore it will be more efficient. I am a great believer in the annual MoT test, as it means that once a year the vehicle is practically defect-free. A possible weakness is that vehicles under three years old are exempt, even though a company car could have covered over 100,000 kilometres in that time. Thus the engine could be completely out of tune, with obvious implications for fuel efficiency and pollution.

When it comes to the driver, we test him or her for about half an hour at the tender age of 17 or 18. Unless they get tested for a vocational licence, that is it for the rest of their lives. As a qualified army driving instructor, I have in the past been involved with the training for heavy goods vehicle or large goods vehicle vocational driving licences. I found three types of driver: novice, experienced, and expert. It was always clear to me that an experienced car driver stood practically no chance of passing a vocational driving test without at least four or five days' training.

Apart from not knowing how to pass the test, the student would not normally employ good defensive driving. Defensive driving is a system aiming practically to eliminate any risk of an accident from the planning stage to the end of the journey. An expert driver is a defensive driver. By definition, he or she will rarely have an accident. We are all aware of how much expense, congestion, inconvenience and even grief that accidents cause. They can also cause further accidents, and certainly a lot more pollution. An expert driver will be a progressive driver when it is safe. He will certainly be more fuel efficient, avoiding harsh acceleration, late breaking, or inappropriate gear changes.

I should like to see five-yearly testing of drivers; but I realise that there might be certain practical difficulties. However, who can argue that higher standards of driving would not do more to reduce accidents than stricter vehicle testing? There is a group of drivers who have shown that their standard of driving is far too low; namely, those convicted of careless, reckless or dangerous driving. These drivers should automatically have to take a driving test within six months of conviction or on return of their driving licence if they are to continue driving.

4.14 p.m.

The Viscount of Falkland

My Lords, may I just be allowed to tell the noble Earl, with no feeling of rancour, that he spoke about four places out of turn? His father, who was a great friend and colleague of mine, showed me around when I first came into your Lordships' House. I only wish that the noble Earl had followed his father onto these Benches. Then somebody could have gently tugged his shirt-tail and we could have got back to the right order.

I thank the noble Viscount for introducing this important debate. It is one that I have looked forward to. I believe that today I can talk about motor-cycles without cunningly having to introduce the subject in a debate that is not directly connected with them because we are discussing the internal combustion engine in inner-city areas and the motor-cycle is an important part of the problem.

My charming researcher hinted that she would do some harm to my person if I did not mention two-wheeled vehicles that are not motorised. I do not think that they are relevant to today's debate, so all I can say is that all those interested parties who want to talk about congestion in our inner cities have problems in the queue, as it were, of lobbying. Cyclists, pedestrians and to some degree motor-cyclists have great difficulty in getting to the position of the car manufacturers and the motoring organisations in influencing the Government. The position is very much tilted in favour of cars, which, after all, are the main culprits so far as congestion is concerned in our inner cities.

I do not have to tell your Lordships that a motor-cycle takes up a good deal less room than a car on our roads; roughly one-third of the space. This ought to be taken into account when road pricing is considered—a matter mentioned by a noble Lord who preceded me—if the Government should think of going down that road. Also the damage to road surfaces is considerably less than with a car. Traffic jams are not caused by motor-cycles, and there are quite a lot of motor-cycles in London. They are relatively easy to park, and there is no need to develop high-rise or multi-storey car parking.

The problem about cars and congestion in London is that the congestion is mainly caused at certain times of day by commuters, either in the process of commuting or when they are in London. A great proportion of commuters are driving company cars; in other words, as a perk. The way that the system of company cars is structured is unique to Britain. Through taxation an attempt has been made to make it more expensive for people to use such cars. But, as other noble Lords have said, when considering mobility and public transport, having one's own vehicle is obviously an advantage. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, that it is difficult and probably undesirable for the Government to act in too heavy a manner.

There is not much appeal in public transport today for commuters. It is expensive, uncomfortable and often unreliable. The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, gave us a comparison of costs between car and bus. I can give him a good comparison. It was done by a colleague of mine to show exactly what things cost. A train ticket from Guildford to Waterloo costs £12.70 for a day. On a 900 c.c. motor-cycle, which is moderately large, the tank can be filled for £8 with lead-free petrol, which is used in about 90 per cent. of motor-cycles, and that will last for three whole days. The economy of using a motor-cycle, quite apart from the other aspects of road wear and so on, is obvious.

Another problem that I do not think any other noble Lord has mentioned in connection with congestion in cities is not so much the inconvenience, the bad temper and the pollution of the environment. They are all important factors, but there is also the waste of time, and the waste of working time. It is not just the waste of time getting to work. Presumably most commuters make sure that they get up early enough to get to work on time. But what about people who have to ply their trade in London, using their vehicles to get to appointments? The loss of management time and the frustration of drivers must be enormous. I am not suggesting that every manager should try a motor-cycle; heaven forbid. But there is room for considering two-wheeled transport whenever possible.

I must say a few words about parking. I declare an interest in motor-cycles. The noble Lord, Lord Strathcarron, and I formed the all-party motor-cycle group, which is now two years old and has some 26 members. I believe we have made quite an impact on a number of bodies, even on Members of your Lordships' House. A number of noble Lords ride motor-cycles and, more importantly, a number of noble Lords have now taken the trouble to take the two-part test. That number includes the Government Deputy Chief Whip. I believe he does not intend to ride his motor-cycle in London, which may be a relief to the noble Earl who is to respond to this debate. It is certainly encouraging that there is support across the House not only for motor-cycles but also for the concept of riding them.

Parking for motor-cyclists is a problem but it can be quite easily dealt with. Local authorities have already made quite an effort to provide better parking for motor-cycles. We need more such parking, but there is the question of security. Rings and other fixtures need to be supplied to which motor-cycles can be attached because motor-cycle theft, together with car theft, is still a big problem.

I wish to say a few words about motor-cycles and the environment. I have already said that about 90 per cent of motor-cycles take lead-free petrol. Motorcycles are relatively fuel efficient. Most of the parts of a motor-cycle can be recycled when the motor-cycle has reached the end of its useful life. There have been many misconceptions both in your Lordships' House and outside about the safety of motor-cycles. That was one of the contributory reasons for our forming the parliamentary group concerned with motor-cycles. We felt the misunderstandings needed to be dealt with.

Government figures show that at present motorcycles have never been safer. Those figures take into account the fact that there are fewer motor-cycles on the road now than there were, say, five years ago, as young people now have to take the two-part test and motor-cycles are relatively expensive. There has been a fall of 18 per cent in motor-cycle accidents in the last quarter of 1992 as opposed to an increase of six per cent in car accidents. There has been a decrease in the number of motor-cycle accidents in seven consecutive quarters. The Government's target is to cut motor-cycle accidents by 40 per cent by the year 2000 and to cut car accidents by 30 per cent. Motor-cyclists have already met their target thanks to better motor-cycle riding, better training and better made machines. It is therefore important that the Government certainly do not discourage the use of motor-cycles for many of the reasons I have mentioned. I hope they will encourage their use.

