§ 3.12 p.m.
§ Lord Jay rose to call attention to the problems of transport in London; and to move for Papers.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise to draw attention to London's traffic problems and particularly those of the London Underground. Before doing so, as I see the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, on the Front Bench opposite, I cannot refrain from complimenting him on the extraordinary versatility which enables him to appear as an expert on almost every subject and indeed to be a spokesman for almost every department in Whitehall.
§ Nevertheless, I do not believe that the Government realise the damage which is being done to London Underground by the continued under-funding and under-staffing in recent years, and in particular by the severe cut in funds for investment in the 1992 Autumn Statement. In answer to my Question on 25th February the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, said in effect that there had been no cut. But in this respect the noble Earl was wrong. The facts are these. In their November 1991 Autumn Statement the Government promised London Transport a grant of £633 million for capital investment in its existing system of trains, structures and services in the year 1993–94. London Underground planned on that basis. But in the November 1992 Autumn Statement that £633 million was cut by £184 million to only £449 million—a cut of nearly 30 per cent. That was the cut I was referring to in February.
London Underground itself states that this return to "stop-go funding", as it justly calls it, is, in the words of London Underground's 1994 business plan,
a severe setback to London",
and will lead,
to the cancellation or postponement of many planned projects".
This damaging decision comes on top of nearly 10 years of deterioration in services due to under-funding which began when this Government took control of London Transport from the old GLC by an Act of 1984. Until the 1980s, for 40 years or more, services on London Underground had been remarkably reliable. Our Underground was recognised, particularly, I often found, by foreign visitors, as the most efficient such system in the world. One could regularly rely on the time taken for a particular journey. Indeed I found myself that even in the worst blitz months of 1940,
except where lines were actually physically damaged, the times did not differ very much from those prevailing in the 1920s and 1930s.
§ Since the mid-1980s all that has changed. There are repeated and exasperating delays. One is told, if one can hear the communications system, which is rather rare, that signalling failures have occurred, that engineering repairs are operating. that points have failed or that there are not enough trains. One finds, without needing to be told, that an essential escalator has stopped working. Totally unexplained stoppages occur. Hardly a day passes without a regular traveller being held up by one or another of these delays. As a result, one now has to allow 30 per cent. or 50 per cent. more time for a given journey than was normal before the 1980s. Indeed the situation has now been reached where every morning on the radio a list is read out of stations which are completely closed, something which never happened before the 1980s. That is largely due to under-manning.
§ All that is precisely what one would expect from protracted false economies on maintenance, renewal and improvement. We should not indeed forget that the King's Cross fire of November 1987 was caused by failure to clean an escalator for a long period, apparently due to lack of maintenance staff. The labour force of London Regional Transport, as it was then called, had been cut by 30 per cent. between 1984 and 1988.
The Fennell Report on the King's Cross fire quoted the lift and escalator engineer at King's Cross as saying that he did not succeed in monitoring escalator standards to his satisfaction or have enough staff to do so. The staff of that department had been cut from 350 to 250. The chief officer of the Safety Inspectorate said that his department was,
under-manned by more than 30 per cent".
One would have thought that, in order to stimulate general growth and employment in the economy, which presumably we are all anxiously looking for, the economy urgently needs -capital expenditure on essential public services. The present would have been an ideal time to overhaul these arrears. After all 2.5 million people use London Underground every day. Most of them travel to and from work and sustain London's economy, including that of the City of London. Yet, instead of that, the cut in investment from £633 million to £449 million will, according to London Underground itself, have the following effects.
§ First, plans to renovate and refurbish 47 Underground stations this year will be postponed. Secondly, the installation of measures to protect travellers from crime will be postponed this year at 56 Underground stations. Thirdly, escalator replacement and upgrading will not go ahead this year at 24 stations. Fourthly, the redesign and improvement of trains on the District, Piccadilly and Metropolitan lines will not start this year. Fifthly, plans to ease overcrowding at 13 stations which would have started as planned will now be deferred. Finally, modernisation of the Northern Line rolling stock and signalling, so often criticised by the public, will be postponed from this year to at least 1996.937
As a result of all those changes, orders for new trains are being cut down and skilled staff are being released. The total effect of the cut announced in the Autumn Statement means, in London Underground's words:
It will take 20 years to reach an acceptable modern standard rather than 10 to 12 years as the 1991 Statement implied".
As I said, falling orders for new trains will increase unemployment elsewhere. I hope that the Minister can at least assure the House that the promise to preserve all the safety measures recommended by the Fennell Report in 1988 will be honoured.
§ As I see it, it is far more urgent to overcome those pressing and damaging deficiencies than to debate long-term enterprises (valuable as they will be later on) such as the extended Jubilee Line and Crossrail, even though, as I said, they will be valuable in their time. That applies in particular to the Jubilee Line in view of the fact that it is less costly, and it is also uneconomic nowadays to have a major tube line ending in central London. Whatever we do, Crossrail will not carry any travellers in that sense.
§ I conclude with just two thoughts on the basic economics of transport in London. Last November when the Government made their cut of nearly 30 per cent. in London Underground capital programmes, they increased the total road budget by 4 per cent. The method by which the figures are decided throws an interesting light on the Department of Transport's perhaps unconscious attitude. The adoption of a new road or motorway project depends—the Minister will tell me if I am wrong—partly on the time estimated to be saved by those who use it. If they are thought to be people with high incomes, the time is counted as more valuable and the case for the road scheme is strengthened.
§ I should like to know whether, in the case of London Underground schemes, allowance is made for the time lost by millions of Londoners owing to the present delays. Unless the Minister can show me that that is allowed for, I shall assume that it is not so taken into account. It cannot be right to count the time lost or saved in one case and not in the other.
§ The case for a public grant towards maintenance and investment in London Underground rests on the basic fact that without it the economic life of London simply could not continue. Congestion on the roads would prevent a large proportion of London's working population from getting to work at all. The service that the Underground supplies to the individual traveller is paid for by the passenger's fare. But the service that it gives by enabling London, including the City, to carry on can be paid for only out of public funds. Indeed, it is because of that "externality", as the economists insist on calling it, that in Paris, where the public revenue grant is very much larger (over £500 million, I believe), part of that grant comes from a levy on employers who employ people in Paris and know that their staff could not get to work at all without the underground.
§ I hope that for all those reasons Ministers will reconsider this absurdly damaging cut and will restore the investment grant at least to the figure which the 938 Government themselves recognised in November 1991 as being necessary to end the present inevitable delays and so provide London with an efficient and modern Underground system at least within 10 years.
§ My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.26 p.m.
§ Lord Mountevans
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Jay, for once again giving the House the opportunity to debate transport in London. At the outset I feel that I must declare two interests: one on behalf of British Rail and one on behalf of the British Tourist Authority. In fact, I have a third interest. It is not a pecuniary one but one which I feel is particularly important; namely, I am a non-motorist and therefore depend on public transport in London.
Although it is natural to look at transport in London as a concern for Londoner's alone, we should not overlook the many millions of visitors who also use the various systems and contribute, so I am told, some 17 per cent. or 18 per cent. of London Transport's fare boxing, largely by using marginal capacity outside the rush hours. I find that slightly unbelievable as I am sure do many other noble Lords, but that is what we are told.
Londoners and our visitors share a number of public transport needs. First, we need an efficient and reliable system, embracing both rail and road, with good multimode ticketing and good information provision. Secondly, we need a free-flowing road system. I firmly believe that we need more red routes and clearways. We need parking and other regulations that are easily understandable and consistently enforced—not least when the London boroughs take over that responsibility. Thirdly, we need road investment, whether it is financed from central or local taxation, or from hypothecated tolls as happens, for example, in Bergen in Norway; or financed by the American system of tax exempt bonds, which I am not aware has ever been used in this country to finance infrastructure projects but which I feel would bear examination. After all, it has, for example, been used not only to fund Dallas Fort Worth Airport but also to fund tollways and indeed to fund a metro.
