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Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, perhaps I may draw to your Lordships' attention that several speakers have spoken well into a sixth minute, and my noble friend the Minister will be unable to answer questions fully if your Lordships leave him too little time.
Lord Cobbold: My Lords, I am afraid I find the White Paper--all 170 pages of it--a rather depressing document. Clearly its authors have tried hard to please everyone and to provide some solace to the multitude of different interests on which a transport policy inevitably impacts.
I suppose, again, it is inevitable that it has an anti-motorist flavour. There is talk of road-user charging and phrases such as "parking enforcement", "parking control" and "parking restraint" are sprinkled about the text. Planning policy in future, it states,
However, the beleaguered motorist is accustomed to taking such flak and of course the Treasury's ban on tax hypothecation means that the motorist cannot even have the satisfaction of knowing that the extra financial burdens will be spent on improving the road network. Indeed, "improving" is a word that scarcely appears in the document. The buzz words, as far as the road network is concerned, are "maintenance" and "management", as in:
I would have liked to see an admission that our trunk road network is far from perfect. I would have liked to see some strategic improvements acknowledged and targeted. To give but two examples, what has happened to the once-promised upgrading of the A.1 to motorway standard all the way from London to Newcastle? What about a serious east-west motorway link to the east coast ports of Harwich and Felixstowe? The noble Lord, Lord Islwyn, has given another example in Wales.
There is a similar absence of strategic targets in the case of the railway network. There is a map showing the 15 key bottlenecks in the rail network, as identified by Railtrack, and there is mention of Railtrack's commitment to solve these problems by 2006. There is to be a new strategic rail authority, which we are told will promote better integration--which is to be welcomed--and interchange, and which will get better value for public subsidy in terms of fares and network benefits. But there is little mention of improving the network; for example, once again by an upgraded east-west access to the east coast ports.
The Channel Tunnel high speed link and the west coast main line modernisation are quoted as priority projects, in conjunction with the European Union's trans-European networks. However, as the noble Earl, Lord Stair, has already pointed out, there is no discussion of how these two projects are to be continued elsewhere in the United Kingdom. There is little discussion about the problems of differing speeds for passenger and freight trains and the implications of this for increased freight usage of the existing network and, in particular, of the Channel Tunnel. There is little discussion about perhaps moving stations out of town centres to parkway locations, giving easier parking to commuters and freeing town centre parking for shoppers, with suitable shuttle bus routes in between them.
Perhaps I have been too critical. I recognise the enormous problems involved in defining any transport policy. I recognise that a great deal of work and analysis has gone into the production of the White Paper. I give a cautious welcome to the proposals to devolve transport policy to the regions and, like others, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for giving us the opportunity of discussing this vitally important subject today.
Lord Murray of Epping Forest: My Lords, the specialised report entitled British Shipping; Charting a new course, to which the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, has referred, sets out starkly the problems facing the industry, but insists that Britain can still maintain a strong presence in shipping. Its 33 recommendations for action all conform to accepted international practice and current EU guidelines on state aids.
There are three areas on which I would like to concentrate. First, I must declare my interest as a trustee of the National Union of Marine, Aviation and Shipping Transport Officers. The Government have allotted something like £18.6 million to the Support for Maritime Training scheme over the three-year period from 1999 to 2002. SMarT has offered funding support for 643 new cadets in 1998-99, but ship owners are not taking up these available funds. This year's cadet intake is only 440, and of those something like one-fifth will be lost by natural wastage in the first year alone. But we should be recruiting at least 1,200 cadets a year and so I ask my noble friend on what assumptions of training requirements and uptake is the figure of £18.6 million based.
My next point relates to improving the cost environment. In the United Kingdom employers' national insurance contributions constitute something between 8 per cent. and 10 per cent. of employers' social charges. The reduction to zero of employers' social charges in respect of seafarers is permitted under the European Union's maritime state aid guidelines, which acknowledge that,
My third point concerns the effect of the fiscal environment. Paragraphs 121 to 125 cogently summarise the overwhelming case for modifying the United Kingdom's fiscal regime to make it possible for our shipping to compete and flourish in a world where, as the report itself puts it,
I realise that my noble friend cannot disclose what will be in the Budget, but will he assure your Lordships that his right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister will use all the clout--which was a word referred to earlier--and also the charm for which he is well known--I almost said notorious--to get the Treasury to grasp that if we are to seize the great opportunities open to us, British shipping companies really must be put on the same footing as their competitors.
This is no academic debate. P&O is in the process of deciding under which flag to place two new cruise ferries. If the Budget fails to deliver, those vessels could well go to the Dutch flag. The reasons for that can be read off Chart 5 of the report, which compares fiscal regimes to Britain's serious disadvantage. Again, Stephenson Clarke is considering flagging out four cargo ships used in the coastal trade and replacing British crews with Polish officers and Polish ratings--on ships operating around Britain's coasts. It would indeed be a tragedy if the Treasury were to spoil the brave new shipping policy spelled out in this report for the sake of a ha'p'orth of fiscal support.
Lord Teviot: My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords and I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate because, as your Lordships will be aware, transport has long been an interest of mine. Judging by the length of the speakers' list, it is the interest of many other noble Lords also present, as indeed it should be. The transport of people and goods has a daily effect on the quality of all our lives. There is no denying that.
That is reflected in the size of the White Paper. Whether the rest of the Government take the issue as seriously as the Deputy Prime Minister is a matter for speculation. However, although it is true that, as yet, no legislation has been introduced to take forward these proposals, I will, if your Lordships will forgive me, leave it to others to speculate on that. Therefore, I would like to concentrate on an area of the White Paper which, initially at least, does not require any legislation. That is the role of the bus.
At this point, as usual, I must declare an interest, having a long connection with the bus industry. It is for that reason that I shall confine my remarks today to the role that the bus will play in the transport system of the next century. I welcome greatly the enhanced role given to buses by the White Paper through a system of quality partnerships. There is no doubt that a system of efficient bus networks will go a long way to easing congestion, improving air quality and regenerating our towns and cities.
