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Lord Lucas of Chilworth: My Lords, if I was not disposed to be friendly towards the noble Lord, I should say that that intervention was of some impertinence. In the 30 years that I have been in this House, I have never failed to declare an interest if it was appropriate. I think that may answer the noble Lord.
Fourteen months ago, under the guidance of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, I argued during debates on the 1997 Act that we should not get very far with trying to fix charges without attempting to find solutions to the problems that give rise to them. It is fourteen months since the passage of that legislation, and what has happened? Nothing has happened other than the production of some guidelines, which are now under discussion. So we have not advanced very far, and this second Bill is now before the House.
There will be growth in vehicle ownership. Of that, we can be absolutely sure. I do not know the figures; I am not a prophet. I could certainly appreciate a lessening of usage if and when there is a reasonable alternative available, reasonably priced. However, although we have debated these matters at great length in this House over the years, I fear that the prospect remains rather remote.
I am not as pessimistic as other commentators on the roads scene as to the disbenefits in terms of health, congestion and so on. I am not as pessimistic as the noble Lords, Lord Elis-Thomas and Lord Berkeley. I sincerely believe that advances in fuel technology, engine and exhaust designs, etc., will make a much greater impact on the transport scene over the next five, 10 and certainly 15 years, than we have seen in the previous comparable period. There will have to be much greater investment, not only by the automotive industry, but also by government. In so far as tax or charge systems are involved, such measures will encourage the automotive industry to accelerate its already advanced research and development programmes.
Similarly, there has to be greater investment in road development systems. I do not necessarily refer to having more roads, but improving those that we have. There are enough management systems in place, so that given the will and the right kind of expenditure by local and national authorities, we can make far better use of the roads system. Equally, vehicle design, particularly in terms of telematics--on-board information systems and reciprocal sending systems from road management schemes--will improve the position. Noble Lords may feel that that is something of an over-simplification. We have debated the matter many times, and before the summer is over we shall be discussing it again.
The Bill does not deal with any of the recent fiscal measures taken in the Budget, which have added considerably to costs, particularly of freight transport. In Clause 2(4)(a) and (b) there is no mention of the needs of industry. I should like to see an amendment to the Bill to ensure that the needs of commerce and industry are given consideration equal to that given to the provision of taxi services, although I do not know how one would provide taxi services in this way.
I am lukewarm about the Bill, although I do not wish to impede its progress. Many people think it will be a good thing, and I am not against good things, but I do not feel it will make the kind of impact that is suggested.
Viscount Simon: My Lords, there is a general agreement that the policy to reduce traffic on the roads, to take traffic away from places where it does damage to the local environment and the amenity of local communities and to improve modal choice available for access to jobs and essential community services, is right. But it is my intention to provide a little food for thought.
The Road Traffic Reduction Act 1997 requires local authorities either to specify targets for reducing road traffic and traffic growth levels in their areas or to say why they consider it inappropriate to specify these targets. However, the Bill offers no framework to show how traffic reduction targets might be achieved. I should be interested to learn if there is to be any government commitment to the long-term funding that will be needed to develop good quality bus and train services, which are fundamental to reducing dependency on cars. Without doubt, most local authorities will be unable to afford the capital expenditure.
We have yet to see how the statutory requirements of the Road Traffic Reduction Act 1997 take their course. We also have to see how the White Paper on integrated transport sets the policy framework and the investment plans to address properly future traffic growth. In view of those two aspects--and I hope I am not being too simplistic--could not this Bill be considered as being slightly premature?
Earl Attlee: My Lords, I have to apologise sincerely to the House for speaking in the gap, due to an administrative oversight on my part. If we are to be pedantic, I have to declare an interest as I am president of the Heavy Transport Association.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, for introducing his Bill today and I rise briefly to make comment upon it. The tenor of the Bill assumes that all road traffic is negative. My noble friend Lord Lucas touched on that point, and I agree with his view. Road
At Clause 2(3)(g), the Bill refers to the adverse social impacts. I do not really understand what those are. There certainly are social benefits of road traffic, a point upon which my noble friend Lord Lucas also touched.