Fourthly, we need rail investment. As importantly perhaps, we need that rail investment ring-fenced for major projects and we need a steady timetable. I welcome Crossrail. I look forward to Chelsea-Hackney and to Thames Link 2000. I look forward to the Jubilee Line extension; expansion of the Docklands Light Railway; the Croydon Light Rail project; and the international terminus in the vicinity of King's Cross. But I wonder when, if ever, those much needed projects will see the light of day. I feel that we need a specific timetable for construction start-up and completion. We have to take a longer view there. We also need to ensure that that timetable is so devised that the works, which in the long-term will give us better transport infrastructure and thus better transport, do not cripple us short-term by means of the congestion penalty which is inevitable in any major construction work.
Next there are buses, which is a great under-utilised transport resource. London Transport tells me that 939 the load factor on buses—that is, passengers carried as a proportion of the capacity offered—is only some 40 per cent. in peak times and under 20 per cent. in off peak times. There must be ways whereby we can tap and exploit that under-utilised resource.
We can do it by the means that I have already detailed under the heading of roads. The bus cannot but benefit from red routes and clearways; it cannot but benefit from proper enforcement of all the parking regulations.
I hope that perhaps we can do it by privatisation and deregulation, provided that such plans secure increased investment, new marketing techniques and continued value for money, underwritten by that absolute essential, a good multimode ticketing system which takes account of all the franchisers who may be running our railways, the bus companies which may be running our buses, and that still nationalised industry, the London Underground. We also need the travel card. As I said before, we need good information provision because, no matter how much one invests in the infrastructure, in plant or even in staff training, if the system does not appear to be user-friendly the customer will not be attracted to it.
Multi-ticketing is particularly important and it is going to be a huge problem in a few years time for all the separate interests involved with public transport in London. If Holland can produce a ticket which is available on all transport modes nationwide, it should not be beyond the wit of us to do the same.
I have only one almost sentimental reservation about the changed scene which we expect for the buses, and that concerns the future of the big red bus which is so much a symbol of London, as are our policemen and our taxicabs. I would certainly support any move to preserve the red bus, even post-franchising and deregulation.
Perhaps I may turn briefly to two other topics. The first concerns taxicabs both for the London visitor and the London resident. They need a safe and reliable system of taxicabs and hire cars. The working party which has been looking at the problems of the London taxi seems to be an unconscionably long time in its deliberations. When can we look for progress? There is another working party topic which is about 50 yards behind me now; namely, London's river, which I seriously believe is an under-utilised transport resource. Again, I wonder whether my noble friend can report progress on that particular topic.
I believe, rather more than the noble Lord, Lord Jay, that we are well served by public transport, on which, as I said, I depend. I feel that I get good value for money and I find it generally very reliable. Of course it has problems both in terms of short-term investment funding and in longer-term capital project funding. But one man's problems are surely another man's opportunities. If we can address the former by seizing the opportunities which they offer us and perhaps by looking in different directions from those we have looked in before and looking for different means of finance to solve our investment problems in particular, I believe that we shall slowly but surely give London that world-class transport system which a world-class city needs.
§ 3.33 p.m.
§ Lord Ezra
My Lords, I would like to join with the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, in expressing appreciation to the noble Lord, Lord Jay, for introducing this debate. There have been many debates in this House on the transport issue, particularly relating to London. I recall participating in a debate on 6th May 1991 on transport in the South-East introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis. I am glad to see that he is participating today. On that occasion I said that in the past two years there had been about nine debates on this subject. There have been many since. Indeed, I put down an Unstarred Question in July 1992 on the subject of the London Underground. So in this House and in the other place we have been continuously concerned with the whole question of transport.
What is regrettable today is that despite deeply felt concern about transport arrangements, particularly in London, so little real progress seems to have been made. Indeed, as the noble Lord, Lord Jay, pointed out, in the present circumstances we are almost worse off than we were. We are worse off than we were because when I introduced my Unstarred Question in July last year the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, who replied, gave me certain very firm assurances about the investment which the Government were going to put into the Underground. Regrettably, in the Autumn Statement in November of that year, as the noble Lord, Lord Jay, pointed out, that investment was reduced by one-third.
I find that quite incredible. After all, we are now entering the Single European Market. We have had a lengthy two-day debate on the issue of Maastricht, Europe and the Single Market. We are the capital city, and hopefully we are going to play our part in these great new developments. On these Benches we fully support what the Government are trying to do. But if we are going to make it difficult for people to get to work then how are we going to perform that great task? The cutting back of investment in the Underground to such a substantial degree is something which I completely fail to understand.
The intention was to create a modern metro system within 10 years. In replying to my Unstarred Question in July 1992 the noble Viscount concurred that that was the Government's intention. But now we know from London Underground that as a result of the cuts we are unlikely to get this modern metro system within 20 years, if ever.
I really hope that in replying the noble Earl can explain to us what the Government's intentions really are on this matter. Do they want to make sure that in our metropolis and in the new, big European and world role which we hope to play, that we get things working efficiently, or not?
It is not only a question of the Underground. I turn to the buses. We have a reasonably efficient bus system at the moment. If it suffers from any defects it does so because of congestion on the roads. The buses have been going out to tender. Fifty per cent. of the bus routes are now under tender. If that process is continued then by 1998 all the buses will be out to tender. It is felt that it would then be a profitable 941 operation. But we are now going to get deregulation. Nobody knows what the impact of that will be. We do not know what impact deregulation will have on traffic flows, on the bus user and on the environment.
I am connected with the city of Sheffield in a business way. I know that deregulation there has brought no benefits. It has meant that there has been congestion on the favoured routes and a lack of interest in the less favoured routes. It has meant that because margins have been cut the quality and the standards of the buses used have deteriorated and therefore there has been an adverse impact on the environment.
I am not sure that the Government are right, for purely political considerations, to pursue the question of deregulation not knowing what impact it could have on London. They should consider this again very deeply. As far as the public services are concerned we have a problem with the Underground whose investment has been cut back arbitrarily by 30 per cent. We have an unknown factor being introduced as a result of the proposed deregulation of the buses which could have an impact which we cannot even guess at on the flow of traffic and the service to the bus users, let alone the cost of setting up yet another regulatory authority. Here again, I am a bit surprised at the Government's policy that, instead of using London Transport as the regulatory authority, they have decided to set up a different one. It has been estimated that that will cost several millions of pounds in additional expenditure per year. The more regulatory bodies that we set up, the more expenditure that creates.
So, we have those uncertainties, but we also have the uncertainty of the congestion on the streets of London. Over 30 local authorities and several other organisations, such as the police, are concerned in this matter. There is confusion in relation to parking. In some cases, the police have the authority, but in other cases it rests with the local authorities. How is that to be sorted out? On the question of congestion, what are our long-term solutions? The vehicle population of Britain will increase substantially in the years ahead according to the figures that had been given to us by the Department of Transport. What effect will that have on congestion in the metropolis? In spite of the fact that there is a Minister responsible for transport in London, there still seems to be a need for a total strategic review.
I have formed the impression that we are not making very much progress given the cutbacks in regard to the Underground, the uncertainty that could be introduced by the deregulation of the buses, the confusion over parking regulations and the lack of any policy for dealing with congestion at peak periods. I hope that the noble Earl will not regard these views as party political, but as expressing concern about what is happening in our capital city. If we cannot have an effective transport system serving the metropolis, what hope can we have of seriously competing effectively with the rest of the world? I hope that the Minister will be able to enlighten us about what positive policies the Government may have in these matters for the future.
§ 3.42 p.m.
§ Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe
My Lords, I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Jay for introducing this debate. He may well wonder why I, as an émigré from the west country, have the impertinence to speak in a debate about London's transport. However, I feel that we tend to knock ourselves too much in this country. I happen to know a little about the East End of London because I am the deputy chairman of the London Docklands Development Corporation. While others may dwell on the problems, I think that it might be appropriate if I were to tell your Lordships a little of the good news about what is happening there.
