HL Deb 14 March 1997 vol 579 cc603-19

2.48 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

I am extremely pleased to have the opportunity to introduce to this House a Bill which left another place with all-party support. The last words on the record there were the words of the Minister: I commend the Bill to the House".—[Official Report. Commons, 28/2/97: col. 590.1 I hope that spirit will take us through this afternoon's debate.

The Bill also has the support of a considerable number and range of organisations and individuals, organisations ranging from the Townswomen's Guilds to the Council for the Protection of Rural England, and to business and motoring organisations. It is supported by a petition of more than 350,000 signatories.

One would be hard put to find anyone to disagree with the proposition that road traffic needs to be reduced. I accept that is only a part of the considerations that one should give to issues of traffic, but that proposition must have very widespread support.

I believe that the value of the Bill is that it goes with the flow. It captures the spirit of the shift in public thinking, and if your Lordships will forgive the pun, it provides a vehicle for co-operation at local level towards a common goal of traffic reduction. This is not a Big Bang solution. I do not pretend that it is the last word on road traffic reduction. But if your Lordships will give it a fair wind, it will make a significant contribution to solving the problem.

Why is it desirable and necessary to reduce road traffic? I am sure that many of your Lordships can rehearse the reasons better than I can. But they are to do with health, the environment, costs and energy consumption.

Perhaps I may develop those matters a little further. Your Lordships will be well aware of the problems caused to the health of up to 15 million people who are suffering from problems caused by traffic fumes. There has been an increase in cases of asthma among children. Millions of people are breathing air heavily polluted by exhaust fumes. There may be up to 10,000 people per year dying prematurely as a result of particulates pollution. On that subject, perhaps I may remind your Lordships that the work which the Government have been doing recently on air quality concedes that technical fixers, as it calls them, will not achieve the required standards by the year 2005 for two of the eight pollutants to which attention is being directed, and one of those is particulates. A combination of both technical fixers and traffic management is needed. The Government's own document defines traffic management as promoting alternative forms of transport and reducing incentives to drive, which is another way of describing traffic reduction.

Road traffic reduction is very important because traffic threatens sites of special scientific interest, and areas of outstanding natural beauty are also threatened by road schemes. Global warming is another problem, and 22 per cent. of carbon dioxide emissions—and carbon dioxide is the main greenhouse gas—come from road traffic. There are also issues of congestion and the cost to the economy.

As regards the increase in congestion, this week it has been reported that congestion levels have been increased by more then 5 per cent. in the last quarter of 1996 compared with the previous year. The forecasts of the continuation of that trend are almost beyond comprehension. I read the report on congestion alongside the reports of the horrific crashes in fog on our roads earlier this week. I cannot help thinking that problems of travelling contribute to the frustration which in itself contributes to such accidents.

All those issues are part of the reason for the support which has been given by many organisations to such measures. Among those organisations is the Confederation of British Industry. It has indicated that it views the Bill as acting to focus attention on the need for action and investment to tackle transport problems and says that this Bill will be welcomed.

The CBI has undertaken some very valuable work which it has published in a report called All Aboard! which underlines the need for an efficient and reliable transport system for UK businesses to stay competitive. Its estimates on the costs of traffic congestion range from £15 billion to £20 billion per year. It reports that individual companies have to bear increased costs due to extra time, lower reliability and higher fuel consumption. Employees bear the costs of stress and time wasted by sitting in traffic jams. Staff travelling to and from work is an area which has a knock-on effect on business. In the report, the CBI suggests setting objectives and targets at an individual business level. That is very much the thrust of this Bill in a slightly different context.

What does the Bill provide? It imposes a duty on councils which are traffic authorities to assess levels of local road traffic and to make forecasts. Councils are to make reports to specify targets to reduce local traffic or to reduce the rate of growth of local traffic. If an authority considers that targets are inappropriate, it is not forced to set them but it must say that it considers them to be inappropriate and why it does so.

Authorities are to have regard to guidance by the Secretary of State. Your Lordships may have seen what is very much a discussion draft of possible guidance. It is worth a short reference to that. The draft guidance indicates a number of headings of matters to which authorities may have regard and which will be included in the Secretary of State's guidance. It refers to examples of best practice; in other words, not reinventing the wheel. I very much applaud that. There are headings of strategies to achieve targets, directing authorities to the realities of life and the costs of measures and the effects on the local economy. I do not suggest that the effects will be dis-benefits. Certain measures may have an effect but they will have great advantages. There is reference to particular measures of restraint, encouraging cycling and walking, reducing the need to travel and so on. Most important, it has a passage on consultation and who should be consulted. There is mention of district and parish councils. I know that there has been some concern that every level of local government should be involved. The consultation of local businesses is also extremely important as is that of local residents and other organisations.