The key to providing this quality journey is partnerships, or what is now popularly known as quality partnerships. These are partnerships between local authorities and bus operators aimed at achieving the improvements I have already mentioned. They cover such areas as improved and more accessible vehicles; better ticketing; better information; and improved infrastructure leading to better reliability. All those are key elements in improving the service to the passengers.
A number of quality partnerships, many of which I must say were initiated during the previous government's term of office, already exist up and down the country. The results in terms of reduced journey times and increased passenger numbers are impressive. That was demonstrated by the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton. At this point I should add that these partnerships are not restrictive in any way. Far from it. More than one bus operator can join and the police and other enforcement authorities are also welcomed with open arms. There is no point in having bus priority measures if they are not enforced. Increased quality is key to providing a bus service for the 21st century.
However, that quality standard must be there for all to aim at. The competitive element, even in an atmosphere of co-operation, is still, in my view, vital to providing passengers with the services that they require. The Government have stated their intention to place quality partnerships on a statutory footing. On the face of it, that is to be applauded. However, I issue a note of caution: do not make them too prescriptive, otherwise one restricts the operators' ability to react to changing passenger needs and demands. In legislating, the Government must not underestimate the very real benefits that voluntary quality partnerships have already brought.
My second note of caution is related to the proposal to bring forward quality contracts if the quality partnership approach is not providing the improvements required. Quality contracts are no more than franchising by another name. There will be no incentive to improve the quality and quantity of services, and the working conditions of those who operate the buses will suffer. This will ultimately result in a poorer service to the travelling public. There is no more important person than the passenger. I believe that the quality partnership approach will give passengers the best possible service. I therefore congratulate the Government on their recognition of this, but ask them to approach any proposed legislation with caution.
Viscount Hanworth: My Lords, the private motor car, which is associated with so many of the social and environmental problems of our times, is the subject of a powerful mythology. It is a personal convenience and an adjunct to our busy lives. But it is also a symbol of personal freedom and personal aspiration and it engenders some strong emotions.
Although the car symbolises individual autonomy, its use is everywhere subject to rigorous social control. This paradox confuses us and the manner in which it is resolved varies quite markedly between neighbouring European countries.
In this country, we have controlled the car less than many of our neighbours and much has been sacrificed to make way for it. In particular, we have destroyed systems of urban public transport which other countries have retained. Our errors in that respect were highlighted recently by the revival of the tramways in some of our cities.
City dwellers have always dreamt of seeking refuge in the countryside to pursue a quieter and more congenial life. Acres of suburbs have been built in this century in an effort to move out of the urban centres into leafy surroundings. When the programme has proved self-defeating, the idea of the accessibility of the countryside and its open spaces has often been sustained by the placement of the motor car on a hard concrete apron in front of a suburban dwelling. The car is a symbol of an enduring longing.
I remember that in the 1950s and 1960s much of the advertising of petrol companies made reference to the myth of the countryside. Our schoolrooms were adorned with exquisite posters showing how the English hedgerows varied with the changing seasons. Those posters were provided by the Shell petrol company. There was an innocence in all that. Nowadays, it is widely understood how inimical the products of the petrochemical industry are to the traditional appearance of the countryside. Those products include not only petrol but fertilisers and pesticides. Today, such advertising would be seen as a flagrant denial of this reality.
However, the subconscious works differently and it still harbours the myth. Politicians understand the myth of the motor car rather well. In the past, all political parties have paid obeisance to it. They have made great sacrifices of public money to appease the motorist. The previous government went further than most. They built trunk roads and by-passes. They attempted to hasten the progress of traffic through urban areas by means of road widening schemes and red routes. They did all that in the face of mounting evidence that the money spent in facilitating the flow of traffic is largely wasted. It encourages more cars to enter the network and it leads to increased congestion. I hope to answer that argument later.
The access of individual users to a limited resource must be regulated in pursuit of the common good. Surely, this idea is a simple and widely recognised truism. But so subversive was it of the ideology of the previous government that they spent most of their time in office denying it. It puts one in mind of the story of King Canute; only these are waves of traffic we are talking of.
The present Government are radical and reforming. They are not bound by any set of outdated ideological precepts. A sign of this is the manner in which they feel able to approach the problem of devising an integrated transport strategy fit for the 21st century.
I have in hand the Government's draft guidelines on local authority transport plans issued last November by the DETR. Among other matters, the guidelines deal with the question of the reallocation of road space which might be made free of traffic and used for pedestrians, cycle lanes or given over to public transport. I am sorry to say that the guidelines show a degree of diffidence and caution which is liable to make them ineffective. The document asserts that it is too early to draw conclusions about the effects on traffic of reducing road capacity. The fear is expressed that by imposing restrictions in one part of a traffic network one might create congestion elsewhere.
That is an old caveat which does not stand up to examination. The idea can be refuted easily. We know that by facilitating the flow of traffic one usually succeeds only in adding to its volume. From the assumption that the effect works in reverse, it follows that by restricting the flow of traffic one will succeed in diminishing its volume. That consequence has been observed time and again. When highway capacity is restricted, traffic tends to evaporate. Research has shown that about half of the displaced traffic simply disappears. So common is that experience that it has become one of the verities of modern transport planning.
If we have the courage of our convictions and if we set about reclaiming some of the urban territories which we have surrendered to the car, then there is ample reason to suppose that our efforts will be fully rewarded. Indeed, we may succeed in establishing within the hearts of our cities the open spaces for which we long.
Anyone interested in transport integration should visit Switzerland where one's transport needs about that beautiful country are catered for to an extraordinary degree. Back in the 1950s, that was in stark contrast to the position at home in Leighton Buzzard where nationalised buses competed with nationalised trains to nearby Luton. The train service involved a change at Dunstable which was not always available due to original lines belonging to separate companies. No one had thought to integrate the service.
So where are we now? Sadly, the Swiss model is still largely absent. People are still being carried about in some places in trains largely designed by the Victorians. One still sees freight yards, albeit largely concerned with infrastructure maintenance, full of wagons similar to those that I used to see at Leighton Buzzard, although at least today they have continuous brakes.