One argument with which I heartily agree is that, as more roads are built, so traffic increases. I am as guilty as anyone, as my domestic and work arrangements would be impractical without the road network that has been built over the past 20 years. Equally, I have confidence that the Minister herself, when authorising any road scheme, will always have regard to the "adverse impacts" listed in Clause 2(3).
My main concern is that the Bill seeks to introduce targets for road traffic reduction in order to reduce the "adverse impacts". Surely it would be better to have targets to reduce the adverse impacts themselves. Most of these can be measured, apart from the social impact that I have already touched upon. The noble Lord may wish to draw my attention to Clause 2(3), but, if he does so, he may be exposing opportunities for improving the construction of the Bill.
Finally, the Bill addresses an extremely important issue, as we know that the projections for traffic growth and congestion represent a nightmare, but this will be a key issue in the Government's integrated transport review. We look forward to the Minister's right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister settling his differences with the rest of the Cabinet and the publication of the White Paper. No doubt there will be a major Bill to follow and I believe that, if this matter is not covered, the Bill could be amended to do that.
Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, in welcoming this Bill, I begin by saying that it and its predecessor, as the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, said, has always had the support in Parliament of my noble friends in your Lordships' House and our honourable friends in another place. In fact, it was Don Foster who steered the 1997 Bill through the House of Commons. In a new policy document, which I helped to launch yesterday, we commit ourselves to a 1 per cent. annual reduction in traffic. That compares with the current rate of increase of 2 per cent. a year.
Everyone knows that road traffic is increasing. The congestion that it brings in its wake is an increasingly unpleasant factor in our daily lives. Road traffic is also a major contributor to the air pollution which damages our health. These are real problems, not merely perceived ones.
I shall not deal at length with the question of pollution, which has been widely discussed here and elsewhere. In fact, I shall not deal at length with anything. However, I wish to make some comments about congestion. Congestion makes our streets more threatening and less pleasant for local residents and pedestrians. A recent BMA report shows that heavy traffic keeps people in their homes and reduces the sense of local community. It is dangerous. The director of the Child Health Monitoring Group at Great Ormond Street hospital stated recently that traffic volume is by far the most important risk factor for child pedestrian safety. Deterred by those two factors, parents prefer to take their children to school by car rather than let them walk, whether alone or accompanied. Congestion breeds more congestion. Nationally one in 10 trips by car is a school run.
Congestion is also expensive, costing, so the CBI has estimated, £19 billion per year. For comparison purposes, that is more than three times the projected cost of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link. And Transport 2000 estimates that there are a further £6.3 million of costs which could be added through lost days at work and other costs of road accidents.
Unlike pollution, congestion cannot be tackled by purely technical means. We can hope and expect that alternative fuels and lean burn vehicles may make a considerable contribution to the reduction of pollution--the sort of thing to which the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, referred. But there is no magic solution which can leave our travel habits intact and which will also solve the problems of congestion in towns, villages, on trunk routes or in lesser roads in the country. Determined action is required, led at a national level.
We already have a good idea of what that action might and should comprise. It should include changes in planning law to reduce the need to travel. A second aspect would be the reallocation of existing road space to give more room to buses, cyclists and pedestrians. Reference has already been made to the fact that three-fifths of all car trips are less than five miles in length and one-third of all trips are less than one mile. Those and other measures, such as safe routes to school, could impact significantly on the level of traffic in built-up areas.
We need to use a carrot and stick approach to persuade people to use public transport more often. We believe that those measures should include a direction of funds from charges on non-residential parking, traffic fines and possibly road charges to improve public transport and other methods of reducing traffic. In response to the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, who made reference to the social aspects of the issue, any improvement made in the safety of roads for walkers, cyclists and pedestrians and to improve public transport would be of enormous benefit to that one-third of the population who do not own and do not have access to a car.
Within that approach, national targets for traffic reduction have an important part to play, despite what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said, in what we hope will be a satisfactory White Paper and the policies which will
The noble Viscount, Lord Simon, referred to the difficulties which local authorities face in dealing with these matters. Many noble Lords will be aware that I have a long and close experience of those difficulties, having been involved in the construction of both the Surrey transport plans. In relation to local authorities, not only is the correct distribution of funds lacking, which is of major importance, but also the overall direction of policy under which they can work.
