§ 11.10 a.m.
§ Mr. Philip Whitehead (Derby, North)
I beg to move,That this House calls on Her Majesty's Government, mindful of the pledges it gave in the election manifestos of 1974, to introduce a co-ordinated policy for inland transport which reflects long-term resources and environmental needs, and which has as its central feature the support of public transport and transference to it of freight, both by road, rail and water, whilst resisting the clamour for false economies in slashing railway and bus services so as to force an increasing dependence on the private car.I begin by indicating a long-standing interest and possible future interest in this subject. The long-standing interest is that, together with my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mr. Johnson), whose connection with the railways is lifelong, I have the honour to represent Derby, a town in the very heart of the railway network, the home of British Railways' Technical Centre and the Locomotive and Carriage and Wagon works.
In addition to this long connection which Derby has with the railways, I have a long-standing personal connection and a closer and more immediate interest in that the National Union of Railwaymen has recently done me the honour of asking to add my name to its list of sponsored Members of Parliament. That matter has not yet been decided. My constituency party, not me, must decide. But there is a link between the Derby Labour Party and the railway unions which goes back to the election of its first Labour Member of Parliament, Richard Bell.
I come from a family which, on one side, has been connected with the railways for more generations than I care to remember—the Midland Railway, the LMS and, for several of my cousins, British Railways. To this day I still live in an area of the Peak District National Park which has tragically lost its railway but is taking the lead in showing how the car must be controlled. Indeed, it is banning motor cars from some parts of the National Park area as part of its small attempt to reach an integrated transport policy.
These facts explain why there may be more than a slight bias towards the rail ways in what I have to say today. But 1686 I am not simply talking about the railways. I am not here to say that everything which today goes by road could or should go by rail or water. I do not wish to put out of jobs those others of my family who are long-distance lorry drivers in the interests of those who are railway clerks and technicians. In any proper integrated transport system there should be a place for both.
Nor am I here on behalf of any guilty middle-class pressure groups enraged that workers now have cars, envious of the growing air traffic between Grimsby and Majorca, and determined to exercise their abdomens on bicycles and their consciences on the railways. That is not the position. I am discussing the need for an integrated transport system. I hope to show later that the real losers from the lack of such a system are the poor who still depend on public transport as much as or more than middle-class environmentalists.
Today we are debating an issue which we all know is under discussion in Whitehall. We came into office in February 1974 with a commitment to open government, to the review of great policy issues, and to seeing that the public and those who ought to be involved in discussions knew about them before the final process of decision making took place. I cannot in all honesty say that is happening in the review of transport policy which is now going on. I shall have some hard words to say to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State and to any others from his large Department who may join him on the Front Bench at a later stage.
I understand that somewhere among the 84 economists in the Department of the Environment—I should like a study of their productivity at some time—a review is going on in the general context of the cuts in public expenditure which have been announced. We know that it is happening.
I think that we should hear, in this first debate for many years in this House on the need for an integrated transport policy, what Government thinking is before the key decisions are taken rather than, as often happens and as happened with Chrysler, only after the decision has been taken. That decision involved us in a constitutional argument whether 1687 the evidence as to how the decision was arrived at could be given to a Select Committee. That is not the way in which we should be proceeding.
As I said, not only is a review going on but a number of studies have been commissioned. I have one from Professor Hall which has not been published, shown to the railway unions or openly discussed. This study, commissioned by the Department of the Environment, advances the extraordinary theory that all the railways should be torn up and replaced by high speed lorry and bus ways. That is not an item in the public debate. It should be, and I propose to bring it into the debate today.
We all know what the Labour Party is supposed to stand for. I am glad to see so many of my hon. Friends here today—not only those concerned with the railway unions. We all know the policy on which we fought the last two elections. The resolution moved at our last annual conference states:This Conference believes that railways and nationalised road transport, together with waterborne transport, have a vital role to play in the provision of an efficient public transport system. It therefore calls on the Government to boost investment in the railways and other publicly-owned transport to enable much needed modernisation and electrification to take place … the Government should introduce proposals for achieving a more satisfactory and efficient publicly-owned and integrated transport sector, in line with the Labour Party October 1974 Manifesto".That manifesto—we are in the business of keeping our manifesto pledges, I hope—stated:The energy crisis has underlined our objectives to move as much traffic as possible from road to rail and to water; and to develop public transport to make us less dependent upon the private car.We gave pledges about further measures which would be introduced to co-ordinate and integrate our transport services; to improve public transport, especially in rural areas; to extend public ownership of road haulage; and to expand the system of free and concessionary fares for old people, the blind and the disabled.
