HC Deb 27 January 1970 vol 794 cc1252-86

5.50 p.m.

Mr. Edwin Brooks (Bebington)

I am glad to have this opportunity to debate present and future transport costs in the North-West. I share the views of the authors of Strategy II, published in 1968 by the North-West Economic Planning Council, that of all the many and urgent regional problems which cry out for attention, transport should have the first priority.

Of course, this is not to forget the importance of housing, schools, unemployment or environmental improvement. Far from it. The North-West has inherited more than its fair share of squalor and urban blight from the 19th century; and, as the present unemployment figures for Merseyside show, this is no time to relax our efforts within the development area.

Nevertheless, against this historic background of dirt, dereliction and the dole, it is significant that the planning council stated unequivocally that we put as first priority"— and those last words are underlined— among programmes of investment in the region the development of better transport facilities—especially roads and public passenger transport. The council went on to argue that the North-West should be treated as a single unit for passenger transport services. The Government were subsequently to reject this view, at least for the time being, but with the recent publication of massive land-use and transportation studies for the two conurbations of Merseyside and Manchester, S.E.L.N.E.C., this seems an appropriate time to seek clarification from my hon. Friend of his reactions to this battery of major proposals.

In any case, it is clear that decisive changes, and fundamental and far-reaching choices, are imminent. We have acquired passenger transport authorities for the two main urban concentrations. Presumably, and hopefully, they will want to rationalise and improve facilities. In addition, we shall soon be seeing the strategy plans required for these areas under the 1968 Town and Country Planning Act. Port re-organisation, and possibly co-ordination and integration, is imminent along the Mersey estuary and the Ship Canal.

The recent announcement by Shell of giant investment at Stanlow and elsewhere seems to presage these ports becoming one of the greatest petro-chemical centres in the world. Yet another aspect of change—although I hope not decay—is seen at Liverpool Airport, where the events of the past week have given cause for concern rather than optimism about the future.

Furthermore, in this catalogue of developments in the pipeline, research is being done into the feasibility and value of a multi-purpose barrage across the Dee estuary, which could profoundly affect population change and environmental planning in a wide region extending deep into north-east Wales. New and exciting possibilities are being examined, from hovercraft across the Mersey—with significant implications for widening the passenger catchment area of Speke—to advanced high speed trains which British Railways anticipate will soon be going to London. All these technological advances which we can forecast during the 'seventies invite bold speculation.

For example, is it so far fetched to think of the North-West's great airports becoming jointly the fourth London air- port, linked to the Metropolis by such a fast train service that from Ringway or Speke to Central London might be little more than an hour's journey? And much of that time could be occupied profitably in performing functions and formalities which are now carried out at the airport itself. Moreover, such an airport undertaking, with regular scheduled international services, could do much to open up the industrial north to the commerce and tourism of the world.

Whether such speculations are idle, only time will tell. But I think that we must accept that the whole region from London to the North-West has already become super-city. We have, in other words, what the Americans of the northeastern seaboard call megalopolis—stretching across England and linking the two great estuaries on which our principal ports lie. During the past four years, with the introduction of the electrified rail services—this is an enormous improvement by British Railways—and confirmed by the alignment of the M1 and the M6, we in the North-West have become part of a national urban axis linked by high speed transit; and the arrival of the high-speed train and the extension of the motorways, will inevitably lead to the further consolidation of megalopolis.

There is still much to be done, notably in completing the east-west motorways, and especially the long overdue link between the M6 and Manchester and Liverpool. But much has been done, and with the exception of the mind-baffling perversity of the new Euston, British Railways deserve high marks for the new image of sophisticated, sleek transport which they have created. They have shown that public transport can be glamorous and that is no small achievement. I think there is a moral somewhere. But I do not wish to discuss morals this afternoon. Instead, I want to focus more narrowly, in the limited time available, upon the future transport and related land use of the conurbations, and particularly in view of my own interests and competence, I shall concentrate upon Merseyside.

Merseyside, in common with all conurbations, shows the dilemma familiar to us since Buchanan's "Traffic in Towns". How do we reconcile the irreconcilable, as the pessimists might put it? In other words, how do we maintain a tolerable, let alone civilised, urban environment in our cities in face of fuming motor cars, and usually even more fuming drivers, who democratically seek to enjoy maximum personal mobility and accessibility? There is no simple answer, but at least we recognise that compromise is inevitable.

Our problem is that of finding the right mix—and the word is mix, not mix-up—of public and private transport permitting and helping people to enjoy their motor cars and their freedom whenever this does not conflict with and destroy the mobility of everyone else. So far, so good.

The crunch comes when one turns to specific cases, and for Merseyside the difficulties are exceptionally severe. No other conurbation in Britain is divided by an estuary which functions effectively as the open ocean, carrying huge oceangoing vessels between the two urban segments. Bridging the Thames at London is child's play compared to bridging the Mersey estuary. In the early 60s it was forecast that a six-lane bridge would have the dimensions of the Golden Gate at San Francisco and would cost between £25 and £30 million.

Although, oddly enough, the forecast costs do not appear to have escalated during the 60s, the Report of the Merseyside Area Land Transportation Study, known as M.A.L.T.S., of a few months ago estimated the cost of such a project to be still about £25 million. This excludes many inevitable and additional, although sometimes hidden, costs. As for alternative vehicular crossings, tunnels appear to be no cheaper per lane. The combined costs of the two twin-lane tunnels now being built between Wallasey and Liverpool will work out even more expensively than the forecast cost per lane of the high-level bridge advocated by M.A.L.T.S. as the third major crossing of the estuary.

Mr. John Tilney (Liverpool, Wavertree)

I agree entirely with what the hon. Gentleman has said, but would he not consider that a bridge from Speke over to Eastham would be very much cheaper? It would do away with all the blight that has descended on areas of housing in his constituency and also on the north side of Merseyside, and, judging from the cost of a bridge over the Derwent at Hobart in Tasmania of about the same distance, at one-third of the cost.

Mr. Brooks

This is certainly an argument which the Minister would do well to consider. There are a number of possible alternatives to the crossing which the M.A.L.T.S. report is advocating. Had there been time, I would have suggested some possible modern examples which might have involved duplication of triplication of the Widnes-Runcorn Bridge and which could be done more cheaply than the high-level type of bridge required in the lower estuary.

The point the hon. Gentleman is making is that £25 million is a lot of money, and I agree. Before we spend such a sum, we should be satisfied that this is the only alternative before us. The £25 million itself only hints at the exceptional cost burden entailed in trying to facilitate private commuter flow between the northern part of Wirrall and the Liverpool shore. At a time when we are promised severe restraints upon public expenditure—and I see little prospect of any sudden euphoria in the Treasury in the 'seventies—we should be chary of swallowing such jumbo-sized projects uncritically. Instead, we need to probe the traffic philosophy which underlies such recommendations and to see if an alternative model of circulation is worth considering.

