HC Deb 11 June 1975 vol 893 cc393-4
12. Mr. Michael Roberts

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether his plans for the improvement of public transport are based on the assumption of an increasing or decreasing incidence of car ownership.

Mr. Carmichael

The latest departmental forecasts indicate that car ownership will continue to increase.

Mr. Roberts

As the Road Research Laboratory forecasts a greater road usage per car and an increase of 20 per cent. in the number of cars during the next five years, will the Minister assure the House that better roads will form a major part of any future transport plans?

Mr. Carmichael

The hon. Gentleman should be aware of the basis on which the road programme takes account of the national economic situation. Roads are provided when it is believed that the traffic which will be generated over the next 15 years will necessitate roads of a particular standard.

Mr. Snape

If my hon. Friend's Department has a desire to improve public transport, may I inform him that it is the opinion of many Labour back benchers that it has a strange way of showing it? Is he aware that, for example, the West Midlands County Council regards his Department's instructions to increase bus fares as not only being unlikely to improve public transport, but as contradicting the election pledges on which Labour county councillors were elected?

Mr. Carmichael

Without going into the question of subsidies for public transport at the fares level, my hon. Friend should be aware of the distinct change in the percentage spent by the Government on public transport compared with roads over the last two or three years.

Mr. Fox

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that there is general scepticism about the acceptance by his Department of these projected traffic figures, in view of the massive increase in fuel prices and other burdens on the motorist? Will he confirm that future policies of his Department will not be based on figures which are suspect in many quarters?

Mr. Carmichael

All projections must be continually revised as new facts come forward. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has read the paper from the Transport and Road Research Laboratory and the Director-General of Highways' assessment of it, which is a slightly lower level of expansion than the TRRL suggested. The figures are the best which can be got from the available data, but, because we are dealing with a volatile subject, we must and will continue to revise them.

Mr. Leslie Huckfield

Does my hon. Friend recognise that many local authorities have been placed in considerable difficulties, as my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) said, because last year they were encouraged to proceed with fairly ambitious transport policy and programme schemes and now they have been told that everything must be viable? Does he recognise that the real key to successful public transport planning in future lies in the calculation of a proper planning price for energy use so that we shall know how much car use will cost in 10 years?

Mr. Carmichael

I agree that we must get our figures as clear as possible. On the question of car use and cost, one point which came out clearly in the report was that individual personal transport can take a large increase in expenditure before people are willing to forgo it. One way of increasing the use of public transport, as well as increasing the cost of private motoring, is to restrain private motoring in certain urban areas.