HC Deb 13 April 1976 vol 909 cc1143-60
Mr. Speaker

Mr. Shore—transport policy statement.

Mr. Walter Johnson

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I understand that the policy review document has been in the hands of the Press for the last 36 hours but has not been available to hon. Members, which is grossly discourteous. Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment postpone his statement until we have had a chance to look at the document, which I understand will be available at 4 o'clock this afternoon?

Mr. Speaker

That is not a point of order for me. It is a matter for the Government Front Bench.

Mr. Burden

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it not a ridiculous situation that members of the Press have this morning been telephoning hon. Members asking for comments on the document and that, when we have replied that we have not yet seen the statement, they have offered to give us particulars?

Mr. Speaker

There is nothing new in that, but I hope that those responsible have heard the exchanges in the House.

Mr. Tebbit

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. With great respect, surely the fact that documents of this kind are placed in the hands of persons outside the House to read, so that they have an advantage of having read the material before the Minister makes a statement, and the fact that the document has not been given to hon. Members brings this House into contempt, ridicule or disrepute. Therefore, surely it is a matter for you, Mr. Speaker, to rule upon.

Mr. Speaker

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that point, but I do not share the opinion that it brings the House into ridicule. I have too high an opinion of this House to believe that a custom that has gone on for a very long time is necessarily wrong. I am not seeking to defend it, but I know that when I was sitting in another part of the House I was often asked for my views on a document which was about to be published in the afternoon. However, I believe that hon. Members have a right to be given a statement by the Minister and will be able to pursue this matter when they have heard him.

Mr. Spriggs

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Back Benchers in particular look to you for some protection. Since you are the person you are, Mr. Speaker, I believe that we are right to appeal to you for some protection now. For many weeks we have awaited this important document. It now appears that the Secretary of State is to make a statement about the matter this afternoon, and hon. Members who have a direct interest in transport matters—and, indeed, all hon. Members—have not seen the document. In other words, we have seen nothing on which we can base our questions in order to probe the Secretary of State's statement this afternoon. I believe that it is now time for us to call upon you, Speaker, for your protection.

Mr. Peyton

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I suggest that the House is in great difficulty over this matter. There is no challenge to the fact that as a practice the Press receives advance copies of these documents; indeed, that has been the practice for many years. However, on this occasion I understand that the document has been given a very much wider circulation and has been in the hands of almost everybody interested in transport policy. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO."] This constitutes a legion of pressure groups. If that is not so, I hope that the Government will publish a list of those people who have had access to this document before Members of the House of Commons have had such access. It is well known, particularly in these times, that it is an increasing practice for the Press, television and the rest to ask Members of Parliament for their instant reactions to documents of this nature. We are put at a great disadvantage if we are not given a chance to study such documents. Therefore, I believe that there is a good deal in what has been said by hon. Members on both sides of the House.

Mr. Speaker

I have listened with concern to the points put forward by hon. Members on both sides of the House. I regard it as a very serious duty of mine that I am here to guard the privileges of the House. I shall examine the matter—I cannot say any more than that—because I am very sensitive to the trust reposed in me by the House. However, I ask the House to remember that we are dealing with a long-established custom. Therefore, I hope that the House will now be prepared to listen to the statement by the Secretary of State for the Environment.

Mr. loan Evans

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I inform the House that the document in issue is now available in the Vote Office.

Mr. Crouch

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I do not wish to labour this point, but in my experience in this House I have never before been put in a position in which I have been telephoned by a Lobby correspondent asking me to make a statement on television about a forthcoming document and adding that, if I require a briefing, he can give it to me because he has the document and I have not. It is almost a contempt of the House in respect of the position of a Member of Parliament. I know that you know that, Mr. Speaker, but I wish to underline it.

Mr. Gordon Wilson

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. It has been the custom in this House in the last two years for the SNP to be given a copy of a ministerial statement before it is made, except on those occasions where such documents have been restricted to Privy Councillors. On this occasion no such copy has been made available to my party. Will you also examine this matter when you come to look at the points made in this exchange?

Mr. Speaker

That is one of the usual courtesies between the normal channels, but I am quite sure that it has nothing to do with me.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg

Would not this be an ideal matter to be referred to the Select Committee on Procedure, if the right hon. Gentleman the Lord President of the Council honours the promise given by his predecessor to table a motion on this matter before the House rises?

