§ 6.55 p.m.
§ Lord Elibank rose to move, That this House takes note of the report of the European Communities Committee on the Common Transport Policy— Sustainable Mobility (8th Report, HL Paper 50).
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I should like to begin by thanking all those who contributed to our report: first, members of the committee who did a prodigious amount of reading to keep in the picture of the evidence that we received; secondly, our clerk, Mrs. Mary Ollard, who guided us with great skill through the administrative maze we encountered; thirdly, and certainly not least, our specialist adviser, Dr. Goodwin, who not only produced the kind of technical expertise one would expect, but also produced the bulk of the first draft of the report.
§ Finally, I welcome the two maiden speakers to the debate—the noble Lords, Lord Quirk and Lord Northesk—and we wait with great interest to hear what they have to say. On our behalf I wish them a measure of courage in what is often a fairly agonising business.
§ When we came to consider the report we realised early on that the European Commission's report covered an immense amount of ground and we could not, in a reasonable time, hope to comment adequately on everything therein. We therefore limited ourselves to road transport and rail, thereby eliminating air, sea and inland waterways. On reflection that was a wise decision. It became very clear as the inquiry moved forward that the real problem facing us today in western Europe, and more specifically in this country, is road transport—the car and the freight lorry. Of those two the car is perhaps the more intractable and it is that to which I propose to devote most of my remarks this evening.764
§ This is a detailed report which contains a number of points, with only a few of which I shall be able to deal without overstraining your Lordships' patience. However, it contains other points of equal importance which I hope other speakers in the debate will take up.
§ The nature of the car has changed through recent decades. For many years it has been a source of great freedom—the freedom to select a job some distance from home but which perhaps offered better chances of promotion; it offered a chance to select a school more in tune with the parents' wishes; it offered social intercourse with friends and families not available by public transport, and it made shopping a great deal easier for the busy housewife. It was therefore a true friend and we all became closely attached to it. But it is slowly turning from such a friend into something close to a monster which must be controlled in its growth and activities if we are to preserve any sort of quality of life in this country and western Europe.
§ The first point to consider is the supply of roads for transport. For many years the Department of Transport, with the full backing of most of the British electorate, forecast an increase in the amount of motor transport seen on the roads in different parts of the country and sought to provide new, wider roads to accommodate it. That process has to stop. We know that at the moment our roads are grossly overcrowded and that if there is no change in the arrival of new motor cars and lorries on our roads the congestion will double in the early part of the next century. That is simply intolerable.
§ What is to be done? The first thing that occurs to most of us is pricing. It has been said, and I think said with reason, that the motorist and the freight owner have not paid the full charge for the use of the roads on which they travel. Though they feel on the whole an oppressed bunch of people paying exaggerated taxes, the fact of the matter is that those taxes do not begin to cover elements like congestion, damage to the environment and damage to the health of the citizenry. The pricing of transport has to go up. This is a detailed subject. Modern technology is coming to our aid quite rapidly and will enable us to price road transport on different roads in the country at a selective rate. But it will not be a simple matter because if one gets the pricing wrong and the charges on a motorway are too high one simply drives traffic onto subsidiary roads where the congestion is worse. Any pricing system needs to be flexible and to be adjusted from time to time as events develop.
§ The corollary of pricing is that public transport must be greatly improved. It is the business of the stick and the carrot The stick is the extra charges which the motorist and freight transporter must pay. The carrot must be much better public transport, which immediately raises the subject of subsidy. This is a very contentious subject in almost any field for almost any Conservative Minister, but if we are to improve the state of our roads it is essential that public transport be subsidised to a much greater extent than it is at the moment.
§ Some members of my committee had the advantage of travelling to the Continent to see one or two cities operating there. We also heard a good deal of evidence on the state of subsidy and the development of public 765 transport on the Continent. Though assessing the amount of subsidy was always difficult—I am talking now about subsidy for operating expenses—it would be fair to say that in general the cities in the western part of Europe subsidise their public travel costs to the extent of about 50 per cent. They pay in broad terms half the price of a ticket. We saw different levels of subsidy. The highest I can remember was 80 per cent., but 50 per cent. would give a fair average. That is an enormous sum of money in total if spent around the country. It can only come from a substantial move of funds from the road budget to public transport. I know, as your Lordships know, that this is no new idea. It has been put forward by a number of organisations with, I think, increasing validity. We must —the Government must and public authorities must—pass more and more money that would normally be spent on new roads and road widening to the development of a form of public transport in our cities which is clean, efficient, punctual and generally acceptable.
§ We had a remarkable demonstration of this when we visited the city of Munich. Munich has two main railway stations which are connected by a substantial tunnel. Into those two railway stations and into that tunnel come radial routes of public transport, one group being overground like a railway and the other underground, of the kind we are familiar with in London. Above those mainline stations are substantial bus depots. The citizen moving to work or play or anything else in Munich can move very freely from the outskirts to the centre or to another outskirt if he needs to do so. There are problems still remaining, as the city fathers of Munich well recognise. One is that though radial communication is quite excellent, the orbital communications of public transport need to be improved. But they are working on that. To stand in Munich and look around at these various forms of public transport is to feel that they are 10 or 15 years ahead of anything that we have in this country.
§ We all know that this requires enormous sums of money but it also requires a considerable measure of political will, especially to take the first steps. This the Munich authorities, aided of course by the German Government, have been prepared to do; and having made the breakthrough they have found that the citizenry as a whole are now following them or even pushing them. The situation in this country is not desperate. It can be done, but it will demand political will and education.
§ I should like to mention two factors that will change transport in this country in the medium term in one way or another. The first is what is sometimes referred to as teleworking. It is based on the computer terminal. To the extent that more and more people can do most of their week's work in front of a terminal, it will cut out a lot of travelling. Children will learn more and more in front of a terminal. Housewives will be able to do their shopping by terminal rather than having to drive to the supermarket. Deliveries will be made to their homes. Many fewer vehicles will be involved. In one way or another the need to travel will be dramatically reduced in the medium term. That will be a considerable help. 766 There are of course problems of which we are well aware in terms of the social isolation of children or adults which will have to be resolved, but I cannot go into those in detail today.
§ The other factor is that, for the future, development of city areas will have to take as a prime point the condition of public transport in those areas—this factor is well covered in the Department of Transport's PPG 13—with the aim that as far as possible movement in a given area can be achieved on foot or by bicycle. Thus one will be able to move from work, to school, to shop, to entertainment with the minimum requirement of transport and where transport is required to city centre or wherever, good public transport will be in place before the development of the area gets underway. In some ways it is a return to something like the old village life our forebears enjoyed 100 or more years ago, but none the worse for that.
§ This will all require a tremendous effort to influence public opinion as regards the route ahead. One of the committee's recommendations—and I put it strongly to the Minister—is that we need a unified statement, a White Paper, on public transport. The Ministry has been putting out several excellent guides of one kind or another on different aspects of public transport, but what is needed now is a guideline to itself and to local authorities to set objectives for the future.
§ One cannot underestimate the need for dramatic change in public opinion over the next few years if we are to achieve a sustainable way of life in this country and to free ourselves from the intolerable burden that road transport puts on us at the present time. The prime responsibility for that will have to lie with the Government, although local authorities and even well-informed citizens, will surely play their part.
§ In conclusion, perhaps I may say that members of our committee brought various points of view to this inquiry based on their experience and philosophy of transport. But we came together with a list of unanimous recommendations. These I commend to the Government not for discussion or debate but for action. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That this House takes note of the report of the European Communities Committee on the Common Transport Policy—Sustainable Mobility [8th Report, H.L. Paper 50]. —(Lord Elibank.)
§ 7.11 p.m.
§ Lord Ezra
My Lords, I would like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Elibank, both on the report of his sub-committee and on the very clear way in which he has identified the main issues raised in that report. I personally had some connection in the past with Sub-Committee B and I am very pleased to see this report which is effectively on transport and the environment. It is in fact the third in a series of reports on the environment. The first was the report which we produced in 1991 on energy and the environment. In 1993 we produced a report on industry and the environment. I believe that the series is now complete with this further report.
767 As the noble Lord has reminded us, there is very little doubt that transport is rapidly becoming environmental problem number one, due in particular to the rapid rise in motor transport. In spite of the efforts which a number of motor manufacturers and oil companies have undertaken to cope with the problem of pollution, transport has become the single largest contributor to air pollutants such as nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide and smoke. It is also a major contributor to climate warming, contributing something like 25 per cent. of CO2 emissions to the atmosphere. That is a trend which is likely to rise. The Government have accepted as an objective under the Rio commitments that the emission of CO2 from motor transport by the year 2000 shall be reduced by 2.5 million tonnes. It is very difficult to see how that can be achieved with the present trends.
If one looks at the wider European scene similar trends can be seen. In the 20 years to 1991 rail usage in the European Union fell from 31 per cent. of total transport to 17 per cent. The use of inland waterways, which account for much more in the European Union, and which have not been dealt with in this report, as the noble Lord told us, fell from 14 per cent. to 8 per cent. Road transport increased from 55 per cent. to 75 per cent. That trend is continuing. Therefore we are faced in the whole land mass of the European Union with this trend. This report on a sustainable and environmentally acceptable transport policy is extremely timely.
Not only have the developments in transport created serious environmental problems which are likely to increase if present trends continue, there are also serious difficulties over the infrastructure. It is the rapid growth particularly of road transport on the one hand and the inadequate build-up of the infrastructure to cope with it on the other which have led to the serious problem of congestion. So we have this monster, as the noble Lord described it, leading us into environmental and economic problems which have seriously to be dealt with. The answer is clearly not just to build more roads which would encourage more growth in motor transport; it is to take measures which will moderate this growth and limit the harm that it does.
Here we come up against what has been described in paragraph 39 of the report as,a lack of coherence or consistency in United Kingdom transport policies".Reading through the Government's written evidence I have the feeling that there is an attitude of judicial detachment in the way in which it has been drafted where they consider one aspect and then another and leave the matter more or less open. To my mind what seems to be lacking, in view of the gravity of this problem, is any sort of clear commitment or sense of urgency. I very much hope that when the noble Viscount winds up for the Government, he will say that they do feel that way about it. We know of course that the Government's philosophic preference is for matters to be settled as far as possible by freedom of choice and market forces. Of course, we would all like to choose our own form of transport, among other things, as freely as we can, but we know that the growing discrepancy between the current trends in transport and 768 environmental imperatives, means that unfettered freedom of choice will create more and more difficulties for us.
The noble Lord also mentioned a matter which is referred to at paragraph 8 of the report; namely, the variety of statements issued by the Government on this subject. Each statement in itself is instructive and informative. I entirely agree with him that the time has come when all this needs to be drawn together.
I shall suggest what we would like to see in such a report. It would obviously need to start with a clear statement of the situation now reached and likely trends. These have been worked on by numerous organisations. It would be helpful if these were brought together and we were presented with the latest thinking. There is not the slightest doubt that there will be serious consequences if present trends continue. Indeed, the first conclusion of the report of the sub-committee, as shown in paragraph 70, is that this would lead to economic inefficiency and environmental damage.
The next section of the report should deal with the measures which would be needed to deal with this, recognising the importance that people should retain as much choice as possible, but that there is a need to achieve a better environmental balance. That would therefore mean that all the various options for dealing with this situation should be discussed and government preferences expressed. The Government are prepared to express their preferences in the White Paper on the Post Office, and I do not see why they should not express their preferences in a White Paper on transport. In my humble opinion it is not good enough just to tell us what the options are and then to leave the matter open, which is more or less what the Government have done in their memorandum contained in this report.
There are three specific areas which need to be dealt with. There is the problem of transport in urban areas;. The trouble with those areas is that they have attracted more transport than they can cope with. Therefore, there is the question of congestion, delay, frustration, economic disadvantage and health hazard. Very serious steps need to be taken within each urban conglomeration to deal with these matters. I believe that guidance should be given—as the Government have already given in some of their documents—as to how these issues should be dealt with as regards road pricing at peak periods, and improved public transport.
I have many times raised in this House the question of the Underground in London. The fact is that 80 per cent. of the number of people coming to work in central London use either the Underground or the railway. It is quite wrong that both these means of transport, which are so essential to the well-being of the metropolis, should be inadequately financed at the present time. I know that the amount of money put into them has: increased, but that is patently not sufficient. It is a serious area of concern.
In urban areas we need to limit the traffic in residential areas which are becoming increasingly swamped by traffic. Measures can be taken to limit that, but in some cases the Government seem to be taking measures which do the opposite. I can quote examples from the City of Westminster itself. There are proposals 769 that the Red Route should go through such residential thoroughfares as Eccleston Street and Belgrave Road. That has led to substantial opposition from local residents because, far from reducing traffic in residential areas, the proposition seems to increase it with all the environmental and health harm that could result. I hope that the Government will think again in those cases and in any others where Red Routes might run through residential areas.