Perhaps I may compare that exercise with the consultations which I know have taken place in many local authorities on Local Agenda 21s, which have involved business and residents in a very useful fashion.

The relationship between targets and bids for money is of course important. That relationship will be through the TPP process. In Committee the Minister said that he would make it clear in guidance that he expects there to be a clear direct link between the bids for resources through the TPP process and the authorities' reasons for believing that an investment would help to achieve the target.

I welcome that statement. My own local authority's TPP for the year 1997–98 opens with the statement: These policies give central emphasis to safety and environmental sustainability". Therefore, that is all part of one process.

I do not suggest that this Bill is a wish list. Wish lists may be good or bad but this is not one. It contains a framework and a structure. More important, it is not anti-car. Both the AA and the RAC have indicated their support for the Bill. As one would expect, they have made comments, and the AA states: We do not wish to stand in its way and hope the efforts of those that have carefully steered it through a difficult path arc rewarded". The RAC also supports the Bill. Indeed, in the notes that I have seen, it would wish us to go even further.

When I first read the Bill, the thought occurred to me that it should attract great support from motorists. Those of us who are motorists—and I am one—are not motorists all of the time. This Bill aims to make travelling, when travelling is necessary, easier; and it should be about choice as well.

That thought was echoed in a letter I received earlier this week from the Retail Motor Industry Federation. I am ashamed to say I did not know a great deal about the federation before I received the letter, but I understand that it represents over 30,000 businesses across the retail motor industry employing over 500,000 people with annual turnovers in excess of £55 billion. The federation wrote to me to say that it has supported the Bill in this form from the outset: It is not a question of car or no car—but rather a question of matching the car's vital role to the needs of the community". The federation welcomes the initiative and says: We hope the Bill will ensure that local authorities develop strategies and introduce alternatives so that their objectives can be met". The Bill has been promoted by Friends of the Earth, the Green Party with the support of Transport 2000. Like Members of another place, I must pay tribute to the honourable Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke North in its progress. It was introduced by my honourable friend the Member for Bath and, as I said, it has all-party support.

I hope that noble Lords will use the opportunity today to make clear that they want to see the Bill on the statute book. I make no bones about it. We all know where we are in the parliamentary cycle and we all know that amendments, however well meaning—indeed, amendments raising matters which should properly be raised but which could, perhaps, be left to another occasion—will actually have the effect of killing the Bill. I believe that it will be to the credit of this House to ensure that the legislation reaches the statue book. As has been said before, this is a Bill whose time has come.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Baroness Hamwee.)

3.2 p.m.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for the clear explanation of the Bill that she has just given. I should declare an interest at the outset in that I am unpaid member of the Public Policy Committee of the RAC. As the noble Baroness said—and this would have come as a surprise some time ago—the RAC is not opposed to the Bill; indeed, the principles of the Bill are ones to which there can be little objection.

It is a laudable aim that there should be less traffic on our roads and we should welcome the intent to give local government more responsibility for local traffic. The potential environmental improvement is something from which we all can benefit, whether we walk, cycle or drive. In fact, most of us are not just motorists; we are also pedestrians—not I must admit in my case a cyclist—and users of public transport.

As the noble Baroness said, the challenge facing us is great. Not only do we have to stop the inexorable trend towards increasing levels of car dependence, but there will also be instances where we have to go beyond that and reverse the trend completely. That is not an easy task and realism in tackling it is essential. Investing in public transport is also vitally important. However, public transport will not provide a direct substitute for the car in many cases. People who live in rural areas and young mothers with children cannot be expected to give up their cars for many trips. Elderly people are often physically unable to rely, for example, on buses. Even so, we must not shrink from the challenge that the Bill sets out.

As I said, the principles of the Bill are worthy but I believe that there is scope to make the legislation more effective. Although the guidance to be set out by the Secretary of State concerning the practical implementation of the Bill's provisions will be the subject of further discussion in both Houses—and the noble Baroness gave us an indication of some of the things which may go into that guidance—there is one principle which I believe to be fundamental which should be set down in the legislation. It concerns the duty of principal authorities both to consult their immediate neighbours and, so that routes of national significance are not ignored in the increasing focus on the local level, to consult also the Highways Agency.

