HL Deb 05 June 1998 vol 590 cc593-611

11.20 a.m.

Lord Elis-Thomas

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

This is a Bill of topicality and current interest. In recent weeks we have all experienced, both in urban and rural areas, the adverse impact of transport congestion and air pollution on the quality of our life. That is particularly damaging for people who suffer from respiratory illnesses. At this time of the year, in the summer, the impact of urban congestion and pollution is clear for anyone to see. Indeed, if you happen to be a jogger like myself or a hill walker, that clearly affects all of us as we try to exercise in air of low quality. That is part of the argument for the Bill.

At the outset I should like to state that the argument is not about being opposed to cars as a means of transport. The argument is about the more efficient use of cars by using them for the modes of journeys for which they are most appropriate. It certainly is not about attacking the motor manufacturing industry which employs, both globally and worldwide, one in seven of the workforce. That is particularly so in the regional economy of industrial south Wales and Deeside. The automotive industry and the car component industry are absolutely vital to the inward investment strategy pursued so effectively by the Welsh Development Agency.

The Bill is about trying to ensure that there is a clear approach to road transport in relation to an integrated transport strategy. We are awaiting with baited breath the publication of the White Paper in that respect. I do not expect my noble friend the Minister—and I look forward to hearing her reply to the debate—to reveal all that is in the document. However, the consultation document of last August, issued jointly by my right honourable friend in the other place Mr. Ron Davies and other transport Ministers, stated that, reducing the dependence on the car and lorry through providing genuine alternatives and promoting greater use of, and more, attractive public transport, together with safer walking and cycling, are central to achieving a more sustainable transport system.

Therefore, the Government certainly support the principles of the Bill as indeed do a huge range of voluntary organisations and campaigning groups which are funded by government departments. I refer in particular to the "Going for Green" initiative established by the previous government, so ably headed by Professor Graham Ashworth with whom I am privileged to share some work within the Tidy Britain Group as chair of the Keep Wales Tidy consultative committee. The latter has recently produced the newsletter of the environment cities and sustainable communities project, called Working Together. In it is highlighted what would now be the fourth event of the "Don't Choke Britain" campaign, emphasising the importance of reducing traffic congestion and pollution, especially in cities.

I am pleased to be able to tell the right reverend Prelate that there is a Christian ecology link contribution to this campaign and that all of us who are practising Christians are being urged to support "Car Free Sunday", which will take place on June 14th. I am certain that all of us who will be going to church, to chapel or indeed to any other place of worship on that day, will take note of that campaign.

I emphasise the latter because there is a voluntary element to this whole activity. We are talking about setting a target for reduction. The achievement of such a target is not merely a matter for government; it is a matter for the voluntary activity of all of us in trying to green our own practices and also in working with others within our communities.

I look forward to hearing the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, because I know of the great interest of the Liberal Party in the issue since the Road Traffic Reduction Act 1977, which concerned local authorities. That was a significant piece of legislation in that it made an important statement and was the first time that there had been a commitment to the reduction of traffic as part of legislation. That was supported by all political parties. Therefore, I look forward to hearing the response from the Opposition Front Bench. I say that because I know that the Bill had the support of the Leader of the Opposition in the other place—namely, Mr. Hague, the former Welsh Secretary—who took a great interest in transport policy when he was at the Welsh Office.

The reasons for the Bill are to continue the process of the 1997 Act in that, because it referred to local authorities, national roads—that is, trunk roads and motorways—were exempted. Of course, that could have the effect of moving traffic from local roads on to trunk roads. Similarly, the role of the Secretary of State had no place in the 1997 Act. However, this Bill, which has national targets for England, Scotland and Wales, fits in entirely with the Government's and my devolution policies. It also indicates quite clearly in the current situation, and prior to the establishment of the Scottish parliament and the Welsh national assembly, the fact that the Secretaries of State will have responsibility. The Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, along with the Welsh and Scottish Offices, will be able to participate in the development of those targets.

In my view, public targets are an effective way to deal with the issue. I call in evidence the 20th report of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution. I should point out that I assured my noble friend the Minister that I would not read the whole of the document. However, the relevant sections are the commission's assessment of what it stated in its previous report in 1994. Indeed, it reiterates the objectives of transport policy. In particular, I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to paragraph 4.3 of Chapter 4 where the report states: The concept of setting national targets for modal shares has been criticised. It was central to the Eighteenth Report that transport policies must have both specific objectives and quantified targets, against which progress towards the objectives can be monitored and reviewed. Within that general approach, we remain convinced of the value of targets for modal shares in fostering a strategic approach to complex issues. Even where achieving particular targets lies outside the direct power of central government, they can provide important guidance to local authorities, transport operators, transport users and suppliers about the extent and direction of change required. Setting challenging targets can help stimulate new thinking about solutions to difficult problems. The proposals in the Eighteenth Report about specific targets were presented as subject to detailed evaluation and modification by government; we have not attempted to carry out that task ourselves in this review". I believe that that paragraph summarises the importance of setting targets. I hope the Minister will confirm that it is certainly the intention of the Government to pursue that line so clearly set out by the Royal Commission.