Still in the City of Westminster, I should like to refer to the Victoria Coach Station. I happen to live nearby. It is the only coach station in London dealing with long-distance coaches, but the bulk of the long-distance coaches which start in London go north, not south. We need a coach station in the northern part of the city, not the southern part attracting all the heavy traffic through the centre of London, thus adding to the congestion and health hazards. To my certain knowledge that has been under debate for some 15 years—I have been personally involved, being the chairman of a local residents' association—but we are getting nowhere. That is the kind of matter in which the Government should become involved, yet the answer that we hear from the Government time and time again is, "This is a matter for decision by those concerned". However, as far as I can see no local authority wants to have a new coach station in its area. That matter needs to be considered when we are dealing with the problems of urban transport.
I turn now to rural areas—to virtually the opposite side of the coin. Rural areas have been increasingly denuded of public transport as progressive measures of deregulation have been taken. We must consider how to balance the needs of the rural areas in the present transport situation.
Finally, I should like to see a chapter devoted to transport facilities for the elderly and the disabled because the fact is that many of the measures which could be taken to deal with the transport problem could further disadvantage them. I refer, for example, to proposals for larger pedestrianised areas and to the fact that we now expect people to use bikes. That is all very desirable for those who are physically capable of using bikes, but not for those who cannot. I should like to see that considered also.
To sum up, I agree wholeheartedly with the noble Lord, Lord Elibank, in asking the Government for a major statement on transport. We need a policy statement that will reflect environmental requirements and which will indicate measures to improve safety, reduce congestion in urban areas, increase accessibility in rural areas and provide more for the elderly and disabled. I should like to see such a statement produced as soon as possible. Many of those issues have already been dealt with in disparate documents, but they need 770 to be brought together. I should also like transport policy to be reviewed annually to see what progress has been made.
§ 7.23 p.m.
§ Lord Quirk
My Lords, I confront an awkward asymmetry summarised in the words of Geoffrey Chaucer:The life so short, the craft so long to learn".This Chamber has been in session for only five sitting days since I was privileged to take my seat here, and five days is most certainly too short a life to learn the craft of appropriately addressing your Lordships.
Not that I have lacked the wise advice of master craftsmen. I gather, for example, that any speech should be so constructed that its ending be as closely contiguous as possible to its beginning. I have been further taught that, if one is to woo, let alone win, your Lordships' indulgence, a maiden speech should eschew contentiousness—hard to avoid, I felt, in the strife-tom area of education, into which I might otherwise have ventured.
So it is that I have diffidently sought to intervene on transport policy. "What", I asked myself innocently, "could be less contentious than matters arising from a report whose ultimate progenitor (as we are told in paragraph 1) is none other than the Treaty signed at Maastricht?"
The members of the Select Committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Elibank, have produced a document of great value, distilling a wealth of complex evidence and argument with exemplary clarity and economy. The goals of enhancing public transport and reversing the relative decline in the market share enjoyed by rail services will surely attract enthusiastic support. I welcome the report's reference to,securing improvements to the reliability and efficiency of movement",in paragraph 45, and, in paragraph 66, to the role of "research and information institutions".
Several of the individuals and organisations giving evidence to the Select Committee (not least my UCL colleague, Professor Allsop) stressed the need for the efficient flow of information. Leaving current research in "telematics" entirely aside, I hope your Lordships will allow me a few minutes on the two quite distinct, if complementary, types of information involved in public transport, both of them depending for their effectiveness on conjoining technology, linguistics and managerial acumen.
The first is operational information, relating to traffic flow, to co-ordination, timing, signalling, security, and so on: the kind of thing to which we as passengers need have little regard so long as there is no accident, no crime, no loss of luggage, and we get there on time. Such information systems at their best incorporate skilled linguistic engineering which intervenes in natural language to produce a standardised, artificially restricted, and studiously unambiguous "nuclear" code, matching a prior needs-analysis and suited to transmission and reception across the whole range of communication channels.
771 We in Britain have an excellent record of devising such systems. We played a prominent part in establishing the air traffic control conventions in use world wide. And—with an inventive push from the noble Duke, the Duke of Edinburgh —we were solely responsible for developing "Seaspeak", adopted in 1987 by the International Maritime Organisation for global use in marine navigation. We owe this largely to a team at Wolfson College, Cambridge, led by Mr. Edward Johnson. More recently, the same group came to address land-based travel in particular relation to the emergency services; a notable result is "Policespeak", designed in collaboration with both the Kent Constabulary and its Transmanche counterparts.
Simultaneously, the impetus of the Channel Tunnel has speeded the wider recognition that sustainable mobility—the subtitle of the report before this House— requires special attention to the communication needs at those points in Europe where we cross not just political frontiers but linguistic ones. Thus Eurotunnel has a training programme ensuring that all operational staff function bilingually. But, given that a train or coach from any one country may cross more than one such frontier before its ultimate destination, we are concerned with more than just Anglo-French or Franco-German or Hispano-Portuguese information systems. Indeed, one authoritative source claims that no fewer than 72 language pairs must be equipped with matching restricted codes. This is a very costly and surely unrealistic prospect, but perhaps your Lordships will allow me to take up such matters on another occasion.
I turn now to the other type of information flow: that between operators and their clients, the travelling public. Here, if we exclude travel by air, where passengers are in general well served, the British record is less satisfactory, with inadequate information delivered in modes that are often embarrassingly bad. I cannot be alone in finding announcements in English on the Shinkansen between Tokyo and Osaka more comprehensible than announcements in English at Kings Cross Station. Indeed, a visitor to London told me that the only public address she understood on the Underground (during a period when security alerts were not uncommon) was that antique recording to be heard on some of the more curvaceous platforms, "Mind the gap".
Well, here is a gap that needs minding in our public transport system as a whole, and I am glad to learn that steps are now being taken in London to implement the promising report of 1993 entitled Right Time, Right Place. It is to be hoped that analogous policies on passenger information will be speedily developed for public transport in the rest of the United Kingdom.
But we must be mindful that not all travellers within Britain or any other European nation are wholly competent in the language of the particular country they are passing through—especially if it is spoken with slovenly diction or written on a white-board with careless illegibility. Journeys in the United Kingdom known to be made by a relatively high density of non-British travellers need information systems that recognise this. The need seems to have been noted after a fashion on the Piccadilly Line serving Heathrow, and 772 all carriages display signs to show where suit-cases should be placed. "Luggage Gepäck Bagages", we read, stunned by the implications of such minimalist tokenism. How would foreign travellers who do not understand the word "luggage" understand anything else on the Underground?
But, as with operational information, so also with passenger information, there is light not just at the end, but for the whole length, of the Channel Tunnel, which is to have oral information in both English and French, while the variable graphic information by dot matrix will actually be trilingual. A model, I venture to hope, for sustainable mobility throughout Europe, with passenger satisfaction and peace of mind.
§ 7.32 p.m.
Lord Campbell of Croy
My Lords,, I have the greatest pleasure in congratulating on behalf of the whole House the noble Lord, Lord Quirk, on a notable maiden speech. In a distinguished academic career —he was vice-chancellor of the University of London and occupied various chairs of English—he was chairman of the committee of inquiry into speech therapy, reporting in the early 1970s. It was then that I first met the noble Lord. I was a Secretary of State who was glad to start taking action on the recommendations of the report. Because I have been involved over many years with speech therapy, we have met from time to time in that context. I know the outstanding contribution the noble Lord has made in that field. It is always a delight to hear him speak as an expert in the English language. We look forward to hearing his contributions, his sparkle and his wit on many occasions in the future.
I thank and congratulate my noble friend Lord Elibank, the chairman of our sub-committee, on the way he introduced the subject of the debate. He described our recommendations, clearly set out in the report. The Government's response, dated 27th September, is in general agreement but contributes interesting comment on possible ways of bringing in differential road pricing. I shall comment on two or three only of the matters raised.
I mentioned my involvement with speech therapy. Noble Lords will know that I have never myself had any difficulty in speaking, but I intend to be brief. Incidentally, that involvement arose when I was in hospital for over a year at the end of World War Two in the ward of a brain surgeon when I met some of the very first speech therapists who were helping head cases to learn to speak again. I have kept in touch with them ever since.
The "communication" from the Commission which was the starting point of our inquiry—it is not a draft directive, it is merely a communication—urges that increasing road traffic be restrained by higher financial charges. Our committee agreed. However, there is no simple, acceptable way of doing that. A general increase in the cost of fuel would discourage road use but would penalise rural and remote areas where the cost of living would rise disproportionately. Governments are always understandably reluctant to do that because they are bound to lose votes in the countryside.
773 In order to avoid or reduce congestion in urban areas, to avoid environmental damage, and to restrain demand on popular and overused trunk roads, some forms of special road pricing and tolls seem inevitable. They have the advantage of enabling choices to be made and decisions to be taken in the places where they will directly affect congestion, without adding financial burdens to parts of the country where those problems do not exist.
If the money raised by such special schemes can be spent on improvements to the roads and facilities concerned, that should seem fair to everyone. That is why the committee suggests in paragraph 45 that such charges should not be part of general taxation but should be a levy on the users and those who are causing pollution and other damage. I hope that the Treasury's traditional objections to what is called hypothecation will not prevent or delay pursuit of those goals. Such schemes would help also to transfer appropriate freight to the railways, though it must be borne in mind that that is not usually economic if the journey is less than 200 miles.
I should like to say a word about pedestrianisation. Much has been done in some cities of Western Europe and there have been similar attempts here. Such schemes are excellent, provided that arrangements are made for disabled people. That should not be overlooked. Wheels cannot be prohibited entirely from a town centre. There are some in the community whose mobility is dependent upon wheels. I draw attention to a city which for many years has been completely pedestrianised for obvious reasons. That city is Venice. No road vehicles have been allowed. It is very difficult for disabled people, whether in wheelchairs or on sticks. To them Venice seems to be all water and steps. Six years ago, when I had to be at the chair at an international conference there, the mayor lent me one of his launches for the week. However it could not go along the smaller canals. Italian colleagues were reduced to searching the palaces and museums to find a sedan chair for the last part of my journeys.
The Select Committee has suggested that the Government should produce a statement, perhaps a White Paper, on transport policy. In their reply, the Government refer to their document entitled Sustainable Development: The UK Strategy, though that goes far wider than transport. Transport is a subject where subsidiarity can apply in many respects within the European Union. It applies also within the United Kingdom. Since the 1950s, the Scottish Office has had responsibility for roads and bridges in Scotland, and much more recently the Welsh Office in Wales. The Department of Transport deals with roads and bridges in England only. Its roads programmes, reviews and White Papers are confined to England, but policies for trunk roads which cross the borders with Scotland and Wales should be based on considerations affecting more than England only. There are also different attitudes and requirements north and south of the Scottish Border.
In England, for some years, new motorways, and trunk roads, and extensions to them have been regularly opposed, in particular by the Council for the Protection 774 of Rural England. Of course, that body does not deal with Scotland. In contrast, in Scotland there are usually complaints that not enough is being done in road building outside the urban areas. Of course, there are always problems and objections in urban areas. In England, the Department of Transport has reduced its road building programme and I note that at the recent Labour Party conference a similar view was adopted. However, in Scotland there is a popular demand for new and improved trunk roads.
Scotland is more than one-third of the land area of Britain and has one-tenth of the population. There are different attitudes accordingly to distance and to facilitating travel between regions and cities and towns. I strongly support the committee's recommendation that the Government produce a policy statement on roads and railways which covers the whole United Kingdom and which brings together the various threads that have hitherto been dealt with on a piecemeal basis.
§ 7.40 p.m.
§ Lord Bridges
My Lords, as a member of the sub-committee which prepared the report, I too support the Motion. It is a valuable, comprehensive and dispassionate survey of an essential subject and it will be of value to all those involved in dealing with these matters. The subject is difficult but I may not be alone in seeing a growing congruence between the attitudes reflected in the Commission document, which was the basis of our study, and public opinion in this country. Furthermore, recent government statements on transport issues have indicated a move in that direction. I hope that the Government will accept perhaps the most important of our recommendations and come forward with a more comprehensive statement. I believe that some of their recent statements have provided the bones which can be fleshed out into a more comprehensive view of the matter.
I wish to concentrate on two general questions and one particular matter. The general questions are two important prior issues which we need to look at in considering the question of a transport policy. The first is the need for a distinctively European transport policy. The second is how far a transport policy for Europe can hope to be sustainable in the full meaning of that word.
As regards the first question—that is, the European nature of a transport policy—there have been clauses about a transport policy in the Treaty of Rome since the inception of the Community. However, it is only since the most recent additions to its text that the Commission and member states have taken up the subject in a serious way. It is also a matter of fact that since the Second World War transport has not received equal priority in the different states of the European Union. In the aftermath of the war most of the states in Europe had to invest heavily in transport because their road and rail systems had been devastated by warfare.