Your Lordships will know that the East End of London has had a rough time over many years. From time to time I attend meetings at West Ham town hall. I always pause to look at the Book of Remembrance which stands in the entrance hall and the pages of which are turned regularly. I do so not only to look at the names of the servicemen and women who lost their lives in the war, but also to see the list of the names of the people who were killed in their homes—often several people in one house—during the blitzes which were particularly heavy in the East End of London. The area has suffered greatly and we, in the corporation, are trying to assist in its regeneration.
Your Lordships will also know that the docks themselves ran down not through any fault of the labour force. Over many years it was the subject of a great deal of black propaganda. So it was not the fault of the labour force that the docks ran down and became disused; it was because of changes in shipping techniques, particularly the advent of containerisation which gave very great advantages to the new ports which were constructed and developed, particularly on the eastern side of the country. Something had to be done about the area and the corporation has, as I have said, tried hard to regenerate it.
A great deal of the transport infrastructure which is needed in the area is, in fact, already in place and serving London. For a long time the Docklands Light Railway was almost a standing joke. It was heavily criticised—and quite rightly. In my early years at the corporation I suffered a great deal of frustration when using that railway. Its lowest ebb was in about September 1991 and lasted to mid-1992 but things have improved immensely. It is now possible to travel on it. It is a reliable service. Its trains run on time and its efficiency is well up to 90 per cent., reaching the targets which have been set for it by the new management. Its ownership was transferred from London Transport to the corporation in April last year. The management team of Sir Peter Levine and Malcolm Hutchinson have wrought a sea change in the efficiency of the operation. The system is now not only of benefit to the people who have to travel on it into work, but also a great advantage to the local people who can use a reliable system.
It is also planned to begin the light railway extension to Beckton in the Royal Docks area later this year. That will provide a link for the regeneration of that area which, as your Lordships will know, is an enormous expanse which is at present undeveloped 943 but which contains literally miles of quayside around some of the finest inland docks in the world. So, things are looking good there.
Last month the Prime Minister opened the Limehouse link, which is the remarkable tunnel—a superb feat of British engineering—which has circumvented a lot of the travel problems. There is now a continuous highway running from Tower Hill right through to the Royal Docks. The possibility of a 15-minute car or taxi journey from the City of London through to City Airport is now a reality rather than just an advertising puff.
All that has helped. In addition, the bus services there are very much more efficient than some of the systems which were described by earlier speakers. City Airport is not utilised as much as it should be because difficult access to it in the past has not encouraged people to use it, but it is now fully available and it is actually faster to get from the City of London to City Airport than to travel from the centre of London to Heathrow or Stansted. Such things should be known. I certainly hope that the new services to Western European capitals will he used by your Lordships and others. It is a private sector initiative, but it is fully supported by the corporation and by the London Borough of Newham which realises the benefits in terms of jobs.
However, to follow what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, I think that there is a need for a strategy for the planning of transport in London. We do not need a detailed plan, but some kind of framework is required. Recent work by the London First initiative and by the Confederation of British Industry has highlighted the present uncertainty which has inhibited private sector participation. We need a strategy which is founded on the better integration of transport and land use policies, better use of existing resources and assets, greater environmental awareness of developments and public and private sector joint working. If we can develop those, the future will be very much better.
I should like to mention briefly the need for the Jubilee line extension. Everything is now awaiting the final word to begin. The extension will be an important psychological boost for London because it will make people abroad, possibly looking to invest in the capital city and its surrounds, realise that we are in earnest about making our transport system work. The extension has all-party support. I understand that the European Investment Bank will invest some funds, so I hope that the final details can be tidied up and the go-ahead given.
The river must also be used more. It should be regarded as an asset and not a barrier. It is the biggest motorway in the country. It requires no maintenance or servicing. We must make better use of it, and sort out the problems of bridge control and consider further crossings.
I believe that we should regard our debates as the source of printed material which is read abroad. If people abroad are looking to invest in London, they should realise that there are not just complaints but that things arc going on, not merely in the East End of 944 London but in other places. I am glad to have the opportunity to tell your Lordships that all is not as black as it is sometimes painted.
§ 3.50 p.m.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Jay, for bringing today's debate. Like many of your Lordships, I have a London Transport permit of which I make extensive use. My contribution today is drawn entirely from my personal experiences. I find journeying far easier than it was a few years ago. We should be grateful to have the minibus companies operating within the region. They, I am glad to say, provide a much cleaner and more comfortable service than that provided previously.
I am inclined to write letters. When I have written to complain about the quality of the driving which usually, as I am sure your Lordships are aware, consists of people relying upon their brakes rather too much, or to congratulate other drivers on a smooth journey, each reply has been prompt and courteous. I cannot say the same about years ago.
The introduction of smaller buses must have speeded up the traffic flow. The underground system is no longer a system of which we should be ashamed. It is far cleaner than it was. Great efforts to improve it have been made with the vast refurbishment schemes. However, many of us find the long pedestrian tunnels at some stations somewhat threatening. I wonder whether security cameras could be installed to help provide greater safety.
As other noble Lords have said, congestion must be the main target. The various measures already introduced have improved matters. Some form of congestion charge might help, although I appreciate that that will meet with considerable opposition. There are two areas which spring to mind. Why cannot there be large car parks in the suburbs, as in Paris, with fast shuttle bus services into the centre, or, alternatively, car parks near to underground stations in the outer suburbs?
Will my noble friend the Minister tell the House whether consideration has been given to allowing cars to park with only their nearsides against the kerb? In other words, they do not park facing the traffic. That works well in South Africa. It seems to be much safer, because driving across a road to park is, of course, in itself a dangerous move. It has been a pleasure to take part in a debate when I can find much to praise.
§ 3.54 p.m.
The Viscount of Falkland
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Jay, for giving us the opportunity, yet again, to talk about traffic in London. It will come as some relief to noble Lords who have taken part in similar debates that on this occasion I shall not be dwelling for any length of time on the benefits of two-wheeled travel.
On a previous occasion when I came into the House to make a speech on the subject of road safety I was arrested for speeding along the Embankment. It came as no surprise to me today that I landed up in one of the worst, if not the worst, traffic jams we have had in London this year. I was on my way to an appointment 945 near London Airport. It gave me an opportunity to ponder upon the state of London traffic. I was on my motor cycle, and so I was able to survey it with some detachment.
One of the points that first struck me, which has been confirmed by other noble Lords, in particular, my noble friend Lord Ezra, was that when things go wrong there is very little room for manoeuvre. This morning, one of the flyovers leading to the M.4 was blocked. It takes traffic onto the A.30 going West. The traffic was almost at a standstill for miles and miles and miles. As is inevitable on a hot morning, with engines reaching temperatures which made it difficult to stop them stalling, there were added difficulties because some cars and one lorry had stopped, causing various problems. There was chaos.
My noble friend Lord Ezra painted a bleak picture of the future of the London Underground and the uncertainty caused by the deregulation of buses. Whenever there is a problem or a diversion it further reduces the little margin that one has with which to work. What also struck me was how extraordinary is the British temperament generally. I saw very little ill temper over the 10 miles going out of London, and an acceptance of the difficulties which it would be hard to find elsewhere, especially in Europe. I have some experience of driving in France and Italy. There are great differences between us and those countries. In some ways we are worse off and in some ways we are better off. With our phlegmatic approach to difficulties, we behave well.
The only reason why there are so many cars, causing that lack of a margin, is, as other noble Lords have said, that we do not have an adequate or satisfactory transport system in our capital. It is extraordinary that our transport system does not compare with those in countries such as France and Italy, to name but two neighbouring countries.