We face increased environmental and social costs from congestion. We face the negative impact of congestion on other economic activities. All the road traffic forecasts that I have seen forecast an increase of between 9 per cent and 15 per cent. in road traffic by the year 2000. The worst case scenario is a forecast increase of up to 80 per cent. by 2025. That is the context in which we must set our limited targets of reducing road traffic congestion and limiting the impact of road traffic on our environment. I emphasise that we are developing the thinking of the previous government. I refer to the former Secretary of State for the Environment, John Gummer, and the previous government's document on sustainable development, The UK Strategy, Cmnd Paper No. 24/26. I shall not quote from it although I am tempted to do so. John Gummer stated that a growing economy does not need ever growing traffic, and there is no longer any need to link economic growth with traffic growth.

In a press release issued on 16th January 1997 John Gummer states, if … we focus on the opportunities for gaining access with less movement, for maximising public transport and for exploiting new technology, we will be able to continue to meet our economic needs". There is no argument that a continued increase in road traffic is the only way to secure further economic growth. Clearly some road schemes and some traffic movements are essential. However, judging by the number of traffic movements that are undertaken for short journeys, people's lives tend to be governed by the car rather than the other way around. Some 59 per cent. of car journeys in the UK are shorter than five miles and 25 per cent. are shorter than two miles. That, in itself, indicates a need to change our personal practices as well as a need for the broader framework that we seek in this Bill.

The detail of the Bill is fairly straightforward in that its definition of road traffic excludes those wonderful vehicles which are adapted to carry more than eight passengers in addition to the driver. Therefore this Bill will encourage the use of forms of transport other than the private car. It is important to emphasise my next point with regard to the kind of areas in which I have lived all my life. The Bill emphasises the need for adequate provision of taxi services in rural and non-rural areas and the need to address the mobility needs of those with disabilities who may have difficulty in getting about without using private cars. The need for this Bill is urgent. The Bill addresses global and local needs in that it attempts to set targets to reduce the impact of road transport on our environment.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Elis-Thomas.)

11.33 a.m.

Lord Berkeley

My Lords, I declare an interest as the chairman of the Rail Freight Group and an adviser to ADTRANZ. I welcome the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, has emphasised its importance. I believe he mentioned forecasts of an increase in road traffic of up to 80 per cent. over 25 years. I believe that in the past few years the Government have revised their forecasts downwards slightly, but they still forecast an increase of perhaps 50 per cent. over 20 years. Whichever figure one chooses, it comprises an enormous increase.

However, my first problem with the Bill is that it seeks to place a duty on the Government to set targets for a reduction in road traffic. When one has a forecast of a 50 per cent. increase over 20 years, I am not sure whether a reduced increase would still count as a reduction. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, will clarify that when he speaks at the end of the debate. The noble Lord referred to the duties of local authorities with regard to the 1997 Act. I hope that the White Paper will propose ways of slowing the rate of increase or even stopping it by encouraging people to walk or cycle rather than drive, and of course by encouraging the use of rail freight. I always mention rail freight in transport debates. However, if we are to halt the increase immediately, bold and courageous measures will be needed. I believe it will be a long, slow process, whatever the Government are able to achieve.

We have discussed many of the measures that may or may not appear in the White Paper in this House and elsewhere almost ad nauseam. I shall not rehearse the arguments in detail today as regards a reduction in exhaust emissions. Like the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, I approve of the report of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution. It is one of the most well-researched and readable documents on this subject that I have read in the past 10 years. It warrants much study. Its contents are fairly frightening. I remember when my party was in opposition we took the then government to task on this matter.

Many measures could be taken to reduce road traffic but they can be summed up in the need to reduce car use, as the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, has said. We hope that the Department of Transport's White Paper will give some positive leads in this direction. However, one could argue that over the past 20 years, other government departments have pursued policies which have encouraged car use. Hospitals have become fewer in number and larger, as have schools. Out-of-town supermarkets have been built. That is, of course, a planning matter for the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. I cannot use the word "customers" in respect of people who use hospitals but the policies I have just mentioned have resulted in people travelling greater distances. An enormous proportion of people who use hospitals do not have access to a car and have to use public transport. The same applies to schools. We have debated that matter on many occasions. As I said, people who often do not have access to a car have been forced to travel greater distances. Such policies have resulted in extremely good financial projections for other government departments. Hospitals and schools have been rationalised. However, no budget is allocated to help people reach schools and hospitals.

I am not so rash as to propose amendments for the Committee stage, assuming we reach that stage, but it would perhaps be useful to seek to place a duty on the Secretary of State to have regard to the causes of road congestion and to consult with other departments of state to ensure that their plans do not exacerbate the situation. If the Government do not wish to set road traffic reduction targets, they can, of course, duck behind the provisions of Clause 2(2). I am sure they will not do that. Perhaps the White Paper will contain more details on this matter. It is quite clear to me that whatever measures the White Paper contains, the increase in road traffic will continue unless funds are made available to provide radical solutions. Those will cost money. It is important that any measures are supported by the public. The costs will fall on local authorities as well as central government.