I think that I should recognise an integrated transport policy if I saw one. We do not have one now and I do not see one coming over the horizon. That is the great fear that disturbs me today 1688 more than the pleadings of any particular part of the transport and environmental lobby, or even the loss of men's jobs and livelihoods.
Although the review is ongoing, we seem to be as far away from a proper discussion in this House of an integrated transport policy as before. That does not mean that the Labour Party has not taken it seriously. There was the Socialist Commentary document with an introduction by my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Huckfield), who is here today. There have been innumerable discussions on the formulation of party policy. However, there has been little discussion in the House of what that policy should be. There has been none about a commitment, which is absolutely crucial, to what I might call the four "Es" of the Transport 2,000 manifesto for such a policy: energy conservation, ecological priorities, environmental conservation, and equity in transport provision. Those things, which are not simply dependent on the lorry and the car—those convenience foods of an oil-glutted transport digestive system—are what we should consider today.
The areas to which attention should be drawn are those which followed from that manifesto and were implicit in the manifesto upon which we fought and won the elections in February and October 1974. We should be looking at how to deal with direct taxes on fuel and how to co-ordinate local authorities' structure plans. I have seen some figures today in the Civic Trust News Letter about the Transport Supplementary Grant submissions and how much local authorities are spending or are eligible to spend on integrated transport systems of their own. They are alarming figures. What are we doing about that? What are we doing about urban spending and the urban road programme? Are we reviewing that as stringently as the railways? What are we doing about future railway investment? I shall have a good deal to say about that in view of the fits and starts of recent years.
Have we reviewed the overall motorway and trunk road system as stringently as other forms of transport? Why are we running down rail transport or allowing it to wither on the vine? What are we doing about the full potential of inland shipping? Finally, what are we doing for those who prefer to travel by bicycle 1689 or pedestrian means? What priorities have they been given in the city planning and urban development of the future?
These are all elements of an integrated transport policy. It is as well to spell out that they are important before we look at particular areas of current concern. None of the planning to which I have referred is conspicuous by its presence in either the area in which I live and represent or in other parts of the United Kingdom which I have visited.
My constituency is in the heart of the railway network, yet we are ravaged by lorries cutting through Derby which have nothing to do with our radio or commuter traffic. They are merely going from one place to another and are using the best available means for getting through, irrespective of the danger to the environment. We have a road programme that has encouraged this, filtering the traffic into the urban environment and along the old Inner Ring Road and physically destroying it. These heavy lorries shake the old houses there and in some cases damage them to the extent of making life difficult for the inhabitants.
For the last five or six years we have been struggling with proposals from the Road Construction Unit to smash a new urban motorway through the area, on one of two routes, which divides my constituents because each group, on the principle that if one feeds the crocodile he will eat one last, thinks that the other's houses will be knocked down and blighted and therefore its own may be preserved.
We do not know even today whether this Leeds—Exeter trunk road is necessary. We do not know whether the motorways M64 and M42, which would make it superfluous, will be built, and whether it is to be a priority replacement heavy lorry route or simply an upgraded urban road. We do not know, and yet we are about to have fresh proposals given to us for this road which I am led to believe will be very much like, if not almost exactly similar to, according to leaks from the Road Construction Unit, proposals three or four years ago in a different economic climate.
The Road Construction Unit seems to be able to introduce proposals with all the exuberance and sometimes arrogance of four or five years ago, at a time when 1690 we are talking of swingeing cuts in other areas of transport and even three or four times over where the railways are concerned. That seems to be a curious look at priorities particularly when, in my part of the world, the county is looking at proposals which will put heavy traffic generated by the extractive industries in the north of the county back on the railways and where British Railways can carry commuter traffic through Derby to the industrial estates in South Derby.