The noble Viscount referred to industry in his introduction to the debate. The British motor-cycle industry was at one time the leading motor-cycle industry in the world. Unhappily it disappeared almost entirely but it is now re-emerging. The Triumph company now produces some of the best motor-cycles in the world. Triumph certainly has the most automated and most modern motor-cycle manufacturing plant in the world. The plant has not been in existence for many years but Triumph is making a quite incredible impact on world motor-cycling products. That is all to the good. I hope the Government can at least supplement the encouragement which was given to the industry by the Minister responsible for transport when he opened the Motor Show at Birmingham.

4.24 p.m.

Lord Nelson of Stafford

My Lords, I add my congratulations to my noble friend Lord Cadman on his excellent maiden speech. We are delighted to hear him speak and we hope to hear him on many other occasions. I also wish to add my congratulations to my noble friend who has introduced this most interesting and timely debate. He introduced the debate in a splendid fashion when he emphasised the importance of this matter. Other speakers have reinforced that point. Noble Lords have spoken of the problems of congestion and of pollution of the atmosphere. My noble friend also touched on a number of technological measures which have been tackled over the years, and which are being tackled. In implementing those measures solutions may be found to some of the problems we face.

I believe most of the technology needed to solve the problems is in place and is available. The problem is not one of technology but of application. What can we do to apply the technology to meet our urgent needs? I divide the problem into two parts: first, what can we do about reducing the number of vehicles on the roads, particularly in urban areas, and, secondly, what can we do about contamination of the atmosphere? My noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy touched on the matter of road pricing. I consider that is one of the more promising approaches to our problems. I believe it has been tried in some parts of the world. If some noble Lords have experience of that system, I should be interested to hear about it.

As I have said, the technology is in place. We have electronic tagging and other methods of collecting fees for entry into defined areas. Those methods are available but it is a question of whether they can be properly applied. However, such systems would have to be used all over the country. It must be possible to drive one's car anywhere without changing to a different system. I shall return to that matter later. Increased vehicle utilisation is another possible solution. Every day one sees cars streaming past with a single occupant in each car. However, I do not know how one could ever persuade people to act otherwise. I do not believe increased vehicle utilisation is a promising solution.

The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, touched on the matter of restricting heavy vehicles. There is a lot to be said for that. Many heavy commercial vehicles entering urban areas belong to contractors who wish to deliver goods to building sites. We all know what that can entail when they are unloading. Why can those vehicles not be driven and unloaded at times of the day when congestion is not so great? Can their entry to urban areas not be restricted to certain times or, alternatively, could the size of those vehicles not be restricted along the lines that have already been mentioned? I believe possible easements could be found along those lines.

If we are to reduce the number of cars in cities, we must link up the use of cars with public transport systems such as the new light railway systems which are now being introduced into a number of cities. Such systems have great possibilities provided there are adequate parking places in "park and ride" car parks and there is co-ordination between one system and another—for example, between a main line rail system, a light railway system and car parks. The information technology is available to enable that to be achieved but it is not being used at present. Why is that? I shall return to that matter in a moment.

Perhaps we can make vehicle use more expensive by means of taxing vehicles according to their size, the places where they are driven, the petrol they consume and other such measures. However, I rather doubt that that will be a deterrent to vehicle use. I think drivers will simply pay the bills and moan about them. There are ways of reducing the numbers of vehicles entering our city centres and returning from them. There are also ways of reducing the contamination of the atmosphere that vehicles cause in our cities. Reference has been made by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, to gas engines. I was interested to hear about that. Our technologies have made great progress already as regards the internal combustion engine's performance but more can be done as regards reducing the weight of vehicles and improving their aerodynamics and therefore their general performance. Impressive progress has been made in introducing the diesel engine for a personal vehicle. It is widely used in countries such as France. There is a big market for the diesel-engined car. Perhaps my noble friend will explain why the Government do not do more to encourage the diesel car. Such a development is in the interests of pollution reduction and of the motor car industry. I know that the motor car industry has pressed strongly for it.

There are ways and means of lessening the contamination of the atmosphere by our vehicles. In his excellent maiden speech, my noble friend Lord Cadman referred to the large electric vehicle. I am more impressed with the small electric vehicle. I believe that that offers the main practical application for electric cars. I am surprised that there are not more small electric cars or vans undertaking delivery services around our cities. That would assist with regard to contamination and to occupancy of the road surface. We ought to ask ourselves what can be done by special tax arrangements and so on to encourage the use of electric cars, though such cars have a limited contribution to make because of the limitation of the battery. The technology is such that long distance travel in electric cars is still a long way off.

Having considered both sides of the problem, I have to ask: what can we do about it? I remind noble Lords that your Lordships' Select Committee on Science and Technology examined the problem about five years ago. It issued a good report, Innovation in Surface Transport, which touched on many of these problems. Not much progress has been made since then. However, the report referred to the importance of the Road Transport Research Laboratory in giving a lead in the technology of those matters. I hope that the laboratory still acts in those fields.

The report raised one other fundamental point: the problem of the interfaces between the different systems—central government, local government, the nationalised railways system shortly to be privatised into different systems, public transport systems, the private individual and vehicle manufacturers are all involved. How will one co-ordinate all those interests to achieve a practical, sensible approach to the problem that my noble friend has outlined? I was foolish enough to believe that the Minister for Public Transport would do so. That is where we came completely unstuck on our Select Committee, because we were told firmly by the Minister for Public Transport that co-ordination between the different transport systems had nothing to do with him; it was for the different authorities to work it out between themselves. I believe that that is the nub of the problem. If my noble friend has anything to say on that issue when he replies, I shall be most interested.

4.33 p.m.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I should like to commence my contribution to the debate at precisely the point at which the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, began his: 30 years ago. In 1963 Professor Colin Buchanan produced a report, entitled Traffic in Towns. It states: The briefest acquaintance with the conditions that now prevail in towns makes it clear that traffic congestion has already placed in jeopardy the well-being of many inhabitants and the efficiency of many activities. The potential increase in the number of vehicles is so great that unless something is done the conditions are bound to become extremely serious within a comparatively short period of years". During the intervening 30 or so years, vehicle ownership and use has increased substantially. That increase was forecast in that report. Sadly, both then and in the intervening years we have not heeded the warning. We now suffer what I might call a mild form of anti-motor vehicle hysteria.

Against that background my noble friend Lord Oxfuird will agree that today's debate has an aspect of déjà vu. In his excellent introduction my noble friend produced a mass of figures, many of which I do not contest. However, somewhat sweepingly he spoke about pollution and numbers of vehicles, with percentages of this, that or the other. One might gain the impression that the speech was a condemnation of all internal combustion-engined vehicles. Research by the Royal Automobile Club suggests that more than 50 per cent of the pollution from road transport comes from only 17 per cent of all vehicles; and that I per cent of vehicles generate as much pollution as the cleanest 40 per cent. The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, referred to the inclusion of emission testing in the new MOT test. In the fullness of time that will make a considerable contribution to a solution of the problem.

Sadly, I do not believe that congestion will ever be removed. However, I believe that we might be able to contain it. Containment could be implemented by small measures which in total would add up to a formidable attack. I am encouraged by an Automobile Association paper presented in 1991 to the Trades Union Congress Transport Industry Committee which suggests half a dozen points which could be considered. The paper refers to roadworks. Noble Lords will recall that the New Roads and Streetworks Act 1991 which implements the Horne Report of 1985 is coming into force little by little. That will make some contribution.