Personally, I have some reservations about the case for this high-level bridge between Aigburth and Bromborough. Of course, one can extrapolate traffic flow in terms of existing desire lines, anticipated location of jobs in the decades ahead and increased motor car ownership. But it is hardly necessary to say that such forecasts are based upon many uncertainties and variables, many assumptions about policies pricing and location, which we cannot forecast with certainty.

I should like to put a handful of questions, out of the many which could be put to my hon. Friend, to try to clarify these assumptions. For example, is it really sensible to spend vast sums of money to make life apparently easier for the private commuter whose use of costly road space is notoriously inefficient? Should he not so far as possible be encouraged to travel to work by public transport? By building such bridges as that now proposed, are we not likely to release a great deal of suppressed demand and merely generate fresh motor car traffic, demonstrating a sort of Parkinson's law whereby motor car traffic expands to fill the available road space?

Where will the commuters in the peak traffic flows park their cars in Liverpool? How much will they have to pay to park? How much concealed subsidy will there be from the local authority—a subsidy, if paid, which itself encourages further effective sterilisation of high cost land in city centres? Indeed, what calculations have been made about the elasticity of demand for such facilities, assuming that the traveller will have to pay full economic parking fee s—ar d why not? And what if he also has to pay an economic toll charge to cross the bridge twice a day?

I realise that there cannot be any precise answer to such questions, but they are questions which need to be put. I simply query whether it is realistic to expect the commuter to want to pay up to £1 a day for the privilege of using his car to travel to work or to shop. Unless he is using his car, as perhaps some motorists do, as a secret potency symbol, I would expect him to turn instead to an efficient. reliable and comfortable public transport system.

But there is the rub, of course, for the present public transport system on Merseyside is getting worse each year. It is not just a malady for Merseyside, of course, and we all know of the vicious circle of more costly and more irregular services leading to fewer passengers, still higher costs and fewer and more irregular services. We all know how workers who have been decanted, as the planners say, to the outskirts now find it increasingly difficult to get to their down-town place of work in the early morning or indeed at other times.

There is frustration and disgruntlement and sometimes actual loss of earnings and absenteeism in consequence. Journey times lengthen as inexorably as fares go up and up, and the plain fact is that we are heading for a complete collapse of a viable passenger transport system. In this, it is the poor who will suffer most, the old-age pensioners, the children going to school.This is a matter which a Labour Government must view with alarm and on which they must take urgent and constructive action.

We all have our own particular solutions. Mine is to make public transport in inner areas totally free or extremely cheap. As a start, I would allow—

Mr. Michael Heseltine (Tavistock)

Could the hon. Gentleman explain, if transport is to be free, who actually will pay the bills?

Mr. Brooks

The principle is no different in effect from the present arrangement whereby the passenger transport authorities are empowered to subsidise those services which are making a loss. Therefore, I would assume that this would come from tax or the rate fund.

Mr. Heseltine

If I understand the hon. Gentleman aright, he is not advocating that public transport should be free, but that it should be paid for by the ratepayer or the taxpayer.

Mr. Brooks

Yes. I am sure the hon. Gentleman did not assume that I thought the whole thing could be done purely by the good will of the busmen. I am suggesting that the actual cost burden should not be borne at the point of consumption, but should be a charge on the general tax fund. Indeed, there are good precedents for doing this in many situations indeed, this is done in many countries. I am arguing that we should extend and develop the principle which is already enshrined in the 1968 Transport Act and which was forecast in Lord Beeching's famous report.

Even if we do not go as far as that, and I have no doubt that there would be difficulties in going quite so far, I seriously suggest, and have done so on former occasions in Questions to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that we might consider allowing public transport costs involved in journeys to work to be set against income tax. The service would need to be expanded, there would be a need for better basic wages to be paid to platform staff, and, at the same time, we should have to grasp the nettle of restricting private traffic in those inner areas where the bus is the optimum means of transporting large numbers of people to work rapidly and safely.

This would, of course, cost money. But so does the high-level bridge. Who is to pay for it? What is the justification for £25 million to be spent on such a scheme? Indeed, many other schemes designed to make life easier for the private motor car commuter cost a great deal of money.

My approach would be to cut down atmospheric pollution, save much life and limb and peace of mind and to enable people to save a good deal of the outlay which at present goes on the vain struggle to rush from one traffic jam to the next. But even if my solution seems naive or fanciful, at least it is fair to ask why the relatively cheap plans to improve the attractiveness of public transport on Merseyside have been ignored for so long.

Ten years ago I first heard of a proposal to double the peak hour carrying capacity on the Mersey Railway and link the three main terminals in Liverpool by an underground loop line. The total cost of the scheme was estimated in 1963 at under £6 million, or roughly the cost of a single lane of the tunnels now being built to handle motor vehicle traffic. But although in 1968 parliamentary authorisation was given to go ahead with this rail scheme, it has yet to get off the ground, or, indeed, to begin under the ground.

I have been hoping for many years to see some rationalisation of the bus services in Wirrall and no doubt in other parts of Merseyside, and the provision of regular bus services through the Queensway tunnel. Perhaps the new passenger transport authority will provide a better framework in which to settle these long overdue matters, but I see little signs of urgency so far.

Incredibly, the agreements which demarcate the Crossville and former Birkenhead Corporation bus services in Wirrall date from the beginning of the 1930s. But here we are, 40 years on, and still the services are afar and asunder —only more so than ever. Instead of expansion of the public transport system by the electrification and extension of the railways of Wirrall, we have had cuts and closures. Instead of the sort of cost benefit reasoning which led to the Victoria-Euston line being built in London, which certainly does not pay its way, on Merseyside we have been obsessed by narrowly defined commercial profitability.

I accept that the Government have done far more than their Conservative predecessor to recognise the hidden economic benefits of public transport, and certainly the recent Transport Act has permitted explicit subsidies to be granted where the case can be made out. But the time has come to tackle the problem at a more fundamental and urgent level. We must try to capture for urban public transport the sort of image which airlines such as B.O.A.C. and B.E.A. and the inter-city electrified train services have already acquired. An image of smooth, effortless, gracious service is a far cry indeed from the present reality.

If we can talk of investing £25 million in a Golden Gate "bridge across the Mersey, as does M.A.L.T.S., why not think in equally glittering terms of investment in public transport? Why do we always forget the hidden burdens of giant urban roadworks? There are the burdens of planning blight which have already cast their shadows on my constituency and in relation to which I have a Question down to my hon. Friend for answer today. There are, for example, the costs of worsenment which have to be suffered silently, or at least helplessly, by those whose houses and amenities are depreciated by the proximity of a noisy and smelly highway.