No local authority can plan its transport without direct reference to its neighbouring areas. One local authority must not be permitted to reduce its own traffic simply by moving it to its neighbours' roads. While we must turn our attention to the short trips which make up the bulk of our urban congestion and take action at the very local level, we must not lose sight of the national strategic importance of our road network. Therefore, I believe that there should be an amendment to address those concerns and one which ensures entirely that the fundamentals of effective consultation are laid down in statute. That would strengthen the Bill and make the resulting legislation even more effective. Having said that, I support the Bill so ably moved by the noble Baroness.

3.5 p.m.

Lord Chorley

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness for the comprehensive way in which she introduced the Bill. I welcome the legislation both personally and on behalf of the National Trust. Your Lordships will be aware that the National Trust has many visitors; indeed, about 11.5 million a year to our built properties and at least another 50 million to the open space countryside properties. Of course, most of those people come to visit such properties by car, as in many cases it is the only realistic way of doing so. However, the car has now become a threat because it brings with it pollution, vision and noise intrusion, congestion and, of course, a subsequent demand for more road space. Those factors can undermine the very spirit of the place which the visitors wish to experience.

Last year, a resolution supporting the Bill was tabled at the annual general meeting of the National Trust, through which our support was requested. At the time, the trust's council felt that it could agree to support the spirit of the Bill because, after all, it is consistent with our objectives and policies. However, we did not feel that we were in a position to determine the specific national targets which were included in the original Bill, though they were achievable. We decided therefore that we could not offer our support at that stage.

However, revisions were made to the Bill while it passed through another place and such targets were dropped in favour of a statutory requirement for local authorities to prepare local road traffic reduction plans which will nominate local targets. In the light of those developments, we now feel that we can formally support the Bill. Indeed, we consider that the Bill makes an important contribution to mitigating the effect of transport pollution, an area in which the trust is already taking an active part.

Although the trust is not opposed to the use of cars, it is increasingly adopting an imaginative approach to mitigating the effect of traffic growth in rural areas and promoting choice through alternative forms of transport which may be used to reach trust properties. A number of projects have been introduced, often in partnership with other organisations such as sustrans. I believe that that is best demonstrated by the decision to open Prior Park Landscape Garden in Bath without a car park, offering incentives to visitors to arrive by public transport. Indeed, I could go on giving your Lordships numerous such examples from all over the country. So the Bill should be able to help such endeavours.

While the trust and indeed the countryside have been damaged by, and continue to be under threat from, specific road schemes, we now faces a more insidious threat; namely, the traffic volumes to which reference has been made. It is especially in the countryside that some of the fastest growth in traffic is occurring, fuelled by new and longer commuter shopping and leisure journeys between town and country, and so on. Between 1985 and 1995 traffic on country roads rose by 40 per cent. compared with 13 per cent. on roads in built-up areas. That statistic comes from Transport Statistics 1996. Indeed, in the debate on the rural economy last Wednesday, I had occasion to refer to the projections of national traffic growth of, I believe, 125 per cent. by the year 2025 and the fact that the increase in rural traffic growth would be considerably higher.

Moreover, rural lanes are the lifelines of our countryside. Equally they are important landscape features, often of historic and ecological significance, and are becoming increasingly so. These roads, however, are now becoming increasingly congested with traffic, walkers, cyclists, horse riders and so on, so that local residents feel increasingly intimidated by traffic on country roads. Accidents are frequent, and the very character of our country lanes is being eroded through vehicular damage and highway improvements in order to facilitate more traffic travelling at greater speeds. To date, the need to tackle traffic levels in the countryside and the numerous impacts which result is not being adequately reflected in the policies of the Department of Transport and of many local authorities.

So the Bill, as we have it, will require local authorities to identify the various measures they intend to employ to reduce traffic levels. The methods used would vary between each local authority in order to reflect the local circumstances. The Bill will ensure that the provision for the interplay between existing mechanisms and procedures for local transport planning will provide the necessary flexibility to local authorities over the use of traffic reduction targets and include the opportunity for the public to be consulted prior to plans being adopted in order to ensure that they properly reflect public policy.

Time, as the noble Baroness said, is not on our side if we are to get this Bill on to the statute book. I hope therefore that we will all act with as much restraint as possible in its remaining stages in your Lordships' House so that we can pass it into law.

3.12 p.m.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I too thank the noble Baroness for her explanation of the purposes of this Bill. Although, during the course of the next few minutes I may express some criticisms, that does not mean that I am necessarily opposed to the purposes of the Bill. Indeed, as everybody here will probably agree, I would point out that there are problems associated with transport.

