HC Deb 17 January 1968 vol 756 cc1759-63
9. Mr. Edward M. Taylor

asked the Minister of Transport what is the total sum involved by way of write-offs of capital, annual subsidies, loans and grants in the Transport Bill.

Mr. Swingler

I apologise for the length of this reply.

It would be meaningless to give the total sum requested, since the various elements in the requested sum are different in kind. In the first place, the total write-offs of £1,277 million have only a notional effect on the Exchequer, which for some years now has been meeting the interest burden on these sums itself. Secondly, the annual subsidies to British Railways and British Waterways, amounting at present to more than £150 million, will not be renewed by the Bill, but will be replaced by new specific grants of the order of £100 million a year on average. Thirdly, the loans which can be made under the Bill, which will total about £252 million over and above the 1962 Act provisions, will represent capital invested at interest. Fourthly, the Bill provides for new revenue estimates at about £33 million a year.

Mr. Taylor

Is not the answer £1,922 million, a staggering figure? Is it not madness for the Government to proceed with a major nationalisation Bill after we have had such staggering cuts in the economy?

Mr. Swingler

It is foolish of the hon. Gentleman to lump together sums which represent capital write-offs on many of which, because of the railway deficit, the Exchequer has been bearing the interest burdens, together with sums which are grants, many of them demanded by hon. Members opposite for maintaining socially necessary railway services, and other kinds of grants for the improvement of public transport. I have set out to the fullest extent for the hon. Gentleman's benefit the real picture presented by the Bill which we shall shortly be discussing in Committee.

Mr. Manuel

How much capital expenditure was written down in connection with railway finance during the 13 years of the previous Government?

Mr. Swingler

I do not have the exact figure with me, but my hon. Friend will know that a considerable sum in connection with British Railways was put in suspense by the previous Government.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that he will not prevent people abroad from reading his reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward M. Taylor) by galloping through it? What sort of effect does he think this figure will have on confidence?

Mr. Swingler

A very great part of the Answer that I gave to the hon. Member for Cathcart was given in the winding-up speech on the Second Reading of the Transport Bill. I have made the point again in reply to the hon. Member, and I would imagine that hon. Gentlemen opposite, who have been pressing so hard to keep open railway lines which are enormous loss-makers, will keep a bit quiet about some of the financial provisions of this Bill.

10. Mr. Edward M. Taylor

asked the Minister of Transport how many representations she has received from Scottish organisations, firms and individuals about the proposed new burdens and restrictions on road haulage in the Transport Bill; and what reply she has sent.

14. Mr. G. Campbell

asked the Minister of Transport how many representations she has received from industry, commerce and transport undertakings objecting to the proposals for read carrier licensing and additional taxation in the Transport Bill; and what reply she has sent.

Mr. Carmichael

We have received a large number of such representations from all parts of the country. They have all been carefully considered, and in reply we have explained how particular proposals fit into the freight transport policy.

Mr. Taylor

Would the Minister agree that almost every Organisation concerned with Scottish development has bitterly opposed this Bill? Does he agree that the general assault on private road haulage will do the maximum damage in Scotland, where we have long distances to cover and so much heavy industry?

Mr. Carmichael

I cannot agree with the hon. Member. There has been general agreement about certain parts of the Bill. The quality licensing, for example, has been very much welcomed by most of the industry, together with the exclusion of the light goods vehicles. There will be no extra penalties on Scottish transport organisations because of this Bill. [Interruption.] It will be spread throughout the country.

On the point of the development areas, my right hon. Friend gave an undertaking in the Second Reading debate about the transport of abnormal loads, and said that this would be examined. She said that in Committee she would be open to suggestions for an examination of this proposal, which we accept may, on examination, bear slightly more heavily on development areas than others.

Mr. G. Campbell

Why will the hon. Gentleman not give a figure of the number of representations? Will the Minister now make a major contribution to the national economy in this time of crisis by dropping this whole Bill, and in its place restoring the cuts in the road programme, announced yesterday?

Mr. Carmichael

The hon. Gentleman does not seem to realise that we on this side believe that the Transport Bill will be of positive help to the economy. We have for a long time needed a rational approach to transport and believe that my right hon. Friend's Bill is just this.

Mr. Rankin

While I accept the Bill, is my hon. Friend aware that in the Govan division the makers of large marine engines are very seriously concerned about the possible increase in charges to those who supply English ship-building companies as against their English competitors? Will he look into the validity of those fears?

Mr. Carmichael

This is a question that we are certainly looking into. I would remind my hon. Friend that in reply to the Second Reading debate my right hon. Friend specifically mentioned this problem. She is aware of it. In Committee she will be open to considering the possibility of changes for the development areas.

Mr. Peter Walker

Will the Minister explain why, when these Questions have been on the Order Paper for some weeks, he is unable to give the numbers asked for? Secondly, will he repeat and confirm his undertaking that no Scottish transport concern will be adversely affected by the Transport Bill?

Mr. Carmichael

What I said was that no Scottish transport firm will be adversely affected as against any other firm in the country. Scottish transport firms will be treated no differently from transport firms in any other part of the country. As to the question of numbers, there was a large number of representations from all over the country. The Questions asked for the representations from the Scottish organisations and this is a figure that we do not have. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] We can get it. The representations are not always against the Bill. Some are very much in favour of some proposals, such as light vehicles being excluded, and the quality licence.

Mr. Campbell

On a point of order. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of that Answer, I give notice that I shall seek to raise this matter again on the Adjournment.