Of course, the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, was not a candidate in those elections and may not have read the handbook. However, it is certainly part of the Government's policies not just to halt but actually to reverse traffic growth. I hope that the introduction of subsection (2) into Clause 2 does not cover some backtracking on the Government's part and I hope that we shall be reassured on that point by the Minister when she replies to the debate.
Secondly, targets will be necessary anyway if the Government intend to meet their CO 2 and air quality targets. Calculations will have to be made as to how much traffic reduction is needed to hit those targets and work will need to continue towards reducing traffic by that amount.
Finally, the Government have set or promised to set targets for a large number of other government objectives--literacy and numeracy, hospital waiting lists, CO 2 emissions and so forth. Public targets are more effective than private targets and they send clear signals to everybody about the Government's transport policy.
I should like to add one further comment. The point of having a target to accompany a policy is that it gives us two things: first, a goal--something to which we can work; secondly, a tool--something which measures our progress towards that target. I thoroughly support today's Bill.
Lord Brabazon of Tara: My Lords, before I begin my remarks I should declare a couple of interests, one of which is as a member of the public policy committee of the RAC and the other that I am deputy president of the Institute of the Motor Industry. Unfortunately, both those interests are unpaid, voluntary ones and nor have I received any briefing from either organisation on this Bill today. These remarks therefore are my own.
I begin by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, on introducing the Bill to this House. Of course it passed all its stages in another place, but in doing so emerged, if I may say so, as a rather pale shadow of its former self. It has been considerably watered down and I was not sure what we were left with to debate today, and I am therefore all the more grateful to the noble Lord for his explanation this morning.
One thing on which we can all agree is that there should be a reduction in road traffic. The only problem is that everybody thinks that it is someone else who should reduce their use of the car, so that there is more room on the road, and less congestion, for themselves. That is quite understandable as the car has become, for the vast majority of people, an essential part of modern life, in the same way as the television, the fridge or the washing machine. It is too easy--and I am afraid that it seems to be a characteristic of this Government--constantly to criticise the car and motoring in general, without recognising the enormous benefits to the quality of life that car ownership has brought to many millions of people--many who, in previous generations, would have led much more restricted lives, sometimes never moving more than a few miles from where they were born. The car is here to stay, and in a way one could liken the noble Lord to King Canute in trying to stop the tide of car ownership and in trying to limit people's freedoms to use their car when and where they feel like.
We all await, with a great deal of interest, and perhaps a little trepidation, the arrival of the Government's White Paper on an integrated transport policy. But I hope that it will at least recognise the fact that the car accounts for 90 per cent. of passenger journeys in this country. So far the Government's record is not good. The Treasury is now taking some £30 billion a year from the road user, and yet is spending less and less on road building and maintenance. The Minister acclaimed, with pride, that she increased the maintenance budget by £100 million. That is of course very necessary as so much of the road network is in dire need of repair, and she is to be congratulated. But those congratulations are muted, from these Benches in any case, because it is not £100 million of new money; it is £100 million of existing money taken from the overall roads budget, which is no doubt why the number of new road starts is down to seven this year, all of which were already in train long ago. The number of bypass starts is down to one this year, probably the lowest number in modern history, thereby depriving towns and villages across the land of much needed relief from congestion, noise and pollution, in fact all the things listed so carefully in Clause 2(3) of this very Bill. All the Minister has done is to rob Peter to pay Paul.
But to return to the detail of the Bill, which as I said has a desirable aim, I note that Clause 1 excludes traffic constructed or adapted to carry more than eight passengers; in other words, buses. So the object is to move more people on to buses. That is of course highly desirable, and I am a frequent bus user myself, when it suits. But, as everyone knows, the bus is not suitable for many purposes. It seldom comes to outside one's own front door, nor delivers to one's exact destination. Particularly in rural areas they are few and far between.