Improving transport and the effects of it, providing better public transport, bypasses and so on all require planning. We have discussed this on a number of earlier occasions, and it does require a ready source of funding, whether government funding or private sector funding. Unhappily, the Bill now before us does not provide any more funding for these purposes; nor in fact does it give any additional powers to local authorities to actually do the things that are continually asked for by the public.

The Bill was substantially altered during its Committee stage in another place but there still remain concerns about its practical benefits to highway authorities and its ability to help to deliver the improved services for which the public are asking. As I read the Bill, my understanding is that it has been changed from a measure to force the reduction of traffic levels to more of a tool which will aid the Department of Transport to control the spending and the policy objectives of local highway authorities.

It was clearly indicated in another place by the Government that the traffic reports required by the Bill and the success that a local authority may have in achieving targets it may set will be used to determine the allocation of central government funds for local transport schemes. It would be unfortunate if the enthusiasm for traffic reduction resulted in legislation that only served further to reduce local authority transport spending. The Bill will put a burden on local authorities. They are already working under considerable financial restrictions, and the Bill will create new work for them. In addition to the already complex and time-consuming process of developing annual bids for TSG, they will now have to spend time and money monitoring traffic, establishing targets and, I suppose, drawing up the plans for meeting these targets. Despite all this, there is no guarantee that they will receive funding for the measures that they would wish to implement.

Given that the Bill does not provide any new powers to implement policies and that most of the measures they might want to use are already available—for example, under Sections 1, 6 and 9 of the Road Traffic Act 1984 and, rather more recently, particularly in the case of pollution, paragraph 36 of Schedule 22 to the Environment Act 1995—authorities do have extensive powers to make regulations to control the traffic, which to some extent this Bill also seeks to do. I wonder whether it is necessary for us to have another piece of primary legislation. Is it really necessary and do the requirements of this Bill justify the likely increase in costs?

A particular concern of mine is the impact that the Bill will have upon business. Transport demands generated by business have a significant impact on the local traffic levels, and I believe it is important that any changes which affect local road use do not impose unnecessary costs on business. It certainly would not be in the interests of local people if traffic reduction measures force businesses to relocate or in any other way hamper their expansion. I would want to discuss this further at a later stage and I shall therefore be obliged to set down an amendment for this purpose.

There is another element of concern and potential difficulty. That is the impact on development. I think that my noble friend Lord Brabazon of Tara touched on this very briefly. The provision of new housing, factories, hospitals and retail facilities will have a significant impact on local traffic levels. Any new facility will generate some additional traffic and therefore there might well be a conflict between traffic reduction targets and an authority's land use plan. Private sector investors may well be put off if they feel that the servicing of retail businesses, retail parks or whatever it may be, would be hampered by a reduction programme. I think the arrangements that appear to be set down in the Bill with regard to land use and planning might very well provide an opportunity for almost every "professional protester" in the land to gather and plot against either the plan or indeed the reduction programme.

What I would really like to know, and perhaps the noble Baroness can tell me, is whether a commitment to traffic reduction programme—and therefore the enjoyment of funding—would actually take precedence over a development consent, because the two might not necessarily achieve exactly the same objectives. The noble Baroness spoke about the support which the CBI, amongst others, had given to the Bill. I would remind her that the CBI, again amongst others, has drawn particular attention to the fact that it is the level of congestion that creates the costs and the agony, and similarly it is air quality, pollution, noise and so on that creates most environmental concern among the public. The Government have certainly responded to the latter point by establishing their air quality targets and these join a number of long-standing targets set for traffic matters. It is interesting that neither of these sets of targets—I referred earlier to the road traffic Act 1984 and the Environment Act 1995—relies upon primary legislation. I do not wish to hinder the passage of the Bill but what I would much prefer to see is a much greater use of the modern technology that can be used to influence traffic management systems rather than another piece of primary legislation.

3.20 p.m.

Viscount Simon

My Lords, I am aware of the fact that the Minister has to get a train and so I promise not to speak for more than a few minutes in somewhat general and sometimes peripheral terms.

We are all aware of the need for reducing the current levels of urban traffic and we have all experienced traffic jams, even if not as drivers of motor vehicles. We are aware also of the pollution emanating from vehicles which can cause illness and can aggravate existing conditions. The noble Baroness has already mentioned the increasing incidence of asthma among children. I have been asthmatic for two years and so not only appreciate the problem but also hope that I can be incorporated in those figures for children.