So our railways are now in private hands and an opportunity has been presented to address the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Marsh. Much has been achieved. Substantial investment in passenger coaches and freight locos and wagons is in place to meet the demand created by a 15 per cent. increase in passenger mileage and a 25 per cent. increase in freight tonne miles over the past five years; and that is growing fast.
The rail freight industry, dominated by two main players, is looking to substantially increase its business further and great savings are being made in overall costs by streamlining services and providing one-stop shops for customers' inquiries which has enabled the service to be better delivered.
The passenger companies continue to offer improved services with new services providing connections where none existed before. One can cite Connex's Rugby to Gatwick service. There is an exciting proposal by GB Railways, via their Anglia Railway subsidiary, to introduce services connecting Ipswich with Watford and also Basingstoke via the Feltham gateway to Heathrow. There is also planned a Waterloo to Southampton premium service in direct competition to South West Trains which will also serve Romsey, a growing town cut off from London by rail for the past 30 years.
Thus can privatisation be seen to be successful. However, performance has not been good enough and urgent action is needed to ensure that such innovative service can be created and that our freight companies can achieve their goals, especially in the field of reducing dependence on our roads. One of the most effective ways of achieving that is by the use of piggy-back services which involve the carriage of road trailers on flat or adapted rail wagons. The practice is widespread abroad but is constrained here by a restricted loading gauge. The passenger companies are also identifying constraints in the infrastructure which is holding back their plans. Despite published investment figures of some £15 billion over the past five years, much needs to be done. It is vital that Railtrack continues with that investment.
Unbelievably, it seems to have decided that it must operate under the same constraints as its predecessors--British Rail. I refer to the resignalling of the route from Nuneaton to Peterborough which has been deferred, and the lack of piggy-back gauge enhancement within the West Coast Main Line upgrade. Railtrack seems unwilling also to commit itself to a London-avoiding route for traffic which needs to connect Glasgow with the Channel Tunnel.
That move is widely welcomed in the rail industry, and it is particularly unfortunate that the behaviour of this House in the matter of its so-called reform is somehow to be held to account as regards the achievement of the necessary legislation.
I shall leave it at that. I was extremely happy to see the privatisation of the railways because I could see the opportunities for growth and improvement that the process could provide. That it does not seem to be working is tragic. I feel that the train companies, both passenger and freight, are doing their bit. There is much positive thinking, although some of them have a funny way of showing it. If their investment is to founder because it must operate on out-dated and under- maintained infrastructure, one must question where Railtrack's priorities lie. The Government have a crucial role to play in that respect and I hope that they will quickly fulfil their responsibility to the industry.
Lord Howie of Troon: My Lords, I am very glad that my noble friend Lord Berkeley has given us an opportunity to discuss this important subject. However, I shuddered, just slightly, when he echoed the current shibboleth that predict and provide was dead. However, I noticed that he really meant that predict and provide for the roads was dead. Later in his speech, it seemed that predict and provide for railways is still alive.
The truth is that you must predict and provide. But what matters is what you predict and what you provide. In that respect, perhaps I may react to a comment made by my noble friend Lord Hanworth who spoke of the "verities" of planning. I do not want to go into the detail of what he said, most of which was wrong. But one of the eternal verities of transport planning is that roads are necessary, and that includes by-passes and things of that sort.
I do not wish to talk about the generalities of this subject which is far too wide for me. I merely wish to deal with one important point in the White Paper. The White Paper quite rightly mentions the state of the road network and the need for increased investment in maintenance. It states:
The Minister will perhaps be aware of the annual transport survey published by the Institution of Civil Engineers. I should declare an interest as a fellow of that institution. I am a great believer in building roads. I like concrete in most places. The findings of that survey are alarming. It reveals that the backlog on road maintenance stands at about £4,900 million. That was the figure for last
Investment in maintenance and improvements has been neglected for some time. I do not blame any specific government for that; they are all equally guilty--though some had longer to do things than others. But the Government are not wholly to blame. Some local authorities themselves are culpable. The ICE survey indicated that local authorities frequently appear to divert funds provided by the Government in the standard spending assessment for road maintenance to support spending on "front line" services that have greater political prominence and voter appeal; for example, education and social services. We know that those are important, but if money is provided for road maintenance, that is where it ought to go.
We know that help is at hand in the form of the various proposals that the Government made in relation to road charges, congestion charges and taxes of one kind or another which are to be hypothecated. I have a philosophical doubt about hypothecation. I contribute a fair amount of tax to the Government through malt whisky and I do not feel that that tax should necessarily be devoted to distilleries; but I see the point. If the money cannot be found any other way, it must be found through those charges.
The danger is that local authorities sometimes misuse the funds and apply them to other, no doubt good, purposes, but outwith what would be the hypothecation. It will require serious policing on the part of the Government. I wish them well, as I always do as the House will know, but their aim for an integrated transport system is grandiose. I hope that they achieve it, but I should like them to get the incremental bits right first.
An integrated transport system may well help to solve the problems of the disabled in this country as well as the able bodied, but it will be more difficult because they have specialist needs. Those specialist needs will mean that it will take longer to resolve their problems. For instance, taxis and buses are being made available to the disabled incrementally.
We must remember that the "disabled" is not just one group. Those with a visual impairment and those in wheelchairs have different needs, thus greater degrees of technical difficulty arise when providing the various types of transport. We must bear in mind also that when we are striving towards an integrated transport system
I do not make a special plea. I merely say that disabled people have the right to be able to move around the country in the same way as the able bodied. I hope that the Government will keep the issue under review so that when trains and buses become accessible to all the groups within the disabled lobby, they will then be able to withdraw the car from front-line use or indeed altogether in certain situations.
When thinking about the disabled, we must think in a slightly lateral form. For instance, when we encourage cyclists, we must ensure that there is some way for someone who is blind to be aware that a cyclist is coming. I am sure that we have all been on a pavement when a cyclist who should not be there comes careering along. They are not the only problem. But when one is in a wheelchair or has a guide dog they are an even greater menace. We must draw attention to that problem at every stage of the process. There is no way we can ignore it if we intend to achieve this legislation covering the whole of society and also avoid conflict with the disability civil rights legislation which is currently going through your Lordships' House. We must bear that in mind.
