HL Deb 24 June 1998 vol 591 cc326-35

8.27 p.m.

Report received.

Clause 1 [Meaning of "road traffic"]:

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe, moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 1, line 6, after ("roads,") insert ("including public transport").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am full of goodwill towards the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas. I first fought a parliamentary seat in 1959. At that time part of our manifesto was to have an integrated transport system and I hope that we are now approaching the situation in which that may finally be fulfilled. I wish my noble friend on the Front Bench the very best of luck with that endeavour.

In considering this Bill it seems to me that one matter has been overlooked. As it now stands, there is a lacuna in the omission of public transport which might have disastrous effects. I can perhaps illustrate the point by reference to a case with which I have recently been concerned. In the past I have raised in the House the question of the building of a bus depot in Bristol in my old constituency on the Creswicke Road playing fields. I am not going to dwell on the points that I have raised before about the inadequate consultation and posting of the notices and the general feeling that the thing has been bounced into this working-class area.

The residents have been told that it means jobs for the area. That is manifest nonsense because it is rebuilding the bus depot which is already at Winterstoke Road. As a City supporter I mention that that is at Ashton Gate. So no fresh jobs are coming to the area. These are basically side issues to what I wish to raise.

It seems to me that the question of health hazards associated with public transport is getting better and better known. In particular I have already raised the reports by the British Heart Foundation and the British Lung Foundation and the much greater knowledge of the dangers of diesel emissions, particularly PM10 and PM2.5. The diesel emissions are the principal sources of PM 10. It is known to cause cancer, heart and lung diseases and much asthma. From that list it is obvious that it is responsible for a number of premature deaths. The PM2.5 is a much smaller particle. As I understand it, it is not monitored at the moment, but it is thought to be even more dangerous than the PM 10.

I have referred to the growing knowledge of this subject. Last Sunday, the Sunday Times colour supplement contained a very full article about the increasing knowledge of air pollutants. I believe that the targets and monitoring should include public transport, because a bus depot such as the one to which I have referred, placed as it is in the heart of a working-class area, can do a great deal of damage if it is not properly monitored. I am told by the council that the company is not currently monitoring the Winterstoke Road depot. Asthma rates in the area are the highest in the Avon Health Authority area—I do not know why that name still lingers; the county has gone—and a number of local health professionals have expressed opposition to the development.

It seems to me that planning regulations and planning knowledge are so far behind our increasing knowledge of pollutants and their effect on health that they should be brought within the Bill. The Bill makes provision for taxis, but not for buses. I suppose that one could say that that is part of the increasing tendency to have regard only to the country's middle class. Let us have a little consideration for the working class. I beg to move.

8.30 p.m.

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

My Lords, I listened with great care to the comments of my noble friend Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe. I know that he has been assiduous in his questioning on the specific matter of Creswicke Road playing fields in Bristol, to which he referred in moving the amendment. I hope that my noble friend will understand that, although I am conscious of his concerns about that decision, I am unable to comment on the specific circumstances as it is possible that an appeal could be lodged against the conditions which were attached to the planning permission.

My noble friend properly drew the attention of the House to the issue of public transport as it relates to the Bill. This Government's aim is to encourage greater use of public transport. With regard to Amendment No. 1, we do not, therefore, think it is sensible to include public transport in the definition of road traffic to be used in the context of setting road traffic reduction targets.

Public transport is difficult to define except in terms of the number of passengers that a vehicle can carry, which is why Clause 1, as it currently stands, refers to vehicles designed to carry eight or more passengers in addition to the driver.

Since we seek to resist Amendment No. 1, it follows that we could not accept Amendment No. 2 either, since it cannot stand on its own. In any case, we think it is perverse to take wording that was expressly intended to define public transport and then turn the sense round so that it no longer does. In practice, there are relatively few vehicles designed to carry eight or more passengers that are not public transport vehicles.

