§ 3.8 p.m.
§ Lord Berkeley rose to call attention to the White Paper A New Deal for Transport: Better for Everyone (Cm 3950) and other related transport matters; and to move for Papers.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to have a transport debate in your Lordships' House. This will be the first such debate in your Lordships' House since the publication of the White Paper and the first since the general election. The number of noble Lords who have put down their names to speak is evidence of the interest in this subject.
§ The White Paper represented a decisive switch in policy; a policy which, at government level, had belatedly realised that reliance on the motor car was unsustainable in land use planning terms, environmental terms and in terms of quality of life. This realisation by the previous government was not brought about by any policy switch—to my mind, they did not have a transport policy to switch—but rather because of a unique coincidence of objectives from the more vocal and aggressive anti-road protesters and the Treasury, which did not want to pay for any more roads. Unfortunately, however, the previous government did not put anything in place, apart from stopping road building. I see the White Paper as designed to fill that vacuum.
§ The White Paper concentrates on integration: integration of modes for passengers; integration of modes for freight—I declare an interest as chairman of the Rail Freight Group and of the Piggyback Consortium—and a move to rebalance competing demands on road space in favour of pedestrians, cyclists and buses, with a reduction of space for other road vehicles. It is a policy document and, as such, has been criticised for not containing much detail or "action". However, I understand that 84 of the 94 measures in the White Paper can be implemented without legislation and that a start has already been made. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will be able to say a little more about that.
§ I see the White Paper as covering both national and local issues. Many people feel passionately that to achieve the necessary change to implement those measures, there needs to be a massive programme to shift people's attitudes: to transport, to the needs of others, and to the quality of life. That is why people need to see results. They need to see the carrot offered before the stick is administered. Dare I say this, but I hope that Ministers will ensure that in their own departments and in local and regional authorities around the country, the White Paper's policies are not diluted into old thinking and put into the "too difficult" category. Politicians and officials must start to question and to think the unthinkable. Some such policies will take years to implement; all the more argument for starting now.
§ Perhaps I may give your Lordships a few examples to encourage debate. First, I believe that policy-makers at all levels should try out their own policies at first 1020 hand. Some noble Lords may have read in the press last week that the whole board of China Airlines intends to be in the air at midnight on 31st December this year so that, if the millennium bug has not been sorted out on their planes, they will be the first to experience it.
§ Coming to perhaps a more parochial level, how many national and local politicians regularly use public transport? I know that many of your Lordships and many Members of another place use buses and trains in London, but how many try out regional rail services or use local bus services? How many know where their local bus stops are? Do they know where the trains and buses come from? Do they know how to get a timetable? Many people need to know how to get a wheelchair on to a bus or train. How do you manage if you cannot see? I know that many able-bodied passengers on London's buses have trouble in standing upright, given the way in which some of the bus drivers brake. That needs sorting out.
§ In a quick review, I shall try to cover some of the main subjects of the White Paper and to concentrate on attitudes and solutions to many of the problems identified.
§ The days of predicting and providing for the perceived needs of road transport have, I hope, been put to bed for ever. I hope that the Government now accept that new roads do not always bring economic regeneration. In fact, some of them do the opposite. However, occasionally individual schemes seek resurrection, as we heard in your Lordships' House yesterday when we discussed the A.40 in north-west London.
§ Perhaps I may start with air transport where the policy of predicting and providing is still around. Why? The air operators argue that they must provide increasing air services and terminals to keep up with those offered by other areas and other countries. That is the argument for Terminal 5. It will still be many years yet before we get the results of the public inquiry into that. However, the same arguments were used 10 years ago with regard to roads to the regions and motorway building.
§ What is missing is a policy of providing surface transport to, and between, the airports. If one compares the provisions at Heathrow, which has two railway links to London, with those at other major airports, such as Schiphol, Zurich, Frankfurt and Paris, one sees that those airports have intercity rail links to many other parts of those countries. They have had such provision for some time. I know that we have such a link at Gatwick, but there was a railway at Gatwick before the airport, so that does not really count. We still do not have a connection between Gatwick and Heathrow. The problem is: who pays? I would argue that those developing the airports should pay for the substantial amount of public transport that is required, and not the state.
§ Perhaps I may turn quickly to shipping and the waterways. The White Paper mentions the need to encourage the diversion of freight to water from road. I look forward to the plans for reviving the shipping industry. I hope that my noble friend may be able to tell your Lordships when those plans will be published.1021
§ I also welcome the new ideas for regenerating the Thames so that we can see more traffic on it—not just to the Millennium Dome, but to many other locations. I hope that those plans will include the use of the Travelcard on river services. That is extremely important.
§ Local transport is high on the agenda of the White Paper. We have now had the first daughter documents in the Draft Guidance on Local Transport Plans and the proposals for congestion and parking space charging. I welcome them because they put the White Paper's plans into practice. The idea of reallocating more space for other road users appears in the White Paper, but I still detect a fear of reducing road space in towns for cars. I believe that the Government have commissioned research which indicates that restricting road space has far less effect on reducing road traffic than was originally thought. If reducing road space for cars and allocating it to other traffic helps the buses to operate a better quality service in continuous bus lanes, allows cyclists to move more safely, and encourages walking without fear of being drenched by vehicle spray whenever it rains, surely that is not a bad idea for starters.
§ Traffic planners must consider equally the needs of all users of the highways. Therefore, I welcome the announcement in December by Glenda Jackson, the Minister for London, of an extra boost for London's public transport, pedestrians and cyclists. The Government announced that £27 million would be devoted to public transport and local projects out of a total of £84 million. Perhaps my noble friend the Minister can tell me what the rest of the money is to be spent on. I hope that it is not all to be used for new roads.
§ I turn now to congestion and to parking charges. They are an essential part of the overall package. We, as a nation, are very attracted to our cars. A car is a fantastic freedom and offers flexibility for many people who have often worked hard for it. I do not think that that comment applies to those who have company cars. We have more company cars per head of population than any other EU state. It will be difficult to find an incentive for company car users to use public transport when they have not only a free car, but often free petrol, free maintenance and free parking at work. I hope that the Treasury will look again at revisions to the system. I do not see any argument for keeping the company car system. If people need to use a car for business, they could buy one themselves, lease one, or get a loan from their companies.
§ I know that the car lobby will complain bitterly, but I do not think that the car lobby should make the Government's policy for them. The freedom to use a car is a great freedom, but it counts for little when one is stuck in a traffic jam for hours on end. I believe that everybody now accepts that some restriction is essential. I should like that restriction to be introduced in a more measured and planned way and not merely to be the result of congestion. Therefore, I believe that congestion charging and non-residential parking charges are very important in terms of constraining the number of cars on our roads at peak periods. I hope that the 1022 Government will resist the temptation to add more and more exclusions to the list of those who do not have to pay or who can enter freely—that is, obviously apart from the emergency services and disabled people. I believe—the AA's research has confirmed this—that congestion charging will come about and that people will accept it, provided that the money raised from the charges is put back and is invested in transport projects.
§ About a year ago, the Deputy Prime Minister launched a project seeking green transport plans for all government departments. I hope that that will continue. I hope that we shall see its effects at the planning stage. When a local authority or local health trust says, "Let's have fewer larger hospitals on greenfield sites, fewer schools and fewer county courts", it should consider the extra costs of that, including the full environmental cost of the transport that will be needed so that people can get to those places. Those costs should be added to the financial analysis.
§ Finally, I turn to rail. I shall leave the subject of cycling to colleagues; I am sure that it will be raised because it is extremely important. Rail traffic is growing. Passenger traffic on our railways grew by 7 per cent. last year, and freight by 12 per cent. Ministers said recently that in the first half of this year rail freight had increased by 16 per cent. and that the Government intend such growth to continue. They inherited a system which was the product of the unseemly rush to privatise. That may have resulted in some of the highly critical problems of delays.
§ However, at the moment the structure does not encourage growth and new services. People have come up with many new ideas but I think the most important point is for the new strategic rail authority and the new regulator to tackle the policy of the infrastructure provider, Railtrack. It has just been discovered that many signal boxes are so old that if they are touched there will be an accident. However, Railtrack knew that when it took over the signal boxes from British Rail four years ago. Why has that suddenly been discovered? Why has Railtrack not done something about that?
§ Railtrack has a licence obligation to enhance capacity ahead of demand. It is not investing and, sadly, it tends to say that maintenance is the same thing as investment. Of course that is not the case, maintenance is a matter of just keeping the system going. Railtrack has taken 12 months to sort out a signalling project in Leeds because it required a 12 per cent. return on its capital as it could not get any guarantee that trains would use the lines after the present franchises expired. That seems an extraordinary submission.
§ Railtrack has just announced that its cost estimates for a service from Heathrow to St. Pancras—which apparently, up until now, was not supposed to incur any infrastructure costs—have risen from nought to £210 million in two years. That is not very good estimating, is it? I note that, sadly, Railtrack seems been unwilling even to maintain existing infrastructure or to improve it to modern standards. One of the challenges facing the Government is to assess Railtrack's investment and, if it discovers Railtrack is not investing, it should make it do so. I see little difference between 1023 Railtrack as a public utility, a monopoly utility regulated in the usual way, and the utilities that provide us with gas, electric, telephone or water. They should all be treated in the same way. I hope that the new regulator will do that.
§ I think what is missing is the entrepreneurial spirit within Railtrack. A fantastic growth in rail traffic is forecast. Railtrack should seek it out, encourage it and demonstrate that it is a world leader in operating a reliable, modern infrastructure which is responsive to customer needs. I should like to see Railtrack do that, but it obviously has not done it yet. Let us hope that happens soon.
§ I shall not dwell to any great extent on rail freight. However, rail freight is happy to compete with road freight, but road freight must abide by the law. I have received a letter from a traffic commissioner who is responsible for issuing licences to lorry operators. One such operator had committed an offence and had his licence revoked in 1995. The commissioner had recently refused to grant a new licence. The operator indicated that the would continue to operate without a licence. It is interesting to note that that operator's main customer is the Ministry of Defence. That matter needs to be investigated. Enforcement, which should include impounding, is essential. I have been pleased to hear my noble friend Lord Whitty speak of the "Kill your Speed" initiative. The police need resources and they need to obtain revenue. We need to enforce that initiative.
§ The White Paper mentions change. I believe that the majority of the population will welcome it. A change in attitude to transport must come about. Local authorities and local government have a major role to play in this area. However, let us not forget the needs of pedestrians and cyclists who have just as much right to highway space as road vehicles. Unlike car occupants, pedestrians and cyclists are not encased in a steel box and they are vulnerable in an accident with a road vehicle. As I say, pedestrians and cyclists have just as much right to get around safely as those in road vehicles. Let us not forget the needs of the 30 or 40 per cent. of the population who do not have access to cars. All these measures cost money. I believe there is evidence that the public will pay congestion and parking charges if that money is reinvested in public transport, and with no time limit. Now is the time for action to implement these bold measures. I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.23 p.m.
The Earl of Caithness
My Lords, when my party was in government integrated transport was very much the buzz word. Therefore I looked forward to reading the White Paper that had been promised. However, there is no definition of integrated transport in the White Paper and any reference to it can only be described at best as peelie wally. It is no wonder that the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, had to broaden his speech to include other transport issues. I welcome the debate and I am grateful for the noble Lord's comments on transport.
1024 Although the White Paper is fairly repetitive, many of its ideas are continuations of those developed by my party when in government. I am glad that we should have been of help to the right honourable gentleman the Member for Kingston-upon-Hull East having done so much of the thinking for him. The Government issued a subsequent publication on shipping entitled Charting a new Course, which is full of good intentions. However, where are the targets? How many new officers and ratings do the Government expect to have registered with the British Chamber of Shipping in 10 years' time as a result of their policies? How much extra tonnage in the UK fleet? There are no targets and little has been done in the way of proposing concrete measures for the shipping industry. Who will have the experience to train the recruits of the future to maintain the high standards of our fleet?
As regards London Underground, the White Paper says so little that I missed it the first time. What are the Government's views on the Underground? What are their thoughts on the Chelsea-Hackney Line? There is much potential there to get people off the roads in London. However, there is no mention of it in the White Paper. What can the Minister tell us with regard to private enterprise and the money it has made available? Or is it the Minister's intention that private enterprise should provide the infrastructure for the Underground and that Jimmy Knapp should run the trains, or not as the case may be? What about investment for the Underground? The previous Conservative government increased investment four times in real terms between 1979 and 1997. Can the Minister confirm that the Labour Government will continue to increase expenditure at that rate, or do even better?
I turn to aviation. I hope the Government will bear in mind that many of the good intentions with regard to reducing noise and controlling airports mean that the industry could suffer unless restrictions and standards imposed on our key hub airports are repeated throughout Europe. This is a competitive area. We have a successful United Kingdom business which earns a great deal of revenue for the country. If pressures are applied to it which are not applied in Europe, we shall see our standards decline and the European airports will be only too pleased to receive traffic that should come to Britain. One of the most stupid sentences in the White Paper concerns a 30-year plan for aviation. When one considers the changes in aviation that have taken place over the past 30 years, how can one predict what will happen in the next 10 years, let alone the next 30? However, if planning procedures continue to stifle opportunities in this country, perhaps a 30-year plan becomes a little more realistic.