However, that was not the case in this country. At the end of the war our transport system was run down and inadequate but we chose deliberately to give priority to investment in other areas; notably, social security and defence. So for 20 years or so after the war we spent little on transport infrastructure. We are now in a much 775 less satisfactory condition from this point of view than our neighbours in France and Germany. We are trying to catch up with the standards which those two countries have set for road and rail.
We also have a particular need; that is, to reshape our transport system because of the fundamental change that has taken place in the direction of our foreign trade. The essential outlets for our foreign trade are no longer, as they were before the war, from our west coast ports to world markets across the oceans but are from the ports of eastern and southern England to the Continental markets. As that change has taken place in our foreign trade there has been a change in our geographical position in world trade which has not been to our advantage. We have changed from being a focal point of Europe's maritime trade with the rest of the world to being at the very periphery of the European market itself. Being in that peripheral position we must have a good transport system to compete properly in the European market.
From that I conclude that we must be a part of the developing European transport system. We must utilise to the full the direct rail connection that we now have over long distances in Europe, which will wholly change the possibilities open to rail freight operations in this country. That is the real bonus of the Channel Tunnel. We also have a vital interest in the standards set in the European Union to reduce atmospheric pollution caused by cars and to promote safety for road travel. I emphasise this European aspect of transport policy. I believe it to be extremely important for our future.
I turn to sustainability. That is a vogue word which attracts instinctive support from many people and organisations. But whatever definition we use to interpret "sustainable" I doubt whether any transport policy can, with honesty, be described as fully sustainable for the foreseeable future. We are, after all, talking about an activity which has been dependent upon the intensive use of fossil fuels for the past century or more and we will continue to use them. But we can and should strive for policies which make better use of those finite reserves. It is in that more limited sense that we may legitimately aim for "sustainable" transport but without deceiving ourselves as to the meaning or intention of that word.
As regards the detail of the Commission document and our report, I wish to raise only one matter. It is the proposal for a trans-European road network, or TERN for short. This scheme was approved by the Council of Ministers in outline on 29th October 1993. In the Government's comment on our report they agree with our conclusion that as regards this country the network will carry only a small proportion of international traffic and will not be given any special priority in planning. I am glad to note this.
However, the Council decision itself states that the projects listed should begin within 10 years—now within eight years—taking the financial constraints of member states into account. The Council decision also approved a map on which the roads in question are marked. I suggest that the intention of the Council is clearly to proceed in this matter and that documents of 776 this kind acquire a momentum of their own which cannot easily be deflected or controlled. This is an important document too.
The roads shown on the map for this country seem intended mainly to improve road communications from Ireland to Continental Europe. That has been an objective of the Irish Government for some time. The routes mentioned include Stranraer to Felixstowe and Fishguard to Harwich. This question was discussed at a meeting of the sub-committee with the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, when he was Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Transport. A verbatim record of that discussion appears on page 160 of our report. It is doubtful whether these roads could be regarded as a good investment or the best way to accomplish their purpose. Surely if we wish to provide a way of enabling Irish trucks to arrive more easily at the Continental road system a better way will be to provide an improved sea-service from, say, Cork to Cherbourg. Some of the problems which have arisen in Oxfordshire recently with regard to the planning of roads—of course, Oxfordshire would be affected by the Fishguard-Harwich route—were discussed by the sub-committee with representatives of Oxfordshire County Council. The record of that discussion is on page 154 of the report. I remain sceptical about the whole of that particular plan.
Another significant TERN which may be less familiar and even more controversial is in Greece. The map shows a new road from Istanbul, running west across Thrace to Salonika, across the high Pindos Mountains to reach the port of Igoumenitsa on the Ionian Sea opposite Corfu. At present that route is important because the main truck route from the Middle East and Turkey to Western Europe is blocked by the war in Yugoslavia and United Nations sanctions directed at Serbia. Therefore, heavy vehicles must either make a wide detour on extremely inadequate roads through eastern Bulgaria and Romania or they must make their way through Greece on the line, more or less, of the new route proposed by Brussels and take a ferry to Italy.
I have serious doubts about that road as a major artery for Europe. It crosses the Pindos Mountains near Metsovon and its summit at Katara is at 1,700 metres— roughly 5,500 feet. A tunnel is to be bored perhaps 1,000 feet lower but that will emerge directly opposite the town of Metsovon seriously damaging it and one of the few well-managed forested areas of Greece.
Of course, if Greece wants to build such a road and observes the European Union's environmental assessment directives, she has a perfect right to do that under the subsidiarity principle. But when visiting the area this summer with a group from the International Dendrological Society, I was dismayed to see a sign bearing the 12 stars of the European Union, which indicates that the project receives direct funding from Brussels. No doubt that money comes from the Mediterranean structural funds. I believe that the matter calls for some investigation by the Government because the Select Committee previously expressed anxiety about the correct use of environmental assessment procedure for projects using structural fund money and, at first sight, this appears to be another such example.
777 In Greece I believe that the road is known as the Egnatian road after the route of the old Roman road— the Via Egnatia. That was for centuries a famous means of communication for travellers between Rome and Constantinople. In fact, that road followed a quite different route at its western end, terminating at Dyrhachium, which is Durazzo in modern Albania. In fact, that would have been a very much better route to follow since it would avoid the high peaks and precious forests of the Pindos, which are in botanical terms a European treasure.
Of course, there are great political difficulties in using the Community's money to build a road which passes outside its frontiers. Nevertheless, I believe that we have lost an opportunity to create a new route of permanent value to European transport needs in the next century and beyond. The route that I described—the old via Egnatia—is part of the economic geography of the future Europe as well as the past. I note that failure and suggest that the reasons which have caused the road to be diverted to that particular route are worth some study, even if it is too late for the error to be corrected.
I have tried to illustrate some of the general issues and particular problems raised by the report. I believe that this document will serve as a useful, perhaps essential, basis for discussion of transport problems and I join the noble Lord, Lord Elibank, in commending it to the notice of the House.
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ The Earl of Northesk
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Elibank on the sterling work of the Select Committee under his chairmanship and thank him for his most generous welcome to me in today's debate, notwithstanding his caveat with regard to the nervousness involved. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Quirk, for allowing me to be one of two. I derive comfort from not being the only new boy to address your Lordships today.
I concur absolutely with the presumption that the availability of land for road schemes is of itself an unsustainable commodity in this country. Witnesses have had differing opinions as to the wisdom and necessary extent of ongoing investment in road infrastructure but it must be accepted that the fundamentals of our particular set of circumstances require that the promulgation of new road schemes, together with decisions about them, should take due account of the finite nature of our land resource.
Therefore, if improvement and expansion of road infrastructure is not a sustainable solution to congestion, what other options are open to us? In my view, the Select Committee has come very close to defining the true nature of the problem by stating that "society faces a dilemma". I agree with my noble friend Lord Elibank that it is a dilemma of society's making and consequentially, its resolution is substantially the responsibility of society. The attitudes which society has towards its travel patterns need to change to reflect more fully the problems and difficulties which they create.
778 I suggest that what is required, in addition to the measures recommended by the committee—road pricing, increased investment in public transport and so on—is a means of educating society in order that it can make better informed decisions with respect to its mode of transport In contemplating that, I was reminded of a proposition once put to me that only those people whose grandparents had driving licences should be permitted on the road. Facetiousness aside, the underlying logic of that has pointed me towards the potential of the driving test in that regard. That is the single mechanism that gives the populace access to the roads. Also, it is the initial investment that all motorists make towards their driving careers and, as such, represents very good value for the motorist. Thus, if the premise that we are suffering under the yoke of congestion is accepted, a logical way to address it is to apply a brake to the relative ease with which the existing driving test can be passed.
It is my contention that the driving test should not simply examine an individual's ability to cope with the mechanics of driving. Rather, a stiffer and more comprehensive test is required as the means to educate and inform the driving public about the whole transport issue. Further, if there is a perceived requirement that,The price of road use should rise to match the costs of congestion and environmental damage, preferably using charges that are perceived at the time of use".The fee charged for the driving test could be raised to achieve this. Indeed, the general public may find such a mechanism somewhat less burdensome and fairer than increased excise duty on fuel.
As a general principle it can be argued that it is undisciplined and inconsiderate driving that cause the greatest delays. For example, too few motorists obey the provision of the Highway Code that the two so-called "fast" lanes on motorways are overtaking lanes. How often have we all observed the inside lane to be completely devoid of traffic? Not only does that create congestion; it can also be a major contributory factor to accidents which then lead to further congestion. There are many other examples where a bad driving habit has become so universal and so ingrained as to be perceived as normal or even good practice. Thus, quite apart from the potential educational benefits, there is in any event an urgent requirement for a more rigorous testing regime.
There are other potential advantages of this sort of review. I note from a reply by my noble friend the Minister to my noble friend Lord Campbell of Cray that the introduction of photographs on driving licences is planned from July 1996. In part that is to prevent the practice of obtaining a driving licence by paying an impersonator to take the test. Any measure that prevents unqualified drivers gaining access to the roads is very welcome. But additional to that is the possibility that such a new driving licence, based presumably on smart-card technology, would represent the ideal mechanism for administering the whole regime of road-pricing.
I had thought the introduction of regular and compulsory re-testing would be sensible but, with some 32 million motorists on our roads and some 1.7 million 779 tests taken each year, that would be an administrative nightmare. Thus I can accept that there would not be a need for re-testing the mechanics of driving. It is like riding a bicycle; once learnt the skill is not forgotten. However, I can see merit in regular oral and/or written re-testing, say every five or seven years, as a means of reinforcing the message about congestion and environmental damage and of sustaining best practice with regard to the disciplines of driving.
We would be deluding ourselves if we were not to admit that, with time and usage, our driving habits become sloppy. It seems only right, therefore, that our competence should be re-examined on a regular basis. After all, it is a sanction already at the disposal of magistrates in certain cases. I therefore commend the driving test as a possible and additional vehicle, if your Lordships will forgive the atrocious pun, for diminishing the effects of congestion.
There is another way in which society could contribute to this process. Like the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, I noted that,80% of the total travel to work in and out of central Londonis carried by the rail network. My own experience is that travel outside peak hours, whether by car or rail, is a relatively painless experience. Logic suggests that if the peaks and troughs of necessary travel movements could be made less acute an inevitable consequence would be to ameliorate congestion. Surely, therefore, there is very strong motivation for businesses to stagger their hours of trade where possible with mechanisms such as flexi-time. By the same token, teleworking has a contribution to make here.
Finally, I turn to the issue of land use. There exists a presumption that planning policy should be directed towards centralising rural development in selected communities where appropriate and adequate facilities are within reach of modes of transport other than the car. I believe that this approach is severely flawed and that, far from ameliorating traffic volumes, it actively increases them.
As the potential for minimal development, particularly to provide low-cost housing, in outlying communities is discriminated against, a false market of rapidly escalating prices in property is created. Over a period of time, the population of the particular village or hamlet becomes increasingly affluent because they are the only people who can afford to purchase the houses available in the area. The average age of the community concerned becomes increasingly older. Quite quickly it ends up with a population profile of, in the main, couples aged over 50 owning two or more vehicles with little inclination to use either public transport of any existing retail or community facilities in their immediate area. Ultimately, out of economic necessity, provision of those essential services is withdrawn, a process exemplified in part by Warwickshire County Council's recently-announced decision to reorganise the provision of education in the county. That, in turn, leads to a vicious cycle of yet greater dependence upon the car. The subject may, in reality, be part of a different debate but I do feel that its implications with respect to traffic generation are worthy of some consideration today.
780 I am grateful to your Lordships for the patience and forbearance that you have afforded me and very much hope that my words will have made some small contribution to today's debate.
§ 8.4 p.m.
§ Lord Bancroft
My Lords, it is a very great privilege to follow the noble Earl, Lord Northesk. As a maiden speaker, I believe that his contribution was a model of lucidity, thoughtfulness, style and length. In particular, I thought that the noble Earl's points about the driving test and the driving licence were extremely interesting and very well put. I know that the whole House will join me in congratulating him in the hope that we shall hear many more such contributions from him.
Speaking as a Member of Sub-Committee B, I warmly endorse the tributes to our chairman, our clerk and our special adviser. I play the same tune as other noble Lords, although, alas, on a naturally less melodious instrument. Virtually everyone is agreed that the medium and long-term forecasts of road traffic growth spell the route to national gridlock, economic failure and environmental distress. Virtually everyone is agreed that alleviations must be sought in more effective road pricing; more investment in public transport, including rail; better traffic management; stringent restraints on expanding urban road capacity; and better recognition of environmental needs. Virtually everyone is agreed that the love affair with the car will never end, but that its course and after effects must be better controlled.
The report before us, and the Government's response to it, point the way to the alleviations that I mentioned. They must be brought about and brought about quickly. Agreed words will not, of themselves, stop the concreting over of our urban and rural landscapes, any more than the mantra of market forces will, of itself, increase national growth or restrain inflation.
