HC Deb 14 April 1976 vol 909 cc1358-60
6. Mr. Canavan

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he will take steps to improve public transport in Scotland.

Mr. Millan

Possible developments in public transport are dealt with in the consultation document "Transport Policy", the publication of which was announced yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. A statement will be made when consultations have taken place.

Mr. Canavan

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the opposition in Scotland from trade unions and public transport users to the proposal in the transport policy document to phase out transport subsidies, thereby leading to a possible trebling of fares by 1981? Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the harmful effect this would have, particularly on pensioners, other low-income groups and those who live in rural and socially-deprived areas of Scotland?

Mr. Millan

My hon. Friend cannot have read the document carefully if he believes that it contains proposals for phasing out transport subsidies. He is concerned about bus fares and bus services in his own constituency, and one of the Government's main purposes in the document is to look after the interests of people without individual car transport. We are maintaining the subsidies for bus services in Scotland, and last year the Government provided more for bus subsidies in the rate support grant than was actually spent by local authorities.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

Is not the Minister aware that there was a near-unanimous voice of protest in Scotland yesterday after the publication of the consultative document? Did he agree to the proposals and the alternatives set out in the document? What plans has he to meet transport operators and trade unions to discuss its implications?

Mr. Millan

I shall consider the question of meetings. Those who are in favour of the development of the railways against the road system have one point of view, but there are others who put the contrary view. Before the document was published, many wild allegations appeared in the newspapers saying that it would advocate a slashing of the railway services in Scotland. We said that that was not intended, and it is not included in the document. I do not attach overwhelming importance to initial reactions. As people read the document in detail, they will understand the complexities of the problem and the general purposes which the Government have in mind, which are directed towards improving the public transport system in Scotland, on which a large number of our people depend.

Mr. Henderson

Is the Secretary of State in favour of any extension of the rail network in Scotland? Does he see a need to improve communications? Will he consider carefully the proposals put forward by ASLEF for a commuter service in the Aberdeen area?

Mr. Millan

I have seen various proposals. We have recently announced an improvement to the Perth-Inverness railway line because we felt it was justified by additional traffic. Where similar cases can be presented elsewhere, we shall certainly consider them.

Mr. Buchanan

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, because of its geography, Scotland has most to gain from adherence to the policies laid down in successive Labour manifestos for the co-ordination and integration of transport?

Mr. Millan

I agree with my hon. Friend. He will see interesting proposals towards that end in the document we have just published.

Mr. Monro

Does the Secretary of State appreciate that, arising from the statement made yesterday by his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, there could be a conflict between the railway lines that the Government consider could be closed and those that British Rail wants to close? That statement has done nothing to allay the fears of railway men in Scotland. Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that there will be no railway cuts north of the border?

Mr. Millan

Whatever the fears at the moment, they are nothing like the fears which arose under the previous Conservative Government about the Beeching cuts.