I do not want to discount the value of the motor car. Far from it. Where it can fulfil a legitimate part in conurbation traffic circulation, let it be fully encouraged. I have long felt it desirable to provide car parks at the Wirral railway stations which would provide the right sort of mix of the two types of transport giving each the optimum conditions in which to operate. But it was only after years and years of pressure and protest that, at long last, and only last week, an announcement was made of such a car park to be provided at Rock Ferry station, in my constituency.

Much more could be said and done on this, and there are many examples which I could give, including possible developments at Birkenhead Park, at Upton, perhaps at Prenton, with an extra halt provided on the railway, or even further afield at Hooton, especially if the Liverpool to Rock Ferry line is electrified to the south. All these specific and detailed suggestions and many more are discussed at length and generally favourably in M.A.L.T.S., which, in general, is an admirable report. But they were also examined and commented on favourably as long ago as 1963, yet nothing has been done. The problem is one of will and energy in getting anywhere these days.

I hope that my hon. Friend will at least ensure that those sections of M A.L.T.S. which bear on the improvement of public transport will be given much greater priority and urgency and that, before we tacitly accept the validity of the case for the high-level bridge, on which I have deliberately concentrated my remarks, we will check on its indispensability within an integrated public-private transport system.

6.18 p.m.

Mr. Walter Clegg (North Fylde)

It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bebington (Mr. Brooks), because his speeches are nearly always interesting. Today's was no exception. While I do not go all the way with him in the latter part of his speech, I, like most other people in the North-West, accept the plans laid down in Strategy 2, which gives first priority to roads. Without adequate roads and connections with others parts of the country, the North-West will not be prosperous. These roads are essential for its redevelopment.

The hon. Gentleman questioned how the new roads were to be paid for. That, in turn, raises the question of expenditure which, in these straitened times, is a subject which must concern us all. It is all very well for an hon. Member to say, "I would like a road here, or there", without facing the problem of how it is to be paid for.

I do not represent a Merseyside constituency. My constituency is outside the development area. In the case of Merseyside's roads, payments are made by the Government in Merseyside to industries which nave been established there for a long period, and it might be worth transferring the money which is paid in regional employment premium to the development of roads. A good road system which will enable Ford, Vauxhall, Port Sunlight and others to move goods away from Merseyside quickly and, at the same time, enable Merseyside to have gcods coming into its ports quickly would be of more benefit than paying a premium per worker to already established industries.

Most of what I have to say has to do with a problem which affects my constituency and the whole of the Fylde. I ask the Minister to give further consideration to the motorway link between Preston and the Fylde coast. I raise this because, recently, great concern has been expressed about the number of accidents on the road between Blackpool and Preston, and various criticisms have been made at inquests and generally in the Press.

Some of the criticisms have been levelled quite unjustly at the county council. In its road master, bridge master and surveyor, Lancashire has one of the most experienced road engineers in the country. His design of the first part of the M6 for Lancashire set a pattern not only for the country, but for the rest of the world, and I know that Mr. Drake has had this plan of a motorway between Blackpool and Fylde in his mind for a long time. It is the only true solution. In the long run, it would be a waste of money to try to titivate the present road. It would be much better if the motorway were built quickly.

I can give the Minister reasons why it should be done. We on the coast feel that we are not given priority because we are not an industrial area. However, there is a tremendous volume of traffic flowing to Blackpool, which is still the biggest seaside resort in the country, let alone to other coastal resorts in the Fylde area. This is one of the busiest roads in the country.

However, that is only part of the advantage to be gained from the new highway. The other help that we would get from this link is that traffic would be diverted from the central areas of Preston which become clogged up in the summer and, at times, in the winter as well. If there is to be an announcement in the coming weeks about the new city of PrestonChorley-Leyland, it will mean a greater concentration of traffic in the area while the development takes place.

So the industrial town of Preston would benefit largely from the Preston Northern Bypass, which is the official name for this road. It would take out of the narrow and congested streets of the centre of Preston a tremendous volume of traffic, so that the Fylde coast could be approached from the north, the south and, when the Calder Valley Road is completed, from the east without going into the heavily built up area of Preston.

The real demand for this road is that it will probably save more lives, in Mr. Drake's estimation, than any other single motorway because of the tremendous volume of traffic. In my constituency, I have seen the impact that a motorway can have on road safety. A motorway running through my constituency alongside the A6 has reduced radically the number of serious crashes causing death or serious bodily injury. It is for that main reason that I plead with the Minister to look again at the scheme. It will save many lives and serious accidents.

Another relevant argument in favour of it is of direct concern to the construction industry. Those engaged in road building are extremely worried about what is to happen when the present road programmes are completed. They fear that they will have to break up their construction teams. We all know what happens once such a team is broken up. Heavy equipment is idle, eating its head off, and it means an increase in costs on motorways which are built in the future.

It may be that the Minister will not be able to reply to my questions today. However, I hope that he will look at this matter again with a view to considering whether this urgent scheme cannot be put into the immediate programme.

6.25 p.m.

Mr. Dan Jones (Burnley)

I am most indebted my hon. Friend the Member for Bebington (Mr. Brooks) for raising this subject. Since North-East Lancashire is goverened by the Lancashire County Council, we share in the transport problems of the North-West, although it might be said with truth that over the years we have not had the attention to which I believe that we are entitled in that part of the country.

We are essentially a bread and butter area. The whole region from Padiham to Barnoldswick is highly industrialised and has reason to expect better transport facilities than there are today, although matters have improved in the last four or five years. However, in some cases, there is an urgent need for even greater improvements still.

The hon. Member for North Fylde (Mr. Clegg) referred to the Calder Valley road. That road has been projected, and its significance to North-East Lancashire is tremendous. In recent months, I have spoken to a number of industrialists who have come to North-East Lancashire from the Midlands and the South. They tell me that they can get from London to the Continent and back quicker than they can travel from London to Burnley. That cannot be a satisfactory answer to our problems. The proposed Calder Valley highway is of great importance, and an announcement that that road is to be scheduled would give out industrialists a lot of encouragement to expand, since we are an intermediate area.

My next point concerns the Bury bypass, another road which is of outstanding importance to North-East Lancashire. A definite promise was given that that bypass would be fitted in when the Lancashire to Yorkshire motorway was being constructed. I would like an indication that that is still the case, because of its great significance to this part of Lancashire.

My last point touches on the importance of the rail connection between North-East Lancashire and the North-East ports. I suppose that it could be argued that the volume of freight is not great. At the same time these ports will assume a new and far greater significance to the whole of North-East Lancashire if we eventually join the E.E.C. One of the first steps—and not a very expensive one—would be to get a modern signalling system all the way along this railway track.

We in North-East Lancashire are never as fully considered as we are entitled to be. If the points that I have made could be met, the industrialists and the population of the area would be greatly obliged to the Minister of Transport.

6.30 p.m.

Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bebington (Mr. Brooks) on raising this important matter for debate. He has made an interesting and extremely stimulating speech. There are few more important subjects than the present and future costs of transport. I shall speak briefly and confine myself to the serious effect of increasing fares on the road traffic situation in the North-West region.