The real reason for the decline in bus usage has been the fact that, as people have become better off, they have bought cars to take advantage of all the benefits of car ownership. Changing patterns of life such as the weekly shop--impossible to bring back home on public transport--increased parental choice in schools, out-of-town workplaces and many others referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, have increased dependency on the car.
I shall wish to move an amendment at Committee stage to add freight transport to this exclusion. Public transport is not an option for freight. Business does not move freight around for fun, as the Government seem to think is why people drive around. Long distance freight sometimes has the option of rail but for the vast majority of movements, including in particular local deliveries and home delivery, freight traffic is essential.
Freight traffic is a good barometer of the state of the economy, and I am sure that we all want a thriving economy. Incidentally, if the Government want a reduction in traffic, all they need to do is to engineer a downturn in the economy. But they seem to be well on the way to doing that without any help from me. Increased efficiency has already enabled industry to move much more freight around with 13 per cent. fewer lorries than 10 years ago. It would be quite unfair if freight traffic was to be mixed up in the provisions of this Bill.
Another area where I think the Bill could be improved would be to strengthen Clause 2. The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, has already referred to that. As the Bill stands, it seems to be an option as to whether the Government produce any targets at all. If the Government in their absolute discretion think that other measures are appropriate, they can just use other measures and not set targets.
The mover of the Bill said in another place on 24th April (at col. 1077 of the Official Report) that he would encourage someone to move an amendment to achieve the purpose of requiring the Government to impose targets. I am happy to help such an aim when we come to the Committee stage.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Baroness Hayman): My Lords, I too should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, for introducing this Bill and for his very clear exposition of the thinking behind it. I should say at the outset, as the Government have already said in another place, that we are happy to support the Bill.
We have had a fascinating debate which has been wide ranging. I think that if I replied to all the questions and issues that have been raised, I could comprehensively pre-empt the content of the White Paper, and probably pre-empt the continuation of my own ministerial career. So I shall not succumb to that temptation.
However, I must rise a little to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara. I think that he is in very dangerous territory to criticise this Government's attitude to investment in roads. It is somewhat galling to find that his congratulations on our attempts to reinstate some of the disastrous cuts in road maintenance by the previous administration are criticised because we are taking the time to conduct a proper, open consultative review of the roads programme and to try to come up with a programme for investment in our road network that is based on objective criteria.
I have to say to him that the conduct of that review is in clear contradistinction to the reviews and the slashing of the road programme that took place in 1995 and 1996 and about which, I must tell him, colleagues of his in another place, coming to me to talk about their favourite road schemes, have been extremely critical.
But I must return to the matters before us today and concentrate on the Bill. If enacted, the Bill would require the Secretary of State to set and publish in a report national targets for road traffic reduction in England, Wales and Scotland and provide for analogous legislation to be introduced to cover Northern Ireland.
If, however, the Secretary of State considered that other targets or other measures were more appropriate for the purpose of reducing the adverse impacts of road traffic, he would not be required to set national road traffic reduction targets. In that case he would be required to publish a report explaining his reasoning and including an assessment of the impact of the other targets or other measures.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, thought that we need not be so pessimistic about the negative impacts of traffic because of the technical advances in engine design which are capable--as is the auto oil directive--of reducing adverse impact. The very point of Clause 2(2) is that if those technical advances were deemed more appropriate to reduce the adverse impacts of road traffic, despite increase in traffic levels, that could be addressed in any report prepared under Clause 2(2).
The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, wanted some reassurance that this was not backtracking on the part of the Government. It is not backtracking; it is recognising that everyone who has spoken in today's debate and those who promote the Bill are looking to reduce traffic levels, not as an aim in itself but because of the adverse effects that come and are acknowledged, together with the beneficial effects on mobility and the economy that have also been referred to. It is about minimising those adverse effects. We must look at all the possible measures that could contribute to that minimisation.
The other argument is that national road traffic reduction targets are not needed for the reasons that I outlined before; that the Government should focus primarily on the wider environmental impacts which transport produces--rather than on the road traffic itself--and which are reflected in the environmental aims underlying this Bill. We have a range of targets related to these issues that I should like to consider in a moment.