As to roads, I hope that the Government will bear in mind that for many the car is an essential item of daily life and not a luxury. It appears that much of the consultation was carried out in urban areas. How much was carried out in rural areas where there are no opportunities to use public transport? Despite the emphasis on local solutions, which the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, welcomed—I also welcome it—why will investment by local authorities decrease in real terms next year? If one adds to that the Government's 1025 ideas for de-trunking, thereby giving local authorities more roads to maintain, surely congestion will only get worse and not better. When the Government are saving £700 million annually on motorway and trunk road infrastructure improvements, why is only £75 million being invested in encouraging people to transfer from road to rail? There are good points in the White paper but there are many questions that need to be answered. The Government have not yet reached a satisfactory standard.
§ 3.29 p.m.
§ Lord Thomson of Monifieth
My Lords, I join the noble Earl in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for introducing this debate. He is an acknowledged expert on transport matters. The House always listens to him with great interest. The noble Earl applied the Scottish adjective peelie wally to the White Paper. There are many adjectives one could think of in connection with the Deputy Prime Minister, but that is hardly the one that comes first to mind. The Deputy Prime Minister deserves credit for a White Paper which has a broad thrust and coherence about it. I want to concentrate on the vital role that cycling can play in achieving the Government's aim of an integrated transport policy to fight congestion and pollution.
I found in the days when I used to travel around London from one meeting to another that cycling was by far the most reliable means of arriving on time—much better than taking the bus, a taxi or the Underground. And it was good exercise into the bargain. Cycling or walking to work on a regular basis is one of the best contributors to good health, far more worthwhile than the practice of a hospital executive I heard about the other day. He took his health seriously. He believed in getting into his company car twice a week and driving to a gym in order to sit astride a stationary bicycle.
The figures of our travelling habits are very revealing. Seventy-five per cent. of all journeys in the United Kingdom are of less than five miles; 86 per cent. of journeys over one mile are made by car; and 61 per cent. of car journeys are of less than five miles. Even a modest shift from these staggering statistics would be very good for the national health.
Since the national cycling strategy was born two-and-a-half years ago, much positive action has taken place at national, regional and local levels. But there is still an immense amount to do. It is becoming clear that the target accepted by the Government of doubling the cycling levels by 2002 may not be met. There is an urgent need to look generally at the resources being deployed in this area of transport policy.
Let me conclude by asking the Minister three questions. He can perhaps reply to them at the end of the debate. If not, perhaps he will write to me. First, as regards safety, the White Paper says:we wish particularly to improve the safety of more vulnerable road users, including cyclists and pedestrians … in a way that is consistent with encouraging more cycling and walking".In the light of that statement, what measures will the forthcoming road safety strategy contain to improve cyclists' safety while also supporting greater cycle use?
1026 I would add to what the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, said about the use of cars. I notice that Mr. Kinnock, speaking as a European Commissioner, talked the other day about the great need for car design to take account of pedestrian and cyclist safety. I hope that the Government will encourage people to take on the car lobby in that respect and encourage it to emphasise in its advertising a good deal more of the safety side of cars rather than the sexual side, which I notice appears in most television advertising.
Secondly, the White Paper talks about local transport plans. The way in which local authorities plan for transport is being radically changed for the better by the White Paper. What mechanisms will the Government introduce to ensure that these new local transport plans deliver additional funding to cycling provision?
My third question concerns integration, a word that is used a good deal. The White Paper rightly supports an integrated policy generally and an integrated policy in relation to cycling. How will the proposed strategic rail authority deliver greater integration for cyclists? And how will it liberate them from the hazards that they find among railway companies when trying to make journeys associated with cycle travel? If the Government can produce an improvement there, they will earn the blessing of the entire cycling community.
§ 3.34 p.m.
§ Lord Currie of Marylebone
My Lords, I also welcome this debate on transport initiated by my noble friend Lord Berkeley.
The transport system is absolutely vital for the economic performance of this country. If we neglect it, our performance will fall behind that of our competitors even more than at present. Getting the transport system right is essential.
It is right that the White Paper argues the need to use congestion pricing to discourage the excessive use of cars, particularly in congested urban areas. If that is to work, we must ensure that the rail system is enhanced in a way which allows people to shift the emphasis of their activity from road to rail, both in regard to passenger and freight transportation. Promoting the rail system is essential.
My noble friend Lord Berkeley was absolutely right to highlight the essential role that Railtrack, the monopoly provider of the key rail infrastructure, will have to play. The White Paper talks about a better deal for everyone in the transport area. One group which has clearly had a wonderful deal over the past few years is the shareholders of Railtrack. The share price of Railtrack has gone up four times since privatisation. One wonders whether that is not a signal that something is amiss. My remark is not motivated by jealousy, or anything of that kind; it is merely a question as to what has transformed the company's prospects over those years.
It is worth reflecting on the nature of the privatisation of rail. We are confronted with a highly fragmented rail system, with very little effective competition in all but a few areas. That was not the original aspiration, which was to create effective competition. It was not possible 1027 to do that. The consequence is that rail now poses a quite different regulatory problem from that of other sectors. In telecoms we see significant competition over large swathes of the industry, growing ever greater; the same is true, and will increasingly be true, of electricity and gas. It is fair to say that we do not have competition with water, but we have a rather simple industry structure. In rail we combine a lack of competition with a very complex industrial structure, and it is a real challenge therefore to manage it.
That is why the White Paper is entirely right to argue the case for creating a strategic rail authority. This is an industry which requires effective co-ordination far and above that required of and provided by the regulator in the other regulated sectors. The strategic rail authority will have a hard time in trying to make the rail business work as well as it should, as will the rail regulator. The acting rail regulator, Mr. Chris Bolt—who, the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, will be delighted to hear, is an avid cyclist (he arrives at all his meetings with his helmet as an essential part of his business accessories)—has a very important role to play. He is right to have made some tough statements recently in respect of the performance of Railtrack and other industry sectors.
The key to the regulator's problem is to get incentives right. My noble friend Lord Berkeley mentioned the Chinese approach in relation to the Y2K problem. Without going entirely down that road, it is important that the regulator aligns incentive appropriately. That involves paying an appropriate cost of capital to the regulated monopoly part of the business. There is a danger, I believe, that some regulators might be too tough in that area.
More importantly, it is crucial that, whatever return Railtrack gets, it should be given in a way that provides Railtrack with incentives to invest and modernise the rail infrastructure. That is not the case at the present because Railtrack's return is largely independent of the passenger traffic along that infrastructure. That remuneration system will not encourage Railtrack to invest in expanding the network in order to ensure an efficient system that avoids delays and congestion. We have to get that incentive structure right if we are to have a modern rail system fit for the next 10 to 20 years.
§ 3.40 p.m.
§ Lord Dixon-Smith
My Lords, we are all dependent on the free movement of goods and services as well as personal mobility for the quality of our lives. Economic growth brings yet more movement and the reality is that we all prefer to face the problems created by growth rather than the problems of recession which would almost certainly reduce transport demand. Transport demand, therefore, is likely constantly to change and grow.
Even since this White Paper was published last summer matters have moved forward, with the publication of the London Bill and plans for possible congestion and parking charges in London to provide funds to be used to make public transport more attractive and effective within London. It will be 1028 essential to ensure that the funds raised by these means are retained and used locally and not lost in the maw of the Treasury, as the London Bill appears to imply might happen. Local charging and improvement of local conditions must go hand in hand if the local economy—initially in London—is not to be damaged and the acceptability of these additional revenue streams is to continue.
I have been fortunate enough to see a brief from the Boots company, with which I hasten to add I have no connection at all, which illustrates the complexities in this area. Boots operates 1,400 pharmacy stores as well as 290 opticians stores and 400 specialist cycle and car maintenance stores through Halfords. It is committed to existing town centres. It comments:The vitality and viability of town centres should be an explicit requirement of local transport plans".It relates its experience in Edinburgh, where trading in its city centre store has shown a noticeable deterioration as the result of traffic restraint measures in Princes Street. Anecdotal evidence from other traders supports that. Driving traffic from a town centre may help to improve the environment there, but if the centre becomes uneconomic and trade moves out, I doubt very much whether that will be seen as an improvement in the longer term.
Boots also comments that it has worked very hard to improve transport arrangements for its 6,500 staff at its Beeston headquarters near Nottingham. Its work includes improved facilities for cyclists, which should please some, and a computer assisted car-sharing programme. It also assists local bus services as well as a shuttle bus from the nearest station. But it is interesting to note that these last actions have resulted in a tax assessment from the Inland Revenue for £500,000 because the company is providing a benefit in kind. Clearly, I conclude that co-ordinating and restraining the Treasury's appetite with the needs of the environment has not yet been wholly achieved.
I find it somewhat surprising that, while the White Paper pays lip service to technological development, the Government appear reluctant to take steps to encourage changes that might dramatically improve the atmosphere. The modern diesel engine is very efficient and produces dramatically less pollution than its forebears. It uses up to 30 per cent. less fuel than petrol engines, and a wider fuel excise duty differential between petrol and diesel could rapidly produce greatly reduced CO2 emissions by getting this changeover under way. City diesel, with its very low sulphur content which improves exhaust catalyst performance, would also help. City diesel will not generally be introduced until 2005 under the European Union auto-oil programme. I have to ask the Government whether this date could not be brought forward. By that time we shall begin to see the first fuel cell-powered vehicles coming on to the market, with all the scope that that technology provides for dramatically reducing pollution.
These changes will happen whether or not the Government sit on their hands. However, they will happen sooner and the benefit will be felt more rapidly, 1029 if the Government take appropriate action. The White Paper itself is long on discussion, but it is just that—a discussion paper.
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ The Earl of Stair
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for initiating this vital debate. The Government have produced a White Paper on integrated transport which should show the framework for a United Kingdom transport plan. However, this paper deals mainly with England, and I would like to include in my contribution to the debate detail which is to be found in the Scottish White Paper which was produced concurrently with this one and is entitled Travel Choices for Scotland. I look on this debate on United Kingdom transport from a Scottish perspective, where a good public transport system is essential for business and employment, particularly in the more remote areas.
When devolution is completed and the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh and Irish Assemblies have been formed, the greater majority of transport responsibility will be devolved to those three bodies. I believe that, although responsibility and control are devolved, there should still be an infrastructure of transport networks which are more centrally co-ordinated. I use the word "co-ordinated" rather than "controlled" because, although the road and rail networks will be paid for and controlled by devolved authorities, they do over certain routes provide a link not only within the United Kingdom but on to the Continent as well. I am not only referring to the west coast main line or the A.1 but to routes such as the E.18 which links Coleraine in Ireland in the west to Leningrad in the east.
My point is perhaps better illustrated on page 161 of what I shall refer to as the English White Paper, which should show the principles of the UK transport network as described on page eight. Page 161 shows a map of most of the United Kingdom but shows only what are described as core national routes in England. Although the routes will be paid for and administered by the devolved administrations, it is in my view a major weakness that the document which pertains to show the basis for an integrated United Kingdom transport network does not acknowledge the existence of the major link roads that connect England to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. For some reason that has been possible for the railway map shown on page 162, although Northern Ireland, with an inter-European rail link, has been omitted altogether.
I am in complete agreement with the Government on their intention to reduce pollution and congestion by transferring more road freight to rail. However, I would suggest that the rail infrastructure is going to require a considerable investment not only to enable the tracks to carry the extra traffic but also to existing structures such as bridges and power cables to allow for the most effective intermodal freight system to be used.
The paper clearly favours rail transport, and the instigation of the strategic rail authority will provide a useful control. It is particularly encouraging from 1030 a national perspective that the Scottish Executive will be able to instruct the strategic rail authority on matters concerning trans which start or finish their journeys in Scotland. However, the commission for integrated transport will have only representatives from the devolved countries. This organisation will only be able to advise government on transport matters. I suggest that instead of advising, it should recommend actions on a national basis on integrated transport matters.
Finally, I wish to mention the trans-European networks. The United Kingdom White Paper refers to the Government's intention to continue work with the European Union on a development of trans-European networks. It is perhaps an omission that the only routes currently being bid for are both rail oriented. There is no mention of trans-European networks in the Scottish White Paper, and they receive only a brief mention in the one published for the United Kingdom.
I return to the E.18, to which I made reference earlier. This route is an essential road link through Scotland, where it is known as the A.75. It links the ferry port at Stranraer to the M.6 at Gretna. It links Northern Ireland to England and Europe using the shortest sea crossing, and is therefore favoured by many travellers. It is already eligible for trans-European network funding, provided that is matched by government funding. The route not only provides a European road link which cannot be replaced by rail unless a new modal freight facility is built or a new rail link is completed for approximately 80 miles from Stranraer to Gretna; it is also the key to the sustainable existence of rural business and industry in an area where there is already high employment. This would not be an example of planning and providing. It would merely be a question of improving the infrastructure of the existing road.
§ 3.51 p.m.