My hon. Friend said that public transport in the inner city areas should be entirely free. That is an extremely engaging proposition. It is perhaps a consummation that is devoutly to be wished. But those who represent the inner areas of the S.E.L.N.E.C. passenger transport authority are now faced with swingeing fare increases. In some cases the proposed increases are as high as 50 per cent.

This is not the worst of the proposals. One proposal is that peak hour travellers on public transport should be subject to a surcharge. There used to be concessionary fares for workers travelling at peak periods. What is now proposed is the very reverse. If there is to be a surcharge on workers travelling at peak periods, this must increase the drift from public to private transport.

I think that that proposal is neither reasonable nor sensible. It is not sensible because it will make the road traffic situation, particularly in Manchester and Salford, much worse than it is now at peak hours. It is not reasonable because most of the people who travel at peak hours do so in considerable discomfort.

Many of my constituents have said that the P.T.A.'s proposal amounts to fining people for travelling at peak hours. Many have no choice but to travel to and from work at peak hours, and they are now faced with a proposal that they should pay a surcharge. This must result in increased private transport on the roads at peak hours. In turn, that must mean that the operating costs of public transport in Manchester and Salford will be increased, and that is likely to mean a further drift to private transport. I am emphasising that the proposal to surcharge people for travelling at peak hours will place the passenger transport authority and everyone who relies upon it for public transport in a vicious circle.

I appreciate that the Minister cannot tonight speak about fares charged or likely to be charged by P.T.A.s. He has, however, with his right hon. Friend, responsibility for road traffic in Manchester and Salford. With his right hon. Friend he has done a great deal to improve the situation, but it will be infinitely worse in future if we fine people for travelling at peak times. If we do, we shall exacerbate a very difficult road traffic situation in South-East Lancashire and North-East Cheshire.

I hope that my hon. Friend will take careful note of what I have said. I hope, equally, that those responsible for making policy decisions will listen to the protests that have been made by my hon. Friends and that they will think again

6.35 p.m.

Mr. Richard Crawshaw (Liverpool, Toxteth)

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Bebington (Mr. Brooks) for raising this problem and on the manner in which he presented it. As in so many subjects, he showed a great insight into the problem. I do not wish to detain the House long, because many hon. Members wish to speak on other subjects.

I should also like to pay tribute to the Government for the work that they have done on the motorway system. But there could also be criticism, because I do not believe that we are advancing fast enough with this development. Every penny that we spend on roads ultimately produces pounds for our economy. I know that we must look at the problem overall, but I think that this is one expenditure where we get good value for money.

I am critical of the lack of concern being shown to developments on Merseyside. I cannot, with the best good will in the world towards the Government, understand why, in 1970, Liverpool, which is our first port for exports, should be 18 miles from the nearest motorway. This strikes me as ridiculous. Although I have raised this problem over many years, we do not seem to have made any considerable headway.

It may be because so many burdens are thrown on local authorities in road development, a purely local matter, that we have not advanced further. But I doubt it, because I know that people in the Liverpool area have been urging the linking up of the M62 with the rest of the motorway system. I cannot understand how the first port in this country for exports can be expected to survive when we have a dual carriageway, known as the East Lancashire Road, disgorging into an inadequate system within the city, thereby creating a bottleneck at the end of it.

We are building one tunnel and are about to start on another under the Mersey. The first stage of the inner motorway has been completed; the second stage is about to begin. But where and when is the joining up to take place? What is the purpose of new tunnels and inner motorways if there is no outlet from the city of Liverpool? I know from personnal experience that over the last four to six years journey times within the Liverpool area have doubled. I cannot understand why the matter has been left to such a late stage. This is a criticism about Liverpool which the Government must answer.

We have the East Lancashire road. I do not know whether this was intended to be a substitute. For three years work has proceeded converting it into a dual carriageway, causing continual holdups and inconvenience for anybcdy travelling from Liverpool to Manchester. When I have travelled on motorways in other parts of the country, particularly in the South-East, I have wondered what has prompted the building of motorways along which one can go for mile after mile hardly passing any cars. Three or four years ago the Ministry said that the East Lancashire road, the main road to Liverpool, was carrying a heavier load than many motorways. Yet nothing seems to have been done to speed up the M62 connecting Liverpool.

Merseyside, with its important port, ought to be considered as a special problem. It does not just depend whether Liverpool requires development there; the whole country depends on what developments take place on Merseyside. Therefore, I do not believe that the initiative should come from Merseyside. This is a matter into which the Government should be looking.

Touching on this problem we have the inner loop, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Bebington referred. For many years it has been suggested that the stations in Liverpool should be joined in a loop system, but I do not know why we should stop there. A number of years ago, when I was a member of the city council, I raised the problem of underground systems going out of Liverpool to join up such areas as Kirkby and Skelmersdale. Every day we are faced with the problem of people who live up to eight miles away travelling into and out of the city. We have a completely inadequate transport system to deal with them, and, as my hon. Friend said, this breeds absenteeism, and so on, in industry. It is a vital problem which must be looked into.

While I am dealing with the problems of Merseyside, perhaps I might say how much I regret the inability to provide assistance to keep Liverpool Airport going. The test of an airport is not just whether it is making an actual profit on its turnover, but whether its presence is responsible for the economic development of the outlying areas. I think that the advantages to be gained from spending money on Liverpool Airport far outweigh anything that we may lose, because of the development which it brings to Britain. It enables people to fly to that area to see to their business.

It seems to be the case that under all Governments, irrespective of their complexion, local authorities are left with the burden of carrying on local authority airports until such time as it suits the Government to come in and use them. This burden is unfairly thrown on the citizens of many cities throughout the Kingdom, and particularly Merseyside. I hope that in considering Merseyside and the development areas my hon. Friend will discuss with his right hon. Friend whether it is possible to ensure that an efficent airport system—

Mr. Tilney

I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of Liverpool, but this is a burden on Liverpool and not on Merseyside as a whole.

Mr. Crawshaw

As the hon. Gentleman says, it is not a burden on Merseyside as an area, but on the City of Liverpool. We are faced with the choice of putting an added burden on the rates, or scrubbing the whole thing and using the area for industrial development or the provision of houses. If Liverpool Airport does go. I believe that this will ultimately affect the business efficiency of the whole of the Merseyside area.

6.42 p.m.

Mr. Leslie Spriggs (St. Helens)

I want briefly to raise a problem relating to local passenger transport services. The St. Helens passenger transport undertaking is faced with a deficiency of 13.6 per cent. drivers, and 9.2 per cent. conductors. There are thousands of pounds worth of capital equipment lying idle in the corporation'3 transport garages because of a shortage of staff, and the management is now faced with the problem of introducing new regulations affecting working hours under the 1968 Transport Act.