It is important to take note of my noble friend's comments about the potential for public transport being a polluter. When we tackle the problem of road transport emissions, it is important that we do not ignore the emissions from buses or taxis. However, I believe that that is best achieved through the provisions that were brought into force at the end of last year. I refer to a new system of local air quality management under Part IV of the Environment Act 1995. Local authorities now have a duty to review and assess air quality, to designate air quality management areas where statutory air quality objectives are unlikely to be met and to draw up action plans for those areas in pursuit of the objectives. In this context, guidance was issued to local authorities about air quality and land use planning. The guidance is available in the Library.

There are measures by which we can deal with the potential problems of pollution and the emission levels from public transport vehicles, but to do so by the vehicle of amending this Bill, as suggested by my noble friend, would go counter to the spirit of encouraging public transport. However, I take on board the thrust of my noble friend's remarks that we should encourage public transport.

Baroness Hamwee

My Lords, before the Minister sits down, perhaps I may say that I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe, will accept my great sympathy and, I am sure, that of my colleagues on these Benches with regard to the problem that he described. Will the Minister confirm that encouraging local planning authorities to have considerable regard to the effect on residents of the sort of development which the noble Lord described would be welcome? That is part of developing awareness of the problems described in Clause 2(3). Those problems need to be taken into account in land use planning as well as in transport planning. The two cannot be separated.

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, I very much agree with the noble Baroness. When we fulfil the 1959 aspiration of an integrated transport policy, we must recognise that that integration must not cover only different modes of transport, but, pertinently, the integration between land use planning issues and transport issues.

Lord Elis-Thomas

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe, for raising this issue and for highlighting the fact that, as the Minister acknowledged, pollution problems can result from the development of certain forms of public transport. In promoting this Bill, it is not our intention to deny that such problems exist. However, it would not be appropriate in this Bill to include public transport in the targets for road traffic reduction.

Perhaps I may quarrel with the noble Lord on one point. I do not regard taxis as a middle-class phenomenon. In the rural area in which I live, many of us would not regard ourselves necessarily as part of the middle class—we are part of the upper class!—but we use taxis. However, as the noble Lord was once the Chief Whip of the Government which I saved in the other place, I am sure that he will help me in saving the Bill. Perhaps I may suggest that the noble Lord considers withdrawing the amendment.

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe

My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to pay tribute to the indefatigable support that we received from the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, during our period in government. I have no intention of damaging his Bill. I am grateful also to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for her encouraging remarks and to the Minister. I hope that the air quality management measures which my noble friend mentioned will be vigilantly monitored by the Government because pollution is an important facet of this whole problem. However, given my noble friend's remarks, I shall not press the amendment and I beg leave to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 2 not moved.]

Clause 2 [Road traffic reduction targets]:

Lord Lucas of Chilworth moved Amendment No. 3:

Page 2, line 5, at end insert (", and

  1. (c) the needs of business, commerce and industry.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 3 stands in my name and those of my noble friends Lord Brabazon of Tara and Lord Attlee. Last week in Committee my noble friends discussed in a grouping of amendments the point which we are considering tonight. I refer to regarding the interests of business, commerce and industry as important enough to warrant the regard of the Secretary of State in consideration of these matters.

I am sorry to weary the House with a revisitation, particularly at this late hour, but I believe that this matter is sufficiently important. In response to my noble friends who spoke to the same amendment, the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington of Ribbleton, said: We fully accept that in preparing our report we will need to take into account all the factors listed in Amendments Nos. 5 and 7 in one way or another … However, we do not think it sensible to specify all those factors on the Bill. The list of factors that we may need to take into account is very large and it is neither sensible nor practicable to specify them all".—[Official Report, 19/6/98; col. 1812.]

That is the usual argument that is deployed when governments are pressed to include a great number of matters. In this case, however, in Clause 2(3) and (4), certain specific interests are included. So far no one has indicated why those specific interests are included. One of the most important areas to be considered is business, industry and commerce. My noble friend Lord Attlee made that point during Second Reading and at Committee stage. He said that transport was part of the economic life of our country. I support that. Therefore, in any discussion relating to a reduction in traffic that important section of industrial and economic life should have a seat at the table as it were. I do not think that I can put it any better than that.