Mr. Speaker

I remember hearing exchanges when my predecessor was in the Chair when a devolution document had been handed to the Press and when hon. Members raised similar points of order. I now call Mr. Shore to make the statement.

The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Peter Shore)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on the review of transport policy.

I have in my hands the document sent to the Press and I shall read the note attached: Not for publication, broadcast or use before 16.00 hrs. on 13th April 1976. We are publishing today a consultation document in two volumes, copies of which are now available in the Vote Office. It contains, I believe, a thorough and balanced—although still incomplete—examination of the major issues arising across the whole field of inland transport affairs. It covers the main modes of transport, both public and private. The document represents the first stage of a comprehensive review—the first of its kind for 10 years. The review represents only the Government's preliminary consideration. Contrary to some assertions that have been made, this is, in fact, a truly consultative document.

It is, I believe, essential that we get our future policy right, for transport touches the interests of every citizen of the country and is of central importance to their daily lives. The next stage is, therefore, to consult a wide range of interests, including transport industries and organisations, management and unions, local government and the public. Not until these consultations are concluded will it be possible for the Government to take a firmer view and to reach decisions on the future course of transport policy.

The review was undertaken in order to take a fresh look at the major trends which have emerged during the past 10 years and the problems that have flowed from them. I refer particularly to the growing ownership and use of cars, the decline in the use of public transport, the impact of roads and vehicles on the environment, the energy situation, and the growing calls of transport and other services on public expenditure.

It is now generally accepted that the provision of transport cannot be left solely to market forces. What we have already and must continue to develop is a managed market, but one which takes stronger account of the economic, social and environmental objectives of our time.

These objectives can be summarised as follows: first, we want an efficient transport system—one which gives value for money and makes the best use of skills and resources. Second, in the passenger field, we must provide adequate mobility for the large minority of people who are and will remain without access to a car. In our view, the Government must accept responsibility for maintaining a strong public transport network, though we shall need to be flexible in the means by which it is provided. Third, we must give higher priority to enhancing both the urban and the rural environment in which people live, and protecting them against the ill effects of transport noise, fumes and visual intrusion. Fourth, we must, within the context of these objectives, give the used of transport as much freedom of choice as possible, coupled with improvement of standards.

To achieve these objectives we need a coherent, rigorous and on going analysis of the various transport options that are available. This is essential if we are to establish the right priorities and make sensible decisions on the balance of transport expenditure as between, for example, road and rail, trains and buses, subsidies and investment. In this analysis, taxation—and other Government-imposed costs—and subsidies will have to be considered together if we are to achieve sensible and equitable pricing policies for the different means of transport.

There are many questions which the policy review provokes, but I should like to draw the attention of the House to just a few which seem to me to be of particular importance. First, there is the priority accorded in the document lo the maintenance of adequate bus services: How is this to be done, and what is a reasonable balance between fares and subsidies?

Second, rail. Let me assure the House that I have no bias in favour of either road or rail. Each mode of transport has its advantages and disadvantages, and the public, as well as most of us here in this House, are users of both.

The Government have no plans for railway line closures. Some may prove necessary in the future, but I see no case for substantial—let alone massive—changes in our present rail network. I should certainly like to see more freight moved by rail where this is appropriate, but a massive switch from road to rail or the inland waterways does not, on the evidence available, seem attainable. The document does not propose to cut out passenger subsidies but recognises that open-ended subsidies for passenger services cannot continue. It also takes the view that permanent subsidies for freight, whether by road or rail, are not justified. The more that can be done to reduce costs, obviously, the less it will be necessary to increase fares and charges.

There is also the sensitive question of further restraint on cars in congested urban areas. The document poses the possibilities of greater physical restriction and promises a separate consultative paper on control over private nonresidential parking.

The consultative document concludes by putting forward a proposal for a national transport council which will bring together the transport industries, management and trade unions, local government and consumers, in a new high-level organisation under ministerial chairmanship. The proposed council would not be an executive agency but it would certainly not be a talking shop. It would be an authoritative body, fully capable of assisting the Government in keeping transport objectives under continuing and open review.

Finally, a word about the consultation procedure. I think it would be valuable to have a fairly extensive period of discussion. We shall have to press ahead faster in some areas of policy than in others. In particular, we shall need to reach a view about any changes in the pattern of transport expenditure in time for them to take effect in 1977–78.