§ Lord Bassam of Brighton
My Lords, I am not a transport expert. However, I am, like all other Members of this House, grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for introducing this debate. I have no specialist knowledge, but I suffer the frustrations of being a public transport user each and every day. I can tell the improbable but true tales of misery, and much more, of life on the London to Brighton line. I can tell the House that it has become no better since the line was privatised, and certainly not since Lord Olivier enjoyed his kipper breakfasts on the Brighton Belle 30 years ago, when he used to make journeys to this House.
My primary interest today is to raise the importance and significance of local transport strategies and the key role that can be played by local authorities. My council covers a population of a quarter of a million, and the wider city a third of a million. It is a complex and difficult sub-region for public transport to navigate. It has a road network constrained by the valleys which comprise our city and the seascape which is our shining glory and a major attraction. Brighton is an incredibly popular place. It attracts more than 7 million visitors a year.
Brighton has a host population which, unlike the rest of the affluent south, is not so car-dependent. Less than 50 per cent. of our residents are car owners. Many used 1031 to see that as a problem. I see it as an opportunity. Because of the built-up and congested nature of Brighton and Hove we need to reduce car dependency and strike a balance between the needs of car users and the overriding need to protect and enhance the quality of the urban environment which makes our area so special.
Many years ago, in the 1970s, transport planners foresaw an opportunity to connect our suburbs to the city centre. However, it would have meant the wholesale demolition of some of the most interesting and attractive inner urban areas. That approach was resisted and, although we have suffered the inevitable consequence of congestion, we are now finding solutions which are much rehearsed in the White Paper.
In the early 1990s, when we still suffered from some of the problems that represented a hangover from the "car is king" era, the council, together with East Sussex, decided to reverse long-term trends in bus usage and try to promote buses as an environmentally sound approach.
The strategy that has since developed relies on a range of factors: cheaper buses; frequent services from all areas; accessible, user-friendly services; integration with the rail network; the development of clean technology buses; and road space reduction. That strategy is now bringing benefits. Between 1994 and 1998 we saw year on year increases in the numbers of passengers for the first time, at the rate of 5 per cent. per annum; 25 per cent. more people now use the local bus network. No other conurbation in the United Kingdom can boast that record. Last year saw major disruption to services as we extended our priority network, and passenger numbers still held. Towards the end of the year when the work was completed numbers again began to rise, with an 8 per cent. increase between September and December to the Churchill Square area of the shopping centre. It was an amazing increase. We have now developed with our major bus provider, Brighton and Hove Buses, a quality partnership. The result has been METROLINE—a high-quality, high profile route branding/tube network imitation which makes the bus network easy to use and easy to understand.
That approach has not been without its problems, and there are certainly lessons to be learnt. I would argue that we need both carrot and stick—we probably need more stick than carrot. Public transport must be given priority if it is to provide a speedy, efficient alternative to car-borne city centre traffic. A clear communications strategy must be adopted to persuade and inform local residents of the need to use public transport and to promote the need for environmentally friendly strategies.
Consultation is essential. We need to take the business communities with us. It is essential to work in close partnership with the police, the Highways Agency, the health services, taxi and bus operators and major employers. The final lesson that we have learnt is that it is also necessary to be brave. There are some green lobbyists who will never be satisfied. We must watch out for special pleading near local election times, and we must beware of all those who accuse councils of being anti-car—they usually have no idea of a strategy; 1032 their idea of balance in transportation terms is simply to retain the status quo. If we adopt that model, if we listen and learn from those lessons, I believe that we can have local transportation strategies that will, first, halt the decline in public transport and, secondly, bring more people onto our bus and rail networks, to the benefit of all, but more particularly of our urban environment.
§ 3.57 p.m.
My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for introducing this important subject for debate. Before saying anything substantive, perhaps I may remind the House that I have an interest as president of the Heavy Transport Association. Also, I am speaking from the Back-Benches, not for Her Majesty's Opposition.
The Government recently had a difficult decision to make regarding maximum lorry weights and the EU directive imposing an extremely "un-road-friendly" 40 tonne vehicle upon us. Despite the conclusions of the 1994 report of the Select Committee on the European Communities, the Minister has opted for a "road-friendly" six-axle 41 tonner rather than the opportunity to introduce a highly efficient and environmentally friendly 44 tonne vehicle—a vehicle that is physically no larger than the current vehicles. In other words, he has foregone an extra three tonnes of maximum payload and introduced a vehicle that will be unique to the UK market. So much for the Single Market.
The reason for that is apparently to relieve competitive pressure as regards the railway industry. That is indeed understandable; however, it has to be recognised that the cost is considerable. The Esso company alone, using 44 tonners, would save over 2 million road miles per year compared to 38 tonners. In addition, it would be able to reduce its fleet size by 20 per cent., with 35,000 fewer movements. As the Esso fleet largely delivers to factories and retail outlets, almost none of its road traffic could be transferred to rail. It is gratifying to see the enthusiasm and the regeneration of the rail freight industry since privatisation. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for his efforts in promoting the industry and organising his group. He has been doing much good work in this House.
Noble Lords will be aware that the road haulage industry is extremely competitive and easy to enter. There is nothing wrong with that; however, unfortunately, the industry also attracts cowboys and illegal operators, and has done so since the days of a man with a horse and cart.
A charitable view is that some enter the industry wearing rose-tinted spectacles. Frequently, new entrants have no realistic idea of the cost of their operation, the depreciation, maintenance and tyre costs. They therefore unwittingly charge less than the cost of the operation. Inevitably they end up sailing very close to the wind and eventually either go out of business or operate illegally. Typical examples of illegality are to employ drivers claiming unemployment benefit, taxing vehicles at the wrong rate, overloading, driving excessive hours and falsifying tachograph records.
1033 Those illegal activities can result in the licensing authority withdrawing the operator's licence, but unfortunately many will continue to operate without a licence and with relative impunity. If, however, their vehicle could be impounded by the authorities, this would provide a major deterrent to illegal operation.
As noble Lords will be aware, there has been much discussion and consultation on the matter. Unfortunately, the Government have not found parliamentary time for a suitable Bill to allow for impounding. I therefore intend to help the Minister by introducing a suitable Private Member's Bill. I am currently receiving expert help in drafting it. It will provide that in future, when the authorities detect a vehicle being operated without an operator's licence, they will be able to impound it. This will go some way to reducing unfair competition in the industry. I will leave further discussion to the Second Reading debate.
However, the Bill will be a non-starter and cannot actually be implemented until the joint enforcement database initiative (JEDI) is up and running accurately. Also, it may be necessary for the Minister slightly to change the procedure for operators adding vehicles to their licence. The DTI has been making much of electronic commerce, and with good reason. I hope that it will soon be possible for operators to notify the licensing authority of changes electronically. The future with IT is exciting, but of course it will still be necessary to retain postal transactions as well for small operators.
I believe that if we can eliminate cowboy operators from the road transport operation, the basic rates available to the industry will rise. That would help the rail industry to undertake transport tasks ideally suited to it, and for road transport safely, legally and profitably to undertake tasks not suited to rail transport.
§ 4.2 p.m.
§ Viscount Simon
My Lords, I shall expand on the contribution by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, in that it is widely considered that diesel, when compared with petrol engines, will emerge as the better option, long-term, for various reasons. Diesel vehicles use 25 per cent. less fuel which equates to 10 per cent. to 15 per cent. saving in CO2 emissions and this gap will be maintained as technological advances will affect both types of engines.
Improvements in emission control techniques, particulate traps and low sulphur diesel fuel provide good grounds for expecting that emissions from diesel engines will be equal to or better than petrol engines by 2005. However, I know of one manufacturer which is developing a zero emission diesel engine. I cannot recall anyone committing suicide using diesel exhaust gases, yet everyone here today will have heard of suicides from petrol exhausts. Diesels produce half the level of hydrocarbon emissions including the proven carcinogenic benzine. One Swedish study has shown that petrol station attendants had three times the expected level of leukaemia caused by benzine. This highly volatile carcinogenic vapour displaced, when filling a petrol tank, contains 3.5 million parts per billion 1034 of benzine compared with the Government's target of 1 part per billion. So, when filling up your petrol tank, it is wise to wear a gas mask.
Diesel engines also produce half the level of ozone precursors compared with equivalent petrol engines. Studies have shown that oxides of nitrogen increase with increased mileage in petrol cars, but fall slightly in diesel-engined vehicles. So, after about 30,000 miles, diesel engines produce on average less nitrous oxide. That illustrates the gulf between theoretical and actual emissions of petrol engines.
In order to provide further food for thought, I continue. Because of a rich fuel cold start, short journeys of less than five miles which make up 61 per cent. of all journeys are more inefficient in a petrol-engined vehicle. Because the catalyst does not work properly until it is hot, it produces excessive pollution and emissions. Diesels are at almost maximum efficiency as soon as they are started. Consequently, a petrol-engined vehicle which might average 50 miles per gallon under normal driving might only achieve 20 to 25 miles per gallon over short distances, whereas the 50 mile per gallon diesel will almost always achieve 50 miles per gallon, irrespective of the distance covered.
The statement that diesel exhaust fumes are a serious health threat has been repeated so often in recent years that it has become accepted as fact. The view that the use of diesel vehicles should be discouraged assumes that particulate emissions are so harmful as to outweigh all the areas in which diesel emissions are lower—for example, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, benzene, ozone precursors and carbon dioxide—and also that diesels are the principal source of PM emissions. But both assumptions are flawed. Diesel vehicles produce only a fifth of total particulate emissions with the main sources being industry, power generation, domestic fires, bonfires, construction, quarrying and agriculture. Although diesels produce about 20 times as much PM 10 by weight as petrol vehicles, the vast majority is accounted for by comparatively heavy but innocuous particles in the 2.5 to 10 micron range.
It is very surprising that there is hardly any published information comparing petrol and diesel emissions of PM2.5, but I am led to believe from an impeccable source that one eminent independent research and development company has measured PM2.5s from petrol engines and shown them to be four times the level of equivalent diesels. It has also been shown that, in the south-east, wind-blown particulates of the size 2.5 microns can be formed from pollutants coming from the continent and not directly from vehicle exhausts.
One American study of deaths due to high pollution levels has indicated that industrial pollution is the cause and not diesel pollution. There are very few diesels in America. But the media have extrapolated figures from this study in a grossly inaccurate and scaremongering way.
There is no epidemiological evidence of diesel fumes being dangerous and your Lordships will be interested to learn that at the Merton bus garage, workers were found to have slightly lower than usually expected levels of respiratory and heart disease.
1035 But the whole picture is more important than anything. We should be more worried about global warming which might affect everybody than the effect on a few people worldwide.
I had hoped to have time to ask the Minister whether he intends to implement the excellent recommendations contained in Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary's Thematic Inspection Report 1998 which concedes that traffic policing has been neglected for far too long. I had also hoped to be able respectfully to suggest that the daughter document to the White Paper on road safety be published before public support for it is lost.
§ 4.7 p.m.
§ Baroness Ludford
My Lords, I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for initiating this important debate. I am pleased to be one of only two women taking part—both from the Liberal Democrat Benches—because women are important transport users.
I want to talk about integrated transport in London, not as a transport expert but as an enthusiastic user of public transport. I have not sought a House of Lords car parking permit, not to be morally superior, but to do as I would be done by.
I daily, or almost daily—and I shall come to that—share the experience of millions of other Londoners, travelling mainly on the Tube and buses rather than by rail. We need to remember that this rail, Tube and bus network is a fantastic asset for London, and we are especially lucky to have escaped the horrors of bus deregulation that the previous government inflicted on other parts of the country.
However, the network could be so much better. It was horribly neglected by the previous government, no doubt because it was in the public sector—the public sector was regarded as bad—and because leading members of the government did not use it. Perhaps I may recommend the experience of a 14-minute wait at the Angel on the Northern Line or the Piccadilly Line at King's Cross at 8.45 a.m. You can only get on the fourth train to arrive and the crowding on the platform is frankly terrifying. This Government's attitude is more enlightened but it needs to be pushed harder.
I wish to highlight two issues particularly this afternoon. The first is the need for adequate funding. The Government say that their plans will bring £7 billion in investment in the Tube over 15 years, presumably a mixture of public and private money. Can the Minister give an assurance that the income raised from congestion charging or taxing office parking spaces in London will be additional to government grant towards London's public transport system and will not be used to justify cutting the Treasury contribution? Linked to that, while I understand that the Government have given an oral pledge that the mayor will keep the proceeds of congestion charging for the first 10 years, Londoners want a guarantee that the money they pay will never be swiped by the Treasury. Londoners want their money to be used to improve public transport, either through investment in the network or value-for-money fares.
1036 London's fares are the highest in the world. It costs £1.40 to travel one stop on the Tube or £1 to travel four or five stops on the bus. These Benches call for a reduction in fares in real terms by keeping rises below the rate of inflation. This can probably be done only if the mayor can subsidise fares from road pricing or parking charges.
The Government's solution to the future of the Tube is completely unsatisfactory. The former chairman of London Transport, Mr. Peter Ford, told the Transport Sub-Committee of the other place that the public/private partnership would cost £1 billion more over 25 years than the public sector option, which the Liberal Democrats favour, of keeping the Tube tracks and trains in public ownership but allowing freedom to borrow on the commercial market. Will the Government publish the Price Waterhouse costings so that we can all see them?