The enforcement of waiting restrictions must be stepped up. It is estimated that in London alone 2.5 million fixed penalty parking tickets are issued. Half a million are unpaid. The Transport and Road Research Laboratory suggests that each day in London there are tens of thousands of undetected parking offences. Purely and simply, the risk of getting caught is minimal and therefore people ignore the restriction. I ask the Minister this question. How much money is raised in London alone from parking meters, residents' parking permits and so on? Where does that money go? Originally it was to provide off-street parking, but that does not seem to occur. Where does the money go? Every journey has a start, a middle and an end. Some of the biggest problems arise at the end of the journey because there is nowhere to put the car.

London has about 40 authorities responsible for traffic transport and parking matters. There is no cohesive policy. In some parts of London there are acres of parking area; in others there is none. The 1991 Road Traffic Act provided for the red route system, with a director. We should have a directorate of transport which could co-ordinate such matters and provide parking. It would mean a big shift in resource. I often leave my car at Winchester Station. However, I am hesitant to do so now when I come up by train because parking costs £1.80 or £2. There is no supervision, no responsibility. There is not a bad, asphalt car park, I grant you. In Kent, it costs £2 a day in an old builders' yard owned by British Rail, or at least that is what it looks like to me. There is thieving, hooliganism, damage. Of course, one can take the car all the way and worry about the problem when one gets to London and the inner city. We are just not grasping the problem.

The park and ride system has been mentioned and the same applies there. The frequency of the ride and the safety of the park are missing so let us not bother, let us find a corner and put the car at the kerbside.

One of the failures of recent years has been in the planning system. Land-use planning has proceeded with little or no regard for the travel demands that development and redevelopment create. One only has to look at Milton Keynes, a marvellous, splendid idea with all its avenues and tunnels. But it failed to take account of the increase in traffic so there are problems.

Development and redevelopment in the future can only be permitted where the demand for travel can be accommodated in the existing infrastructure. Where that cannot be achieved —I make no bones about it —the developer must be required to pay for the necessary infrastructure and improvements thereto.

I had planned to say something about public transport, a sad subject, but perhaps I shall leave it for another day.

Why do people own cars? They do so because it gives them freedom and it is an expression of their own will. They can go where they wish when they wish. It opens up new avenues of leisure. It offers job opportunities. Without a motor car or adequate public transport the chances of getting a job diminish.

Burdening motor car ownership with taxes was mentioned by my noble friends Lord Nelson and Lord Oxfuird. It would create problems and the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, said in effect that it would be morally and politically unwise to do so in order to prohibit the use of cars. So we have to accommodate the reasonable demands. I add a little trailer to the debate of the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, which is to take place early next month, following what the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, said. Ten per cent of the UK's population—over 5 million people—have disabilities to the extent that they cannot use public transport, they need a motor car. That must be accommodated. It is perfectly reasonable and cannot be disregarded and perhaps we shall deal with it next month.

Solutions to congestion must be based on balanced transport and land-use policies. I believe that they can also take care of a number of alternatives, including cycling and the use of one's own feet.

The integration of transport does not mean more buses and trains and fewer motor cars. It means using the various modes at three levels: planning, financing and operating. A start has been made there but, as I suggested, we need to go further with a directorate in places like London.

We have talked about modern technology—it is in place. We have failed to use what is available to us; we have wasted the resources available to meet the problem. Before we go dancing down the route of road pricing systems, adding more burdens, we must look at the utilisation of what is available and devote the kind of money which is necessary to overcome the problem. Goodness knows, the motor vehicle industry, motorists and lorry drivers contribute 4.5 points of revenue to 1 point spent on dealing with the problem. Much of the responsibility lies with government, with the firm allocation of resources so that the planners can be sure in their own minds that the funds will last. That would be better than having the stop-start messing about with the money spent on public transport, the management of transport systems and the road network which has gone on over the past 10, 15 or 20 years.

4.45 p.m.

Lord Teviot

My Lords, with all due respect to my noble friend, I fiercely negate the suggestion that public transport is a sad subject. However, I shall not go further into that point now. I too join other noble Lords in congratulating my noble friend Lord Cadman on an extraordinarily warm and effective maiden speech. The topic selected by my noble friend Lord Oxfuird is of vital importance to the health of the country, in both the economic and medical senses of the word.

Our great cities were not so much planned as evolved. We are apt to forget that it is characteristic of this densely crowded island that three-quarters of the population occupies only a small fraction of the available space—perhaps 10 to 20 per cent.—especially during the working day when the great tides of commuters sweep in from suburbia.

Unlike many cities abroad, our heritage and culture have not blessed us with the wide avenues and boulevards of a Paris or a Washington. We must also remember that our cities were partly shaped by transport, especially in the last century and the early part of the present century, first by trains and then by trams. Then came prosperity to the large majority of the population and the explosion of car ownership: the new freedom of unlimited personal mobility changed the habits of the post-war generations. Of course, I am simplifying and generalising, but who can deny that people should be free to travel when and how they choose?

However, we must look more closely at that freedom. Her Majesty's Government have committed themselves to meeting the obligations of the United Nations Convention on Climate Change, which the Prime Minister signed in Rio last summer. We must cut our emissions of the so-called greenhouse gases (especially carbon dioxide, which accounts for half the global warming effect, I understand) back to 1990 levels by the year 2000. If exhaust emissions from private cars continue unchecked and traffic grows as the Government predict, it will be impossible to meet that target.

It is, of course, not only greenhouse gases—carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, oxides of nitrogen—that are of concern. The list of pollutants from motor vehicles (the vast majority emitted by private cars) is a considerable catalogue. Many are injurious to health; concentrations of them increase with congestion. It is no exaggeration at all to say that our cities are in danger, some might almost say literally choking to death.

In September 1991 the Yorkshire Evening Post, the local Leeds paper, warned: City in Crisis over Fumes and Noise". That emerged from monitoring by the council of air quality and pollution at key points in the city. Leeds is not alone. London, Bristol and Sheffield have all reported similar results.

Where can we turn for a solution? We cannot deny people mobility, having built up a society that depends on it. But we can call for more responsible choices. We must seek a renaissance of public transport. In the White Paper, This Common Inheritance, the Government have shown that pollutant emissions per passenger mile by the typical London bus are less than half those produced by cars. A large bus typically carries over 20 times the number of people in cars taking up the same road space, and that is true of buses that are half full or less. Trains, too, are far more economical, both in their emission of pollutants and their use of scarce space in our cities.