I have decided to extend the time for consultation beyond the mid-June deadline proposed in the document, until the end of July. I hope that by then those with a major interest in our transport system will have had an opportunity to send me, or the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Wales, their comments on the document. I hope to arrange for those interests to discuss the review with me or my fellow Ministers, or with the Department.

I hope, too, that it will be possible for this House to have an opportunity of debating transport policy before the summer recess, so that the Government can take full account of the views of the House.

Given the scope and importance of transport policy, discussions and conclusions will inevitably be an ongoing affair. It will be my intention to make a further statement to the House after the Summer Recess.

Mr. Raison

May I first welcome the Secretary of State to his great new office? I am bound to say that he seems to have come in rather at the deep end.

As one who received the consultative document shortly after one o'clock lunch-time today, I suppose that I can reiterate the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton). Our objection is not that the Press should have received advance copies, because that is the normal custom, but that outside bodies should have received copies of it before Parliament received them.

We thank the Secretary of State for extending the period of consultation until the end of July, but I suggest that the House should debate this document well before that time.

I congratulate the previous Secretary of State on the literacy of the document and, perhaps more important, on the fact that a good deal in the document is realistic—for example, concerning public expenditure and in abandoning the biased view of rail against road taken in both the 1974 Labour Party manifestos.

Is the Secretary of State aware that we note with considerable interest the views that it is a pipe dream to think of large-scale transfer of freight from road to rail, that rail freight must pay its way in due course, and that the Government have no option but to check the increase in concessionary fares?

Is the Secretary of State aware that we share the view that the railways need to know where they stand, but will he tell us what scale of productivity improvements he has in mind and whether the capital investment proposals are compatible with the present size of the network? Will the Secretary of State accept, further, that we need a much more detailed breadown of rail costs, by both service and track, than we have been given in the consultation document? Is he aware that we on our side doubt the wisdom of piling up additional costs on to road haulage, as it will mean both higher prices in the shops and less competitive exports?

Is the Secretary of State aware that we accept the great concern expressed in the document for those who have no car but consider that changes in the licensing system could play a significant part in remedying this, especially in rural areas? Is he aware that we note with regret the reiterated call for more public ownership in road transport? But I also note with interest the revealing comment, in paragraph 8.14 of Volume 1 of the consultation document "Transport Policy", that In the present national economic situation, however, the upheaval of a major reorganisation in a service so important to the efficiency of industry would not be appropriate. When would it be appropriate? When will efficiency not matter?

Mr. Shore

In reply to the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison), I shall of course look further into the general complaint that has been made about the availability of documents to outside bodies. My own view consistently has been to put the interests of this House first, and that is what I shall always seek to do.

On the hon. Gentleman's second point about the extension of the consultation period to the end of July, that seemed to me to be necessary, and it would be helpful, I believe, if my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House agrees, for us to have a debate before the end of the consultation period or whenever both sides of the House found it convenient to arrange one.

As for the specific matters which the hon. Gentleman itemised, including those that he welcomed, all that I can say is that we are dealing with a document which inevitably and deliberately is a consultative document. Most of the chapters in it close with certain questions which are put arising out of the analysis in the chapters concerned. Therefore, there is considerable scope for discussion which must now take place, not only with the British Railways Board, which will cover such matters as any expected productivity improvements, the extent to which it is possible to transfer freight from road to rail, and many other matters.

As for the hon. Gentleman's point about the charges on road hauliers, it is a generally accepted view that users of roads should pay at least the costs which they inflict upon the transport system, and part of the evidence of the document is that there are classes of heavy vehicles which are not doing that at present.

Mr. Leslie Huckfield

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his new post. Is he aware that this is possibly the most detailed and best researched consultative document ever to be produced by any Government—[HON. MEMBERS: "How do you know?"] I am prepared to tell the House if you wish, Mr. Speaker, but if I do I shall immediately be ruled out of order—[HON. MEMBERS: "Have you seen it? "] Is my right hon. Friend aware, further, that I was the chairman of an independent transport study commission which contributed a very well documented piece of research which I understand forms the basis of some of the conclusions of this document? Is he aware, also, that the test by which this document will be judged is the success it may have in carrying out the Labour Party's transport policy, and that is a co-ordination and integration of all transport services? Is my right hon. Friend not convinced that he needs a much stronger co-ordinating and integrating central agency, which was recommended both by the TUC and by my own Socialist Commentary working group report?