I leave noble Lords with one final thought. When one goes to Clapham Junction station one is told to "Mind the gap"--it is more than one foot in width and about two feet in height on a number of platforms. In fact, it makes one feel like putting a flag on the platform when one alights from the train. When those sorts of problems are solved, we can start to think about getting rid of the car for all sections of society, and let us hope that that will come quickly.
I could have spoken at length about the sins of the previous government and the failure of railway policy over the past 20 years; but my noble friend Lord Currie of Marylebone made a powerful case for the early introduction of a strategic rail authority and I no longer need to go into that. I should therefore like to speak about the fundamental change that has been undertaken and which was started by the previous government-- I give them credit for that. I am referring to the change in planning guidance issued by Selwyn Gummer when he introduced the presumption against new out-of-town retail shopping developments.
I hope it is accepted that that was the beginning of the realisation that we have turned our backs on the North American model and embraced a European and Japanese model, for the fundamental reason of population density. Out-of-town shopping and green-field house building make sense if one has enormous wide open spaces on which to build and everyone has a car in which to reach them. But on our
We can see that major investment in modern railway networks such as those we see in France, Japan and elsewhere, can pay dividends in better inter-city travel. But we can also learn from our own experience. Major public infrastructure projects developed by local authorities, such as Manchester International Airport, can make a contribution to our nation's international air links, enabling people to fly overseas from the region without having to travel to Heathrow. We can also learn from the local plans such as that for Brighton and Hove described by my noble friend Lord Bassam.
I welcome the Government's New Deal for Transport. The concepts of integration and improvement for public transport are the right ones to lead us into the future. As an ardent car owner, I do not believe that these broad thrusts of government policy should be seen as being "anti-car". It will not be easy, but I salute this Government for firmly signposting the road down which we need to go.
Lord Vinson: My Lords, I have one or two things in common with the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, not least the view that more should be spent on the transport infrastructure in this country, both road and rail. Both are the economic arteries of a modern state and we neglect them at our peril.
It is sometimes said that there is no money available for such activities. I remind the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, that some £30 billion is taken from motorists and motoring activities which, if divided by the 30 million motorists in this country, means that each motorist pays, over and above his normal income tax, some £1,000 towards the transport infrastructure. Masses of money is available; but governments of all parties have not cared to allocate it in the way that many of us think they should.
A number of speakers tonight have advocated transferring freight from road to rail. That is obviously desirable, but one has to ask to what degree it is practical. The rail transport bodies state that it will take between eight and 10 years to upgrade the existing rail network to carry double the amount of freight that it carries at present. That sounds absolutely marvellous until we look at the figures. Already, 90 per cent. of freight is carried by road and 10 per cent. by rail. If we were to double that to 20 per cent. and take 10 years in which to do it, growth in the economy--the underlying reason for the increase in transport activity--would meanwhile have been the same. We would therefore finish up in 10 years time with roughly the same proportion of freight--approximately 90 per cent.--being carried by road. It is madness to suggest that we can neglect our highly important road infrastructure.
Few modern nations would regard the A.1, a major trunk road, as a road which is virtually finished. That road is single carriageway over much of its length, it has bottlenecks at roundabouts in many instances, causing highly polluting tailbacks at great economic cost, and cross-over points which make it extremely dangerous. I cannot think of any other nation in the world which would tolerate that and not upgrade the A.1 as a national priority.
The White Paper is long on waffle and short on credible alternatives. Many of us, on any fair analysis, would regard it as a triumph of prejudice over necessity. It is typical of this Government; it spins loud and the realities are unresolved. The real problems will remain unless much more is done for our transport system--both road and rail--than this document advocates. It calls itself A New Deal for Transport. It is a poor deal for transport and I hope it will be regarded as such.
Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, I am the second to last person who will have the opportunity to thank the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for instituting the debate and also for his excellent and wide-ranging opening speech. It has stimulated an extremely interesting series of contributions from many Members of this House. I shall take great pleasure in reading them in detail tomorrow in Hansard. Among them were those from my noble friends Lord Thomson, on cycling; Lord Addington, on access for the disabled; and Lady Ludford--or should it be "Sister Ludford"--on travel problems for Londoners.
In approaching the debate I have selected a few subjects for praise or query, particularly those which indicate action or inaction since last July. The success in implementing the White Paper will remain the test of its viability. However, I was greatly tempted to spin with the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, down the paths of local government expenditure on road maintenance.
Some interests have been critical that much of the "new" money available to implement the White Paper has been recycled. I welcome the fact that transport money has been recycled into new transport uses rather than into the Consolidated Fund, as has often happened in recent times. Like the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley,
There are further inconsistencies in the tax treatment of commuting costs. Car parking at work has not been taxed since 1988, although a space in London is said to be worth £5,000 per year. Yet the benefits conferred by green commuter plans, such as subsidised bus services, public transport tickets and cycling allowances, are taxed. Some companies have even been told that long-established benefits, such as works buses, are taxable. Experience shows that closing down such services merely increases commuting by car. An interesting little sideline is that although cycling allowances are legal for Peers and MPs, they are not legal for councillors. The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, drew our attention to the example of Boots as an excellent employer. From the point of view of social equity as well as environmental strategy, such inconsistencies seem malign. What plans does the Secretary of State have to ensure that these anomalies are removed? Will "joined-up thinking" soon extend to the Treasury?
We support the tax escalator on fuel duty because it taxes car use rather than car ownership. However, as many of us know, in rural areas such a tax on car use causes problems which could largely be solved by reducing vehicle excise duty, which is a tax on ownership, to nominal levels for the smallest and least polluting cars. Can the Minister assure us today that that option for VED is still under discussion?
I turn to the subject of hypothecation. The DETR is to be congratulated on persuading the Treasury to accept hypothecation for public transport uses of revenues earned by local authorities. That is a revolution in Treasury practice. Can the Minister confirm that local authorities have broadly welcomed those proposals?
I should also like to support the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, about the Greater London Authority Bill and the apparent inconsistency of allowing provision for net proceeds from congestion charging and levies on workplace parking to be passed to the Secretary of State and thence to the Consolidated Fund.