I am not saying that all motorways are wrong, or that there are never cases when some trespassing upon the urban environment may be necessary. What I am saying is that we cannot know what is necessary, and must be tolerated, until we have a comparative transport policy, particularly a policy that looks at the main alternatives to the heavy road priority of recent years. These alternatives are the railways, first and foremost, and then the inland waterways, allied as they are to coastal ports, and it is to this that I now turn.
If one looks at the history of the railways in recent years, one has to say that in spite of the optimism at the time of the 1968 Transport Act, which was an attempt to look at the whole transport picture and bring about a realistic transfer of freight traffic from road to rail, it did not achieve its objectives, and therefore has to be looked at today as—
§ Mr. Whitehead
As my hon. Friend says, it has to be looked at as a comparative failure.
That Act intended that British Railways would be given first refusal for the carriage of long distance freight. Now we see that National Carriers Limited and Freightliners Limited are deliberately turning from rail to road, following an increase in British Railways freight charges. The Bristol National Carriers Limited depot is road oriented, and so are the Freightliner terminals at Sheffield and Hull. The Hull-Liverpool Freightliner is entirely trunked by road. All the National Carriers vehicles, intended for short distances only, are now covering very long distances.
1691 I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, whom I congratulate on his appointment, will be able to answer the point about implementing the quantity licensing provisions of the 1968 Act which my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bradley) mentioned to him at Question Time the other day, and he has therefore had notice of that matter.
British Railways are competitive for most loads on long journeys, although I am not suggesting that all loads, even of the suitable bulk types, should be carried by rail. But I am saying that if we look to the future and consider the energy-saving element as a factor of four or more, we see that we are moving into a different situation—of scarce energy resources and the frivolous waste in recent years of fossil fuels—from that which we considered possible in the heady optimism of the 1950s.
§ Mr. Peter Fry (Wellingborough)
In view of what the hon. Gentleman said about saving energy, may I ask whether he is aware of the recent statement by NEDO, which, on a comparative study, shows that the railways use more power than does road transport?
§ Mr. Whitehead
I do not think that is the case. I concede that other forms of transport are equally, and in some cases more, energy-saving, but they have more limited application for what I am discussing. Waterways are more energy-saving, in terms of passenger freight, than are buses, but if one is comparing the carriage of bulk freight by a 700-ton train as against 25, 40 or 50 lorries required to carry the same amount of material, one sees that there is an energy-saving element there. I hope that in future we shall set these costs much more against the direct costs, running at £3,500 million a year or more, that we have to allocate to the road programme, in addition to all the invisible costs that there are in environmental damage, noise, pollution, and so on.
We are not tackling the problems of freight adventurously. I am astonished to discover that although there is some cautious optimism about the expansion of private sidings, we have only about 2,200 of them. France has more than 11,000, whilst Germany, which has today 1692 announced some black news for the railways and to which my hon. Friend will no doubt refer, has a £40 million programme for building sidings. As I recollect the pledges given concomitant with the 1974 Railways Act, we were talking about £5 million in assistance for the development of sidings—an insignificant sum by comparison.
The real central feature of the railways is the extreme difficulty under which they are placed by frequent changes in their advance investment planning. It seemed a few years ago that the tide might have turned. At the time that the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) was Minister of Transport—and Heaven knows I have abused him enough in my time—he eventually accepted the British Railways' strategy for maintaining the rail network at about the present size and improving it and keeping in being the so-called unremunerative passenger services. It looked at that time as though there could be a new dawn for the railways, but almost before the words were out of his mouth the first of the cuts fell. We found that 20 per cent. was taken off the investment forecast within a month.
§ Mr. Whitehead
As my hon. Friend says, that happened within 19 days.
Since then there have been more cuts. Two have been introduced, and if we are to believe what I think the Secretary of State told the railway unions on 22nd December there is another cut in prospect that will freeze railway investment for many years to come at a figure significantly below—at present prices, 1973 prices, or any other comparison—that which British Railways thought they were moving to only two years ago.
