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Road Traffic Reduction (National Targets) Bill

11.20 a.m.

Lord Elis-Thomas: My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

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

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

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

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genuine alternatives and promoting greater use of, and more, attractive public transport, together with safer walking and cycling, are central to achieving a more sustainable transport system.

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

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

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

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

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

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Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, along with the Welsh and Scottish Offices, will be able to participate in the development of those targets.

In my view, public targets are an effective way to deal with the issue. I call in evidence the 20th report of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution. I should point out that I assured my noble friend the Minister that I would not read the whole of the document. However, the relevant sections are the commission's assessment of what it stated in its previous report in 1994. Indeed, it reiterates the objectives of transport policy. In particular, I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to paragraph 4.3 of Chapter 4 where the report states:

    "The concept of setting national targets for modal shares has been criticised. It was central to the Eighteenth Report that transport policies must have both specific objectives and quantified targets, against which progress towards the objectives can be monitored and reviewed. Within that general approach, we remain convinced of the value of targets for modal shares in fostering a strategic approach to complex issues. Even where achieving particular targets lies outside the direct power of central government, they can provide important guidance to local authorities, transport operators, transport users and suppliers about the extent and direction of change required. Setting challenging targets can help stimulate new thinking about solutions to difficult problems. The proposals in the Eighteenth Report about specific targets were presented as subject to detailed evaluation and modification by government; we have not attempted to carry out that task ourselves in this review".

I believe that that paragraph summarises the importance of setting targets. I hope the Minister will confirm that it is certainly the intention of the Government to pursue that line so clearly set out by the Royal Commission.

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

In a press release issued on 16th January 1997 John Gummer states,

    "if ... we focus on the opportunities for gaining access with less movement, for maximising public transport and for exploiting new technology, we will be able to continue to meet our economic needs".

There is no argument that a continued increase in road traffic is the only way to secure further economic growth. Clearly some road schemes and some traffic movements are essential. However, judging by the number of traffic movements that are undertaken for

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short journeys, people's lives tend to be governed by the car rather than the other way around. Some 59 per cent. of car journeys in the UK are shorter than five miles and 25 per cent. are shorter than two miles. That, in itself, indicates a need to change our personal practices as well as a need for the broader framework that we seek in this Bill.

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

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

11.33 a.m.

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

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

We have discussed many of the measures that may or may not appear in the White Paper in this House and elsewhere almost ad nauseam. I shall not rehearse the arguments in detail today as regards a reduction in exhaust emissions. Like the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, I approve of the report of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution. It is one of the most well-researched and readable

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documents on this subject that I have read in the past 10 years. It warrants much study. Its contents are fairly frightening. I remember when my party was in opposition we took the then government to task on this matter.

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

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

Recently I was sent the results of an interesting MORI poll which was carried out in May. It was commissioned by the Association of Train Operating Companies. I believe that the poll is objective. I shall summarise a few of its findings. The first is that 92 per cent. of people think that road congestion is a serious problem--presumably, 8 per cent. do not. That is fine. Secondly, 90 per cent. of people are willing to accept additional restrictions on cars in major cities to tackle congestion. That is a measure that appeals to me and I imagine to my noble friend the Minister. The figures indicate that 25 per cent. are more likely to vote for the Government if they introduce restrictions. That is nice! Also, 76 per cent. would be happy to see car use restricted if there were a better integrated transport system. That, of course, has to be defined. Moreover, 71 one per cent.

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support an extra tax on vehicles entering some urban areas--I hope that means a charge; there is subtle difference--so long as the money raised is used to improve the public transport (bus/rail) system. Finally, 67 per cent. are concerned with car pollution increasing children's health problems; and 57 per cent. with the impact of road congestion on the environment.

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

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

11.42 a.m.

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

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

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