I select five rather obvious points for special emphasis. First, as other speakers have said, there is the importance of road pricing. I agree with everything that other noble Lords have said on the subject. But as the noble Earl, Lord Northesk, stressed, the critical point is that the price of road use will have to rise, wherever possible, using charges that are perceived at the time of use. That is the nub of the matter.
As Professor Allsop, the former colleague of the noble Lord, Lord Clinton, told us,bringing costs to bear at the point of choice is just as important, possibly more so, as increasing them in aggregate".As one of my grandchildren is in the disrespectful habit of saying—and I repeat it to the Government—"Do it".
The second point that I should like to mention is public transport. As other speakers, including the noble Lord, Lord Elibank, have said, increased investment here marches hand in hand with higher road prices. The second will fail without the first. I believe that that is quite clear both to me and to other members of the committee. A most telling figure is that the traffic levels in central Oxford today are the same as they were 30 years ago. That is due to an enlightened policy of transport investment, including heavy emphasis on public transport, the biggest park and ride scheme in 781 Europe—certainly in this country—the encouragement of bicycling facilities, pedestrianisation and traffic calming. Once again, Oxford can point the way to a victorious cause.
I turn now to my third point; namely, local roads and traffic management. The Government's response rightly points out that they are mostly the responsibility of local government. My concern here is that the other head of the ministerial hydra in Marsham Street is busy, through the Local Government Commission, in balkanising local government. The bias—and I put it as modestly as that—towards the abolition of county councils and the creation of a much larger number of small unitary authorities has been criticised by nearly all the organisations concerned with road transport and the provision of road infrastructure. The critics range from the Automobile Association and the Chartered Institute of Transport to the Institution of Highways and Transportation. Perhaps the two heads of the hydra in Marsham Street could attempt a dialogue between the north and the south towers.
Let there be no secret about this: I am thinking here particularly, though far from exclusively, about Cleveland where it is proposed to fragment a smallish county into four small unitary authorities. That is to be done after a fatally-flawed consultation process which the High Court criticised as,picking out the plums and leaving the duff … conduct which, in the case of a second-hand car salesman, would lead to an appearance at the Old Bailey".I end my quotation from the High Court. This is not the way to secure a sensible transport policy for the region.
The point I really wanted to make is that the railway section, which is a very important section of the committee's report, attracts a mention in the Government's response. But I have to say that the response seems to me to take complacency well to the windy side of smugness. There is obvious room for the expansion of rail long-haul freight, inter-urban passenger and urban commuter traffic. This expansion of the railway's role will not come trickling down automatically through privatisation; it needs more efficiency and above all more investment.
It is welcome that the freight facilities and track access grant schemes will be greatly enlarged to £15.5 million by 1996–97 and that total railway investment will be around £3 billion over the next three years. Of this, £2.7 billion will be provided by the public sector. That is good, but comparisons with other European countries for the year 1991 —the latest for which figures were available—show that British railways were on the whole ill-served by the state. As a percentage of gross domestic product, French and German railways received well over three times the financial support enjoyed by British railways. The same is true of the financial support measured per head of population. As a result, in the same year, that is 1991, French railways invested, per head of population, three times as much as BR on new lines, track improvements and signalling. The German railways spent well over three times as much.
782 I echo other noble Lords in adding my fifth point which is my regret that the Government have failed to commit themselves to producing a comprehensive White Paper on transport policy. The individual documents which have been produced over the past year or so are interesting and improving. However, they should be brought together, as has been suggested, with an indication of the Government's preferences and priorities. The Government have little to fear from doing this. Indeed I believe that on balance they would get credit. They would then earn the true title of saint; namely, a dead sinner revised and edited. Transport policy of itself cannot produce economic growth and environmental contentment, but it is an indispensable midwife to both.
§ 8.13 p.m.
§ Lord Lucas of Chilworth
My Lords, when I first received the report that we are discussing tonight I thought what a Herculean task my noble friend Lord Elibank and his colleagues had undertaken because whereas it took the Commission something like two years to prepare its communication, my noble friend Lord Elibank attempted to discuss this matter in something less than six months. Admittedly, as the report states at paragraph 9 in the introduction, the Commission's communication,gives the first opportunity in recent years to consider the main thrust of transport policy as a whole, at a time when that policy is changing".But in discussing the scope of the inquiry the committee chose, as the noble Lord explained to us in his remarks in opening our debate, to concentrate on the central theme of passenger and freight transport by road and rail.
I believe that was a mistake because I do not think one can look at a European policy, or indeed a domestic policy, if one ignores air and marine transport, and to some extent inland waterways, because, for example, there is a great use of air travel for transporting business people on domestic journeys and into Europe which avoids the use of road transportation to a port or a ferry or a non-existent rail system. I think therefore that an opportunity has been missed here. Perhaps if the inquiry had proceeded into a second Session of Parliament, we would have had a more complete view of how the committee felt about a particular policy. What has happened is that we have largely reduced a valuable document to a criticism or a critique of UK domestic road and rail policy with various indifferent recommendations, some of which I shall mention later. I believe that is rather a pity because it narrows the great value of committees of this kind. I know my noble friend is a man of generous nature and I hope therefore he will forgive that criticism.
I was particularly pleased to note that the committee drew particular attention in the report to the doctrine of subsidiarity and indeed to the legislative competence of the Commission in some areas. Provided we bear that very much in mind, we can therefore concentrate on some of the domestic issues. It was interesting to note that the report states in the summary of witnesses' 783 views—I read most of the views and I agree with them—that nearly all witnesses agreed that there had to be some restructuring of the pricing of transportation.
However, I noted keenly that those views all contained caveats. In its opinion at paragraph 45 of the report the committee entered five very serious caveats, most particularly a caveat with regard to transport—I take it in that instance the committee was referring to road transport—meeting "full environmental costs", whatever that may mean. Environmental costs are not defined anywhere, and the phrase means very different things at very different times to many very different interests, depending whom one listens to and at what time. I think it is necessary therefore that we should not rush into some great exercise in determining the externalities of road transport or rail transport with the environmental issues in the back of our minds. That will not do. That is not what this is about and it fails to bring about an adequate balance.
I was sorry that my noble friend described the motor car as being a monster bringing an intolerable burden upon us. I make no secret that my love affair with the motor car—the friend of yesterday—has remained undiminished even though it may have become, in the eyes of my noble friend, somewhat monstrous. I believe I can demonstrate why my love affair should remain alive.
The current theme of the communication is to discourage traffic growth through higher prices, as my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy mentioned. I believe that the committee has fallen into the trap of accepting that the problem laid at the door of transport is one of excess demand rather than inadequate supply. If I were a Treasury Minister that would be music to my ears, because I could price people off the roads and out of the railway carriages without dealing with the problem. I believe that the committee's acceptance of that part of the communication is fundamentally wrong.
The problem that we face is remedying years of total neglect of the provision of an adequate road and rail infrastructure. I lay the blame on no one government. There has been neglect of the infrastructure by virtually all governments since the end of the last war. The noble Lord, Lord Bridges, made that point in rather more delicate terms.
The noble Lord, Lord Bancroft, stole the only quotation which I wanted to lift from the report. However, I believe that it is sufficiently important to repeat because, as the noble Lord, Lord Quirk, said, Professor Allsop, as professor at the London University Centre for Transport Studies, said:bringing costs to bear at the point of choice is just as important, possibly more so, than increasing them in aggregate".The problem is: where is the choice? For many people there is no choice. If, for example, one raises the cost of petrol to £15 a gallon to make people think twice before they embark upon a journey, I suggest that other costs currently borne by way of ownership of a vehicle would be negated. If one wants to shift the burden of taxation in such a way as to make the choice more positive, one must tax usage rather than ownership.
784 In 1992–93 direct transport taxes accounted for some £22 billion—between 10 per cent. and 12 per cent. of total tax revenue. What has been spent on title infrastructure—and I do not mean merely the building of new track—to combat environmental damage? Less than one-tenth of the tax revenue. Therefore, if we allow further direct taxes to be levied on transport under the guise of meeting full environmental costs or bearing its true track share, I suggest that a greater share of that tax revenue should be diverted to exactly meeting that problem of environmental cost. If other taxes are needed for other services such as education, hospitals or foreign affairs, that has to be raised in a totally different way. We cannot continue to tax transport at the current rate without putting something in place. Growth in demand, and the new and proper concern for social and environmental considerations, compound the difficulties.
If we begin to rectify the problem we start from that neglected base, way behind our principal competitors. The noble Lord, Lord Bancroft, mentioned figures relating to the expenditure of some European countries on investment in transport. Those countries have pointed the way.
If, as my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy suggests, we shall have to increase some costs in some areas for certain purposes, then I suggest, as he did, that money has to be ring fenced. That means hypothecation, which is anathema to most Treasury officials and most governments. However, the transport infrastructure, in its broadest and loosest sense, cannot be left to the short-term financial considerations of the Treasury. The start and stop element in investment in road and rail which has bedevilled us for the past 40 years or so has to come to an end sooner rather than later.
I remind your Lordships that in 1955–56 in the United States President Eisenhower managed to have the Federal Aid Highways Act enacted. In effect, that was a hypothecation of some transport taxes. The fund has always been in surplus. It has provided an enviable inter-state highway system which is probably the best in the world. I use that purely as an example of a long-term strategy which has not been diluted for short-term gain. We could learn a lesson from this.
The report states that society faces a dilemma, presumably in relation to transportation. That is not the dilemma which faces society and governments across Europe today. The dilemma is unemployment and stagnant economic growth. There is a need to break out of the current recession, and even recovery in the United Kingdom is patchy and hesitant. There is a need to encourage commerce and industry. Higher costs should not be imposed without a corresponding and perceived benefit to their operations and to those people dependent: upon transportation, which is all of us.
In a submission to the committee, the Royal Automobile Club indicates that there is insufficient sensitivity to the extent to which people are dependent on car use as a result of circumstances not of their making. Most noble Lords have referred to the need for a policy document from Government, and I agree. The RAC believes that a long term strategy with measurable environmental, social and economic objectives needs to 785 be put in place with a package of measures aimed at meeting those objectives. That is what the RAC calls for in a comprehensive policy paper.
Finally, my Lords, allow me to quote from the US Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration annual report for 1993:A competitive, growing economy requires a transportation system that can move people and goods quickly and efficiently. Transportation must be a means of encouraging our full economic potential while not constraining growth".That encompasses what we are debating today. 8.30 p.m.
§ Lord Mountevans
My Lords, in introducing the debate, my noble friend called the car a monster, as did my noble friend Lord Lucas. I have to say at the outset that that is a description that I accept. As several noble Lords will know, first, I declare an interest on behalf of the railways of this country, and, secondly, I am a pedestrian. I have never had a driver's licence. I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Castle, and myself could reasonably be called not only passive smokers but also passive road users.
Tonight we discuss an EC communication on sustainable mobility. Let me make a few suggestions on how sustainable mobility might be achieved. First, it will come as no surprise that I suggest that we invest in rail for passenger purposes. That has been suggested by some noble Lords already. I simply cite the example of the Chiltern Rail on which a considerable but not monstrous sum of money was spent on new infrastructure, new stations, new trains and staff training. In the first year there was a 35 per cent. growth in usage. That seems to me good news not only from the point of view of the railways but also for the area from which most of the passengers came—that road users' nightmare, the A40. That investment was funded ab initio by the railways and by the Government through a PSO grant. However, at the end of the day the payoff comes from the 35 per cent. increase in usage. If we achieve the right investment in the railways for the passengers, the passengers will come. It is a matter of investment. It is not a matter of doing what the Swedes did 15 years ago. They halved fares on the basis that traffic would more than double. Of course it did not.
One can also consider freight. There are a number of examples. I shall not rehearse them because they have been rehearsed ever since I attended the Chamber in the 1980s. However, let us consider the Tilcon scheme whereby the Government produced £3.1 million of investment for infrastructure and rolling stock. By so doing they kept 200 lorries a day off the somewhat inadequate roads of the North Yorkshire Dales.
There are other examples. My favourite—I quoted it when we discussed what is now the Railways Act—is the investment made by PowerGen in rolling stock, locomotives, and, I believe with Government support, in infrastructure. That is a double header. We all state that railways are environmentally friendly. If one lives in Norway, as I do from time to time, one has acid rain. One gets acid rain from the power stations of the Yorkshire Dales. They are churning out the electricity 786 which keeps the electric parts of British Rail going. The joy of the PowerGen exercise, and the Government support thereof, is that one has a green double header. On the one hand, one gets traffic off the road by moving the limestone into the power stations by rail. On the other hand, we are not crucifying my Norwegian family by pouring acid rain upon them.
The third example is the Channel Tunnel. Now that it is getting going—and is it not a huge thrill that it is getting going?—it is switching freight from road to rail. Perhaps I am wrong to state that; it is switching freight to the best combination of road and railway. It attracts dispatchers in Scotland, the Midlands, the North-East and North-West to load their freight not on trailers but on containers on trains travelling through the Tunnel to Milan or wherever. The freight arrives there more quickly and more economically. Perhaps we should consider the issue of making the best use of the two in combination rather than the argument between road and rail.