The assurance given by the noble Baroness was repeated by the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, at col. 1813: Amendment No. 7 relates to the needs of business, commerce and industry. As Members of the Committee will recollect. I spent part of my time this week trying to persuade the Government of the importance of the needs of business, commerce and industry in relation to the Government of Wales Bill presently passing through this Chamber". I do not know what relevance that has to this Bill. Perhaps the noble Lord will explain that to me. He makes an interesting point and I commend him for his diligence in considering that Bill. but it has no relevance to this measure. The noble Lord went on to say: The Bill before us, in common with government legislation, will take account of the needs of business, commerce and industry. We had a clear assurance from the Minister on those lines". How are those interests to be taken into account? At Committee stage neither the Minister nor the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, gave any explanation as to how those interests would be looked after. The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, in her contribution last Friday suggested that there were plenty of other areas—she might have had in mind the Welsh Bill—in which business, commerce and industry were taken care of. That may well be so. The Minister has just made reference to the integration of various transport activities. But I do not believe that that is good enough. Here we have a small specific measure that is part of the Government's drive to make life a little more pleasant on the roads for a variety of people, but it is important that the interests that I have mentioned are clearly determined and have a place in the Bill. I beg to move.

8.45 p.m.

Lord Berkeley

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that transport is part of the economic life of our nation, but it also causes severe pollution and many other problems. Some modes of transport create more problems than others. It is a sad reflection that unrestrained good transport facilities for some cause very much worse transport facilities for others. That is where my difficulty with this amendment arises. I accept that business, commerce and industry are very important to the nation, but the amendment seeks an exclusion for the purposes of road traffic needs and suggests that there is no other way to keep the wheels of industry turning.

It is difficult to define what is meant by industry and commerce. I shall turn to that matter in a moment. If one looks at the business passenger needs of industry, often this comes down to the person with a company car. Many company cars are necessary in order for people to carry out their business, but an awful lot of cars that come into central London and other major cities are used simply as a cheap and comfortable means of commuting. That is very nice for those who use those vehicles but not very nice for others who must use some form of public transport and find the roads congested and polluted. It is an historical perk going back 20 or 30 years based on tax relief. One comes back to the ability to pay.

I declare an interest as chairman of the Rail Freight Group. I do not suggest that all freight should be taken off the road and put on to rail, but rail can take an increasing share of it. However, the combination of road and rail will get the freight around the country in a perfectly acceptable way. Business, commerce and industry need good passenger and freight transport free of congestion. However, the CBI and many other groups accept that business also has obligations to the wider community. I question why business and industry should be excluded from the requirements of the Road Traffic Reduction (National Targets) Bill.

One could lengthen the list even further and include tourism. Tourism is business. One should consider what is taking place in the national parks in England. Last week I was in Derbyshire speaking to the members of a council who were actively seeking ways to keep tourists and traffic out of the Peak District. I believe that the same problem arises in the Lake District. Often tourism and traffic congestion are not happy bedfellows and there must be a third way. As my noble friend Lord Cocks asked when speaking to an earlier amendment, what about the needs of the people without cars? Why should they not be included in the list? They require a traffic reduction to enable public transport to operate effectively. One could go on extending the list for a very long time. I would be very unhappy if this amendment was accepted by noble Lords. I believe that business and industry must take their responsibilities in reducing traffic as seriously as everyone else.

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, has pointed out, Amendment No. 3 would add the needs of business, commerce and industry to the list of matters in Clause 2(4) to which the Secretary of State would be required to have regard when considering how to comply with the requirements of Clause 2(1) and (2) of the Bill.

I think that the difference between the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and the Government on this amendment is really one of trust more than anything else. I suspect that the assurances I am about to give him he will not find any more reassuring than the assurances given by my noble friend Lady Farrington of Ribbleton at Committee stage of the Bill. However, I will repeat them because they are absolutely sincere.

In discharging the Secretary of State's duties under Clause 2(1) and (2) of the Bill the Government absolutely recognise that there are very broad considerations that will need to be taken into account and explained in the reports that are produced under those subsections. A prime example of those broad considerations are the needs of business, commerce and industry. We do recognise the importance of road traffic to those sectors and the importance of those sectors to British national life. However, as my noble friend, Lord Berkeley, has just pointed out, there is a balance that has to be struck between the needs of the economy, of society and of the environment.