The fundamental problem of public transport in London must be dealt with. People of course have a mystical relationship with the motor car. People drive motor cars, whether they are company cars or they have bought them themselves, because they prefer to drive them even in bad conditions rather than to chance public transport. When I use the bus system in London, I find it generally unsatisfactory. The service one receives, the standard of driving and the temperament of the driver when he is taking fares, are inconsistent. There are sometimes unpleasant rows on buses. Can one blame the drivers? They themselves have to put up with the astonishing congestion caused by all the motor cars coming into London with a driver only and no passengers. The situation is chaotic. I look forward to hearing from the Minister about what is the Government's attitude to that problem and whether he has anything that will cheer us in the medium or long term.
In the meantime, we are fortunate in having a population which is generally good-mannered when using the roads. Some people may disagree. People have become more aggressive, but generally any foreigner who drives in London —particularly any Italian or Frenchman—will say how good-mannered 946 we are. We usually allow other motorists in to a line of traffic from side roads in a way which is inconceivable in Milan. Overall, the standard of driving is good, particularly during the week, although it is not of such a high standard at weekends. People who drive regularly drive well and safely. That is reflected in the accident statistics. Most accidents in this country occur at relatively slow speeds and at predictable places: road junctions and roundabouts.
Perhaps I may take advantage of this debate initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Jay, to make one or two suggestions, as the noble Baroness, Lady Sharples, did, as to how we could improve the present chaotic situation. There are two factors in particular which have struck me as being in need of attention.
First, there appears to be confusion about the yellow hatched box which is found at road junctions and traffic lights. I wonder whether the appropriate organisations might not put more effort into informing people who are not quite sure what the position is that it is quite safe for them to enter the yellow hatched box if they are turning across traffic. They do not have to linger, dawdle or come to a standstill behind the box. However, it is, of course, illegal to enter the yellow hatched box when one is travelling straight ahead. One should not be left in that area when the traffic lights turn red so that one blocks traffic which has been released to cross the junction. I believe that the police should take more action—if they have the manpower to do so—to ensure that offenders who come to a standstill in that yellow box are reprimanded and warned. I do not say that they should necessarily be penalised, unless they are persistent offenders. However, it would certainly make a difference and speed up traffic if people realised that the further forward one goes when travelling across traffic the better, even when there is a yellow hatched box. That speeds up the progress of traffic overall considerably, particularly in the rush hour.
Drivers in London are mostly very good at giving way. Taxi drivers in particular are extremely thoughtful. They respond well to courtesy from other drivers, although if one creates difficulties for taxi drivers, which is an unwise thing to do at any time, they will probably respond in fairly forthright terms. Although I promised not to mention motor cycles, perhaps I may just say that motor cyclists are very well treated by taxi drivers, who do most of their training —what is called "the knowledge"—on two-wheeled vehicles.
I wish that drivers in this country would be less touchy about the situation when traffic is filtered from a three-lane carriageway to a two-lane carriageway. There is an enormous amount of sensitivity about whether one should go ahead of another car or stay behind it. That does not happen in France, where there seems to be a better understanding that one should filter into a line of traffic when one reaches the bottleneck. That is preferable to filtering into the other line of traffic a mile before the bottleneck. That results in two lanes being full of traffic while the third lane is empty for about a mile.
947 Those are just a few of the niggling points which could be addressed in order to speed up traffic. The present situation is unsatisfactory.
I return to what has been said by many noble Lords. The noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, in particular said that we deserve better in this city. We deserve a proper transport system. We need to get people out of their cars and on to a public transport system. I am sure that even company car owners would use such a system if it were clean, reliable and reasonably priced. I ask the noble Earl whether there is any likelihood of that happening within my lifetime.
§ 4.4 p.m.
§ Lord Colwyn
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland. This morning I had an argument with a motor cyclist. He was travelling very fast so I did not recognise him, but I do not think that it was the noble Viscount.
I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Jay, for initiating the debate this afternoon. I declare an interest in that I have lived and travelled in London for most of my student and professional working life.
Stringent parking restrictions, single and double yellow lines, red routes, parking wardens and clamping have helped but in practice have done little to cope with the increase in the numbers of private and commercial vehicles and have made travel in the capital very difficult. Public transport is unable to cope because of the sheer volume of traffic and the problem of what to do with the vehicles once they are in the capital.
The purpose of my brief intervention this afternoon is to make a further case for the encouragement of cycling as a means of transport in London. This is the second time that the subject of bicycles has come up today and I apologise to those noble Lords, if there are any still in their places, who earlier on declared a dislike of all cyclists.
I am aware of the fact that your Lordships have recently debated the case for the control of combustion-engined road transport in city centres and a proposition to maximise the environmental, public health and cost benefits of bicycling as a means of personal transport in Britain. I do not wish to go over the arguments again. However, my noble friends on the Front Bench have stated for many years that they are aware of the problems of increasing congestion in our towns and cities and have made minor gestures to the increasing number of cyclists. Yet surely the department, which is responsible for devising the strategy to control mechanised transport and should be promoting travel that is beneficial to public health, should have concluded that cycling now deserves the highest priority.
Annual cycle sales now rival those of cars, yet the relatively low use of cycles on the roads of Britain seems to have led our transport policy makers to ignore the massive benefits which could be derived from encouraging more people to cycle. Those of us who do cycle and take action to benefit our own and others' health do so, particularly at this time of year, in an environment which is increasingly polluted by traffic. I am concerned that there are relatively few 948 monitoring stations for air quality and none for noise. Cyclists are having to choose to wear smog masks to filter out some of the damaging by-products from motor vehicle exhausts.
Cyclists and pedestrians should benefit this year from a reduction in air pollution resulting from the inclusion of the check on exhaust emissions in the MOT tests and the requirement that all new cars be fitted with catalytic converters. They should also benefit from the requirement that utilities now have sole responsibility for making good road surfaces which they have dug up.
The Government must move away from a transport policy which is focused on increased ownership and use of the car. That policy has been formulated in the belief that growth in car use and expansion of the road network are indicative of progress and higher standards of living.
The gestures which the Government have made towards cycling have included the appointment of regional cycling officers and directives to local authorities that the needs of cyclists should be considered. Since 1978 about 30 innovative projects have been promoted jointly by the Department of Transport and certain local authorities. Recently the department has backed campaigns to give pedestrians, cyclists and buses priority over cars and lorries.
The attraction of cycling and the possibility of cycling becoming more popular for a proportion of the journeys that people now make must surely now be taken seriously by the Government. While the Minister acknowledges that cycling is a healthy and environmentally friendly method of travel and that cyclists have as much right to use the roads as anyone else, it seems that the admitted dangers of cycling may well bring about an unintentional outcome of policy that it is preferable for cycling to be discouraged.
Only 1 per cent. to 2 per cent. of civil servants in the Department of Transport deal with cycling, even on a part-time basis, and their effectiveness in promoting cycling is questionable as their sole focus seems to be on safety aspects. There is a considerable level of under-reporting of cycling accidents which, when compared with general casualty rates, under-estimate the relative dangers of cycling and dilute the strength of those campaigning for better provision for cycling.
There is also insufficient data to calculate the savings as regards health and the reduction of costs for the NHS by having a fitter population if cycling were to become a more common mode of transport as it is, for example, in the Netherlands. There is evidence that regular cycling could improve significantly physical fitness and would lead to a reduction in some of the considerable sums spent each year in treating patients with circulatory and respiratory diseases.
I agree with the BMA report on cycling which clearly set out three practical measures which might improve the prospects for cycling and reduce the problems of transport in London: first, the need for motorised travel to be reduced—cutting the volume of private cars and improving public transport; secondly, personal travel should be encouraged which incurs the lowest cost for the health and welfare of the community; and thirdly, the adverse effects on health 949 by motorised travel must be reduced. Accidents, pollution, noise and vibration, stress and anxiety, danger, loss of land and planning blight, and severance of communities by roads have all been identified as ways in which our current transport system damages public health.