There are also great worries that a non-integrated Tube may become a disintegrated Tube. If there are three private track owners and one public operating company there will be five interfaces. Will safety be guaranteed in those circumstances? How is it that Railtrack, which is so castigated (by this Government among others) for its poor performance and latterly has revealed that its signal boxes for London commuter traffic at crucial locations, such as Dartford, Guildford and Tottenham, are so old and fragile that they must not be touched, is rumoured to be the Government's favourite to operate the Tube track?
The greater London assembly and mayor must be allowed the resources to plan for increases in the capacity of London's transport network. There is no Crossrail and Chelsea-Hackney line in the pipeline. Why does the Heathrow Express go to Paddington, where it connects with a very infrequent Circle Line service, rather than there being an efficient Crossrail?
The best prospect for short-term capacity increases lies in buses. But can we please have better buses than the current one person-operated vehicles, which are very noisy and whose design is horrible? Can we also have a flat fare on buses, which would be welcome? I believe that that is a matter that London Transport is considering.
There needs to be a long-term strategy for increasing capacity, including new bus routes, matching transport investment to areas suitable for population growth so that transport assists in the attainment of urban regeneration and sustainable development, and does not undermine it. We have much to learn from continental cities in areas such as car pools, bike hire and integrated ticketing. That is my second point.
I said earlier that I travel almost daily on London Transport. It is not quite worth my while to buy a travelcard, so I must buy single tickets. Ministers encourage flexible work patterns and part-time working. They also urge Londoners to leave their cars at home for a few days a month. They will not find it a happy experience. There are no carnets for the bus; one cannot interchange between Tube and bus on a single ticket; one cannot even interchange between buses; and one 1037 cannot buy a one-day travelcard for the bus. We are two or three decades behind continental cities in the area of ticketing.
Until we have a first-class, consumer-friendly public transport system Londoners, who expect and receive efficiency and comfort in other areas of their lives, will not be tempted to use London Transport.
§ 4.13 p.m.
§ Lord Islwyn
My Lords, our grateful thanks are due to my noble friend Lord Berkeley for initiating this important debate. He has advocated with conviction the need to get as much freight as possible on to rail to ease the congestion on our overcrowded road network. This principle is part of an integrated transport system. Calls for such a system have been repeatedly made over the years. They have appeared hardly more than empty platitudes for little has been done.
Things, however, have changed. First, we now have a Labour Government with a huge majority in the other place. Secondly, the transport portfolio has altered considerably. Not so long ago the Transport Minister was not even a member of the Cabinet. There is now a new concept with an omnibus ministry headed by the redoubtable Mr. John Prescott. In addition to being Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions he is Deputy Prime Minister. The transport portfolio therefore now has clout which hitherto it has tended to lack.
Nevertheless there is a need to recognise the reality of the transport situation in Britain today. In 1996, for example, of the total inward goods movement 91 per cent. was accounted for by road. A similar situation obtains in passenger transport of which some 94 per cent. is estimated to be accounted for by road. The vast majority of this high percentage is accounted for by private cars. To make any impact on the situation, whether in respect of freight or passenger transport, there is a mountain to climb.
I shall give a local illustration of the problem. In Newport, which I represented for 10 years in the other place, there are now excessive delays on the M.4 between junctions 23 and 28. These are expected to worsen significantly as traffic volumes increase as a result of both rising car ownership and greater economic activity further west. The resulting bottleneck will jeopardise continuing investment in South Wales to the west of Newport. That area badly needs new investment. Newport county borough council has called for the provision of an M.4 relief road. The scheme is now subject to review under a common appraisal framework. I understand that the study is to be completed by the spring of this year.
There is opposition to the proposed relief road from the environmental lobby. While not doubting the sincerity of the individuals and groups concerned, I believe that economic reality points to the need for the early construction of the road. My understanding is that removal of the need for the proposed new relief road at Newport by the transfer of freight from road to rail would require another eight freight interchanges equivalent to the one presently being built at Wentlooge 1038 on the outskirts of the town. Such a proposal is unrealistic. That is an example of what I mean by the need to climb a mountain. I urge the Government to give the go-ahead to the new road without further delay. I am glad to have had the opportunity to make a brief contribution to the debate.
§ 4.18 p.m.
§ Lord Mountevans
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, on initiating this wide-ranging debate. Nowadays I have only a non-motorist's interest to declare and therefore I find much to welcome in the White Paper. We find in it some old familiar friends already discussed but there are other aspects such as the emphasis on the alleviation of congestion, transport integration, the viability of public transport and seamlessness. I welcome the evolution of the strategic rail authority. I hope that it will be rapid because, in common with many others, I should not like to see the traffic growth prospects of EWS, or passenger franchise operators, becoming mired by concerns about the future regulatory regime which in turn may impact on innovation, marketing, the ability to raise capital, the ability to invest—no longer constrained by PSBR—and the viability of the equipment supply industry.
In the context of the White Paper I also hope that we shall see progress, as did the Swedes, in levelling the playing field as to the costs of the road and rail infrastructure.
I welcome the increased involvement of regions, other authorities and planners although I am disappointed that the counties are not becoming PTAs. I give one example. In the Isle of Wight consideration is being given to turning the existing rail franchise—the smallest, leanest but, sadly, one of the most heavily subsidised—into a light railway and integrating it with the existing preserved railway. Light rail gets a fairly raw deal in the White Paper. I am sorry about that. I believe that we should build on Tyne and Wear's recently improved extension to Sunderland which shares Railtrack facilities.
My main regret is that the White Paper almost overlooks practice abroad. There are some 30 references to European or other international commitments; they are not totally relevant to the passenger or the freight shipper. There are 10 references to best operational practice. I believe that there are only two references to transport practices in the world beyond Europe; and there are almost no references to such practices to be found in the index.
Against that, I place great store by the commission for integrated transport which is charged with identifying and disseminating best practice. Perhaps we should add encouragement or even enforcement to its remit, as the noble Earl, Lord Stair, implied. What can be considered best practice? Is it the use of colour in the Dutch timetable to make it more accessible to the visibly impaired? Is it the use of minority languages such as Arabic and Turkish for those whose mother tongue is not Dutch? We should look at the Dutch all-mode nationwide strip ticket for once-off journeys. You buy 1039 the equivalent of 10 journeys and can use the ticket on any transport anywhere in the Netherlands. We should also look at the Dutch use of taxis as a complement to, or replacement for, unviable bus services.
I turn to Norway, a country with which I am most familiar. The national timetable lists all public transport, cross-indexing it by maps, index or the schedule tables. Where operationally practical, long-haul transport connects. That means that a boat which has travelled for seven days connects with a train which is travelling 400 miles, even if the boat is delayed, within a reasonable margin. Short-haul services also connect. A national transport map adds to the information provision, as does a national fares manual. Is there a bus at Aviemore that will take me where I wish to go? Perhaps national parallels here are too ambitious, but those relating to smaller areas are worth considering.
The means to such ends lie with the strategic rail authority and CIT which I hope will be up and running in time to influence the welcome national travel information service. All those factors will enhance public transport and make it more attractive. That will encourage change in our public transport habits.
§ 4.23 p.m.
§ Lord Clinton-Davis
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on initiating the debate and speaking so well. I wish to put on record my great appreciation of our close work together on the transport sector during the years in opposition. I also welcome the constructive and coherent approach of the Government to transport, an area of policy which was so neglected during the 18 years of Conservative government. Their concept of pilotage of this sector was, I think, characterised by an irresistible urge to ensure that the transport ship landed on the rocks. In that they certainly succeeded.
I wish to devote my remarks to the issue of shipping. The Government issued a White Paper on shipping—and a very good one, too. In contrast to our predecessors, clearly those in charge of our transport policy believe in the industry. The former government did not. They allowed the industry to founder. They took over a bequest of nearly 1,300 ships of over 500 gross registered tonnes. They left behind a bequest of just over 200 ships. That was their way of honouring an industry which has meant so much to this country—a country which has been dependent on, and should be interested in, the industry to a much greater extent. So much of our trade is dependent internationally upon shipping. British shipping should be playing a critical part; the former government neglected it.
They applied piecemeal measures to try to mitigate some of the problems, but those failed miserably. We have failed to recruit the cadets whose skills and seamanship are needed to build that role in the future. There was a failure, too, to ensure that the maritime-related industries which depend on people who have served at sea are properly manned. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating as regards the White Paper. Will the resources be available? The document shows a critically important belief in the industry and a 1040 determination to see it revived. We did not experience that during the previous 18 years. In consequence the former government carry a huge burden of debt to the people of this country.
There is a crisis in recruitment. The paper indicates ways in which it can be tackled. It is important to continue and enhance the attack on sub-standard vessels. Most of the problems come from open registries. New initiatives need to be promoted by the Government in the European Union to ensure that port state control becomes much more effective. That requires additional resources.
Unfair competition results from sub-standard vessels, from flags of convenience. We hear much from the party opposite about its belief in fair standards of competition—but not apparently in relation to shipping. We hear very little from it about the need to enhance the role of coastal shipping which is environmentally enormously advantageous. I must declare my interest as chairman of the Advisory Committee on Protection of the Sea, of which my noble friend Lord Callaghan is the president. As the paper indicates, we should ensure the environmental friendliness of shipping.
I conclude with reference to some of the issues which I believe are so important in the paper. I refer to the establishment of a national trust fund to co-ordinate industrial funding for seafaring training. Why did the former government not introduce it? I refer also to increasing the number of training berths for British seafarers; developing levy schemes for non-training companies; revising and improving the terms of the crew relief costs scheme; providing improved social security protection for UK seafarers; and considering the launch of a UK tonnage tax system. I believe that all those represent the way ahead. In the interests of our overall trading position, the means have to be found to ensure that the industry is made more meaningful in the industrial and economic life of this country. We have shown a will to implement the scheme. I hope that that will be translated fully into action.
§ Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton
My Lords, perhaps I may draw to your Lordships' attention that several speakers have spoken well into a sixth minute, and my noble friend the Minister will he unable to answer questions fully if your Lordships leave him too little time.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Lord Cobbold
My Lords, I am afraid I find the White Paper—all 170 pages of it—a rather depressing document. Clearly its authors have tried hard to please everyone and to provide some solace to the multitude of different interests on which a transport policy inevitably impacts.
I suppose, again, it is inevitable that it has an anti-motorist flavour. There is talk of road-user charging and phrases such as "parking enforcement", "parking control" and "parking restraint" are sprinkled about the text. Planning policy in future, it states,should ensure that car parking space is limited to the minimum necessary.1041 There will he a new parking charge on workplace parking.
However, the beleaguered motorist is accustomed to taking such flak and of course the Treasury's ban on tax hypothecation means that the motorist cannot even have the satisfaction of knowing that the extra financial burdens will be spent on improving the road network. Indeed, "improving" is a word that scarcely appears in the document. The buzz words, as far as the road network is concerned, are "maintenance" and "management", as in:We are giving high priority to maintaining and managing the nation's transport infrastructureorour road network is largely complete. Maintaining the trunk road network will be the first priority in futureormake the best use of the roads we already have by investing in network control and traffic management measures and in minor improvements".Why only "minor" improvements? What is meant by the sinister phrases "network control" and "traffic management measures"?
I would have liked to see an admission that our trunk road network is far from perfect. I would have liked to see some strategic improvements acknowledged and targeted. To give but two examples, what has happened to the once-promised upgrading of the A.1 to motorway standard all the way from London to Newcastle? What about a serious east-west motorway link to the east coast ports of Harwich and Felixstowe? The noble Lord, Lord Islwyn, has given another example in Wales.
There is a similar absence of strategic targets in the case of the railway network. There is a map showing the 15 key bottlenecks in the rail network, as identified by Railtrack, and there is mention of Railtrack's commitment to solve these problems by 2006. There is to be a new strategic rail authority, which we are told will promote better integration—which is to be welcomed—and interchange, and which will get better value for public subsidy in terms of fares and network benefits. But there is little mention of improving the network; for example, once again by an upgraded east-west access to the east coast ports.
The Channel Tunnel high speed link and the west coast main line modernisation are quoted as priority projects, in conjunction with the European Union's trans-European networks. However, as the noble Earl, Lord Stair, has already pointed out, there is no discussion of how these two projects are to be continued elsewhere in the United Kingdom. There is little discussion about the problems of differing speeds for passenger and freight trains and the implications of this for increased freight usage of the existing network and, in particular, of the Channel Tunnel. There is little discussion about perhaps moving stations out of town centres to parkway locations, giving easier parking to commuters and freeing town centre parking for shoppers, with suitable shuttle bus routes in between them.
1042 Perhaps I have been too critical. I recognise the enormous problems involved in defining any transport policy. I recognise that a great deal of work and analysis has gone into the production of the White Paper. I give a cautious welcome to the proposals to devolve transport policy to the regions and, like others, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for giving us the opportunity of discussing this vitally important subject today.
§ 4.33 p.m.
§ Lord Murray of Epping Forest
My Lords, the specialised report entitled British Shipping; Charting a new course, to which the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, has referred, sets out starkly the problems facing the industry, but insists that Britain can still maintain a strong presence in shipping. Its 33 recommendations for action all conform to accepted international practice and current EU guidelines on state aids.