Recently I was sent the results of an interesting MORI poll which was carried out in May. It was commissioned by the Association of Train Operating Companies. I believe that the poll is objective. I shall summarise a few of its findings. The first is that 92 per cent. of people think that road congestion is a serious problem—presumably, 8 per cent. do not. That is fine. Secondly, 90 per cent. of people are willing to accept additional restrictions on cars in major cities to tackle congestion. That is a measure that appeals to me and I imagine to my noble friend the Minister. The figures indicate that 25 per cent. are more likely to vote for the Government if they introduce restrictions. That is nice! Also, 76 per cent. would be happy to see car use restricted if there were a better integrated transport system. That, of course, has to be defined. Moreover, 71 one per cent. support an extra tax on vehicles entering some urban areas—I hope that means a charge; there is subtle difference—so long as the money raised is used to improve the public transport (bus/rail) system. Finally, 67 per cent. are concerned with car pollution increasing children's health problems; and 57 per cent. with the impact of road congestion on the environment.

Nevertheless, a large number of cars users will say, "That's fine, but it doesn't apply to me". We have discussed that matter before, and I hope that we can get away with it by means of education and other measures. Those statistics are important in assessing the public's acceptance of traffic measures. They might encourage the Government to be robust in trying to introduce controls and come up with plans that genuinely can reduce traffic.

My final point is fundamental. It is crucial that the revenue from these charges, as I choose to describe them, for on-street parking, speeding, driving in bus lanes, and charges on congestion in the future—infringements of traffic regulations—are spent on improving public transport and other measures to reduce traffic. I hope that my noble friend will give me some assurance, whatever proposals are in the White Paper to that effect, that she and her colleagues have achieved continuity in relation to the precedent set by the London parking regime, whereby 100 per cent. of the revenue from fines, after administration, goes into public transport in London. I hope that that approach will be widened and that precedents can continue to be set. I very much support the Bill, and look forward to the Minister's reply.

11.42 a.m.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, has given a wide-ranging view as to what he believes the Bill might or might not do. However, his eloquent expressions left me feeling somewhat frustrated with the Bill. It is difficult to find a connection with any other measures currently being implemented. On its own, the Bill provides for no action at all. Indeed, the Secretary of State is relieved of the requirement to do anything, at least for some 18 months. One has the feeling that there is not as wide an appreciation of the enormous economic and social benefits that are enjoyed by the world generally, and ourselves in this country in particular, as a result of modern road transport systems.

It is not merely a question of motor cars. It is a question of production and distribution of goods and services. Looking at the growth that has taken place in recent years, one can measure the connection between economic growth and a growth in transport. As the noble Lord, and the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, suggested, one might reasonably expect the Government's White Paper on integrated transport policy to suggest some action. I look forward to discussing that in due course. It may suggest action to deal with what I acknowledge are the disbenefits of increased transportation.

Lord Berkeley

My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord can possibly help the House as to whether he has any interest to declare in the field of increasing motor transport.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, if I was not disposed to be friendly towards the noble Lord, I should say that that intervention was of some impertinence. In the 30 years that I have been in this House, I have never failed to declare an interest if it was appropriate. I think that may answer the noble Lord.

Fourteen months ago, under the guidance of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, I argued during debates on the 1997 Act that we should not get very far with trying to fix charges without attempting to find solutions to the problems that give rise to them. It is fourteen months since the passage of that legislation, and what has happened? Nothing has happened other than the production of some guidelines, which are now under discussion. So we have not advanced very far, and this second Bill is now before the House.

There will be growth in vehicle ownership. Of that, we can be absolutely sure. I do not know the figures; I am not a prophet. I could certainly appreciate a lessening of usage if and when there is a reasonable alternative available, reasonably priced. However, although we have debated these matters at great length in this House over the years, I fear that the prospect remains rather remote.

I am not as pessimistic as other commentators on the roads scene as to the disbenefits in terms of health, congestion and so on. I am not as pessimistic as the noble Lords, Lord Elis-Thomas and Lord Berkeley. I sincerely believe that advances in fuel technology, engine and exhaust designs, etc., will make a much greater impact on the transport scene over the next five, 10 and certainly 15 years, than we have seen in the previous comparable period. There will have to be much greater investment, not only by the automotive industry, but also by government. In so far as tax or charge systems are involved, such measures will encourage the automotive industry to accelerate its already advanced research and development programmes.

Similarly, there has to be greater investment in road development systems. I do not necessarily refer to having more roads, but improving those that we have. There are enough management systems in place, so that given the will and the right kind of expenditure by local and national authorities, we can make far better use of the roads system. Equally, vehicle design, particularly in terms of telematics—on-board information systems and reciprocal sending systems from road management schemes—will improve the position. Noble Lords may feel that that is something of an over-simplification. We have debated the matter many times, and before the summer is over we shall be discussing it again.

There are two matters in the Bill that I wish to address. Clause 2(3) states that, the Secretary of State shall have regard to the adverse impacts of road traffic, including"— and a number of points are listed. We hear that the Bill is not an anti-vehicle Bill. It therefore seems odd to include in the Bill a regard for the adverse impacts —many of which, incidentally, I believe to be perceived rather than real. Where are the positive implications, the beneficial impacts, to be considered? In any relationship there needs to be a balance. I should want to see something added to the Bill to ensure that those beneficial impacts receive some consideration, particularly the social impacts referred to, all of which have enhanced the quality of life for so many people.