Mr. Shore

I am sure that the House will agree when it has studied this document that it deserves the adjectives which my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Huckfield) suggested—that is to say, it is a detailed document and one which has been very well researched. I also willingly pay tribute to the very good study which was made during our period in opposition by Socialist Commentary on transport questions with which my hon. Friend was personally connected.

On the major question of the extent to which we need a co-ordinating agency and the kind of functions that it would have, the argument in the document requires serious consideration because the major point made in the document is that it would be wrong to transfer to a non-elected body like an agency sensitive and major decisions affecting transport policy at both national and local levels. Although I am not unwilling to receive submissions on the matter, I believe that these are quite powerful arguments.

Mr. Stephen Ross

I welcome the right hon. Gentleman to his new appointment. Does he appreciate that for some of us lesser mortals it is difficult to comment on a document that we, as opposed to others, have not seen? But is he aware that it is not as comprehensive—that is my understanding from telephone calls that I have received—as many of us would have liked and that, for instance, I gather that coastal shipping and cycling are dealt with in a somewhat summary manner?

Although I welcome the extension of the time limit, does not the right hon. Gentleman think that six months would have been a more appropriate period and is that not the period of time which applied to the Airports Authority Bill last autumn?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware, as his predecessor certainly was, of the differing opinions about traffic forecasting records, and is he prepared to set up an independent body, possibly a Select Committee of this House, to look at this subject?

Mr. Shore

It is up to the House itself to decide whether a Select Committee is required. I think that the hon. Gentleman will find mat the second of the two documents deals specifically with the question that he raised.

As for the document not being as comprehensive as he would have liked, I agree that it says a little but not a great deal about coastal shipping and that perhaps there is not as much about cycling as hon. Members who come to the House on cycles would wish to see. But all these questions and others which are not properly dealt with in the document are entirely open for people to raise in the consultation that we envisage.

I agree that six months is not a very long time. But what we envisage is, first, a period of consultation up to the recess. We expect that many matters will be the subject of continuing and ongoing consultation and debate.

Mr. Cledwyn Hughes

In addition to consulting the Secretary of State for Wales on the document, does my right hon. Friend agree that consultation in Wales with local authorities, trade unions and other interests should be channelled through my right hon. and learned Friend and the Welsh Office in view of the different nature of the transport problem in Wales?

Mr. Shore

Yes, of course. There are differences in Wales. However, I can assure my right hon. Friend that in preparing the document we have had lengthy consultations with the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Wales and, of course, it has their approval.

Mr. Donald Stewart

May I wish the right hon. Gentleman well in his new post and welcome his Department's first attempt at an integrated transport policy? Will he bear in mind that in Scotland at any rate we welcome the assurance that there will be no rail closures, and will he repel the pressure from road lobbies which would prevent the full use of our rail network? Does he accept that transport is not a consumer need which can be cut back in terms of the cash shortage, because on many occasions results are produced which are irreversible?

Mr. Shore

Certainly I accept that transport is responsive to the general needs of the economy, especially of industry and of people. But we cannot and must not ignore the financial restraints within which any transport policy has to operate at present and for some time ahead. Therefore, we have to consider carefully what are the best possible modes of transport to be used.

Mr. Wigley

I welcome the right hon. Gentleman's emphasis on co-ordination. However, may I take up the point made by the right hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes)? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in paragraph 12.17 of the paper it is said that co-ordination in Wales will be undertaken by the Assembly? In light of the fact that coordination is the basis for a national transport council, will that council cover Wales as well or will the co-ordination work be undertaken by the directly-elected Assemblies in Wales and Scotland?

Mr. Shore

These are proposals. I would have thought perhaps a final answer to the hon. Gentleman's question will lie in the firming-up of our views about the nature and extent of devolution in Wales and Scotland. But I believe that it is perfectly possible for many transport decisions to come within the purview and consideration of the Welsh Assembly while retaining, as it were, a United Kingdom view of the total needs of our Island.

Mr. Palmer

My right hon. Friend has said that the Government have no plans for rail closures, a statement which will be noted with great interest in South-West England, but has British Rail any proposals for closures? It is the confusion between the Government's intentions and those of British Rail that has given rise to much resentment in the past.