There are three areas on which I would like to concentrate. First, I must declare my interest as a trustee of the National Union of Marine, Aviation and Shipping Transport Officers. The Government have allotted something like £18.6 million to the Support for Maritime Training scheme over the three-year period from 1999 to 2002. SMarT has offered funding support for 643 new cadets in 1998–99, but ship owners are not taking up these available funds. This year's cadet intake is only 440, and of those something like one-fifth will be lost by natural wastage in the first year alone. But we should be recruiting at least 1,200 cadets a year and so I ask my noble friend on what assumptions of training requirements and uptake is the figure of £18.6 million based.
My next point relates to improving the cost environment. In the United Kingdom employers' national insurance contributions constitute something between 8 per cent. and 10 per cent. of employers' social charges. The reduction to zero of employers' social charges in respect of seafarers is permitted under the European Union's maritime state aid guidelines, which acknowledge that,Maritime transport presents a special case".More than 10 European Union countries provide remission of contributions, but the United Kingdom Government flatly asserts in the report that,exception on a sectional basis is irreconcilable with the principle of universality".My question is this: what is so fundamentally different about the United Kingdom system as to require us to forgo the legitimate benefits which have been grasped by our European competitors?
My third point concerns the effect of the fiscal environment. Paragraphs 121 to 125 cogently summarise the overwhelming case for modifying the United Kingdom's fiscal regime to make it possible for our shipping to compete and flourish in a world where, as the report itself puts it,It is now normal for countries, including other European countries, to create a substantially tax-free environment to retain and to attract fishing investment.1043 The results are documented in the report. It spells out the disincentives in the United Kingdom to shipping investment and it describes the action taken by our competitors. It concludes by saying that:The Government will discuss fiscal options with the industry in the context of the pre-budget consultation and without any commitment on implementation.I realise that my noble friend cannot disclose what will be in the Budget, but will he assure your Lordships that his right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister will use all the clout—which was a word referred to earlier—and also the charm for which he is well known—I almost said notorious—to get the Treasury to grasp that if we are to seize the great opportunities open to us, British shipping companies really must be put on the same footing as their competitors.
This is no academic debate. P&O is in the process of deciding under which flag to place two new cruise ferries. If the Budget fails to deliver, those vessels could well go to the Dutch flag. The reasons for that can be read off Chart 5 of the report, which compares fiscal regimes to Britain's serious disadvantage. Again, Stephenson Clarke is considering flagging out four cargo ships used in the coastal trade and replacing British crews with Polish officers and Polish ratings—on ships operating around Britain's coasts. It would indeed be a tragedy if the Treasury were to spoil the brave new shipping policy spelled out in this report for the sake of a ha'p'orth of fiscal support.
§ 4.40 p.m.
§ Lord Teviot
My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords and I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate because, as your Lordships will be aware, transport has long been an interest of mine. Judging by the length of the speakers' list, it is the interest of many other noble Lords also present, as indeed it should be. The transport of people and goods has a daily effect on the quality of all our lives. There is no denying that.
That is reflected in the size of the White Paper. Whether the rest of the Government take the issue as seriously as the Deputy Prime Minister is a matter for speculation. However, although it is true that, as yet, no legislation has been introduced to take forward these proposals, I will, if your Lordships will forgive me, leave it to others to speculate on that. Therefore, I would like to concentrate on an area of the White Paper which, initially at least, does not require any legislation. That is the role of the bus.
At this point, as usual, I must declare an interest, having a long connection with the bus industry. It is for that reason that I shall confine my remarks today to the role that the bus will play in the transport system of the next century. I welcome greatly the enhanced role given to buses by the White Paper through a system of quality partnerships. There is no doubt that a system of efficient bus networks will go a long way to easing congestion, improving air quality and regenerating our towns and cities.
However, those improvements can be achieved only if both local authorities and bus operators play their part together. It is no use operators investing in new vehicles 1044 if there is no infrastructure for them to run on. People will be persuaded to leave their cars at home only if they know that the bus is going to give them a better quality of journey. The door-to-door service that the car can very often offer must be replaced by a pleasant, congestion-free ride.
The key to providing this quality journey is partnerships, or what is now popularly known as quality partnerships. These are partnerships between local authorities and bus operators aimed at achieving the improvements I have already mentioned. They cover such areas as improved and more accessible vehicles; better ticketing; better information; and improved infrastructure leading to better reliability. All those are key elements in improving the service to the passengers.
A number of quality partnerships, many of which I must say were initiated during the previous government's term of office, already exist up and down the country. The results in terms of reduced journey times and increased passenger numbers are impressive. That was demonstrated by the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton. At this point I should add that these partnerships are not restrictive in any way. Far from it. More than one bus operator can join and the police and other enforcement authorities are also welcomed with open arms. There is no point in having bus priority measures if they are not enforced. Increased quality is key to providing a bus service for the 21st century.
However, that quality standard must be there for all to aim at. The competitive element, even in an atmosphere of co-operation, is still, in my view, vital to providing passengers with the services that they require. The Government have stated their intention to place quality partnerships on a statutory footing. On the face of it, that is to be applauded. However, I issue a note of caution: do not make them too prescriptive, otherwise one restricts the operators' ability to react to changing passenger needs and demands. In legislating, the Government must not underestimate the very real benefits that voluntary quality partnerships have already brought.
My second note of caution is related to the proposal to bring forward quality contracts if the quality partnership approach is not providing the improvements required. Quality contracts are no more than franchising by another name. There will be no incentive to improve the quality and quantity of services, and the working conditions of those who operate the buses will suffer. This will ultimately result in a poorer service to the travelling public. There is no more important person than the passenger. I believe that the quality partnership approach will give passengers the best possible service. I therefore congratulate the Government on their recognition of this, but ask them to approach any proposed legislation with caution.
§ 4.44 p.m.
§ Viscount Hanworth
My Lords, the private motor car, which is associated with so many of the social and environmental problems of our times, is the subject of a powerful mythology. It is a personal convenience and an adjunct to our busy lives. But it is also a symbol of personal freedom and personal aspiration and it engenders some strong emotions.
1045 Although the car symbolises individual autonomy, its use is everywhere subject to rigorous social control. This paradox confuses us and the manner in which it is resolved varies quite markedly between neighbouring European countries.
In this country, we have controlled the car less than many of our neighbours and much has been sacrificed to make way for it. In particular, we have destroyed systems of urban public transport which other countries have retained. Our errors in that respect were highlighted recently by the revival of the tramways in some of our cities.
City dwellers have always dreamt of seeking refuge in the countryside to pursue a quieter and more congenial life. Acres of suburbs have been built in this century in an effort to move out of the urban centres into leafy surroundings. When the programme has proved self-defeating, the idea of the accessibility of the countryside and its open spaces has often been sustained by the placement of the motor car on a hard concrete apron in front of a suburban dwelling. The car is a symbol of an enduring longing.
I remember that in the 1950s and 1960s much of the advertising of petrol companies made reference to the myth of the countryside. Our schoolrooms were adorned with exquisite posters showing how the English hedgerows varied with the changing seasons. Those posters were provided by the Shell petrol company. There was an innocence in all that. Nowadays, it is widely understood how inimical the products of the petrochemical industry are to the traditional appearance of the countryside. Those products include not only petrol but fertilisers and pesticides. Today, such advertising would be seen as a flagrant denial of this reality.
However, the subconscious works differently and it still harbours the myth. Politicians understand the myth of the motor car rather well. In the past, all political parties have paid obeisance to it. They have made great sacrifices of public money to appease the motorist. The previous government went further than most. They built trunk roads and by-passes. They attempted to hasten the progress of traffic through urban areas by means of road widening schemes and red routes. They did all that in the face of mounting evidence that the money spent in facilitating the flow of traffic is largely wasted. It encourages more cars to enter the network and it leads to increased congestion. I hope to answer that argument later.
The access of individual users to a limited resource must be regulated in pursuit of the common good. Surely, this idea is a simple and widely recognised truism. But so subversive was it of the ideology of the previous government that they spent most of their time in office denying it. It puts one in mind of the story of King Canute; only these are waves of traffic we are talking of.
The present Government are radical and reforming. They are not bound by any set of outdated ideological precepts. A sign of this is the manner in which they feel able to approach the problem of devising an integrated transport strategy fit for the 21st century.
1046 I have in hand the Government's draft guidelines on local authority transport plans issued last November by the DETR. Among other matters, the guidelines deal with the question of the reallocation of road space which might be made free of traffic and used for pedestrians, cycle lanes or given over to public transport. I am sorry to say that the guidelines show a degree of diffidence and caution which is liable to make them ineffective. The document asserts that it is too early to draw conclusions about the effects on traffic of reducing road capacity. The fear is expressed that by imposing restrictions in one part of a traffic network one might create congestion elsewhere.
That is an old caveat which does not stand up to examination. The idea can be refuted easily. We know that by facilitating the flow of traffic one usually succeeds only in adding to its volume. From the assumption that the effect works in reverse, it follows that by restricting the flow of traffic one will succeed in diminishing its volume. That consequence has been observed time and again. When highway capacity is restricted, traffic tends to evaporate. Research has shown that about half of the displaced traffic simply disappears. So common is that experience that it has become one of the verities of modern transport planning.
If we have the courage of our convictions and if we set about reclaiming some of the urban territories which we have surrendered to the car, then there is ample reason to suppose that our efforts will be fully rewarded. Indeed, we may succeed in establishing within the hearts of our cities the open spaces for which we long.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ Lord Cadman
My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for introducing this subject today. It is high time that the House had the opportunity to debate this important issue.
Anyone interested in transport integration should visit Switzerland where one's transport needs about that beautiful country are catered for to an extraordinary degree. Back in the 1950s, that was in stark contrast to the position at home in Leighton Buzzard where nationalised buses competed with nationalised trains to nearby Luton. The train service involved a change at Dunstable which was not always available due to original lines belonging to separate companies. No one had thought to integrate the service.
So where are we now? Sadly, the Swiss model is still largely absent. People are still being carried about in some places in trains largely designed by the Victorians. One still sees freight yards, albeit largely concerned with infrastructure maintenance, full of wagons similar to those that I used to see at Leighton Buzzard, although at least today they have continuous brakes.
As the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, said in his excellent speech on the Second Reading of the Railways Bill in June 1993:The problems which face British Rail are not problems of line management; nor are they problems of public versus private ownership. The problem is the price we pay for a succession of governments who have refused, at great cost to the nation, to provide clear and attainable objectives or any kind of consistent investment programme".—[Official Report, 15/6/93; col. 1446.]1047 He pointed out also that nowhere in the world do passenger railways financially break even and it therefore follows that public support is likely always to be necessary. Freight carrying by rail demands little subsidy but requires encouragement and a level playing field. Worldwide freight railways, although declining, have the ability to be profitable. Some dedicated routes with captive markets are markedly so.
So our railways are now in private hands and an opportunity has been presented to address the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Marsh. Much has been achieved. Substantial investment in passenger coaches and freight locos and wagons is in place to meet the demand created by a 15 per cent. increase in passenger mileage and a 25 per cent. increase in freight tonne miles over the past five years; and that is growing fast.
The rail freight industry, dominated by two main players, is looking to substantially increase its business further and great savings are being made in overall costs by streamlining services and providing one-stop shops for customers' inquiries which has enabled the service to be better delivered.
The passenger companies continue to offer improved services with new services providing connections where none existed before. One can cite Connex's Rugby to Gatwick service. There is an exciting proposal by GB Railways, via their Anglia Railway subsidiary, to introduce services connecting Ipswich with Watford and also Basingstoke via the Feltham gateway to Heathrow. There is also planned a Waterloo to Southampton premium service in direct competition to South West Trains which will also serve Romsey, a growing town cut off from London by rail for the past 30 years.
Thus can privatisation be seen to be successful. However, performance has not been good enough and urgent action is needed to ensure that such innovative service can be created and that our freight companies can achieve their goals, especially in the field of reducing dependence on our roads. One of the most effective ways of achieving that is by the use of piggy-back services which involve the carriage of road trailers on flat or adapted rail wagons. The practice is widespread abroad but is constrained here by a restricted loading gauge. The passenger companies are also identifying constraints in the infrastructure which is holding back their plans. Despite published investment figures of some £15 billion over the past five years, much needs to be done. It is vital that Railtrack continues with that investment.
Unbelievably, it seems to have decided that it must operate under the same constraints as its predecessors—British Rail. I refer to the resignalling of the route from Nuneaton to Peterborough which has been deferred, and the lack of piggy-back gauge enhancement within the West Coast Main Line upgrade. Railtrack seems unwilling also to commit itself to a London-avoiding route for traffic which needs to connect Glasgow with the Channel Tunnel.
1048 In evidence to the House of Commons Transport Select Committee, whose report was published last March, the Deputy Prime Minister recognised that,there is concern that freight facilities are not being provided to achieve piggyback which is an absolutely crucial part of getting the movement of freight from road on to rail".Perhaps that is why it is seen to be necessary to set up a strategic rail authority to provide better direction in those matters.