The motor vehicle is cited as being largely responsible for the production of acid rain. However, the two main chemicals which produce acid rain are sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide for which road traffic emissions are responsible for 2 per cent. and 46 per cent. respectively—and over the next 10 years the latter figure will be halved. Therefore it might be fair to deduce that heavy industry is the largest contributor to acid rain, not motor vehicles. Nevertheless, road transport has an adverse effect on health, as already mentioned, and while chemical constituents of engine exhausts are present in varying proportions and have different adverse effects, these will only be changed once local authorities can implement their strategies based upon analysis.

Global warming has also been mentioned in another place in relation to exhaust gases. I have no knowledge of this subject so I cannot make any comment. However, I am aware of the technical advances achieved by Mitsubishi Motors in producing the very first direct injection petrol engine. This has significantly reduced fuel consumption and exhaust gases of the type which aggravate respiratory conditions and global warming. I am led to understand that this engine may be placed in one of its vehicles later this year for use in this country.

I cannot make up my mind about the reorganisation of our railway systems following Dr. Beeching's efforts. I suppose, on the one hand, it closed routes which were not viable but, on the other hand, it forced goods, which could have been directed onto the railways, onto the roads. Since then, the size and construction of goods vehicles have increased, as have their cargoes. Matters would improve if some cargo could be shifted onto the railway, but being realistic I cannot see this happening—being able to get goods delivered to your doorstep without delay is far too convenient. How about trying to reopen some of the waterways? Some bulk or homogeneous goods might possibly be suitable, but heavy rain can cause the systems to be closed and thereby create delay. Due to the size of the locks, goods wider than six feet cannot be carried on the barges. But that is only part of the equation.

There are those who have to work unsocial hours and are unable to make use of public transport. Your Lordships' House could from time to time be cited as an example. If one's home happens to be some distance away, the decision to be made is either to stay in town close to the place of work or to drive to and from work. We have become reliant upon cars, particularly so since local transport systems have disappeared and post-Beeching.

When I returned from Australia with my wife in 1970 we lived in London for almost a year. If we needed a car for anything in particular we hired one; otherwise we used public transport. It would be interesting to know how many people use their car as a status symbol when they could easily travel by train. The company car perk has been abused for a long time and some companies are already addressing the problem. But there are, of course, many people who genuinely need a vehicle due to their type of work and, when appropriate, are provided with a pool car.

There are so many ways of reducing traffic in urban areas and perhaps on motorways, but I feel that road pricing could well be a fairly simple answer once the sophisticated systems have been made to work with no—I repeat "no"—error. I am led to understand that the error factor at the moment is about one in 10,000. This is not acceptable when daily traffic flow is many, many times this level on some roads.

Some of your Lordships may be concerned about the effect traffic reductions might have on casualties. I feel sure that many of your Lordships will be aware of the measures taken by the city of York to reduce traffic induced injuries by, in effect, reducing traffic levels. In the March 1994 edition of New Agenda produced by the Road Danger Reduction Forum it is shown that car traffic in the previous decade had increased by only a quarter of that experienced nationally. Further, since 1965 traffic crossing York city centre bridges has increased by only 1.5 per cent., partly due to bypasses but also due to the city council's transport strategy. Since February 1989 its policy has been to encourage vulnerable modes of travel and public transport and to discourage unnecessary car use.

By controlling car usage, casualties have been radically reduced in York when compared with the rest of the country. However, it must be appreciated that if cars, cycles and pedestrians are to mix, that mix must be right; otherwise it is possible that road traffic might be effectively reduced but road casualties might not. This Bill is worthy of support, and that is what I shall give it.

3.27 p.m.

Lord Dixon-Smith

My Lords, I was confident that I would be interested to hear the terms under which the noble Baroness introduced this Bill and my confidence was borne out.

The Bill as drafted will place responsibilities on local authorities to plan for the reduction of traffic. We are all of course in favour of the reduction of traffic in principle and in general—usually until we are faced with the consequences. In this instance local authorities will have to do the work. They will need the greatest discretion, not to say the judgment of Solomon. Local authorities are entirely used to being put in that situation; they have been there on many other occasions.

We have heard of the particular concern of the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, as regards consultation. The problem with traffic, which tends, like water, to find the easiest route to flow through, is that one local authority with a not unreasonably restrictive policy could easily thrust its burden into its neighbour's territory, as indeed we see on an almost daily basis in the City of London, which is now surrounded by a ring fence. However, that has increased congestion in the surrounding areas. That will, of course, be a particular problem in metropolitan areas.