There is considerable scope for striking a more sensible balance than we have at the moment, for example, by shifting more freight from road to rail and also by improving logistics to reduce the proportion of lorry trips that are empty running. This is not a situation that is set in tablets of stone. I should like to repeat to the House the assurance that my noble friend gave at Committee stage. The Government will look at all the relevant impacts of road traffic, including the impacts on industry and commerce, in considering how to comply with the requirements of the Bill.

The noble Lord asked how that would be done. I do not think that passing his amendment would give us any more indication of that than leaving the Bill as it is. I think the indication will come in the transparency of the reports that are published by the Secretary of State after his decisions under the Bill. The list of factors that the Government may need to take into account is a large one. It is broadly based and it will include the needs of business, commerce and industry. However, it is our firm view that it is neither sensible nor practical to specify all of them on the face of the Bill. I would urge the House not to support this amendment.

Lord Elis-Thomas

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, for moving this amendment because it gives us an opportunity to revisit, as he said, what we discussed on Friday, when I understand he was unable to be present for a felicitous reason. We congratulate him and wish him well on that particular happy event.

The reason for my reference to the Government of Wales Bill was that I had been moving a similar amendment to his regarding the needs of business and industry in that Bill, and I had been persuaded by the eloquence of my noble and learned friend the Solicitor General on that occasion that the wording I was proposing was not required on the face of the Bill. The point of my reference on Friday was that I was hoping that Members opposite would take a similar view in regard to the amendments that they were moving. That was the intention of my reference there: it was by analogy, as it were, that I was arguing that.

I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Berkeley for emphasising that in a sustainable approach to transport policy we should, as a duty, almost automatically as part of such a policy bear in mind the needs of business, commerce and industry in all aspects. This is not just, as I indicated last Friday, the needs of the transportation industry itself, but also the needs of the businesses that use and have to select between different modes of transport. What we are trying to do in this Bill by setting the targets is to have a framework in which the decisions about modes of transport will be made on a more rational basis. It is not about undermining the present level of transportation business. It is about promoting alternatives in a more effective way.

I was particularly grateful to my noble friend the Minister for spelling out those assurances in detail. I hope that on that basis the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, will be able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I am grateful, first of all, to the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for his contribution because I want to assure him, as indeed I want to assure the House, that the Confederation of British Industry, whom he quoted, is well seized of its obligations with regard to the need to bring some balance into this debate.

There is no intention—I do not know where the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, gets the idea—to seek to make an exclusive list. What I am saying to him, particularly regarding his very anti-car attack on the use of the business car, which he has described as a "tax perk", is that I think he ought to go back just a few years and recall the reasons why motor cars became part of remuneration packages. He might not like what his memory tells him because it was in fact his party which forced that issue. There is no relevance, but if he is going to bring up these points I think he ought to be quite sure of the facts. In making the suggestion that he did, perhaps he is reflecting some of the feelings on his side of the House that this Bill is, despite protestations, anti-car. I do not see it that way myself.

The Minister spoke about trust. I am sorry that she used that word, because I am always pretty sceptical about assurances given by Ministers. Ministers do not actually stay in post for too long: new ones do come along, and there may be other circumstances which drive out of focus the imperative I tried to draw to your Lordships' attention this evening. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas—

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, would my noble friend give way for one moment? The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, was talking about excluding the interests of business, commerce and industry from those who are affected by the Bill. Would my noble friend not agree that all his amendment actually does is to ask the Secretary of State to have regard to those matters, not to exclude them?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I am obviously grateful to my noble friend Lord Brabazon for expressing rather more succinctly than I have been able to exactly what I am trying to do. It is interesting that the Minister referred to trust and mentioned Clause 2(1) and (2) of the Bill before us. This is more of a Second Reading point: in Clause 2(2) the Secretary of State is not obliged to comply with the requirements of subsection (1). We talked about that earlier and it is almost a contradiction in terms.