I could continue, but I seek to speak more briefly than other noble Lords. I pay tribute to the Government for investing both in the railways as they have done in the past, and as I hope they will invest in the future. I do not believe that privatisation is any solution to the problems. I pay tribute to the Government for investing in freight, as I have already demonstrated. However, I believe that a common transport policy is best left to individual marketplaces and individual countries to decide. Her Majesty's Government, I believe with the support of many of us, have gone for an open skies policy. British Airways has made the most of that. British Midland has done well. Air UK is not doing badly. Virgin is also doing well. However, if one asks any of those airlines what they think of a European aviation policy they say that it is brilliant in concept and appalling in enforcement. Let us consider the bail-out of Air France, Aer Lingus, and TAP, to name but a few.
If we are to pick up and run with the report so ably produced by our colleagues in this House, I very much hope that our debate will concentrate on practical matters with regard to subsidiarity. In other words, it is for us to make decisions. It is not for us to follow a somewhat ambiguous and loosely enforced policy. I have referred to the aviation aspect. The issue is not about passengers, freight, rail or road; it is about making the best of all the opportunities that we have before us. It is not about allowing Europe to set a common standard for railway loading gauges. If it did so, we might as well say farewell to the National Health Service because to bring our railways up to what is called the Berne gauge in terms of width and depth of bridges would crucify most of the other public services.
I suggest that we should take note of consultative documents from Europe. However, at the end of the day we should set out to achieve a policy which suits us best. Our objective to a certain extent is open trade, open skies, and frontiers trading. However, it also relates to our need; and that is the area where we should invest.
§ 8.36 p.m.
§ Lord Beaumont of Whitley
My Lords, it has been an interesting debate. We have heard a fine introduction 787 from the mover, and two notable maiden speeches. There has been quite a lot of agreement. With the exception of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, virtually everyone now appears to be agreed that the growth of roads and car population is turning from what all admit to have been a boon to a menace.
The dangers are clear. Current transport policy and practice are one of the great threats to future sustainability, to which this country together with the rest of the world is pledged. In this policy the continuing emphasis on road transport is the real problem. There is the problem of pollution, the threats to SSSIs, areas of outstanding natural beauty, National Trust properties and so on.
Above all, I wish to pick out part of the report which deals with the replanning of neighbourhoods, because I believe that that is almost the heart of the problem. The growth of cars has perpetrated a theft of the time of the poor. Shops, hospitals and schools have retreated from serving human-sized neighbourhoods to serving huge catchment areas. At the same time it has encouraged a growth in the size of the institutions themselves because of their distancing which many of us have experienced as harmful to the quality of life.
It may be that the tide is beginning to turn. The Churches have always remained local. A strong rearguard action, largely powered from the Back Benches of the party opposite, is maintaining local post offices. Local cinemas are returning. There are plenty of good signs. But we need to build neighbourhoods where cars can be almost outlawed largely because they are not needed except for the old and infirm, where children can once again safely walk to school and where shops do not need acres of parking space.
One of the steps which needs to be taken is to entrust a lot of policy to local government of the right size. That means the preservation of the counties, because, on all save the most strategic routes, local government can have a feel for what is needed superior to that of Whitehall. Oxford, which was mentioned, is a very good example of what can be done, although I take the point made by my noble friend Lord Ezra about the difficulty with problems like the building of a new coach station in the north of London, on which I entirely agree with him, and the ability to find someone to be host to it. Together with the great trunk roads, that is an area where the Government must not only have powers but must enforce them.
Another step which is necessary has been mentioned by many noble Lords. It is the necessity to make the roads pay their fair share of costs. It is likely that the present European roads plan is in breach of the Treaty of Rome because it proves to be not properly competitive. It is subsidised, as are most other means of transport.
We must, of course, increase the attractiveness and competitiveness of public transport and encourage transfer of freight from roads to rail and water. The growth in the use of the latter is a welcome recent development, another good small sign. We must concentrate on rail. One of the immediate actions which should be taken is the facilitation of park-and-ride schemes for both trains and coaches. Stations should 788 provide cheap, secure parking and should be helped to do so. The decline, partly as a result of the deregulation of the industry, in the use of buses in the countryside, must be reversed. If that means a subsidy, then it means a subsidy.
Above all—and this is my last point—what is needed is full information to the public as a whole. It is good news that the report on the Birmingham northern relief road is to be published and now we need the publication of the SACTRA report, which may reveal to us whether the strategy of the Government—and I hasten to add, together with other noble Lords, the strategy of all governments since the war—has been misconceived from beginning to end because of a wrong analysis of the whole problem. One point on which I should like an assurance from the Government in the course of the debate is that the SACTRA report will be published in full as soon as possible.
§ 8.43 p.m.
§ Viscount Mersey
My Lords, as soon as we started this report, our committee found itself stuck, I feel, between an irresistible force and an immovable object The irresistible force is the motor car which confers a greater freedom of mobility on our people than ever before. The immovable object is that same motor car, stuck in a traffic jam. To eliminate the jam, while simultaneously retaining our freedom, we sought a middle way: a happy medium, a golden mean. My concern is: is it really possible to have a middle way that is golden, or is it more likely to be made from fools' gold? That is the central dilemma.
The middle way is one of making private transport more expensive and public transport cheaper and better. We cannot go further than that. As the noble Lord, Lord Gregson, who is not with us today, said to a witness: "No politician hoping for election could ever mount a platform and say 'I plan to ban you from driving from London to Birmingham'". No democracy could do that. But we can penalise and above all we can charge.
We can charge the motorist in two ways. There are caveats attached to any system of charging motorists. The first was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Elibank. It is that if we charge him too much for using the motorways and trunk routes, we will merely divert him on to country lanes and make congestion worse than ever. A second caveat is that if we charge the motorist in a painless manner—for instance, by a smart card which he can buy when he fills up with petrol—the perceived cost will not be great and the charging will not deter. As one of our witnesses said, something unpleasant should happen to the motorist when he buys his road-pricing voucher—perhaps a series of high-pitched bleeps, increasing in volume, and a rather prominent display of money, a running total of money being displayed beforehand.
We can also charge motorists for parking; that is a top-class deterrent. If spaces are limited and the few spaces available are hideously expensive, driving into city centres becomes well nigh impossible. The most telling proof of that comes from the island of Manhattan 789 where even the president of the Chase Manhattan Bank no longer drives to work. Parking there is too scarce and too expensive, even for him.
Within the European Union, both the Netherlands and Denmark have draconian parking restrictions. The result is that many commuters now park and ride. They drive to their local station, park and ride in by train. However, there is another caveat here, touched upon by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont. This works, provided that people feel happy to leave their cars unattended all day. Once those peripheral car parks become magnets for vandals, the attraction of park-and-ride disappears. It is a little worrying that at Brussels airport nowadays there are two types of parking: ordinary and protected. The latter has barbed wire, floodlights, bars and guards and, of course, it costs more.
Even when it is safe, however, park-and-ride is by no means the only solution and its success is limited. In the Netherlands, traffic is still increasing. The achievement is merely that the rate of increase is decreasing. That is something, but it is not really sufficient for a small country where the problems of limited road space are no longer confined to the cities. Within the whole area bounded by Amsterdam, Utrecht and Rotterdam, which I think is called the Randstadt, there is no room to put another motorway. It is no longer a question of "not in my backyard"; there are no backyards left. The same applies to the whole of the Ruhr. I must remind noble Lords that the German railway system is already the most subsidised in Europe. So the solution does not necessarily lie in spending yet more money on the trains. It is extraordinarily difficult to find the golden mean for sustainable mobility.
It becomes even more difficult when one moves into the area of freight. We took evidence from TNT and we learnt what a cut-throat business it is in. Factories now operate on a "just-in-time" basis. Components for their products made away from the main factory are, as it were, on conveyor belts from the word "go". If any part of the belt jams, then so does the whole production line. There is no leeway because there is no warehousing.
The conveyor belt today is most likely a truck on a motorway. It will endeavour never to run empty and it could be running anywhere in Europe. TNT has expanded throughout the Union. It is a successful company of road hauliers. I found it interesting that the company is also keen to transport by rail, if the conditions are right. But conditions are not yet right, as noble Lords will know.
Freight transferred by rail has gone outside the control of the company concerned. There is no guarantee that it will arrive on time. For that reason only five per cent. of our freight goes by rail and 95 per cent. goes by road.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Bancroft. Of course greater investment is needed. But even with greater investment on the Continent we have 17 per cent. of freight going by rail, still leaving a massive 83 per cent. to clutter up the roads.
I suggest that perhaps the 12 European rail monopolies tend a little towards the complacent. They cannot hope to compete with the free-for-all of road transport until they cease to be the monopolies that they 790 are. I approve of our privatisation of rail. We are seeking to open up the network to competition. I would maintain that we lead Europe in that direction, though of course at the same time we need to invest more in rail. Let us hope that one day we shall have SNCF trains running in Germany and Dutch trains in Italy and that, most important, the likes of TNT will have their own fleets of trains as well as their own fleets of trucks running in every country of the European Union.
In this connection I am encouraged that the European Commission is pushing us to upgrade three main lines to high speed status. The lines are London-Cardiff; London-Edinburgh; and London-Glasgow, also known as the West Coast main line. Those, combined with the Channel Tunnel link, will help to make us pàrt of the trans-European rail network which will, one hopes, become competitive with road across the whole Union.
We have a long way to go. I wish to mention briefly one personal experience. Last month I sold 100 trees to our timber merchant in Midhurst, Mr. West. I asked him how he intended to transport them. He said: "Nowadays, I am afraid, by road. We used to transport by rail but a few years back British Rail withdrew that facility. They did not give any reasons". Why did that happen? I do not see how our railways could have turned away business in that manner. There must be a profitable way to carry timber by train—the more so when the alternative is more congestion, more greenhouse gases and more countryside smothered in tarmacadam. It is my hope that, with real rail competition in the future, that story will become a legend of the bad old days.
The central dilemma will not disappear even then. The dilemma is that cars are good. I cannot conceive of any 20th century invention that has given more freedom to our people than has the internal combustion engine. And that great freedom is not one that people will lightly forgo. Yet, if we are not careful, we shall run out of road space, grind to a halt and be hoist by our own petard.
Our committee has pointed the way with, we hope, some sensible palliative measures. Now we look to government to develop those measures and to produce a White Paper which contains a common transport policy that has within it the elixir of sustainable mobility. We wish them luck.
§ 8.53 p.m.
§ Lord Pearson of Rannoch
My Lords, I join noble Lords in thanking my noble friend Lord Elibank and the other members of his sub-committee for producing such a magnum opus on the European Community's common transport policy and congratulate the two maiden speakers on their excellent and knowledgeable contributions to our debate.
As one of the few Euro-sceptics on your Lordships' Select Committee, I trust that I shall be forgiven if my contribution is a little less than enthusiastic about the policy proposed in the so-called communication. Before I move into what may be regarded as more controversial waters, I am sure that there is widespread gratitude, if only given the lateness of the hour, that your Lordships' inquiry sought evidence only on the communication's new themes of passenger and freight transport by road and rail. We are therefore spared on this occasion the 791 duty to discuss the Commission's views on its traditional concerns in European transport policy, such as social policy, competition, working hours, maritime transport, inland waterways, air transport and pipelines. Given this depressingly ambitious range of the Commission's communication, it is not surprising that the committee restricted the scope of its inquiry to a relatively narrow field.
We have before us, I submit, an excellent issue upon which to judge how subsidiarity is working in practice. We also have a good example of the tremendous burden placed upon Parliament in its scrutiny of the Commission's activities and also of the way in which a few seemingly innocuous articles in the Treaty of Rome can allow the Commission to have the temerity to issue what it calls a "global approach" to transport.
As to subsidiarity, I notice that the report admits that some of the communication falls outside the legislative remit of the EU. I am bound to say that I consider that something of an understatement. I fear I also take issue with the report when it describes the extra subject matter as "helpful". If subsidiarity is to be taken seriously, would it not be better for us to reject point blank all improper proposals, even if they are only in a discussion document such as the one that the report considers?
In evidence to the committee, a representative of the Department of Transport several times emphasised the importance of subsidiarity, causing my noble friend Lord Elibank to remark that this showed "a certain nervousness about subsidiarity". The gentleman from the department replied,Subsidiarity will run deep. We shall have to see how that comes later".That strikes me as a somewhat ambiguous statement, but all the evidence in the Commission's communication would seem to show that we shall have to wait a very long time, perhaps for ever, before we see subsidiarity as interpreted by tie Government in action.