The Bill does not deal with any of the recent fiscal measures taken in the Budget, which have added considerably to costs, particularly of freight transport. In Clause 2(4)(a) and (b) there is no mention of the needs of industry. I should like to see an amendment to the Bill to ensure that the needs of commerce and industry are given consideration equal to that given to the provision of taxi services, although I do not know how one would provide taxi services in this way.

I am lukewarm about the Bill, although I do not wish to impede its progress. Many people think it will be a good thing, and I am not against good things, but I do not feel it will make the kind of impact that is suggested.

11.51 a.m.

Viscount Simon

My Lords, there is a general agreement that the policy to reduce traffic on the roads, to take traffic away from places where it does damage to the local environment and the amenity of local communities and to improve modal choice available for access to jobs and essential community services, is right. But it is my intention to provide a little food for thought.

The Road Traffic Reduction Act 1997 requires local authorities either to specify targets for reducing road traffic and traffic growth levels in their areas or to say why they consider it inappropriate to specify these targets. However, the Bill offers no framework to show how traffic reduction targets might be achieved. I should be interested to learn if there is to be any government commitment to the long-term funding that will be needed to develop good quality bus and train services, which are fundamental to reducing dependency on cars. Without doubt, most local authorities will be unable to afford the capital expenditure.

We have yet to see how the statutory requirements of the Road Traffic Reduction Act 1997 take their course. We also have to see how the White Paper on integrated transport sets the policy framework and the investment plans to address properly future traffic growth. In view of those two aspects—and I hope I am not being too simplistic—could not this Bill be considered as being slightly premature?

11.53 a.m.

Earl Attlee

My Lords, I have to apologise sincerely to the House for speaking in the gap, due to an administrative oversight on my part. If we are to be pedantic, I have to declare an interest as I am president of the Heavy Transport Association.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, for introducing his Bill today and I rise briefly to make comment upon it. The tenor of the Bill assumes that all road traffic is negative. My noble friend Lord Lucas touched on that point, and I agree with his view. Road traffic is directly linked to economic activity. That is perhaps one reason why it is such a convenient and even appropriate target for the Government to raise tax revenues to support its spending plans. While there are some rather weak arguments presented regarding empty running of goods vehicles, generally speaking, goods vehicle traffic reflects economic activity. Therefore, if the Government succeeded in reducing goods vehicle traffic, they would have done so by creating a recession, or even a depression. Of course, if the Government reduced private car use, they would have created a miracle!

At Clause 2(3)(g), the Bill refers to the adverse social impacts. I do not really understand what those are. There certainly are social benefits of road traffic, a point upon which my noble friend Lord Lucas also touched.

One argument with which I heartily agree is that, as more roads are built, so traffic increases. I am as guilty as anyone, as my domestic and work arrangements would be impractical without the road network that has been built over the past 20 years. Equally, I have confidence that the Minister herself, when authorising any road scheme, will always have regard to the "adverse impacts" listed in Clause 2(3).

My main concern is that the Bill seeks to introduce targets for road traffic reduction in order to reduce the "adverse impacts". Surely it would be better to have targets to reduce the adverse impacts themselves. Most of these can be measured, apart from the social impact that I have already touched upon. The noble Lord may wish to draw my attention to Clause 2(3), but, if he does so, he may be exposing opportunities for improving the construction of the Bill.

Finally, the Bill addresses an extremely important issue, as we know that the projections for traffic growth and congestion represent a nightmare, but this will be a key issue in the Government's integrated transport review. We look forward to the Minister's right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister settling his differences with the rest of the Cabinet and the publication of the White Paper. No doubt there will be a major Bill to follow and I believe that, if this matter is not covered, the Bill could be amended to do that.

11.56 a.m.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

My Lords, in welcoming this Bill, I begin by saying that it and its predecessor, as the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, said, has always had the support in Parliament of my noble friends in your Lordships' House and our honourable friends in another place. In fact, it was Don Foster who steered the 1997 Bill through the House of Commons. In a new policy document, which I helped to launch yesterday, we commit ourselves to a 1 per cent. annual reduction in traffic. That compares with the current rate of increase of 2 per cent. a year.

Everyone knows that road traffic is increasing. The congestion that it brings in its wake is an increasingly unpleasant factor in our daily lives. Road traffic is also a major contributor to the air pollution which damages our health. These are real problems, not merely perceived ones.

I shall not deal at length with the question of pollution, which has been widely discussed here and elsewhere. In fact, I shall not deal at length with anything. However, I wish to make some comments about congestion. Congestion makes our streets more threatening and less pleasant for local residents and pedestrians. A recent BMA report shows that heavy traffic keeps people in their homes and reduces the sense of local community. It is dangerous. The director of the Child Health Monitoring Group at Great Ormond Street hospital stated recently that traffic volume is by far the most important risk factor for child pedestrian safety. Deterred by those two factors, parents prefer to take their children to school by car rather than let them walk, whether alone or accompanied. Congestion breeds more congestion. Nationally one in 10 trips by car is a school run.