At the moment, we have a greatly reduced service, and this has a tremendous effect on the travelling public at peak hours. As services have had to be cut because of a serious shortage of manpower, I ask the Minister to meet the municipal transport association to discuss the difficulties. The problems which I am raising have been affecting my constituents for the last five or six years, and they have grown steadily worse because of the shift work which scheduled bus services mean to workers in industry. Many of them have left to take up day work, and those of us who know what shift work means understand and appreciate why men and women leave industry.

I ask my hon. Friend to say tonight whether he or his right hon. Friend will agree to meet the municipal passenger transport association with a view to coming to an agreement by which the best economic use can be made of the staff. It will be extremely helpful if my hon. Friend will agree to my proposal.

6.44 p.m.

Mir. Michael Heseltine (Tavistock)

This has been an extremely interesting debate, and I should like to add to the words which have been used by hon. Members in referring to the interesting speech of the hon. Member for Bebington (Mr. Brooks). It was an interesting discourse about the transportation problems of the North-West, in the very finest style of intellectual presentation of a difficult and complicated problem.

If I quarrel with the hon. Gentleman, and perhaps it will come as no surprise to him to hear that I do, it is because it was the sort of speech that one hears so often from hon. Gentlemen opposite. It was extremely good and competent in dealing with the individual and theoretical justification for what needs to be done, but it was slightly divorced from the realities which were so graphically dealt with by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Toxteth (Mr. Crawshaw). It was the epitome of my criticism of the Government's transport policy, that there is no area better than the North-West to contrast the difference between the theory and the promise, on the one hand, and the hard performance, on the other.

I should like to consider in some detail the four specific areas which we have heard discussed by hon. Members on both sides of the House. First, in connection with the urban transport problem, we have heard many references to the S.E.L.N.E.C. passenger transport authority which is the subject of a public inquiry in Manchester tomorrow. We have heard references to the ports of Manchester and Liverpool. We have heard references to the Ribble and Crossville bus companies, which now form part of the National Bus Company. We have heard references to roads, and to the problems of planning, building, and getting them through the normal acquisition procedures in each of the four main areas.

If one analyses the Government's contribution to the way in which the plans which we have discussed in this House over the last four years are working out in practice, one understands why, for the people of the North-West, as for people in the rest of the country, the deal has been an extremely bad one.

Let me consider, first, the problem of the passenger transport authorities. We heard what I thought was a rather quaint and delightful suggestion that public passenger transport should be free. Perhaps I should not have interrupted the hon. Gentleman to question what he meant by free. What he means by free is that it should be paid for, not at the time when people get on or off the buses, but when they pay their fuel duty in buying petrol, or buy a packet of cigarettes, or a pint of beer in the pub at night, so that they do not know what they are paying for the public passenger transport in their cities. They will be paying, of that one can be sure. There is no alternative to somebody paying, but in some way or other the situation is seen by the hon. Member for Bebington and many of his hon. Friends to be better if people do not know they are paying when they use the service. This is supposed to make them able to make better judgments about the transport services which they demand.

Mr. Brooks

I accept the hon. Gentleman's argument, but he is inadvertently misrepresenting my point. I am not seeking to disguise the fact that they are obtaining a service at a cost. What I am trying to argue is that if costs inexorably go on rising at the point of consumption in city areas we shall drive people away from the public transport system and it will grind to a standstill. How does the hon. Gentleman see that problem?

Mr. Heseltine

I take the hon. Gentleman's explanation, and I shall deal with it later, but costs rise for the people whom he is seeking to protect. They rise because they have to pay more for tobacco, fuel, a pint of beer, or whatever it may be. But they do not know why they are paying more, and that is the dilemma in which the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues find themselves.

It is interesting to consider, in the broadest terms, the substance of the inquiry in Manchester tomorrow. We heard a great deal in 1967 and in 1968 of the advantages of the Government changing the operating structure of the passenger transport operations in Manchester so as to bring them under one large operating unit.

My hon. Friend and I went to great lengths to point out that this would divert the managerial expertise available in Manchester away from the problems of planning and traffic management and getting the framework right into the problems of reorganising a massive and top-heavy bus structure.

We were laughed at. We heard the right hon. Lady the First Secretary of State say to the Labour Party conference on 2nd October, 1967: You know, the Tories tried to run a scare that fares would go up as a result of creating these passenger transport authorities. The right hon. Lady said a good deal else besides, and I have no doubt that the delegates were on their feet in ecstasy, applauding her condemnation of the "wicked" Tories.

We heard the same thing in the White Paper in July 1966, which said: In many of these areas the efficiency of bus operations is hampered by the small size of the undertakings"— the undertakings which were to move into the massive passenger transport authority. So it went on. The quotations are freely available for anyone who wishes to see them.

I have taken the figures for the last year, up to 31st March, 1969, of the trading results of the 11 undertakings in the S.E.L.N.E.C. passenger transport authority. It will come as an interesting revelation to nobody that on a turnover of £18 million those 11 undertakings until March of last year showed a profit of £750 before depreciation and after depreciation a loss of £160,000. The 11 undertakings were then rationalised in order to produce the benefits of which we have heard so much into the S.E.L.N.E.C. authority.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I hope that these are in the North-West Region.

Mr. Heseltine

It is Manchester, Mr. Speaker, one of the passenger transport authorities in the North-West Region.

These 11 authorities were brought together and the loss of £158,000 is now running at a budgeted £2½ million only a matter of nine months later. That is the subject of tomorrow's inquiry. The Government forced the people of Manchester to accept the passenger transport authority quite against the wishes of all the local authorities in the area and the advice of my hon. Friends and myself.

We advised the Government that it would lead to that sort of problem and that losses would escalate and get out of hand. So they have. The total resources of those people who should now be trying to improve the infrastructure and plan for tomorrow are hypnotised at a £21 million projected loss.

Mr. Alfred Morris

It is not my right hon. Friend the First Secretary who is proposing these fare increases and the lunacy of the surcharge at peak travelling times, and it is not necessarily the fault of any particular concept. The hon. Gentleman should look among his own friends in Manchester and Salford to find where these ideas come from.

Mr. Heseltine

I appreciate the attempt by the Labour Party to put on the backs of the local Tories who control the areas responsibility for the position which has now developed.

The fact is that the local Conservatives in the S.E.L.N.E.C. region fought the concept of a passenger transport authority all down the line. In the end, they had no choice but to accept it because the Government made them do so. As a result, the Cony ervatives had no choice but to administer what the Government have forced upon them.

My only point is that the argument of those who knew best in the undertakings, of the politicians with responsibility locally and of all those in the House who take transport more seriously, all warned the Government that, if they imposed this it was only a matter of time before these were the inevitable consequences.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. Bob Brown)

Is the hon. Gentleman really suggesting that the £21 million to which he referred in the Manchester P.T.A. area is the direct result of the changeover of management? Let him face up to the fact that the P.T.A. is a collection of local Conservative members of councils in the area, broadly speaking, and the other people were, in the main, administering the transport system before.