The Government should take a much more positive role in using all the means at their disposal actively to promote cycling rather than treating it as a marginal form of transport. They could raise their standards on motor-traffic noise and pollution and properly enforce regulations and take steps to restrict speed through comprehensive, self-enforcing traffic calming measures, to reduce the risk of serious injury by allowing drivers more time to take avoiding action.
Cycling should also be better integrated with public transport. I refer to rail use and cycling—an ideal combination for fast and convenient travel which is still relatively rare in Britain and fraught with problems, as the regulations governing the carriage of cycles on trains are neither clear to the cyclists nor to the staff who operate the system.
Although, generally speaking, the public image of the bicycle as presented by the media and institutions has rendered it largely irrelevant, there are signs that it is changing. A survey by the Consumers' Association in 1990 found a majority in favour of alleviating traffic problems by providing more cycle lanes, even if it meant less road space for cars and reduced traffic speed and a Gallup survey in the Guardian a year ago found that 63 per cent. of motorists supported city centre car bans and that 85 per cent. felt that bus, rail and tube services should be improved.
Cycling should be actively promoted as a serious means of transport; the Department of Transport and local authorities should positively discriminate in favour of cyclists and pedestrians in planning transport routes and amenities.
The noble Lord, Lord Jay, reminded us earlier of my noble friend the Minister's expertise in many fields. I look forward to hearing his solutions to the problems in 20 minutes or so.
A final thought for my noble friend—and the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, mentioned it earlier—which might help to keep traffic in London, or perhaps out of it, is that as I cycled to the House this afternoon I passed a news stand in Bond Street declaring an Evening Standard headline: "M.4. melts in heat"!
§ 4.12 p.m.
§ Lord Tordoff
My Lords, as they say, follow that! I had not intended to talk about two-wheeled machinery, but the noble Lord, Lord Colwyn, always makes an extremely useful contribution about cycling in these debates and on these Benches we support him. If we have any quibbles about bicycles it is as regards their slightly irresponsible use in certain areas where people ride on pavements and generally get in the way. Also, I notice the increasing frequency with which one sees bicycles at night which are not properly lit. That is not a general condemnation of cyclists, and I realise 950 that some of them ride on the pavements because there are no proper cycleways for them, which is the proper answer to that problem.
Like many other noble Lords, I am grateful for this opportunity to join in the debate which has been presented by the noble Lord, Lord Jay. Some of us may have wished that it could have been somewhat delayed after our exertions of yesterday and the day before. I feel that the debate might have been rather better attended had so many Members of your Lordships' House not been here until ten to three this morning. Nevertheless, we shall do our best and, so far, noble Lords have done their best.
I am assisted in what I shall say by information provided by my noble friend Lady Hamwee who is chairman of the London Planning Advisory Committee. She has referred me to a report which was commissioned by that committee on London as a world city. The report has been widely regarded. One of the key priorities identified was easier and safer movement within the capital city. In other words, the report says that poor transport is a disincentive to overseas companies moving into our capital city.
The economy of the whole country depends to a large extent on the economic health of London. As noble Lords will know, I speak as someone who comes from the north and I am a great regionalist but, nevertheless, I recognise that the country is not healthy if the capital city is not healthy.
Transport is an important facilitator in the capital city. It enables other things to happen, and progress is stifled if transport is bad. Transport is a key factor in the quality of life of people who live and work in London, as has been apparent from the speeches that we have heard this afternoon.
A number of solutions are proposed by all sides to deal with congestion in London. Road pricing is being considered, but our view is that, although we should not dismiss road pricing, if there must be a stick there should also be a carrot. That carrot must be proper public transport which is reliable, which turns up when you expect it and which is clean and not over-expensive.
The report of the firm of consultants, Coopers & Lybrand Deloitte, concludes that:London is, and can remain, a pre-eminent world city but its status is at risk, not because of any inherent and irredeemable disadvantages, but simply by default".On the subject of planning the report says that:The key priority is for easier and safer movement around London; we give this a higher priority than improving either national or international transport links".I find that extremely interesting. It goes on to state:London also needs better bus and light rail systems. These public transport improvements must be given secure funding",and that takes me back to the point made by my noble friend Lord Ezra and the noble Lord, Lord Jay, in his admirable opening speech as regards security of funding. The Minister may tell us that funding for London Underground has not diminished, but it is not secure. In one part of the year it is told that it will be allocated a certain amount of money to spend in the next five years and a few months later that sum is cut. Security of funding is almost as important as the level of funding itself.
951 The report states that it believes that:An environmental audit of London is needed and we believe priority attention should be given to air quality, noise levels…".My attention was drawn to an article in yesterday's Evening Standard, the headline of which is:This smog can shorten the lives of Londoners".The rzeport says:Londoners' lives are at risk because of toxic smog smothering the city.High levels of tiny dust particles are damaging their health and could be shortening their lives, it is claimed, especially during the recent heatwave.The alert comes as an unpublished American report blames poisonous fumes from car exhausts and industry for increasing the death rate in cities by as much as 26 per cent".That is in America, but the report goes on:worryingly, London has the same or higher pollution levels than six US cities in the I6-year study on the health effects of exhaust and chemical fumes".Therefore, there is a serious problem in that regard not only in terms of inconvenience but also in terms of the physical health of the inhabitants of this capital city.
We have all said before and will continue to say that the answer to that is improved public transport. But what steps are the Government taking to improve public transport? No doubt the noble Earl will tell us that bus deregulation will be the great answer to the problem. Quite frankly, I do not believe that. Again, as has very sensibly been said, the present method of franchising has improved facilities on the buses in the City. I live in Pimlico when I am in London. The 24 bus route is now an excellent service which it was not before. That seems to me to be the better way forward; indeed, it is the way forward that we suggested when the bus deregulation Bill was before your Lordships' House many years ago and we talked about the possibility of compulsory tendering for buses rather than total deregulation. Now the Government seem to be wishing to go down the track of deregulation. I cannot for the life of me understand why. I do not understand why they have not learnt the lessons mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, which arose as a result of bus deregulation in Sheffield and in many other places. In my view, to deregulate totally brings all the disadvantages and none of the advantages.
One of the problems that we have referred to previously, and to which we shall refer again, is the lack of any strategic overview of transport in London. We know that the Director of Transport is looking after the red routes. But if he strays away from them, he has no control. I understand that even he is beginning to recognise his lack of ability as regards operating outside that'very narrow band of red routes. That was something we also raised many years ago.
There is no question that during the passage of the rail privatisation Bill, which will be before the House next week, one of the issues will be the possible loss of concessionary fares which is worrying people in the capital city. I know that Mr. Steven Norris, to his eternal credit, has put his job on the line by saying that he will resign if concessionary fares are discontinued.
§ Lord Tordoff
Well, my Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, just said, and as I was about to suggest, no Minister will be in office for ever and, 952 whether he jumps or is pushed, we need a better assurance than that from the Government. We need an assurance on the Floor of the House from a government Minister. The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, has an opportunity this afternoon to give the assurance that such concessionary cards will be continued and legislated for in the future.
In a brief 10 minutes it is impossible to cover the whole spectrum of London transport. We have not discussed the airport situation, although the noble Lord, Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe, rightly referred to the City Airport. No one is more pleased than I that transport to that worthy venture is now much easier than it was originally. I wish it well, as I have done from the start. But we are now talking about an extra runway for London and a fifth terminal for Heathrow, without contemplating the impact that such developments will have on surface transport in our capital. The City Airport is a very useful way of alleviating those problems.
If the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, had returned from her overseas trip earlier, I am sure that she would have joined in the debate on the subject of minicabs. Again, that has already been referred to this afternoon. I believe that the Government really need to sort out their ideas. Many people are most worried, especially women, about the dangers that they face in travelling in unlicensed minicabs.
