HC Deb 08 February 1965 vol 706 cc30-6

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:

126. Mr. STRAUSS

To ask the Minister of Transport whether he has now decided on the composition of the committee to consider the co-ordination of the transport services; and if he will make a statement.

The Minister of Transport (Mr. Tom Fraser)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will now answer Question No. 126.

I am pleased to inform the House that Lord Hinton of Bankside has agreed to come into my Ministry temporarily as a Special Adviser on Transport Planning. The task Lord Hinton will undertake is, broadly speaking, to inquire into the means whereby and the extent to which the transport of goods and passengers in Great Britain can best be co-ordinated and developed in the national interest.

The study, which is expected to be completed before the end of the year, will, in particular, examine: first, the pattern of long-distance transport services likely to be required in the future, with particular reference to the co-ordination of investment policies for highways and railways; secondly, the methods of achieving a properly co-ordinated use of the main trunk route transport system, and especially the right balance between the use of road and rail; and, thirdly, how to improve operational co-ordination between different forms of transport.

This study should be of great assistance to the Government in making a fully-informed judgment on the best means by which the nation may be provided with a highly efficient public transport system.

Lord Hinton will have the resources of my Department and others at his disposal and he will be free to seek outside assistance if he wishes. I am sure, too, that he can rely on the co-operation of transport interests of all kinds.

I am also appointing a small Transport Advisory Council, of which I shall take the chair myself, to assist me on transport policy matters generally. Lord Hinton will be a member, together with: Mr. J. E. H. Davies, Professor Alan Day, Lord Holford, Professor E. F. Jackson, Alderman H. Watton, Mr. W. j. p. Webber, and Mr. E. G. Whitaker.

Mr. Strauss

In expressing my gratitude to my right hon. Friend for answering the Question, may I ask him to tell us whether it is proposed that Lord Hinton should work full-time on the investigation? Will it be a one-man investigation, or will Lord Hinton have a technical and expert committee to help him? Could my right hon. Friend also say exactly what the functions of the proposed Transport Advisory Council will be? In what sort of matters will the Council help him, and on what matters will he ask for its assistance?

Mr. Fraser

Lord Hinton will devote himself full-time to this study until he completes it, which he hopes to do before the end of the year. He will be assisted by whoever he wishes to bring in from outside, and I fully expect that he will wish to bring people in from outside to assist him in the work. He will, of course, have all the assistance—which is considerable—which can be given by my Department and by other Departments, such as the Department of Economic Affairs and the Treasury.

The Transport Advisory Council will have other matters to deal with, on which it would wish to advise me and on which I would wish it to give me advice. There is, for example, the whole question of the implementation of the Buchanan Report, and there are very large problems connected with intra-conurbation transport on which I believe the Council will be able to give me valuable advice.

Mr. Powell

Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that information of this kind ought to be given first to this House and not to the Press? Is he aware that almost the entire composition of his Transport Advisory Council was announced in the Sun last week? Does he not further agree that when the Government at last get round to informing the House it is desirable that statements of this kind should be made in a form—not in answer to a Question—which makes possible the usual courtesies between both sides of the House?

Finally, may I ask him to give an assurance that, whatever may be the outcome of the work of Lord Hinton, which, I assume, will in a suitable form be published and made available to this House and to the general public, there will be no question of placing limitations in any way upon the freedom of users of transport to choose those forms which are most suitable for their purposes?

Mr. Fraser

I think that most people in the country nowadays accept that there is wasteful competition—most wasteful competition—in the provision of our transport services, and that there is very great need to achieve greater coordination, which is the object of the exercise.

With regard to the question about leakage to the Press, I very much regret that last week in one newspaper—but in one newspaper only, that mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman—there was reference to a Transport Advisory Council and some of the names that I have given were mentioned there. However, so far as I am aware, there has not been any leakage at all of the appointment of Lord Hinton. [An HON. MEMBER: "Congratulations."] The right hon. Gentleman, I thought, was more concerned with the investigation into co-ordination. It is a wider question. All I was saying was that so far as I am aware there has not been any hint in any newspaper that Lord Hinton would undertake the study.

Mr. Manuel

In connection with the appointment of Lord Hinton and with particular reference to the co-ordination of goods and freight transport, is my right hon. Friend aware that, while many of us agree with him that co-ordination is necessary to avoid the wasteful dissipation of energy in the haulage of goods, we should be grateful if he would consider amending the Transport Act, 1962, so that he could authorise any suggested withdrawals of freight services and closures of goods stations where they were not operating in the public interest?