Much has been said of the planning implications of this measure. We need to think a little about that aspect because it is easy to say that we should plan traffic and traffic reduction in isolation. But the implications for the normal planning system—whether and where we allocate land for housing, industry, services such as hospitals and schools—are profound. The strategic implication that lies behind these proposals will cause a considerable revolution in the normal planning procedures as we at present see them. Generally speaking, under planning as it is carried on today we see differentiated development, with residential areas, commercial and industrial areas and service areas. Such differentiation creates sometimes tidal traffic flows, which are in themselves a considerable problem. If we are serious about attempting to reduce traffic, the implication of a Bill of this nature is that we begin to go for integrated development.

We ought to expect to see factories, where possible, integrated into residential developments. We ought to see schools and even shopping areas integrated into residential development, so that in general urban areas are mixed in type. Enormous benefits will come from that. One industrial consequence that would immediately be required—and one which I believe industrialists would welcome—is a higher standard of environmental development for industry integrated into the community in that way. On the other hand, that would make a particular business a more attractive place to work in. So there are up-sides as well as down-sides. There may be higher costs, but it would be easier to attract people to come to work there. All these implications need to be taken carefully into account. Local authorities will have to pass a judgment upon them.

I have no wish to enter a debate on exhaust emissions since I hope that in due course this House will have a serious debate on the matter. But there is one omission—as opposed to emission—from the Bill. The noble Baroness introduced the subject of the problems caused by exhaust fumes. They are a significant part of the problems caused by road traffic.

One of the rapid ways in which something can be done about the problem is by the introduction of less polluting, higher quality fuels. That aspect has not been mentioned. It clearly ought to be encouraged by local authorities as part of their responsibilities under the Bill. We already see some local authorities requiring for public service vehicles low sulphur diesels. There is also compressed natural gas and other fuels, all of which could make a significant contribution to the improvement in the atmosphere—again, particularly in urban areas, and not exclusively on a local level but also on the wider environment generally. I very much wish to see some such provision included in the Bill. I hope that an opportunity will arise for that to be done at a later stage.

The principles of the Bill should be supported. As with all things, it could be improved, although I suppose that one has to recognise that the best could be a danger to the possible.

3.33 p.m.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, I intend to make a three-minute speech, so never mind the quality, watch the length! We on the Labour Benches fully support the Bill's principles and aims. They are consistent with Labour's policy set out in our policy document, Consensus for Change. We want an integrated, balanced transport strategy and are committed to working with local communities and business to find effective, equitable and environmentally sustainable solutions to congestion, pollution, and traffic growth. Therefore we very much welcome the Bill and the manner in which the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, introduced it. We welcome the Bill's detailed provisions to ensure that effective legislation will result.

The noble Baroness gave clear details of the problem. She quoted statistics that are worth repeating. Congestion currently costs business some £19 billion a year, a figure that could rise to more than £40 billion in 10 years. It is forecast that by 2005, one of the key dates in the Bill, one-third of the motorway network will suffer chronic congestion for most of every day and all but one of London's major roads will become gridlocked. We cannot ignore those statistics.

The effect on health and the cost to the health service of environmental damage and air pollution is massive. My honourable friend the Member for Manchester, Withington, commenting on estimates given in the other place by the honourable Member for Bath said that, all hon. Members will agree that whether the direct health cost is £3 billion or £4 billion, we cannot ignore it: action must he taken. The Bill is a step in the right direction".-[Official Report. Commons, 24/1/97; col. 1216.1 I wish also to praise the comments of the CPRE. I note that the CPRE welcomes and supports the Bill. It believes that the measure provides an important framework to help local and national government tackle the problems of rising traffic. The CPRE urged us to support the Bill, and Labour certainly does that.

I agree with the CPRE that while the countryside has been damaged by, and continues to be under threat from, specific road schemes, it now faces a more insidious threat; namely, that of rising traffic. Attention has generally focused on the problem of urban areas. Fewer than one in 10 integrated transport packages developed by local authorities are devoted specifically to addressing the problem of rural areas. As the CPRE points out, it is in the countryside where some of the fastest growth in traffic has occurred, fuelled by new and longer commuter shopping and leisure journeys between town and country and vice versa.

I warmly congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and give full support to the Bill.

3.37 p.m.

The Earl of Courtown

My Lords, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, made clear, the purpose of the Bill is to introduce a statutory system under which local authorities would be required to review existing and forecast traffic levels and to consider the need to set targets for their reduction. The Government have already indicated in another place their support for the Bill following the incorporation of a number of amendments.

The Government have long made clear their view that target setting can have a useful role to play in addressing transport pressures but that it makes more sense set firmly in a local context. Our position on targets was set out in the transport Green Paper published last year. We are not yet convinced that national traffic targets would be practical and are similarly cautious about regional targets. Local targets can be a useful and sensible tool for dealing with specific situations at a local level and for helping to focus attention on strategies and measures needed. The degree of aggregation that would be required at national and regional level would blunt that purpose.