I cannot welcome with the same enthusiasm another initiative under the White Paper, motorway tolling. I understand that the Government are to encourage local authorities to bid for a trial of tolling procedures. My view is that motorway tolling could have the perverse effect of moving heavy traffic flows and heavy vehicles off the motorways and trunk roads, where they belong, and on to unsuitable A roads where they would cause real environmental damage. Can the Minister confirm that those noxious side effects will also be carefully studied along with the availability of technical apparatus?
The Minister will already be aware that we on these Benches have consistently supported Private Member's Bills which task the Government with the setting of targets for the reduction of road traffic. Our view is that the Government need to set an overall target as a context for action at a local level. It is therefore dispiriting to read in a Written Answer by Dr. Reid in another place on 20th October 1998 that the Government still see a national target, if at all, as merely a sum of all the local targets that local authorities will establish under their local transport plans. It will be for local authorities to standardise their recording procedures for measuring and forecasting traffic flows. On the other hand, it is to be done by building on the data collected for national surveys. An assessment framework will then be put in place with the assistance of the Transport Statistics Liaison Group, an excellent body, and finally the commission for integrated transport will have a go at it before the report to Parliament on traffic reduction targets is presented late this year.
It is impossible to avoid the conclusion that the Government have got themselves in a tizzy on this matter. Can the Minister confirm that motor vehicle emissions are the fastest-growing contributors to air pollution and to global warming in particular? Does he agree that a national target for traffic reduction would be a useful tool for measuring success in achieving our Kyoto targets in this respect?
I turn now to the subject of concessionary bus tickets for pensioners. One of the most welcome promises in the White Paper was that the Government would guarantee a minimum 50 per cent. discount on bus fares for all pensioners. However, it seems that nothing may be done to redeem that promise in the coming financial year--and despite the fact, trumpeted in recent Government press releases, that an extra two people on every bus journey could revolutionise the fortunes of the bus industry. I hope that the Minister will assure me that that measure will be implemented in 1999-2000--that is, in the forthcoming year. On Treasury estimates, it will cost only £25 million.
Perhaps I may add that about 71 per cent. of parishes have no bus service. I have spent a lot of time in, and have a good deal of experience of, community transport initiatives such as many counties have initiated. I welcome the Government's decision to put part of the £50 million into such schemes. Can the Minister assure me that that extra money will not merely substitute for the existing funding of existing schemes?
In preparing for this speech, I became aware, not for the first time, of how hard it is to track the progress made in implementing the measures contained in a White Paper. There is still a lingering feeling among many observers that implementation is not going ahead--and certainly not fast enough. However, the introduction of a Bill to establish a strategic rail authority may go some way towards satisfying at least some critics. I should like to associate myself with those who have supported that idea and to say how interesting I found the speech on that matter by the noble Lord, Lord Currie of Marylebone, which I shall read with interest tomorrow in Hansard.
Nevertheless, looking across a huge series of predicted dates for pilot studies, consultation papers, draft and final guidances, and daughter papers, it is extremely hard for anybody who is not served by a department of state to keep track of where the implementation has reached. Some cynics might reply that that is the point of the exercise. I prefer to believe that it is not.
However, the White Paper represents an immense and, as we have heard, controversial change in British policy on a matter--transport--which affects every citizen and every business in the country. Does not such a policy merit a new way of reporting back to Parliament and to citizens? Would not a regular update, a simple end-of-year report on the initiatives taken, the money spent and the projects and work completed, be a splendid way of keeping friends on board and convincing doubters? Will the Minister at least tell us today that he is willing to consider such a proposal?
Lord Brabazon of Tara: My Lords, like other noble Lords, I welcome this opportunity, long overdue, to debate the Government's White Paper on integrated transport, A New Deal for Transport, and I join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for introducing the debate. In view of the interest in the debate and the importance which the Government attach to this issue, it is slightly unfortunate that we should have to have a time-limited three-hour debate on the subject rather than a full-blown, unlimited debate in government time. However, I am grateful for small mercies.
I am also glad that the Motion mentions "other related ... matters". I shall therefore take the opportunity to comment on the Comprehensive Spending Review and on the roads programme, as mentioned in the White Paper.
The current debate about transport needs to be put in its historical perspective. When we Conservatives took office in 1979, huge subsidies were being paid to a long list of nationalised corporations that controlled the nation's transport at that time. Services were often disrupted by disastrous industrial relations. Customers faced an attitude of "Take it or leave it"--and often of just "Leave it".
There is no doubt that in transport, as in many other areas, British thinking in the 1980s and 1990s has strongly influenced numerous reform programmes across the globe. British transport companies have demonstrated their ability to deliver quality services and high levels of investment. Foreign governments naturally look to them to invest in their privatisation and liberalisation programmes. One should not forget the success we achieved in bringing in investment from the private sector. The Channel Tunnel is perhaps the most notable example. Indeed, I first met the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, when he was involved in that project. Other examples across a range of transport sectors include the Dartford and second Severn crossings and the Heathrow express rail link, to which reference has already been made.
The previous government's record of public investment in our rail networks was far from miserly. Between 1979 and 1997, we invested £16 billion in our national railways and £8 billion in London Transport. Following privatisation, the passenger operators are investing £2.5 billion in new rolling stock, and Railtrack is investing £18 billion in upgrading track, signalling and stations.
Noble Lords will also be aware that the previous government introduced grants for private freight sidings and track access charges. Much has been made of that by the present Government who seem to think that they invented it, but it was there before. When my noble friend Lord Freeman was the Minister in charge, he regularly received complaints from the Rail Freight Group, of which the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, is, I believe, the current chairman. Its director demonstrated that British Rail's high haulage charges and restrictive practices were causing rail freight traffic to decline to the detriment of its members' businesses. That is why we privatised British Rail's freight business. The English, Welsh and Scottish Railways company is investing heavily in new locomotives and wagons as it continues to grow its business. Freight tonne miles since privatisation have risen by some 25 per cent., which is an excellent and practical example of how introducing private investment helps to tackle congestion.