Congestion is also expensive, costing, so the CBI has estimated, £19 billion per year. For comparison purposes, that is more than three times the projected cost of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link. And Transport 2000 estimates that there are a further £6.3 million of costs which could be added through lost days at work and other costs of road accidents.

Unlike pollution, congestion cannot he tackled by purely technical means. We can hope and expect that alternative fuels and lean burn vehicles may make a considerable contribution to the reduction of pollution—the sort of thing to which the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, referred. But there is no magic solution which can leave our travel habits intact and which will also solve the problems of congestion in towns, villages, on trunk routes or in lesser roads in the country. Determined action is required, led at a national level.

We already have a good idea of what that action might and should comprise. It should include changes in planning law to reduce the need to travel. A second aspect would be the reallocation of existing road space to give more room to buses, cyclists and pedestrians. Reference has already been made to the fact that three-fifths of all car trips are less than five miles in length and one-third of all trips are less than one mile. Those and other measures, such as safe routes to school, could impact significantly on the level of traffic in built-up areas.

We need to use a carrot and stick approach to persuade people to use public transport more often. We believe that those measures should include a direction of funds from charges on non-residential parking, traffic fines and possibly road charges to improve public transport and other methods of reducing traffic. In response to the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, who made reference to the social aspects of the issue, any improvement made in the safety of roads for walkers, cyclists and pedestrians and to improve public transport would be of enormous benefit to that one-third of the population who do not own and do not have access to a car.

Within that approach, national targets for traffic reduction have an important part to play, despite what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said, in what we hope will be a satisfactory White Paper and the policies which will stem from it. First, efforts made by local authorities to reduce traffic under the provisions of last year's Road Traffic Reduction Act could merely transfer that traffic onto the national network. A national target would not only ensure that local authorities were acting within a national context, but also ensure that the nationally managed motorway and priority route network is also being managed under the same discipline.

The noble Viscount, Lord Simon, referred to the difficulties which local authorities face in dealing with these matters. Many noble Lords will be aware that I have a long and close experience of those difficulties, having been involved in the construction of both the Surrey transport plans. In relation to local authorities, not only is the correct distribution of funds lacking, which is of major importance, but also the overall direction of policy under which they can work.

In that context we welcome the anticipated support from the Government for today's Bill in line with their policy handbook for the 1997 election which informed candidates that, Transport targets [will be set] at both national and local level [and that] our strategic aims are … to reduce and then reverse traffic growth". Of course, the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, was not a candidate in those elections and may not have read the handbook. However, it is certainly part of the Government's policies not just to halt but actually to reverse traffic growth. I hope that the introduction of subsection (2) into Clause 2 does not cover some backtracking on the Government's part and I hope that we shall be reassured on that point by the Minister when she replies to the debate.

Secondly, targets will be necessary anyway if the Government intend to meet their CO2, and air quality targets. Calculations will have to be made as to how much traffic reduction is needed to hit those targets and work will need to continue towards reducing traffic by that amount.

Finally, the Government have set or promised to set targets for a large number of other government objectives—literacy and numeracy, hospital waiting lists, CO2, emissions and so forth. Public targets are more effective than private targets and they send clear signals to everybody about the Government's transport policy.

I should like to add one further comment. The point of having a target to accompany a policy is that it gives us two things: first, a goal—something to which we can work; secondly, a tool—something which measures our progress towards that target. I thoroughly support today's Bill.

2.52 p.m.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, before I begin my remarks I should declare a couple of interests, one of which is as a member of the public policy committee of the RAC and the other that I am deputy president of the Institute of the Motor Industry. Unfortunately, both those interests are unpaid, voluntary ones and nor have I received any briefing from either organisation on this Bill today. These remarks therefore are my own.

I begin by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, on introducing the Bill to this House. Of course it passed all its stages in another place, but in doing so emerged, if I may say so, as a rather pale shadow of its former self. It has been considerably watered down and I was not sure what we were left with to debate today, and I am therefore all the more grateful to the noble Lord for his explanation this morning.

One thing on which we can all agree is that there should be a reduction in road traffic. The only problem is that everybody thinks that it is someone else who should reduce their use of the car, so that there is more room on the road, and less congestion, for themselves. That is quite understandable as the car has become, for the vast majority of people, an essential part of modern life, in the same way as the television, the fridge or the washing machine. It is too easy—and I am afraid that it seems to be a characteristic of this Government—constantly to criticise the car and motoring in general, without recognising the enormous benefits to the quality of life that car ownership has brought to many millions of people—many who, in previous generations, would have led much more restricted lives, sometimes never moving more than a few miles from where they were born. The car is here to stay, and in a way one could liken the noble Lord to King Canute in trying to stop the tide of car ownership and in trying to limit people's freedoms to use their car when and where they feel like.

