§ 3.7 p.m.
§ Debate resumed on the Motion moved on 6th May last by the Baroness Carnegy of Lour—namely, That a humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as follows:
§ "Most Gracious Sovereign—We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."
The Minister of State, Department of Transport (The Earl of Caithness)
My Lords, we are due to debate today the important issues of local government, the environment and transport. Before saying something in turn about each of those areas I should like to say how much I look forward to listening to the maiden speeches of my noble friends Lord Bradford and Lord De L'Isle. I should like to set my remarks in context by saying a few words about the general philosophy underlying the Government's policies.
This Government do not believe in the old model of monolithic service providers, offering the public only what they, the providers, care to provide. We believe in offering the public better services, and we believe that the way to achieve this objective is to allow the public to choose. Competition represents the best way of securing effective and efficient services, and making it possible for members of the public to get the services which they want. And we believe in rolling back the frontiers of the state, and harnessing the energies and initiative of the private sector wherever this holds out the promise of better and more cost-effective service provision. During the past 13 years, despite a rearguard action from the parties opposite, we have made enormous progress in putting these principles into practice, to the benefit of the public; and we intend to continue to do so in the future.
Our approach to local government has been an illustration of those principles. Our aim throughout has been simple: to improve the standard of service that local government provides. We have improved the responsiveness of authorities to local taxpayers and to the consumers of local services. We have pressed for value for money. We have been against the dead hand of vested interest and for the rights of ordinary people who have in the past so often been ignored. And we have been successful, to the point where the basic message of our argument has been generally accepted in local government, and approved by the electorate. That was graphically illustrated only last Thursday at the local elections. In particular, just as in the general election, the results in Basildon were memorable. In the new Parliament we intend to press on with our reforms.
The improvement of standards and efficiency in local government is a vital element in the Citizen's Charter. We will continue to change the role of local authorities from direct providers of services, as they have historically been, to effective enablers acting on 147 behalf of local communities to set the standards for levels of service and to ensure that those services are provided as efficiently as possible. Some authorities are in the vanguard of the movement towards the enabling model; some find it more difficult to leave behind the old approaches. We aim to encourage all authorities to serve their communities effectively and efficiently by giving local electors the information they need to make informed judgments and by applying the incentive of competition.
The Local Government Act 1992 provides new powers for the Audit Commission to require the publication of performance information so that local people can judge whether the services they receive represent value for money. Local authorities are now required formally to publish their responses to auditors' criticisms. The Act also enables the Government to set out a clearer framework for compulsory competitive tendering by laying down clearly what does and what does not constitute anti-competitive behaviour. The Government will bring forward their proposals for using these powers in the light of responses to the consultation paper Competing for Quality.
There is also the vital question of what the structure of local government should be. Unitary authorities can reduce bureaucracy and costs and improve the co-ordination and quality of services. But we have made it clear that we do not wish to impose a national blueprint for reform or to require the wholesale abolition of either district or county councils.
Flexibility is the key. We need to find the right structure for each area and to tailor the pattern of authorities to local views and circumstances. The framework for the review is now almost complete. Sir John Banham has agreed to become chairman of the new Local Government Commission provided for in the Local Government Act. We hope to announce the commission's timetable and programme in the summer after we have consulted the local authority associations. The commission's work should lead to a structure which will provide a firm foundation for local government in the 21st century.
Our policies of encouraging choice and competition and improving efficiency apply equally to housing. We remain committed to our objective that a decent home should be within reach of every family, and to our policies of increasing owner-occupation, widening choice for tenants, and improving targeting and value for money in public expenditure. The House will no doubt welcome the announcement made last week by my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer of a further cut in interest rates, which will help to stimulate the temporarily depressed housing market.
In particular, we need to maintain the momentum of our policies to give more choice to council tenants following on from the success of the right-to-buy in the 1980s—another policy which proved so popular and which the party opposite tried to block. The Housing, Land and Urban Development Bill, which we shall be introducing in the autumn, will give council tenants a new right to buy a share in their 148 houses for outgoings no greater than their current rent. This rents to mortgages scheme has been successfully piloted in Scotland and Wales, and among new town tenants in Milton Keynes and Basildon.
The Bill will also implement our Citizen's Charter commitment to give council tenants an effective new right to repair. It will replace the present over-complicated procedure so that where a council fails to do essential repairs, the tenant can have them done privately and make the council pay the bill.
We also need to sustain the momentum of our policies for the inner cities, and ensure that those who live there can enjoy their share of our rising prosperity. Far too much land still lies idle and derelict in our cities. The Bill will contain measures for the establishment of an urban regeneration agency. It will work with local authorities and the private sector to bring vacant land and property back into use and so unlock the potential of the run-down areas of our cities for the benefit of all their citizens.
We remain most anxious not only about the national and regional environment but also the wider global environment. We shall continue to play a leading role in the discussions which aim to solve some of the very real problems that confront us. Obviously at the top of our agenda is the earth summit in Rio this June. Perhaps no other meeting this decade will be as important for the future of our planet. An earth summit which makes a significant contribution to dealing with the world's environmental problems is still not a certainty: success will require a great deal of effort. But I believe that success for the summit is now a better than even bet.
The UK has been at the centre of the negotiations for the earth summit. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister was the first world leader to make a commitment to attend the conference. And he has been actively encouraging others to attend.
This Government's commitment to the success of Rio was emphasised by our decision to tighten up our target on CO2 emissions. That decision was a significant contribution to the recent climate change negotiations.
In New York another milestone in our aim to conclude an effective framework convention on climate change to halt the threat of global warming came as recently as last Saturday evening. The intergovernmental negotiating committee for a framework convention on this vital area adopted a convention in New York. The agreement has come after 16 months of difficult negotiations in which the UK played a leading role.
All developed countries which ratify the convention will commit themselves to policies and measures aimed at returning emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases to their 1990 levels by the year 2000. The convention will also commit developing countries to report on the steps that they are taking to combat climate change.
Our other goals for the conference are equally clear. We aim to agree a convention to protect the planet's diversity of plant and animal habitats. We hope that the summit will adopt a declaration on the sustainable 149 management of the world's forests. And we want to adopt a statement of environmental rights and obligations; the Rio Declaration. That will not be a wish list but a statement of fundamental practical principles; principles such as the polluter pays; public access to environmental information; and the right to participation in environmental decisions. Those principles are already the basis for the UK's own environmental policy.
Nationally, the UK wants to establish a practical action plan for the 21st century to be known as Agenda 21. The plan should be realistic, achievable and measurable. It should include regional and national strategies and take account of the differing needs of developing and developed countries.
Perhaps I may now turn to transport. During the past 13 years we have put into practice the same principles of competition and choice which I referred to at the beginning of my speech. Deregulation and privatisation have led to greater efficiency and better services for the public. At the same time we have been investing record sums in the improvement of our transport infrastructure and those increases are set to continue. Since the mid-1980s public sector investment in transport has doubled in real terms. British Rail investment is at its highest level for 30 years. Our investment in roads has more than doubled in real terms since 1979.
In the current financial year the Department of Transport will be spending no less than £7 billion. Of that nearly £3 billion will be spent on building, improving and maintaining roads and more than £3 billion will be spent on public transport. British Rail's external financing limit for the current year is more than £2 billion—by far the highest ever. Government grant to London Transport is being increased to £1.2 billion—and increase of about 60 per cent. compared with last year. During the next three years LT plan to invest more than £3.5 billion—more than double the figure for the previous three years even allowing for inflation. And we shall be continuing to invest more than £2 billion a year in our national roads.
The Government believe firmly in making the best use of all the transport resources at our disposal. For international traffic, at least until the opening of the Channel Tunnel, that means mainly sea and air. As Minister with responsibility for aviation and shipping I naturally take a particular interest in these forms of transport.
The shipping industry plays a particularly vital role in our national economy. Our position as an island nation means that no less than 95 per cent. of all our international trade is carried by sea. The market for shipping services in the UK has long been open to competition, and the whole industry is of course privately owned. We have also taken steps to extend commercial disciplines in our ports by privatising Associated British Ports, abolishing the dock labour scheme and enacting legislation which is making it possible for the trust ports to move into the private sector.
Our airlines and airports also operate according to commercial principles. There has been enormous growth in the demand for air travel in recent years. We 150 have sought to respond to this challenge by removing unnecessary restrictions on airline competition and encouraging the development of new air services. For example, in 1979 there were about 50 foreign destinations served by scheduled services from UK regional airports. The comparable figure now is more than 130. The UK has been at the forefront of international negotiations on more liberal agreements for the provision of international air services.
That brings me to the proposals in the gracious Speech for making better use of our railway system. Whatever we do, road transport is likely to remain the predominant form of transport for domestic journeys. But there is clearly much to be said for making better use of our rail network as well. Just as we believe in competition and choice in other fields, so the Government believe that the best future for rail services is to open up their operation to private sector initiative and to introduce competition into their provision. An important element in this policy is to liberalise access to the railway network for operators who want to provide new services.
We shall be pursuing that objective in three stages. The first stage is already under way. BR has responded positively to our request that it gives sympathetic consideration to proposals for new services by private sector operators. There has been an encouraging level of interest from the private sector. The first of the new services—a new overnight passenger service between London and Scotland operated by the Stagecoach Group—is beginning today, and I look forward to the introduction of more new services.
The second stage of liberalisation has a European dimension. The UK played an active role in the negotiations which culminated in the recent EC Directive on the Development of European Railways. That introduces a right of access to the rail network from the beginning of next year for international groupings of railway operators as well as individual operators of intermodal freight services.
The third stage of liberalisation will be introduced by the legislation announced in the gracious Speech. That will provide greater access to the rail network for all types of domestic rail services. The paving Bill, which we have already introduced in another place, gives British Rail the power to participate actively and constructively in the development of our proposals. In particular, it will enable BR to consider and take advice on any proposals for increasing the role of the private sector, to advise the Government and to draw up plans for implementing any scheme based on such proposals.
This Bill will be followed by full legislation later in the Session. We shall publish our proposals for this legislation and put them before the House as soon as they are ready.
The House will also wish me to say something about our plans for transport in London. In our manifesto we proposed to create a new ministerial post with responsibility for the co-ordination of London's transport services. My honourable friend Mr. Norris, the Member of Parliament for Epping Forest, has been appointed to undertake that important responsibility. He will play an important 151 role in the new Cabinet sub-committee on London. He will also chair a new working group on public transport. London Underground, Network SouthEast, the bus operators, local government, business and consumer interests will all be represented. We are confident that the group will more than prove its worth in helping to ensure effective co-ordination of public transport in London.
In both the environment and transport fields our agenda for the latter part of this year is likely to be dominated by the UK's presidency of the European Community. The Environment Council will have a busy agenda under our chairmanship. We aim to bring forward for discussion a number of new proposals, including legislation on integrated pollution control, on environmental auditing, on vehicle emissions and on trade in endangered species. We shall also be emphasising during our presidency the importance of proper implementation and enforcement of EC environmental legislation.
It was in the transport field that I first met the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, and I am pleased to be able to renew my battles with him. It was in 1985/86 that as Minister with responsibility for shipping I was trying to persuade the Commission and some doubtful fellow members of the European Community to liberalise restrictive trading practices, minimise bureaucratic interference and improve safety in a practical way. Some progress was made during our presidency in 1986 in achieving those goals. During our forthcoming presidency I look forward to renewing those discussions across the whole transport field as the principles of competition and choice are as relevant to a European transport policy as they are to our domestic agenda. A realistic common European transport policy is central to the success of the European single market. We will use our presidency of the Community to carry through any work left to us and help secure the completion of the transport single market.
Regrettably, there is still a wish by many in the Commission to centralise everything in Brussels. That is not always the right answer. We will therefore scrutinise the Commission's proposals, recommendations and decisions to see that the principles of subsidiarity agreed at Maastricht are observed. We shall also wish to discuss state aids, which only serve to distort the market and to protect inefficient home-based industries from the rigours of competition to the disadvantage of their users. I hope the Commission and other member states will be more ready to move forward in those areas than they have been in the past.
Both in Britain and on the European and world stage the coming months will be important and exciting ones for the development of both environment and transport policies. This Government have the policies which are needed to meet the challenges we face and build on the solid achievements of the past 13 years.
§ 3.27 p.m.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to welcome the noble Earl back to the Dispatch Box on domestic issues. He has been swanning around the South Pacific, Hong Kong and other places while I have been travelling here every day on the 43 bus, the 38 bus and the 24 bus. I hope that the shock of his return will not be too serious for his constitution.
While the noble Earl has been away the Government have introduced quite a lot of legislation, with some of which he was involved. We saw the erection of the poll tax and its demolition, all within the space of the last Parliament. We have seen the continuation of housing Bills designed to prevent any effective public housing without anything being put in its place. We have seen the continuation of local government Bills designed to restrict the activities of local authorities without making any positive attempt to help them to achieve better service.
Looking at the gracious Speech, we have before us very little sign of change in the Government's attitude. Therefore, during the time available to me I propose to spend a few minutes dealing with the provisions of the gracious Speech itself. I propose to spend a little more time speaking about the kind of problems which the Government should have addressed, whether or not in legislation. If your Lordships will permit me, I shall spend rather more time pursuing a theme which my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis and I believe to be absolutely critical to our understanding and progress in these matters; that is, the indivisibility of the approach we must take to the environment as a whole.
That is not just a matter of the environment as understood by the Department of Environment. It is also the work of what one might call—I use the words of the noble Earl a few moments ago—monolithic producers: the monolithic producers of roads in the Department of Transport; the monolithic producers of more and more energy and less and less conservation in what was the Department of Energy; the monolithic producers of agricultural produce in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. If they are not involved in environmental policy, there will be no environmental policy. Our fear on these Benches is that because they are not involved there is no effective environmental policy.
Noble Lords will forgive me for paying less attention this afternoon to the global questions of environmental protection. That is a subject the Opposition has chosen for its first Wednesday Debate on 20th May. At that time we shall debate the issue of the Rio conference and what ought to be expected from it.
I turn to the contents of the Queen's Speech and to the comments of the noble Earl on those provisions. notice that he gave priority to a matter which received little emphasis in the gracious Speech—the Citizen's Charter, which I note is defined as giving priority to improving public services. There is no question of giving priority to improving all the services which 153 people want, whether private or public; only those public services which are covered by the Citizen's Charter.
The noble Earl referred to the consultation after the White Paper, Competing for Quality. He may recall, although he was not present himself, that Competing for Quality was rather a nonsense as a consultation document. The legislation to implement it was, in outline, being put through Parliament at the time the consultation was taking place. This House had to give a blank cheque to the Government to adopt or reject any of the results of consultation. Therefore, I do not take that seriously as a policy initiative and I do not believe that Parliament takes it seriously as an earnest of the Government's willingness to take Parliament seriously.
We have a little more detail with regard to what the Government intend to do concerning housing. They intend to give priority to the rights of local authority tenants; they intend to introduce a common-hold system which, on the whole, we will welcome although there will be difficulties. For example, difficulties will arise when it is applied to blocks of flats where there are some right-to-buy leaseholders and some secure tenants of local authorities. The Government will need to convince us that they are paying adequate attention to the rights of those secure local authority tenants.
The other proposal which appears in the speech is the rents to mortgages scheme. I believe that that will be severely squeezed and of limited effect. Inevitably it will be deliberately less attractive than the right-to-buy provisions and therefore will not apply to anyone who could possibly benefit from them. Further, it will not be available to any person receiving housing benefit. I doubt whether there will be many council tenants in between or that there will be any real scope for the rents to mortgages scheme, although in principle we would not be opposed to it.
The gracious Speech refers to the creation of an urban regeneration agency. There have been an awful lot of agencies in the time that I have been involved in local government. One must ask the question whether it is a genuine new initiative or simply a piece of repackaging. We have the urban programme, city challenge, city grants, urban development corporations and an attempt to have housing action trusts. Many new acronyms have been created in the sphere of central government imposition on local government. We must wait to see whether the idea of an urban regeneration agency is a real improvement, with new funding and new collaboration between central and local government or whether it is simply another gimmick as so many of the others have been. If there is real new money, real collaboration between central and local government and an extension of multi-year funding for major projects, we shall certainly welcome it.
The gracious Speech refers to the amendments to the business rate—the national non-domestic rate. Those amendments are made to the transitional relief to be provided. When the sums are done it looks as though almost £1.5 billion over a period of three years is to be allocated for that purpose. Again, in principle we are not opposed to it. However, there might have 154 been some thought given to it when the legislation was tabled. One does not readily get £1.5 billion wrong and put oneself in the position, as the Government are doing, where local authorities will be forced to send out new bills for 1992–93—this year—due to the delay in government making up their mind on what they wanted to do about the national non-domestic rate.
Finally, in looking at the Queen's Speech I find something that is barely included; that is, any reference to the environment. In full, the Queen's Speech states:My Government will work both at home and abroad to protect the environment. They will ensure that environment remains a key issue in all policy-making and will continue to publish annual reports".There is a commitment! There is a bold programme for the future! The Government "will continue to publish annual reports". When I read that kind of statement in the gracious Speech I see members of the Athenaeum and permanent secretaries congratulating themselves for persuading government that there is no need to make any fuss about environmental nonsense, even though they may have wanted to. It is good enough for the election—green issues may be important at election time—but as soon as the election is over there is no real reference to environmental policy in the whole of the Queen's Speech or the Government's programme. The absence of such reference has already been greeted as a betrayal of some of what Ministers were saying. I can assure the Government and the noble Earl that that accusation of betrayal will not simply come from these Benches; it will come from throughout the country.
Let us look at what is not contained in the Queen's Speech yet could readily have been included. First, we are stuck with a system of local authority taxation which was finalised in a great hurry before the general election. I have seen no reference to the Government taking the opportunity, which they still have, to abolish the 20 per cent. minimum being charged on the poll tax in 1992–93. It would have been at least a gesture of goodwill to those less fortunate for the Government to have said, "We have won the election and now we can do something which we knew all along was right. We admitted it was right and are going to implement it from 1993 onwards but can now do it this year".
I see no reference in the gracious Speech to any recognition that the replacement for the poll tax, although not as unfair as the poll tax, is still an unfair piece of local authority taxation. It is a council tax which is only half based on property and half based on a debased version of the poll tax. It is a system which is deliberately designed, deliberately skewed in bands and at levels of differentiation to satisfy Tory voters and to continue to penalise those who are less well off. The opportunity could have been taken to put that right, but it has not.
I do not find reference in the Queen's Speech to any significant level of support for effective local government. After all, the period covering the 1980s —the past 13 years—has seen 50 Acts of Parliament concerned with local government. We have seen the control of capital receipts from the exercise of right-to-buy legislation. We have seen a vast increase 155 in quangos and commissions at the expense of democratically elected bodies in local government and elsewhere. We have seen increasingly detailed control of the staff, the procedures, the contracts and all other aspects of the work of local authorities. In his opening speech the noble Earl called it a move towards an enabling local authority. I suggest that the "enabling" is only enabling Whitehall to control local authorities rather than enabling local authorities themselves to do a decent job.
What we fear for 1992 onwards—the legislation already exists—is that there will not only be higher charges for local authority services, with few exceptions, but also that new charges will be required to be imposed by central government. We shall see quality standards which are not agreed between local authorities and their electors as they should be, but are in fact imposed by central government and quangos reporting to central government.
What do we see as housing policy? I described the pathetic little elements which are proposed by the Government in the gracious Speech. But we are now in 1992 with a housing situation in which homelessness has increased threefold over the period of this Government, or even shorter. It is a period in which public home building has reduced to less than one-fifth of that when the Government came into office with no significant increase in private building to replace it and in which there is an unprecedented level of mortgage repossession.
The home condition survey in England alone shows that there are 1 million homes which are unfit for human habitation and half a million which lack a basic amenity. This at a time when there are 200,000 building workers thrown out of work as a result of the present recession. Where in the Queen's Speech is there any reference to positive action to deal with homelessness and to provide affordable housing for rent; in other words, to use at least some part of the capital receipts which are available for that purpose? Where is the provision for effective mortgage rescue and provision for special housing for those with special needs, such as the elderly or people with disabilities? There is no reference whatever in the gracious Speech to those matters.
There is no reference either to planning issues. We recently had the Planning and Compensation Act. I recommend that the noble Earl pay attention to it. In that Act all the opportunities which exist for the positive use of planning for the benefit of our community were wasted. There is nothing in that Act to provide for any security for the quality of new development or for the needs of the community to be met. After all, planning is one way in which communities exercise democratic rights over their own surroundings. The establishment of a coherent local plan and its co-ordination into wider council plans, and the provision that those plans shall be adhered to when planning applications are considered unless there is very good reason to the contrary, are all factors which are protectors of the democratic process rather than a threat to it.
156 I return to the issue of what is not in the Queen's Speech as regards quality. We see in that speech standards of quality and performance indicators laid down by quangos nationally and imposed on local authorities. There is no indication that local authorities themselves have a role to play in setting out quality programmes, in providing their own contracts with their customers and setting out their own performance standards; in providing compensation for substandard service and in providing surveys of customer satisfaction in order to see whether the work which has been done is effective; in providing minimum levels of training for local authority staff and minimum levels of employee participation; in quality audits carried out not centrally but by local authorities, by independent professionals and the users of services. If we had the quality commission which the Labour Party had proposed to introduce that would have been a far more effective way of dealing with quality than is at present the case.
There is no reference in the gracious Speech or, I am sorry to say, in that of the noble Earl, to the wider issue of consumer rights in the private as well as the public sector. There is no reference to the need for consumers to be able to make effective and informed choices, to have quality standards and also standards of redress imposed by law, in the few words that cover the subject of today's debate—my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis will be covering the transport issues.
This is a very disappointing Speech and a very disappointing programme for government. As I said earlier, above all the gracious Speech does not recognise that the issue of the environment is indivisible. There are some things that are better done by Government action. For example, where is the environmental protection agency which appeared in the Conservative manifesto and which had appeared in Labour policy statements for some years before the Conservatives recognised that it was the right thing to do? This issue seems to have disappeared. It seems that inter-departmental rivalries have squashed the idea of an agency which would effectively cover all aspects of the environment and its legislation.