Turning to the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, I thank him for his kind remarks. I thought perhaps that he was going to offer me a small gift to celebrate the occasion by accepting the amendment, but apparently not. Of course there is going to be automatic consideration, he says, of the needs which I have discussed and which have been pointed out by my noble friend. There is no automaticity in things that are unwritten. I am not happy with the situation. I think that what I have asked for is quite reasonable. It is that business, commerce and industry, which use transport for business, should have a seat at the table.

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, I was trying to assist the noble Lord by suggesting that he did not have to rely on trusting me, although undertakings given from the Front Bench that these are issues that the Government will take into account should be taken as proper undertakings. If he looks at Clause 2(1) and (2) he will see that in both cases the Secretary of State is under an obligation to publish a report as to his decisions, and those reports will clearly state the reasoning behind his decision to set or not set targets and cover the areas with which he is concerned.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister. I know that she will not take my remarks personally. Nevertheless, I should feel happier to have the needs I have described on the face of the Bill, as are the needs of the disabled—

Lord Elis-Thomas

My Lords, perhaps I may help the noble Lord on the needs of persons with disabilities and the adequate provision of taxi services in rural and non-rural areas under Clause 4(a) and (b). That was discussed on Friday. Those are different groups of people and different places where there are transportation pressures. Rural and non-rural areas are selected, as it were, at the two ends of the spectrum of difficulties of provision. That is an entirely different specification from his broad-brush request relating to the needs of business, commerce and industry.

I make no promises about gifts because that would be out of order, but I press the noble Lord to consider whether what he is demanding has been set out clearly in the Minister's assurances. With respect, I suggest that that is the case.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for trying to explain those two points. I suggest that there is a third and equal one. Therefore, I shall press the House to a Division.

9.3 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 3) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 28; Not-Contents, 72.

Division No. 3
Allenby of Megiddo, V. McConnell, L.
Anelay of St. Johns, B. Massereene and Ferrard, V.
Attlee, E. [Teller.] Merrivale, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Miller of Hendon, B.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Mountevans, L.
Chesham, L. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Dixon-Smith, L. Northesk, E.
Fookes, B. Norton, L.
Haslam, L. Park of Monmouth, B.
Henley, L. Rowallan, L.
HolmPatrick, L. Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Inglewood, L. Trenchard, V.
Lucas of Chilworth, L. [Teller.] Waddington, L.
Lyell, L. Wise, L.
Acton, L. Hughes of Woodside, L.
Addington, L. Islwyn, L.
Amos, B. Kennedy of The Shaws, B.
Avebury, L. Kilbracken, L.
Barnett, L. Kirkhill, L.
Bassam of Brighton, L. Lockwood, B.
Berkeley, L. [Teller.] Lofthouse of Pontefract, L.
Borrie, L. McNair, L.
Calverley, L. McNally, L.
Carlisle, E. Maddock, B.
Carter, L. Mallalieu, B.
Clancarty, E. Mar and Kellie, E.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L. Merlyn-Rees, L.
Currie of Marylebone, L. Milner of Leeds, L.
David, B. Monkswell, L.
Desai, L. Montague of Oxford, L.
Dholakia, L. Nicol, B.
Dixon, L. Orme, L.
Dormand of Easington, L. Pitkeathley, B.
Dubs, L. Ramsay of Cartvale, B.
Elis-Thomas, L. [Teller.] Randall of St. Budeaux, L.
Evans of Parkside, L. Redesdale, L.
Falconer of Thoroton, L. Rendell of Babergh, B.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B. Russell, E.
Gilbert, L. Sewel, L.
Gordon of Strathblane, L. Shepherd, L.
Gould of Potternewton, B. Simon, V.
Graham of Edmonton, L. Steel of Aikwood, L.
Grey, E. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Hamwee, B. Thomas of Walliswood, B.
Hardy of Wath, L. Thurso, V.
Haskel, L. Tope, L.
Hayman, B. Turner of Camden, B.
Hilton of Eggardon, B. Whitty, L.
Howie of Troon, L. Williams of Mostyn, L.
Hoyle, L. Young of Old Scone, B.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

9.11 p.m.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 9.25 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 9.11 to 9.25 p.m.]