The Government's alternative to privatisation is the so-called public-private partnership which in reality is a rebranding of the private finance initiative. However, as my noble friend Lord Caithness said, the current London Underground infrastructure fiasco shows that the private sector is reluctant to invest in this most complicated of the Government's schemes. Like other noble Lords I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us how this scheme is progressing. What progress, if any, is being made? When can we expect some announcements about private sector interest in running the London Underground infrastructure? When can we expect something to happen? It seems to me that there is a real danger that the next election will come and go before anything has happened with regard to the Underground. While we are on the subject of privatisation, can the Minister say where we are as regards National Air
Economic success breeds its own problems. As noble Lords have said, increasing prosperity means that ever-increasing numbers of people are able to afford the freedom, the choice and the mobility conferred by the car. Some noble Lords have criticised increasing car ownership. However, I am bound to say that I am extremely proud to have been a member at one time of a government which through economic progress vastly increased the incidence of car ownership. Whatever else may be said, I am proud of that fact.
The previous government initiated a major and ongoing national transport debate. The 1996 Green Paper Transport: The Way Forward suggested potential solutions to the problems of increasing road traffic, such as congestion, noise and pollution, damage to landscapes and road traffic's contribution to climate change. I am glad that the White Paper makes extensive reference to the previous government's efforts in that area. This Government have promised they will address these issues. However, to date their actions show that they are incapable of satisfying the increased expectations created by their rhetoric.
Last year's comprehensive spending review virtually froze overall transport expenditure for the next three years. The Government's "spinning" skills present a £1.8 billion reallocation of expenditure within the department as an increase in investment! In fact, there is only one new Government policy--to tax the motorist and road user. Fuel duty will rise by 6 per cent. per annum in real terms, even if the market price rises. As my noble friend Lord Vinson said, the road user will pay over £9 billion in extra fuel taxes in exchange for no overall increase in transport expenditure. It is little wonder that the Road Haulage Association seeks an essential user rebate, as its members are suffering from ever-increasing foreign competition from countries with lower fuel duties.
The White Paper A New Deal for Transport is no new deal at all. It claims credit for innovative schemes facilitated by Conservative policies but offers no new solutions or ideas. That is why no transport Bill was announced for this Session of Parliament. Even Friends of the Earth has labelled the Government's approach as "carry on consulting". It could, however, have been much worse. Ministers have recently confirmed that there are no plans to revert to nationalisation and state monopolies. That is welcome. The major feature of the Government's plans is to introduce non-residential parking taxes and so-called congestion charging. However, the Breaking the Logjam consultation paper demonstrates that there are many technical and practical issues to be resolved. It seeks answers to no fewer than 47 questions. That is again a case of carry on consulting.
Despite the complexity of its road networks, London is to be the laboratory for the Government's road tax experiments. The capital will pay a high price for the Chancellor's abolition of financial support for London
The Government have promised that the new revenue streams will be "hypothecated" for investment in transport. However, as my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith and other noble Lords have said, the Greater London Bill shares the tax revenues between the Secretary of State and the Consolidated Fund. This must be part of the Deputy Prime Minister's new relationship with the Chancellor, but it is not a beneficial one for the travelling public. We shall certainly wish to raise this issue when the GLA Bill is before us. I hope from what he said that we shall have the support of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, when we do so.
While I am on the subject of the Chancellor, I must mention that my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith referred to the situation of Boots and the Inland Revenue. I hope that the Chancellor and the Deputy Prime Minister can get their act together because if we are to have an integrated transport policy there can be no possible excuse for the behaviour which my noble friend described.
Any integrated transport policy must also include responsible investment in our road network, as my noble friend Lord Vinson said. A New Deal for Trunk Roads sets out 39 targeted schemes but does not commit the Government to start them before the next election. The buck on a further 50 schemes, including most of those withdrawn from the national programme, has been passed to regional planning conferences. Many vital schemes, for which there is no public transport alternative, have been mysteriously deferred. Clearly, the real reason is lack of funds as all the developer-financed schemes were given the go-ahead. I hope that the Minister, who has responsibility for roads, will comment on that issue.
In conclusion, we on this side of the House believe that transport users, operators and customers deserve better from this Government. They do not offer new deals, only the raw deal of lower investment and higher taxes. It is a case of jams today, taxes tomorrow. Our research shows, not surprisingly, that transport is one of the major concerns of voters. We on these Benches will subject Ministers and their policies to intense scrutiny because our transport legacy to this Government is one of which we are immensely proud and we do not wish to let them squander it.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty): My Lords, I, too, wish to thank my noble friend Lord Berkeley for initiating this debate. I also thank all noble Lords who have taken part. It has been a good, wide-ranging debate. Six months after the White Paper was launched I am glad to indicate progress on it and to engage in discussion on it. However, a vast number of questions has been asked. I shall speak as fast as I can, but one or two noble Lords may have to be content with a letter from me answering their points.
The noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, gave an historic overview of the situation. I disagree with him slightly. I pay tribute to those in the previous government who, in the final years of their period in office, recognised the terrible situation facing transport. However, the fact is that they recognised--as we recognise--that there are two enormous strategic problems which are largely the legacy of the previous government's early years in office. That is not entirely the case as some of the problems are a legacy of the ineffective delivery of public transport by the nationalised industries. Nevertheless, there are two enormous problems.
First, despite what the noble Lord said, there was serious under-investment and gravely inappropriate investment. Investment in roads often led to the creation of problems rather than to their resolution. Part of the previous government's obsession with deregulation led to a highly fragmented, unregulated industry which did not provide competition, but rather created new monopolies which rendered no service to the public. I refer, for example, to the bus industry.
Secondly--this is perhaps equally important, as the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, pointed out--we inherited an enormous environmental problem. Increased reliance on road transport makes a substantial contribution to CO 2 emissions. Whereas in the fields of energy and industrial usage, CO 2 emissions have decreased and are decreasing, CO 2 emissions from traffic are increasing at a faster rate. In order to meet our Kyoto targets and to save the planet from an ecological disaster, here and in the rest of the world, we must cut back on traffic emissions. That means, unfortunately, we must cut back the use of the car and we must switch both freight and passengers from road transport to other forms of transport. We cannot continue with the current level of car usage. I do not regard that as an anti-motorist statement. The last thing that is helpful to motorists is to do nothing and to change nothing. It does not benefit the quality of life of motorists any more than it benefits the economy or the quality of the environment for people to be stuck increasingly in traffic jams and to have increasing congestion and pollution and a decreasing reliability of services and of the delivery of goods for industry.