Perhaps we should look to Los Angeles, the gross centre of the car culture. There, gridlock occurs now on an almost daily basis and the city swelters under an ever present cloak of photochemical smog. But the authorities are reinstating abandoned urban rail routes as light rapid transit systems, constructing metros and giving ever increasing proportions of their street systems to bus ways, bus priorities and higher occupancy vehicle lanes in which cars can only be driven if all seats are occupied. They are fitting their buses with engines which burn cleaner fuels and marketing transport to attract a better informed public back on to "transit", as they call it. These are the methods of carrot and stick, education and persuasion and "prevention is better than cure". The Los Angeles Times on 22nd August 1990 stated: Progress on alternative fuels in the 1980s was driven almost entirely by California's dramatic efforts to clean its air by forcing auto makers and fuel suppliers to meet tough emission standards. That program became a blueprint for Congress and … has affected the strategies of auto and oil companies around the globe". The same issue reported an increase in bus ridership (number of passengers in British terms) in Orange County of nearly one-third in two years because of: environmental concerns, high employment and good quality service", and that for the first time in many years: Some rush hour buses are so packed that riders must sometimes wait for a second bus". I believe that we must catch up with our American cousins. They created the problems earlier than we did. We can learn from them and take action now.

What action should that be? Much work is going on. I pay tribute to the investigations of the Royal Commission on environmental pollution, which recently embarked on a study of transport impacts on the environment, following up its work on diesel engines, to which I am glad to see the Government are responding positively. The local authority associations have published the second edition of their guide to environmental good practice, which has a substantial chapter on transport and case studies on the efforts of cities such as Hull, Leeds and Leicester to solve problems before they become acute.

Our passenger transport authorities and their executives have done sterling work with campaigns such as "Don't choke the city" in the West Midlands and "Cars are bad news for the environment; you're looking at an alternative" on the sides of buses in West Yorkshire. Park-and-ride schemes should also be encouraged, despite the reservations in some ways rightly expressed by my noble friend Lord Lucas.

All that is being done with relatively low resources. I am afraid that the policies of my noble friends are not helping much. Since deregulation the average age of buses in many parts of the country has increased from six or seven years to 10 or more, despite influxes of new, smaller buses. Older vehicles are not necessarily bad; most are well maintained, but obviously they become less efficient, more polluting and less likely to tempt motorists from their cars.

I depart from my prepared speech to recall a recent visit to Malta, which must be the antithesis of Los Angeles. In that very small island masses of buses ply for hire at very low prices. But I am sure that their output of pollutants is enormous. The vehicles are aged, dating from the 1920s and 1930s. If they were illustrated in a children's comic, one would read it and think that it had gone over the top. However, without those vehicles at those low prices, the congestion in the narrow streets of that small island would be impossible. Congestion slows journeys; it frustrates and deters passengers. Therefore, I ask my noble friends to consider what help they can give to promoting increased investment in the bus industry. We need good public transport.

To use an Enid Blyton-type phrase, our "magnificent seven" —the six English passenger transport authorities and Strathclyde, in Scotland—have shown the success of investment in good public transport, in buses, trains, metros and trams and the need for promotion and support. Their policies are models that can be built on. But, sadly, they are not helped by the limitations under which they find themselves: strict control of local authority finances, especially under the present precept provisions; the uncertainties of the coming railway denationalisation; and the weak state of much of the bus industry.

I feel that I have only scratched the surface of a very important topic. Public transport use has to be increased, people must be persuaded to use their cars wisely and not to contribute to congestion by journeys that can just as well be made by bus or train. That is the route to maintaining vibrant, healthy cities and stopping their further destruction by private cars.

4.55 p.m.

Lord Marlesford

My Lords, we are all grateful to my noble friend Lord Oxfuird for the opportunity of debating a subject which is probably of greater interest to more people directly in this country than in any other. I started to be interested in the subject as a young researcher in the Conservative Research Department about 30 years ago, when I was attached as an aide to Ernest Marples, who in my opinion was one of the great Ministers of Transport. He always used to say, "It's not what you say that matters. It's what you do". I do not believe that a great deal new has been said today. (That is not a criticism.) However, I think it is true that a great deal more could be done.

Mr. Marples was very concerned with congestion in cities. He set up the Buchanan inquiry, which has been referred to. In his report Sir Colin Buchanan described the car as "the monster we love". Marples did a great deal of traffic engineering: pink zones and various parking restrictions. He was extremely unpopular when he did it. His public profile was always very high but he was pretty unpopular at the time. But when he left there was a lacuna, when, briefly, nothing happened; then the motto was: "Come back, Marples, all is forgiven".

Later we had another—in my opinion—great Minister for Transport, the noble Baroness, Lady Castle, whom I am delighted to see here. She too was an action person. I am sure that we owe many lives to her. She introduced compulsory seat belts and the breathalyser.

It has already been suggested that there is no way in which we can cope with the number of motor cars. Los Angeles has been referred to. It is a perfect example. They are now changing their road policy. Some of your Lordships may remember in the 1930s that it was, I believe, General Motors which bought up the public transport system in Los Angeles and closed it down in order to promote a bigger market for cars. That is at last likely to be reversed.

I believe that there is still an inclination on the part of the road lobby to claim that it ought to be possible to cope fully with the demand for car space. I am extremely doubtful. Is it wise to be spending £1 billion on an extra lane on the M.25? It would certainly have been right to put an extra lane on the M.25 when it was originally built. But I very much doubt whether in terms of the opportunity cost of that money it is the right way to spend £1 billion now. Sadly it is probably too late to do anything about it.

I would like to emphasise another point on whether to cater for the growth in the number of cars. There is increasing multiple car ownership in families. It is the number of cars related to the number of people in them which is one of the main causes of congestion. The cost of owning a car is actually falling in real terms. In 1975, for example, the vehicle excise duty was £40. If you relate that to today's prices by using simple inflation percentage you would get to £165. Currently the cost of a licence is only £110. If you were to apply £165 to the 22 million cars that there are it might discourage people having quite so many cars. At the very least it would produce an extra £1.2 billion of tax revenue. That, I believe, suggests that there should be—I hope the Chancellor will consider it—a pretty stiff increase in the vehicle excise duty rate.

I should like to say a word about on street parking. Parking meters are obviously a good idea. However, I believe that it has been a mistake not to allow people to feed parking meters. The object of a parking meter is to ensure that there are always on-the-street parking spaces available. To do this it is necessary to have a price mechanism which ensures that at peak times there are a few meters free. To have complicated rules to stop meter feeding merely makes the administration of a parking meter system more expensive. The logic for these rules—I do not believe that they are logical—is that if parking is made too expensive some people will not be able to afford to park. Most of us would probably agree that on-street car-parking should be one of the many things that the price mechanism is used to allocate.

If I may I should like to turn to something about which little has been said, although it was mentioned on the other side of the House; that is, the role of bicycles. The Department of Transport provided a useful brief for this debate and in the first paragraph I was encouraged to see that it mentioned bicycles. However, I was then horrified to see that it contained a total non sequitur. It states: The Government has not specifically set out to encourage people to cycle, since decisions of this kind are a matter of personal choice". With logic like that I can only be depressed by the quality of thinking on the bicycle front that exists in the Department of Transport.

Little has been done to help the cyclist in cities. Until more is done there are three simple rules which I apply from time to time. Eyebrows may be raised when I mention them so I do so with diffidence. The first is that when there is an unoccupied pavement, use it. Secondly, when there is a one-way street it is sometimes safer to cycle down it the wrong way, then vehicles cannot take one by surprise from behind. Thirdly, if one crosses a red light one probably has less chance of colliding with other cars, at least those going in the same direction. I am not saying that those are virtuous rules to follow. But it is lamentable how little is being done—apart from the first sentence the brief gave me no encouragement at all—for cyclists in Britain generally and for cyclists in cities in particular.