I turn to the White Paper on which a number of noble Lords have commented. It will be published shortly. It will be the first for 20 years. It will establish a framework within which to develop an integrated transport policy for the 21st century. Perhaps I can reassure my noble friend Lord Berkeley that the Government are working on the basis that integration means not only integration between transport modes, so that there are safe, reliable and convenient connections between the different forms of transport, but also, which is more difficult to achieve but absolutely fundamental, integration with environment and planning policies so that the transport system is consistent with the principles of sustainable development. This also means integration with fiscal and economic policies so that a sustainable transport system supports employment, economic growth and a competitive economy, and integration with social and health policies so that our transport policies can contribute to our wider aims of a fairer and more inclusive society.
Perhaps it is important to say here--the point that was made by the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas--that this Government, as the promoters of this Bill, are not anti-car. The car will remain an essential element, and road transport will remain an essential element in our society. The Government, I am happy to make clear, accept this and recognise it. But equally there is a wide-ranging recognition that we need to strike a better balance between the various modes of transport and to give people more choice when they are making decisions about how they move around. That choice means providing a safer environment for cycling and walking. It means improving public transport. The improvement and provision of safe and economically acceptable public transport is, I can assure my noble friend Lord Simon, an important part of the White Paper.
We are looking at ways in which we can tackle the growth of car dependency which has implications for the health of our nation and certainly for the health of our schoolchildren as well as implications for pollution and congestion. We are looking at how we can tackle that through fiscal, regulatory and financial measures and by awareness campaigns and the work of voluntary organisations. I certainly note the comments of my
The role of targets has also been raised in response to the consultation exercise. There are a number already in place that have a bearing, directly or indirectly, on transport. Beside the targets for reducing C0 2 emissions, to which I shall come in a moment, we have the national air quality strategy; which sets stringent limits on eight major pollutants to be met by 2005; a target to double the amount of cycling by 2002 and to double it again by 2012; and a target to cut the number of road casualties by a third on average levels for 1981-85 by the year 2000, with a commitment to set new road safety targets for the period following 2000.
Those existing targets are likely to be significant drivers of new transport measures, at both national and local level. We are also considering carefully whether there is a need for additional targets to provide a further impetus to the policies that are adopted, including the need to set targets for walking and for the introduction of green transport plans across government.
The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, and other noble Lords referred to the Road Traffic Reduction Act, passed in the dying days of the previous government, which requires local authorities to set targets for traffic reduction on local roads in their area. Inevitably there is a link between the Bill before us today and the duties placed on local authorities under the Act. In January we issued for consultation draft guidance to local authorities on meeting their obligations under that Act. At present we are considering the responses to that consultation. We envisage that local authorities will have to produce reports under the Act by July 1999. These reports should contain the results of their reviews of existing and forecast levels of traffic on local roads in their area, as well as targets for reducing traffic levels on such roads, or their rate of growth.
Economic circumstances and regional characteristics mean that traffic conditions will vary from one part of the country to another, as well as between urban and rural areas per se. So it would be unrealistic to expect all authorities to set identical traffic reduction targets. Instead, the Act allows local authorities to decide, after close consultation with local residents and businesses, what targets they should set, or whether there are good reasons for not setting targets for all or any part of their area.
Any measures which local authorities implement to help achieve traffic reduction targets will also have implications for regional and national traffic levels, the point made by the noble Baroness, unless they are to have the effect of merely displacing traffic into neighbouring areas. As a result, we shall be looking closely at the traffic reduction strategies adopted by authorities and their likely effects in determining the role which national traffic targets could play.
Our climate change programme will include measures to improve energy efficiency by business and in the home; reduce transport emissions; and increase the proportion of electricity generated from renewables and combined heat and power. Measures to tackle climate change will give us a more efficient, less car-dependent transport system; better air quality; warmer, more comfortable homes; energy savings for business and consumers; and new jobs and market opportunities from more efficient technologies. I do not think we should look at this negatively. There are great opportunities in the battle against climate change.