That move is widely welcomed in the rail industry, and it is particularly unfortunate that the behaviour of this House in the matter of its so-called reform is somehow to be held to account as regards the achievement of the necessary legislation.
I shall leave it at that. I was extremely happy to see the privatisation of the railways because I could see the opportunities for growth and improvement that the process could provide. That it does not seem to be working is tragic. I feel that the train companies, both passenger and freight, are doing their hit. There is much positive thinking, although some of them have a funny way of showing it. If their investment is to founder because it must operate on out-dated and under-maintained infrastructure, one must question where Railtrack's priorities lie. The Government have a crucial role to play in that respect and I hope that they will quickly fulfil their responsibility to the industry.
§ 4.56 p.m.
§ Lord Howie of Troon
My Lords, I am very glad that my noble friend Lord Berkeley has given us an opportunity to discuss this important subject. However, I shuddered, just slightly, when he echoed the current shibboleth that predict and provide was dead. However, I noticed that he really meant that predict and provide for the roads was dead. Later in his speech, it seemed that predict and provide for railways is still alive.
The truth is that you must predict and provide. But what matters is what you predict and what you provide. In that respect, perhaps I may react to a comment made by my noble friend Lord Hanworth who spoke of the "verities" of planning. I do not want to go into the detail of what he said, most of which was wrong. But one of the eternal verities of transport planning is that roads are necessary, and that includes by-passes and things of that sort.
I do not wish to talk about the generalities of this subject which is far too wide for me. I merely wish to deal with one important point in the White Paper. The White Paper quite rightly mentions the state of the road network and the need for increased investment in maintenance. It states:If maintenance is delayed too long structural damage is done and much more expensive and highly destructive repairs are required".That is correct.
The Minister will perhaps be aware of the annual transport survey published by the Institution of Civil Engineers. I should declare an interest as a fellow of that institution. I am a great believer in building roads. I like concrete in most places. The findings of that survey are alarming. It reveals that the backlog on road maintenance stands at about £4,900 million. That was the figure for last 1049 year. That was 20 per cent. greater than it was the year before and that was 20 per cent. greater than it was for the year before that. Therefore, there is a large backlog which is increasing by something like £800 million per year. That is a burden which is extremely severe for the local authorities because there are apparently something like 350,000 kilometres of roads in Great Britain of which 96 per cent. are the responsibility of local authorities and not of central government. That is something like 330,000 kilometres.
Investment in maintenance and improvements has been neglected for some time. I do not blame any specific government for that; they are all equally guilty—though some had longer to do things than others. But the Government are not wholly to blame. Some local authorities themselves are culpable. The ICE survey indicated that local authorities frequently appear to divert funds provided by the Government in the standard spending assessment for road maintenance to support spending on "front line" services that have greater political prominence and voter appeal; for example, education and social services. We know that those are important, but if money is provided for road maintenance, that is where it ought to go.
We know that help is at hand in the form of the various proposals that the Government made in relation to road charges, congestion charges and taxes of one kind or another which are to be hypothecated. I have a philosophical doubt about hypothecation. I contribute a fair amount of tax to the Government through malt whisky and I do not feel that that tax should necessarily be devoted to distilleries; but I see the point. If the money cannot be found any other way, it must be found through those charges.
The danger is that local authorities sometimes misuse the funds and apply them to other, no doubt good, purposes, but outwith what would be the hypothecation. It will require serious policing on the part of the Government. I wish them well, as I always do as the House will know, but their aim for an integrated transport system is grandiose. I hope that they achieve it, but I should like them to get the incremental bits right first.
§ 5.1 p.m.
§ Lord Addington
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for introducing this debate and for his opening remarks on the one area that I intend to address today; that is, the disabled.
An integrated transport system may well help to solve the problems of the disabled in this country as well as the able bodied, but it will be more difficult because they have specialist needs. Those specialist needs will mean that it will take longer to resolve their problems. For instance, taxis and buses are being made available to the disabled incrementally.
We must remember that the "disabled" is not just one group. Those with a visual impairment and those in wheelchairs have different needs, thus greater degrees of technical difficulty arise when providing the various types of transport. We must bear in mind also that when we are striving towards an integrated transport system 1050 there will be a time lag between the different stages. And we must take account of the fact that those who are wheelchair bound will still need to use cars if buses, taxis and trains are not accessible to them.
I do not make a special plea. I merely say that disabled people have the right to be able to move around the country in the same way as the able bodied. I hope that the Government will keep the issue under review so that when trains and buses become accessible to all the groups within the disabled lobby, they will then be able to withdraw the car from front-line use or indeed altogether in certain situations.
When thinking about the disabled, we must think in a slightly lateral form. For instance, when we encourage cyclists, we must ensure that there is some way for someone who is blind to be aware that a cyclist is coming. I am sure that we have all been on a pavement when a cyclist who should not be there comes careering along. They are not the only problem. But when one is in a wheelchair or has a guide dog they are an even greater menace. We must draw attention to that problem at every stage of the process. There is no way we can ignore it if we intend to achieve this legislation covering the whole of society and also avoid conflict with the disability civil rights legislation which is currently going through your Lordships' House. We must bear that in mind.
I leave noble Lords with one final thought. When one goes to Clapham Junction station one is told to "Mind the gap"—it is more than one foot in width and about two feet in height on a number of platforms. In fact, it makes one feel like putting a flag on the platform when one alights from the train. When those sorts of problems are solved, we can start to think about getting rid of the car for all sections of society, and let us hope that that will come quickly.
§ 5.5 p.m.
§ Lord Monkswell
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for introducing this debate but must apologise to him because the speech I intended to make has gone and I am starting afresh.
I could have spoken at length about the sins of the previous government and the failure of railway policy over the past 20 years; but my noble friend Lord Currie of Marylebone made a powerful case for the early introduction of a strategic rail authority and I no longer need to go into that. I should therefore like to speak about the fundamental change that has been undertaken and which was started by the previous government—I give them credit for that. I am referring to the change in planning guidance issued by Selwyn Gummer when he introduced the presumption against new out-of-town retail shopping developments.
I hope it is accepted that that was the beginning of the realisation that we have turned our backs on the North American model and embraced a European and Japanese model, for the fundamental reason of population density. Out-of-town shopping and green-field house building make sense if one has enormous wide open spaces on which to build and everyone has a car in which to reach them. But on our 1051 overcrowded isle, where 30 per cent. or more of the population has no access to a car, we need to develop new ways of living, working, shopping and travelling. We can learn from our European colleagues that communities with better public transport systems can have higher car ownership with less car usage and less congestion, in which case everyone benefits.
We can see that major investment in modern railway networks such as those we see in France, Japan and elsewhere, can pay dividends in better inter-city travel. But we can also learn from our own experience. Major public infrastructure projects developed by local authorities, such as Manchester International Airport, can make a contribution to our nation's international air links, enabling people to fly overseas from the region without having to travel to Heathrow. We can also learn from the local plans such as that for Brighton and Hove described by my noble friend Lord Bassam.
I welcome the Government's New Deal for Transport. The concepts of integration and improvement for public transport are the right ones to lead us into the future. As an ardent car owner, I do not believe that these broad thrusts of government policy should be seen as being "anti-car". It will not be easy, but I salute this Government for firmly signposting the road down which we need to go.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ Lord Vinson
My Lords, I have one or two things in common with the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, not least the view that more should be spent on the transport infrastructure in this country, both road and rail. Both are the economic arteries of a modern state and we neglect them at our peril.
It is sometimes said that there is no money available for such activities. I remind the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, that some £30 billion is taken from motorists and motoring activities which, if divided by the 30 million motorists in this country, means that each motorist pays, over and above his normal income tax, some £1,000 towards the transport infrastructure. Masses of money is available; but governments of all parties have not cared to allocate it in the way that many of us think they should.
A number of speakers tonight have advocated transferring freight from road to rail. That is obviously desirable, but one has to ask to what degree it is practical. The rail transport bodies state that it will take between eight and 10 years to upgrade the existing rail network to carry double the amount of freight that it carries at present. That sounds absolutely marvellous until we look at the figures. Already, 90 per cent. of freight is carried by road and 10 per cent. by rail. If we were to double that to 20 per cent. and take 10 years in which to do it, growth in the economy—the underlying reason for the increase in transport activity—would meanwhile have been the same. We would therefore finish up in 10 years time with roughly the same proportion of freight—approximately 90 per cent.—being carried by road. It is madness to suggest that we can neglect our highly important road infrastructure.
1052 Few modern nations would regard the A.1, a major trunk road, as a road which is virtually finished. That road is single carriageway over much of its length, it has bottlenecks at roundabouts in many instances, causing highly polluting tailbacks at great economic cost, and cross-over points which make it extremely dangerous. I cannot think of any other nation in the world which would tolerate that and not upgrade the A.1 as a national priority.
The fact is that the public want roads. Their demand is not incompatible with the White Paper, which has one enormous omission. Page 14 states,The New Deal for Transport means: cleaner air to breathe by tackling traffic fumes; thriving town centres by cutting the stranglehold of traffic; quality places to live where people are the priority; … easier and safer to walk and cycle; revitalised towns and cities through better town planning".Every one of these sounds marvellous, but do noble Lords know what each of those towns is asking for through their democratically elected representatives? There are currently 500 bypasses on the waiting list. Such bypasses would solve the very problems mentioned under this heading. I have read the White Paper from one end to the other and cannot find the word "bypass". This is meant to be a modern transport document. That is an extraordinary omission.
The White Paper is long on waffle and short on credible alternatives. Many of us, on any fair analysis, would regard it as a triumph of prejudice over necessity. It is typical of this Government; it spins loud and the realities are unresolved. The real problems will remain unless much more is done for our transport system—both road and rail—than this document advocates. It calls itself A New Deal for Transport. It is a poor deal for transport and I hope it will be regarded as such.
§ 5.14 p.m.
§ Baroness Thomas of Walliswood
My Lords, I am the second to last person who will have the opportunity to thank the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for instituting the debate and also for his excellent and wide-ranging opening speech. It has stimulated an extremely interesting series of contributions from many Members of this House. I shall take great pleasure in reading them in detail tomorrow in Hansard. Among them were those from my noble friends Lord Thomson, on cycling; Lord Addington, on access for the disabled; and Lady Ludford—or should it be "Sister Ludford"—on travel problems for Londoners.
In approaching the debate I have selected a few subjects for praise or query, particularly those which indicate action or inaction since last July. The success in implementing the White Paper will remain the test of its viability. However, I was greatly tempted to spin with the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, down the paths of local government expenditure on road maintenance.
Some interests have been critical that much of the "new" money available to implement the White Paper has been recycled. I welcome the fact that transport money has been recycled into new transport uses rather than into the Consolidated Fund, as has often happened in recent times. Like the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, 1053 I am concerned about taxation on company cars, which promote extra driving and add about 2 billion car miles per annum. Taxation on private mileage would be welcomed by London First, but the Government have backed away. Even if taxation on private mileage is not feasible and not accepted by all, among other possibilities the Government could introduce a flat rate of tax irrespective of mileage. I wonder whether DETR Ministers are content with the current taxation scheme for company cars and whether they would welcome changes to the scheme for tax relief on the use of private cars for business purposes. I look with hope at the noble Lord, Lord Whitty.
There are further inconsistencies in the tax treatment of commuting costs. Car parking at work has not been taxed since 1988, although a space in London is said to be worth £5,000 per year. Yet the benefits conferred by green commuter plans, such as subsidised bus services, public transport tickets and cycling allowances, are taxed. Some companies have even been told that long-established benefits, such as works buses, are taxable. Experience shows that closing down such services merely increases commuting by car. An interesting little sideline is that although cycling allowances are legal for Peers and MPs, they are not legal for councillors. The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, drew our attention to the example of Boots as an excellent employer. From the point of view of social equity as well as environmental strategy, such inconsistencies seem malign. What plans does the Secretary of State have to ensure that these anomalies are removed? Will "joined-up thinking" soon extend to the Treasury?
We support the tax escalator on fuel duty because it taxes car use rather than car ownership. However, as many of us know, in rural areas such a tax on car use causes problems which could largely be solved by reducing vehicle excise duty, which is a tax on ownership, to nominal levels for the smallest and least polluting cars. Can the Minister assure us today that that option for VED is still under discussion?
I turn to the subject of hypothecation. The DETR is to be congratulated on persuading the Treasury to accept hypothecation for public transport uses of revenues earned by local authorities. That is a revolution in Treasury practice. Can the Minister confirm that local authorities have broadly welcomed those proposals?
I should like to point out a couple of flaws in the scheme; first, that pilot authorities may retain the proceeds for only 10 years, and secondly, the Government,will make an announcement about the retention of proceeds from schemes brought forward after the pilot phase in due course".—[Official Report, Commons, 15/12/98; WA.442.]That answer was given by the Economic Secretary to the Treasury to my honourable friend Mr. Baker.
I should also like to support the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, about the Greater London Authority Bill and the apparent inconsistency of allowing provision for net proceeds from congestion charging and levies on workplace parking to be passed to the Secretary of State and thence to the Consolidated Fund.