We all await, with a great deal of interest, and perhaps a little trepidation, the arrival of the Government's White Paper on an integrated transport policy. But I hope that it will at least recognise the fact that the car accounts for 90 per cent. of passenger journeys in this country. So far the Government's record is not good. The Treasury is now taking some £30 billion a year from the road user, and yet is spending less and less on road building and maintenance. The Minister acclaimed, with pride, that she increased the maintenance budget by £100 million. That is of course very necessary as so much of the road network is in dire need of repair, and she is to be congratulated. But those congratulations are muted, from these Benches in any case, because it is not £100 million of new money; it is £100 million of existing money taken from the overall roads budget, which is no doubt why the number of new road starts is down to seven this year, all of which were already in train long ago. The number of bypass starts is down to one this year, probably the lowest number in modern history, thereby depriving towns and villages across the land of much needed relief from congestion, noise and pollution, in fact all the things listed so carefully in Clause 2(3) of this very Bill. All the Minister has done is to rob Peter to pay Paul.

But to return to the detail of the Bill, which as I said has a desirable aim, I note that Clause 1 excludes traffic constructed or adapted to carry more than eight passengers; in other words, buses. So the object is to move more people on to buses. That is of course highly desirable, and I am a frequent bus user myself, when it suits. But, as everyone knows, the bus is not suitable for many purposes. It seldom comes to outside one's own front door, nor delivers to one's exact destination. Particularly in rural areas they are few and far between.

It has been said that this is due to deregulation; in fact, that has become a popular myth. The fact is that buses were deregulated to try and stop the long-term decline in bus usage that had been taking place for at least the previous 30 years.

The real reason for the decline in bus usage has been the fact that, as people have become better off, they have bought cars to take advantage of all the benefits of car ownership. Changing patterns of life such as the weekly shop—impossible to bring back home on public transport—increased parental choice in schools, out-of-town workplaces and many others referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, have increased dependency on the car.

I shall wish to move an amendment at Committee stage to add freight transport to this exclusion. Public transport is not an option for freight. Business does not move freight around for fun, as the Government seem to think is why people drive around. Long distance freight sometimes has the option of rail but for the vast majority of movements, including in particular local deliveries and home delivery, freight traffic is essential.

Freight traffic is a good barometer of the state of the economy, and I am sure that we all want a thriving economy. Incidentally, if the Government want a reduction in traffic, all they need to do is to engineer a downturn in the economy. But they seem to be well on the way to doing that without any help from me. Increased efficiency has already enabled industry to move much more freight around with 13 per cent. fewer lorries than 10 years ago. It would be quite unfair if freight traffic was to be mixed up in the provisions of this Bill.

Another area where I think the Bill could be improved would he to strengthen Clause 2. The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, has already referred to that. As the Bill stands, it seems to be an option as to whether the Government produce any targets at all. If the Government in their absolute discretion think that other measures are appropriate, they can just use other measures and not set targets.

The mover of the Bill said in another place on 24th April (at col. 1077 of the Official Report) that he would encourage someone to move an amendment to achieve the purpose of requiring the Government to impose targets. I am happy to help such an aim when we come to the Committee stage.

To summarise, I give this Bill a guarded welcome. I believe that the Bill can be improved in Committee and I look forward to the next stage.

12.25 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Baroness Hayman)

My Lords, I too should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, for introducing this Bill and for his very clear exposition of the thinking behind it. I should say at the outset, as the Government have already said in another place, that we are happy to support the Bill.

We have had a fascinating debate which has been wide ranging. I think that if I replied to all the questions and issues that have been raised, I could comprehensively pre-empt the content of the White Paper, and probably pre-empt the continuation of my own ministerial career. So I shall not succumb to that temptation.

However, I must rise a little to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara. I think that he is in very dangerous territory to criticise this Government's attitude to investment in roads. It is somewhat galling to find that his congratulations on our attempts to reinstate some of the disastrous cuts in road maintenance by the previous administration are criticised because we are taking the time to conduct a proper, open consultative review of the roads programme and to try to come up with a programme for investment in our road network that is based on objective criteria.

I have to say to him that the conduct of that review is in clear contradistinction to the reviews and the slashing of the road programme that took place in 1995 and 1996 and about which, I must tell him, colleagues of his in another place, coming to me to talk about their favourite road schemes, have been extremely critical.

But I must return to the matters before us today and concentrate on the Bill. If enacted, the Bill would require the Secretary of State to set and publish in a report national targets for road traffic reduction in England, Wales and Scotland and provide for analogous legislation to be introduced to cover Northern Ireland.

If, however, the Secretary of State considered that other targets or other measures were more appropriate for the purpose of reducing the adverse impacts of road traffic, he would not be required to set national road traffic reduction targets. In that case he would be required to publish a report explaining his reasoning and including an assessment of the impact of the other targets or other measures.

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, thought that we need not be so pessimistic about the negative impacts of traffic because of the technical advances in engine design which are capable—as is the auto oil directive—of reducing adverse impact. The very point of Clause 2(2) is that if those technical advances were deemed more appropriate to reduce the adverse impacts of road traffic, despite increase in traffic levels, that could be addressed in any report prepared under Clause 2(2).

The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, wanted some reassurance that this was not backtracking on the part of the Government. It is not backtracking; it is recognising that everyone who has spoken in today's debate and those who promote the Bill are looking to reduce traffic levels, not as an aim in itself but because of the adverse effects that come and are acknowledged, together with the beneficial effects on mobility and the economy that have also been referred to. It is about minimising those adverse effects. We must look at all the possible measures that could contribute to that minimisation.