This is not against car ownership and the freedom that a car provides. It means that we have to cut back on the unnecessary use of cars on long journeys when there is an alternative and, in particular--as the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, said at the beginning of the debate--for shorter journeys where walking and cycling is a real alternative. More than 50 per cent. of cars on the road at the peak time of ten to nine in the morning are dropping children off at school. That is being done by a small minority of parents. We know and understand the reasons for them doing so but, for the most part, it is unnecessary. There are real alternatives in the areas of walking and cycling, as well as in the bigger, infrastructure-heavy areas of railways, and waterways for carrying freight.
I should go through the areas in which we have followed up the White Paper. We have provided fiscal incentives for buses and cleaner vehicles. Despite what the noble Lord said, the comprehensive spending review provided an extra £1.8 billion over three years for public transport and local transport plans. We have also provided £150 million over the next three years for rural transport, the neglect of which under the previous government--which was supposed to be the friend of the countryside--so drastically reduced the opportunities for people living in our rural areas. We have now introduced the basis on which local transport plans will be introduced and we will be publishing firm guidance shortly.
We are establishing the commission for integrated transport; appointments will be made shortly. We will shortly establish a strategic rail authority and give it legislative backing at the first opportunity. We are introducing powers for London on road user charging and workplace parking levies; we are consulting on a national scheme and legislation will be introduced into this House shortly. We will shortly be issuing other follow-up documents and guidance on rail policy, on roads review--which we have already done--and on areas such as shipping, road safety and freight.
In the Budget we also provided additional financial support for rail freight as well as for rural buses. We have appointed the chairman and the new franchising director of the British Railways Board and we will be giving them greater powers. We have prioritised in the road review--for the first time for some time--the wish list we inherited. We have concentrated on the real priority areas in terms of road building, traffic management and road maintenance. It is a change of policy which some noble Lords do not agree with. It is, nevertheless, a clear strategy and not a wish list.
We cannot be accused of not taking action on the White Paper or of the White Paper being mere words. We are turning those words into action every day in the department under the leadership of the Deputy Prime Minister.
The noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, in particular, and the noble Lord, Lord Vinson, attacked the way in which we were dealing with roads. Let me deal with that immediately. I make no apology. Our position on roads means that we are building fewer new roads and undertaking fewer major road-widening schemes than those envisaged by the previous government--although they had not provided the finance for them. We are doing that because we want to see a strategic approach to transport which takes traffic away from roads.
Nevertheless, we are undertaking a large number of important new road schemes. Thirty-seven new schemes will be started, the majority of which have start dates. In response to my noble friend Lord Howie of Troon, we are providing substantial additional resources for the maintenance of our trunk roads. The budget will rise
This is a new integrated approach to roads which recognises the environmental as well as the safety and economic aspects of road transport. It also envisages a major new role for the Highways Agency. This was described as sinister by the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold. It is in fact a rational approach to the rationing of space on our roadways. Instead of simply being a road builder and a road procurer, the Highways Agency will be heavily involved in traffic management, network control and providing better information for drivers. At some future date it may well have a role were we to introduce charging on our trunk roads.
We should recognise the amount of traffic on our roads. It is vitally important to drivers--whether commercial or individuals--that they should have reliable journeys, not journeys which are disrupted by congestion and unexpected road-works. It is therefore important that the control of the road network rests in more rational hands. The Highways Agency will be developing the technology and introducing new schemes based on technology--and pilot schemes have already been introduced in parts of the network--in order to improve the quality of journey, the quality of information and the reliability of journeys.
Normally when I discuss roads policy, I am faced with a barrage of questions about particular roads. It is a sort of reverse of the NIMBY aspect; everybody agrees that we should build fewer roads, except theirs. There was not much of that today, I am very glad to say.
The noble Lord, Lord Vinson, asked in general about by-passes. There are some by-passes in the programme and I recognise that some by-passes will have to be built as the only solution. Nevertheless, we are not going to build 500 by-passes; we shall have to find new ways of meeting the problems of congestion. Most by-pass building creates greater environmental problems than it resolves. We are therefore committed to meeting the priority demands for by-passes, but we will not engage in a policy which is based on meeting every demand for a by-pass.
I think it was also the noble Lord, Lord Vinson, who mentioned the A.1. Although we are not dualling the whole of the A.1, significant parts of it are being improved under our immediate programme. Other parts will be covered by multi-modal studies over the next couple of years.
I was asked about the M.4 by my noble friend Lord Islwyn. I understand that the Secretary of State for Wales has looked at this problem and that the report is expected shortly. I am afraid that I cannot give him any further details on that aspect of the M.4. I recognise the complexity of the problems.
The transport infrastructure and the delivery of transport services are central to the role of local authorities and to our integrated transport approach. The example of Brighton and a number of other local authorities in relation to providing in partnership with the bus providers a better bus network--a quality partnership between the local authority and the private bus operators--has an enormous amount of attractions.
For most people, buses are the main alternative to the private car; for many people they are the only option. It is not only in Brighton that 50 per cent. of households do not have access to a car. In London it is more than 40 per cent. When we say "household", by and large that means one person in the household and, in general, it means that the woman in the household does not have access to the car. Therefore, in practice, the majority of our population do not have the option. Such people need buses in their urban areas and they need access to those buses--particularly, perhaps, the more disadvantaged groups, such as the disabled, who were referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and pensioners, who were referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas. They need cheap, accessible, regular and reliable bus services. The local transport plans and the relationship with the bus companies will be the means of developing those services. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, for referring, from the private sector's point of view, to the importance of those quality partnerships.