That puts into context today's debate about the role that traffic reduction and transport can play in reducing pollution. I believe that national road traffic reduction targets are an important issue which we need to consider as part of the continuing transport debate, alongside the range of measures and targets that I have outlined today.
Perhaps I may conclude by stressing that the Government believe that the Bill is worthy of our support. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, his honourable friends in another place and his advisers for the hard work and determination they have shown in carrying forward this Bill.
Lord Elis-Thomas: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister and to all those Members of your Lordships' House who have taken part in the debate. I was particularly gratified, as indeed was my colleague in another place, Mr. Cynog Dafis, the Green Party of Wales Member for Ceredigion, as I like to call him, who took the Bill through the other place, by the fact that all noble Lords who have spoken gave a welcome, some more qualified than others, to the Bill. It was clearly emphasised in the debate and by the Minister herself that it is not a case of either/or; the Bill is part of a package of measures. In that sense I cannot agree entirely with the view of the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, that this might be premature. But I think that he was putting that as a probing Second Reading question rather than as a condemnation.
The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, responded clearly to the point of my noble friend Lord Berkeley about a reduction in the context of a projected increase by indicating that any reduction on an exponential increase is a reduction. As we seek to take the Bill forward, we will certainly be able to look in greater detail at the mammoth task that we face in terms of that reduction.
The Bill is not anti-car. All of us need to make use of cars, especially in situations of emergency in rural areas. But we are concerned about the overall impact of the car on social and economic life. On the positive side, we recognise the freedom brought about by car ownership and all the attractive aspects of the car culture. But we also recognise the downside of that culture. That point was brought out in the remarks of the noble Earl, Lord Attlee. We are not trying to emphasise that all aspects of road traffic are negative.
I have to call in aid, without quoting it at length, the report of the Royal Commission. In Chapter I of its report it estimated the environmental and social costs of road transport as between £10.9 billion and £20.5 billion a year for all UK transport in 1994. The true cost was considered to be substantially greater because of the unquantified costs. Its latest report (Cmnd. 3752) discusses other estimates for both air pollution, climate change costs, noise elimination costs, road accidents and the social and environmental costs of congestion. We are all well aware of that. It is those negative sides of the problem that we try to deal with in Clause 2(3) of the Bill.
The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, emphasised the importance of child safety and its relationship to the movement to school by car which has increased so much. It is placed in the overall context of the need for an integrated transport policy. I particularly enjoyed her quoting from the Labour Party handbook. The Liberal Democrats perform an excellent service in this House and in another place by reminding the Labour Party of its election commitments whenever the need arises. The Minister was certainly aware of those commitments. I would not wish to do anything to damage her ministerial career. We followed each other both in the other place and in this House. She has gone further than I have, but I certainly would not want to hold her back in any way.
I was very pleased that the commitment of the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, on the Opposition Front Bench recognised the desirable aim of the Bill. I believe that he gave it a "guarded welcome". In his reference to King Canute I have to tell him that we have, as always in Welsh matters, a Welsh version of the myth. It was Maelgwn, prince of Gwynedd, who sought to resist the tide in the Conwy Estuary. The beauty of that estuary has been protected from the ravages of road transport by a very expensive but attractive tunnel. It was constructed in the ministerial time of his noble friend
However, I do not believe that I could consider accepting an amendment which would seek to remove freight traffic from the definition of road traffic in Clause 1 of the Bill. We shall return to this in Committee. If that is the intention that was being signalled, I do not believe I shall be able to accept it.
As regards the noble Lord's other point of placing further duties on the Government, we can certainly look again at what is available to us now in Clause 2(2). That indicates clearly that there is a duty on the Secretary of State. In my reading of it, this particular version puts the road traffic reduction targets in the context of other targets. When the White Paper emerges no doubt we shall be able to see how all these various targets contribute to each other. That is my final point.
I would like to thank all those who have taken part in the debate. Again, I would like to cite my honourable friend in the other place, Cynog Dafis, for his sterling work in taking the Bill through the other place. I look forward to doing the same here successfully. As regards my immediate interests, they are to fulfil Her Majesty's Government's new targets for walking. I hope to put in at least 20 miles this weekend and that means that I shall qualify.