Where is the recognition that local authorities ought to be acting on the ground in the localities as environmental protection agencies? Above all, where is recognition of the citizens' and employees' rights, enforceable in the courts, and which ought to be part of government action on the environment? It is not just government action. We should be supporting in Europe the idea of company environmental audits which would enable companies, and require them, to account to their customers and the wider public on the environmental impact of their activities.
I shall deal with this matter very briefly because we have a debate on the subject next Wednesday. We should be doing a great deal more about the international global environment than we are. I have listened with great care to what the noble Earl said about the decision taken in New York last Saturday. I noticed that he used the words, "aiming at" keeping carbon dioxide down to 1990 levels by the year 2000. The words "aiming at" are a good deal less powerful than the fixed targets which were originally 157 understood to be the objective of the Rio conference. I fear that in achieving the presence of the United States at that conference we have given away the real power and strength of the commitment which this Government had (I welcomed it when it was made) to advancing the date from the year 2005 to the year 2000.
On our own account, and whatever happens at Rio, we should be imposing energy saving objectives on the energy utilities instead of encouraging them to go for profit through higher sales of fuel. They should be making their money out of energy conservation. We should be imposing higher building standards and higher standards of insulation. We should be imposing standards of environmental and energy labelling and considering issues concerning tax allowances for energy. We should be considering the issue of green mortgages whereby we give priority to applicants for mortgages who are prepared to include energy conservation in expenditure on their own housing.
In the international area and aid—I appreciate that this area was largely dealt with last Thursday—we should be dealing with issues of technology transfer and debt relief. In the European Community we should be supporting an environmental charter comparable to the Social Charter. We should certainly be supporting the idea of a European environmental agency with the power to enforce compliance on recalcitrant governments, agencies and companies. We should be arguing for an effective tropical forestry control rather than the present grotesquely ineffective system.
As regards water, we should be looking much more closely at the use of the powers which regulators already have to enforce higher standards of drinking and river water. I believe that we require greater powers. We should have a clean water Act of some kind. When we look at the environmental investment required from the water companies, that should be capitalised rather than charged to the water rate payers as it is now.
In the countryside we appear to be squandering millions of pounds in compensation under inadequate legislation to landowners who agree not to do things which they never really intended to do anyway. I appreciate that that applies to a number of Members of this House, but that does not give me an excuse not to say it here and now. Instead, we should be considering how to improve the United Kingdom science base of our countryside policies which were so gravely damaged by the splitting up of the Nature Conservancy Council last year. We should be considering how to increase the number of national parks and the number of sites of special scientific interest and importance rather than undermining them as is happening at the moment.
I shall deal very briefly with the issue of farming and food. Farmers should be paid to preserve the environment rather than to refrain from producing food. As I said, the transport side of these matters will be dealt with, far more effectively than I could ever deal with it, by my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis.
I return to the point that I made at the beginning of my speech—it is still the most important point. Unless 158 this country has an environmental policy that is adopted wholeheartedly by government and imposed on all departments of government—including the Department of Energy; the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; and the so-called Department of the Environment—we will not have an effective environmental policy, and any party not having an effective environmental policy will stand condemned at the next election.
§ 3.50 p.m.
§ Baroness Hamwee
My Lords, it is a little impertinent for such a newcomer to welcome the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, to this debate, but I look forward to—as he put it—"doing battle" with him and with his noble friend Lord Strathclyde. I certainly look forward to our debates in this Session.
As the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, said, the gracious Speech is interesting for what it does not say as well as for what it does say. No legislation would have been required, but it would have been comforting and reassuring for those in the local government sector to hear words such as, "The Government will work to strengthen local democracy to ensure that the best services are delivered to people at a local level". After all, does not this Session mark the start of a fundamental review of our local government?
We on these Benches do not quarrel with excellence and value-for-money being at the centre of decision-taking, but will those aims be achieved by applying the Citizen's Charter as we have been promised? Simply applying the charter's principles throughout the public services will not be enough. The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, spoke about "encouraging responsiveness". I could not help wondering whether we encourage responsiveness by capping local authorities. Of all that has happened in local government in the past few years, the effect of capping has been so dramatic that to talk of encouraging local responsiveness is, I fear, a grave misunderstanding of the effect of what has happened.
We are now seeing the introduction of the council tax. I fear that the tax may not be accepted by people as a reflection of their ability to pay, but we shall see another whole set of problems arising because of its administrative complexity and the difficulties of persuading people that it is a tax that should be paid.
The last Parliament saw a real erosion of local democracy. The leader in The Times of last Friday, the day after the local elections, is worth quoting. I shall not take up too much of your Lordships' time by quoting it all although I was sorely tempted simply to read it out as my speech instead of speaking generally about the issues involved. The Times, which, after all, is not a newspaper that is noted for its Left-wing leanings, stated:This is the eighth inglorious year in which Britain's elected local councils have found themselves capped by central government. Local authorities, even the daftest ones, should enjoy the legitimacy conferred by yesterday's democratic election. Yet an electoral process held sacrosanct when applied to Parliament is rendered meaningless when the same people turn out to vote for their local councils".The leader ended: 159The transferring of more and more power over policy, regulation and service quality from local authorities to Westminster is a disease of governments long in office".However, The Times was not entirely negative about the Government, stating:John Major's government, refreshingly innovative in other constitutional matters, is gripped by this disease. Each year a group of London-based civil servants, ministers and computers must work out the spending needs of over 400 local authorities with a population of almost 50 million. They are a good deal less answerable for their decisions than locally elected leaders. These are precisely the grounds on which ministers have repeatedly opposed the transfer of powers from London to Brussels. Local authority capping is part of the same argument. Sauce for the goose"—yes, indeed.
We heard earlier about the concept of the "enabling authority". That is an interesting concept and it is not one with which I would take enormous issue, save to say that I should prefer to think more in terms of "empowerment" than "enablement". We should be looking for ways to empower our local communities to run their own lives.
There is enormous scope for partnership in all sectors and levels of government. As the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, mentioned, the City Challenge has enabled some major achievements to be made. It is certainly an advantage to have funding that will be certain over a period of years. It is a fairly poor show that knowing where the funding is coming from over a period of years should be so noteworthy, but it is nevertheless welcome to the local authorities which competed for that funding. The co-ordination of Whitehall responses to local authority programmes is also welcome, but let us not forget that we are talking about competition for the same resources. It is not new money.
Will the Urban Regeneration Agency also see a reallocation of existing funds? I hope not. I recognise that there cannot be a blank cheque, but the question of who writes that cheque should not be entirely for Westminster and Whitehall to decide.
We must regret the position of certain—not many, but too many—Labour-led authorities. Their position would be high farce if it were not deep tragedy. To me it is a matter of enormous regret that, because of the activities of certain Left-wing authorities, we inevitably hear about restrictions being placed on the great majority of more level-headed authorities. Authorities that thought that there might be a change of government and hoped that they would be bailed out are now left with the impossible task of redrawing their budgets. That is sad.
However, we still need to ask where the money is coming from and to have a dialogue about that with local authority electors. The uniform business rate has been mentioned. That is an example of where there might have been better partnership, because where local authorities are required to re-bill greater administrative work and cash-flow delays result—and that is a shame.
One answer is the use of local authorities' capital receipts. During the recent election campaign, I was struck forcefully by the number of people who were aware of that issue and who raised it with the politicians rather than waiting for the politicians to do 160 so. Those people regarded it as just plain daft that that amount of money is available in local authority coffers but cannot be released and used. We know why—the capital base is regarded as a power base and if local authorities are involved there must be a question mark over that. However, the release of what the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy believes to be £6.3 billion would mean—could mean—the building or improvement of schools, hospitals and homes and the creation of jobs. It is time that the Government looked at such resources to improve our infrastructure.
Speaking of the infrastructure, the opening of certain activities to the private sector is also welcome, but it is not the whole story. It is important to break up certain monopolies, provided that we do not sell the family silver at the same time. We on these Benches welcome in principle the measure to permit private operators to have access to the British Rail track network. That will be no surprise to those who have read our manifesto as well as that of their own party, because that measure was contained in it. We look forward to the detail of those proposals, which will receive our scrutiny.
However, other ways of involving the private sector are not so welcome. One would not have expected to hear in the gracious Speech that lessons have been learned, but I hope that lessons about the reliance that has been placed on the private sector have been learned from what has happened when the private sector simply cannot cope. I refer to the problems experienced by Olympia & York. Its contribution to London's rail network has been "postponed"—how else could it be described? The problems that have been caused and the doubts that must now exist in many people's minds about what will happen to the rail sector in which Olympia & York was to have been involved are matters of great concern. It is not simply a question of the contribution of Olympia & York alone because what has happened to Olympia & York —the difficulties that it has encountered and its almost certain inability to meet that commitment—must be a deterrent to other private sector investors. Are we to see the same sort of problems on other parts of London's rail network? What will happen to the Heathrow-Paddington link which is so important to provide transport from Heathrow, that major international airport, into the centre of our capital?
There is no reference in the gracious Speech—not in the sections on transport, the environment or indeed on health —to measures to reduce dependence on the car. I mention health because pollution is perhaps the greatest health problem facing us. Measures to reduce the use of the car could lead to less congestion and pollution. We are aware that the Government are considering the question of road pricing. That is not a panacea but it is certainly an important strand of policy. We look forward to recommendations to introduce or at least publicly to consider road pricing and other similar measures.
There is little by way of legislative measures as regards the environment. There is merely a reference to annual reports. The Secretary of State for the Environment has been reported as believing that, as 161 we move out of recession, environmental issues will become more important. I hope that that will be soon, but we must not create wealth at the expense of the environment. We need measures to control pollution and to conserve energy. We on these Benches had looked forward to debating the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency to work in partnership with other sectors. I welcome the comments that have been made this afternoon about making the polluter pay and the trailing of a little more freedom of information in this area. I look forward to hearing more on those issues.
I return to what is in the gracious Speech. The enhancement of the rights of local authority tenants is unobjectionable on the face of it, but even existing local authority tenants would not want that to happen at the expense of others who are in need of housing. There is no choice if there is a shortage of affordable housing. The noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon, who was in his seat a few moments ago, has, through his experience as chairman of the London and South East Regional Planning Conference, spoken eloquently on the issue of affordable housing when visiting various districts and authorities.
Homelessness is an increasing problem, not only for the individuals who are sadly affected but for local authorities. There is a danger that in dealing with homelessness all the "slack" of local authority budgets will be swallowed up in the next year or so. The Government must help the various agencies, including local authorities, to address this problem. I have mentioned the use of capital receipts. We hear about rough sleepers. That term seems to be a euphemism which does not take on board the real tragedy and the problems and the measures that can be taken to address those problems.
Finally, perhaps I may mention a matter which will be debated more fully tomorrow. I refer to education. I do not wish to touch on the education measures but simply to say that I was struck by the concerns that have been expressed recently about the need to recruit local school governors. There are parallels between the recruitment of governors and the recruitment, before they stand for election, of local authority councillors. The Secretary of State for Education is right to be concerned about the recruitment of school governors. Their responsibilities are great, their powers are inevitably constrained and their finances are subject to LMS. There are problems with opting out because, after the initial goodies, life is not quite such fun. Indeed, if more schools follow the route of opting out, the amount of cash that is available for those schools will inevitably be reduced.
It may be that more people will be tempted to stand for local councils after the restructuring. If there are unitary authorities councillors will see their powers in the right sense; not in the sense of self-aggrandisement but of the ability to carry out the functions that they wish to carry out for their electorate. They may see those functions as having greater scope. However, the underlying problem remains. The centralisation of power, as The Times states, means that central government are stepping in to protect the public as taxpayers from the public, the same public, as local 162 electors. What role will there be for the councillor? Will there also be the difficulty of recruiting people to serve our communities in local government? I fear that there will be. Increasingly people are understanding the responsibility of this Government for the damage to our democracy. I hope that over the next few years we may see a reversal of this trend.
§ 4.5 p.m.
§ Lord Moran
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, pointed out that one measure which has not been included in the gracious Speech is the creation of an Environmental Protection Agency, as foreshadowed last summer by the Prime Minister. Reports in the press suggest that this measure has been shelved for the time being because Ministers cannot agree whether to split the National Rivers Authority or to keep it intact with other aspects of pollution control added to it.
The concept of integrated pollution control has a good deal to commend it, and I think that there might well be advantage in eventually merging the NRA and Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Pollution. I do not think myself that there is any serious disadvantage in leaving things as they are for the time being, but I am quite sure that it would be wrong to split the NRA by taking pollution control away from it and giving that function to another agency. Anyone who has worked with the NRA, as I have in the past two years, is rapidly convinced of the interdependence of its various functions—water resources, water quality, the control of pollution, flood defence, fisheries, navigation and recreation. They all hang together, and increasingly the staff of the NRA are performing integrated functions, dealing with all the interlocking problems of our rivers. Moreover, to disrupt the NRA after only two years would be the reverse of good management and would be extremely unsettling to the staff. The environment committee of another place, whose reports are usually valuable, produced a remarkably wrong-headed report on this subject, coming out in favour of splitting the NRA, a conclusion it had apparently formed before undertaking its study. I think it was wrong. If the Government do decide in due course to revive the idea of an Environmental Protection Agency, I hope that they will keep a unified NRA as a fundamental constituent of it.
That said, I want to talk this afternoon about one of the most serious environmental problems we face today—the lack of adequate rainfall, the growing volume of abstractions and the effect of those on our rivers. We have had another dry winter and may be facing a fourth consecutive drought year. According to the Meteorological Office, the past two years have been the driest since 1749. Since the autumn of 1988, average rainfall has been 20 per cent. less than the normal. The situation is of course particularly serious in the South and East. Last month Southern Water had to impose a hosepipe ban in Kent, affecting three quarters of a million people. Those covered by hosepipe bans in south and east England now number between 5 million and 6 million.
163 There is, however, a steady rise in consumption. Demand has increased by 70 per cent. in the past 30 years. The NRA estimates that demand will increase by a further 17 per cent. over the next 30 years. That represents a doubling of demand between 1961 and 2021. Demand expands dramatically in hot summer weekends. The results are already serious. Between the wars the development of new towns and the consequent sinking of boreholes in the Chilterns destroyed the Hertfordshire chalk streams. Those in north Kent were similarly destroyed. The upper Kennet, which I knew as a boy as a splendid trout stream, is now dry or no more than a pathetic trickle.
In the past few years, with the constant new building of factories and housing estates, the pace of destruction has accelerated. In many parts of eastern and southern England beautiful rivers, which have run deep and clear for centuries, have dried up completely or are just puddles for most of their length. The Wharfe, the Derwent and the West Beck in Yorkshire; the Lowther in Cumbria; the Till as well as the Kennet in Wiltshire; the Piddle in Dorset; the Darent in Kent; the Stort in Essex; the Ver at St. Albans; the Burn in Norfolk are among the worst affected. The level of the Windrush is falling year by year. Many perennial springs have ceased to flow. Many of our few remaining wetlands have dried out. The effect on birds, animals, insects and plants associated with rivers or damp habitats—snipe, kingfishers, water voles, otters, kingcups, marsh orchids and many others—has been very damaging.
Lack of water is also killing thousands of trees. The Royal Society for Nature Conservation has launched a national campaign, "Water Wildlife", to restore our rivers and wetlands, which it rightly describes as essential to the survival of people and wildlife. In the summer months since 1989, people too have been affected by water consumption restrictions which have had to be imposed often at short notice. Moreover, lack of natural flow often means that polluting effluents are not quickly and adequately diluted. Finally, although the NRA is obliged by statute to maintain, improve and develop fisheries, those in badly affected rivers have often been destroyed or severely damaged.
The problem we face has two principal causes. First, a succession of drought years which may be a natural cycle or may be the result of climate change and global warming: no one yet knows. Secondly, ever-increasing consumption. As we build more power stations—and the RSNC points out that a 2,000 MW power station needs 1,300 million gallons of water to produce one day's electricity—more factories and more housing estates, so we take more and more water from aquifers and rivers. Power stations and industry take three-quarters of all this, while domestic supplies take a quarter. Each person in this country uses an average of 30 gallons of water a day; one-third of this on flushing the WC.
What then can be done? Two years ago the Regional Fisheries Advisory Committee of the NRA's Welsh region, of which I have the honour to be chairman, produced a paper on the problem. The 164 committee made 10 specific recommendations. The first was that the maintenance of adequate flows and levels should be given greater priority by the NRA. At that time, it did not seem to be fully alive to the urgency and seriousness of the problem. Now I think that it is. It has identified 40 rivers which are in need of urgent rescue. They are, so to speak, those now in intensive care, if not on the way to the graveyard. But there are many more on the sick list. The NRA also published two months ago a discussion document—a Water Resources Development Strategy—which provided useful information about the extent of the problem and listed the options available to cope with it.
My committee's second recommendation, to my mind a key one, was that when water is abstracted from rivers for domestic, agricultural or industrial use, it should be a requirement that, after treatment, it should be returned to the river of origin at or above the point of abstraction. That, we argued, should apply to existing as well as to projected abstractions. I think that we should now insist on treated effluent being returned at or above the point of abstraction, and for abstraction points to be moved downstream to near the tidal limit. It may be cheaper to abstract water from near the sources of rivers, but we can no longer afford the damage that this does to river flows.
Other recommendations we made were that charging tariffs should encourage abstraction (and storage) during the winter high flow months and severely discourage it during the summer; that the NRA should determine for each river a reasonable adequate flow, below which no abstraction should be allowed; and that the 8:1 dilution ratio of natural flow to effluents recommended in 1901 by the Royal Commission on Sewage Disposal should be maintained at all times in all rivers.
Since we wrote our paper, the situation has got much worse. I think that it is time we tackled it in a much more determined way. We need a co-ordinated strategy worked out between the Government, the NRA and the water supply companies. We must begin by making it clear that it is unacceptable that any river in this country should have its flow cut off or reduced to a trickle by over-abstraction. We must put an end to the destruction of our rivers and restore the flows of those that have dried up because too much has been taken from them or from the strata from which their springs emerge.
There has been talk of massive new transfer schemes, like the existing ones taking water from reservoirs in Mid-Wales by gravity to Birmingham, but on a much larger scale, taking water from Wales and the North-East to the East and South. But such schemes would be enormously expensive, and transfer of water from one river to another might create serious ecological problems. Any such solutions must be for the very long-term, if cost-effective at all.
Meanwhile, I suggest that we should tackle the problem straight away by taking the following measures, apart from those that I have already mentioned. We must reduce the appalling waste of water through leakages in the system. Where I live in Wales, Welsh Water admits to losses of 39 per cent. 165 from the distribution system and only plans to reduce that to 25 per cent. by 2012, although it is cheerfully spending huge sums investing in South Wales Electricity, hotels and leisure facilities. South West has losses of 32 per cent., Southern 25 per cent. to 30 per cent., Thames and Severn Trent 25 per cent. and Yorkshire 24 per cent. Only Wessex and Northumbria are under 20 per cent. All those figures are much too high. To ruin numbers of our rivers and then lose a quarter to a third of the water in the system is simply not good enough. Leakage must be reduced without delay to something like 5 per cent. to 10 per cent. I should like to ask the Government, who privatised the water industry, how the water companies can be made to reduce their leakage rapidly to a more reasonable level.
I should not like to leave noble Lords with the impression that the aquatic environment generally is being ruined as a result of the location and quantity of water licensed for abstraction. In fact most of the 50,000 licensed abstractions in England and Wales do no serious damage to the aquatic environment. But there are some—a minority —which do. Now when the NRA sees that a river is being damaged by over-abstraction, usually by a water supply company, it can revoke the licence. But under present legislation, it may have to pay massive compensation, for which it has no available funds. Nor, under present legislation, can it introduce incentive charging to discourage abstraction at times of low flow.
How do the Government think that that particular problem can be resolved? The NRA must be given powers to veto housing or factory developments for which no proper water supply can be provided without damaging the rivers, subject to appeal to the Secretary of State concerned. The NRA should discuss with the CBI, and others, how industrial water use can be reduced or recycled and returned to the rivers. Happily most of the large quantity of water abstracted for power generation is returned at or close to the point of abstraction, and much is abstracted at the downstream end of river systems.
If our climate is becoming drier, we need to consider whether spray irrigation can be allowed to continue. We may have to move to crops which are less dependent on abundant water, and we should certainly move to more efficient and less wasteful forms of irrigation, like trickle or drip irrigation. We may need to restrict or ban garden sprinklers which use about 1,100 litres an hour. We should consider and encourage metering in areas where the rivers and aquifers are under pressure, so as to encourage care in using water. We should also seek to produce more efficient WCs, dishwashers and washing machines which do the job effectively while using less water, and provide for mandatory labelling of appliances according to their efficiency in using water.
We should, as the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, has recommended in this House, consider the construction of some new reservoirs in areas where the need is greatest, while taking care that this does not stimulate more development and so more demand for water. We should consider the whole question of land drainage policies. For much too long we have concentrated on 166 getting water away to the sea quickly, so that our wetlands, once valuable sponges, have mostly dried out and river spates subside in a day or two. Those policies have done untold harm, and we must now consider modifying them. We should encourage research into cheaper forms of desalinisation (a breakthrough here would have immense export potential) and meanwhile encourage desalinisation plans in special situations; for example, the Scilly Isles. Above all, we should recognise that the problem is urgent and needs vigorous action now.
§ 4.18 p.m.
The Earl of Bradford
My Lords, this is the first time that I have had the privilege of addressing your Lordships. I am deeply grateful for the honour that has been accorded to me. I trust that noble Lords will forgive my silence for the past 10 years. However, I felt that, with the great accumulated knowledge of your Lordships' House, it was sensible to wait until there was a subject for debate on which I had at least more than a passing working knowledge.