1054 I cannot welcome with the same enthusiasm another initiative under the White Paper, motorway tolling. I understand that the Government are to encourage local authorities to bid for a trial of tolling procedures. My view is that motorway tolling could have the perverse effect of moving heavy traffic flows and heavy vehicles off the motorways and trunk roads, where they belong, and on to unsuitable A roads where they would cause real environmental damage. Can the Minister confirm that those noxious side effects will also be carefully studied along with the availability of technical apparatus?
The Minister will already be aware that we on these Benches have consistently supported Private Member's Bills which task the Government with the setting of targets for the reduction of road traffic. Our view is that the Government need to set an overall target as a context for action at a local level. It is therefore dispiriting to read in a Written Answer by Dr. Reid in another place on 20th October 1998 that the Government still see a national target, if at all, as merely a sum of all the local targets that local authorities will establish under their local transport plans. It will be for local authorities to standardise their recording procedures for measuring and forecasting traffic flows. On the other hand, it is to be done by building on the data collected for national surveys. An assessment framework will then he put in place with the assistance of the Transport Statistics Liaison Group, an excellent body, and finally the commission for integrated transport will have a go at it before the report to Parliament on traffic reduction targets is presented late this year.
It is impossible to avoid the conclusion that the Government have got themselves in a tizzy on this matter. Can the Minister confirm that motor vehicle emissions are the fastest-growing contributors to air pollution and to global warming in particular? Does he agree that a national target for traffic reduction would be a useful tool for measuring success in achieving our Kyoto targets in this respect?
I turn now to the subject of concessionary bus tickets for pensioners. One of the most welcome promises in the White Paper was that the Government would guarantee a minimum 50 per cent. discount on bus fares for all pensioners. However, it seems that nothing may be done to redeem that promise in the coming financial year—and despite the fact, trumpeted in recent Government press releases, that an extra two people on every bus journey could revolutionise the fortunes of the bus industry. I hope that the Minister will assure me that that measure will be implemented in 1999–2000—that is, in the forthcoming year. On Treasury estimates, it will cost only £25 million.
Perhaps I may add that about 71 per cent. of parishes have no bus service. I have spent a lot of time in, and have a good deal of experience of, community transport initiatives such as many counties have initiated. I welcome the Government's decision to put part of the £50 million into such schemes. Can the Minister assure me that that extra money will not merely substitute for the existing funding of existing schemes?
1055 In preparing for this speech, I became aware, not for the first time, of how hard it is to track the progress made in implementing the measures contained in a White Paper. There is still a lingering feeling among many observers that implementation is not going ahead—and certainly not fast enough. However, the introduction of a Bill to establish a strategic rail authority may go some way towards satisfying at least some critics. I should like to associate myself with those who have supported that idea and to say how interesting I found the speech on that matter by the noble Lord, Lord Currie of Marylebone, which I shall read with interest tomorrow in Hansard.
Nevertheless, looking across a huge series of predicted dates for pilot studies, consultation papers, draft and final guidances, and daughter papers, it is extremely hard for anybody who is not served by a department of state to keep track of where the implementation has reached. Some cynics might reply that that is the point of the exercise. I prefer to believe that it is not.
However, the White Paper represents an immense and, as we have heard, controversial change in British policy on a matter—transport—which affects every citizen and every business in the country. Does not such a policy merit a new way of reporting back to Parliament and to citizens? Would not a regular update, a simple end-of-year report on the initiatives taken, the money spent and the projects and work completed, be a splendid way of keeping friends on board and convincing doubters? Will the Minister at least tell us today that he is willing to consider such a proposal?
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Lord Brabazon of Tara
My Lords, like other noble Lords, I welcome this opportunity, long overdue, to debate the Government's White Paper on integrated transport, A New Deal for Transport, and I join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for introducing the debate. In view of the interest in the debate and the importance which the Government attach to this issue, it is slightly unfortunate that we should have to have a time-limited three-hour debate on the subject rather than a full-blown, unlimited debate in government time. However, I am grateful for small mercies.
I am also glad that the Motion mentions "other related … matters". I shall therefore take the opportunity to comment on the Comprehensive Spending Review and on the roads programme, as mentioned in the White Paper.
The current debate about transport needs to be put in its historical perspective. When we Conservatives took office in 1979, huge subsidies were being paid to a long list of nationalised corporations that controlled the nation's transport at that time. Services were often disrupted by disastrous industrial relations. Customers faced an attitude of "Take it or leave it"—and often of just "Leave it".
Mercifully, the picture is better today. The Conservative policies of privatisation, deregulation and composition have dramatically reduced subsidies and 1056 increased investment. Transport services now reflect the needs of customers rather than those dictated by politicians and bureaucrats.
There is no doubt that in transport, as in many other areas, British thinking in the 1980s and 1990s has strongly influenced numerous reform programmes across the globe. British transport companies have demonstrated their ability to deliver quality services and high levels of investment. Foreign governments naturally look to them to invest in their privatisation and liberalisation programmes. One should not forget the success we achieved in bringing in investment from the private sector. The Channel Tunnel is perhaps the most notable example. Indeed, I first met the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, when he was involved in that project. Other examples across a range of transport sectors include the Dartford and second Severn crossings and the Heathrow express rail link, to which reference has already been made.
The previous government's record of public investment in our rail networks was far from miserly. Between 1979 and 1997, we invested £16 billion in our national railways and £8 billion in London Transport. Following privatisation, the passenger operators are investing £2.5 billion in new rolling stock, and Railtrack is investing £18 billion in upgrading track, signalling and stations.
Noble Lords will also be aware that the previous government introduced grants for private freight sidings and track access charges. Much has been made of that by the present Government who seem to think that they invented it, but it was there before. When my noble friend Lord Freeman was the Minister in charge, he regularly received complaints from the Rail Freight Group, of which the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, is, I believe, the current chairman. Its director demonstrated that British Rail's high haulage charges and restrictive practices were causing rail freight traffic to decline to the detriment of its members' businesses. That is why we privatised British Rail's freight business. The English, Welsh and Scottish Railways company is investing heavily in new locomotives and wagons as it continues to grow its business. Freight tonne miles since privatisation have risen by some 25 per cent., which is an excellent and practical example of how introducing private investment helps to tackle congestion.
The Government's alternative to privatisation is the so-called public-private partnership which in reality is a rebranding of the private finance initiative. However, as my noble friend Lord Caithness said, the current London Underground infrastructure fiasco shows that the private sector is reluctant to invest in this most complicated of the Government's schemes. Like other noble Lords I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us how this scheme is progressing. What progress, if any, is being made? When can we expect some announcements about private sector interest in running the London Underground infrastructure? When can we expect something to happen? It seems to me that there is a real danger that the next election will come and go before anything has happened with regard to the Underground. While we are on the subject of privatisation, can the Minister say where we are as regards National Air 1057 Traffic Services? That is a sector which is badly in need of investment. The privatisation has been announced, and yet as far as I am aware there are no plans for legislation and no proposals yet to implement that.
Economic success breeds its own problems. As noble Lords have said, increasing prosperity means that ever-increasing numbers of people are able to afford the freedom, the choice and the mobility conferred by the car. Some noble Lords have criticised increasing car ownership. However, I am bound to say that I am extremely proud to have been a member at one time of a government which through economic progress vastly increased the incidence of car ownership. Whatever else may be said, I am proud of that fact.
The previous government initiated a major and ongoing national transport debate. The 1996 Green Paper Transport: The Way Forward suggested potential solutions to the problems of increasing road traffic, such as congestion, noise and pollution, damage to landscapes and road traffic's contribution to climate change. I am glad that the White Paper makes extensive reference to the previous government's efforts in that area. This Government have promised they will address these issues. However, to date their actions show that they are incapable of satisfying the increased expectations created by their rhetoric.
Last year's comprehensive spending review virtually froze overall transport expenditure for the next three years. The Government's "spinning" skills present a £1.8 billion reallocation of expenditure within the department as an increase in investment! In fact, there is only one new Government policy—to tax the motorist and road user. Fuel duty will rise by 6 per cent. per annum in real terms, even if the market price rises. As my noble friend Lord Vinson said, the road user will pay over £9 billion in extra fuel taxes in exchange for no overall increase in transport expenditure. It is little wonder that the Road Haulage Association seeks an essential user rebate, as its members are suffering from ever-increasing foreign competition from countries with lower fuel duties.
The White Paper A New Deal for Transport is no new deal at all. It claims credit for innovative schemes facilitated by Conservative policies but offers no new solutions or ideas. That is why no transport Bill was announced for this Session of Parliament. Even Friends of the Earth has labelled the Government's approach as "carry on consulting". It could, however, have been much worse. Ministers have recently confirmed that there are no plans to revert to nationalisation and state monopolies. That is welcome. The major feature of the Government's plans is to introduce non-residential parking taxes and so-called congestion charging. However, the Breaking the Logjam consultation paper demonstrates that there are many technical and practical issues to be resolved. It seeks answers to no fewer than 47 questions. That is again a case of carry on consulting.
Despite the complexity of its road networks, London is to be the laboratory for the Government's road tax experiments. The capital will pay a high price for the Chancellor's abolition of financial support for London 1058 Underground from early next year. Passengers can expect more real fare increases in contrast to the real reductions resulting from rail privatisation.
The Government have promised that the new revenue streams will be "hypothecated" for investment in transport. However, as my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith and other noble Lords have said, the Greater London Bill shares the tax revenues between the Secretary of State and the Consolidated Fund. This must be part of the Deputy Prime Minister's new relationship with the Chancellor, but it is not a beneficial one for the travelling public. We shall certainly wish to raise this issue when the GLA Bill is before us. I hope from what he said that we shall have the support of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, when we do so.
While I am on the subject of the Chancellor, I must mention that my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith referred to the situation of Boots and the Inland Revenue. I hope that the Chancellor and the Deputy Prime Minister can get their act together because if we are to have an integrated transport policy there can be no possible excuse for the behaviour which my noble friend described.
Any integrated transport policy must also include responsible investment in our road network, as my noble friend Lord Vinson said. A New Deal for Trunk Roads sets out 39 targeted schemes but does not commit the Government to start them before the next election. The buck on a further 50 schemes, including most of those withdrawn from the national programme, has been passed to regional planning conferences. Many vital schemes, for which there is no public transport alternative, have been mysteriously deferred. Clearly, the real reason is lack of funds as all the developer-financed schemes were given the go-ahead. I hope that the Minister, who has responsibility for roads, will comment on that issue.
In conclusion, we on this side of the House believe that transport users, operators and customers deserve better from this Government. They do not offer new deals, only the raw deal of lower investment and higher taxes. It is a case of jams today, taxes tomorrow. Our research shows, not surprisingly, that transport is one of the major concerns of voters. We on these Benches will subject Ministers and their policies to intense scrutiny because our transport legacy to this Government is one of which we are immensely proud and we do not wish to let them squander it.
§ 5.36 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty)
My Lords, I, too, wish to thank my noble friend Lord Berkeley for initiating this debate. I also thank all noble Lords who have taken part. It has been a good, wide-ranging debate. Six months after the White Paper was launched I am glad to indicate progress on it and to engage in discussion on it. However, a vast number of questions has been asked. I shall speak as fast as I can, but one or two noble Lords may have to be content with a letter from me answering their points.
1059 The noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, gave an historic overview of the situation. I disagree with him slightly. I pay tribute to those in the previous government who, in the final years of their period in office, recognised the terrible situation facing transport. However, the fact is that they recognised—as we recognise—that there are two enormous strategic problems which are largely the legacy of the previous government's early years in office. That is not entirely the case as some of the problems are a legacy of the ineffective delivery of public transport by the nationalised industries. Nevertheless, there are two enormous problems.
First, despite what the noble Lord said, there was serious under-investment and gravely inappropriate investment. Investment in roads often led to the creation of problems rather than to their resolution. Part of the previous government's obsession with deregulation led to a highly fragmented, unregulated industry which did not provide competition, but rather created new monopolies which rendered no service to the public. I refer, for example, to the bus industry.
Secondly—this is perhaps equally important, as the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, pointed out—we inherited an enormous environmental problem. Increased reliance on road transport makes a substantial contribution to CO2 emissions. Whereas in the fields of energy and industrial usage, CO2 emissions have decreased and are decreasing, CO2 emissions from traffic are increasing at a faster rate. In order to meet our Kyoto targets and to save the planet from an ecological disaster, here and in the rest of the world, we must cut back on traffic emissions. That means, unfortunately, we must cut back the use of the car and we must switch both freight and passengers from road transport to other forms of transport. We cannot continue with the current level of car usage. I do not regard that as an anti-motorist statement. The last thing that is helpful to motorists is to do nothing and to change nothing. It does not benefit the quality of life of motorists any more than it benefits the economy or the quality of the environment for people to be stuck increasingly in traffic jams and to have increasing congestion and pollution and a decreasing reliability of services and of the delivery of goods for industry.
This is not against car ownership and the freedom that a car provides. It means that we have to cut back on the unnecessary use of cars on long journeys when there is an alternative and, in particular—as the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, said at the beginning of the debate—for shorter journeys where walking and cycling is a real alternative. More than 50 per cent. of cars on the road at the peak time of ten to nine in the morning are dropping children off at school. That is being done by a small minority of parents. We know and understand the reasons for them doing so but, for the most part, it is unnecessary. There are real alternatives in the areas of walking and cycling, as well as in the bigger, infrastructure-heavy areas of railways, and waterways for carrying freight.