One could continue across the whole wide range of London transport. However, there is not sufficient time to do so this afternoon, although we are running a little early. What is necessary is a strategic overview of London transport and traffic. We are not getting that from the Government; indeed, we have not had it from them. It is a crucial matter. If such problems are to be solved at some stage in the future, then it is crucial for the comfort and health not only of the great city of London in its widest sense but also of the individual people working in London that such matters are taken on board by the Government in the form of some sort of strategic overview.
§ 4.24 p.m.
§ Lord Clinton-Davis
My Lords, I should like to join with those who have thanked my noble friend Lord Jay for having initiated the debate and for having made such a powerful case at the beginning. It has been an interesting debate, albeit a short one. As with most debates about transport, the contributions have given rise to innumerable issues which in turn have given rise to major criticisms of government transport policy. For example, I noted the slightly more muted criticisms of the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans; but, nonetheless, they were criticisms. He posed some most important questions: questions about the use of cars and about other issues to which I hope the Minister will respond.
In opening the debate from the Liberal Democrat Benches, the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, observed that he was staggered by the lack of progress in resolving the massive transport problems of the capital. He wanted to know what the impact of deregulation would be. I should also like to know, as I am sure would the whole House. But I doubt whether the Minister would be 953 able to give us any real answer, at least not today. However, I hope that he will observe the precedents that have been taking place throughout the country. They are not wholly good; indeed, I think that even the Minister has conceded that point in previous speeches.
The problems affecting the capital today, such as traffic congestion and pollution which are choking the capital, the daily trials of Londoners and commuters (an experience from which Ministers are largely shielded) the overcrowding, the inadequacies of a public transport system—and that not through a lack of management expertise, but through chronic under-investment, a lack of strategy and a failure by the Government to pursue an integrated transport strategy—all indicate that the Government have failed lamentably to deal over the past 14 years with the major problems affecting the capital.
How all that contrasts with the position in other major capitals of Europe. There was the First World War song,Take me back to dear old Blighty, Put me on the train to London Town".If today that train was on a Network SouthEast route, that soldier would be lucky to get on in any degree of comfort, lucky to avoid signal failures or some other technical reason for delay; and, indeed, lucky to arrive promptly or at all. Of course, he would have the Passenger's Charter. I do not wish to denigrate the idea of that charter. After all, it was a Labour idea, as was the Citizen's Charter. But what passengers would prefer is not compensation but an assurance that the problems to which your Lordships referred in earlier speeches will be dealt with; for example, they want clean trains, trains running on time and safely, clean and safe stations adequately staffed that do not represent a threat to the safety of passengers and proper provision for passengers with disabilities and, indeed, for women.
What we have had from the Government is an obsession with privatisation and deregulation, but no strategic planning to provide greater access to the public on public transport at lower environmental cost. There has been a pathetic failure to link land use and transport planning. That point was also made by the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, was right to emphasise the fact that a good public transport system is central to the health of London, to its environment, to its economy, to its social problems and also vital to tourism which is a pretty good money earner for the country. The fact is that public and private transport in the capital is in a shambles today. The cost of congestion in London is estimated by the CBI to be in excess of £10 billion a year. Yet our long-suffering commuters pay the highest fares in Europe and also pay a dreadfully high price in terms of inconvenience and delay.
Radical change is called for, but all we get from the Government is, at best, an ad hoc response: there is no vision, no strategy, no certainty that major projects like the Jubilee Line, Crossrail and the urgent modernisation of Network SouthEast or the 954 rehabilitation of the Northern Line will actually go ahead. What we are getting are statements saying that this or that is now on line. I shall come to that matter in a moment because such statements are far from being the reality.
The Government should he asking themselves what all this prevarication is costing the City and indeed our nation. The Secretary of State is a member of the Magic Circle. He is an illusionist of enormous skill and he has translated those powers to his position as Secretary of State. Unlike the man who manages to construct lovely patterns from bits of torn up paper, all we get from the Secretary of State, rather in the manner of the late Tommy Cooper, are the torn up bits of paper.
Let us take, for example, the Jubilee Line. One moment we have it and then it is gone. So with Crossrail, the Tunnel link, the west coast main line, and the Northern Line. There were bold announcements followed by qualifications about financing and whether joint ventures would be available and who the partners would be. Today we are none the wiser about those matters despite the fact that yesterday the Crossrail Bill received its Second Reading in another place. Yesterday the Minister for Transport in London said in that debate that the private sector wanted to see legislation in place and then it would consider investment. Can we be sure that whatever proportion is expected from the private sector will be forthcoming? Can we be sure that the Government will make their provision? Can we be sure that the crossrail route will ever be constructed? It would be enormously sad if Crossrail were not to go ahead. It was the idea, incidentally, of the late GLC but that has never of course been acknowledged by this Minister or by the Conservative Government.
Prevarication is costly—it is continuing—in terms of jobs on the railways and in the railway construction industries. It is also costly in terms of continuing congestion in London and in terms of deferred hopes for Londoners. We on these Benches support Crossrail and the Jubilee Line but a sense of urgency needs to be injected into these matters to relieve overcrowding and to reduce journey times right across the South East. These new routes are also critical as a stimulus to creating more economic activity in the country as a whole as well as in the capital. What is the Government's thinking as regards where the money is to come from? Are the Government prepared to underwrite the required capital if need be?
According to an article in the Independent of 22nd May, the Jubilee Line tube extension is facing the axe to counterbalance the Government's commitment to the £1.8 billion London Crossrail project. The article stated:Ministers told banks on Wednesday to remove a key clause in a private sector financing agreement which would oblige the Government to repay the banks' money if the line was not completed by 2000. A banking source said that if the clause were to be removed it would wreck the deal".The article also stated:Mr. Portillo says other infrastructure projects represent better value".955 What is the truth of all that? Is the article wholly misleading? What is the truth in particular about what the Minister had to say in that regard?
The Government fail to provide any coherent policy in relation to London Transport. I believe that what we need is a public transport system that must provide an attractive alternative to use of the car. We need a public transport system that is safe, clean, efficient, reliable, comfortable and is good to travel on and for workers to work in. We need an authority that is capable of and responsible for providing a strategic and integrated transport plan for the capital and that is capable of directing investment; promoting greater integration between rail, Underground and bus services and giving greater priority to cyclists and pedestrians, as the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, mentioned.
All new road and rail developments need to be made subject to stringent social, economic and environmental cost benefit analyses. Clearly private sector support must be maximised but it must not become, at best, a much delayed condition precedent for building schemes that may last decades or, at worst, an unfulfillable condition precedent altogether. We must build on the Passenger's Charter and we must build on the standards for service that London Transport and other transport bodies in London are seeking to provide. We must also maximise the use of Travel Cards and Network cards so as to offer an easier integrated journey when using rail, tube and bus services. The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, referred to that matter and we shall return to that point during debates on the railways legislation.
I noticed, incidentally, that the Minister for Transport in London, Mr. Norris, has been in the habit of giving a number of undertakings. He has given undertakings about Travelcards and other matters. He is a great giver of undertakings but the trouble is that this Government have become the great undertakers for London Transport altogether. We need to adopt a wide view as regards an integrated strategy for London. However, the Government have opted to deal with this matter in a piecemeal way which is absolutely shambolic.
I do not have time to talk about matters affecting roads. However, the situation as regards the private sector and roads is equally shambolic.
I shall now turn to a point that was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff. Traffic pollution is choking the capital. That observation emerged from a report prepared recently by the Conservative controlled London Boroughs Association which built upon its previous report issued in 1990. The later report stated that the Government must stop permitting such high levels of air pollution in London and implement drastic measures. The report also stated:It is negligent for the Government not to take a stronger role than it is currently, when the health of London's residents and environment is at stake".The association indicted the Government for failing to deal with the levels of toxic gases emerging from the over-use of motor cars and other vehicles in London. What is the Government's answer to those criticisms that come mainly from their own supporters?