The gracious Speech highlights the need for increased protection of the environment, a need of which the Tidy Britain Group, of which I am a member of the council, is only too well aware. We were all delighted by the last Government's initiatives in improving the litter situation. Particularly welcome was the Environmental Protection Act of 1990 which for the first time gave real teeth to the fight against litter. Until then we felt that we were battling against an ever-rising tide of litter. King Canute these days would be more likely to be knocked over by the rubbish in the waves rather than by the water itself; of course he might then have to survive hepatitis and stomach disorders as well.
Now that the general public is able to fight back and hold other parties responsible for maintaining cleanliness, it is to be hoped that everyone will respond in kind. It is not enough to clear the litter that has been created. We must aim to prevent people from leaving it in the first place. We must convince particularly the children, as it is hard to change the entrenched attitudes of adults, that leaving litter is anti-social, wasteful and in some cases even dangerous. One hopes that the children may then shame their parents into behaving more sensibly.
Alas, the leaving of litter seems at times to be an almost unconscious act of vandalism carried out by most people without any thought that there is anything wrong with their actions. I recall a car driving through our home village of Weston under Lizard. The driver threw a white plastic bag of rubbish out onto the verge. I stopped, picked it up and chased off down the road after him. In my best "Sweeney" fashion I pulled past him so that he had to stop. As I walked over to the car he wound down his window and started to ask what I was doing—or words to that effect—but was dumbfounded when I threw the rubbish back into his car in front of his wife and two children. Perhaps he may think twice on a future occasion.
Far be it for me to suggest to your Lordships that everyone should take such action, which might lead to 167 violent confrontation. If, however, more people would point it out to offenders when they drop items of rubbish that a litter bin might be a more suitable receptacle, general consciousness of the problem would be raised. All too often people complain that they cannot do anything by themselves and are powerless to effect any change. I suggest that they must shake off this apathetic attitude as they can improve the situation if they are prepared to make the commitment. Unfortunately, the public find it too easy to write letters of complaint and far less easy to take positive action. The Tidy Britain Group has an excellent initiative called the People and Places Programme, an example of how local authorities and the community can work together to achieve litter control. This is always in need of further support and I recommend it to anyone who wishes to see progress made.
As your Lordships will be aware, considerable progress is being made in many areas. For instance, in March 1992 the Tidy Britain Group conducted a cleanliness standard survey of 10 per cent. of all local authorities. This showed that in the 12 months from March 1991 the average cleanliness index rose by 12.5 per cent., which was a most encouraging result.
Many challenges remain and the ultimate goal of a litter-free Britain still seems far away. A particular challenge facing the Government is the public's desire to have greater access to the countryside, a trend that tends to be resisted by some of the existing occupants, not because they are determined to be difficult, although some do tend to be, but because they feel protective. They fear an increase in the thoughtless damage that is already being inflicted on the countryside, particularly by flytipping and carelessly discarded rubbish. If public attitudes to leaving litter can be changed then much of this fear will be dissipated and visitors will be made more welcome.
However, we must look beyond just solving the litter problem to increasing the recycling of used materials. It is sad that in Britain we still bury enormous quantities of refuse each year in landfill sites, since one can anticipate the exhaustion of so many of the raw materials that this world requires. We as a country are far too wasteful and we must accept that there will be a present cost to increasing recycling, but this will be nothing compared to the cost in the future when these already scarce resources run out.
Although we have seen much action in recent years, the gracious Speech highlights the need for a greater awareness of the damage being done to the environment. More action is now proposed. Let us hope for the sake of the world that Britain will be held up as an example of good environmental management and help safeguard the future for all.
In conclusion, I thank your Lordships once again for the great honour and privilege that you have accorded me of being able to address you.
§ 4.25 p.m.
§ Baroness Nicol
My Lords, it is a particular pleasure to be able to congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Bradford, on this speech, especially because of 168 its content. Not only is he a man who is articulate; he is also a man of great courage. My experience of trying to make people take their rubbish away did not have happy endings. I must hand it to him for getting away with that. I hope that he will not wait another 10 or 11 years before we hear him again.
I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, about the importance of the Earth Summit. My party agrees with that and we are therefore leaving most of our remarks about it until next week. But before I get to my few remarks about the environment generally, I must say that I had a wry smile when the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, referred to the "temporarily" depressed housing market. Those of my friends who have had their houses on the market for two years at greatly reduced prices do not feel that it is at all temporary and they are not being told by their estate agents that there is any hope of selling them in the future. So he might perhaps have left out that particular word.
I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that we must reduce reliance on the car. But, if there has been one single act of this Government which has made it almost impossible to reduce reliance on the car it is the privatisation of bus services. In Cambridge where I live we now have several competing bus companies. The effect is that it is not possible to get a bus timetable that tells you where you can get a bus from A to B. They are all in competition. They seem not to publish their timetables. You just stand by the bus stop and hope that something comes along. That is not the right path.
I must just make one mention of the Earth Summit because against that background we have to look at our own actions on the environment. The summit in Rio could be a turning point where we could agree to turn aside from our path of self-destruction and reach agreement not only on the ends—about which we are fairly well agreed at the moment—but on the means of achieving them. It could, but the signs are not encouraging. The attitude of the United States is crucial, and President Bush seems to have turned his back on the evidence and decided that the problems do not exist. It seems, therefore, as my noble friend Lord McIntosh of Haringey said, that in order to obtain his signature to the convention, targets for emissions of pollutant gases have been watered down to a point where the agreement will be virtually useless. I say that today because I hope that by next week the Minister will have worked out a more encouraging answer to the debate which we will then have.
I believe that Britain has a vital role to play at the summit. Our influence could be useful in persuading the United States to adopt a positive role, and our links with the Commonwealth give us a voice in many of the developing countries. I hope that the Government will use their best endeavours to make progress on global warming and on conservation of the world's natural resources to achieve sustainable development.
However, if our voice is to be heard abroad it is appropriate to look at the record of environmental considerations in our own country. I agree with other 169 speakers that the gracious Speech was sadly lacking in promises of measures to address our considerable problems.
In our overcrowded island we are unable to cope with our own waste products, as the noble Earl, Lord Bradford, mentioned, yet we continue to import wastes of all kinds, using up our limited capacity and increasing the possibility of damage to our citizens and to our environment. The Department of the Environment's own figures for 1991 show that in that year the United Kingdom imported nearly 10,000 tonnes more toxic waste than it did in the preceding year. That included 4,000 tonnes of PCBs. I am aware of the argument that is better to have toxic waste dealt with here because we have the expertise to do it safely. That argument makes sense in the case of PCBs, because the supply is finite, and, it is hoped that all will have been destroyed before the end of the century. But the same argument should not be used for other toxic wastes. So long as producing countries have a ready path to disposal outside their own boundaries, there is little incentive for them to develop their own disposal sites or to reduce the amounts available for disposal.
We need measures to deal with methane from our domestic tips. The noble Earl, Lord Bradford, spoke about using up our available space for domestic waste, but a byproduct of that use is methane. Methane is a greenhouse gas which is even more deadly than carbon dioxide which we have been attacking with such rigour. Our present practice on waste tips is to burn it off or to vent it into the atmosphere, where it rises as quickly as possible to do all the damage that it needs to do.
We rely upon our coasts for a myriad of uses—commercial and recreational—yet we allow chaos and confusion to reign in many areas because of our refusal to implement a coherent system of coastal management planning. We have discussed the subject so often in the House that it must be becoming boring, but it is a subject that will not go away.
We are responsible for a number of estuaries which are internationally important bird sites, but we continue to allow damaging developments, often against the advice of the statutory advisory bodies and in defiance of EC directives. The RSPB has identified a total of 57 estuaries facing threats of permanent damage, compared with 43 in 1988. I have a long list of the sites and of the threats that they face, and I can supply it to anyone who needs it.
Despite constant pleas from the Marine Conservation Society, the RSPB, English Nature and others, the Government seem unable or unwilling to tackle the vital matter of coastal zone planning. I am aware of the proposal for marine consultation areas, but that promises to be a lengthy, toothless, inadequate substitute for firm planning and control. And what about marine nature reserves? In 1981, during the passage of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, seven sites were identified as suitable for marine nature reserves. Since then—11 years ago—we have had one English site at Lundy and one Welsh site at Skomer. So far there is no site in Scotland. I take the 170 opportunity to ask the Minister whether the Government have abandoned the pursuit of MNRs? There is no mention of them in any recent document.
We are one year on from the fragmentation of our nature conservation bodies, as my noble friend Lord McIntosh reminded us, and we have yet to see their annual report. I shall suspend judgment until those annual reports are available. But, as my noble friend said, it is not encouraging to read of vast payments being made to landowners to prevent them closing footpaths or to divert their threats of damage to SSSIs. There was a report in a newspaper at the weekend of a payment of £1.5 million to a landowner to allow one mile of public footpath through his land. That is about the price of a single carriageway road; it used to be the price of a motorway. It is incredible that our nature conservation advisory bodies should have to pay that kind of money for such a small return. It makes a nonsense of all our efforts.
It was encouraging to read in the Conservative manifesto that the Conservative Party had adopted the Labour Party's policy for a single environmental agency, but, as the noble Lord, Lord Moran, said, there was no mention of it in the gracious Speech. Are we to believe press reports that the idea was not acceptable to the Minister for Agriculture? Or is it that, as usual, environmental matters fall far behind the pursuit of further privatisation, of yet more attacks on workers' organisations, and the Government's determination further to reduce local democracy?
Too many questions about the Government's real attitude to environmental matters remain unanswered. We shall ensure that during the coming Session Ministers will be given every opportunity to put the record straight.
§ 4.35 p.m.
My Lords, I hasten to join the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, in welcoming the noble Earl, Lord Bradford, to whom we listened with great interest. I agree entirely with what he says about waste disposal. It is something about which I have been banging on for years. We are probably beginning to make progress. I remember asking a Question about the disposal of mineral water bottles. The Minister said that there was no problem; that they could be disposed of without difficulty; and that the components for making glass were regularly available. Now we have bottle banks. People have become aware of the problem. The noble Earl will find that what he suggests will come to fruition in due course and that waste will be recycled rather than disposed of in landfill sites, which are often detrimental to the environment, and dumps. The disposal of litter is also far from satisfactory.
If it is not too presumptuous, I should like to make the point that it is perhaps only once in four and a half years —I do not presume to make any predictions —that Her Majesty's Government can address a problem which is known to exist but which is amenable only to an unpopular solution. I refer to the problem of transport and road traffic congestion.
171 Over many decades, successive governments—I am not talking just about the past 13 years, it goes far beyond that—seem to have hoped that the problem of road traffic congestion would go away, or, if it would not go away, it would be contained with millions of pounds being poured into new motorways, bypasses, through passes, over passes and vehicle parks, but experience has shown that that has not been the case.
Far from going away, the problem has not been contained and shows no sign of being containable. After a general election is an appropriate time for Her Majesty's Government to take a bold approach to the increasing problem of road traffic and all its implications for the environment. Before anything else is done, public transport must be enhanced. It must be made more attractive in terms of economy. It must not price itself out of the market. I honestly cannot see how public transport can be developed into the 21st century without the application of public funds. The market economy has much to be said for it but I do not see how private capital can be attracted to improve the track beds of the railways or the stations to bring the railways up to the standard that is required.
I am not up-to-date with the situation with regard to the high speed link between London and Dover. One gathers from the press that that has been the subject of a certain degree of vacillation on the part of Her Majesty's Government. I can only say that recently when I travelled to Dover and back the 80 mile journey took two hours. I believe that had I been travelling at a different time of the day, I would have been able to catch a train that completed those 80 miles in one hour and 40 minutes. However, even Brunel in the middle of the 19th century would not have considered that to be a particularly brilliant working time. If we are going to make public transport attractive, we must surely do better than that, particularly in view of the implications of the Channel Tunnel. I cannot see that being done without some application of public funds.
Furthermore, public transport must be made reliable and convenient. I am sure I am not alone among your Lordships in having had to stand at a bus stop in London for 20 minutes waiting for a certain bus to arrive, only to find that three buses arrive, nose to tail, bearing the same number. I do not quite know how they manage that. Convenience and reliability in public transport are necessary. Those factors are also necessary for the Underground. The Underground provides an excellent service provided that one is not carrying luggage. The Underground is one of the best forms of transport, but the limiting factor is the length of the platforms which were not designed for the size of trains that are now required. I was glad to read the other day that the signalling system on the Central Line has been renewed to enable trains to run at greater frequencies. That should certainly help the position, but more and more incentives should be given to the public to use the Underground as well as the bus services.
In my experience the InterCity service on British Rail is a good one. However, other rail services need 172 to be improved such as the service between London and Dover which I have already mentioned. If public transport could be enhanced to make it an attractive alternative, I would venture to make a controversial proposal. I propose that road fund tax on motor vehicles should be abolished and that the equivalent revenue should be raised by placing additional duty on motor fuels. I am not suggesting that the motorist or vehicle owner should be penalised by this measure. I am suggesting that an incentive should be provided for the car owner to use public transport when it is available and when it is reasonably convenient and appropriate for his requirements. I suggest my proposal would also encourage vehicle manufacturers to continue developing engines which are more fuel efficient. Much progress has been made in that matter in recent years, but more progress could still be made. Such a measure would encourage drivers to drive in a more economical way. I am the first to admit that I am at fault in this matter. My car has a close ratio gearbox and I am tempted to change down into second gear to take a bend which I could take quite well in top gear. However, I would add in mitigation that I use a 50 cc moped for my local journeys. That moped is extremely fuel efficient.
I am suggesting that those who use most petrol or diesel are those who contribute most to traffic congestion. Therefore they should be taxed proportionately. Those who drive vehicles which consume the most fuel should be taxed proportionately. I realise that such a suggestion will provoke an outcry from those whose profession involves them incurring high mileages on the road; for example, commercial travellers. Her Majesty's Government might consider introducing the equivalent of what was known as red petrol in the war. They could introduce a cheaper rate of fuel for those who can prove that they have to incur high mileages in their vehicles and cannot use public transport. I do not know whether that measure could be implemented. Research is needed into that matter and I am not competent to make a definite pronouncement.
A further objection might come from the motor industry which might claim that the upmarket cars which consume more petrol are already under pressure and could suffer a further disadvantage if my proposal were adopted. However, I believe it is up to the motor manufacturers to make high performance and luxury cars more fuel efficient, if those cars are still required. Nevertheless, anyone who wished to drive a luxury or high performance car would still have the opportunity of so doing, but he would have to pay for that. I believe that is a fair proposal and that is what the market economy is all about.
To sum up, I would suggest that Her Majesty's Government now take firm steps to tackle the problem of road traffic congestion by enhancing public transport to make it more attractive. Her Majesty's Government should also tackle road traffic congestion by taxing proportionately those who use most petrol and who take up most time and space on the roads.
§ 4.48 p.m.
§ Viscount De L'Isle
My Lords, I am deeply grateful and indeed honoured to have been given the opportunity of making my maiden speech in today's debate. I wish to turn your Lordships' attention to the rural economy. Over 80 per cent. of the land mass of this country is rural, and about one-fifth of the population live and work in the countryside. The rural landscape which we know and love has largely been created by man and has been adapted for his use down the ages. Unless we maintain a vibrant rural economy, the landscape will deteriorate quickly and will be lost to future generations.
Environmentalists and others who oppose change must understand that their own interests will be damaged unless evolution is allowed to continue to meet the changes and challenges of this decade and beyond into the next millennium. Farming is providing a viable living for fewer and fewer people. It is projected that some 30,000 jobs will be lost over the next three years. Work must be found for those who in the past worked on the land or whose livelihoods depend upon it.
My right honourable friend the Prime Minister said at the Oxford Farming Conference in January:We do not want to see a population exchange with the less well off in rural areas being driven into the cities in the absence of affordable jobs in the countryside".During the past decade much has been achieved. The Action for the Countryside programme announced jointly by the Department of the Environment and the Ministry of Agriculture in February this year with the aim of stimulating the rural economy while preserving the increasingly threatened landscape and wildlife is welcome. However, the £20 million set aside for the programme over the three years it is to run looks a little anaemic when compared with the £3,000 million spent on the Action for Cities programme in the year 1988–89 alone.
The conversion of redundant farm and industrial buildings, often listed, can provide workspace for small businesses and reduces the need for new buildings on green field sites. Buildings, sensitively converted, can help to keep the countryside alive by building on the past in creating the future.
The demand for the products of craft industries and the returns they generate is strictly limited. The increasing use of telecommunications, and in the not too distant future telematics (which combines the use of computers with telecommunications), will make it possible for many businesses which are environmentally friendly to operate away from the conurbations, thus reducing the demand on the transport system, and more importantly, creating jobs in villages. Those new businesses complement and help to make a financial contribution to the business rate as well as to the established enterprises in villages such as the shop, sub-post office, public house, and garage.
Often planning applications in connection with such ventures are strenuously opposed by environmentalists and the ubiquitous NIMBY. For those noble Lords unfamiliar with this species of man, he spends his life saying, "Not in my back yard". District 174 council planning committees often spent much time debating the shape and size of a window but ignoring the economic need for development. The advice issued in Planning Policy Guidance Note 7 earlier this year emphasises the range of industries which can be located in rural areas without causing undue disturbance and the benefits which arise to the local economy and employment. I hope that district councils will pay due attention to the guidance in formulating their district plans and determining planning applications.
Objectors to planning applications frequently cite noise, smell, traffic and reduction of property values as reasons why developments should not be permitted, often ignoring the site's previous use for farming or industry, which can be as noisy or noisier and, certainly in the case of livestock farming, much more smelly. Ignorance and emotion often take over where discussion and reason could win the day.
So often the idyllic view of the countryside is allowed to sway discussion. The hard fact is that unless the rural economy can be kept alive and well the landscape will wither and die. I hope that during this Parliament the Government will increase their support for the rural economy.
§ 4.56 p.m.
§ Lord Sefton of Garston
My Lords, we have just heard a speech which, it is evident to anyone who knows Penshurst Place, reflects the authentic voice of rural England. I should like to pay tribute to the noble Viscount on his speech, which was well thought out, well constructed and provided an excellent view of the problems facing rural areas. I am sure that the whole House will want me to extend congratulations to the noble Viscount, which I do with pleasure.
When the Minister opened the debate, he referred to the question of freedom of choice, which is almost the flagship of the Government. The thought struck me that there has not been much freedom of choice for the millions of people who are affected by unemployment, which the Government, when they started their long journey 13 years ago, stated on a placard that they would cure. The Minister also said something about participation in environmental decisions. I shall refer today to three matters which demonstrate that the people of this country do not enjoy much participation in environmental decisions which affect their lives. I shall go further and say that people in London do not have much influence on decisions which affect their lives. I am talking about freedom of choice. I wonder how much freedom those people who have had their houses repossessed have as a result of the encouragement of private enterprise. I wonder how much freedom of choice people who have been the victims of private enterprise in the financial world of late believe that they have. That is the path we travel when we begin to free the financial and economic resources of individuals in this country.
The three subjects I wish to cover all concern London. One is the question of the Waterloo terminal for the Channel Tunnel. It was decided to build a Channel Tunnel. Some people thought that the issue was of such a magnitude that there should be a public 175 inquiry to assess the effect of that tunnel on the rest of our environment. We even thought it important to consider the consequences of traffic arriving at one terminal in London. Some people suggested to the Government that one terminal would not be enough and that the disturbance of the environment in London might be unacceptable to the people of London. But, no; the Government had made up their mind. Those on high said that there was to be a Channel Tunnel and there would be no public inquiry because that would take too long, and they went ahead.
Those who were concerned about the consequences of that decision for the one place which was mentioned when the Channel Tunnel terminal was first discussed —Waterloo—were assured that that one terminal would be contained within the existing infrastructure of British Rail, and that there would be no undue effect upon the people living in that area. What is the result? Because of the operations of British Rail and London Underground that terminal will extend outside the existing infrastructure of the railway station and the people of the area are being affected. The situation will get worse if the Jubilee line extension is finally built, and there is some doubt about that.
That brings me to my second subject which is, of course, the Jubilee Line extension. The Jubilee Line extension has been proposed not because it is the number one priority of London Underground. It is not. That is what I have been told. The extension has been proposed because it is vitally necessary for Docklands and Canary Wharf. That is the reason for the extension of the Jubilee Line.
When the Government made their report to a committee of another place at the beginning of the passage of the Bill—and the same thing happened when the Bill reached a committee of this House—they said that one of the reasons for going ahead with the Jubilee Line extension was the financial contributions pledged by developers who would benefit from the line. There were two: one was the gas authority and the other was Olympia & York, the company which is developing Canary Wharf. What has happened to them?
Being a member of the committee I was curious. I asked what the agreement was about. What was contained in the agreement? Did it bind its successors to the present company if that company were to go bankrupt? What kind of time limit was imposed on the agreement? There were no answers to my questions. Therefore I wrote to the Minister and I received an answer. First of all, I had an answer from London Underground which in effect said that regretfully it was not in a position to provide me "with a copy of the agreement". If the English language means anything, that meant that somewhere there was an agreement and a copy of it could not be provided.
In the committee proceedings I asked the project manager—a man who one would think would know all about the matter—whether he knew of the agreement in regard to Canary Wharf and London Underground. I received the reply that yes there was 176 an agreement and a time factor about the construction of the line was involved; but without having the agreement in front of him, he was not prepared to say what that contract was. That again emphasised that an agreement was there. It must have been. So, was there indeed an agreement? Of course there was.
When the Bill went through the Commons, the Member of Parliament for the area was given information which led her to drop any opposition. It was wrong information. She was told that the matter could be dealt with in Committee. I have mentioned that before to a Chamber which was practically empty except for the "payroll" of the Government who wanted to ensure the passage of the Bill. Again, it was said that we could not discuss the matter. Again, it was wrong information. That is what happens when someone high in authority takes a decision to press ahead with a scheme and ignore completely an examination of the consequences of that scheme. Evidently political standing is affected if such a scheme does not go forward.