In favour of setting national road traffic reduction targets it has been argued that they would address directly the need to reduce the impacts of transport upon the environment. Transport is the fastest growing source of carbon dioxide emissions, the main cause of climate change. While emissions of air pollutants from road transport such as lead, carbon monoxide and nitrous oxides are falling as cleaner vehicles and cleaner fuels penetrate the market, the impact of cleaner technology is in danger of being undermined by predicted traffic growth.

The other argument is that national road traffic reduction targets are not needed for the reasons that I outlined before; that the Government should focus primarily on the wider environmental impacts which transport produces—rather than on the road traffic itself—and which are reflected in the environmental aims underlying this Bill. We have a range of targets related to these issues that I should like to consider in a moment.

I turn to the White Paper on which a number of noble Lords have commented. It will be published shortly. It will be the first for 20 years. It will establish a framework within which to develop an integrated transport policy for the 21st century. Perhaps I can reassure my noble friend Lord Berkeley that the Government are working on the basis that integration means not only integration between transport modes, so that there are safe, reliable and convenient connections between the different forms of transport, but also, which is more difficult to achieve but absolutely fundamental, integration with environment and planning policies so that the transport system is consistent with the principles of sustainable development. This also means integration with fiscal and economic policies so that a sustainable transport system supports employment, economic growth and a competitive economy, and integration with social and health policies so that our transport policies can contribute to our wider aims of a fairer and more inclusive society.

Perhaps it is important to say here—the point that was made by the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas—that this Government, as the promoters of this Bill, are not anti-car. The car will remain an essential element, and road transport will remain an essential element in our society. The Government, I am happy to make clear, accept this and recognise it. But equally there is a wide-ranging recognition that we need to strike a better balance between the various modes of transport and to give people more choice when they are making decisions about how they move around. That choice means providing a safer environment for cycling and walking. It means improving public transport. The improvement and provision of safe and economically acceptable public transport is, I can assure my noble friend Lord Simon, an important part of the White Paper.

We are looking at ways in which we can tackle the growth of car dependency which has implications for the health of our nation and certainly for the health of our schoolchildren as well as implications for pollution and congestion. We are looking at how we can tackle that through fiscal, regulatory and financial measures and by awareness campaigns and the work of voluntary organisations. I certainly note the comments of my noble friend Lord Berkeley on the issue of ensuring that any money raised from congestion charging should be reinvested in public transport. He will not be surprised to know that others have made the same point in the consultation on the White Paper.

The role of targets has also been raised in response to the consultation exercise. There are a number already in place that have a bearing, directly or indirectly, on transport. Beside the targets for reducing CO2, emissions, to which I shall come in a moment, we have the national air quality strategy; which sets stringent limits on eight major pollutants to be met by 2005; a target to double the amount of cycling by 2002 and to double it again by 2012; and a target to cut the number of road casualties by a third on average levels for 1981–85 by the year 2000, with a commitment to set new road safety targets for the period following 2000.

Those existing targets are likely to be significant drivers of new transport measures, at both national and local level. We are also considering carefully whether there is a need for additional targets to provide a further impetus to the policies that are adopted, including the need to set targets for walking and for the introduction of green transport plans across government.

The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, and other noble Lords referred to the Road Traffic Reduction Act, passed in the dying days of the previous government, which requires local authorities to set targets for traffic reduction on local roads in their area. Inevitably there is a link between the Bill before us today and the duties placed on local authorities under the Act. In January we issued for consultation draft guidance to local authorities on meeting their obligations under that Act. At present we are considering the responses to that consultation. We envisage that local authorities will have to produce reports under the Act by July 1999. These reports should contain the results of their reviews of existing and forecast levels of traffic on local roads in their area, as well as targets for reducing traffic levels on such roads, or their rate of growth.

Economic circumstances and regional characteristics mean that traffic conditions will vary from one part of the country to another, as well as between urban and rural areas per se. So it would be unrealistic to expect all authorities to set identical traffic reduction targets. Instead, the Act allows local authorities to decide, after close consultation with local residents and businesses, what targets they should set, or whether there are good reasons for not setting targets for all or any part of their area.

Any measures which local authorities implement to help achieve traffic reduction targets will also have implications for regional and national traffic levels, the point made by the noble Baroness, unless they are to have the effect of merely displacing traffic into neighbouring areas. As a result, we shall be looking closely at the traffic reduction strategies adopted by authorities and their likely effects in determining the role which national traffic targets could play.

Turning to C02 reductions, we shall be consulting this summer on the measures needed to ensure both that we meet our legally binding Kyoto target and move over time towards our domestic aim of a 20 per cent. reduction in C02, emissions by 2010. We aim to publish a wide-ranging and open consultation paper in the near future. It will build on the outcomes of other reviews—integrated transport policy, energy policy, utility review—with the aim of developing, early next year, a balanced climate change programme which covers all sectors of the economy and engages all parts of the community—businesses, local government, community groups and individuals.

Our climate change programme will include measures to improve energy efficiency by business and in the home; reduce transport emissions; and increase the proportion of electricity generated from renewables and combined heat and power. Measures to tackle climate change will give us a more efficient, less car-dependent transport system; better air quality; warmer, more comfortable homes; energy savings for business and consumers; and new jobs and market opportunities from more efficient technologies. I do not think we should look at this negatively. There are great opportunities in the battle against climate change.