For local authorities to review the case for setting targets would be a natural development of the process of examining local transport requirements strategically which they already undertake when they revise their transport investment programmes each year. However, it is important that reviews of traffic and decisions on whether to have targets and, if so, whether they should relate to an absolute reduction in traffic or to the rate of traffic growth should be undertaken at a local level and reflect local circumstances. We do not favour a tightly prescriptive approach dictated from Whitehall.

As originally drafted, the Bill would have followed a rather inflexible, prescriptive approach requiring all principal councils to draw up road traffic reduction plans and set targets for reducing traffic levels or rates of growth. That would have failed to recognise that circumstances may differ from one part of the country to another and, indeed, within a single authority's area of responsibility. Clearly, the needs of a large rural authority, as mentioned by my noble friend Lord Brabazon of Tara, may differ from those of an urban one. The case for having targets relating to a specific urban area will often be entirely different to that for a shire county.

We should also recognise that in some areas other highly worthwhile initiatives may result in traffic growth. My noble friend Lord Lucas mentioned development. I am thinking specifically of places where regeneration programmes are under way. Thus, local authorities will need to weigh the damaging impact of traffic against other considerations; for instance, how quickly viable alternatives may come on-stream and the need to promote good accessibility and foster economic growth.

I should stress that in giving local authorities the option of deciding whether to set targets we do not intend that they should take the issue lightly, for two reasons. First, the revised Bill makes it clear that they will be obliged to explain in their reports their reasons should they decide not to set targets. Secondly, we should expect to sound a suitably cautionary note in the guidance that is to be issued to local authorities. We shall need to consider in consultation with local government how best to make the exercise of undertaking reviews and setting targets work. Our view is that such matters could best be covered in guidance to be issued by the Secretary of State following consultation with local authorities and other bodies.

Of course dealing with these matters in guidance rather than in the Bill itself does not mean that the Government regard them as any less important. Indeed the Bill makes clear that local authorities shall give regard to any guidance in preparing their report. Taking this approach—this is a crucial advantage—we shall allow sufficient time for the Government to consider with the local authority associations the detailed mechanics of how all this will work. I am sure noble Lords will agree that it would be a serious mistake to take a too prescriptive approach on the face of the Bill only to find that we require more primary legislation before we can make it work.

One issue in particular which we envisage being highlighted in the guidance is the importance of local authorities consulting widely on the setting of targets. Other matters which might be covered include advice on how to obtain appropriate statistical data and the importance of relating targets to air quality strategies and local land use.

My noble friend Lord Brabazon said that the Bill should set down a duty on principal councils to consult their neighbours and also national organisations. The Government believe that this is something which can best be dealt with in guidance. We envisage making it very clear in guidance the importance we attach to local authorities consulting widely.

I have mentioned that different arrangements would be necessary for Scotland and Wales, tailored to the different structural and financial arrangements which apply there. I should also reiterate that the Bill does not apply to Northern Ireland, where the institutional arrangements are quite different. There the roads and transport functions that lie with local authorities in the remainder of the United Kingdom are the responsibility of the Secretary of State. However, my honourable friend the Minister for the Environment for Northern Ireland has indicated that the Northern Ireland Office would support the principle of setting targets for road traffic reduction. If the Bill is enacted, they will follow suit as a policy matter. It will of course be for them to determine the appropriate mechanism to do that but in policy terms we are at one.

It is important to recognise that the Bill does not cover the measures that authorities would need to take to achieve their targets. It would not confer new powers to take action or make grants. That is because local authorities already have the requisite powers to undertake their various transport responsibilities. We have powers to provide grant support in respect of the exercise of those powers. The Bill concentrates on the steps authorities should take before implementing specific schemes or measures, and indeed before deciding what those schemes and measures should be.

I should make it clear, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, that the Government do not believe that the Bill is anti-car. If we are unable to ensure that road capacity is available for essential road use by encouraging a shift of less vital journeys to other modes of transport, we shall not be meeting the requirements of any part of the economy or society.

I should also like to stress that we shall expect local authorities to give very serious consideration to the effects on the local economy and the vitality of town and cities of targets and the measures designed to achieve them. In addition, they will need to consult widely, notably with local businesses, residents and other tiers of government, in drawing up their reports and setting targets. As I have already explained, we envisage this being made absolutely clear in the guidance.