When my noble friend Lord Caithness answers perhaps he can give us a few simple figures. For example, what is the cost of providing facilities for bicycles per person mile, or whatever way one measures it? Compared with cars it must he infinitesimal. Can he tell us how many miles of bicycle track there were in London 10 years ago, how many there are now and how many he plans to introduce over the next five years? I shall not blame the Minister personally if he cannot answer those questions. It merely reflects the lack of attention being given to a means of transport which must be thoroughly desirable. It is completely green, unlike the motorbike. I am not wholly against the motorbike but it is a jolly noisy beast compared with a bicycle. There is huge scope for greater use of cycles.

I conclude with one specific suggestion. It would not be expensive and should at least be examined. Would it not be possible to construct along the River Thames for whatever distance is necessary, and certainly from the West End through to the City, a wooden shelf cantilevered out over the Thames specifically for bicycles? Clearly it would encourage many more people to use bicycles. I suggest it would also help to reduce road congestion and be good for the nation's health.

5.3 p.m.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, I thought that there would be one subject on which I could speak which would be left out of the rich kaleidoscope; namely, bicycles. I hold a brief sent to me by the noble Lord, Lord Colwyn, who unfortunately cannot be in his place because his bicycle could not get him here fast enough. He asked me to say a word or two on bicycles but the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, has done that extremely well.

Before I continue perhaps I can say just one or two more words on bicycles. It is interesting to see from the brief that 75 per cent. of all journeys in the City start within five miles of the centre, and that is a good biking distance. I certainly support what was said about the need for more cycle routes in central London and indeed in all our major towns. I am glad to say that in the fair city of Taunton where I now live the local authority has been building cycle tracks over the past few years. Not only are people healthier because they ride bicycles, but also they do not have to inhale exhaust fumes while riding on those cycle tracks.

We have had an excellent debate this afternoon, free, I am glad to say, from political polemic on any side. I hope that nothing I say will disturb that placid bond. Indeed, if there has been any political criticism it tended to come from the government Back-Benchers. One heard some remarkable comments regarding the need for transport strategy. Those are words I never thought I would hear from the other side of the House. They are welcome in one form or another from both the noble Viscount, Lord Oxfuird, and the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth. We are grateful to the noble Viscount for raising this subject and indeed for introducing it in such an excellent way this afternoon.

We have had a wide-ranging discussion. People talked of their own specific interests. My noble friend Lord Falkland insisted on telling us what a wonderful machine the motor-cycle is. I am sure that it has its merits, although again I tend to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, that they are rather noisy and occasionally come upon one rather suddenly.

We then heard about trolleybuses from the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon—at one stage I thought he was going to talk of electric hobby-horses but I obviously misheard him. Although trolleybuses are extremely efficient at moving people and are non-polluting, I remember that when I was a boy in Manchester and we had them there, we used to refer to them as "the whistling death". One tended to be knocked down before one heard them coming.

It was interesting to hear of the developments in Bristol mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Cadman. As a member of the Procedure Committee I am not allowed to congratulate him on his speech. It says in the Companion that only the speaker afterwards is allowed to do that. Nevertheless, were I able to do so I would congratulate him most warmly.

The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, rightly pointed to the need for improved driving and again the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, mentioned the question of tidying up our roads so that there were not so many roadworks. We all spent many hours on the Horne Report and the Act last year. The important point in the debate is that all those various facets are brought together and we recognise that there is not any one single solution to the problem. However, we all agree that the problem exists and it is one of enormous magnitude for the health not only of London and the inner cities, but also for the health of the world at large. The impact of the pollution being created is seriously affecting our climate and, in the long term, the world outside.

I want to deal in a little more detail with one or two aspects. I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, about the car being something with which everybody has a love affair. It has certainly brought considerable blessings in its wake in terms of giving families freedom and flexibility to be able to move from door to door as and when they wish. As the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, pointed out, for people with disabilities of one kind or another, motorcars are now an essential part of life. But it has also been one of the greatest curses of our time because of the pollution that it has caused.

There has been much talk of London. But it is interesting to note that in Manchester where there were something like 80,000 vehicles an hour in the rush hour in 1980, the figure has now risen by another 15,000 vehicles an hour. That trend is continuing. It must stop and it must be redressed. Carrots and sticks have been mentioned. It is true that the carrot and stick approach must be the one that we use.

Apart from anything else the one point that nobody has mentioned, with the exception of my noble friend Lord Ezra, is gasoline availability in the coming years and centuries. He spoke of using natural gas which presumably could be produced from sources other than extracting it from the ground—it would not then be natural gas; it would be produced gas. These days we are extremely reliant upon gasoline and cannot continue to rely on it for much longer, which comes back to the point of the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, in terms of using electrical traction. It is easier to control such pollution because it is produced at a central point, although the investment necessary to clean up the flue gases of our power stations is something to which the Government will have to address themselves sooner or later.

There are three ways to improve the situation. One is to improve our public transport, a subject which has been talked about at length. I hate to mention the fact, but I do not believe that bus deregulation is of any great help in this regard. Bus deregulation in central London will have a deleterious effect on congestion because many of the electronic aids which could benefit passengers—for example, signing at bus stops, which we now have on the Underground—will not come into being because no-one will be responsible for that general infrastructure. There is the opportunity to introduce that kind of technology. Indeed, it is being experimented with at the moment. Those of us who regularly travel on the Underground know how much more confidence it gives us to be able to see what time the next train is coming. If we could know what time the next bus is coming, we would very often be prepared to stay at that bus stop for that much longer rather than getting out our cars, leaping into a taxi or using some other form of transport.

My party went into the general election suggesting that there should be a transfer of taxation from the vehicle excise licence onto petrol. That suggestion caused somewhat of a furore. In various parts of the country little notes were put round saying, "If you want to increase the cost of using your car by £5 a week, you will vote Liberal Democrat". It was not true but it was a good line. I do believe that by putting the cost onto petrol rather than putting it onto the vehicle excise licence there is a better chance of people understanding the true cost of any journey.

The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, gave some comparative figures for cars and public transport. However, the figures that he used for cars did not show the full cost of the journey. They showed the marginal cost of a single journey. When people are making that decision, that is all they think about. A shift onto petrol pricing rather than using either insurance or the vehicle excise licence would go some way towards redressing the balance. Of course there would be problems in rural areas. One would have to have some kind of compensatory factor for those areas where it is absolutely essential to use a car because no public transport is available. People in those areas should not have too great a burden.

I should like to turn briefly to road pricing. There is a reluctance to go into road pricing because it can be cumbersome. Experiments have been carried out in different parts of the world; in Greece, Singapore and so on. But the situations in those places are different. We are moving to a situation where technology is beginning to catch up. In coming years it will be possible to have electronically tagged cars so that one can have differential rates at different times of the day. People will have a bill to pay depending on where they have been, for how long and when. These possibilities have to be borne in mind. We are not there yet but such developments will make a big difference. They will show people the true cost of being in the city centre when it is least advantageous to the community as a whole.