Of course, as we so often find with the Commission, its strategy does not involve a frontal assault on national competences but instead a steady infiltration through existing avenues of policy. For instance, the implementation of the internal market (a matter I thought Parliament had dealt with some time ago) is becoming more and more the Commission's excuse for increasingly ambitious plans. The Commission's communication warns us that the magnitude of the task of applying the 1992 measures,should not be underestimated. The legislation contains provisions the application of which requires more than the simple deletion of … national regulations".Furthermore, even as the Commission is warning us of this substantial task ahead it goes on to advise us that what it describes as "unanticipated problems" may require some type of initiative to move the Community on from the 1992 internal market programme. In addition, for the sake of harmonisation the Commission says that the Community may have to address such problems as,taxes and other charges, technical requirements, social, environmental and safety obligations, civil liability regimes … a Community framework for the charging of infrastructure, and possibilities for adopting a truly territorial system of taxation for heavy goods vehicles".792 The Commission wishes also to play a part in transport policy under the guise of economic and social cohesion. The communication states that,'Transport services must be provided under conditions which promote the Community's social cohesion",and that,Community and national actions are needed to ensure that the transport market contributes to the highest possible societal welfare".What this will mean in practice, I fear, is the spending of British taxpayers' money on transport projects in other countries. To be more precise, from 1993 to 1999 £575 million of our money will, through the cohesion fund, pay for transport in the so-called poor four countries. My evidence for that is a Written Answer in the other place on 5th November 1993.
Nor are we likely to miss out on the social chapter costs of the common transport policy. In an obvious warning to Britain, sections of paragraphs 254 and 255 of the communication are foreboding. Paragraph 254 reads:At this point, it suffices to note that in responding to social pressures, some of them flowing directly from the liberalization associated with the completion and functioning of the internal transport market, authorities at national and regional level will find it difficult to act alone when their unilateral initiatives could prejudice the price competitiveness or operational flexibility of their transport enterprises relative to those from other Member States".Paragraph 255 states,Second, on the other hand, measures taken in the context of the functioning of the internal market in transport services should reflect and be fully compatible with the Community's generally applicable social policies. Third, when social measures will affect the functioning of the transport market, particularly the competitive conditions of transport enterprises, they should be adopted whenever possible by the Community as a whole".Even Community research and development initiatives about transport would take in safety, the environment, the social dimension and efficiency within what is described as, "a new integrated approach".
But surely the Commission's most favoured approach to new regulation is through health and safety standards. And here the communication does not disappoint us. The Commission envisages the adoption of a programme on driver education and behaviour, setting up a Community database to exchange information on road safety and a basic objective of promoting less aggressive driving. It is happy to admit that there are already some 50 basic directives harmonising requirements for vehicle characteristics but immediately looks forward to harmonising standards for, among other vehicles, buses.
I understand that at the next meeting of the Council of Ministers—it is perhaps next week—safety standards for buses will be discussed and a decision made by qualified majority voting. I gather that the Commission proposes that double-decker buses should have two staircases and that the minimum seat pitch (whatever that may be) should be changed to 65 cm. from 61 cm. Such regulations, if accepted, would seem to mean the end of the double-decker bus. With two staircases and fewer seats I understand that they will not be economically viable. Britain has 20,000 double-decker buses—far more than any other country in the 793 Community; for example, Germany has only 1,000. Double-decker buses are, of course, of great value to the London Tourist Board and our tourist industry generally. Furthermore, we are now successfully exporting double-deckers to the Far East and, according to last Friday's The Times, to New York where they are proving very popular and are beating off fierce competition from local manufacturers. We are the only country in the Community with so much to lose by those regulations. It must be said that French and German bus manufacturers have a great deal to gain by them.
Will my noble friend on the Front Bench give the House an assurance that the Government will fight those regulations? Will he also explain to the House what further action they can take if they lose the eventual qualified majority vote? But most importantly, can my noble friend explain to the House how it is that, a year after the legal adoption of the doctrine of subsidiarity, this country finds itself having to fight in Brussels, under the shadow of a qualified majority vote, about the design of a London bus?
Over the last 20 years the Commission has created more than 200 regulations and directives concerning the environment. The number per year appears to be increasing. There is evidence for that in an article in the Financial Times of 3rd March 1994 and I saw it with my own eyes in the evidence before your Lordships' Select Committee. Yet the communication says that,existing Community legislation in this field will require updating and strengthening".It proposes,fiscal measures to achieve Community environmental targets",and that,the Community could further provide the framework for the use of tax incentives".It even wants Community action on noise levels around airports.
European businesses are already groaning under the weight of environmental laws which do not burden American and Asian companies. Would not my noble friend on the Front Bench agree that if we are to have true international agreements on the environment then they might better be formed through the World Trade Organisation rather than through the Brussels bureaucracy? Be that as it may, I have some difficulty reconciling the Commission's professed concern for the environment with its plans for vast trans-European networks. The plan for 34,000 miles of road over the next 10 years appears to be regarded by many if not most serious European environmentalists as little short of a disaster. But even if those networks are necessary— which one rather doubts—is it really the job of the Commission to bring them about? I remind your Lordships that the single largest contribution so far to the integration of European transport —the Channel Tunnel—was achieved without the help of a single Brussels bureaucrat. Furthermore, in this country at least, there was no need for public funding.
Your Lordships' report points out that most of the proposed projects would have little to do with Britain; but it does not comment on the possibility that the British taxpayer would have to finance networks 794 elsewhere in the Community. Surely if, say, Germany and Austria wish to build a motorway between them, then that should be a matter for them. I note the opinion of the Department of Transport in the report which states,We have the national view that we should wait and see how it goes. We are not as enthusiastic as some other member states have been, but we are short of being sceptical".On this matter it would seem that the Government's policy is similar to that on a single currency.
I have already mentioned some of the cost to the British taxpayer of the Cohesion Fund, but what of the additional sums needed to reach the 68 billion ecu for the Commission's 11 priority schemes? The Corfu Summit presidency conclusions produced the usual vague fudge which said,As regards financing of networks, the European Council confirms that measures will be taken—if proved necessary —in order that priority projects do not run into financial obstacles which would jeopardise their implimentation".Can my noble friend enlighten us as to what those measures might be? Also, given your Lordships' Select Committee's recent report on the extent of fraud in the Community, which devours 10 per cent. of the Community budget or at least £6 billion per annum and which it seems there is little we can do to halt, do the Government think it wise to entrust Brussels with such sums in the future?
I remind my noble friend that the price is paid, in every sense, by the public and, in this case, as I have demonstrated, largely by the British public. The report acknowledged the concerns and diversity of public opinion. But how are the public to be served by the process of consultation and legislation set out in the communication? As things stand it seems that the public already find it difficult to communicate to the Government their views about road building, public transport and the environment. Indeed, the Government are accused of not having a transport policy at all. I would have thought that any sensible transport policy will be well nigh impossible when decisions are made through the Commission, the European Parliament, the Council of Ministers, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions. What is more, the costs will escalate accordingly.
Of course I accept the case for some international agreements on the environment. But from the examples that I have quoted in the communication, it is clear that the Commission has so many opportunities for tightening its grip on the common transport policy that it makes a mockery of subsidiarity. By using policies on the environment, economic and social cohesion, health and safety, the internal market, research and development, social policy and external trade, the Commission can continue to pursue its disingenuous pretence that it is merely the facilitator of the common transport policy, while in fact it is pulling all the strings, including the purse strings.
I have listened to the whole of this debate and I have to say that it has been a largely domestic debate. I do not think that I have heard any noble Lord advocate a policy which could not be fulfilled nationally by this country. So I end by submitting that it should be up to 795 national governments to decide what domestic arrangements suit them best in order to achieve their international obligations, and, in a properly functioning democracy, it is the job of Parliament, the public and the press—not of unelected bureaucrats in Brussels—to ensure that the Government devise policies which our people want, and that they carry them out.
§ 9.7 p.m.
§ Baroness Hamwee
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Elibank, and his committee for producing a report which, I would have said before the last speech, reflects an almost complete consensus among the public. Perhaps we should be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, for introducing a note of dissent into the debate.
There is a consensus that the use of the car needs to be reduced but it is perhaps worth reminding ourselves that, though the number of cars on the roads in this country is growing, that does not necessarily reflect a wider car ownership. There are more cars owned by the same number of families and families who have not had access to car transport continue not to have access to it.
The need to change public attitudes has been referred to and must be at the heart of this problem. The noble Earl, Lord Northesk, in his maiden speech, referred to the need for education as a process of change. I agree with that. I am an example of one who may be educated in the usefulness of the bicycle. But though I know intellectually what a good mode of transport it is, I am still unable to ride one. Education is perhaps not quite all, but it is important. Comparisons are made with drink driving. I find it notable that by and large the generation now in its early twenties or thereabouts does not drink and drive. That message has been learnt. It is a good example of how we can set ourselves on a course of cultural change.
We need to find comprehensible language. I mentioned yesterday to a number of people that we were having this debate today. When I used the term "sustainable mobility" a look of complete puzzlement crossed almost every face. Someone said, "Is that about perpetual motion?" Let us try to find a way of explaining the problems more clearly.
When people understand that we are talking about transport there are two main issues to which they increasingly refer. One is that of air pollution. I shall spend a little time on that subject because, if transport is to be sustainable, what is more important than that it should not stop us all breathing? We thought after the London smog which killed 4,000 people over a weekend in 1952 that smog was a thing of the past, but it is back. It is not so obvious. It is less visible and it is less obviously dirty but potentially it is just as lethal. In a way I find that even more sinister.
After the Clean Air Acts, Ministers assumed that the problem was over and, sadly, the Medical Research Council's air pollution unit and the Clean Air Council were shut down. We have lost a decade of research as a result. That has left us a little unsure about the effects of pollution. We know that asthma has reached epidemic proportions. It is the only treatable chronic disease that is advancing in western countries. It affects one in seven 796 British children, it costs at least £750 million a year in lost production, treatment costs and social security payments and it kills 2,000 people a year. We must all have been aware of the combined problems of weather and pollution conditions over the last summer.
The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution is to report at the end of this month and its report has been trailed as recommending very strongly a rejection of the Government's long-standing encouragement of the use of the private car. During its 18-month study the commission has made what has been described in the press as the first official attempt to tot up the environmental cost of the Government's policies. As I said, this is a trailer and we have not yet seen the report, but it appears to conclude that the effects of pollution from car exhausts on health, the contribution to global warming from carbon dioxide emitted by vehicles, the loss of land to new roads, the increasing number of accidents and other environmental damage will cost the country tens of billions of pounds.
It is not only cars which are a problem. We talk about public transport, but we need to remind ourselves that not every mode of public transport or every bus is clean. It is not just a question of heavy goods vehicles, although they may be the major culprit. It is not enough to promote public transport if transport itself is dirty. We need to call for the cleaning up of public transport whether it is deregulated or not.
My noble friend Lord Beaumont has referred to the need for information. He mentioned it in the context of the reports on road planning, the SACTRA report and the debate on cost-benefit analysis. I understand that the publication of the SACTRA report was promised in May to be "in due course". Like him, I hope that the Minister can tell us that "in due course" is quite near.
Information is needed too on the issue of air pollution. We need monitoring and the dissemination of information. This country has a real shortage of air pollution monitoring equipment in population centres. I believe that most of our monitoring network is in rural areas. That is important in tracking the effect of pollutants on plants and agriculture, but it does not do a complete job. We have the smallest number of nitrogen dioxide monitoring stations per head of population in the Union. However, the monitoring which does take place shows that children in the UK regularly experience levels of pollution that are of concern or, to put it another way, have been shown to cause damage in other countries.
The Government paper on the UK strategy for sustainable development refers to targets, simply stating that targets for controlling pollution existed. We need new targets and action to meet them. It is a shame that the Government did not take the opportunity in that strategy to set targets at which we could aim. If the Government themselves are not to set targets then the strategy itself states that other agencies will have to do so. It suggests that local government has a significant role. Indeed it does, but it needs the backing and co-ordination of central government action to be. fully effective.
797 The next matter which the public almost invariably mentions when one talks about transport, is that road planning tends to move a jam about two miles further on down the road. We must all be aware of proposals which seem to have no objective other than shifting congestion from one place to another not very much further away. The report itself refers—in quoting Mrs. Thomas of Surrey County Council, whom I shall shortly be able to refer to as "my noble friend" when she joins us on these Benches—to the "cascade" down from Department of Transport roads to other roads at county level.
Paragraph 64 of the report refers to a matter which I endorse very fully. It draws attention to the existence in many other countries of a strong level of regional government and also powerful city authorities which have been of importance in developing popular local initiatives. The report says:A widely-held view of local authorities in the United Kingdom has been that they are provided with neither the powers nor the resources to implement the policies they are being encouraged to pursue".With a nice degree of understatement, it concludes,and we do not think that this view is entirely an illusion".The report refers to evidence from the Association of County Councils and the package approach and the need for that to be fully understood. It is also refers to the need for authorities to have the ability to implement it. One quotation taken almost at random states that it is absolutely impossible to explain to the man in the street why we can build a £10 million bypass but cannot put a set of traffic lights in to solve pedestrian or safety problems. Many of your Lordships will have had that sort of experience.