The Minister speaks about public participation in environmental decisions. Did the public participate in the decision to demolish No. 2 Marsham Street? It will do so. I do not know, but I am prepared to believe that even the Cabinet did not know that Marsham Street was to be demolished. Mr. Heseltine knew because he took the decision. Last night on television the "Money Programme" showed viewers the reason. According to that programme it seems—unless I misunderstood—that Mr. Heseltine will demolish Marsham Street and move the staff. Guess where they will go? Yes, Ministers on the opposite Bench have already guessed it: they will go to Canary Wharf.
That underlines a very important principle with regard to planning. If the staff go to Canary Wharf, there will be no physical contact between the offices and Parliament. All contact will be telephonic. If those people go to Canary Wharf, they could just as well go to the north of Scotland. The Minister says, "Hear, hear". He is reflecting another point of view. It shows their contempt for our Civil Service. That is why he says that.
Yet that could be a very useful way to assist regional programmes. I wonder whether that is the reason why, in the Queen's Speech, there is not a single mention of regional policy. That is amazing. Perhaps the Government did not wish to stir up a hornets' nest. Perhaps they thought that someone would feel that too much resource was going into London. If Marsham Street is to be demolished, will we carry on as we did over Scotland Yard when quite evidently someone made an error which cost millions of pounds to put right? No one ever sued.
What is one to say about Vauxhall Cross? That is a building which, as I have said before in this House, was erected by a speculative developer who had difficulty getting rid of it. Then, by coincidence, it was suddenly clear that MI6 had to be in London. So now the Foreign and Commonwealth Office are responsible for Vauxhall Cross. I asked a question about that matter and was told that its cost was £150 million, which was paid. I do not believe it. I think that that was the sum paid to the speculative developer. 177 Because as I pass Vauxhall Cross I see another contractor and that contractor has a management contract. What is he managing? I believe that he is managing to adapt a new building—a building that we bought—to the whims and fancies of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Should I be right, if ever there was a waste of money, that is it.
It is about time that the committees in the other place which examine how such decisions are made and can summon in front of them and question civil servants and other people, such as the Maxwell brothers, look nearer home. I think that we are being ripped off. We are being ripped off in order to assist Canary Wharf. I am told that it is the tallest building in Europe and a wonderful thing to see with its searchlights distracting the traffic. I am told that it is a marvellous place and it may be.
I come to my last point. When Canary Wharf was proposed, I opposed it in this Chamber. I said that the building of Canary Wharf was an irresponsible decision that should not be taken unless the consequences of the building upon the rest of London were examined. I do not know why, coming from where I do, I should have defended the situation of London; but that is what I did. At the time I said that it was the height of irresponsibility for anybody with any knowledge of the financial and business world to think that the activities of the financial and business world and its personnel will increase by one third. That is what we were told by the person who proposed the Bill; namely, that the development at Canary Wharf was one third the size of the whole of London's commercial structure.
How on earth could any sane Government give permission for that development to be built without at least looking into the consequences of building it? Now the chickens have come home to roost. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, is not present. At 10.30 p.m. one night in this House I suggested that I did not believe that the agreement would be honoured or that Canary Wharf would pay. I, and it seems many other people except the Government, had read press reports which indicated that the developers were almost bankrupt. The noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, rose in his majesty to say that I must withdraw that remark. But does anyone today believe that the financial situation in regard to Olympia & York is healthy? It is not and there is a great danger there. I have put down Question after Question in this House. I receive only evasive replies. But I tell the Minister that I shall keep putting down Questions—and no doubt keep getting evasive replies.
When I asked upon whose report the Government had decided to demolish Marsham Street—this is my last point—I was told that it was produced by Arup Associates. That is the company which has something to do with the Channel Tunnel. That is the big company which knows all about the matter.
The Government appoint some associates to produce a report. However, if a Member of another place, a Privy Counsellor or I assume Members of the Cabinet, wish to know what the report states, they are told that it is commercially sensitive. I have never heard such evasion in my life. It would be a farce if it 178 were not so tragic. This Government will demolish a building that is practically brand new. If they do so and this Parliament—I do not refer only to this Chamber—does not demand a public inquiry as to how that decision was taken, why it was taken and what it will cost the Government, that will be a dereliction of duty. We should demand information. The other place should have a committee on the issue. We should look into the matter and try to unravel the mysterious goings on between this Government and Olympia & York.
§ 5.12 p.m.
§ Lord Wade of Chorlton
My Lords, first, perhaps I may congratulate my noble friend Lord De L'sle on an excellent maiden speech, made even better because I support every word that he said. I welcome a colleague who states the issue so effectively.
The gracious Speech referred to the fact that this Government wish to work to reform the CAP. Reform of the CAP will mean that the prices of agricultural products will be brought closer to world prices. As a farmer—I declare that interest—it is a situation that I greatly welcome: that slowly the agricultural system should be less supported by the CAP which has done more harm than good. We should work towards world prices for our products. That is also the view of agricultural farmers in this country and of the National Farmers' Union.
What concerns me is the future of the countryside. Will it survive as a distinct economic, social and cultural entity, or will the special qualities of rural society be lost irrevocably as the urban majority rushes headlong towards a misty dream of Arcadia?
Will agriculture be permitted to renew itself by means of technological and scientific advance or will its practitioners be reduced to the status of mere guardians of the landscape while the factory replaces the farm as the main source of nutrition?
Will the countryside represent anything other than an historical theme park, an open air leisure centre, a tourist attraction, and a diorama of a way of life that has no place in the modern world? Alternatively and worse, is it possible that in a manic and misguided desire to "save" what we think is the countryside we are actually in the process of constructing an Orwellian nightmare of overdeveloped, overcrowded, urban standardisation surrounded by a neglected and barely populated wilderness? There remains only about a decade to establish a new balance between town and country if the health and most precious features of both are to be preserved.
The picture that we have inherited from the romantic ruralist movement of the late 19th century —that of a peaceful and plentiful countryside peopled by jolly farmers and contented peasants—has served to obscure the sad truth of falling farm prices, collapsing land values, low wages, unemployment, extensive depopulation and dereliction, grim living conditions and widespread starvation that accompanied the adjustment of rural areas to the march of the industrial revolution 100 and 200 years ago.
In 1947 nearly 5,000 square miles of England and Wales, almost all privately owned, were arbitrarily 179 brought under official protection and control as national parks. It was the beginning of a bureaucracy that would swell alarmingly during the next 40 years. The parks were followed by 4.5 million acres of green belt, 7,500 square miles of areas of outstanding natural beauty, half a million acres of forest parks, 5,500 sites of special scientific interest, and nearly 3,000 nature reserves of various kinds. By 1990, for example, 30 per cent. of the northern counties of England and 98 per cent. of the land area of Scotland were officially "protected". What was not protected was the rural economy; and nor were many of the people and their families who depended upon the land for their living and their future. That was apart from the enormous economic benefit that those people brought to the country as a whole.
The best forecast—my noble friend referred to it —is that by the year 2000 a further 100,000 farmers and 55,000 farm workers will leave the industry with 10 million acres of land going out of production. What a wonderful opportunity there will be to redevelop our rural economy, to offer great opportunities—opportunities that existed in the past and that could do again —not only for those who live within a rural economy but also to enable those in urban areas to live in a much better environment.
The land has always been a symbol of power and identity. For that reason some pressure groups in Britain seek in effect to nationalise the land by demanding free and open access to it regardless of ownership. Again the views of the landowners are mostly ignored. With regard to the national parks the Countryside Commission has demanded almost a blanket ban on any change. Some authorities are even seeking powers to close areas to the public for whom the parks were opened in the first place. It was the farmers, landowners and developers who turned the British countryside into the precious possession it now is. But those are the very people who stand to lose control of it under the new, urban-inspired rural ethic. The rural economy is not only being allowed to run down; it is being encouraged to do so, and to be replaced by increasing amounts of taxpayers' money which do not go into communities, or to people, and do not promote an efficient rural economy to benefit all, but promote the landscape and wildlife. Such moneys do not create what we believe that we wish to see; they create some new concept that has no reality.
In 1990—the year that I entered the House—the House of Lords' committee then considering the future of the rural society was,struck by the absence of any consensus about what overall objectives should be … rural policies are confused and hard questions rarely asked".To what extent should economic and social change be encouraged in the countryside? Should self-sufficient rural communities be developed, and at what cost? What is the cause for concern if villages become dormitories for the commuters or enclaves for retired people from the towns? Should there be a relaxation of planning controls to enable new housing and industrial premises to be built? Should farmers be 180 encouraged by economic incentives to adopt new farming methods rather than be constrained by regulation?
Is it not time to consider again the green belt policy which puts such enormous restrictions on towns which are now being forced to redevelop areas? Such development spoils much of the historic charm and character of the very towns that the policy is supposed to assist. There is an interesting article in today's Daily Telegraph regarding Carmarthen. The centre of that town is being destroyed by a new development which has pushed out the people who lived there. The new development could not be built on the outside of the town. It could not produce new jobs and new investment, and still retain the character of that lovely old town.
The protection of our rural environment rests on the health of our rural economy. The rural economy involves more than agriculture. My noble friend Lord De L'Isle referred specifically to the need to encourage such new investment opportunities in our rural areas. That is the key that those who wish to protect the rural investment need. The worst possibility is to allow the land to stultify and stagnate, without any thought for the people who need to manage it and to create wealth from it. For that reason we now have in this House a rural economy group. It is dedicated to put those points of view to your Lordships and to the Government. We must create not a one-sided picture but a balanced picture which will provide the right mix of environmental benefits and economic growth. That will maintain a lively and economic rural economy as changes in agriculture are brought about.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ The Earl of Shrewsbury
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating my noble friends Lord Bradford and Lord De L'Isle on their excellent maiden speeches. I hope and I am sure that we shall hear them speak again many times in the future.
During the past few years anxiety for the environment in which we live has grown with lightning speed. Even brief mention of the subject brings out expressions of deep emotion from most people. And so it should, for if this generation fails to address the key issues of caring for all aspects of the environment, the consequences for future generations may well be catastrophic.
However, as we are all aware, the environment is a wide-ranging and complex issue and there are few easy answers to be had. It would be wrong of me to claim any expert knowledge of the matter in any particular area or to suggest answers to some of the environmental problems which are currently facing commerce and industry in this country. However, I should like to take this opportunity during our debate on Her Majesty's gracious Speech to flag up a small but extremely important number of issues.
The issues I am concerned with are threefold. They are opencast or strip mining; the thorny issue of contaminated land, which is one of the most potentially damaging matters to affect commerce and industry for many decades; and, finally, the place in the environmental world being carved out in the 181 pursuit of excellence through continuing British standards such as BS 5750 and others concerning total quality management practices and targets.
Perhaps I may take the open-cast coal industry first; and at this point I must declare an interest. It is a most successful section of the United Kingdom coal industry but it suffers from the public's general perception of filthy sites full of dust, mud and constant noise. However, I must stress that that is not quite the case in the modern day. By its very nature of course the winning of near-surface coal by open-cast methods is bound to cause environmental problems. But those difficulties are in the main relatively short-lived as most open-cast sites have a three to five year life. Indeed, the operators of those sites do have an environmental conscience and continually try to lessen the impact of nuisance and discomfort on the areas and populace surrounding those sites.
At the end of the life of an open-cast site great care is taken to return the area to its original state and in many cases to a much higher standard. For instance, in Telford, where the industrial revolution had its beginnings, the Clay Colliery Company is drawing to the close of extraction at one site; and I understand that plans are under consideration to refurbish the site to create a golf facility. Next door to that particular operation a recently completed extraction area has been returned to productive green fields and it looks terrific. In the future, there will be opportunities for housing, for light industrial uses and for agriculture and leisure. It would be greatly worthwhile if the contractors and landowners could be persuaded to replace hedges which in themselves will assist in the re-establishment of wildlife habitat on those sites.
Gone are the days when such sites could and often would be left at the end of production simply to remain as eyesores covered with scrub bushes and weeds. The care for the environment must be practised but the provision of fuel is also a necessity. The cost of producing that fuel must be kept as low as possible. The financial cost of the greening process is huge. Therefore we must have a balance taking into account the needs of commerce and industry, the public at large and the future.
Dwelling for a moment on rural matters, perhaps I may ask how often have we experienced the ridiculous situation of some heavy-handed, open-toe sandalled person visiting us, not telling us but ordering us to put into effect his or her own views as to what the countryside should look like? That is the wrong approach. One achieves nothing by that method. However, great and significant achievements can be won by mutual agreement through an exchange of views, perhaps with the landowner's greater knowledge of the area, and by gentle persuasion. I should find it difficult to log the number of times in recent years that my farmer friends have said to me that they had had a local council visitor who had not only ordered them to carry out a particular task to reinstate, say, a footpath but had then threatened prosecution when with slight and insignificant deviation in the route, such a footpath could have been perpetuated with much less effect to the farming business. Such intransigence is not only unacceptable, 182 it is often totally unnecessary. Councils must be more flexible and tolerant in these matters to the benefit of not only the landowner but also those who wish to exercise their rights of access to the countryside, and all concerned should endeavour to act in a responsible manner.
There is seldom the need for confrontation and with discussion on a sensible basis there should be no need for such unpleasantries. I hope that that will happen in the future but I am doubtful. Together with many colleagues, I must keep a keen eye on the matter.
I turn now to the huge problem of contaminated land. The problem is I believe far larger and far more complex than the Government originally estimated. Furthermore, I am not certain by any means that it is fully appreciated that the very mention of the compilation of a register of contaminated land within the United Kingdom has already sent very serious shockwaves throughout both the property and banking sectors. It has occurred at a time when potential tenants, purchasers and developers are extremely difficult to attract. The damage which has been sustained by the property sector in particular to date is in many cases irrepairable. I say that because I am aware that some companies are already in difficult financial circumstances. Having their assets in areas of previous industrial use, they have tried to sell sites in what has been for quite a while now a market of falling land values. It must be said that the banks have added to the pressure as their margins are without doubt also under pressure like many other businesses.
If one includes in that nasty little equation the fact that the land in these areas almost certainly will be placed on the register one has reached a doomsday situation for the company where the land is rendered unsaleable, the banks will not lend on its value because in their eyes it has none, and the owners will not only have to cover the cost of an environmental assessment but will also have to clean the site to make it a saleable asset at vast expense which could reach well over £1 million per acre in clean-up costs. That is well in excess of what could possibly be hoped for even for the cleanest of land at present and probably for the foreseeable future. Indeed, comment from an environmental expert in the Midland's paper Business Report recently estimated that the potential cost of cleaning the UK's contaminated land bank could well be in the region of £30 billion. Where will the money come from?
As an example, I know at first hand that the sale, reported in the Press, by the troubled quoted-property company, Mountleigh, of the highly successful Merry Hill Shopping Centre in Brierley Hill in the West Midlands—originally the brainchild of a local development firm which knew the history of the site, the principals of that company having been born in a house overlooking the steelworks—has recently been placed in jeopardy because of the fact that it was built on the site of a former steelworks. Although the original developers made every effort to remove any contamination on the site prior to construction, the 183 very fact that it was a steelworks has potentially blighted it and indeed any sale of the complex in years to come.
At a recent conference in Birmingham instigated by the Black Country Development Corporation, at which my noble friend Lady Blatch spoke (and I chaired the second day) those matters were discussed in detail. Many experts presented papers. During question time I was greatly worried by the fact that many developers even from the house building industry—one particular speaker representing Beazer PLC which builds a large number of homes in the West Midlands—expressed complete horror regarding the serious difficulties that it was experiencing (and indeed would encounter in the future) due to the contaminated land register and the consequences thereof.
It is estimated that in the West Midlands alone more than 22,000 acres of land are contaminated by previous industrial use. Those are in fact the areas which are crying out for urban renewal, into which the Government are pouring money and where they are trying to create enthusiasm, jobs, homes and new industrial and commercial opportunities. Yet here we have a situation where the caveats could be such that no private-sector developer would wish to be involved in the decisions. It could simply not be worth the risk —and the risks in normal developments are great.
We all know and realise that the environment must be cared for. We must leave as good as possible an inheritance to those who follow. We must clean up and try to redress the terrible mistakes that have been made in the past. In pursuit of that goal, I urge the Government to consider very carefully the balance between progress and protection in environmental terms before reaching decisions which have lasting effect. We live in an ever-bubbling cauldron of environmental issues, but a balance must be struck. The new Government have a golden opportunity to achieve great success in this area given the will and enthusiasm, and indeed some foresight.
Finally, I shall speak for a few moments on the exceptional new standards progressed by the British Standards Institution with regard to world environmental issues. In response to requests from industry to bring quality management tools and techniques to bear on environmental issues, the British Standards Institution has published a new standard which provides a management tool for any organisation to put in place practices and procedures to assess and manage the environmental effects of their activities. That must be good for the environment. This initiative was strongly supported by the DTI and DoE, building on the success of BSI in the field of quality systems; namely, BS 5750 which has now become an international standard, ISO 9000.
This new standard BS 7750 is a specification for environmental management systems. It will enable a company in any area of industry or commerce to assure itself and outside parties that the internal management system is designed to meet the legislative challenges it faces and to go far beyond compliance to continual improvement. The standard has already met 184 with high praise from UK industry and an active pilot programme is under way, involving over 100 companies.
In addition, the European and international standards bodies of the world have commenced work on the development of a common standard along these lines with the UK, through BSI, providing leadership in the debate. Indeed, BSI has been asked to tell its success story at Rio in June, such is the international impact of the work it has carried out.
This standard is designed to be compatible with the proposed EC eco-audit regulation, which the Government strongly support and which we hope will provide further incentives to industry to tackle the immense challenges which industry, the general public and the country face. All this progress has come about within 12 months from the commencement of the BSI initiative; a remarkable response that demonstrates the commitment to providing the tools for industry present at the BSI.
I am sure that the House will join me in congratulating the British Standards Institution on that achievement and on the excellent work which it continues to carry out. However, that underlines the fact that we do not need to be lectured by our EC partners on environmental matters.
In conclusion, the environmental issue is certainly here to stay. It is up to us to make absolutely sure that to the very best of our ability we lay the foundations of sensible and workable environmental practices for the benefit of future generations, while striking a balance between our environmental needs and the needs and capabilities of industry and commerce.
§ 5.32 p.m.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
My Lords, I am tempted to follow my noble friend Lord Shrewsbury down the environmental road because much of what he said was correct and well worth saying to the House. However, I shall resist that temptation just as I shall resist the temptation to follow my two noble friends who made their maiden speeches, my noble friends Lord Bradford and Lord De L'Isle, both of whom touched upon subjects of considerable importance.
It may not surprise your Lordships to know that I intend to spend my few minutes dealing with in particular local government in Scotland and perhaps also the wider aspect of Scotland's position within the United Kingdom.
I understand that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister is taking stock of the Scottish position. I hope that he will do that carefully but will not take too long to do it. The rather successful outcome of the general election north of the Border will not last for ever unless the Government take steps to address some of the difficulties which the governing party faces in Scotland.
The most interesting thing that can be said about the general election is that my fellow Scots showed quite clearly that they wish to remain within the United Kingdom. Indeed, some 78 per cent. of them voted for parties which firmly believe in the continuation of the United Kingdom. Only a minority 185 voted for the party which made it abundantly clear that its policy was to break up the United Kingdom —and it was given every opportunity by the media to make clear its position. Indeed, your Lordships may be interested to know that the Scottish National Party claimed that, if it won 37 seats, it would be on the phone to the Prime Minister to negotiate the dissolution of the Union. Indeed, I suppose in those circumstances it would have some right to do so. The Scottish people's view was simply that that phone call should not be made and the Scottish National Party lost rather than gained seats. It emerged with three parliamentary seats. Therefore, from that point of view the message was loud and clear. The people of Scotland wish to remain quite firmly part of the United Kingdom.
Many of your Lordships will have read in the newspapers, seen on television or heard on the radio continuations of the argument that we had in March and April. That is partly because the chattering classes, as we call them—that covers the writing classes as well—are very keen on the whole idea of Scottish home rule and independence. In fact many of them yearn after some kind of socialist tartan paradise, quite oblivious to the fact that socialist paradises around the world have all been found to be slightly faulty and are declining like the proverbial snow off a May dyke.
We have a problem in Scotland. It may be that your Lordships and the people of the United Kingdom believe that people in Scotland are seething. Indeed, on the Monday after I had read in the Sunday papers that they were all seething I stood on the railway platform looking at my fellow Scots. I must say that I did not see a single "seethe" among them. They were all busy reading the sports pages of the newspapers, as is normal on a Monday morning. Yesterday morning or this morning they would be reading about the success of Rangers football club in the same newspapers.
On a serious point, there is a view in Scotland—a minority view in my opinion and the electorate has shown it to be a minority view—that we should change the constitutional arrangements for the United Kingdom. Some hold to it in a rather vigorous manner. One of the leading members of the chattering classes, a young lady called Muriel Gray, who writes a weekly column in Scotland on a Sunday, on the Sunday after the election indicated that in her view the British voters have as much intelligent political vision as Rod Hull's emu. She described the electors of Perthshire, where one or two of my noble friends live, as Barbour-jacketed morons, the sort of voter that can barely master instructions in their new Range Rover handbooks in order to make the heater work. She showed a total contempt for the Scottish electorate, which had just said quite clearly that it wished to remain part and parcel of the United Kingdom.
Perhaps a more interesting comment came from Mr. Jim Sillars, who was defeated at Glasgow, Govan, a by-election he won some two or three years ago from the Labour Party. He described his fellow Scots as 90-minute patriots. I believe he is absolutely right. I am not sure whether he thought he was being 186 insulting. I thought—as I occasionally think—that Jim Sillars had seen through the verbiage round about him. We are 90-minute patriots. We are great supporters of Scotland on the football and rugby fields and we are great supporters of the culture, heritage and history of Scotland. However, that does not mean that we are not equally great supporters of the United Kingdom. That is an important point which many people in the chattering classes and certainly in the Scottish National Party fail to understand. They believe that cheers for the Scottish football team are cheers for the dissolution of the Union. That is simply not the case.