Mr. Heseltine

The Conservatives were administering the 11 authorities, and then the Government came along to reorganise them—to achieve massive efficiencies, they said—and the immediate result is a loss of £2½ million.

This is not only because the undertaking has been rationalised, not only because it is now bigger. There has been a wage increase, and there has been a change in the depreciation position, and so on, but the fact is that we were promised benefits from the reorganisation and there have been none. Second, the attention of those who should be trying to improve the infrastructure of transport has been hypnotised by the massive deficit.

My second point concerns ports. A report has come out today published by the National Ports Council which indicates the way in which the European countries—and the situation is similar in other countries outside Europe—build up and encourage the growth of ports. They have been successful at doing it. One of the things they do is to make money available.

The Government are to take away from the Manchester Ship Canal and Mersey Docks and Harbour Board the ownership of their port and the right to have private employers, Liverpool and Manchester based, and centralise them all on London. This is the second area in which the infrastructure should be improved, and the local people should be allowed to get on with it. Instead, the Government are to spend £76 million on centralising it all into one great operating unit. That is the wrong thing to do and it will cost the people of the North-West a lot of time and patience. It will also cost them and the British taxpayer a great deal of money, as the losses inevitably come.

My third point concerns the National Bus Company. This cost the taxpayer £47 million about three years ago to acquire the privately-owned bus shares in British Electric Traction to nationalise them and put them into the National Bus Company. This was £47 million added to this £76 million in the ports.

The immediate effect is that it comes under the political control of the Minister and companies like Ribble and Crossville, which have served the local area in the North-West extremely well, now find themselves in a totally impossible financial position. They have been given a directive which one can only describe as totally impractical and financially reckless. It will face the National Bus Company within the foreseeable future with bankruptcy in exactly the same way as other nationalised transport industry has been placed.

The only way in which the managements of Ribble and Crossville can deal with this kind of situation is to face up to their own budgets, confronted as they are with a 30 per cent. wage claim coming along and with the cost of driver hours, which have been doubled, as the Ministry know.

There will be various consequences. First, they will find that Ribble and Crossville will be cutting back on marginal services so as to contribute more to the central funds of the National Bus Company. There will be fare increases partly to contribute more and partly to meet the subsidies through British Railways which have now been put on the back of the National Bus Company. This is the next area which people will be asked to subsidise, and a fascinating piece of political intrigue within the Ministry it is.

The people of the North-West in the Ribble and Crossville area, those undertakings having been acquired by the taxpayer at a price of £47 million, are now having to subsidise the losses on the London services of the country buses. That was the decision of the Ministry of Transport, transferring from the London Transport Executive losses of £400,000—or, perhaps, £600,000 at the current rate—into the funds of the National Bus Company, which is where the subsidy will now be hidden, because it will come out of the revenue which at the moment the Government are earning on the Crossville and Ribble.

That is the sort of cross-subsidisation that goes on. It is a cowardly and contemptible decision of the Ministry taken purely for political reasons because there is a General Election in the offing. It is an example of the way in which politicians mesmerised by the need to earn votes are prepared to desert any sort of theoretical arguments about how to run the transport industry properly. The North-West will suffer as a consequence.

Fourth, the question of roads. The hon. Member for Toxteth left with us an extremely interesting question: why should Liverpool be 18 miles away from a motorway? The Parliamentary Secretary will tell us that there is no money and that everyone has to accept the priorities. At the present level of expenditure, there is no money, but let the people of Manchester, Liverpool and the North-West understand clearly what the position is. The £47 million which went to the shareholders of British Electric Traction could have done all they needed to link Liverpool by 18 miles of motorway. Let them understand that the £76 million which we could save at once by scrapping the Ports Bill would give them a motorway most of the way to London.

In fact, it is already there, but other parts of the country could be linked as well. But the Government would rather deprive the owners of the Manchester Ship Canal of their shares, they would rather wrap up the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board and eliminate the private sector at a cost of £76 million, than build the roads which people need. That is their sense of priority, and that is why they will be thrashed in the coming election.

The other great criticism on the question of roads is directed at the Government's failure to put themselves into such a position as will enable them to proceed with the road programme after 1972. It will not be this Government but a Government of my party who will carry the programme on then, but the difficulty will be that plans will not be available, applications and acquisitions will not have gone forward, and planning procedures will not have been complied with, so that there will not have been built up a sufficiently large reservoir of road plans to keep the programme going.

The present Government inherited a road programme which was to complete 1,000 miles of motorway by 1972, and of that 750 miles were already through the planning procedures by 1964. This Government have kept the programme up, achieving the targets which the Conservatives established, and which they would have achieved, too, but only 350 miles are in the pipeline for after 1972. How long will that last? It takes seven years from the moment of deciding on a road to get it actually under way. The culpability of the Government in not publishing the White Paper on roads—it was promised for 1969, but there is still no sign of it now in 1970—will weigh heavily with all those in the North-West who ask themselves what the future developing road building programme will be in their area.

I come now to the observations of the hon. Member for Bebington about public transport. Public passenger transport has an immense part to play, and it should be encouraged. I question whether it has been encouraged by this Government. but encouraged it ought to be, for it will certainly satisfy some demands. But let us have no illusions about why people do not go by bus. They go by car and not by bus because in many ways it is preferable. In an economy in which the number of cars will double by the end of 1980 and treble by the year 2010, we must face the implications for the bus.

Hon. Members opposite would like to say that people must go by bus, not by car. The other approach is to heed Buchanan. Buchanan spells out the implications for our society. We should take the hint of what the electors want us to do, which is to build roads, to find ways to cater for public demand in the cities, at the same time trying to protect the environment, which will be destroyed if we do not pour money into the cities on the building of roads, the provision of off-street parking, the maintenance of traffic flow, and all the other crucial requirements. These are the priorities demanded by anyone who understands logic and the evolution of transport.

Mr. Brooks

This is an important point. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that the experience in the cities of the United Stales, where there has been a vast expenditure on roads in an attempt to meet the constant growth of traffic, is one from which we can draw salutary lessons? I did not say that I am opposed to road building. What I question is whether in certain circumstances in the city areas it is really the best solution to aim for.

Mr. Heseltine

I take the point. The hon. Gentleman is right to suggest that the parallels from North America are not all happy, but I believe nevertheless that they offer lessons which we should learn. They have failed principally, I think, in not malting clear to the motorist that, if he wants freedom, there will have to be mechanisms by which he pays for it. The most efficient way of dealing with the question at the moment is by parking costs, though I have no doubt that other methods will come.

The present attitude of saying to the motorists that they shall all go by bus is no better than spitting at the wind. They will not go by bus, because the buses do not go where they want to go, because they have to wait in queues, and so on. Until the day of the computer-controlled mini-bus—it is on the drawing board, and I have seen a working prototype in America—we must deal with the problem as it exists, and we must help people to live with the motor car before it swamps us.

