HC Deb 29 June 1966 vol 730 cc1781-3
23. Mr. David Mitchell

asked the Minister of Transport whether paragraph 12 of Chapter 12 of the National Plan, which concerns British Railways' deficit, still represents Government policy.

24. Mr. Webster

asked the Minister of Transport whether paragraph 12 of page 129 of the National Plan, regarding the deficit of British Railways, is still the policy of Her Majesty's Government.

Mrs. Castle

As the paragraph in question states, I am studying the Railways Board's estimates of the reduction of its deficit, in the context of the Government's review of transport policy.

Mr. Mitchell

Is the Minister aware that the National Plan states in this paragraph that a very significant contribution could be made to the nation's economic growth objectives by the elimination of the working deficit and increased productivity? It would seem that the Minister's own Ministry is holding up the proposals outlined in the National Plan.

Mrs. Castle

I do not know what the hon. Member means by that. If he thinks that we are holding up the recommendations in the National Plan by examining carefully all the proposals for closure that are put to us I am sorry, but this is a policy to which I intend to continue to adhere. I do so partly in answer to questions and requests from hon. Members opposite. It is time that we had less hypocrisy from hon. Members opposite about railway policy.

Mr. Webster

As the right hon. Lady is going to abolish hypocrisy, will she state whether she agrees with the National Plan in abolishing the working deficit by 1970? If so, will she state how she proposes to do it, and will she make sure that the figures are absolutely precise and not concealed?

Mrs. Castle

I have some interesting proposals to make on this matter in my White Paper.

Mr. O'Malley

Will my right hon. Friend make sure that the section on transport in the next edition of the National Plan fully reflects the new policy on transport planning to be outlined in her forthcoming White Paper?

Mrs. Castle

Yes, I can give that assurance.

30. Mr. Patrick Jenkin

asked the Minister of Transport what is the estimated deficit of the British Railways Board for the year ending 31st December, 1967.

Mr. John Morris

The Board will not be able to make a reliable estimate of its deficit for 1967 until it has completed its budget for that year, after taking into account my right hon. Friend's forthcoming White Paper.

Mr. Jenkin

Does not the delay in the publication of this White Paper represent, to use the right hon. Lady's own phrase, "a lamentable defiance of an important recommendation of the Prices and Incomes Board" that the railways should seek to reduce and eventually to eliminate their deficit as quickly as possible? Is this the sort of conduct which we are to expect from the "only Socialist Minister in the Government", to quote the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot)?

Mr. Morris

All I would say is that the White Paper will be published as soon as possible. I am not aware of any delay.

Mr. Manuel

Will my hon. Friend ensure that the section on transport in the next edition of the National Plan fully reflects a new policy on social needs in connection with rail travel in this country?

Mr. Morris

Of course, this is one of the matters which we will strongly bear in mind in the conclusions which we shall present in the White Paper.

Mr. Peter Walker

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that his statement that the White Paper may well affect the 1967 deficit shows how irresponsible it was to pass the latest Transport Finances Bill dealing with the finances for the next three years? Is he aware that we are fed up with the abuse of this House in meeting every Question by hiding behind the excuse of White Papers to be published at some time in the future?

Mr. Morris

I am sure that if there were abuses of the House, that would not be a matter for me to comment on but for Mr. Speaker. I made it abundantly clear when we introduced the last finance Measure for the railway industry that we hoped in the meantime to introduce as many administrative changes as possible.

Sir C. Osborne

In view of the fact that the railways lost about £130 million last year, can the hon. Gentleman make a reasonable estimate of how long it will be before that deficit is completely cleared each year? How soon will the railways be working without making a loss?

Mr. Morris

It is not possible at the moment, again, to anticipate the White Paper, but I think that the hon. Member should be aware that we are progressively aiming for a reduction in the working deficit.