This policy of cut-and-come-again, which the Government apply to railway investment, cannot be right. I know that there are those who say that the level of railway investment that the Railways Board has wished to maintain is too high. There are economists who have produced alternative figures, but it is not possible to start an investment programme, when one is thinking in a span of time far beyond the average cycle of Government or the careers of Secretaries of State for the Environment, and then stop it again after six months, alter all the figures, 1693 come back with new forecasts, and then do that again six months later and again six months after that, and still expect a sensible investment policy to be left at the end of the day. We are all to some extent critics of the management policy of British Rail. I am not a 100 per cent. admirer of the Board, but I do not see how it can possibly run a railway properly in these circumstances. Sir Richard Marsh is right to complain when its investment policies are subject to this kind of treatment.
Back in 1973, we were told that there would be "substantially higher investment" in four key areas—Inter-City services, with the introduction of the HST and the APT, the latter made in Derby and likely to revolutionise our railway transport, although it will come into service late; the improvement of the suburban commuter services; improvement of the rail freight and parcels services, rationalising them and seeking more custom; and, finally, increasing investment in track and signals. That was fine, but it has not happened in that kind of way.
The proposals for investment have been altered several times, and the figure, which is now the levelling-out figure from 1976 onwards, is £238 million, whereas we were being given, on more optimistic forecasts even as late as the second cuts announced by the Chancellor in August, figures for 1977 onwards significantly higher than £238 million, which was just the holding figure then allocated for 1976. Now it is supposed to be levelling out, which in real terms will mean a fall each year, because no one expects inflation to fall below 1 per cent. in the years up to 1981. That is deeply regrettable, particularly when we have no overall strategy for the railways within the national transport picture outlined to us, or even under active public discussion.
British Rail faces these difficulties at a time when it has introduced many innovations. The HST will come into operation this year, and the TOPS wagon control is now in operation, but it has been struck at this very moment by a severe operating deficit. That is due, as everyone knows, to two factors above all else—the mounting losses caused by the economic recession, which have hit freight services in particular, and the policy decision to hold down fares in- 1694 creases in the nationalised industries taken by the last Government and the converse policy decision of this Government to increase them. Thus, having been artificially held down for some time, they were increased by 50 per cent. in about 12 months. We cannot do that to passenger services without a consequent fall in custom. That takes us along the road to a dispirited railway service. If, simultaneously, we starve it of investment, we also cut it off from the hope that its future services will be progressly improved in a way that will attract that revenue back.
When the railways hear today that there are arguments circulating that they should not continue their electrification programme, or that only one or two of the comparatively short routes that are already being undertaken should be followed through, especially when they know the enormous advantages that came about once the main London—Glasgow line was electrified and the enormous follow-up of consumer interest in those services, they become very disprited.
One of the reasons that those in the railways are so dispirited is that they fear a change in the Government's attitude to the railways, and that such a change might be embodied in the transport review. They think that there are some suspicious signs in the delay in concluding that review. No one seems to know whether it will result in a Green Paper, a White Paper or a White Paper with green edges. There has been, thus far, an almost total lack of consultation with the Railways Board and the unions —or so at least we hear from Sir Richard Marsh—contrary to undertakings given to the unions by the Minister for Transport, who is here today. I should be interested to know whether a contrary view exists on the Government Front Bench.
Just before I came into the debate, I was given a copy of a letter that the Secretary of State sent on 22nd January to Mr. Sidney Weighell and probably to the general secretaries of the other railway unions, saying that he would like to have, on 27th January,a full, frank discussion of the approach towards an integrated transport policy".That is not before time. Indeed, it is very late in the day, because the good will that he will need to carry through 1695 any review of transport policy has been largely dissipated by the activities of the last three or four years.
The public expenditure which has gone into this document, "The Better Use of Railways", produced by Peter Hall and Edward Smith, and the fact that other studies are known to be circulating which at least postulate severe cuts in the railway network cannot improve the morale of those whose good will will be needed if the integrated transport discussions—they will be no more than discussions in the early stages—are to be carried out by the Secretary of State.