One aspect of local transport plans, and also of national transport plans, will be the introduction of powers in respect of road user and workplace charges. The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, was concerned that such charges, when introduced in urban areas, might have a detrimental effect on city centre businesses. Those decisions are down to local authorities in consultation with local business. But it is very frequently city centre business which suffers so severely from the congestion and the inability to access the city centre which excessive car traffic produces. It is important that local authorities make their decisions in the light of local circumstances and they must reflect the views of their local businesses when reaching their decisions. The introduction of road user charges and the use of that money, hypothecated back, at least for the first 10 years, to transport schemes in the locality, will greatly improve the vitality of the centres of our cities and towns and provide a better environment for business to flourish in.
Although I am in integrated transport mode, I am tending to deal with these issues in a slightly compartmentalised, rather old-fashioned, way, so perhaps I may go on to railways at this point. My noble friends Lord Berkeley, Lord Currie of Marylebone, Lord Monkswell and others raised points in support of the introduction of a strategic rail authority. My noble friend Lord Currie commented on the role of the regulator. It is very important that in our new system the regulator has substantial powers, particularly powers in relation to the provision of infrastructure--in other words, the interface with Railtrack.
There are problems, to which, obliquely or directly, a number of noble Lords--the noble Lord, Lord Cadman, among others--referred, about the performance of Railtrack in terms of delivery of the infrastructure for the network. The strategic rail authority will provide the leadership and direction that Railtrack as well as the operators will need to ensure that the railways are run in the public interest and for the economic well-being of the country as a whole. We shall be looking to the regulator to monitor Railtrack's investment and to take appropriate action to ensure that the network is maintained.
One other aspect of public service transport is London Transport. The noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, has become the putative Member here for the Northern Line. I appreciate that there are problems in London Transport, partly from underinvestment and partly from poor delivery of services. The strategic operation of London Transport will, over time, when we adopt the legislation setting up the Greater London authority, move to transport for London with a much more strategic role for the mayor and that organisation. It will cover buses and tubes, strategic roads, the infrastructure, and provision for cyclists, pedestrians and other road users.
Anxiety was expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, and others about the funding position of London Transport, particularly about the situation regarding the PPP. That PPP is a complex negotiation. Negotiations are continuing but it will bring in an estimated £7 billion of private sector investment over 15 years and thereby also reduce the direct call on the public purse. It will address past underfunding and past inappropriate funding within London Transport. We will see a massive new partnership between London Transport itself and the private sector under the general strategic authority of the new Greater London structure. If the PPP is not completed before April 2000, no grant will be provided after that date because the PPP will be financeable without any further grant. We will therefore be providing, one way or another, the finances that are needed in the transitional period for London Transport. We have announced an additional £365 million for the next two years for investment in the core network and for preparing for the PPP.
I shall move briefly to the air. The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and others referred to airports policy. We will have an opportunity to debate civil airports policy next week, so I shall not detain your Lordships for long on that. One aspect of integrated transport to which the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, referred was surface access to airports. It is vitally important to ensure that we have public transport services to all of our major airports. In London, for example, only 30 per cent. of journeys to the major London airports are by public transport. The aim of BAA is to increase that to 50 per cent. at Heathrow and 40 per cent. at Gatwick. We intend to support that.
I would not wish to sit down without responding to the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, and my noble friend Lord Simon about road safety. We talk a lot about providing roads and we talk a lot about motorists and the alternative to motorists. However, one of my central responsibilities in my executive capacity is to deal with road safety. In response to those questions, in the next few months we will be introducing a major statement on road safety. We have widened that brief so that it will cover a number of areas as well as new targets. It will not only cover areas that are traditional road safety areas but also issues of road engineering, vehicle standards and the whole question of speed policy and speed limitation. It will also look at the delivery of better road safety in terms of the role of local authorities in transport plans and in terms of the police, penalties and enforcement and information and education on road safety. It is important also that motor manufacturers as well as civil engineers and road safety operators are engaged in that process. It will be a wider document than perhaps we envisaged a few months ago.
Cyclists are among the more vulnerable people with regard to road safety. We have a clear commitment to improve facilities for cycling. Substantial expenditure and help to local authorities in that area are part of an overall strategy.
I was asked some questions on taxation. There was some feeling that the motorist is paying too much. I would say that in that area, relative to other countries, we have perhaps grasped the nettle earlier than others, but it is a road that probably most countries are going down. In fact noble Lords may have noticed that the German Chancellor, Gerhard Schroder, said just the other day that, in terms of fuel duty and other green taxes, the British had perhaps shown the way to the rest of Europe. I am sure that that will follow. The Road Haulage Association and others feel that any competitive disadvantage on that front alone will shortly diminish.
Other aspects of company taxation were raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas. In relation to company car taxation, it is widely recognised that there is a perverse incentive in the current situation. The Chancellor is examining the matter, together with the introduction of an environmentally sensitive structure under the VED, and it is intended to introduce changes in that area. So "joined up" government has reached the Treasury as well.
The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, referred to a Bill that he is to introduce in relation to illegally operated lorries. This is a serious problem. The penalties that presently exist are not sufficiently direct, and I shall welcome the Bill that he intends to introduce. The Government will help him--in so far as he needs any help; I am sure that he has his own resources in these matters--to deliver that Bill. It will greatly help the legitimate road haulage industry against the unfair competition of unlawful operators.
I must conclude my remarks. When I read Hansard, there may be many points on which I shall need to write to noble Lords. In response to the view of the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, that we should look at the possibility of a rolling report on our delivery of transport policy, I agree that at intervals we should attempt something along those lines. I shall be discussing the matter with my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister to see how that can best be done. In the meantime, perhaps noble Lords will excuse the speed and scantiness with which I have dealt with some of the issues raised. I hope that on a careful reading of the report on this debate they will regard my reply as a brief attempt at answering. I hope it will be enhanced by further correspondence with some noble Lords.
Lord Berkeley: My Lords, I wish to thank all noble Lords sincerely for their excellent and thoughtful contributions. The White Paper is inevitably wide-ranging and the contributions have covered more or less every subject. The debate has demonstrated the expertise and knowledge of all Members of this House at its best. I wish in particular to thank my noble friend Lord Whitty for his high-speed response. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.