I agree with the reference that has been made to the carrot and the stick. Over the years I have come to believe that it is necessary to have the carrot a little ahead of the stick and not merely in physical terms, with the donkey in the middle. Unless the carrot is in place I do not believe that the stick can be entirely effective.
Mention has been made of road pricing, a matter in which I am very interested, but both the disincentives and the incentives need to be sufficient. The noble Viscount, Lord Mersey, referred to non-residential parking. I wonder whether the lack of parking will prove to be a greater disincentive than road pricing to people driving into city centres. As prices increase, people will find means to pay those charges and it will probably be the people one would most want to discourage who will drive into the centre of a town and use their car there rather than those who really need to have access to a car.
There may be scope for further exploring other incentives, such as the way in which we in this country (and others) use the incentive of imposing a different excise duty on unleaded fuel as compared with leaded petrol. Three years ago the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution recommended the use of a fuel duty differential in favour of low sulphur fuel. Perhaps such an approach could be pursued. The royal commission also endorsed grants for fitting particulate 798 traps to new buses. There must be other methods—small and discrete in themselves—which we could explore which would have immense effects.
Other countries have sought to use incentives. Germany has used incentives and grants to encourage vehicles to be correctly modified. The Germans were the first to take advantage of the opportunities provided by the EC, with their adoption of limits on gas pollutants by fiscal means. They raised the annual duty for cars which met the current standards while lowering the duty for cars which anticipated new standards. That is why they got well ahead of their own targets for meeting such standards.
One cannot argue against the principle of the polluter paying, but it is a complex problem and we risk suggesting that one might have the freedom to damage the environment if one can afford to pay. That is not what we are aiming for.
The first time that I attended a meeting at the Department of the Environment, the Minister referred to integrated transport as "a bus outside a railway station". The thinking has moved on somewhat, but I echo the importance of inter-relationships and the real need for integrated planning, as endorsed by the report.
On the question of railways, at which the debate has merely glanced, I am reminded of the meeting of the Christophersen Committee this Wednesday. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure us that at that meeting the Government will press for funding of the West Coast route, to which reference has been made in the debate.
I believe that the public mood is open to change. It is up to the Government to provide the leadership and the political will to which the noble Lord, Lord Elibank, referred. I agree absolutely with my noble friend Lord Ezra about the detachment of the Department of Transport and the Government as reflected by their comments in the report. I agree also about the need for commitment and urgency. My noble friend said that the Government should express their preferences. I say that the Government should come off the fence and use the same sort of language as the grandchild of the noble Lord, Lord Bancroft.
§ 9.24 p.m.
§ Lord Clinton-Davis
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, rightly referred to her problems with bureaucratic and Euro-jargon and cited a specific instance. I well remember a reference in a paper that emerged from D-G III, the department dealing with industry and competitiveness, in 1985. It referred to non-material resources when what it meant was workers. It is that type of thing which arises not merely in the European Commission but in government generally, and a greater effort should be made to eschew that type of thing which only confuses and causes the public to be sceptical.
I should like to start by congratulating the two maiden speakers on their engaging, well-informed and humorous contributions. I hope that we shall hear from them many times in the future. The noble Earl referred to a better informed and educated public, and suggested that one of the ways to achieve that was through the 799 driving test. That was an extremely interesting proposition. I am a little doubtful about whether the driving instructors would measure up to the severe challenges which he posed to them, but it was an original idea.
When the noble Lord, Lord Quirk, referred to the bold concept of minding the gap, in the context in which he was speaking about having more languages I could not help feeling that the French might have construed that as, "Mind the GATT", but at all events both maiden speakers made extremely interesting speeches.
I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Elibank, and his colleagues for their comprehensive report. I am glad that they eschewed the idea of taking on a much wider remit. That was wise indeed. In his equally interesting speech, the noble Lord referred to the issue of subsidy; of it being essential to improve public transport; and that much more was required than is currently the case. I largely agree with that, but it has to be seen against diverting funds, as he put it, from the almost grotesque amount that is allocated to the road budget, to other forms of public transport.
I worry a little about subsidy. I mention this in passing only because this is about the only thing upon which I will commend the Government. Subsidy in the field of aviation has been a bitter blow to those of us who want to see a sensible aviation policy emerging from the European Union. The activities of the Commission in sanctioning heavy subsidies not just to Air France but to Olympic and TAP gave a poor service to the cause for which the Commission purports to stand.
I stand four square with the Government in the attack that they propose to make on that decision in the European Court of Justice. I wish them, and others who are challenging the decision, well, because if we want to have a sensible and efficient aviation policy operating in the European Union, it is no use permitting inefficient airlines to survive by that route; and, more than that, they should not embark on cost-cutting exercises, as Air France has done, armed as it has been with those subsidies to the great disadvantage of its unsubsidised competitors. However, aviation was not the subject of the report, and I do not wish to enlarge upon that any further.
It is different however in terms of rail transport, because here we are not dealing with head-to-head competition among member states or artificial barriers to trade, as we do in aviation. For that reason, there is a great distinction to be drawn between the forms of subsidy to which I have just alluded.
The noble Lord emphasised, as did many other speakers, the need for the Government to produce a coherent White Paper on public transport. I wish that they could. I believe that it is like expecting a large family from a mule. Nevertheless, I award colleagues who have spoken in the debate with a prize—perhaps an Olympic medal—for optimism.
Having made a slight attack on the Government I realise that I have made an important omission, which I shall correct at once. I welcome the noble Viscount in making his maiden speech as a Minister. He has previously answered Questions but he has not spoken in 800 a debate in his capacity as a Minister. I have had many debates with him and look forward to many future debates with him when he will be on this side of the House and I shall be on that side. However, I wish him happiness and joy in the few months ahead in trying to correct the Government's appalling transport policy.
The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, made an interesting comment on the need for pedestrianisation. I have heard the noble Lord speak previously on this topic, unhappily with great experience, and we respect his views very much. I believe that we should deploy more thought to the points that he raised.
I turn immediately to the work of the Select Committee and to the communication by the Commission to the Council. Many criticisms have been made of it. I endorse the views of those who have spoken that there is something of a disconnection between the concept of sustainability in the environment and the transport programme, particularly in terms of road transport. On the other hand, no one has said that we must recognise the fact that the Commission is dealing not only with the central powers and member states inside the European Union but also with the peripheral countries. If the internal market is to mean anything—and transport must be a vital ingredient of achieving that internal market, a point which the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, appears to have omitted in his considerations of the matter —we must think in terms not only of the wealthier countries within the Union but also of the poorer peripheral countries. Although I believe that in some measure the Select Committee was right in saying that this matter is not directly of concern to the United Kingdom as much as to other countries on the Continent, in terms of that element of the completion of the internal market and of ensuring that it works successfully it is still important that we have a common transport policy.
Of course, the common transport policy was supposed to have been put in place by 1970. The decision of the European Court of Justice in the case brought by the European Parliament against the Council to the effect that Ministers had languished in the performance of their treaty obligations eventually brought Ministers to recognise what those obligations were. Even so, and even though the court insisted that the common transport policy should be achieved within a reasonable time, we are still a very long way from achieving that ambition.
At paragraph 76, the Commission—and this is referred to at page 8 of the report—sums up two of the important issues which have figured largely in this debate; namely, charging and infrastructure. Paragraph 76 states:One of the important reasons why imbalances and inefficiencies have arisen is because transport users have not been adequately confronted with the full costs of their activities and because the construction of transport infrastructure has been lagging behind what was needed … As prices do not reflect the full social cost of transport, demand has been artificially high".That sums up the issue.
When I was both transport and environment commissioner, my efforts to pursue that theme were marked, I fear, by delaying tactics and obfuscation on the part of many of the member states, including the 801 United Kingdom. And yet as long ago as early 1985, one of the first meetings that I attended as a commissioner was with the European Round Table — a group of European industrialists headed by the then chairman of the Swedish Volvo company, Mr. Gyllenhammar. At that time those industrialists were arguing that there was a need for a policy in transport infrastructure to deal with what they called the missing links. Sometimes they were remarkably un-ideological in their approach. They said: "Public capital will be in short supply and it will need to be supplemented by private capital in some respects, for example, where there is a missing link which is not likely to attract public finance but which is nevertheless vital. That is something which has to be tackled." I thought that that showed a remarkable insight into the problems which confronted European transport infrastructure policy at that time. It is a pity that it has not been developed.
Of course, it is true that my colleague Mr. John Prescott was arguing for that partnership between public and private capital five years ago. More recently, the Government have set up a committee to investigate those possibilities. The Opposition parties are working on similar projects. It is a pity that the idea has not been given a fairer wind.
It is fair to add that, since those days of 1985, the Commission has undertaken much more research and analysis in dealing with those issues. What is now required from the transport Ministers, or perhaps more accurately the finance Ministers, is not more rhetoric but certainly more action if we are to achieve anything.
As stated at paragraph 5 of the report, the Commission itself has gone far beyond the communication. I know that that will greatly concern the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, but I welcome it. It has produced instruments on trans-European combined transport—an extremely important element which should not be forgotten in the debate—and on road networks and inland waterways as well as proposing guidelines for trans-European networks. It has also provided an action programme to improve access for people with reduced mobility. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, will welcome that.
I believe that these are the anxieties of a European Union. I do not believe that all these issues can be dealt with singularly by saying that everything must be dealt with on the basis of subsidiarity. Of course, the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, does not like the European Union. He is not prepared to give an inch to the concept that we need, for the benefit of completing the internal market, if for no other reason—and there are many other reasons—a proper integrated transport policy. Therefore, the real test is whether Ministers will have the political will and foresight to advance those policies. I hope so but I doubt it.
The major contribution of the communication is to emphasise the inter-relationship between environmental and transport policies. They are complementary. It may fall short with regard to many issues but it has made a major contribution in this regard. I do not agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, when she casts doubt on the polluter pays principle. What else is there? I 802 recognise the deficiencies pointed out by the noble Baroness. But it is written into the Single European Act and into the Maastricht Treaty, as is the fact that pollution prevention pays. One must deal with such issues at source. I see that the noble Baroness wishes to respond. I give way.
§ Baroness Hamwee
My Lords, I am most grateful. I apologise for taking up the time of the House, but I feel that I really must put on record the fact that what I was attempting to do when I referred to the issue of the polluter paying was not to say that I disagreed with it; indeed, I very much agree with that approach. However, I sought to point out that it is a vastly complicated subject and that it may be a little too easy just to suggest that if one can pay then that is the end of the matter.
§ Lord Clinton-Davis
My Lords, I understand the point made by the noble Baroness. However, I do not have time to embark upon that particular debate.
Perhaps I may now turn briefly to some of the conclusions and recommendations made by the Select Committee. One of the most important features to arise was the evidence put before the committee of the huge and apparently insatiable demand on the transport infrastructure which has been heavily weighted towards the motor car. We have had increasing congestion and it looks as though that will continue, with networks reaching saturation point in many instances.
The Government's response has been to undertake a huge road reconstruction programme dealing somewhat marginally with it recently by paring it down a little. But they have essentially ignored the evidence that that additional road space is incapable of meeting the demands of the present, let alone the future. Their failure to come within recognisable distance of that in the commitments that they undertake and to ensure that the country begins to invest as much in public transport as most of our European competitors —and, indeed, our fellow member states—represents a major indictment of the Government over the years.
The Government also stand condemned for not recognising the importance of an integrated transport policy. Minister after Minister says, "I don't know what it means". Everyone else understands what it means. The committee understands what it means, the Dutch Government understand what it means and are implementing an integrated transport policy, and certainly the Commission understands what it means; but not Ministers in the Government. Perhaps I am mistaken. It is possible that this Minister does understand that we need to have a policy in the field which is complementary as regards the different modes of transport. I shall not go into a definition of it now, but it is remarkable that Transport Minister after Transport Minister has cast doubt upon the concept. Yet it is vital to an understanding of transport policy as we reach the 21st century. I hope that the Minister who is to respond to the debate will at least trouble to find out what it can mean in practice. I recommend that he observes what is happening elsewhere in Europe, especially in Holland.
Environmental costs cannot be valued in balance sheets in similar terms to operating costs. A very simple example of that is the driver-only provision which we 803 now have on buses. Of course, it is cheaper for the bus companies. The payment of salaries for conductors is measured in balance sheets. But is it better in terms of congestion? Is it in fact better in terms of protecting the environment? Those factors are left totally out of the equation.
As Transport 2000 has expressed it, I believe in a more coherent and environmentally sensitive transport policy. I shall not go into the issue of pricing at any length this evening. A number of interesting concepts which require additional debate have been advanced. I hope that we shall have such a debate in the very near future.