Mr. Sillars went on to say that we did not have the bottle to grasp independence on 9th April. We had a lot of bottle. We had the bottle to resist what the chattering classes and the nationalists were telling us and to say that we still wished the Union to survive. That does not mean to say that nothing should be done about the government of Scotland. The Government must look very seriously at the situation north of the Border to try to devise patterns of government, whether local or national—I shall turn to local government in a few moments—which will accord with the wishes of the Scottish people; that is, to remain within the United Kingdom. For example, the Government could be much more sensitive than perhaps they have been over the past decade—
§ Lord Taylor of Gryfe
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord as he develops his argument on devolution. However, is he aware that on questioning the procedure of this House, those of us who wanted to discuss devolution for Scotland were advised that that was in the remit of tomorrow's debate? Therefore, if we refrain from commenting on his contribution today, perhaps the noble Lord will realise that we are following the guidance of the Clerks of the House and the usual channels that the subject is for tomorrow's debate.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
My Lords, I apologise if I am not obeying the ground rules. I intended to turn to the subject of local government because it is the important part of looking at the government of Scotland. As the noble Lord reprimanded me, I shall jump to that immediately.
The Government have made it quite clear that they wish to see local government in Scotland reformed. The two-tier system which has been in place in Scotland since 1974 has not in fact accorded well with the wishes of the people of Scotland. For example, the cities of Scotland have felt emasculated and the rural areas often felt that their interests were subjected to the urban interests of the nearby major towns with which they are joined in local government reform. Perhaps the ultimate oddity—I put it no higher than that—in local government terms is that Strathclyde Regional Council—named after my noble friend who is to reply—covers half the population of Scotland. I am not sure how one can define as "local" a local government which covers half the population of Scotland.
The two-tier system has not generally been felt to work properly. The three island authorities in 187 Scotland are all-purpose single-tier authorities and have worked extremely well. They are a major improvement on the local authority systems that went before. It is perhaps a little fashionable to knock the Western Isles because of BCCI. But I do not believe that that was the only local authority which found itself in that position. It is a little fashionable to knock Orkney because of the child abuse inquiry currently taking place. I do not believe that Orcadians should be blamed for that. Most of the players are incomers and any questions that need to be asked should be asked about social workers and the way in which we conduct public inquiries in Scotland.
My point is that, despite those two problems, the three all-purpose island authorities, which are small in population, have worked well. I believe that we should shift in that direction. I hope that the words in the gracious Speech,Other measures will be laid before you",encompass some form of Scottish local government. I hope that we shall move towards single-tier local authorities, perhaps 22 or 26. Clearly the cities will encompass four of those authorities. When the Government are looking at the matter I hope that they will take with them the people already involved in local government and conduct wide consultations. I hope that they will listen to the public view and especially to the view of those people involved.
Population must be taken into account, but all too often in the past population has been the be-all and end-all of government reform. We should look also at the historic links, the economic links and the geography of the local authority units that we create. I should like to think that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State will look carefully at the way he devises single-tier authorities in Scotland which will work with the grain of Scottish opinion.
I should like to mention another possibility, though I do not favour it; that is, to introduce more local authorities than the 22 to 26 I suggested, perhaps around 50. When one goes towards smaller authorities one runs up against the problem that they may not be able to carry out effectively and efficiently all the functions of the current upper and lower tiers of local government. One will therefore want an all-embracing Scottish tier, which is one of the suggestions put forward, with one all-Scottish local authority to look after some of the functions such as police, education, water and sewerage.
I am somewhat ambivalent about whether I am attracted to that idea. As I see it, one of the dangers would be that the devolutionists—the people who wish for a quasi-separate parliament inside the United Kingdom based in Edinburgh—may use that all-Scottish authority as a lever to prise open the door of setting up such a semi-independent parliament. If it were not for that fear I may be attracted to the idea. However, that fear is real and one cannot run away from it.
I am conscious of the fact that I have spoken for 12 minutes but it is an important subject. It not only concerns local government in one part of the United Kingdom. If the Government get it right, we can 188 perhaps look to solving one of the instabilities within the United Kingdom which worries people in Scotland from all three parties who believe in the continuing existence of the Kingdom. I know that my noble and learned friend Lord Fraser was asked by the Government to look at the constitutional arrangements. I am a little puzzled therefore as to why Mr. Allan Stewart was asked to look at local government arrangements. I hope that that does not mean that the two will be looked at separately. As I hope I illustrated to your Lordships, I believe that the Government should look at the constitutional arrangements of Scotland and the local government arrangements as part and parcel of the same problem. If they do so in a sensitive and sympathetic way, the problem experienced in Scotland of people feeling that they are not properly a part of the United Kingdom will disappear.
§ 5.46 p.m.
§ Lord Monkswell
My Lords, I should like to thank the previous speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, for two things. The first is that by his contribution he has widened the sphere of the debate and I shall do the same. The second is that by raising the subject of single-tier local authorities he enables me to put the counter argument that we should not think in terms of local authorities as one institution but as part of the hierarchy of democracy that exists through parish, town, city, region, nation, European Community, internationally and the world. I hope that in succeeding weeks, months and years we can debate that aspect more fully.
I want to say a few words on the election result, international affairs, national affairs, local government and to touch on transport. It is a rather wide-ranging contribution and I hope that your Lordships will bear with me.
Before I begin I must report a brief impression of an international conference of the Inter-Parliamentary Union which I attended some weeks ago. I wish to touch on two points of significance. The first is that the United States of America was the only significant country not in attendance at that conference. The second is the anxiety felt at the conference regarding the success of the Rio summit because of the attitude of the Americans, led by President Bush, who apparently are prepared to take no responsibility for saving our world environment, even though they are among the world's worst polluters. Britain's support for the Americans and their stance on the environment does this country no credit and only enhances our reputation as the dirty man of Europe.
I should like to say a few words about the election result. When I say that no one expected the Tories to win and that the reason they won was by spending more money than other parties and by being economical with the truth, I hope that I shall not be accused of being a poor loser. After all, all is fair in love and war and politics. But I should like to highlight the responsibility of the Tory Government and to identify some opportunities facing them.
The Tories promised during the 1979 election not to double VAT if they won. They did win and promptly 189 raised it from 8 per cent. to 15 per cent. It has since been raised to 17.5 per cent. which is more than doubling the 8 per cent. at which it started. That demonstrates two things. First, that what they say in election campaigns does not constrain them in government. Also, that they are the party of increased taxation. We now pay more in taxation after 13 years of a Conservative government than we did in 1979.
The Government have a responsibility to govern the whole of the United Kingdom for the benefit of all people; that means the poor, the unemployed, ordinary workers, the sick, the disabled and the elderly as well as the better off members of our society. They have the opportunity to do the right things because of changed world circumstances. The latest knowledge that we have is of the risk of doing the wrong things and of acceptance by the British people that what was promised in the election does not necessarily have to be done by the Tory Government.
I now wish to turn to the gracious Speech. The Government say that they will maintain a substantial aid programme to reduce poverty in the developing countries. The aid programme under this Government over the past 13 years has been cut mercilessly over a period when the under-developed countries have been getting poorer and poorer. That does no good for the stability of the world or for the protection of the world environment because it is well known that poverty leads to some of the worst damage to our environment. The Government say that they will reduce the share of the national income taken by the public sector. As I have mentioned earlier, the Government currently take a higher proportion of the national income than was taken in 1979.
I make a plea that the Government do that in two ways. The first method is by reducing expenditure on arms and on the Armed Forces, and that is possible because of the change in world circumstances. The second method is by reducing unemployment. By that I do not mean cutting unemployment benefit to such an extent that people have to work for even lower poverty wages than they currently have to work for. I mean that there should be development, improvement and investment in our economy to such an extent that well paid jobs are created where people earn enough money to pay income tax and so increase Government revenue.
I spoke about increasing public expenditure. Here I shall talk a little about local government. Over the past 13 years one of the areas where the Government have reduced expenditure is in the subvention to local government. The results of that have been twofold: one is that local taxes have had to be raised. The rates increased; the poll tax came in which increased the burden on ordinary people at the same time as local authorities, year after year, have had to cut their expenditure. That has led to a decline in the standard of public services that I hope we all wish to see being improved and enhanced.
I shall speak about two particular areas where we need that improvement. The first is in education. I am a local councillor in Manchester. Last year we made a plea to the Government for a spending bid. It was a capital expenditure request for over £30 million worth 190 of capital expenditure to improve, modernise and repair our schools, some of which are in such an abysmal state that even this Government have recognised that the schools need rebuilding. Initially we were allowed to borrow—here I make the point that it is not money that the Government contribute, but permission they give us to borrow money for capital expenditure—just over £3 million out of a total requirement for our schools of over £30 million.
Subsequently, an all-party delegation from the city council of Manchester, including Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat councillors who all recognised the desperate local need of our community, came to Westminster and succeeded in persuading the Government that we should be allowed to borrow more money to make capital improvements in the education sector in Manchester.
That does three things. First, it improves employment locally because of the expenditure incurred. Secondly, it improves the physical structure and surroundings of our children in which they can be educated. Thirdly, it demonstrates the importance of local government and of locally elected councillors. We have just had local elections. I wish to point out that in those local elections the Labour Party won the vast majority of the contested seats. What I am trying to get across to the Government is the need to respect local government and to listen to it because it speaks for local people.
The second area which I would like to touch on is the social services. In that area we support and help some of the most vulnerable members in our society. When I talk about education I am speaking about the future of that society. When I speak about social services I am talking about the here and now and the desperate plight of children who are in need of support. I speak also of disabled people and the elderly who need support. We are going through a process of change in the social services. We are trying to bring in care in the community. However, that is not a cheap option. Care in the community is about enabling local people to live in their own homes in the local community with support rather than being institutionalised. I hope that we shall all aspire to that situation. We would all wish to see that happening. We must ensure that the local authorities who are going to make it work have adequate funds to employ the carers, the home helps and the social workers to do that job.
There is one other area in which local government can help to regenerate our economy. I am speaking about house building. Currently the Government restrict the ability of local government to spend the receipts of the right-to-buy sales. If the Government were to relax those rules we as a nation could inject into the building industry a significant improvement to the economy and therefore start to reduce unemployment.
I was going to spend some time talking about transport which is a major subject. Unfortunately I have been speaking for over 12 minutes and there is one other subject which I would like to touch on. As regards transport, Manchester has a major international airport which is wholly owned by Manchester 191 City Council and the other nine metropolitan district councils in the Greater Manchester conurbation. That airport has been developed over many many years. It is a major national asset which is an engine for economic growth for the region as a whole and a source of dividend payments to relieve local taxation. I hope that the Government will not interfere with the good management and organisation of that part of our transport infrastructure.
Perhaps I may touch finally on the fight against terrorism. We have heard recently that MI5 has been given a leading role in that fight. That does not sit well with that section of the gracious Speech which speaks about the resolute enforcement of the law combined with progressive economic, social and political policies with reference to Northern Ireland.
The Los Angeles riots and the riots that occurred right across the United States as a result of what happened in Los Angeles have demonstrated the folly of creating an impoverished underclass in society. I hope that our new Government will learn the lessons and will take action to prevent such a situation occurring in the United Kingdom.
§ 6 p.m.
§ Lord Norrie
My Lords, at the outset of my speech, I congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Bradford, and the noble Viscount, Lord De L'Isle, on making such excellent maiden speeches. We all look forward to their participation in other debates in this Chamber in the future.
I am sure the whole House welcomes the assurance in the gracious Speech that the environment will remain a key priority for the Government and that the Government are committed to international leadership in environmental protection. However, many noble Lords and others outside this House were astonished that there was no specific commitment to legislation on environmental matters, in particular on national parks, hedgerow protection and the proposed environment agency.
The Government promised last September to legislate to ensure that every national park authority will become an independent board. This would enable the parks authorities to carry out their tasks more effectively. The promise was seen as a positive response to a thorough and highly respected review of national parks which found evidence of "deteriorating environmental quality" and "permanent damage to the landscape". Effective authorities are vital not only for the protection and care of our finest countryside heritage but also for the well-being of the many people who live and work in our national parks.
I hope that my noble friend can assure the House —and, indeed, the 100 million visitors to the parks each year—that there will be legislation to grant independence to national park authorities soon. I fear that, without such legislation, national park authorities will be left in limbo, neither independent nor strong partners in local government. Worse still, delay could result in their future becoming embroiled in local government reorganisation.
192 The announcement last July by the Government to introduce a hedgerow notification scheme and so finally stem the destruction of Britain's hedgerows was welcomed by many. However, the absence of any mention of this legislation in the gracious Speech last October and again on 6th May has left such people despondent.
Recent figures from the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology have shown that hedgerows continue to be lost at an alarming rate. Between 1984 and 1990, 24,180 miles of hedgerow were destroyed. This represents 10 per cent. of the total stock of English hedgerows. Unbelievably, net annual losses are now over 2,000 miles a year.
The sad outcome of that situation is that English hedgerows may now be in a worse position than they were only a year ago. My noble friend Lord Marlesford, who is sitting on my left, told me only this afternoon that an ancient hedge at Benhall in Suffolk, near his home, was grubbed out only a few weeks ago. It was noted for its diversity of wild life, as well as being a landscape feature.
In my view, it should be possible to get an instant listing of a threatened hedge in the way that it has been possible to do so for buildings—in fact ever since Michael Heseltine acted following the scandal of the Saturday demolition of the Firestone factory in London some 10 years ago. I hope that my noble friend the Minister can provide the House with the assurance that there will be legislation to protect the hedgerows soon, despite its absence from the gracious Speech.
It was also last July that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister announced his intention to establish an environment agency. While the principle has been broadly welcomed, there has been overwhelming opposition from environmental bodies to any suggestion that the functions of the National Rivers Authority should be split apart in the process, a point that was forcefully made by the noble Lord, Lord Moran.
Can my noble friend enlighten the House as to whether there will be legislation to create an agency soon and whether the Government still see this as a priority, or has no decision on its likely structure yet been made? I hope that the Government have not persuaded themselves that, with the White Paper and the Environmental Protection Act 1990, the legislative task has now been achieved. Many non-governmental organisations and environmental bodies are concerned that the lack of legislative proposals may indicate a departure from the spending plans for 1992. Can the Minister confirm that the expenditure plans in the annual report of the Department of the Environment for 1992 are unchanged?
Finally, I hope that when my noble friend responds to this debate he will be able to provide the assurances I have sought. If we are to contribute effectively to the current debates on international environmental issues, we should be quite sure that we have addressed fully our own domestic agenda.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ Lord Mountevans
My Lords, we have today a multitude of topics and specialised axes to grind. I should like to concentrate on British Railways, on behalf of which I declare an interest. I should also like to explore one or two aviation issues.
I welcome the Government's wish to see greater private investment and involvement in the railways and look forward to seeing the paving Bill when it reaches this House. I hope that, in the meantime, the Government will not rush the promised White Paper. It is much better that we take our time and get the White Paper, and thus the subsequent legislation, right than that we make haste and get them both wrong.
There are a number of issues that I hope will be carefully explored. The first is the investment regime that will develop. All of us who follow railway matters are aware that BR will continue to need investment at the current rate for several more years—perhaps for a whole decade. That is a fact of life in the investment cycle of all railways. They have periods of deep investment, then periods of lesser investment, and progress then means that they must go further, especially if they are to fulfil their role in a modern transport system.
To give just a few examples, Network SouthEast still needs a great deal of capital to renew its fleet, which, even at the end of the present orders, which have been massive, will still have an average age of 18 years. The rolling stock of the regional railways has been almost completely modernised, but there needs to be considerable investment in track and signalling. InterCity has to finance the west coast mainline upgrading, an eventual high-speed train replacement; and the electrification of the main lines out of Paddington. Those are specific to the individual businesses of British Rail as it is currently established, but then there are projects of such magnitude that one can almost call them "national", such as the Channel Tunnel link and CrossRail. All those projects need investment.
As we discuss and explore the possibilities of franchisees during the next few months, one must be concerned that those who so far have expressed an interest in becoming involved in British Rail seem committed to the leasing route. They must be persuaded that the fees that they pay when they lease—if that is what they choose—must cover investment unless they themselves are prepared to make that investment. If they are not so persuaded, in the long term the railways will go downhill rather than achieve the improvements that we are seeking and, equally important, the railway supply industry will grind to a halt.
What can go wrong has been illustrated by Sweden, which has had a track authority/operator system for two and a half years. That system was examined by a Select Committee of your Lordships' House but at that stage it had been running for only a year. Everyone seemed relatively content and everything was still shaking down. The positive aspects were emerging and the black sides had not yet become apparent. However, it now emerges that the track 194 authority in Sweden thinks that it is doing a grand job by keeping subsidy down. Therefore, it is making very little investment.
Who wants the investment? It is the operators which the Swedes have set up—Swedish Rail, the regional passenger transport authorities and private interests. They collectively want to see investment in infrastructure. They have a massive shopping list ranging from mega projects to link up with the European high speed rail proposals, to very modest elements sought by the passenger transport authorities, which in the case of Sweden are the counties. The operators feel that the shopping list has been ignored. They feel that the objectives of the track authority —keeping the subsidy down—and the objectives of the operators—maximising the use of rail—are irreconcilable. It is ironic that even projects with potentially high profits, such as Stockholm's version of the Heathrow Express, cannot attract either private funds or track authority funds from the government.
One of the steps we must take to avoid the Swedish situation, or at least to learn from it, is to make sure that the commercial relationship between franchisees or other operators who come in and the track authority includes an element for investment. I do not feel that the Government can carry all that investment. The franchisees must bear their share. The relationship between the franchisees and the track authority will lie in the hands of the regulator. That is a challenging task, and I would not envy anyone who had it. I hope that in defining his powers we shall learn from other regulatory bodies which we have already established.
Should the railway regulator, like Ofgas, be able to order cuts in prices? That does not seem a way ahead in terms of the investment that I am looking for. Should he, like the Civil Aviation Authority, be able to take frequencies from one franchisee and give them to another, as the CAA recently did in respect of the BA/Loganair competition on the Manchester-Edinburgh route? That hardly seems to be encouraging competition but restraining it. Can he be asked to strip an established operator of opportunities in order to give new entrants greater opportunities? I am reminded of Sir Michael Bishop's recent remarks relating to Richard Branson—that there was more to running an airline than trying to deprive established operators of established trade. I hope that the railway regulator will be told that cherry picking is not the way to develop the commercial railway. We have seen that already in terms of bus deregulation. There is massive choice on two or three occasions in the day but, if you want to go in the middle of the day or you do not want to pay the full fare because you are a senior citizen, tough.
I turn now to the proposal to reorganise the railways. One has to ask, hand on heart, not surely another one? British Rail has just spent 10 years switching from a product-related to a customer-led railway, always with the endorsement of successive Secretaries of State. That should not be forgotten. The reorganisation was completed on 4th April, beating the manifesto commitment to yet another reorganisation by a very short head. Given that, in the words of 195 a senior and late lamented BR manager from 20 years ago, when you reorganise you bleed, and when you reorganise you divert management time, management resources and management skill from the business of running a railway—from making it the best railway it can possibly be in the circumstances in which it operates—I wonder whether we really do need another reorganisation. If it is to be mandatory, let it be brief.
I turn briefly now to aviation. One did not need to be terribly clever to work out several months ago—even several years ago—that a fifth terminal at London Heathrow was imminent. It is necessary for three reasons. The first is to preserve London's pre-eminence as the world's gateway to Europe. The second is the fact that air traffic control has meant that runway capacity is no longer the great problem that it was. We have greatly improved air traffic control. The third reason is that bigger and more modern aircraft make less and less demands on runways. One can get a higher throughput but one needs more terminals. Given those facts and given that the announcement of Terminal 5 or a proposal to develop it is imminent, I wonder what has happened to that survey of quite a few years ago. Entitled HASQUAD—the Heathrow and South-West Quadrant Access Study—it looked not only at the problem of access to Heathrow but at the problems of communication within that area of outer South-West London. If in 10 to 12 years we are to have the additional terminal capacity, I hope that my noble friend can tell me that HASQUAD, which has already given us Heathrow Express, is not dead and buried, that the other elements in it—there were road links and other railway links—are still being considered and that we can look forward to an announcement.
If, as I hope we shall, we get Terminal 5, one has to ask about the other survey which seems to have been put on ice over the past three years. I refer to the survey which looked at runway requirements in the South East and made some eccentric suggestions. It put forward the idea of trying to persuade passengers from the Iberian Peninsular that their gateway to the United Kingdom should be Bournemouth Herne. Can I be told—if not today then perhaps in writing—what steps we are taking in that regard?
Lastly, I turn to the aviation issue that has been closest to my heart for about nine or 10 months. It will come as no surprise to several noble Lords sitting around me. I am broadly in agreement with the Asylum Bill but I strongly urge my right honourable friend the Home Secretary in his reconsideration of that Bill to scrap the immigration carriers' liability clauses. It is iniquitous that the staff of British airlines or British ferry companies or indeed the staff of foreign carriers should be expected to carry out this task without being paid for it. We pay the immigration service to be Britain's first line of immigration control. The system is not really working. Those who are taking it seriously are trying very hard to make it work, but we know that there are diplomatic pressures to make sure that others, who do not give a damn about the Immigration (Carriers' Liability) Act or 196 indeed its development through the Asylum Bill, ignore it completely. I therefore hope that those clauses will be seen to have died a death.
§ 6.17 p.m.
§ Earl Peel
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating the two maiden speakers this afternoon. I know how immensely relieved they must be and I very much hope that we hear from them on many future occasions.