Those are the priorities. Let us concentrate resources on planning and developing the infrastructure and on allowing, within that framework, the greatest degree of local autonomy and freedom we possibly can, encouraging various developments for the private car through off-street garaging and so on, and at the same time making proper provision for public transport. Let us not spend public money in trying to acquire ownership. The priorities demand expenditure on the infrastructure, which is far more important; it will create a far more effective growth factor in these outlying regions than any other apparently simple or quick expedient that one can imagine.

Once one sets up transport systems controlled by the State, one finds financial directives given which are dishonest and politically motivated, and these bring their inevitable penalty in bankruptcy. That is my view. I have given if often in the past, and I do not expect it to be accepted tonight any more than it has been hitherto.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I remind the House that this is the second of 25 debates which are to take place during the night. I have appealed for reasonably brief speeches.

7.7 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. Bob Brown)

I join other hon. Members in paying tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Bebington (Mr. Brooks) for raising this important subject and for his excellent discourse in so doing.

I take, first, the Merseyside Area Land Use and Transportation Study. I can best sum up the value of the study by quoting from paragraph 49 of the report itself: The recommended Land Use and Transportation Policy Plan provides a solid foundation for the development of Merseyside over the coming years. It offers people a wide choice of housing locations, and employers a wide range of new sites for commercial and industrial development. The proposed transportation system will enable people to choose how they wish to travel throughout the day; though because of competing claims on the limited resources available for redevelopment it may be another ten years before this benefit is fully felt. Finally, but of paramount importance to proposals reaching twenty-five years into the future, the transportation system is suited to both the higher and lower rates of growth in population and can be readily adapted to meet the more foreseeable variations in the development of land uses". The detailed transportation analysis was concentrated on two systems: (a) a highway and public transport system catering for what is described as the "choice" use of cars; (b) a system providing for uncongested movement of traffic during off-peak periods, with a public transport system capable of catering for additional work journeys in the peak hours resulting from the necessary restraint on car trips, particularly to the centre of Liverpool.

Both the "choice" and the "restrained" systems have functional standards—that is, common criteria, the most important of which are: (a) that parking charges will be sufficient to meet the cost of providing the spaces; (b) that bus and rail services will be integrated, with through booking facilities, and that break-even fares will be charged; (c) that sufficient highways will be provided to cater for the uncongested movement of traffic.

The cost of the "choice" system —is estimated at £311 million, and the cost of the "restrained" system at £281 million, in each case excluding the cost of parking provision, that is, a difference of £30 million. These figures are in excess of what the Ministry provided for as the probable availability of funds up to 1991, which was £250 million. This is in no sense a commitment, but was given to ensure a realistic financial discipline for the study. It is evident that the cost of the restrained system is at the very limit of the Ministry's range, and it cannot be assumed that the extra cost of the choice system could be met by the projection year of 1991.

The essential feature of both systems is an integrated public transport system, whereby rail and bus services fulfil the roles which each can do best, and complement each other, with provision for car-rail interchanges, bus feeder services and so on.

The difference between the systems lies on the roads side. In the restrained system, travel by road in the outer areas would be unrestricted, but there would have to be some restrictions on car use in the city centre. In the choice system, which calls for extra road investment, there would be no brakes on the journey to work, even into the city centre. On the other hand, public transport services would be run on a break-even basis, and parking charges would be geared to the level of meeting the cost of providing for the parking space. While both systems would require basically the same network of new construction, the choice system would allow 39 per cent. of work journeys to the city centre to be made by car; the restraint system would allow only 17 per cent.

Whether Merseyside should go for the one system or the other is primarily a matter for Merseyside itself. The steering committee has asked its member local authorities and other bodies for comments on the report. Implementation is a matter for individual authorities—notably the passenger transport executive, B.R.B. and the highway authorities, which will, of course, want to take into account the money which the Ministry declares from time to time can be expected for investment.

The next point which my hon. Friend mentioned is the future plans for the mix between public and private transport. Over the 20 years before us, we can see one characteristic common to both systems—that from now to the late 'seventies—there will certainly be some need for restraint of private car travel, while, of course, a massive investment programme is in its first stages of development. But there is this advantage, that the options are kept open for as long as possible. Room will be provided for experimenting with the public transport system and for refining the schemes according to how the governing factors develop—population movement, industrial change, the pace of general growth, and so on.

Only after that—say seven to 10 years hence—will policy decisions on the remaining stages of the programme be required. A definite choice between restrained and unrestrained car use is not, in the Ministry's view, one which need or should be made now. The longer term emphasis will be governed by actual fund availability and the extent to which the underlying planning assumptions are realised in practice. There will be a continuing need for a monitoring organisation which will refine and carry forward the implications of the study as time goes on.

A number of hon. Members from Merseyside have mentioned the Liverpool Loop and railway electrification. The main recommendations in the rail report are detailed on page 123 of the Merseyside Area Land Use and Transportation Study. They are the Burrowing Junction at Hamilton Square, authorised by Parliament in 1968 at a cost of £750,000, the Terminal Loop, also authorised in 1968, at a cost of about £5 million, and the Exchange-Central link, to cost about £3 million.

These are modern types of urban rail development, aimed at maximum scope for travel to key points in the city centre, and at through journeys and the convenience of major interchange. In the report, the economic justification shows these developments to be a more profitable investment in terms of the cost-benefit ratio than the alternative scheme, known as the Horseshoe. Refined economic checks on the case made in the Report for the former have borne out this preference.

The cost of the whole rail package which it embraces is about £12 million, including station improvements and the electrification of the Hooton and Garston lines, at £500,000 each, as compared with over £16 million for the Horseshoe package. The completion year for the last major element in the earlier package I mentioned, the Exchange-Central Link, is 1975 and the Hooton and Garston electrification would take place towards the end of the construction period up to that date. Together with this go minor supporting schemes costing about £1 million in all—miscellaneous station facelifts, park-and-ride interchanges and so on. This also is a job for the Passenger Transport Executive to work out in detail.

My Ministry's attitude to these problems is that the Terminal Loop and associated works promise to create a long-lasting rail mesh for local Merseyside travel, especially the journey to work, which, integrated with a rational bus system, should ensure good public passenger transport on Merseyside for the rest of the century. Approved major rail projects will be considered for infrastructure grants under Section 56 of the 1968 Transport Act, at a rate of up to 75 per cent., and minor projects, that is, notably, the car-rail interchanges, will rank at 50 per cent.

Several hon. Members have mentioned Speke Airport, which is a matter for the President of the Board of Trade, and the Dee Estuary barrage, which is a question for the Ministry of Housing and Local Government.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bebington posed a number of questions to which he said that he did not expect answers this evening, but which he thought should be posed. There were some good questions among them. He asked whether it was sensible to spend more money on new roads for commuters to use. Would it not be more sensible, he wondered, to encourage them to use public transport. I could not agree more, but we must underline the word "encourage". They are, after all, free agents, and the one thing that we cannot do is dictate to people how they shall get to work.