So far as concerns public transport, I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Elibank, and the committee, in that investment must be directed away from the roads in large measure, though not entirely. We certainly need to change the priorities of transport policy in the direction of public transport. To deal with the problems of environment and congestion—that is, sustainable development—the report, at paragraph 47, gives emphasis to the fact that: "Transport policies simply will not work unless public transport systems are fast, attractively priced compared with the car, ubiquitous, clean, well-marketed and … reliable".That goes to the very heart of the issue.
The report calls for a major reallocation of urban road space to public transport. The question raised as regards compatibility with the Government's deregulation, privatisation and local government policies is an issue which is deserving of a debate in itself. Suffice it to say that I cannot see—I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, here—how privatisation of the railways is relevant to the present problems of this country in terms of transport. What we need is not fragmentation but unification. We have had a hugely expensive exercise costing something like £700 million in terms of just promoting privatisation without providing any additional services whatsoever. It is a complete and utter waste of time and I believe that deregulation will have a similar effect.
I must say one last word and that is on the question of a transport policy. I welcome the call made by the Select Committee for a White Paper on transport policy. It is necessary to set out the transport policy that is appropriate for this country for all modes, and to include objectives, financial arrangements and practical implementation. It will be forthcoming from a Labour Government.
§ 9.46 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Viscount Goschen)
My Lords, I should like to begin this evening by congratulating the Select Committee on its report and my noble friend Lord Elibank on initiating this debate. Many of the issues raised by the Commission communication and examined by the committee go to the heart of transport policy and increasingly affect our daily lives. The committee has been admirably thorough in its selection of witnesses and in its efforts to establish how our European partners are addressing the issues. The final report is clear and persuasive.
804 The debate this evening has been interesting and extremely worth while. I welcome the contributions of all noble Lords who have spoken this evening. I should particularly like to congratulate the two maiden speakers. The noble Lord, Lord Quirk, might have enjoyed only a five day career in your Lordships' House so far but he spoke with admirable clarity and wit, a consequence no doubt of his slightly longer career outside your Lordships' House. My noble friend Lord Northesk made a far-thinking speech concentrating on the driving test and the driving licence. However, I feel that we are not quite ready for some of his more imaginative ideas on grandfather rights; but I welcome his contribution, nonetheless. I hope that we shall have the opportunity to hear from both noble Lords extensively in the future. I also take the time to thank the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, for his kind opening remarks.
I now return to the report itself in which two points stand out clearly: first, the question of transport growth. The Select Committee is right to give prominence to this issue and every noble Lord who has spoken this evening has also done so. Growth in demand for transport throughout this century has been a striking phenomenon. It has in recent years, as the committee made clear, increased the pressure on our road and rail networks and faced local communities with some unenviable choices. Forecasts of future growth in demand for transport present a formidable challenge and we intend to address that challenge.
The second clear message from the report is the Select Committee's recommendation that the price of road transport should be raised in order to meet environmental and other external costs, and that this price should so far as possible be charged at the point of use. For the committee that is an unavoidable conclusion from its analysis of transport growth, and a conclusion for which it demonstrates a wide measure of support. The Government recognise the force of this argument. In our response to the committee's report, we referred to the sustainable development strategy published by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister last January, which stated our recognition that,there are good grounds for increasing the price people pay for road use in so far as current prices do not reflect wider social and environmental costs".These are far-reaching and complex questions. The report addresses them boldly, and we have had a stimulating debate. In setting out the Government's position, I recognise that in the relatively short time available I might not be able to do full justice to all the issues raised in the report and by noble Lords this evening. I accept the point that the report concentrates on United Kingdom domestic issues and that, with the principal exception of my noble friend Lord Pearson, noble Lords have similarly addressed themselves principally to domestic issues.
In relation to the European question which my noble friend Lord Pearson raised, the Government recognise the importance of subsidiarity and will continue to resist Commission proposals which are not justified. The importance of subsidiarity was also stressed in the 805 conclusion of the Transport Council of Ministers, which considered the Commission's communication on sustainable mobility of June 1993.
Perhaps I may respond to the question of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, who asked whether the Government support the inclusion of the West Coast main line modernisation. The answer is that we support its inclusion in the list of priority projects.
The question of traffic growth is the dominant theme of the Select Committee's report, and indeed of any sensible consideration of transport policies. It may help if I give some illustrative figures. At the end of the 1940s fewer than 30 billion vehicle miles were travelled on British roads. By 1960 that figure had doubled; it doubled again before 1970 and again by 1993, when more than 250 billion vehicle miles were travelled. On the basis of our current forecasts, we expect that traffic to increase a great deal further.
Those striking figures show the response of our society to growth and prosperity. The link between economic growth and transport growth is clear and forms the basis of our forecasts.
The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked specific questions in relation to the publication of the SACTRA report. The committee submitted its report to the Secretary of State towards the end of May. The normal practice is for SACTRA reports to be published together with the Government response. The report is a substantial document and the technical issues addressed are extremely complicated, as the noble Baroness recognised. As would rightly be expected, the department and Ministers are giving it full and careful consideration. The report and the Government's formal response will be published together when Ministers have completed that process. It would be wrong for me to give any response before that time.
The consequences of traffic growth are plain to see in the physical and social shape of our country. Towns and cities have been reshaped to accommodate the motor car. The road network, although increased in length by less than a quarter since the 1940s in response to the eightfold increase in traffic, has improved immeasurably in quality, particularly by the construction of some 2,000 miles of motorway. Ease of transport has opened a wealth of opportunities for people in the fields of employment, consumer choice and recreation. We have also seen significant increases in emissions of harmful pollutants and carbon dioxide, which have an obvious impact on the environment.
That complex mixture of gains and losses defines society's relationship with the motor car, which is perhaps not always as loving as that of my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth.
The Government should not interfere without good reason in the personal decisions of individuals. Nor must we put at risk the competitiveness of British industry. We need to find a balance between enabling people to enjoy the opportunities presented by ease of access and protecting the environment for ourselves and future 806 generations. That was the essential theme of the transport chapter of the Government's sustainable development strategy which I mentioned earlier.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, raised the question of air quality. I can tell her that the Government issued a consultation paper entitled Improving Air Quality last May and we aim to issue full conclusions before the end of this year.
The strategy contained in the sustainable development paper highlighted a number of areas where the Government are taking action in an attempt to strike the right balance. Our national roads programme, recently reviewed and concentrating on bypasses and improvements to existing road corridors, aims to reduce congestion and divert traffic from the most sensitive areas.
Lord Campbell of Croy
My Lords, will my noble friend give way? When he refers to "our national roads programme" will he confirm that it applies only to England?
§ Viscount Goschen
My Lords, I fear that on the question of application to Scotland I shall have to give the noble Lord an answer in writing, if he will permit me to do so.
Lord Campbell of Croy
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. I do not expect a statement on Scotland. However, it is important that it should be made clear that when my noble friend refers to a "national roads programme" that programme does not apply to Scotland and Wales. That is the point. It is not that I expect to hear some statement specifically on Scotland.
§ Viscount Goschen
My Lords, I note the point that my noble friend makes. I shall endeavour to acquaint myself further with that issue.
Our approach to vehicle regulation, working with our European partners, has been to aim for substantial reductions in harmful emissions: the consequence of 1993 standards, which effectively required catalytic converters on new petrol cars, will be significant reductions in overall emissions lasting well into the next decade—even despite traffic growth. Further tightening of the limits from 1997 has been agreed, and yet further reductions will be negotiated for the year 2000. In addition to those measures, the Government aim to encourage improvements in less polluting forms of transport. During the current financial year around 40 per cent. of total government spending on transport is being devoted to improving public transport. Our policies of increasing private sector involvement in the financing and operation of public transport have borne much fruit in terms of improved services to the public and exciting new projects. We confidently expect that rail services will become more attractive both to passenger and freight customers through greater involvement of private enterprise.
The sustainable development strategy recognised that new infrastructure and new technology would not by themselves provide answers to all our problems. New approaches are needed. One such is the new planning guidance issued earlier this year by the Departments of 807 the Environment and Transport—the note PPG 13, which I was pleased to see received a warm welcome from the Select Committee. PPG 13 has many aims, which can perhaps be summarised as locating new development in patterns which reduce the need for travel and encourage less polluting choices. It will be an important complement to other measures: in particular the new 'package' approach to local transport planning. Together those measures emphasise the role of local planning to address transport problems. Many of the most striking illustrations of good transport practice in Europe are found at local rather than national level. The Select Committee's findings in Munich and Antwerp seem to bear this out. The package approach and PPG 13 together provide many of the tools that local authorities will need to apply lessons that may be learned from Europe.
Other new approaches to transport problems include the principle of attaching more of the environmental and social costs of travel to the price that road users pay. This is a principle to which the Select Committee attaches great importance; and as I mentioned earlier it is one which the Government broadly support. Moreover, we can demonstrate the Government's commitment to the idea by pointing to a specific policy. Last year my right honourable friend the Chancellor announced that road fuel duties were to be raised in future budgets by at least 5 per cent. above inflation, in order to encourage greater fuel efficiency and reduce forecast emissions of carbon dioxide.
This medium-term strategy of increasing transport costs is one of the most efficient and effective ways of reducing carbon emissions. It shows that the Government are prepared to raise the costs of motoring in line with the environmental impacts which motorists cause. But clearly fuel duty increases will not deal with every problem caused by traffic growth. Motorists can respond to fuel duty increases in ways which do not affect their travel demand, by buying a smaller car, for example, or maintaining their engines in better condition. Such responses are very desirable from the point of view of carbon reductions, but will not reduce congestion.
Applying in full the principle that the Select Committee recommends—of charging full external costs at the point of use—presents genuine problems. First, there is the problem of attaching prices to many environmental costs. Academics have come forward with a range of figures for different environmental impacts but we are still some way from a consensus. The Government themselves are conducting research into how far pricing of environmental impacts might be possible.
A second difficulty is finding a charging mechanism. I have already mentioned the limitations of fuel duties. Electronic tolling has many possibilities, as the Select Committee indicates. Our plans for motorway tolling will stimulate the development of this technology; we are also conducting research into the scope for charging in the cities as a means of reducing congestion.
The Select Committee report recognises those difficulties and acknowledges other important issues too, such as the use to which revenues are put and the 808 importance of avoiding excessive traffic diversion when charges are not universal. Finding the right solutions to these questions would be a necessary condition of introducing measures acceptable to the public—a point which, again, I was pleased to see the Select Committee emphasised. Of course, there is an international dimension to those questions. The UK is not alone in addressing issues of charging full costs to users. The recent European Union directive on charging infrastructure costs is an important contribution.
Developing new approaches to solving transport problems is a challenge which the Government are pleased to take up. We have seen this process before, for example, in the privatisation of many transport industries and the involvement of the private sector in major projects such as the Channel Tunnel and the Heathrow Express. Just as we have developed new responses to the question of financing and risk-bearing of transport investment, so we have developed new responses to issues of traffic growth and its environmental consequences.
The Select Committee noted and approved of recent measures, including PPG 13; the Department of Transport's guidance to local authorities seeking transport programme funds; and the road programme review. The Government are grateful for the Select Committee's valuable report which has drawn attention to the importance of issues we face. As the report noted, public awareness of the implications of growing demand for travel and of the implications of measures which could influence the demand will be a key issue as further policies are developed in the search for sustainable mobility.
We have had a debate which has ranged incredibly widely from Greek roads to bus stations in Victoria, from acid rain in Norway to the passionate affair with the motor car of my noble friend Lord Lucas. However, the overriding, very strong message which has emerged from this important debate is the absolute necessity of addressing the complex issues of sustainable mobility. I can give the assurance that that is what the Government will continue to do.
§ Lord Pearson of Rannoch
My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, I do not wish in any way to test the patience of the House beyond endurance, or even to add to my noble friend's trials in his first reply on behalf of the department, on which I congratulate him. However, I put a number of questions to him which he has not been able to answer now and I hope he will do so in the normal way by writing to me. There was particularly one question. I believe that a meeting of the Council of Ministers is to take place soon. Can my noble friend say anything about the Government's attitude to 809 the design of buses? Will the Government fight that to the best of their ability? Has my noble friend anything to say on that?
§ Viscount Goschen
No, my Lords, I cannot inform my noble friend Lord Pearson any further than I have already, otherwise I would have done so. I shall endeavour to find out more and write to him.
§ 10.3 p.m.
§ Lord Elibank
My Lords, it remains for me to thank all speakers in the debate. I particularly enjoyed the 810 speeches of my noble friends Lord Pearson of Rannoch and Lord Lucas of Chilworth who prevented any feeling of complacency creeping into the committee's deliberations. I should also like to thank and congratulate the maiden speakers on two very interesting contributions and also the Minister who was surprisingly positive on many of the recommendations we have made.
All I have to say in conclusion is that the changes demanded are great and the time in which to make them is increasingly short. I ask that our report be agreed to.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House adjourned at five minutes after ten o'clock.