When I was deciding whether to speak this afternoon I tried to get guidance from the officials as to whether agriculture could be discussed in a debate on the environment. One of the officials suggested to me that agriculture should now be debated under EC matters. That I thought was rather indicative of the times that we live in. However, I have not taken that advice for I take the view that the two are so inextricably linked that it would be totally illogical not to discuss them together. I am glad to say that I have noticed that other noble Lords have discussed agricultural matters at length.
I have long held the view that there should be a far greater link between agriculture and the environment, for in the wider countryside there exists what can only be described as a symbiotic relationship which lends the two to being together. I look forward to the day when we can have a Ministry of Rural Affairs.
I appreciate that much has been done by the Government in bridging the gap between farming and conservation. But conflict still exists, not simply at official level but also among those who own and work the land. As noble Lords will be aware, there is now a plethora of schemes administered by many government departments and agencies, each offering their own piece of action designed to promote the well-being of the countryside. I should like to point out that the rates of compensation, or incentives, paid to farmers, often for the same objective, seem to vary considerably from agency to agency. I seriously suggest that perhaps some degree of standardisation would in fact be advantageous for the Treasury.
It is becoming increasingly difficult for those of us on the ground—I am a landowner and therefore I appreciate such matters—to know with whom we are supposed to be dealing. I am very much aware of the argument that the more agencies there are vying for funds the more money they are likely to accumulate as a whole, but surely the pooling of resources and expertise would result in a more cohesive, efficient and effective operation.
Having said that, I think that the Government must be given credit for the undoubted success of the split of the old NCC. Here I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh. I believe that it has been an enormous success. I think that we are now seeing nature conservation being delivered in a more effective and sympathetic fashion. But, of course, we must not forget that that resulted in the amalgamation of the NCC and the Countryside Commission in Scotland and in Wales. I believe that it must surely happen in England, too, in due course.
The noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, said that she was looking forward to reading the annual report from 197 English Nature. That will shortly be announced on a day in May. I have no doubt that the noble Baroness will be present at the time. I hope that she finds that that will demonstrate that English Nature has had a very successful year. I appreciate that there has been extensive damage to SSSIs in some cases. However, I think that it should be pointed out that much of that has happened on common land. As the Government have now made it absolutely clear that English Nature is in the position to enter into management agreements on common land I hope that many of those indiscretions will cease. I should add that I believe that the reports concerning much of the damage that landowners and farmers have been accused of causing have, to a certain extent, been mischief making and greatly exaggerated.
One of the consequences of the range of fragmented schemes designed to encourage environmental objectives is that we are seeing a continued split between areas of agricultural production and nature conservation. Obviously those areas of high conservation value must be specifically protected—that is, the national nature reserves and areas under the sites of special scientific interest system of designation. They are the cornerstone of our nature conservation resource base.
With the state of agriculture and the desire to cut back on production I believe that we should have a real opportunity of marrying those two sides of rural land use more closely and of making amends for much of the damage that has come about through intensive production. We have seen that policy being developed through the environmentally sensitive areas system or scheme—largely very successful and, I am delighted to say, recently increased. Again, the Government must have our congratulations. It is working well.
In his maiden speech the noble Viscount, Lord De L'Isle, mentioned the importance of investment in rural areas. Of course, I appreciate that that is absolutely imperative. But we must shortly contend with the outcome of the GATT talks and indeed the realignment, if I may use that term, of the common agricultural policy. There is no doubting the fact that they will have a profound effect on agriculture and on the way that the land in this country will be utilised.
I do not profess to be an expert in these matters, but in my view food production must surely be exposed to greater competition, which must sooner or later pose a threat to large areas of land and those who manage and work upon it. Unless we can devise a policy by which production can be spread more evenly I am sure that the problems could be acute for many rural areas. We must develop a strategy that revolves around area payments, linking production and countryside management, thus reducing the need for farmers to rely so heavily on a high input and high output system.
In America, set-aside has not been deemed a success in environmental terms. As has already been mentioned in the debate, there is a strong reaction in this country against the idea of landowners being paid to do nothing. The management of wildlife cannot be seen simply in terms of isolated protectionism—important though that is in some cases, as I have 198 already said. I think that it must be seen more as a working partnership between man and the wider environment.
Further, if public money is going to be continued to be used to support agricultural output, or to help maintain the social fabric of rural societies, then it seems to me to be quite proper that environmental conditions should be imposed on those in receipt of such payments. Moreover, although cross-compliance, as it is known, appears to be a dirty word, to many of us it makes a great deal of sense.
One specific example of that is in the less-favoured areas, where the payment of the ewe premium and the hill livestock compensation allowance payments (vital though they are in supporting the hill economy) still continue to encourage overgrazing in upland areas and in their associated habitats. With much of the LFAs having been designated SSSIs we now have the somewhat bizarre situation where English Nature is entering management agreements and paying farmers to reduce stock with money from the public purse, while at the same time the Ministry of Agriculture also continues to pay farmers to keep the sheep out of the public purse.
My right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture undertook to review the whole question of what became known as the "greening of the HLCAs" before the election. In addition, there was talk of a code of good farming practice, plus the definition of overgrazing. I hope that those issues will continue to be reviewed very closely by the Government. I ask my noble friend—although I appreciate that it is not his department—perhaps to let me know the Government's response.
Remaining largely in the hills, but returning to one of the many agencies that I mentioned earlier, I refer specifically to the national parks. My noble friend Lord Norrie has already referred to them and, indeed, he asked the Government specifically whether they intended to enact any of the recommendations in the report of Professor Edwards. I appreciate that for many people the national parks represent something very special. But living in one, as I do, I have to ask whether in fact they have reached the end of their initial purpose and simply represent an ideal supported by an additional layer of bureaucracy.
In some ways I think that those concerned genuinely deserve our sympathy in that many of the new initiatives which have been designed to promote environmental well-being—much of it in land within the park boundaries—have in fact been carried out by other agencies or government departments. One has to say that they have been carried out extremely successfully, but that begs the question: what role do the park authorities really have? Further, I believe that I am right in saying that the habitat loss within the parks has been just as great as that outside the parks.
Of course, I appreciate that the role of reconciling the needs of the local people and those of the visitors is not an easy one, but public relations in many cases have been, to put it mildly, disappointing. After nearly 40 years in existence it is disturbing that over 1,000 199 local residents in a remote rural area could have signed a petition of no confidence in one of the park authorities.
I fully appreciate that politically the national parks are here to stay. But, if they remain—and remain they will—I hope that a more sensitive and dynamic regime can be brought into play if they are to succeed in winning over the goodwill of the local people, in bringing together the needs and aspirations of both locals and visitors and at the same time helping to conserve the well-being of the countryside.
I finish by simply reminding the Government, particularly in view of the near success of the McNamara Bill in another place, of the importance of field sports to the countryside. An incentive to retain and manage habitats without a constant call on the Exchequer is a rare commodity indeed and not one to be taken lightly. Apart from the crucial environmental benefits, may I draw your Lordships' attention to the recently produced report by Cobham Resources entitled Countryside Sports—their Economic and Conservation Significance. The combined direct spending and indirect spending of countryside sports generated £2.5 billion in 1990 and resulted in 125,000 full-time jobs. A copy of the full report and executive summary is in the Library. I hope very much that the Government will read it and that as many of your Lordships as possible will read it.
I have to leave shortly after my speech and I hope that my noble friend and your Lordships will forgive me if I am not here for the conclusion of the debate. I have to get back to Yorkshire this evening.
§ 6.32 p.m.
The Earl of Lindsay
My Lords, I wish to consider the commitment made in the gracious Speech to,increasing the role of the railways in meeting the country's transport needs".Above all, I welcome the Government putting the railways on to the agenda and the opportunity that this creates for fresh initiatives and fresh assessments.
Whether or not one is or ever will be a rail user, it is vital that an increased role for the railways is genuinely achieved. The greater the contribution of the rail system to our transport needs, the greater the benefit to the environment and therefore the greater the benefit to the entire nation. We must realise these benefits and we must begin to solve the very serious environmental problems that are directly related to our huge reliance on road transport. To do so, however, the increased role for the railways has to look very much further than the quality, packaging and ownership of selected journeys. The overriding preoccupation must be with the quantity of usage, the capacity of the infrastructure for further usage and its integration with other transport systems.
My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport has declared that the needs of the consumer are uppermost in his mind and that the absolute objective is an improvement in quality. This reassurance is aimed perhaps at existing rail users. Ultimately, I hope that the needs of the nation are uppermost and that the improvements in quality will 200 not be seen to be sufficient unless they in turn are responsible for a notable improvement in customer volume. The absolute objective and only yardstick should be the success with which rail transport attracts and meets an ever-increasing proportion of our total transport needs. If government strategy adopts this long-term objective with single-mindedness, one of the principal environmental benefits to accrue will substantially underpin their efforts towards reducing the output of greenhouse gases.
The most significant of the greenhouse gases, because of the sheer volume that we produce, is carbon dioxide; and between 15 per cent. and 25 per cent. of the CO2, that we pump into the atmosphere every day comes solely from motor vehicles. It is misleading to take some vague comfort from catalytic converters—they actually increase the carbon dioxide emission. There is no known technology that can practically remove CO2, from vehicle exhausts. Catalytic converters have some bearing on the emission of carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons. However, there are two problems with these converters. They do not operate until the engine temperature reaches 300° centigrade and they operate efficiently only when it reaches 1,000° centigrade. Since 60 per cent. of our car trips in Britain are of five miles or less, catalytic converters are not as effective as we might have believed.
The second problem applies also to lead-free petrol, and that is that the projected increases in the volume of road traffic will easily outweigh the reductions made in pollution per vehicle. The most conservative estimates are that road traffic levels will have risen by between 87 per cent. and 142 per cent. by the year 2018. Other groups suggest that it could approach an increase of 300 per cent. by the year 2025. Thus carbon monoxide emissions, which are responsible for between 20 per cent. and 40 per cent. of global warming, are set to rise further, as are nitrogen oxides. The latter emissions derive predominantly from motor vehicles and are a principal constituent of acid rain. A substantial number of trees—some 64 per cent. in this country—are now showing signs of acid rain damage.
The long-established right to travel comparatively freely by road is now becoming a threat to our own health and interests. Air pollution is just one of the major environmental factors that must be a central consideration of transport policy decisions over the next few years. There are others of equal importance, such as land take and land use, noise pollution and congestion and the depletion of non-renewable resources. Air pollution, however, is more topical in the light of the Government's commendable backing for carbon dioxide reductions.
Given the wide-ranging, long-term benefits that will accrue from increased rail usage, I cannot help but be concerned when my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport promises to continue loss-making services where socially necessary. My concern is that social factors alone are the only justification other than profitability for a rail link. If this is the case, I urge him to enter environmental benefits on to the balance sheet. In the broader context many such services are not loss makers at all. Should 201 the environmental costs of travel, furthermore, be charged as fully to the road user, as they are to the rail user, many rail services will become a dramatically more popular option for consumers. At the very least there should be a wider understanding of the different environmental costs involved and how they are being met. For instance, we should all be broadly aware that financially the pollution costs of a passenger mile by road are 4.4 times greater than a passenger mile by railway, while the pollution costs of goods and freight for a tonne mile by road are some 19 times higher than a tonne mile by rail.
The proposed restructuring of British Rail seems to be an excellent opportunity for redressing a crucial imbalance. It is in everyone's interest. If we fail, there is a danger that new rail operators will realistically be competing only among themselves for existing rail users. The competitive edge that will be brought to the railways through the introduction of private sector skills and choice must be felt beyond their own immediate market place. Above all, it must be felt by road users.
I welcome the White Paper as an opportunity for the Government to take a good hard look at what lies ahead. I therefore agree with my noble friend Lord Mountevans that it must not be rushed and due time must be given for consultation. It must do more than tinker and play with the colour of the ribbon and the wrapping of the package which in real terms will achieve very little. What is needed, with all its manifold benefits, is exactly what the gracious Speech heralded; namely, increasing the role of the railways in meeting the country's transport needs.
§ 7.38 p.m.
§ Lord Tanlaw
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the comments of the noble Earl on the environment. It is a subject I raised here in 1976—much to the amusement of noble Lords at the time. With regard to his reference to catalytic converters I think he might have said that there is a danger that when a catalytic converter becomes old, as in a secondhand car after some years of use, it actually pollutes the atmosphere even more than a car without one. However, that is something for another debate and another day.
We were fortunate to have two marvellous maiden speeches—by the noble Earl, Lord Bradford, and the noble Viscount, Lord De L'Isle. It is good to have new voices speaking with their own expertise to add to our debates in this House.
I welcome the comments of the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and congratulate him, if I may—rather irregular attender that I am—on his first delivery on rail transport matters, the subject upon which I intend to speak. I hope that he will not take it amiss if I say that there were many similarities in his reference to rail transport matters to those of his predecessors in previous debates on previous gracious Speeches. They were politically correct; but, alas!, little or no action was offered. I have to declare my interest. My company is a member of the Rail Industry Association of Great Britain. One of the many reasons that I am away from your Lordships' House is that I am trying 202 to find work for my men on railways outside this country, mainly in Europe but also in the Far East and America.
Without giving away trade secrets, I can say that the railways in Europe are working on the integration of a high-speed, high-tech network which at the moment is about 10 years ahead of what we have in this country. On no railway anywhere in the world of which I have knowledge is anyone approaching the capital problem by painting trains or coaches different colours or selling stations. They are putting money into the track and the systems so that trains, locomotives, passengers and freight can travel at high speeds, efficiently and cleanly, without the problems that their equivalents in heavy lorries would cause the environment.
I suppose that we do not do much about rail transport in this country because there is the question of money—it always has been—for the Government. Therefore, I welcome the noble Earl's comments about financing a terminal at Heathrow and the provision of billions more for the motorways which will be necessary to take on the extra trucks, freight and containers that cannot use the broad-gauge railway that does not exist to link up with the Channel Tunnel.
The only complaint I have is that the method of providing capital funding is done on an annual basis. Did your Lordships notice that the noble Earl said that this year we have spent more than ever before, and that if we are good boys we may get more next year? I do not understand why the Government, or, more particularly, Her Majesty's Treasury, refuse to make a distinction between capital and income. It is known as the "no money" syndrome, I believe. Ministers in this House and in another place get up, turn their pockets out and say, "It is a wonderful idea, but we have no money". How many chairmen of public companies get up in front of their shareholders, or would dare to get up, and say, "I cannot refurbish my factory, because I do not have any money"? They go to the bank and obtain some finance.
The Government are one of the biggest raisers of finance, through their gilt-edged securities, anywhere in Europe and this country, obviously. Why cannot they do it for the railways? I will not accept, and I do not believe that the House should accept, the "I do not have any money" syndrome. It is the attitude of a high street grocer with his head stuck permanently in the till. If that is an undignified position to take, it is also one from which vision is singularly restricted.
I want to deal now with the omissions from the gracious Speech. The first Channel Tunnel was conceived more than 100 years ago. I believe that planning on the present Channel Tunnel was started 15 years ago. The Channel Tunnel link was obviously part of that planning and system. I ask the Minister to tell us when he replies whether—after 15 years of planning, and apparent activity, coupled with a commitment in the gracious Speech to meet the country's transport needs—the terminal at Ashford —the English end of the tunnel—will be completed to take the first trains by 1993. Will it be completed in 203 such a way that it will cover the high-speed link which has not yet been built and also local traffic? That would be a helpful start.
There is the other matter of the high-speed link. For 15 years nothing has happened. I wonder what everyone has been doing all that time. There are problems with tunnels. When one starts at one end one is sometimes not sure where it will come out; but with this tunnel we started at this end. We should be clear that it was going to start at Ashford and that trains coming from the Continent were going to come out at Ashford. They were coming out nowhere else. Yet it seems that in the deliberations of the Department of Transport and the Treasury there is uncertainty about that, because there is no high-speed link to link up with the high-speed trains that have been travelling across Europe. They will come here and, as we all know—I shall not go into details again—have to fit in with the commuter trains coming into London.
Will the Minister tell us whether the high-speed link will be built in this century, or will we have to wait for the 21st century? It is a yes or no answer. Will he say when it is going to be built? Some people have been working on it for 15 years. They have been paid for by the taxpayer. British Rail has been working on it, but there is no route agreed. Perhaps there is, but I have heard nothing since Friday when British Rail told me that there was no route. Perhaps the Minister will enlighten the House on that point.
What about the broad-gauge freight link to take European containers? When will that be built? We have known for 15 years that these containers were coming. I have sat on committees, as have noble Lords, during the 1970s and 1980s. The information was available not only in the House, it was available in the department. It is available everywhere. What are we going to do with the containers?
The noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, is worried about the environment. So are many other people. So, apparently, are the Government. There has been a great deal of talk about the environment; and yet a broad-gauge freight link has not been built so all the freight will go on the roads. Many of the billions put forward for motorway expenditure are merely to cope with the excessively large loads that will come off the trains. I believe that they will arrive every two minutes in Kent from the Continent.
When will the broad-gauge freight link help the environment? When will it take the loads off the roads for the wretched people of Kent? Can the Minister give a date for that? Let us have a date. Is it this century or is it the 21st century? Do we have to wait for some unscheduled date? For how many more gracious Speeches will we have to wait before we hear that a high-speed link and a broad-gauge freight link have been made? There has been a great deal of pontificating about the environment and about painting trains different colours. That is fine, but that is a laissez-faire policy. That is the policy upon which the Government were re-elected. They are famous for it. I feel that that is what the people of this country 204 really want and they may also not be entirely happy about having a link with the Continent. The Government have been very clever.
I am not criticising the Government for delay as such but an extraordinary delay of 15 years is taking laissez-faire to new extremes. New boundaries have been crossed. I believe that there will be another five or more years to go before they do anything. When he replies, I want the Minister to give us some dates. If he cannot give us any dates, there are no dates. Laissez-faire is alive and well for the future! If that is what the people want, that is what they have. Will it make any difference?
I remember from when I was at school a poem called "The Rolling English Road" by G.K. Chesterton. It goes:A reeling road, a rolling road, that rambles round the shire,And after him the parson ran, the sexton and the squire",It goes on:But I did bash their baggonets because they came arrayed To straighten out the crooked road an English drunkard made".It was a good attitude to have at the time. Why should the French come here and tell us what to do, whether it is running our railways or straightening our roads?
There is a more serious side to this matter, although I have been trying to lighten up the debate which frankly has been long and rather dreary. We must face the question of the location of the European Central Bank. I am not in the House much because I spend my time going across Europe and the world, like many other railway people. Europeans are quite used to travelling large distances on fast trains but we are not. As regards the City of London being the central financial hub of Europe—there is no question that it has the electronic technology and the ability to assume that position—we must consider how people will get to London from Europe. I am sure most people try to reach their destination and get back home again in one day when undertaking business trips. In Europe people cover enormous distances by car, and more and more frequently by train for this reason.
My European friends feel we are so far behind in our thinking about the railways—let alone as regards what is on the ground—that the fast rail link will not become a reality. They do not believe they will be able to leave Europe and travel to London and back to Europe again in the same day. They will be able to do so, even with the system that we have planned. But I want to hear the Government utter some more positive remarks about the railways. I do not want to hear them say they do not want foreigners. I want to hear them say something enthusiastic about the railways rather than indulge in the kind of sniping at the chairman and board of British Rail that has been going on. I want the Government to pronounce enthusiastically that the fast rail link will come about and that it will be used by all Europeans.
We have had debates on this subject time and time again. I and other noble Lords have taken part in these debates but I do not think they are getting us anywhere. Nothing has happened. We are about 10 years behind now. By the time the next gracious Speech is delivered to your Lordships' House we shall 205 be perhaps 15 to 20 years behind. I just feel that all this matter needs is a little more enthusiasm and a proper system of long-term financing. That way we would achieve what everybody wants to see achieved without the kind of huffing and puffing that goes on at present. I hope noble Lords opposite and the Department of Transport will talk a little less and engage in a little more action.
§ 6.52 p.m.
§ Lord Cochrane of Cults
My Lords, I wish to speak about railways. However, it is always difficult to follow a good act and for a moment I shall divert my railway thoughts into a siding and start by congratulating my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish on his thoughtful, wise and correct—I emphasise the word "correct"—political analysis of the situation in the country in which I am happy to live, that is Scotland. We should not believe what we read in newspapers about the urge for the dissolution of the Union. The people of Scotland wish to prosper and to live safely and be content. The course that my noble friend advocated is in my opinion best calculated to achieve those aims.
As regards railways, there is a reference in the gracious Speech to enlarging the role of railways and permitting bodies other than British Rail to operate services on them. That is possibly a good idea, but I must tell my noble friends who are sitting in front of me that I do not think it is half as good an idea as they think it is. The problem with British Rail is that it suffers desperately from a particular symptom. One can turn on one's television set and hear a man say in a loud voice that the Government must do something about the railways. He usually comes from another place. The Government are tempted to do something but that is not a good thing as governments tend to do almost everything badly. They would not exist at all if it were not for some matters that they simply have to tackle—for example, maintaining the integrity of the Realm, adequate defence and a system of law and order. However, running the railways is definitely not an area that the Government tackle well. Therefore they should do as little as possible in that area.
For proof of that theory one has only to look across at the countries that were behind the former Iron Curtain. One can see the devastation that has been wrought on formerly prosperous and expanding countries by 70 years of centralist rule by governments who did everything. That point needs no further elaboration.
Another reason why governments are bad at running railways is quite simply that they think they know best. Mercifully I have never been in a government post and I have no intention of taking up such a post even if I were asked to do so. However, it is important to remember that the people who have to make the decisions are those who stand by the consequences of those decisions. I support the comment of the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, that members of the British Railways Board should not be the subject of sniping that is apparently government inspired. The members of the board are able and experienced men and are doing a good job in difficult 206 circumstances. The reasons why the circumstances are difficult are twofold. First, the economic climate of the country is causing difficulties and, secondly, there is unremitting interference in the investment decisions of the board by Department of Transport officials backed by the Treasury.