As the end of the day we have to recognise that the car will be with us. We have to learn to live with it. However, we have to learn to control it. The debate today has probably gone a long way to clearing people's minds on what needs to be done. Some decisions have to be made. I hope that the Government are moving towards some decisions. I hope, as has been suggested, that they are moving towards some kind of cohesive and coherent transport policy.

5.15 p.m.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, I start by thanking the noble Viscount for introducing this debate with what was an extremely interesting speech. I join those who have already congratulated the noble Lord, Lord Cadman. It is remarkable to think that this was his first speech anywhere. I do not know what has been holding him hack. We have also had some very interesting revelations during the course of the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, referred to the Liberal Democrat manifesto at the last election—a tissue of lies. We had a fine speech from the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, who made a remarkable comment about the brief from the Department of Transport. He is no doubt very privileged. I did not receive a brief from the Department of Transport. I do not think that my noble friend Lord Stoddart or anyone else on this side of the House received a brief from the Department of Transport. But it gave the noble Lord no encouragement, and so he now finds himself in precisely the same position as the Minister—briefs which give him no encouragement whatever.

As the noble Viscount, Lord Oxfuird, said, transport is a major source of pollution. However, having said that, I think that the noble Viscount put too much faith in technological solutions. I join with him in praising those elements of British industry which have made great strides in bringing forward anti-pollution technology, but that will not be the whole answer by any manner or means. The large projected increase in transport movements which were referred to in the Government's White Paper frankly threaten to render insignificant the progress which has been made in improving technical standards. We have to recognise that liberalisation of transport markets, desirable though that may be—I played my part in seeking to achieve that in the European Commission—and plans for the further development of transport infrastructure have potentially damaging environmental impacts. That is as true at national level as it is at European Community level.

We have concentrated on setting technical standards rather than addressing the more fundamental structural conflicts that exist between transport and the environment. The Government's own forecast growth rates to which I have just referred, especially for road transport, seem to be environmentally unsustainable. It follows from that that we on this side of the House believe that urgent action, far more dramatic than we have witnessed so far, will have to be taken by government if there is to be the faintest chance of honouring the commitments that they have entered into to stabilise greenhouse gas emissions at 1990 levels no later than the year 2000. That is already an inadequate target.

Crucial to any effort to curb pollution from transport are policies aimed at reducing the need to travel by road and increasing the use of public transport, cycling and walking, wherever those may be possible. That note was introduced fairly late in the debate but it was an important one.

The European Community's fifth environment action programme identifies transport as one of the target areas selected in making environment a component of all other policies. That programme identified industry and local authorities, a point made by the noble Viscount at the beginning of the debate, as lead factors regarding five of the transport measures on which action is recommended up to the year 2000, those measures being land-use planning, infrastructure investment, better information for drivers, improved public transport and the discouragement of road traffic wherever that is practicable. Those arguments were deployed in greater detail in the Green Paper issued by the Commission A Community Strategy for Sustainable Mobility.

There is no easy route available to achieve a sustainable transport policy. Transport is inextricably linked with economic and social vitality. The choices, both personal and institutional, are based on cost, convenience, availability and comfort. The question then arises: has society taken proper or any account of the environmental costs, particularly those arising from increased transport use? Choices necessarily involve political choices as well. What is the acceptable level of intervention in freedom of choice by businesses and individuals? Trade-offs have to be made between development objectives and environmental gains. But decisions have to be taken by organisations that are democratically accountable in this regard but not, I suggest, by quangos or individuals who are unaccountable. It was very refreshing to hear the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, who had been a Minister at the Department of Transport, call for a director of transport in London. But why not go one stage further and have a properly elected and accountable authority?

The background to this debate—I shall try to bring together the various subjects which were introduced into it by your Lordships—is that most journeys are local. All transport and transport infrastructure make a significant impact on the local environment whatever the length of journey involved—I revert again to the point made by the noble Viscount; consequently the role of local government is critical in this. Being democratically accountable, it has a special role in alerting people to the environmental implications of the choices which are being contemplated and an especial task in representing the interests of local people in discussions and consulta- tions about strategic and national transport policy and transport infrastructure as well, which is designed to meet national needs.

It has a role in relation to land-use policies which can influence the type and amount of transport which may be required. It should have a much more important role in making transport investment decisions to determine the way in which journeys may be made. It has a very important role indeed, which is not fully utilised, in transport management strategies relating to car use and encouraging the greater use of public transport and cycling and walking. I believe that it should have an increasing role in undertaking vehicle emission monitoring and control.

To exploit fully the potential advance that can be made, the position of central government is vital. Land-use planning decisions determine the needs and patterns of travel in the final analysis. To that end central government have to take greater account of the environmental impact of transport than they have done hitherto. The Commission's case for requiring environmental assessment of policies, plans and programmes, as well as of major infrastructure proposals, is very important indeed. In a local sense my noble friend Lord Stoddart referred to that point. Where do the Government stand on those particular issues?

We also take the view that some urgent change of priorities from road to rail has to be undertaken in terms of the resources required. That involves long-term decisions regarding grant aid and addressing the imbalance between the resources made available for roads and public transport. New types of policies are being experimented with by local authorities in particular to alter the way in which cars are used and to encourage the greater use of public transport. We applaud that. The use of traffic calming techniques, 20 miles per hour zones for residential areas, bus priority measures and other ways of encouraging public transport and the increased attention which is being given to parking policy, which has been touched on by a number of your Lordships in this debate, all point to potentially significant ways of impacting on people's decisions regarding travel.

I now turn to the issue of vehicle emissions themselves. The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, was right in saying that good monitoring of ambient air quality was the key to any strategy for tackling vehicle emissions. I believe that statutory authority, coupled with resources, needs to be given to local authorities to do that according to centrally determined standards of monitoring which must be capable of being understood by the general public. Up-to-date information also needs to be provided on poor air quality. That can be done in a variety of ways, not least through the local media. Information about public transport availability—a point touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff—is extremely important in that regard.

Smog alert procedures should be invoked to deal with those cases where more radical action may be justified. That is done in the Federal Republic at the present time in a number of the Länder. Central and local government should together examine what powers may be required for a strategy along those lines to deal with poor air quality.

I applaud the Government in ensuring that emission standards are now included in the MoT test. But what action is proposed as regards on-the-road control? The technology now exists, such as remote sensors and so on, to record emission concentration and to photograph culprits. According to surveys which have been undertaken in the United States, about 10 per cent of vehicles emit 50 per cent. of carbon monoxide gases. Consequently, there is a need to use such technology to identify the culprits.

Some authorities implement vehicle spotter schemes to identify smoky vehicles. Have the Government any plans to give local authorities powers to set up such schemes to report smoky vehicles and to require the owners to undertake remedial work? In parallel with the use of cameras to detect and enforce speeding and traffic offences, have the Government any plans to permit the use of new technology in that particular area? Do they have any plans to set up a system of penalties for the owners of vehicles which persistently breach emission standards? I put those points specifically to the Minister.

This has been a useful debate and I end where I began by congratulating the noble Viscount in introducing it in a very effective and interesting speech.

5.28 p.m.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I too congratulate my noble friend Lord Oxfuird on proposing this debate to your Lordships' House. It is a most important subject and one which affects the lives of people throughout the country. I join him in paying a special tribute to our scientists and engineers who, as he rightly said, are at the forefront of world technology in this important area, as they are in other important areas.