That puts into context today's debate about the role that traffic reduction and transport can play in reducing pollution. I believe that national road traffic reduction targets are an important issue which we need to consider as part of the continuing transport debate, alongside the range of measures and targets that I have outlined today.

Perhaps I may conclude by stressing that the Government believe that the Bill is worthy of our support. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, his honourable friends in another place and his advisers for the hard work and determination they have shown in carrying forward this Bill.

12.25 p.m.

Lord Elis-Thomas

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister and to all those Members of your Lordships' House who have taken part in the debate. I was particularly gratified, as indeed was my colleague in another place, Mr. Cynog Dafis, the Green Party of Wales Member for Ceredigion, as I like to call him, who took the Bill through the other place, by the fact that all noble Lords who have spoken gave a welcome, some more qualified than others, to the Bill. It was clearly emphasised in the debate and by the Minister herself that it is not a case of either/or; the Bill is part of a package of measures. In that sense I cannot agree entirely with the view of the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, that this might be premature. But I think that he was putting that as a probing Second Reading question rather than as a condemnation.

The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, responded clearly to the point of my noble friend Lord Berkeley about a reduction in the context of a projected increase by indicating that any reduction on an exponential increase is a reduction. As we seek to take the Bill forward, we will certainly be able to look in greater detail at the mammoth task that we face in terms of that reduction.

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, described himself as being somewhat frustrated. However, I did not think that was reflected in his speech. I thought that he brought a nice sense of realism to the debate because sustainable development is precisely about the costs and benefits of all modes of transport and all other modes of economic activity. I am not trying to be greener than thou in the debate, but I shall be returning, sooner rather than later, to Snowdonia by train and bus. However, I may have use of my wife's car during the weekend if I am suitably properly behaved. There are many of us these days, even in rural areas, who try to share one vehicle per household. In our case we are a household of three. The other person in the household, my son, does not drive. He occasionally is driven, but he is a regular bus user. I am just trying to prove that we do sometimes practise what we preach.

The Bill is not anti-car. All of us need to make use of cars, especially in situations of emergency in rural areas. But we are concerned about the overall impact of the car on social and economic life. On the positive side, we recognise the freedom brought about by car ownership and all the attractive aspects of the car culture. But we also recognise the downside of that culture. That point was brought out in the remarks of the noble Earl, Lord Attlee. We are not trying to emphasise that all aspects of road traffic are negative.

I have to call in aid, without quoting it at length, the report of the Royal Commission. In Chapter I of its report it estimated the environmental and social costs of road transport as between £10.9 billion and £20.5 billion a year for all UK transport in 1994. The true cost was considered to be substantially greater because of the unquantified costs. Its latest report (Cmnd. 3752) discusses other estimates for both air pollution, climate change costs, noise elimination costs, road accidents and the social and environmental costs of congestion. We are all well aware of that. It is those negative sides of the problem that we try to deal with in Clause 2(3) of the Bill.

The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, emphasised the importance of child safety and its relationship to the movement to school by car which has increased so much. It is placed in the overall context of the need for an integrated transport policy. I particularly enjoyed her quoting from the Labour Party handbook. The Liberal Democrats perform an excellent service in this House and in another place by reminding the Labour Party of its election commitments whenever the need arises. The Minister was certainly aware of those commitments. I would not wish to do anything to damage her ministerial career. We followed each other both in the other place and in this House. She has gone further than I have, but I certainly would not want to hold her back in any way.

I was very pleased that the commitment of the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, on the Opposition Front Bench recognised the desirable aim of the Bill. I believe that he gave it a "guarded welcome". In his reference to King Canute I have to tell him that we have, as always in Welsh matters, a Welsh version of the myth. It was Maelgwn, prince of Gwynedd, who sought to resist the tide in the Conwy Estuary. The beauty of that estuary has been protected from the ravages of road transport by a very expensive but attractive tunnel. It was constructed in the ministerial time of his noble friend Lord Roberts of Conwy. We are not making an attempt to reduce the tide of car ownership but to ensure that the tide does not overflow all other modes of transport or other forms of social interaction. That is what the issue of sustainable development is all about, and I believe that there is little between us on that.

However, I do not believe that I could consider accepting an amendment which would seek to remove freight traffic from the definition of road traffic in Clause 1 of the Bill. We shall return to this in Committee. If that is the intention that was being signalled, I do not believe I shall be able to accept it.

As regards the noble Lord's other point of placing further duties on the Government, we can certainly look again at what is available to us now in Clause 2(2). That indicates clearly that there is a duty on the Secretary of State. In my reading of it, this particular version puts the road traffic reduction targets in the context of other targets. When the White Paper emerges no doubt we shall be able to see how all these various targets contribute to each other. That is my final point.

I would like to thank all those who have taken part in the debate. Again, I would like to cite my honourable friend in the other place, Cynog Dafis, for his sterling work in taking the Bill through the other place. I look forward to doing the same here successfully. As regards my immediate interests, they are to fulfil Her Majesty's Government's new targets for walking. I hope to put in at least 20 miles this weekend and that means that I shall qualify.

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