Curious remarks are made elsewhere by policy advisers. There were reports recently in The Guardian of a leak from, the Think Tank, when one of the advisers currently in Downing Street, either in a speech to an association of civil servants or speaking afterwards, is supposed to have said that forthcoming Government policy statements would demolish the environmental case for the railways, that roads and freight haulage were part of the facts of life, that the British rail system as a whole would be allowed to decline, that a Civil Service team was being sent in to "interface with railway accountants" to sort things out, that the idea of an integrated transport policy was rubbish, and so on.
These may just be obiter dicta from some minor adviser whose official contribution to this great debate will not be significant, but of course such pronouncements worry those who are involved with the railways, those who work on them and those who are concerned for an integrated transport system. The single word "codswallop", however often it is uttered, and even when prefaced by the adjective "utter", as it was by the Secretary of State in the House the other day, will not get rid of these fears and worries.
Are they codswallop? We do not know what is going on. That is why the "no rail cuts" campaign now being launched, with a good deal of information and tacit support from the Board of British Rail itself, was right to point out that the likely outcome of certain tendencies in this review of policy thinking could be disastrous for the rail network as we know it today and could lead to a period of ire- 1696 versible decline, which would leave us with a central core system and commuter services which are, to judge by these latest leaks, aimed at that notional figure of the millionaire commuter. Quite apart from the difficulties that this is creating, we could end up in this situation with a totally dispirited railway system and a dispirited and disorganised transport system as a whole.
I have my own criticisms of British Rail. It has not been flexible enough in tendering for work or making its ancillary services attractive. Some of its services particularly at stations, are sadly rigid and sometimes even squalid.
It has not been particularly adventurous in many other forms of collaboration which it could maintain, particularly with the bus services. When we complain that it has built few new stations we are told that the situation has not been helped by the thoughtful siting of new town development areas. When we consider policies such as this we must consider the railway investment programme and the difficulties involved when investment is constantly cut back. There are a couple of examples of precisely this situation in Derbyshire. There has been a considerable local campaign to reopen the Derby-Manchester line. It has the support of Transport 2000 and other local pressure groups. It also has the support of all those who want to see non-road traffic encouraged into the Peak District National Park which is trying to keep motor cars out of the central area. It is difficult to arrange any discussions with British Rail, which knows that it would not receive support from the Government for such a proposal.
There is also a proposal in Derbyshire for a new commuter link from the Matlock-Derby line, which I happen to use most weekends, through to the industrial estate at Sinfin. Until recently the county council, which was keen on this proposal, understood that the Department of the Environment would give the scheme its backing and blessing. I now understand that that may not be the case and that the general support that was given to the Matlock-Derby line may not be extended if that line passes through to the new industrial estate. All this, and we are trying to get cars off the road.
We want to make it easier for commuters to travel from country areas 1697 through to their places of work on the outskirts of Derby. The old station at Derby was built 100 years ago, when there were no industrial estates four or five miles away from it. The line is there and could be opened tomorrow if the signals and a couple of stations were built and refurbished. However, that scheme is impossible unless the Department of the Environment smiles upon it. It would involve an expenditure of only £50,000.
There have also been proposals in my part of the world to get aggregates and other bulk freight shifted from the overcrowded A6 and other roads—I live by the A6, so I know how overcrowded it is—on to the railways. British Rail cannot entertain this unless it is sure from Day One that the scheme will be profitable. All freight support and subsidies are being phased out in this period. However, we must take risks and we must gamble that this track will be profitable. We must have the backing of a Department which appreciates the great difficulties and the environmental hazards caused by these enormous lorries on roads which are not and never will be suitable for them. However, there is no indication whatever that such a coordinated policy is forthcoming.
The notion that is being propounded by a number of economists today that the railways are only there for the benefit of a few well-padded middle-class commuters who could well afford to pay double and treble what they pay now, is malicious nonsense. The lower income groups, by definition, are the greatest public transport needers, though not necessarily users. Approximately 50 per cent. of all households do not own a car and therefore they are bound to need public transport of some kind. They may not spend as much every day in pounds as the better off, because the better off spend more on every form of transport, including their motor cars. However, the lower income groups need this service—it is crucial to them. A whole variety of under-privileged groups in our society, about which this party is supposed to care, needs those services certainly as much and usually more than the so-called better off.