Concern has been expressed in some quarters that the Bill will create an unacceptable and onerous administrative burden on local authorities. I do not believe that that is the case. Nor would we wish it to be so. We shall want to consider the mechanics of implementation very carefully with local authorities with a view to ensuring that the bureaucracy involved is minimised. Authorities already need to develop a strategic appreciation of traffic levels and traffic trends before drawing up their own capital investment plans. As a result, much, if not all, of the legwork is already being done.

Finally, I wish to turn to the question of timing. First, I should stress that the Government do not intend to drag their heels on the commencement of the Bill. All being well, our intention is that in England we would be issuing guidance and directing authorities to start work on producing their reports in parallel or combined with the issue of RTTP bidding guidance in the spring of 1998. That is the earliest start we could reasonably envisage, given the need for us to discuss the mechanics with the local authority associations and the desirability of dovetailing the exercise with the annual capital bidding round. As I have mentioned several times, the mechanics will necessarily be different in Scotland and Wales. However, I do not think it is sensible to set down on the face of the Bill a firm deadline, albeit one that looks realistic to us now, before we have had a chance in England, Scotland and Wales to consider thoroughly with the respective local authority associations how the mechanics of undertaking reviews and setting targets are to work. That consultation has to take place before we can issue our guidance and could throw up unforeseen problems which would make a later commencement date necessary.

My noble friend Lord Lucas mentioned the imposition of costs on business. I wish to make it clear that the guidance notes will need to take into account the effect of targets on business. Authorities must consult with local businesses and residents. He also said that the Bill could undermine developments and clash with local plans. I see no reason why it should. Traffic targets would have to be compatible with local authorities' local structure plans.

My noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith mentioned the need to encourage local authorities to take the effect of road traffic on air quality into account. We envisage that the Secretary of State's guidance notes will make clear the need for local authorities to relate the setting of targets to a strategy to improve local air quality.

I shall close by underlining that the Government believe that this is a worthwhile Bill and one whose principles we support strongly. I also wish to take the opportunity to congratulate the noble Baroness and her honourable friend in another place, together with their advisers, on the hard work they have put in to bring the Bill to this advanced stage in such a short time.

3.46 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee

My Lords, I am grateful for what the Minister said, particularly on behalf of those who advise me, to whom I pay a warm tribute. I am also grateful to your Lordships for their comments on the Bill. Perhaps I may respond to the areas of concern rather than simply reiterate self-congratulation. The issue of consultation was raised by several noble Lords, in particular by the noble Lords, Lord Brabazon of Tara and Lord Lucas of Chilworth. Consultation needs to be wide and needs to involve authorities' neighbours and local businesses. I could not support the guidance underpinning the Bill unless it provided for that consultation. I have probably been as guilty as almost any noble Lord when dealing with other Bills which provide for guidance in calling for that guidance to be discussed on the Floor of the House. Sometimes one does it a little tongue in cheek. In this context, it is entirely right that guidance should be developed. Guidance can be flexible in a way that primary legislation cannot. However, I do not believe the measures which the Bill envisages could work without the co-operation of the various bodies—other authorities and so on—which have been mentioned.

The question was asked whether it is necessary to have primary legislation. The answer is yes, because, sadly, some authorities do not undertake this kind of exercise. One sometimes needs to legislate to bring those who are dragging their heels up to the mark of the best.

The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, asked about the effect on neighbouring areas in terms of moving congestion on to one's neighbour. He and I will both have experienced that at a local level as well as at a more strategic level. I have spent a good deal of my time as a local councillor discussing with local residents the difficulty of putting in a traffic management scheme to protect one road simply because of the knock-on effect it will have on the next road. I understand that issue very well indeed. Nevertheless, I do not think it is one which should deter us from the exercise.

I was asked about the need for guidance in relation, to less polluting vehicles and less polluting fuel. My noble friend Lord Tope, who is sitting behind me, is probably finding it hard to restrain himself from intervening to talk about the vehicles introduced in Sutton which do exactly that and provide a very good example.

Finally, there is the inter-relationship between transport planning and land use planning. This is an issue which I have always seen as going hand in hand. Surely, local plans should have regard to all the environmental issues that may be raised by development or by blocking it. I believe that the two can only work well if account is taken by both sets of people—although often they are the same sets of people—dealing with land use planning and with traffic planning.

The noble Lord asked a specific question about a development consent which has been granted. I do not believe that it would be possible to overturn a consent once granted. I certainly would not suggest that that should be a retrospective aim if there is specific planning permission, within the scope of the Bill.

I hope that I have answered the concerns that have been raised. I ask the House to give this Bill a Second Reading.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.