956 I also wish to refer to Network SouthEast. I do not know whether many noble Lords watched the television programme about Network SouthEast. That programme illustrated the enormously difficult task that faces the management of Network SouthEast through a chronic lack of investment. That lack of investment has brought about the chaotic situation that so many commuters experience every day of their lives. That situation is not the fault of British Rail or of the people who work for British Rail. It is the fault of those who have operated a stop-go policy on investment in London Transport. That situation is not good enough.
My noble friend Lord Jay has already referred to the matter I am about to mention. At one time the Government made a pledge that they would provide substantially more investment than ultimately was the case. This stop-go policy on investment is acutely damaging not only to British Rail, London Transport and the Underground system, but also to the interests of London. The chairman of London Transport, Sir Wilfrid Newton, said on 8th March 1993:London needs vision and resolve to ensure its continuing success. London's future success as a world city demands further improvements to the fabric of its public transport. In today's circumstances this is a testing challenge for all concerned—but most of all for the Government".In my submission the Government have failed to measure up to that challenge and have acted irresponsibly. There is no indication that the Government will measure up to the challenge in the future.
§ 4.39 p.m.
The Minister of State, Department of Transport (The Earl of Caithness)
My Lords, London is on any account one of the largest and most important cities in the world. Like all major world conurbations, London faces difficult and complex travel demands. The task of dealing with those demands is enormous and expensive. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Jay, for raising this important subject this afternoon. I welcome the opportunity it gives me to respond on behalf of the Government.
It was the recognition of the complexity and scale of the transport problems facing London that led the Government to create the new post of Minister for Transport in London following the last General Election. As far as I am aware, no other city in the UK has a full-time Minister devoted to improving a particular aspect of its affairs in this way.
Some of your Lordships, like the noble Lords, Lord Ezra and Lord Tordoff, would like to create a new tier of local government or a new transport agency, elected or unelected, to take over the activities of all the existing bodies in London. We do not agree with that but we do accept the need for improved co-ordination. My honourable friend the Minister for Transport in London is responsible for co-ordinating policies for all modes of transport in London. His role is to encourage the various organisations involved to pursue consistent policies and, where necessary, to address deficiencies in the market. The Minister is a member of the Cabinet sub-committee on London. He also chairs the Transport Working Group, which 957 brings together representatives of public and private sector transport operators, the business community and consumers, and provides an important forum for exchanging information and ideas.
A good example here is the initiative taken by the Minister for Transport in London to establish the River Thames Working Group, which is examining the scope for maximising the transport potential of the Thames for both passengers and freight. My noble friend Lord Mountevans will welcome that initiative. But the Government are certainly not seeking to impose a detailed strategic transport plan on London. On the contrary, we want to set the private sector free to play its role to the fullest possible extent and we want the travelling public to have as much choice as possible in deciding how they travel in London. Our objective is to develop a framework of policies within which others can implement their plans in response to the demands of people to travel or to move goods around London.
A great deal has been said this afternoon about the deficiencies of London's transport system. Unfavourable comparisons have been made by the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, and, needless to say, by the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, with the transport systems of other major European cities such as Paris. We hear a lot about how good the transport system of Paris is; indeed, I am the first to pay tribute to what has been achieved in Paris, but I think some of the comparisons that have been made are very selective. I could easily quote selectively to demonstrate London's superiority. It is, for instance, quicker from central London to Heathrow or Gatwick by public transport than from Charles de Gaulle to the centre of Paris. For all the hype about French planning, there is no direct rail link from Charles de Gaulle airport to the centre of Paris. The noble Lord, Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe, was right; it is in the nature of the British character to dwell unduly on our shortcomings. The French, in stark contrast, are more concerned with advertising their achievements and future potential to the world.
§ Lord Clinton-Davis
My Lords, I apologise for interrupting the noble Earl hut, having mentioned Paris, would he agree that Paris has already completed three cross-city lines, that it has a fourth under construction arid is planning a fifth, while the Government dilly and dally here?
The Earl of Caithness
My Lords, I was absolutely right. The noble Lord has the true character of the representative Briton. He is very keen on exposing all the shortcomings of this country. We hear it in every speech that he makes. Overall, London's transport system does not compare too badly by international standards. But the Government certainly accept that there are deficiencies which will need to be overcome to enable London to retain its position as a leading world city and as the premier European capital in the years ahead.
§ Lord Tordoff
My Lords, perhaps the noble Earl, instead of rebuking the noble Lord, Lord Clinton Davis—which must be a great temptation and one which I can understand from his point of view—could answer the question that was asked. It seemed to me to be a perfectly valid question.
The Earl of Caithness
My Lords, I am going to answer many of the points that your Lordships have put to me but, needless to say, because of time constraints I shall not be able to answer them all. We must never forget that London has to compete with cities like Paris to maintain its position as Europe's foremost financial and business centre. As all your Lordships are agreed, to be competitive we will need a transport system which can respond efficiently to changing patterns of demand and which—within the practical constraints—will be safe, cost-effective and will respect the environment. The noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, was right to remind us that we are restricted by our existing infrastructure. Let us not forget that 12 per cent. of London is covered by roads whereas in Paris the percentage is 20; and that compares to a modern city like Milton Keynes, where 30 per cent. of the city is covered by roads. It is perhaps a pity that the burghers of London rebuilt the road system in 1667 on the old mediaeval plans and did not plan for the M.25. A key priority must therefore be to address the problem of congestion, and that means addressing both the quantity and quality of transport which will be available in the years ahead. It also needs the co-operation and good sense of all transport users and pedestrians. Although we are all fallible, I know that the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, will be only too keen to set a good example in this respect.
The Government's strategy has three main elements. First, we are improving the management of the road and rail networks in order to make more efficient use of the existing system. Secondly, we are injecting large sums of public money into investment projects, with the bulk of the resources targeted on modernising and expanding the Underground and surface rail networks. Thirdly, we are making greater use of private sector resources and management through the privatisation of British Rail and London Buses, the deregulation of bus services in London and the development of joint ventures to build and operate major new schemes like the Heathrow-Paddington Express, the Channel Tunnel Rail Link and CrossRail. In terms of the road network, we are no longer planning major improvements to the radial routes within the M.25 which would attract more cars into central London. Our roads programme is geared to upgrading the North Circular Road to help to improve orbital movement, providing better access to Docklands and the rest of east London, and dealing with congestion black spots. The noble Lord, Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe, welcomed the recent opening of the new Limehouse Link by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, which completes the new road system giving quick access from central London to Docklands and London City Airport. Your Lordships may have seen from the press that passenger figures for London City Airport in the first 959 five months of 1993 are up 44 per cent. on 1992. The airport is expecting the launch of four new routes over the coming months, to Amsterdam, Belfast, Dublin and Frankfurt, bringing to 12 the number of destinations served. I am delighted that there is better road access.
My noble friend Lord Colwyn will welcome the fact that increasingly we are switching the emphasis to improving road traffic management in order to make more effective use of the existing network. The measures include the Red Route system, more effective on-street parking control, more priority for buses, the extension of integrated signal control, with greater emphasis on safety and traffic calming, together with provision for pedestrians and cyclists. Red Routes will benefit cyclists in a number of ways, including reducing accidents and complementing the strategic 1,000-mile network for London. The measures include cycle lanes, shared-use bus lanes, and signals and crossing points where established cycle routes intersect with a Red Route. However, as my noble friend Lord Colwyn will realise, inevitably most of the provision for cyclists must come from the local authorities who have responsibility for 96 per cent. of London roads. It is not just the department that has responsibility in this area. If indeed it was only the department that had responsibility there would be even louder complaints from the noble Lords, Lord Tordoff and Lord Clinton-Davis.