I remember hearing the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, remark when he was in the Department of Transport that many of the officials in his department spent all their working lives working with British Rail. I criticised him subsequently for that remark as I felt it would be much better if those officials did less rather than more. I stand by that remark. If one wishes to see the results of that unremitting interference one has only to travel to Southend, as I have done.
Let us start from the premise that British Rail is basically working in discouraging circumstances and it is as efficient as it is possible to be in such circumstances. InterCity is the only inter-city rail system in Europe—and I believe further afield—that operates at a profit. I repeat that it operates at a profit. That is an amazing achievement.
If noble Lords do not believe that InterCity is the only rail system in Europe to make a profit, they should study the finances of the Swiss railways. Where the infrastructure has been modernised high speed trains can operate. However, much of the British railway system has not been modernised due to short-sighted parsimony on the part of those controlling the investment programme. The investment programme is reviewed on an annual basis. As the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, has remarked, no one knows what investment will be allocated the following year and there is constant pleading that such and such an investment cannot be afforded. In many ways the British Railways Board has achieved remarkable successes in discouraging circumstances.
Being second best in everything one does is akin to the situation in a family business where there are far too many old uncles doddering about saying to the younger members of the family, "No you cannot do that". Being second best in everything one does is also akin to the famous cotton spinner's view on investment when he remarked in connection with opening a showroom in London that anything South of Crewe was an overhead. That is the situation that pertains at present. The uncles in the family business comprise a mixture of officials in the Department of Transport and the Treasury. The lot of them should be sacked as soon as possible. I realise that my remarks may cause horror in various places but I believe we should make the British Railways Board accountable directly for its decisions. It should be turned into a plc. I believe that that could be achieved in a one or two clause Bill. If it were turned into a plc its borrowing and financial requirements—we are all agreed they are substantial—would not form part of the public sector borrowing requirement.
It is a curious commentary on the rules of the public sector borrowing requirement that if British Rail attempts to borrow on the London market its borrowing is termed a public sector borrowing requirement, but if the French railway borrows on the 207 London market—as it has done—its borrowing is not termed a public sector borrowing requirement. I do not know what heading the latter borrowing would come under. It might even be termed an invisible import or export but it is certainly not termed a public sector borrowing requirement. We should get rid of that nonsense.
If the British Railways Board became a plc it would gain the financial freedom to develop as it felt best. It would be encouraged by the knowledge that it was in charge of its own affairs. The public would inevitably obtain by degrees a better service and they would view British Rail in a better light. The solution I have advocated is a progressive one and I believe it would deal with a situation which has been badly handled for far too long. Let us have no more of it.
Finally, I should like to consider a very small point. It concerns a national park which contains a large quarry called Redmire. The rail loading facilities, which are owned by the quarry operator, are not efficient. The quarry owner feels that he can obtain a better bargain by hauling several hundred thousand tonnes a week by road through the national park. He is perfectly entitled to do so with reference to nobody but it will cause heavy traffic in a beautiful area on wholly unsuitable roads. Surely, with all the thought that goes into the environment on other matters, a better way can be found. No blame can in any way be attributed to British Rail in the circumstances. Were the rail loading facilities to be improved, I understand that British Rail is confident that it could continue its service, matching or bettering the special quotation for haulage by road.
I advocate further support for British Rail, detaching it from the Department of Transport, and transferring it to people who understand railways, which are complicated to run and require great devotion, such as I met the other day. A lunatic jumped off the end of the platform at Huntingdon straight into the front of the train on which I was travelling. After some delay, the driver took the train forward because no other driver was available. He was not bound to do so but he did his duty by the passengers and the railway. When we criticise, we must remember that there is another side to everything.
§ 7 p.m.
§ Baroness Platt of Writtle
My Lords, first I must apologise for the fact that I was not able to be present for the first two speeches. I shall look forward to reading them in Hansard. Her Majesty's most gracious Speech referred to the environment in a number of ways, demonstrating most clearly how the subject has moved up the political agenda in recent times, both nationally and internationally. We were treated to two excellent maiden speeches on the subject today.
Some years ago the right honourable Mrs. Margaret Thatcher contributed to that upward acceleration with her timely speech to the Royal Society, drawing attention to the possible dangers of global warming. Scientists world-wide are studying 208 the subject, and while most are agreed that there are dangers in the coming century which must be prepared for sensibly, they also know that there are many factors whose effect is not yet known.
The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, chaired our House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology in 1989 when it considered the subject and published a most balanced report, particularly drawing attention to the influence of oceans on global warming, which urgently needs to be researched. Nevertheless, the committee firmly recommended that:The best way of securing reduction of greenhouse gas emissions is through a UN Climate Convention. In view of the potentially unpleasant consequences of global warming, every country, including the United Kingdom, must plan to reduce its emissions of greenhouse gases in advance of such a Convention. Developed countries should assist less developed countries to do the same, especially where more advanced technology is required".Britain has decided to set itself a tougher timetable for stabilising its rising emissions of carbon dioxide, changing the target year for bringing annual output of carbon dioxide back to its 1990 level from 2005 to 2000. The Government have also committed us to phasing out chlorofluorocarbons by 1995.
We all need to contribute to that target in our personal actions, both domestically and through our involvement in industry and commerce. The Citizen's Charter is about responsibilities as well as rights if we are to play our full part in combating global warming.
Her Majesty's gracious Speech refers both to the forthcoming United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro in June this year, and also to our substantial aid programme to reduce poverty in developing countries. There is no doubt that the rapidly rising world population is one of the dominant factors in global warming, particularly as developing countries achieve a better standard of living. Our assistance in achieving that better standard of living can also assist in keeping families to a size where they can be fed, and the demands of fetching wood and water do not exhaust the mothers of those families, preventing them from acquiring more valuable skills and doing more rewarding work.
I hope, too, that economical ways of utilising solar energy can be found to assist those countries. Sunshine is something in which they are rich, and its energy needs to be harnessed in their service in an economical way. The richer industrial nations need to exercise their scientific ingenuity to utilise intermediate technology to develop means of harnessing solar energy to create either mechanical or photovoltaic power to reduce drudgery and contribute to raising living standards in poorer countries. Mass markets will develop which can eventually repay investment, and families will not need to produce more and more children as their only way of achieving support in their old age. World population has a hope then of feeding itself and sustaining its environment to support future life.
At the United Nations convention we must also persuade the USA to take a stronger line on energy saving. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister, John Major, will attend, and I understand 209 that we have played our part in persuading President Bush also to attend, which is excellent. Anyone who has visited the USA must be shocked at the profligate way they leave lights on in offices throughout the night and use air conditioning in hot climates which makes it necessary to wear a warm jacket indoors—a complete waste of energy. Again, if a climate of opinion can be encouraged in that country to conserve and reduce energy use, an immense amount of fossil fuel can be saved and volumes of CO2 prevented from contributing to global warming.
The Environmental Protection Act 1990 will have a major effect in this country, with its control of emissions to air, land and water monitored actively by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Pollution, and in seeking the best practical solution to the problems as they are exposed. Local authorities will also have an important part to play in this matter, and in enforcing toughened regulations on waste management and control and in clearing litter—one of the curses of our modern age—as mentioned by my noble friend in his excellent maiden speech.
Recycling has become far more common, I am glad to say. Again, citizens are reacting responsibly, filling bottle banks, collecting paper, cans and clothes. In addition, registers will have to be prepared of contaminated land, which should have a profound effect on setting up new industrial processes in the future, taking into account the principle that the polluter pays.
To turn to a different aspect of the environment, over the past few years the way in which local government works has changed considerably. Enlightened local authorities, in trying to reduce the financial burden on their electorates, have put services out to competitive tendering, utilised private operators to reduce costs and gradually developed policies of enabling the provision of good quality public services rather than actually providing them. That trend will continue in line with the Citizen's Charter.
The process of schools opting out and becoming much more self-reliant in providing the sort of education local parents want for their children and enhancing parental choice is all to the good. Once again, however, the good LEA can be of vital importance to lay school governing bodies in providing advice and expertise, in keeping down costs, in-service training of teachers, economical purchasing arrangements through bulk buying, energy saving schemes, design and provision of science laboratories and, of course, immense educational experience in the raising of standards in all subjects through the expertise of their inspectorates and advisers. That will continue where the service is good but in competition with private provision, which again should raise standards.
To come to my last point. In the time of the present Parliament, the Local Government Commission, under the chairmanship of Sir John Banham, will be adjudicating on the future pattern of local government throughout England. In the Act setting up the Commission the Government made allowance for local flexibility particularly taking into account local 210 opinion, which I welcome. I do not believe that the universal imposition of unitary authorities would be either desirable or economical.
I was glad to read that my right honourable friend the new Secretary of State, Michael Howard, is also of that opinion. The report stated that he is in favour of reinstating a number of old county boroughs as unitary authorities, such as Bristol, Leicester, Nottingham, Norwich, Oxford, Plymouth, Southampton, York and others, and that he also had in mind to readdress the creation of the unpopular local authorities such as Avon and Humberside. Sir John Banham is reported as saying very wisely that his guiding principle would be: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it". He knows all too well from his long experience as chairman of the Audit Commission before he went to the CBI how local authority expenditure can escalate and he is concerned, as is the Secretary of State, that the possible costs of wholesale reorganisation both in money terms and disruption may be too great.
I was involved in the last local government reorganisation at both district and county level. I know from practical experience that reorganisation results in a flurry of empire building and a need for new office building to house those new empires, which works no better than the old. There is also a spate of redundancies and ring-fencing of appointments which lead to greater expenditure but not greater efficiency.
Nor does the infighting between district and county councils as to who might be the new unitary authority lead to better service to the public. It diverts both councillors' and officers' attention from that primary duty of good local government service to the public. In my experience, the interaction of county, district and parish councils, which will entail discussion and eventual compromise to achieve workable solutions to problems, is healthy and should result in greater efforts to please and serve the public in the provision of services.
Planning particularly needs the parish opinion and the district decision, but within the control of the county structure plan, if personal favour is to be kept out of the process, and that is essential. Highways must be planned at a level above the district if they are to be efficiently provided, but housing is better organised at district level. It will be of no assistance to anyone to break up valuable collections of county archives. Fire brigades and police need to be organised by larger authorities to utilise expensive equipment economically.
All those factors will need to be taken into account by the Local Government Commission. I am sure that they will be able to achieve better local solutions if they are free to exercise flexibility in their conclusions. In my view, the unitary authority can obviously succeed but should not be imposed as the rule, bearing in mind our long history of diversity in local government. I hope that in the majority of shire counties where efficient administration and friendly co-operation with district and parish councils is already in existence, the pattern will not be disturbed.
§ 7.13 p.m.
§ Lord Tordoff
My Lords, we come to the winding-up of this debate. It has been extremely wide-ranging. I had intended to make a number of remarks about the speeches that have been made by noble Lords in the course of the debate but I notice that most noble Lords are conspicuously absent from the Chamber. I except from that observation the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, who was good enough to come to me during the course of the debate and explain that he had an engagement elsewhere bearing partly on transport matters and partly on his earlier activities in the foreign affairs field. It is very good to see him back again in the transport group. As noble Lords know, it is a very private club in your Lordships' House. Normally not more than six people attend a transport debate. The noble Earl has been through the mill before. We tamed him on that occasion and I dare say we shall manage to do so again. In passing, I regret that the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, will no longer be part of the transport fraternity. The House owes him a great debt for the way in which he has handled transport matters over a good many years. He was a very welcome member of that exclusive club.
I was very interested in a couple of remarks made by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, in his opening speech. I shall not go into a polemic about it but I thought that the regional airport statistics were interesting. The number of destinations served by regional airports has risen from 50 to 130. Long may that trend continue. I am one who has always believed that there is much more scope for the use of regional airports. The Government must continue to throw their weight behind as many bilateral arrangements as they can with overseas countries to ensure that our rather splendid regional airports, especially in the case of Manchester, Birmingham and the Scottish airports, are used as much as they possibly can be. There is always the argument that people want to travel via London. It is part of the job of government, the tourist boards and other organisations to make sure that packages are available to attract people to enter this country via our regional gateways.
I also heard the noble Earl praise the appointment of Mr. Steve Norris to the job of co-ordinating transport in the Greater London area. Noble Lords will not be surprised to hear that I welcome anybody who will co-ordinate transport in the Greater London area. It is something for which we have been pleading for a long time. However, I rather doubt that that is the right way to do it. Certainly I would rather see a democratically elected body dealing with the people of London. Nevertheless, it is a step forward. What a pity that one of the important factors in the equation —land use planning—is apparently not included in his remit. I do not believe that it is possible to plan for transport in Greater London unless one considers the whole movement of population, which includes land use planning.
The intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Moran, as regards water was an important and significant contribution to the debate. I was glad that he highlighted the enormous losses in the transmission of water within local areas. It is scandalous that water, 212 which is such a precious commodity in this country, is wasted. Certainly the Government ought to do something to make sure that the water authorities do not chuck it all away.
The noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, stole most of my intended speech on road traffic congestion, but that will not necessarily stop me from making it. I applaud what he had to say on that matter. The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, after what I thought was a poor start when he suggested that his party had had a great success in the election in Scotland, went on to make a very interesting speech in relation to the development of local government in Scotland. The point has been made already once or twice in this debate that it is very important to recognise that the size of the local government entity should not be determined only by population. My view, and it has been the view of my party for a long time, is that the size of local government should be determined by the genuine feeling of community that the people have in their homes, villages and towns. It will mean that there will be numbers of local government areas which are very disparate in size. Therefore one must look at the functions that can be allocated to them. I am a great believer in regional government for England as well as in devolution for Scotland and Wales. But we are some way off that situation because the rest of the people of England have not quite caught up with me. It will come one day. But it is within that context and the context of overall European politicisation that we must look at the way that government is structured all the way through.
I am sorry to have missed the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, about the railways. He always speaks good sense on British Rail. I had to leave the Chamber on a matter not unrelated to the accommodation of that group, which I am chairing in this House. I apologise to the noble Lord for not being present but as he is not now in the Chamber, perhaps I may have back half that apology. I was glad that he raised the question of the carrier's liability in relation to the Asylum Bill. The Government now have the opportunity to put right a particularly stupid piece of legislation from the last Session. No doubt encouraged by their noble friend from British Airways they will consider again that piece of legislation.
The noble Earl, Lord Peel, made an interesting speech. It was only undermined at the end by his determination to return to Yorkshire. As a Lancastrian that seems to me a very foolish thing to have to do.
To the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, I can only say, "Will he please come back to these Benches where he belongs?". It is some years since he took himself off to the Cross Benches. However, his speech was one of the great moments of the debate. He put his finger on a series of issues, ridiculing the situation that has existed over 15 years. It is a matter of ridicule that the Continentals are putting large sums of money into building up the new infrastructure of the rail network for Europe and we are fiddling about on the edges wondering whether we can perhaps build a small tram track to meet the exit at the tunnel. It is a piece of crass incompetence that we have not been able to establish 213 a high speed link to that tunnel. As I have said in your Lordships' House many times before, the tunnel, as much as anything, ought to exist for carrying our freight from manufacturing industries into the markets of Europe; and we are singularly failing to do that.
I wish to mention two omissions from the gracious Speech. They have both been referred to. First, why was the Environmental Protection Agency omitted? It was certainly included in the Government's manifesto as regards the election. I quote from a document called A Brighter Britain which states:We will establish a new Environment Agency which will bring together the functions of the National Rivers Authority, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Pollution and the waste regulation functions of local authorities".The question has been asked; I ask it again. When will the Government establish that new environmental agency? Will they indeed bring together all those functions, or have the Government changed their mind? Has Mr. Gummer's persuasive tongue already broken the promises in the manifesto?
We on these Benches believe in a truly independent Environmental Protection Agency. It needs to be independent because the Government should not be in a position of attempting to scrutinise their own record. It is also necessary because we require a proper linkage with the European environmental agency. Ministers with green responsibilities in each department are a start, but they are not capable of offering the strict external appraisal that is necessary if the environment is to he taken seriously.
Along with others, we welcome the Prime Minister's announcement that this country will stabilise CO2 emissions at the 1990 level by the year 2000, and not, as originally suggested by 2005. However, by global standards that is not enough. We hope that the change of heart by the British Government will continue to put pressure on the Americans. We are glad that Mr. Bush will attend the Earth Summit but, as has already been said, the announcement over the weekend seemed extremely timid in relation to what was being promised. That position has to be firmed up. The developing countries must be getting sick to death of the way in which the developed countries are using up the earth's resources and making no attempt to maintain the necessary self-discipline to ensure the future of this planet.
We are also glad that we shall have catalytic convertors although I echo the problems referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, and the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw. Such measures are welcome; they will help in the short term. However, they have serious downside effects. Similarly, the stricter control on sulphur in diesel emissions in 1995 is welcome.
All those measures require a reduction in the use of private transport—the motor car—if we are to get anywhere near meeting those requirements. From 1952 to 1989 demand for passenger transport rose by 230 per cent.; and that trend continues. In consequence, although fuel efficiency has increased, the growth in the total number of cars has led to an increased share of energy being taken by transport. As the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, said, we have to shift the burden on to public transport as best we can.
214 In the conurbations, the major role has to be taken by buses. We have heard much talk today about railways but very little about buses. I now refer to the second omission in the gracious Speech: the deregulation of London buses. I hope that the Government are to be congratulated on that omission. I hope it means that they are thinking more deeply about the issues. When one compares what has happened in areas where buses have been deregulated and those where they have not, as in London, the comparison is startling. Between 1985 when the Act was introduced and 1990–91, patronage on London buses increased by 3.9 per cent. In metropolitan areas it decreased by 26 per cent. The operating costs per passenger decreased in London by 16 per cent. and in metropolitan areas by only 8 per cent.
There is an interesting comparison between those areas which have been deregulated and those which have not. Many of the fears that were expressed when the Bill went through your Lordships' House, sadly, appear to have been fulfilled. Numbers of bus passengers have fallen enormously except in the London area. That cannot be good for the environment or for road transport in general.
The question regarding reliability of bus services has been raised. If passengers are not convinced that a bus will appear in a reasonable time they will find other means of transport. The noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, referred to timetables. It is a serious matter. We have technology on the London Underground which gives information that another train will be along in so many minutes. At major bus stops it is perfectly possible to have the same information: that there will be a bus along in so many minutes. It will not be possible for such technology to be funded if buses are deregulated. I hope that that matter will be taken into consideration when the Government consider deregulation.
We know that the Government are reluctant to interfere with the workings of the market. However, I believe that they have to interfere to ensure that some of the mistakes made in the 1985 Act are corrected. For instance, are the traffic commissioners upholding professional and safety standards? Are the people who operate genuinely up to standard, or are there too many cowboys around?
Much as been said today about the railways. I do not propose to go into great detail beyond what has been said except to say this. If the Government are to do more than tinker with the situation—in other words, if they wish to do more than merely to extend the franchise to the Orient Express, to Mr. Branson or to Stagecoach with a few cosmetic changes such as airline seats and package meals (which heaven forfend, when considering some airline meals) —they ought to bear in mind that no one will accept a franchise to do anything unless it is for a much longer period than the Government normally consider possible in transport matters. No one from outside the public sector will make any significant investment in the railways unless he or she has a guarantee of a franchise of probably a minimum of 10 years and almost certainly a requirement for 20 years. Unless 215 that is so they will be unable to invest the kind of money to make the kind of improvements that are necessary.
I am not against money coming from outside the Exchequer but at the moment that is ill defined. I hope that at some stage we shall have a proper White Paper discussion on the matter. I hope also that the Government will not come forward merely with a pre-digested Bill.
We have had a useful debate. I hope that the Government have taken some notice of what has been said, otherwise we shall have wasted our time in this House more than usual.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Lord Clinton-Davis
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, who is the doyen of our club. I echo his words about the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara. However, like other Ministers of Transport, the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, failed to pay his dues to be a member of the club. They are that whoever is a member must produce a half-decent transport policy. I fear that his successor, whom I welcome, will be able to do that; but not on the evidence of today's debate.
I met the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, in my capacity as a commissioner. He was a pleasure to deal with, although somewhat hyperbolic in his claims for the Government's environment policy. I remember that during the first informal meeting that he attended as Minister for the Department for the Environment he claimed, to the incredulity of every other environment Minister sitting around the table, that under Mrs. Thatcher the Government had been in the lead on environment policies. Other Ministers present could not believe that because they had witnessed obstruction after obstruction placed in the way of advance. So be it. Unfortunately, in his claims today about the Government's transport policy he appeared to go a little over the top. I regret that he can no longer be present, but I understand the reasons.
Your Lordships have been privileged to hear two maiden speeches of outstanding quality. They were delivered by noble Lords who not only knew what they were talking about but cared about the issues they were addressing. They were the noble Earl, Lord Bradford, who is a powerful advocate of the Tidy Britain Campaign, and the noble Viscount, Lord De L'Isle, who spoke compellingly about matters affecting the rural economy.
We also heard fascinating speeches from a number of other noble Lords. However, they did not appear to appeal greatly to the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, who found the debate rather dreary. But not his speech—
§ Lord Tanlaw
My Lords, I made those remarks in good faith but I did not mean them to be taken too seriously.
§ Lord Clinton-Davis
My Lords, if they were made in good faith the situation is even worse!
Perhaps I may refer to noble Lords who spoke about the issue of transport because I shall address the 216 House primarily on those issues during the course of this wind-up speech. I believe that my noble friends Lady Nicol and Lord Sefton asked some searching questions to which I hope the Minister will reply. Not least was the question of the threat to the Jubilee Line extension. That threat impinges on so many other elements of transport and environmental policies. Those questions deserve a full response.
My noble friend Lord Sefton questioned why a statement could be made by Mr. Heseltine about the proposed demolition of Marsham Street without any questions being asked. There may be some merit in doing away with the building but I only hope that some of the hard-boiled and half-baked ideas which have emanated from there during the past 13 years will perish with it.