My hon. Friend said that, if we build more roads, we encourage more vehicles. This is an arguable point, but, clearly, there comes a time when we are faced with the prospect that, if we do not, in certain urban areas, build bigger and better roads, everything will grind to a halt. This is a chicken and egg situation. My hon. Friend mentioned parking, asking where it would be, how much should be charged and how much would be a subsidy from the local authority. This, also, is an issue for Merseyside local authorities.

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's comments about the success of the British Railways Board's Inter-City service. I forget how he described it, but it was a fine description of what I believe every hon. Member would conceive to be a very fine service.

The need for an efficient, reliable and comfortable passenger transport system has been the theme underlying the debate. We will certainly not encourage commuters to leave their cars at home and travel by public transport if, for example, buses are old-fashioned with open platforms and inefficient heating.

The hon. Member for North Fylde (Mr. Clegg) spoke at length about the motorway link from Preston to the Fylde coast; what is commonly described as the Preston northern bypass. I assure him that his remarks will be studied by my Department. He will not expect me to give a detailed reply tonight, and I will write to him on the subject.

My hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Dan Jones) made three important points. First, he referred to the Calder Valley road, and, secondly, to the Bury bypass. These are both local projects near and dear to his heart. While he will not expect me to comment in detail on them tonight, I promise to write to him, having looked into the matter with up-to-date information.

The Calder Valley road project has been widely discussed for some time. I do not have knowledge of the Bury bypass project, but I will look into the matter and let my hon. Friend know precisely whether there are any plans and, if there are, whether they are in or out of the programme.

My hon. Friend dealt, thirdly, with the need for efficient railway services from North-East Lancashire to the North-East coast ports pending our possible entry into the Common Market. He suggested that a modern signalling system should be installed. I do not know how far we have got with this matter and whether there is a modern signalling system on this stretch of track. This aspect really comes within the province of my colleague, the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Mr. Murray), who will, no doubt. contact my hon. Friend on this subject.

My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris) spoke of the fares issue in the Manchester area. He will appreciate that this is a matter for the P.T.E. and the P.T.A. The traffic commissioners will be hearing this issue and, in view of the appellate position of my right hon. Friend in this matter, it would be unwise of me to comment on the subject further.

My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Toxteth (Mr. Crawshaw) gave us some credit for having made an impact on the motorway programme, and I was grateful for his remarks. As for Liverpool being 18 miles from the nearest motorway, hon. Members representing Liverpool constituencies are bound to say that it seems a paradox that the greatest exporting port of the nation should be so far away from a motorway development. All that I can pray in aid on this subject is that it is a question of priority from a nationwide point of view. Over and above, of course, it is a question how we should develop the motorway network.

The hon. Member for Tavistock (Mr. Michael Heseltine) grins at that remark, but he knows that in that part of the country the motorway network is pro- ceeding extremely well. Indeed, the M62 is slightly ahead of schedule.

Mr. Michael Heseltine

The hon. Gentleman is no doubt aware that his Department is building roads under the Conservative's plan for the first 1,000 miles of motorways. However, it will be the people of the North-West who will have to drive along priorities rather than along roads after 1972.

Mr. Brown

I will be dealing with the hon. Gentleman's speech. The points that he made were less important than those made by my hon. Friends, whose comments I am dealing with first.

My hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens (Mr. Spriggs) spoke of the shortage of staff in the St. Helens transport undertaking. I am sure that every hon. Member who has a transport undertaking in his constituency could make the same case. This matter concerns us all—I wish that it were confined to the North-West —because it is a widespread problem which cannot be solved overnight. It is particularly applicable in the heavily populated and sometimes more prosperous areas.

I assure my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens that my Department is always ready to discuss this problem with anybody who can suggest ways of alleviating it. Indeed, we would be delighted to hear suggestions for solving staff shortages of this kind. We are always ready to discuss matters of this nature with the Municipal Passenger Transport Association and we have already discussed issues of this type with the Association.

The hon. Member for Tavistock adopted, to say the least, an attitude of base hypocrisy when he talked in terms of the loss in the Manchester P.T.A. area rising to £½1 million after nine months. He knows well enough that the 11 undertakings in the area were under the management and control of the former councils there until 1st November of last year. The executive has, therefore, had less than three months in which to carry out the rationalisation programme—to achieve the necessary economies, and so on—which means that for the hon. Gentleman to suggest that there has been an increase in the loss to £½1, million as a result of the Transport Act, 1968, is blatant hypocrisy.

Mr. Michael Heseltine rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. I remind the House that interventions prolong speeches. We have still 23 debates ahead.

Mr. Heseltine

I did not say that that had occurred as a result of that Act, but that part of it could be attributed to it. I would be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would explain the projected flow of advantage that we can expect from this rationalisation in the forthcoming year.

Mr. Brown

Hon. Members will put their own interpretation on the hon. Gentleman's remarks.

Mr. Heseltine

Answer my question.

Mr. Brown

I suggest that what he said was what I said he said.

The hon. Member for Tavistock went on, still tongue in cheek, to speak of the Transport (London) Act, which transferred deficits from the London country services to the N.B.C. and, he said, to the people of the North-West; in other words, that the people of Merseyside and Manchester would have to pay for the losses made in London. That is simply not true.

Mr. Heseltine

It is.

Mr. Brown

If the hon. Gentleman will contain himself and listen, I will explain.

The financial target of the N.B.C. was agreed with the N.B.C. It is broadly comparable with the former profits of the companies calculated collectively. In other words, the target was agreed after taking into account all the losses of the London country bus services. The target was less because of these losses and this sum is not being carried on the backs of the other companies.

I remind the hon. Gentleman that prior to the Transport (London) Act the taxpayers of the nation generally had for many years carried the losses of London Transport. This Act places the responsibility for the transport services of London on the shoulders of the people who live in the area, where it should have been for generations.

Mr. Heseltine

May I ask one question?

Mr. Brown

I think that in fairness I should not give way again. I have been generous in giving way to interventions.

The Transport Act, 1968, provided for substantial assistance to companies in meeting the cost of bus operations. There is also the fuel duty rebate. Bus operators pay only 2s. per gallon duty against 2s. 9d. paid in 1964, when hon. Members opposite were in power. In spite of the fact that they holler so much about the increases in fuel duties, it is worth quoting those figures. There is the grant of 25 per cent. paid on new buses which companies buy provided that they conform to standard specifications. Infrastructure grants will also be available to assist in building bus stations.

Because of your request that we should be brief, Mr. Speaker, I refrain from going into many other policy points which the Government have introduced in the Transport Act and other Measures which are an attempt to salvage public passenger transport for the future.