My noble friend Lord Mountevans was right to say that a key requirement is effective enforcement of parking policies. The new system will start being phased in from next month and I am sure it will bring substantial rewards. Our transport management initiatives, in combination with limited road improvements, will go part of the way to dealing with the problem. But as prosperity returns we can expect renewed traffic growth and deteriorating traffic conditions overall. That is why we are investigating the possibility of measures such as congestion charging. We are engaged on a major research programme which will be completed towards the end of 1994.
The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, welcomed the fact that the main aim of congestion charging would be to reduce congestion; but that would not be an end in itself. We shall also have to look closely at the possible impact on London's economy, environment and quality of life. Irrespective of whether congestion charging is introduced, our aim is that Londoners should have a much improved public transport system, capable of responding efficiently to the extra demand and offering a good-quality, reliable alternative to the private car. This will require investment in the rail network—both overground and underground—and my noble friend Lord Colwyn will be interested to know that in London the ratio of spending of taxpayers' money is £3 on public transport to £1 on roads. That is in marked contrast to the remainder of the country where it is £1 on public transport and £1 on the roads.
Over the past few years the Department of Transport and the operators themselves have carried out a number of major studies to identify the key 960 worthwhile public transport schemes which will relieve congestion and support the economic development of London over the next decade or so. Most of those schemes have been mentioned in the debate. They include the modernisation of existing lines, such as the Central Line on the London Underground and the Kent Link and London Tilbury and Southend lines on Network SouthEast.
By replacing obsolete equipment, modernisation results in a more efficient, more reliable and more comfortable service. It also generally produces an increase in capacity through the use of modern signalling systems and more frequent and, in some cases, longer trains.
As well as upgrading the existing system, there are the plans to create new capacity. The 1992 Autumn Statement made it clear that funds were earmarked for the building of the Jubilee Line extension, provided that the promised private sector contribution was forthcoming. The negotiations with the administrators have taken longer than we had hoped. I cannot comment on them until they are concluded. The private sector, London Transport and the Government must be satisfied on the terms of what is a detailed and difficult agreement.
The Budget Statement in March included the announcement that the fast rail link between Heathrow and Paddington would go ahead as a joint venture between British Rail and BAA plc. It also reaffirmed the Government's commitment to securing the benefits which CrossRail will bring to London but suggested that the project might best proceed as a joint venture, an approach which has since been confirmed as the way forward. The CrossRail Bill received a Second Reading in another place yesterday, and I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, welcomed that.
We have also recently announced the Government's readiness to provide public sector support for a joint venture to build the proposed Channel Tunnel rail link to central London. Other proposed projects include Thameslink 2000, extensions to the East London line, and the Chelsea-Hackney line.
Our strategy depends crucially on major investments in rail schemes, and those are very expensive. Until the mid-1980s there had been a continuing decline in population and employment in London. It was a period of retrenchment in investment in public transport. There was no golden age under the GLC. There was then a huge expansion in demand for public transport. Travel on the London Underground was more than 40 per cent. higher in 1990 than it was in 1980, while travel on Network SouthEast was nearly 18 per cent. higher. That led to the ambitious investment plans to catch up with the increased demand.
The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, I think surprisingly for him, asked only for more money to be thrown at the problem. I should have thought that he would have welcomed the fact that we also sought to improve the efficiency and quality of public transport services by setting British Rail and London Transport tight financial controls and agreed objectives. Investment 961 levels increased. Where new equipment has been introduced, the quality of the service has improved and capacity has been enhanced. More recently, the Citizen's Charter has given management a new impetus to raise the standards for passengers on all services.
§ Lord Ezra
My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for giving way. I referred specifically to the problem of the investment in London Underground and to the debate which I initiated in July last year during which certain figures were mentioned which seemed encouraging. However, in the Autumn Statement those were cut by a third. That is what I expressed anxiety about.
The Earl of Caithness
My Lords, I shall come to that point in the next few minutes. I have it ahead of me.
The recession has, of course, affected the revenue flowing into the operators reducing the funds they have available to carry out the investment themselves. Inevitably, that has led to calls for more support from the taxpayer, often by those who call equally loudly for Government adherence to spending targets.
I now turn to the crucial point. I understand the disappointment voiced by the noble Lord, Lord Jay, and backed by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, about the Autumn Statement of 1992. It undoubtedly represents a scaling down of their aspirations, although investment is still on a firmly upward trend and much higher than in the 1970s and 1980s. Everyone was aware that this was a particularly tight year. Difficult decisions will doubtless have to be taken, but no more difficult than those being taken by other parts of the public sector and by hard-pressed private sector businesses. However, investment in public transport has been maintained at a high level. London Transport, for instance, expects to invest some £1.5 billion in its core business over the next three years. In real terms, this is about twice the average annual level of investment which London Transport achieved in the late 1970s, and early 1980s. Let me reassure the noble Lord, Lord Jay. This means that the £750 million modernisation of the Central Line is continuing and is well on course for completion in 1995. The Underground's train refurbishment programme is also continuing apace.
The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, asked the Government whether we would be prepared to underwrite the capital. In total, the Government are now putting the huge sum of around £2 billion of taxpayers' money into transport investment in London each year. That compares within an overall budget for the Department of Transport of around £7 billion.
I will excuse the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, but the noble Lords, Lord Ezra, and Lord Jay, must surely agree that we have to recognise that there are limits to what we can expect the taxpayer to contribute. Higher expenditure often means higher taxation, and that will certainly not assist the recovery of London's economy. It is therefore essential that we tap the resources and expertise of the private sector as far as we can. The proposed privatisation of British 962 Rail and London Buses, together with the deregulation of London bus services, will give the private sector a much bigger role in the provision of transport services in London and make the service, with which my noble friend Lady Sharples is much happier, even better.
Existing British Rail services will be franchised to the private sector. The aim will be to give the private sector the fullest possible opportunity to manage and operate railway services, receiving grants where those are justified in return for meeting required levels of service and quality standards.
I can confirm to the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, that the privatisation and deregulation of London's buses will take account of the experience gained outside London. Operators will be free to operate services on a commercial basis, subject to meeting the necessary safety standards. This will allow the development of new and innovative services that meet the needs of passengers. Most services will be able to operate without the need for subsidy. Experience outside London has shown that 80 per cent. of bus routes operate without subsidy. But where a commercial operation would not be viable, a new London Bus Executive will be able to arrange for commercial operators to provide socially necessary services on a subsidised basis. We will also need to ensure that comprehensive information is available to passengers. Our proposals will also provide for the preservation of a London-wide concessionary fares scheme, the scope and funding of which will, as now, be a matter for the London boroughs.
I shall not touch upon Travelcard, because I should hate to pre-empt what I wish to say next week. I look forward to the debate on the Railways Bill and, having given it, of course, due consideration, to the speedy passing of that excellent measure through your Lordships' House.
Perhaps I can sum up our approach to transport in London. What we are seeking is a system that will help and support economic recovery and prosperity in London in the years to come. We want to set the market free wherever possible to serve the customer and to provide optimum choice. But we also recognise the need for an overall framework of policies within which the various players in the market can operate and make their plans. We face major challenges ahead. The public sector has an important role to play in meeting those challenges, but increasingly we must look to the private sector to help us in finding solutions. That is one area in which we are among the world's leaders.
§ 4.59 p.m.
§ Lord Jay
My Lords, I should like to thank everyone who has taken part in the debate. I have one confession to make: my enthusiasm for bicycling is less intense than it was 70 years ago.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, I find the Government's attitude on the issue extraordinary. The modest request which I made to the Minister was that he should restore the funding for London Underground's capital spending to the figure which the Government approved only 18 months ago. If I 963 understood his speech correctly on that point, the Government flatly refuse even to do that. That is extraordinary. Here is a modest improvement which would have been welcomed by everyone, but the Government turned it down flat. This is not the most popular Government we have known in recent times and here is something which would at least please some people. I am reminded of the ancient classical tag that those whom the gods wish to destroy they first drive mad. Perhaps that is the best comment on the Government's attitude on this issue today. My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.