My noble friend started by using the British Standard for Environment Management Systems (BS7750) as the framework for his remarks. The standard is an important environmental initiative which the Government have strongly supported. We shall continue to take a keen interest in its development. It is the first such standard in the world and it puts Britain firmly in the lead on environmental management. It will be the benchmark against which future environmental management developments will be measured. The standard is designed for the use of business in monitoring and managing its impact on the environment. A company implementing the standard would have to carry out a review of its environmental impacts, establish a programme of improvement objectives and carry out regular audits to ensure that the objectives will have been achieved. The standard provides a management framework to ensure the effectiveness of these measures. We recommend that transport businesses should give careful consideration to the use of the standard.

The Government seek to control the internal combustion engine in our towns and cities in two ways. The first is technological and includes the ways in which emissions from individual vehicles are controlled and the scope for alternative methods of propulsion. Here much of the regulatory work we do is international. For example, vehicle emission standards are clearly a matter for EC action. The second strand is the way in which we manage traffic, and it touches on what we can do to make use of all kinds of vehicles more environmentally friendly. I shall take these two broad points in turn.

Most of your Lordships mentioned emissions from vehicles. Those are a major anxiety, and air pollution is worse in congested city centres. The Government have recognised the importance of monitoring air quality and are taking steps to improve it. A system of daily air quality bulletins, forecasts and associated health advice was introduced in October 1990. It now includes sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and ground level ozone. Guidance was issued by the Department of the Environment in May 1992 (Summertime Smog—How to prevent it) on action the public could take, much of it transport related, such as minimising the use of cars and keeping cars parked in the shade, to reduce emissions of ozone precursors during summer pollution episodes. Similar guidance on winter pollution episodes was published in October 1992.

Since 1st January 1993, most new cars need catalytic converters to secure reductions of around 75 per cent. in emissions of harmful substances such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide and hydrocarbons. In addition, another EC directive introduces new regulations on emissions from new heavy diesels. A new feature of these controls is a limit on particulates. A second stage of limits will apply from 1st October 1995. Tighter regulations to take effect further into the future are already under discussion in the EC. The United Kingdom Government are committed to seeking the tightest practicable standards for vehicle emissions which are cost-effective.

The performance of catalysts in reducing pollutant emissions when vehicles are cold-started and over the first two kilometres or so is a particular problem. Despite pressure from this country, the Commission's proposals for "Stage II" standards are not expected to require any improvements before the year 2000. Nonetheless, with our encouragement, some manufacturers are developing devices to accelerate the warm-up of catalysts; and the department is carrying out a programme of research to help formulate tighter emission standards. I listened with care to what the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, had to say on motor-cycles; but I draw to your Lordships' attention the fact that emissions per kilometre from motorcycles can be just as high as those from cars. That is another good reason why we should tackle the motor-cycle problem in addition to the problem of making motor-cycles safer.

However, we also need to tackle pollution from vehicles already in service. We have introduced an emissions test into the annual MoT test for cars and light goods vehicles: this checks emissions of CO and hydrocarbons. Vehicles with badly tuned engines will fail. A new directive on road worthiness testing of emissions has recently been agreed. It introduces progressively tighter standards up to 1997.

In its recent report the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution recommended further action to reduce emissions from heavy diesels already on the road. The Government published their full response on 6th November 1992. An instrumented check of smoke at annual road worthiness tests of heavy goods vehicles and public service vehicles was introduced in September 1992, replacing the existing visual check. Specific roadside checks to detect heavy diesel-engined vehicles which are smoking excessively have also been stepped up significantly during 1992 to complement the instrumented annual check. Both the Government and many more local authorities than just Westminster have instigated schemes whereby grossly smoky vehicles can be reported on telephone call lines. In the year from April 1991 to March 1992 it proved possible to take action on 1,169 (78.8 per cent.) out of 1,483 calls received. Where no action proved possible, this was often because of inadequate information given by the caller.

My noble friend Lord Nelson of Stafford argued that the Government should encourage the use of diesel-engined vehicles because they emit less CO2 per kilometre travelled than petrol-engined vehicles of a similar size and power. The greater fuel efficiency, and hence lower CO2 emissions, of diesel engines is beyond dispute. However, these benefits must be weighed against higher emissions of NOx, smoke and particulates, in comparison with a petrol-engined vehicle fitted with a three-way catalytic converter. Emissions of carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons from diesel engines can be reduced by fitting an oxidation (two-way) catalyst, but this type of catalyst cannot reduce the emission of NOx and particulates. I would therefore say to my noble friend that there is a balance to be struck between the effect on the global atmosphere and the effect on local air quality. I assure my noble friend that we are continuing to study this question.

I turn next to the "electric hobby-horse" of the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon. Electric vehicles are the subject of much attention, as they offer the prospect of significant reductions in emissions at the point of use. However, emissions from electricity generation cannot be ignored. At present the burning of extra fossil fuels could increase emissions not only of CO2 but also of oxides of nitrogen and sulphur dioxide, both of which are precursors to acid rain. Again it comes back to the fact that we have to create a balance. Manufacturers are working hard to develop advanced batteries and more competitive electric vehicles to improve their limited range and performance and to reduce their higher cost compared with traditional vehicles.

The Government are sponsoring and watching with great interest a number of research projects looking at alternative fuels and engine technologies. I was surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, did not mention one in his home town of Reading: that is the Reading buses biodiesel project. We are studying that. There is also the possibility of diesel being derived largely from rapeseed oil. That offers the possibility of lower overall emissions of CO2 through the growth of the plants; lower exhaust emissions of carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, particulate and soot; greater energy security for those countries without fossil fuel reserves; and a ready market for any excess arable capacity. However, again one has to look at the downside because these benefits are partly offset by high energy consumption in production and possibly by increased oxides of nitrogen and particulate emissions from exhausts. There would also be a need for a heavy subsidy so that it could compete with ordinary diesel.

My noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy mentioned what might be called the "Hoover car". For a car to be a good Hoover car normally means that high volumes of exhaust gas are being processed by the catalyst, but this also means that CO2 emissions are high and that in turn is not a good thing. The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, mentioned compressed natural gas cars. I am glad that he did so. These too could generate lower CO2 and particulate emissions; but again they could lead to higher emissions of oxides of nitrogen. These problems are being studied and we are hoping that progress can be made.

My noble friend Lord Cadman made an excellent maiden speech. I hope that my noble friend will attend and speak on a regular basis. He raised the question of the new technology being considered in Bristol with regard to guided bus and light rail transport. We are watching with care what is happening in Bristol, and I can tell my noble friend that on a different aspect of that policy we are giving some joint funding, with the local authority, on road pricing and parking controls with Avon County Council in Bristol.

My noble friend Lord Teviot will be pleased to know that the Department of the Environment has recently published a discussion document intended to stimulate public debate about the ways in which individuals, businesses and other organisations can contribute to limiting emissions of CO2 up to the year 2000. I commend this document to the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis.