Mr. Fraser

I think that my hon. Friend would, on reflection, probably not press me to introduce amending legislation at present. I think that the House would expect me to push ahead as quickly as I can with this study. When it is completed, or as we get the facts and figures and the statistical evidence is made available to us, we shall see more clearly how we ought to proceed in future.

Mr. Galbraith

Perhaps I might press the right hon. Gentleman. He did not answer the first point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolver-hampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) about the adoption of proper procedure for making statements of this kind. This is the second time that the right hon. Gentleman has done that, and it comes close to slick practice. It is not something which was done when I was at the Ministry of Transport.

With regard to the subject-matter of his statement, the Minister says that he wishes to co-ordinate so as to get the right balance. Would he say whether his idea of the right balance means that there will not be proper freedom of choice for road transport users so that they themselves may decide which form of transport suits them best? Does he intend to get rid of competition between different forms of transport?

Mr. Fraser

If this country is ever to get out of the difficulties it is in, it will have to get rid of wasteful competition. That is exactly what we are seeking to do.

I would have thought that I had made my statement strictly in accordance with Parliamentary precedent. In the weeks immediately before Christmas many Questions were tabled about what the Minister of Transport was doing in respect of transport co-ordination. Then, when I was able to make a statement, I made it in answer to a Question by my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) which he had on the Order Paper for many weeks. I said at that time that I would make a further statement as soon as possible after the Christmas Recess, and my right hon. Friend, in accordance with past parliamentary practice, has continued to have his Question before me and the House.

Therefore, on this occasion, rather than give my right hon. Friend a Written Answer, I thought that the right and proper thing to do, and the thing to do in accordance with Parliamentary practice, was to expose myself to criticism in the House and to questions across the Floor of the House.

Mr. Varley

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that some of the decisions already announced by the Railways Board will subsequently prove to be incorrect, especially some of those relating to the closure of freight services? If he will not take power to deal with this matter, does he not, nevertheless, agree that it would be a good thing to persuade the Board to postpone further decisions until after the study is complete?

Mr. Fraser

I am most reluctant to do that. The Railways Board, in rationalising freight services, is all the while increasing the volume of freight carried by improving the efficiency of the service. It would be wrong of me to stop the Board from making the freight service more efficient pending the outcome of the study. I ask hon. Members not to press me to stop the Board from improving its services.

Mr. Longbottom

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the very real and practical co-operation between British Road Services and the Road Haulage Association, on the one hand, and the Railways Board, on the other? Will he draw Lord Hinton's attention to this coordination, which seems to be working admirably even before his study is begun?

Mr. Fraser

If I had thought that there was such co-ordination that it was working admirably I would never have decided upon this study. However, I am fully convinced, on the basis of the information which has been available to me since I went to the Ministry, that there is very little of the co-ordination of which the hon. Gentleman speaks.

Mr. Shinwell

Will my right hon. Friend be good enough to say what freedom of choice in transport he has made available to hundreds of thousands of commuters in the London region, who are forced to travel into London to work? What is their freedom of choice?

Mr. Fraser

I agree that the London commuters do not have freedom of choice. Indeed, many users of transport have no freedom of choice at all. The late Government, by their policy in recent years, considerably restricted and limited the freedom of choice of the people.

Mr. Webster

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I do not criticise him? In fact, I think that the jump from Question No. 27 to Question No. 126 is about the most dynamic thing that has come from the Government in more than 100 days. Will Lord Hinton's report be made public or will it be confidential? Will the right hon. Gentleman draw to Lord Hinton's attention the fact that, if the deficit of over £100 million a year from the railways were reduced, we could proceed with projects like Concord and the TSR2?

Mr. Fraser

I do not think that I should get drawn into discussion on the Concord and the TSR2. Lord Hinton is coming into my Ministry. He will not make an independent investigation and a report. He is coming in as Special Adviser. When a report is made, it will be made by me to Parliament and not by Lord Hinton to me.

Mr. Bessell

Will the study include internal air transport and the provision of additional airports? Will the right hon. Gentleman now acquire powers to enable him to prevent the closure of rail passenger services, since he is unable to do this under the 1962 Act?

Mr. Fraser

In giving me advice, Lord Hinton will be giving advice to a good many of my right hon. Friends as well. [Laughter.] The hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Bessell) asked me about the co-ordination of air services. That does not come under the Ministry of Transport. I thought that hon. Members opposite would know that.

I want Lord Hinton to advise on the co-ordination not only of road and rail transport, but of rail, air, road and sea transport. He will cover the whole field so that we can get the complete picture and thereby be able to see the best way of co-ordinating the whole of our internal transport services.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. We cannot pursue this further now.

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