Mr. Shore

I said that we had no plans for rail closures. The proposals of the British Railways Board, particularly under its new management, are not matters about which I can answer now, but I will, of course, consult the chairman.

Mr. Crouch

Will the right hon. Gentleman make himself or his Department available to representations from railway travellers' associations and from commuters, of whom there are several thousand in my constituency? I am particularly concerned at paragraph 72 of Volume 1 of the document which suggests that within five years from now subsidies for commuters travelling from outer suburban areas will be removed altogether. In my constituency today some commuters pay over £500 a year to get to and from their work and they are near to breaking point. They simply cannot find more money in the family "kitty". Will he bear that in mind?

Mr. Shore

I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman is making, but we have to balance the various claims for subsidies for various parts of our public transport system. The House would wish to consider very carefully the relevant chapters in the document before coming to a view as to the claims to which we should give the greatest response. I shall certainly be willing to receive representations from travellers' associations about which the hon. Gentleman spoke.

Mr. Spriggs

Whilst congratulating my right hon. Friend on achieving the high office which he holds today, may I ask him why the document was not made available to Members of the House of Commons at the same time as the Press received it? Further, what part have consultations with the trade unions played in the framing of this consultative document?

Mr. Shore

On my hon. Friend's second point—consultation with the trade unions—there has been a meeting with the Transport Industries Committee of the Trades Union Congress and there have been continuing negotiations with different transport unions. But I would certainly accept that this is not what he, and I, would understand by consultation in the sense that I know my hon. Friend would wish to see. But we now envisage consultations taking place, and doing so in a genuine and serious way.

On my hon. Friend's first point, may I say again that I personally insisted that the document should be made available to the House at half-past three, at the very moment that I stood up, which I understand has long been the practice in this House. I have initiated no new procedures as far as the Press is concerned except to insist that the Press embargo should operate from four o'clock.

Mr. Fry

Does the Secretary of State realise that perhaps some of the most controversial proposals in the document are those relating to the charging and control of private car parks? Is he further aware that this is likely to cause more problems than it solves unless sufficient regard is paid to the very considerable needs of the many commercial undertakings and the need for—and this I must stress—a very real improvement in public transport in most urban areas?

Mr. Shore

I do not know how far the hon. Gentleman's view will be shared widely in the House. He will want to consult the second volume of the consultative document before he comes to any clear views on it, but I would have thought myself that there was an overwhelming case, on congestion-cost grounds, for charging those who have access to private car parks, just as we have charging in our streets and elsewhere where public facilities are in use.

Mr. Walter Johnson

Is not my right hon. Friend aware that what the railway unions are complaining about is that they were not properly consulted in the drawing-up of this document? I am pleased to hear my right hon. Friend say this afternoon that he really believes in consultation, rather in than just drawing people together and telling them what has been decided. I am very pleased to have this assurance and I hope that it will be completely fulfilled.

Mr. Shore

I certainly give that assurance. I do believe in consultation just as strongly as I believe in being courteous to the House.

Mr. Warren

The Secretary of State has offered us consultation. Is he not aware that a great deal of action is required immediately? What resources is he prepared to transfer now to help those pensioners who cannot afford even subsidised fares. Action is required now, not in three or six months' time.

Mr. Shore

The hon. Gentleman will know very well—and if he does not he will find some of the answers in the document—that very substantial sums are being made available in the form of concessionary fares. That has been one of the greatest increases in transport public expenditure generally in the last few years. There are indications that we wish to look further into this whole question. We have to take account of the totals within which we are working.

Mrs. Dunwoody

Would the Secretary of State accept that although it is exceedingly difficult to comment now on all the proposals, even a cursory glance shows that there are many railway men who would totally reject the proposals on implementation, because they are sick and tired of people saying there are to be no more closures and then, by starving the railways of sufficient investment, making closures absolutely essential?

Mr. Shore

I assure my hon. Friend that I intend to discuss all these matters not only with the railway unions but with the British Railways Board and I shall certainly report to the House on the outcome of those discussions.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

Is not the public going to be confused by the torrent of paper pouring from the Stationery Office? If mere consultation is to be the object of a document, would it not be much better when a Department issues such a consultative document to maintain the habit of making it a Green Paper, so that the status of the document is known, instead of having these documents in this confusing array of colours in which they now appear?