Fuel prices were mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff. It is clear that the priority which motorists and manufacturers attach to fuel economy is largely determined by fuel price. During the early 1980s, when fuel prices were high, the average fuel consumption of new cars fell. Higher fuel prices could also help to limit CO2 emissions by affecting driver behaviour. The Government see it as important to continue to influence the cost of fuel through taxation, as the 1990 environment White Paper made clear.

One of the main possibilities in the medium term for restricting further CO2 emissions per kilometre from transport appears to lie in improvements in vehicle fuel efficiency. Estimates suggest that it is technically possible to improve the weighted average fuel efficiency of new cars by 40 per cent. in the next 10 to 15 years by a combination of improved technology and in particular decisions by motorists to buy models which consume less fuel.

Within the European Community discussions are continuing on how the fuel efficiency of new cars might be improved, including the possibility of regulation. In relation to CO2, however, regulation would particularly distort the market because there is no single rate of emissions which all vehicles could achieve and no single technological solution is available.

The United Kingdom has pursued an active policy of noise reduction from motor vehicle engines and exhausts for many years. I am surprised that this issue was not mentioned more by your Lordships, although the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, touched on it. Since joining the EC, the UK has adopted the standard of existing directives and this has resulted in reductions in drive-by noise levels of 10dBA in as many years. Perhaps I may put that in layman's terms: it means that noise from individual vehicles has been roughly halved in that time. The new EC Directive on vehicle noise presents a new challenge to attain further reductions in noise from vehicles. The Government will continue to press within the EC for a further lowering of the limits in line with what is technically and economically feasible.

I am sure that, given what I have said so far, none of your Lordships could fail to agree with the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, that undoubtedly technology will improve in the future. The advances which the noble Earl has witnessed in his lifetime will be overtaken by the advances that I shall witness in my lifetime. Goodness knows what my children will witness during their lifetime or whether they will still be driving cars.

Apart from these technological solutions, we are also pursuing a range of policies to manage traffic better. Under this second heading the Government recognise that a variety of solutions is needed to tackle the increasing traffic congestion in our towns and cities to suit local needs. The problem cannot be solved by building more roads simply to increase capacity for car-commuting to city centres which are already heavily congested. In any case, it would be physically impossible and environmentally unacceptable to do so in most places. This is especially true in towns. Bypasses have a significant part to play in removing traffic from town centres; and many more are planned. I hope that my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth will welcome our collaboration with local authorities in a bypass demonstration project covering six towns in which comprehensive traffic management, parking, signing and other environmental measures will help to ensure that the bypasses produce maximum benefits. The results will be published as a guide to good practice.

We want to see as much traffic as possible (both passengers and goods) transferred from road—not just to rail as the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, wanted, but also to water.

We believe that public transport can play an important role, especially in urban areas. Where it is well loaded, it can provide a more energy efficient and more environment-friendly alternative to private cars as well as a means of transport for those who do not own cars. The Government are therefore looking at ways in which the use of energy-efficient public transport might be encouraged. The Government attach particular importance to improving existing services through the application of the Citizen's Charter. I hope that that will help to meet the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, as he stands at the bus stop. I hope too that in future he will have more information about when the next bus will come and that he will not get into his car and drive into the city centre.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, I am much obliged to the Minister for giving way. He touched rightly—and I omitted this—on the issue of water transport. What are the Government doing as a matter of urgency to encourage the greater use of water transport for freight and for passengers?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I should like to answer that question but a lot of other points have been raised in this debate. Water transport is a subject that we are studying at the moment and I hope that we shall have more information both for the noble Lord and for the rest of your Lordships who are interested in this matter in the not too distant future.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, we would like to see more people using buses to get into our towns. Buses, especially when they are well used, offer environmental benefits in transporting large numbers of people and getting cars off the road. Efficient operation makes the bus more attractive, and this is helped by bus lanes, bus priority at traffic lights, clear road space at bus stops and better passenger information. We have allocated £4 million specifically for new bus priority and park-and-ride schemes during the current financial year. A further £15.5 million has been allocated next year. On the question of park-and-ride, I thought that my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth was, unusually for him, rather dismissive of the benefits that such schemes can offer.

Also in relation to buses I was surprised that red routes have not been mentioned. They have had successful trials. They have shortened bus journeys and increased passenger numbers. We have therefore designated a further 300 miles of these routes.

Traffic calming also has an important role to play. I hope that the measures that we have instituted will be welcomed by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee. They constrain vehicle speeds and improve driver behaviour by means of road humps, chicanes and road narrowings. Traffic calming techniques can be used in the design of local safety schemes aimed at treating local accident black spots. In 1992–93 the Government allocated £43 million of TSG to assist highway authorities with local safety schemes as part of the strategy to reduce road accidents.

Like my noble friends Lord Campbell of Croy and Lord Nelson of Stafford and the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, we are considering the role road pricing could play in controlling traffic in cities. Road pricing would be a radical step to take. There is a great deal of work to be done before any judgments can be made. That is why we have under way a major research project to look at the feasibility of road pricing in London. It has a clear remit to look at the advantages and disadvantages of road pricing and is due to be completed at the end of 1994. The scope and depth of our research programme is such that at the end of it we shall be in a position to answer the full range of questions which are asked about road pricing. If road pricing is to move beyond the subject of academic argument, it will need to be shown that not only is it effective at making better use of road space but also that the cure is not worse than the disease.

We also need to look at the feasibility of road pricing in smaller cities than London where experiments or trials would be less difficult to mount. We are in touch with local authorities such as Avon, Lothian and Cambridgeshire on this work.

I move from that to pedestrianisation. In recent years there has been a steady increase in the number of pedestrianised areas. They are popular because they improve the convenience, safety and attractiveness of town centres. As my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy pointed out, the key to success is to achieve a sound balance between the needs of different users. There need to be adequate facilities for bus services, adequate car parks, adequate access for the disabled to enable them to take advantage of easier mobility and reduced exposure to traffic.

Finally, from feet to the cycle. My noble friend Lord Marlesford will be surprised to hear that I have answers for him. We fully support the provision of the new 1,000 mile strategic cycle network for London and, wherever possible, we will provide the cycle routes proposed on trunk roads as well as cycle crossing points on the trunk road network.

In summary, the Government recognise that increasing congestion in our towns and cities needs to be dealt with for economic and environmental reasons. We are acting on a number of fronts. National and local government, the European Community and other international bodies, the private sector and individuals all have their part to play in the development and implementation of solutions to deal with the pollution of vehicles. Let us be clear about the cost of doing nothing: businesses are already suffering from congestion, which adds to transport costs, detracts from the attractiveness of towns as places to live, shop and work and encourages out-of-town development. An immobile city is the last thing that city traders need. A better traffic flow and a more pleasant environment are in everyone's interests.

The Viscount of Oxfuird

My Lords, it remains for me to thank Members of your Lordships' House who have participated in the debate, which has been broad and very impressive in many areas. Favoured subjects have been aired. For one or two moments there were almost tears of déjà vu. Technology is serious about emissions from all forms of internal combustion engined vehicles. I am sure that investment, time and sheer hard work will bring the benefits that we seek.

Finally, I shall take great care not to drive backwards down a one-way street but to go down it forwards and to take the greatest care not to meet my noble friend Lord Marlesford going in the opposite direction. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.