I disagree with the noble Lords, Lord Cobbold and Lord Vinson, who see this as a policy directed against the motorist. It is not. Where the use of a car is 1060 appropriate, we will be improving the quality of life for motorists, not the opposite. Our policy is directed at reducing the degree to which we are creating problems for ourselves by providing road space which contributes to our economic and environmental problems.
I should go through the areas in which we have followed up the White Paper. We have provided fiscal incentives for buses and cleaner vehicles. Despite what the noble Lord said, the comprehensive spending review provided an extra £1.8 billion over three years for public transport and local transport plans. We have also provided £150 million over the next three years for rural transport, the neglect of which under the previous government—which was supposed to be the friend of the countryside—so drastically reduced the opportunities for people living in our rural areas. We have now introduced the basis on which local transport plans will be introduced and we will be publishing firm guidance shortly.
We are establishing the commission for integrated transport; appointments will be made shortly. We will shortly establish a strategic rail authority and give it legislative backing at the first opportunity. We are introducing powers for London on road user charging and workplace parking levies; we are consulting on a national scheme and legislation will be introduced into this House shortly. We will shortly be issuing other follow-up documents and guidance on rail policy, on roads review—which we have already done—and on areas such as shipping, road safety and freight.
In the Budget we also provided additional financial support for rail freight as well as for rural buses. We have appointed the chairman and the new franchising director of the British Railways Board and we will be giving them greater powers. We have prioritised in the road review—for the first time for some time—the wish list we inherited. We have concentrated on the real priority areas in terms of road building, traffic management and road maintenance. It is a change of policy which some noble Lords do not agree with. It is, nevertheless, a clear strategy and not a wish list.
We cannot be accused of not taking action on the White Paper or of the White Paper being mere words. We are turning those words into action every day in the department under the leadership of the Deputy Prime Minister.
The noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, in particular, and the noble Lord, Lord Vinson, attacked the way in which we were dealing with roads. Let me deal with that immediately. I make no apology. Our position on roads means that we are building fewer new roads and undertaking fewer major road-widening schemes than those envisaged by the previous government—although they had not provided the finance for them. We are doing that because we want to see a strategic approach to transport which takes traffic away from roads.
Nevertheless, we are undertaking a large number of important new road schemes. Thirty-seven new schemes will be started, the majority of which have start dates. In response to my noble friend Lord Howie of Troon, we are providing substantial additional resources for the maintenance of our trunk roads. The budget will rise 1061 from £650 million this year to £780 million in 2002. We are also reversing the downward trend in real terms of the SSA provision to local authorities for their roads, and we are committed to restoring the cuts in local authority maintenance schemes. I speak principally for England. Nevertheless, parallel arrangements are taking place in Scotland and Wales.
This is a new integrated approach to roads which recognises the environmental as well as the safety and economic aspects of road transport. It also envisages a major new role for the Highways Agency. This was described as sinister by the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold. It is in fact a rational approach to the rationing of space on our roadways. Instead of simply being a road builder and a road procurer, the Highways Agency will be heavily involved in traffic management, network control and providing better information for drivers. At some future date it may well have a role were we to introduce charging on our trunk roads.
We should recognise the amount of traffic on our roads. It is vitally important to drivers—whether commercial or individuals—that they should have reliable journeys, not journeys which are disrupted by congestion and unexpected road-works. It is therefore important that the control of the road network rests in more rational hands. The Highways Agency will be developing the technology and introducing new schemes based on technology—and pilot schemes have already been introduced in parts of the network—in order to improve the quality of journey, the quality of information and the reliability of journeys.
Normally when I discuss roads policy, I am faced with a barrage of questions about particular roads. It is a sort of reverse of the NIMBY aspect; everybody agrees that we should build fewer roads, except theirs. There was not much of that today, I am very glad to say.
The noble Lord, Lord Vinson, asked in general about by-passes. There are some by-passes in the programme and I recognise that some by-passes will have to be built as the only solution. Nevertheless, we are not going to build 500 by-passes; we shall have to find new ways of meeting the problems of congestion. Most by-pass building creates greater environmental problems than it resolves. We are therefore committed to meeting the priority demands for by-passes, but we will not engage in a policy which is based on meeting every demand for a by-pass.
I think it was also the noble Lord, Lord Vinson, who mentioned the A.1. Although we are not dualling the whole of the A.1, significant parts of it are being improved under our immediate programme. Other parts will be covered by multi-modal studies over the next couple of years.
I was asked about the M.4 by my noble friend Lord Islwyn. I understand that the Secretary of State for Wales has looked at this problem and that the report is expected shortly. I am afraid that I cannot give him any further details on that aspect of the M.4. I recognise the complexity of the problems.
I turn now briefly to the local transport plans envisaged in the White Paper. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Bassam for explaining the situation in 1062 Brighton—which, as always, is a model council in these matters. I nearly said a beacon council, but that has yet to be awarded.
The transport infrastructure and the delivery of transport services are central to the role of local authorities and to our integrated transport approach. The example of Brighton and a number of other local authorities in relation to providing in partnership with the bus providers a better bus network—a quality partnership between the local authority and the private bus operators—has an enormous amount of attractions.
For most people, buses are the main alternative to the private car; for many people they are the only option. It is not only in Brighton that 50 per cent. of households do not have access to a car. In London it is more than 40 per cent. When we say "household", by and large that means one person in the household and, in general, it means that the woman in the household does not have access to the car. Therefore, in practice, the majority of our population do not have the option. Such people need buses in their urban areas and they need access to those buses—particularly, perhaps, the more disadvantaged groups, such as the disabled, who were referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and pensioners, who were referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas. They need cheap, accessible, regular and reliable bus services. The local transport plans and the relationship with the bus companies will be the means of developing those services. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, for referring, from the private sector's point of view, to the importance of those quality partnerships.
One aspect of local transport plans, and also of national transport plans, will be the introduction of powers in respect of road user and workplace charges. The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, was concerned that such charges, when introduced in urban areas, might have a detrimental effect on city centre businesses. Those decisions are down to local authorities in consultation with local business. But it is very frequently city centre business which suffers so severely from the congestion and the inability to access the city centre which excessive car traffic produces. It is important that local authorities make their decisions in the light of local circumstances and they must reflect the views of their local businesses when reaching their decisions. The introduction of road user charges and the use of that money, hypothecated back, at least for the first 10 years, to transport schemes in the locality, will greatly improve the vitality of the centres of our cities and towns and provide a better environment for business to flourish in.
Although I am in integrated transport mode, I am tending to deal with these issues in a slightly compartmentalised, rather old-fashioned, way, so perhaps I may go on to railways at this point. My noble friends Lord Berkeley, Lord Currie of Marylebone, Lord Monkswell and others raised points in support of the introduction of a strategic rail authority. My noble friend Lord Currie commented on the role of the regulator. It is very important that in our new system the regulator has substantial powers, particularly powers in relation to the provision of infrastructure—in other words, the interface with Railtrack.
1063 There are problems, to which, obliquely or directly, a number of noble Lords—the noble Lord, Lord Cadman, among others—referred, about the performance of Railtrack in terms of delivery of the infrastructure for the network. The strategic rail authority will provide the leadership and direction that Railtrack as well as the operators will need to ensure that the railways are run in the public interest and for the economic well-being of the country as a whole. We shall be looking to the regulator to monitor Railtrack's investment and to take appropriate action to ensure that the network is maintained.
One other aspect of public service transport is London Transport. The noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, has become the putative Member here for the Northern Line. I appreciate that there are problems in London Transport, partly from underinvestment and partly from poor delivery of services. The strategic operation of London Transport will, over time, when we adopt the legislation setting up the Greater London authority, move to transport for London with a much more strategic role for the mayor and that organisation. It will cover buses and tubes, strategic roads, the infrastructure, and provision for cyclists, pedestrians and other road users.
Anxiety was expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, and others about the funding position of London Transport, particularly about the situation regarding the PPP. That PPP is a complex negotiation. Negotiations are continuing but it will bring in an estimated £7 billion of private sector investment over 15 years and thereby also reduce the direct call on the public purse. It will address past underfunding and past inappropriate funding within London Transport. We will see a massive new partnership between London Transport itself and the private sector under the general strategic authority of the new Greater London structure. If the PPP is not completed before April 2000, no grant will be provided after that date because the PPP will be financeable without any further grant. We will therefore be providing, one way or another, the finances that are needed in the transitional period for London Transport. We have announced an additional £365 million for the next two years for investment in the core network and for preparing for the PPP.
I shall move briefly to the air. The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and others referred to airports policy. We will have an opportunity to debate civil airports policy next week, so I shall not detain your Lordships for long on that. One aspect of integrated transport to which the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, referred was surface access to airports. It is vitally important to ensure that we have public transport services to all of our major airports. In London, for example, only 30 per cent. of journeys to the major London airports are by public transport. The aim of BAA is to increase that to 50 per cent. at Heathrow and 40 per cent. at Gatwick. We intend to support that.
Perhaps I may now move on to sea transport. My noble friends Lord Clinton-Davis and Lord Murray of Epping Forest and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, referred to shipping. I agree with my noble friend 1064 Lord Clinton-Davis that this area, despite being a private sector area, was totally neglected by the previous government. Our document, British Shipping, Charting a new course, gives a new direction in order to foster an efficient UK shipping industry, to improve skills by promoting employment and training, as requested by my noble friend Lord Murray, to encourage UK ship registration and to facilitate shipping as an environmentally useful form of transport. The fiscal and support systems referred to by my noble friend will be considered in that context.
I would not wish to sit down without responding to the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, and my noble friend Lord Simon about road safety. We talk a lot about providing roads and we talk a lot about motorists and the alternative to motorists. However, one of my central responsibilities in my executive capacity is to deal with road safety. In response to those questions, in the next few months we will be introducing a major statement on road safety. We have widened that brief so that it will cover a number of areas as well as new targets. It will not only cover areas that are traditional road safety areas but also issues of road engineering, vehicle standards and the whole question of speed policy and speed limitation. It will also look at the delivery of better road safety in terms of the role of local authorities in transport plans and in terms of the police, penalties and enforcement and information and education on road safety. It is important also that motor manufacturers as well as civil engineers and road safety operators are engaged in that process. It will be a wider document than perhaps we envisaged a few months ago.
Cyclists are among the more vulnerable people with regard to road safety. We have a clear commitment to improve facilities for cycling. Substantial expenditure and help to local authorities in that area are part of an overall strategy.
I was asked some questions on taxation. There was some feeling that the motorist is paying too much. I would say that in that area, relative to other countries, we have perhaps grasped the nettle earlier than others, but it is a road that probably most countries are going down. In fact noble Lords may have noticed that the German Chancellor, Gerhard Schroder, said just the other day that, in terms of fuel duty and other green taxes, the British had perhaps shown the way to the rest of Europe. I am sure that that will follow. The Road Haulage Association and others feel that any competitive disadvantage on that front alone will shortly diminish.
Other aspects of company taxation were raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas. In relation to company car taxation, it is widely recognised that there is a perverse incentive in the current situation. The Chancellor is examining the matter, together with the introduction of an environmentally sensitive structure under the VED, and it is intended to introduce changes in that area. So "joined up" government has reached the Treasury as well.
One aspect of that was raised by my noble friend Lord Simon in relation to diesel fuels. We are examining all the evidence in that area. Diesel has both 1065 downsides and benefits. We are concerned in particular about the use of most forms of diesel in terms of the production of particulates and the disease that they cause. Nevertheless, in some instances we need to look again at the newer forms of diesel.
The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, referred to a Bill that he is to introduce in relation to illegally operated lorries. This is a serious problem. The penalties that presently exist are not sufficiently direct, and I shall welcome the Bill that he intends to introduce. The Government will help him—in so far as he needs any help; I am sure that he has his own resources in these matters—to deliver that Bill. It will greatly help the legitimate road haulage industry against the unfair competition of unlawful operators.
I must conclude my remarks. When I read Hansard, there may be many points on which I shall need to write to noble Lords. In response to the view of the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, that we should look at the possibility of a rolling report on our delivery of transport policy, I agree that at intervals we should attempt something along those lines. I shall be discussing the matter with my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister to see how that can best be done. In the meantime, perhaps noble Lords will excuse the speed and scantiness with which I have dealt with some of the issues raised. I hope that on a careful reading of the report on this debate they will regard my reply as a brief attempt at answering. I hope it will be enhanced by further correspondence with some noble Lords.
Once again I thank the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for introducing this debate and thank all noble Lords for their contributions.
§ 6.1 p.m.
§ Lord Berkeley
My Lords, I wish to thank all noble Lords sincerely for their excellent and thoughtful contributions. The White Paper is inevitably wide-ranging and the contributions have covered more or less every subject. The debate has demonstrated the expertise and knowledge of all Members of this House at its best. I wish in particular to thank my noble friend Lord Whitty for his high-speed response. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.