Mr. Shore

I think I agree with the hon. Gentleman, but I notice that on its front page this is called "A Consultation Document".

Mr. Bagier

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the basis of present thinking on transport is whether it is to be on commercial or a service criteria? Would not he agree that this is one of the basic fundamental questions which the Government have to consider? If this document is the basis of Government thinking, does it not seem to confirm the worst fears—that commuters will be expected to bear the full weight of charges within the next five years? Would not that also have a disastrous effect on long-distance commuters, long-distance travellers, and those who use the railway as a necessity?

Mr. Shore

I do not think I can agree with my hon. Friend that the fundamental question is whether to treat transport on a commercial or on a service basis. It is a good deal more complicated than that, but clearly we have social objectives which we must seek to achieve in the context of transport policy. A great deal of the document is devoted to a discussion of precisely that question.

Mr. George Younger

While we cannot comment fully on the document because we were privileged to see it only just before the statement, could the Secretary of State give an assurance that the document is at least better than his statement, which is the biggest collection of platitudes we have heard for a very long time? Did it or did it not mean that there are to be no further rail closures? If so, is it accepted that if we are to have a rail network it has to cover the whole of the country or it is not worth having? Secondly, does it commit us to having a relaxation of the licensing rules as regards rural buses, where considerable hardship is already being caused to those who cannot afford to travel because of the increased fares?

Mr. Shore

There have been a number of statements on the question of rural buses and, indeed, rural transport over the last few weeks. I am not prepared at this stage to go further than what I said in the statement and in answer to other questions about the railways and the network involved.

Regarding the hon. Gentleman's comments on the statement, I have a feeling that they related not so much to the content and quality of the statement as to the extraordinary mood which infused the House just before I rose to make the statement.

Mr. Prescott

I trust that my right hon. Friend will give due recognition to the fact that the failure to achieve a policy of integration has been due to the lack not of analysis, but of political courage. That can be seen if we look carefully at the effects of social costs, tax advantages and the strict interpretation of profitability, which has worked to the disadvantage of the State sector compared with the private sector. I trust that my right hon. Friend will look at the recommendations of the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries, particularly regarding Freightliners and shipping. The Select Committee recommends the separation of the shipping industry from British Rail management.

Mr. Shore

I shall certainly consider what my hon. Friend said about shipping and the Select Committee's recommendation. I make the more general point that, whatever may have been said in the past about political courage in this area, I have no doubt that it is important to get the analysis as right as we can before we decide on the programme of action required.

Mr. Wyn Roberts

During the period of consultation and before the Government come to a firm decision, what guidance will the Minister give to the bus and rail organisations? Is he aware that, although there may be no cuts planned in the rail network, cuts in rail and bus services are going on and are affecting rural areas very badly at this time?

Mr. Shore

I do not accept that. Decisions have been taken about budgetary expenditure for 1976–77. What I shall be talking about with others is where there is more freedom of manoeuvre, which is the decision which affects 1977–78 and beyond.

Mr. Whitehead

Does my right hon. Friend accept that many of us wish to join in the congratulations to him with a warmer welcome than the document, which he has inherited, probably merits? Does he further accept that, looking at the figures in the document concerning the freeze on investment and the scaling down of subsidies to which reference has been made, it will be unrealistic to adhere to those figures and to talk of an 11,000-route-mile network in the mid-1980s?

Mr. Shore

I do not necessarily accept the dismal conclusions drawn by my hon. Friend from projected figures which have appeared in the Public Expenditure White Paper. Many factors are involved, including the tremendous part that improvements in efficiency and productivity can play in the overall financial performance of the railway industry.

Mr. Body rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am afraid that this must be the last question on the statement.

Mr. Body

Reverting to the question put by my right hon. Friend, if it be true that certain outside organisations were privileged by having a copy of this document before the House received it, will the right hon. Gentleman specify the criteria which he adopted in deciding who should and who should not be so favoured?

Secondly, again on a matter of another kind of privilege, while all rural areas will welcome what is said in page 36 about experimental transport schemes for rural areas, will he explain how he will favour certain rural areas as opposed to others?

Mr. Shore

I am informed that a steering committee will be looking at the question to help decide which would be the more appropriate areas in which to initiate experiments. I will consider what the hon. Gentleman said in making his first point.

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