HC Deb 16 January 1975 vol 884 cc671-3
Q1. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Prime Minister if he is satisfied with the co-ordination between the Departments of the Environment, the Scottish Office, and Industry, in relation to the implementation of the Government's policies for the improvement of, and encouragement of the use of, public transport.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Hamilton

Is my right hon. Friend aware—I am sure that he is—of the increasing public anxiety to protect the environment and, more important, to intensify the urge to save energy? Does he appreciate that in both cases it is imperative that the Government pursue much more vigorous policies to divert traffic, both freight and passenger, from the private to the public system of transport? Is my right hon. Friend aware that in Scotland, where there is North Sea oil, it is important to invest more in the railway system so as to ensure that the heavy traffic gets on to the rails rather than the roads? Further, does he agree that we should increase the provision of passenger public transport rather than use energy wastefully in the private car?

The Prime Minister

Yes. It is the Government's policy to make the move from road to rail as far as possible in respect of passengers and freight. My hon. Friend will know that as a result of the legislation passed in the previous Session my right hon. Friend has directed the Railways Board to operate a full service as against the cuts that were in prospect. The claim for compensation for operating the passenger system in 1975 will amount to £341 million. For buses, the Government are contributing about £60 million a year in support, mainly through the new bus grant and rebate of fuel duty.

Mr. Robert Cooke

Will the right hon. Gentleman do his best to wake up the Post Office, ask it to get on with its postal bus experiment and perhaps widen its scope? The Post Office can do a fine job for public transport in rural areas.

The Prime Minister

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. There has been a useful experiment over the past year or two, particularly in certain rural areas such as Cumberland. I shall draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend the point that has been made by the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Cooke).

Mr. Grimond

May I press the Prime Minister again to look into the effect of the increased taxation of petrol and oil upon transport of all sorts in rural areas? Following upon the question raised by the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Cooke), will the right hon. Gentleman do his best to encourage the Post Office to use joint services along with the transport services? It is already doing so in rural areas, and this can be greatly extended.

The Prime Minister

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman as I agreed with the hon. Member for Bristol, West, that this matter should be considered not merely in the Post Office sense. The taxation of petrol must operate with some degree of harshness in the more scattered areas where mileage is essential and not just a luxury. It is right to conserve energy, and the House accepted the necessity of our taxation proposals. The right hon. Gentleman will know that the Government are considering different means of applying our proposals so as to see whether we can in some way temper the harsh effects to which he has drawn attention.

Mr. Lipton

Is it not difficult to talk about encouraging the use of public transport when we have inherited from the previous administration a car park in New Palace Yard costing £1 million and bringing more and more traffic into the centre of London?

The Prime Minister

I do not know whether it brings more traffic in. All hon. Members are anxious to come to the House on all possible occasions. Whether they park there or next door, the traffic is not increased. Most hon. Members have formed their views on the cost-benefit analysis, ex post facto, of that particular proposal, which was put through on a Friday afternoon when no one was looking.