I turn to the matters which were raised in the gracious Speech. It appears that the Government have carried the concept of opt-out, which they memorably demonstrated during the course of Maastricht, to a fine art. They are opting out of essential issues affecting the community and thus marginalising Britain's influence. They are opting out of the question of a European infrastructure policy on transport. They have never liked nor supported that; they have merely paid lip service to it. They have opted out on the question of unemployment, homelessness and critically important environmental policies. Most important in that context they have opted out of the much-vaunted environment agency which was the flagship of the Tory green manifesto. The agency was to police air, water and land pollution. Last July it was proudly proclaimed, and now it has been torpedoed somewhat extraordinarily by a Minister whom one thought least capable of doing so; Mr. John Selwyn Gummer.
The Government have been hanging on to the coat tails of the United States in relation to Rio. Most noble Lords who have spoken in the debate would have wished Britain to have asserted its demand that the United States should come into line on this matter instead of being prepared to opt out of the essential issue of the application of timetables. Without timetables the declaration at Rio will be less than useless. The Government have opted out of the question of environmental audits. All that sets in reasonable context their so-called green credentials on the eve of the earth summit.
The Government have opted out of the obvious need to give top priority to a reduction in pollution emissions and the encouragement of environmentally friendly production and transport. That issue was alluded to by my noble friend Lord McIntosh at the beginning of the debate. In this House I have never heard from the Government a clear demonstration of their commitment to the relationship between transport and environmental policies. All too often transport policies lead to environmental degradation. That is an issue to which the Government have not even paid lip service during the course of the debate.
At present there is no national transport framework; one which integrates land use with transport planning and which is designed to minimise traffic generation seeking to place public road and 217 transport schemes on a comparable and equitable basis while ensuring that environmental protection requirements are always a component of all other policies. That is a duty laid upon the Government and accepted by them in the Single European Act.
In our judgment co-ordination between different transport modes is also extremely important. There is a requirement for railways to relieve road congestion which is enormously costly to this country not only in terms of environmental pollution but also in financial terms. There needs to be a good public transport system to relieve urban congestion. We need to have effective road infrastructures into our railheads. We need to concentrate on the environmental benefits of a sensible transport policy.
The Royal Institute of British Architects has stated that the transport system in this country is in a state of chaos. It has produced a report on the matter; An agenda.for the 1990s. It is a most interesting report but I fear that the Government have paid little attention to it.
I wish to cite one or two of the themes struck in that report. It says that a balance must be struck within the next generation between private and public transport and road and rail. It says:More road building is not the solution to the problem of traffic in towns and cities. Without efficient public transport towns and cities will be condemned to terminal decline".It goes on:Railways are the most effective means of mass transportation and a target should be set for the transfer of freight from road to rail … But more public investment and subsidy will be needed to maintain and improve rail services. Privatisation will not ensure an improved railway network".I believe that is profoundly right and that comes not from my lips but as a direct quotation from the report by the Royal Institute of British Architects.
If the Germans can manage to achieve higher car ownership but use their cars less often and if the people of Holland are now seeing car use decline as a result of public choice, why can we in this country not do the same? Of course, the situation demands a government with foresight and the will to act. So far those qualities have not been produced by this Government or their immediate predecessor.
I have some sympathy for the new Secretary of State for Transport. He has only been in the job for about five minutes and he inherits from his predecessors that chaotic position described by the Royal Institute of British Architects. The Secretary of State for Transport is a member of the Magic Circle but the problems confronting public transport in general and British Rail in particular cannot be dealt with by illusions or tricks. It is no use trying to apply the Prime Minister's nostalgic nostrums of reviving the old regional railway companies. They were not a distinct success in any event. We have moved on from that.
Barely six months away from the completion of the internal market that is promised at the end of this year, British Rail has announced that it has inadequate funds to expand its long-term investment programme. The situation is dire: no new rolling stock orders for five years, thereby threatening the viability of Britain's rolling stock manufacturers, coupled with all the other damaging consequences to which I need 218 not refer again; 250 InterCity trains for the west coast main line between London and Glasgow and 1,500 new Networker coaches for Network SouthEast and Kent coast services postponed indefinitely; the deferment of the £4.5 billion general high speed rail-link from London to Folkestone; the deferment of the £1 billion development of the second Channel Tunnel terminal at King's Cross; major modifications of track and signalling works; and inadequate funds to carry out infrastructural works to enable speeds to be raised from something like 100 mph to service the Channel link in contrast—and this is a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Cochrane of Cults—with the French trains which will travel at something like 200 miles per hour to the French coast.
British Rail faces a declining income from fares and property sales. Those are but some of the problems which confront a much maligned but extremely significant, for us, road transport system. The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, boasted, as his predecessor did, about investment; not much of it, not all of it by any means, coming from the Government, while British Rail is left to fend for itself. The demands have changed so much over the course of the past decade that it makes the claim almost irrelevant to the needs of British Rail and, indeed, British infrastructure as a whole.
A very important question was posed by the noble Lord, Lord Cochrane of Cults, which we posed over and over again before the election campaign. How does it come about that the French railways are able to borrow on British markets whereas British Rail is constrained from doing so? That is a nonsense but the Government simply will not address that. Britain desperately needs high speed rail links between the Channel Tunnel and the regions but what realistic chance is there that those will be provided by the private sector? I doubt whether the Minister can address the issue this evening, but we are entitled to know how the Government propose to fund such links. Time is of the essence.
We need more private investment in railways but what sense is there in denuding the Government of necessary strategic decision-making powers, which should be inherent in a government's plans? What was needed was a clear plan announced in the gracious Speech and followed by legislation. To divide the ownership of tracks and trains could well involve a serious fragmentation of services, a breakdown in co-ordination, very substantial fare increases and also a substantial reduction in services to rural areas. As my noble friend Lady Nicol said, that is the result of the bus deregulation about which the Government, curiously, seem to be so proud.
As regards the roads programme, the Government insist on going ahead with their £6.3 billion road programme over three years. I am certainly not arguing that we should totally axe that programme; that makes no sense at all. However, the Government need to heed their own warnings; namely, an 80 per cent. to 142 per cent. increase in road traffic by the year 2025. That is simply unsustainable and 219 environmentally intolerable. Will they never learn that building more and more motorways does not reduce the problems of excessive road transport?
Just over a year ago the previous Secretary of State announced that he was enthusiastically and unequivocally in favour of getting more freight and passenger traffic onto the railways. Is that the intention of the Government today? I do not know whether the Minister can nod in affirmation or deny it. We seem to get nothing out of him and I suspect that we shall get nothing from him when he winds up the debate. However, there is a duty on the Government to explain—and they have never done so before—how they propose to achieve that objective.
What has happened to the previous Secretary of State's study of road pricing? That appears to have disappeared totally from the Government's agenda. There is not a word of it in the Queen's Speech. What is needed is a major switch of investment from the roads budget to the railways. That is a case which we have made over and over again but the Government simply will not heed it.
On shipping, that does not rate much of a mention in any of the Government's thinking today. There are a few words about shipping in the manifesto. What the Government have to say about shipping is very interesting. They say:We will ensure that the recommendations of the Government-Industry Joint Working Party are put into effect as rapidly as possible".Why does something not appear in the Queen's Speech about that, because so far the Government have not yielded to any persuasion from the shipping industry or anybody interested in that sector or anybody on the Opposition side about how the floundering British shipping industry is to be rescued? The Government appear not to have a thought about that. They appear not to have applied any degree of importance to the salvation of that critically important industry.
At this stage of the debate I cannot go into all the problems affecting other modes of transport. However, I promise that we shall scrutinise the Government's legislation with great care. We shall use whatever influence we can to persuade the Government not to embark on the sort of policies to which the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, referred; namely, bus deregulation in London. We shall listen most carefully to those noble Lords on both sides of the House who, judging by their expertise demonstrated in the course of this debate today, will have much to offer in terms of advice to the Government in the months and year or so which lie ahead.
§ 7.50 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment (Lord Strathclyde)
My Lords, I rather admired the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, for his courage in saying that this debate was dreary. I suspect that in one or two areas he was probably right, but in another two areas he was not right; that is with regard to the two excellent maiden speeches we heard from my noble friends Lord Bradford and Lord De L'Isle.
220 I congratulate my noble friend Lord Bradford on a most thought-provoking and stimulating maiden speech. I hope that he will continue to give this House the benefit of his knowledge in regard to the real challenges we face in protecting the local environment in which we all live and work. The littering of our streets and public places has been a problem in parts of this country for a long time. It is an issue which causes considerable concern within local communities. Like many other noble Lords, I agree wholeheartedly with my noble friend about the excellent work done by the Tidy Britain Group.
I congratulate my noble friend Lord De L'Isle on his choice of subject for his maiden speech and the eloquent style with which he delivered it. I agree with my noble friend that the rural economy is extremely important. It is a matter dear to the hearts of many of your Lordships and indeed to all citizens of this country. Many noble Lords mentioned that subject during the course of the debate and I shall return to it during the course of my reply.
Another speech I should not call dreary was that of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey. It was slightly more depressed than anything else and perhaps only achieved a slight spark when he mentioned the poll tax, the council tax and the problems surrounding them. Noble Lords will be delighted to hear that I shall not deal with any of those old subjects that have been dealt with time and time again.
However, the noble Lord levelled some charges against the Government in regard to their approach to local government. I believe that my noble friend Lady Platt of Writtle got it right when she said that we want to ensure that local people receive high quality value for money services from their local authorities, and that is the plan that we have pursued over the course of the past few years.
The noble Lord questioned the content of our proposed Housing, Land and Urban Development Bill. It is this Government which improved the rights of local authority tenants and we intend to continue to do so. However, I am glad that the noble Lord welcomed our rents to mortgages policy; at least he did so in principle and that is an encouraging sign.
Of course, the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, has been around for a long time and seen many initiatives. But the proposed urban regeneration agency is not just another inner city idea as he suggested. The agency will bring together existing land development programmes and tackle the problem of vacant and derelict land in a single-minded way. On that subject the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked about the finance of the agency. Of course as the agency develops the need for resources will be kept under review and we commit ourselves to making sure that the necessary finances are available.
Noble Lords from all sides of the House asked why there was no legislation on an environment agency. There is no need to become excited about that omission. The Government remain fully committed to the agency. We are urgently examining the results of our recent consultation exercise. We shall shortly be announcing our preferred option for the environment 221 agency. Drafting of the Bill will then proceed so that we can take advantage of the earliest possible legislative opportunity. That remark seems to cause some amusement among noble Lords, but it is something for us all to look forward to over the course of the next few years.
§ Lord Tordoff
My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will forgive me for intervening but can he answer the question of whether or not he is including the rivers authorities. That was not clear from what he said though it was clear in the manifesto.
§ Lord Strathclyde
My Lords, I certainly would not want to pre-empt the next gracious Speech. It is something for which we shall all have to wait before we obtain a final answer.
I take issue with one point made by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh. He said that there was no environment policy across the board in the United Kingdom. In my experience in ministerial office I feel that we have one of the best environmental strategies in the world, particularly in our White Paper system of annual monitoring and reviews. The noble Lord poked fun when my noble friend Lord Caithness mentioned annual reviews. But he should read them. He will discover that they are extremely well thought out, detailed documents explaining exactly what we have done over the course of the past year. In October of this year we shall be issuing the second report on action and update and I shall ensure that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, receives a copy.
We are not simply aiming at CO2 reduction. Our target is to return CO2 emissions to the 1990 level by the year 2000, provided others take similar action. It is a demanding target and we shall meet it in several ways—through energy efficiency, through longer-term measures, including the use of renewable energy, and in the long term through energy pricing.
My noble friend Lord Shrewsbury, along with many other noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, and the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, spoke of the Rio conference. It is a subject to which we shall return next week when there is a general debate on it. I look forward to that with great interest. However, the Rio conference is only a beginning. The real work will take place after the 14th June. It will be for governments, international bodies, including the United Nations, to put into effect the commitments that are being set out.
I must take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell. He accused this Government of acquiescing in the USA apathy on the Rio summit. This country, under this Prime Minister, has been in the forefront of negotiations leading up to the summit. The Prime Minister was the first head of government to announce his intention to attend. He has been actively encouraging others to do so. My right honourable friends the former Secretary of State for the Environment and the present Secretary of State pressed the US to attend. The successful outcome of the negotiations on a climate change convention have greatly increased the likelihood that President Bush will attend the summit.
222 My noble friend Lady Platt of Writtle put the point so well when she said that it is up to individuals who have a responsibility for the environment. The Government are also encouraging that view through our variety of publicity campaigns, especially through the Helping the Earth Begins at Home efficiency campaign.
The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, said that the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Moran, on water resources was an important one and I entirely agree. The noble Lord, Lord Moran, raised a number of questions regarding water resources. He was right in saying that the South and East of England have suffered four successive winters of abnormally low rainfall. That is bound to make questions of water resources more acute and urgent. My department is keeping a close watch on developments. However, the primary responsibility lies on the water undertakers who have a duty to maintain supplies and the National Rivers Authority which has wide statutory duties on water resources. So far as we can judge, appropriate action is being taken by all those parties.
The noble Lord also specifically mentioned the problem of rivers with low flows. That issue is being addressed by the NRA. We recently approved its proposed expenditure on the River Ver. The noble Lord was concerned that that work may be hampered by the need to pay compensation for the revocation of licences to abstract water. Under the law as it has stood since 1963 compensation is payable if an abstraction licence is withdrawn, and such compensation will come from the licence fees payable by other abstractors. Answers other than licence revocation may well be more appropriate. I am sure that the NRA is addressing these matters in a sensible way. The noble Lord, Lord Moran, as well as other noble Lords, were also concerned about leakage from water pipes—
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, the noble Lord is making a fascinating point about where the money to pay compensation to abstractors whose licences are revoked is to come from. Is he telling the House that the money will come only from the licence fees of others abstractors and that no public money will be involved?
§ Lord Strathclyde
My Lords, I am saying that if there is compensation, it should come from the licence fees payable by other abstractors. That seems to be a perfectly sensible approach. Perhaps I may continue about the problems of leakage because it is an important question. There are no reliable figures on the extent to which it happens, but all water undertakers have in hand sophisticated programmes for detection and repair. They have an incentive to improve their performance and they are satisfied that they are making good progress. From my department's point of view we would like to keep in close touch with the water undertakers to see exactly what steps are being taken to minimise the amount of leakage from our water system.
Perhaps I may now turn to our policy on the countryside which was mentioned by many noble Lords during the course of the debate. The noble 223 Baroness, Lady Nicol, raised a number of points relating to the countryside and coastal nature areas. We feel that the Government's record on the countryside is an excellent one. In February of this year we published a major policy document, Action for the Countryside. No doubt the noble Baroness has seen a copy. That sets out clearly the Government's commitment to protecting and enhancing the countryside and habitats and announces a range of measures which we shall be introducing throughout this year and beyond. I look forward to putting the record straight in the course of the months ahead in the debates and questions that we shall undoubtedly have.
My noble friend Lord Wade of Chorlton made a most impressive speech about the role of farming and the threat to the rural economy. I share his concerns for a vibrant rural economy. The Government are working on the integration of environmental considerations and for the reform of the common agricultural policy. We are offering support to farmers through set-aside schemes for benign environmental management, for encouraging organic farming and providing support for diversification. But nothing will help more than providing that balance between effective conservation and the vibrant and dynamic rural economy. I know that my noble friend will continue to argue forcefully for it.
The noble Baroness asked about a footpath for which someone had been paid £1.5 million in compensation. It is not a case I know; but perhaps she will allow me to look into it and I can write to her. My noble friend Lord Shrewsbury spoke about contaminated land and the blight on property prices. Implementation of the new regulations requiring local authorities to compile registers on contaminated land has been postponed for the time being. That will allow for further work and consultation on the detailed requirements of the registers. In particular, we shall be giving careful consideration to the problems of blight and declining land values which were raised by my noble friend.
I now turn to my noble friends Lord Norrie and Lord Peel both of whom raised the issue of national parks and common land. We recognise that some parks have been criticised for not taking into account the views of local people. We have addressed that issue in our recent policy statement on the future of the parks and we have undertaken to ensure truly local representation on national park authorities. Park authorities are required to consult locally on management and development plans for their area before they can be formally adopted. We shall not renege on our commitment to legislate on national parks and that will come forward when parliamentary time allows.
My noble friend Lord Norrie was also particularly exercised concerning our policy on hedgerows. I regret that it has not been possible to include such legislation in the plans for the present Session. I recognise that there is some disappointment on that score. However, results from our recent survey of hedgerow loss show that the main threat to hedgerows comes from poor 224 management. Therefore, we have been discussing with the Countryside Commission and others ways in which our proposed hedgerow incentive scheme can be implemented aimed at aiding the improved management of hedgerows and helping to prevent losses from that cause. That scheme does not require new legislation for its introduction, and we shall make a further announcement as soon as possible.
Perhaps I may now change direction and talk about the transport policy considerations of this debate. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, my noble friend Lord Lindsay and the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, mentioned road congestion and public transport among many other things. Of course we are aware of the problems of congestion. We are carrying out a three-year programme of research into both the causes of congestion and the possible solutions including the feasibility of road pricing, which was a subject which the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, was getting exercised about.
The Government have committed record levels of public funding to public transport including the highest level of investment in rail since the transition from steam. But more than 90 per cent. of passenger journeys are made by road compared with 8 per cent. by rail. Even with the most massive investment in public transport, I have some doubts that we could provide a genuinely viable alternative to the majority of car trips. The noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, made a most interesting and exciting speech. I too hope that he will spend more time in this House, and that he will bring his energy and verve to this Chamber.
The key to improving rail services is increased investment and not subsidy. Recent increases in the grant reflect the difficult trading conditions and show that the Government are flexible. The delay to inter-capital trains caused by technical difficulties is not a delay in authorising or ordering the trains. BR and the Government are pressing the contractors to bring forward the delivery date. Services will build up through 1994. BR plan to operate a north of London day service from 1995. It also plans to operate some InterCity trains into Waterloo to provide an interchange with international trains for regional passengers once the inter-capital services start.
The first tranche of the order for the freight wagons has been given and they should be ready in time for the Tunnel opening. British Rail plans to invest over £1.4 billion to run services from London and the regions via the Channel Tunnel. Over £1 billion has already been authorised by the Department of Transport. BR's infrastructure works are on time and on budget.
§ Lord Clinton-Davis
My Lords, I am very much obliged to the noble Lord for giving way. In the light of that statement, how does the noble Lord reconcile what he has said with the assertions made by British Rail that it will have to defer £7 billion worth of essential investment in infrastructure and other services because it cannot hope to get the money from the Government or any other source?
§ Lord Strathclyde
My Lords, presumably, if it is deferring it, it cannot really be that essential. As I have said, the amount of money which has been spent by 225 this Government on British Rail stands at a record level. Not since we changed from steam trains has so much money been spent.
In answer to the point raised by my noble friend Lord Cochrane, discussions continue with all the parties concerned, with the aim of finding a long-term solution to retain the traffic on the Redmin branch. This includes consideration of whether a Section 8 freight facilities grant is applicable.
The noble Lord, Lord Sefton of Garston, seemed to suffer from the same depressive problem as the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey. He talked about the Channel Tunnel. That is being built and is a significant achievement. I am not sure whether the noble Lord, Lord Sefton of Garston, was worried about the Department of the Environment moving and about whether there was some Machiavellian instinct in the previous Secretary of State for the Environment on the issue of a decision about Docklands. No decision has yet been taken on the relocation of staff from No. 2 Marsham Street. Various options are being explored, only one of which is Docklands.
The London Underground Bill for the extension of the Jubilee Line received Royal Assent on 16th March. Since then, London Underground has been awaiting the necessary approval from the Secretary of State for Transport to commence construction. My noble friend Lord Caithness is looking to Olympia & York to honour its undertaking to make a cash contribution to the project before we can give our approval to start construction.
§ Lord Sefton of Garston
My Lords, did Olympia & York make a pledge? Did it make an agreement? If it did not, why was the committee and this House told that there was an agreement in existence?
§ Lord Strathclyde
My Lords, I am sure that if the noble Lord was told that there was an agreement in existence, then there is an agreement in existence and we shall have to see whether or not that agreement is honoured.
My noble friend Lord Mountevans—
§ Lord Sefton of Garston
My Lords, perhaps the Minister will forgive me for intervening again. Will he please repeat that because I did not quite hear it?
§ Lord Strathclyde
My Lords, I am sure that Hansard will have picked it up, so the noble Lord will 226 be able to read it in detail tomorrow. To briefly answer his point, if the noble Lord was told by a Minister at this Dispatch Box that there was an agreement, then surely there is an agreement.
§ Lord Strathclyde
My Lords, I am not going to get into a great and specific debate on this subject. I shall turn to my noble friend Lord Mountevans, who made an extremely interesting speech on a subject that he knows well. On the HASQUAD study, a report has been received and is being considered by Ministers. The report will be published as soon as possible. On RUCATSE, the working group is undertaking complex and sensitive work. My noble friend Lord Caithness looks forward to considering its report in due course. Any major runway development would of course be preceded by full public consultation.
My noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish made an excellent speech, congratulating the Conservative and Unionist Party of Scotland on its tremendous result north of the Border. I understand that, although my noble friend was not out of order in speaking to that subject today, it will be replied to in greater detail tomorrow afternoon.
I know that I have not answered every question that has been asked today and I shall certainly write to noble Lords in more detail on the questions that they have raised. However, in conclusion, perhaps I may say that the Government's commitment to the improvement of services in local government, to a public transport system that truly meets the needs of the public and to a cleaner, healthier environment in which to live remains absolutely firm. The measures announced in the gracious Speech will take us closer to our goals and should be warmly welcomed. I commend them to your Lordships' House.
§ 8.14 p.m.
§ The Lord Chancellor (Lord Mackay of Clashfern)
My Lords, I beg to move that this debate be now adjourned until tomorrow.
Moved, That the debate be now adjourned until tomorrow.—(The Lord Chancellor.)
On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly.
House adjourned at a quarter past eight o'clock.