1698 The total number of passenger journeys last year was 732 million, of which only 15 million were first-class. Of the 732 million journeys, 227 million people paid full fare but 209 million paid reduced fare—the latter included weekend tickets, students', pensioners' and season tickets. Those figures argue that a great many people in reduced economic circumstances want and need the railways and will only be discouraged from using them more because of the sort of fares that they are increasingly being charged.
If we accept the pernicious doctrine that we must have a small railway system within which we can charge so-called economic prices, we shall have no railway system at all. That is a recipe for atrophy, not for any form of expansion.
In keeping with the intentions of the 1968 Act, whether that Act has succeeded in practice or not, we should have a much greater integration with local bus services than appears to have been practicable thus far. Just as the railway services are in difficulties, so is the National Bus Company. What instructions are being given to help local authorities prepare their transport policy programmes? There are the wise words of the Socialist Commentary study on this matter. What follow-up has there been to the pioneer work of the Nottingham scheme for a free bus service and for keeping cars away from that city centre? What has been done to study the integration of rural bus and rail services so that we may have common tickets and timetables and do away with hiring Peter Hall to tear up all the tracks and start again with buses?
It might have been better to look at the system operating in Holland, which has a similar pattern of regional bus services to our own, but which has managed to gets its bus stations sited near railway stations and its schedules and tickets co-ordinated. We should be able to use all the passenger services in this country as an entity. We simply cannot do that at present. Many of the bus services which were supposed to replace those rural railway services axed in the Beeching era and afterwards have themselves withered away.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
I asked the Department of the Environment a Question about that matter and was told that it did not know how 1699 many of the bus services that had replaced railway services had subsequently been withdrawn.
§ Mr. Whitehead
My hon. Friend is no doubt correct. Very few figures have been collected and collated by that Department.
There is also the vast question about the categories of freight—what is carried where, and is the traffic increasing. The Department is extremely coy about giving any figures. We cannot have an integrated transport policy until we have the figures and studies on which to base it.
I turn to waterways. I do not wish it to be thought because my principal interest is in the railways and I have mentioned only in passing the rural bus services, that I ignore the possible uses of waterways in the future. Waterways are now more important than ever, because of the regrettable decision that was taken not to continue with the Channel Tunnel. I accept that the Channel Tunnel is not being built, because of the economic climate. In the last 10 years the American market, like that of many of the larger Western European countries, has doubled the amount of freight that is carried by its inland waterways. Access to the American and European markets alike needs to be carefully examined, bearing in mind our rather out-of-date inland waterways and their co-ordination with the Channel ports.
Inland waterways are a cheaper means of transport. An energy-saving element is also involved. The 500-ton barge is equivalent to 35 articulated lorries and is already in existence in four major areas in this country, and has been for two centuries. Continental countries are expanding their services and staff. The Rhine will soon be linked with the Danube and the Mediterranean. Holland, Belgium and Germany have doubled their barge tonnage, whereas we carry only 0.2 per cent. of our freight by barge. The BACAT and LASH systems are in many ways the wave of the future. They are exciting prospects for linking Rotherham to Rotterdam and so on, and some of our other new activities with those of Europe. In many areas this has been held up. I read with some distress what happened at Hull recently, where the BACAT project was forced to close down because the dockers there decided that it was taking 1700 work away from them. If it was closed down it would take work away from Hull and away from Britain. We cannot entertain a future for England's waterways unless we consider the barge-carrying ship as a major element in ferrying goods across this country to the Continent.
The British Steel Corporation intends to export steel from Rotherham direct to Rotterdam and beyond. That is something we all want to happen. It is possible to penetrate to the heart of continental Europe by inland waterways, but that scheme has temporarily been abandoned.
What negotiations and arbitration did the Department of the Environment carry out? The dockers in Hull are worried. They have seen half their jobs go in the past decade, and they have fears about the future. What studies has the Department done on the BACAT system and the effectiveness of waterways in general? I hope that there have been some.
What is potentially a precious part of or integrated transport system is perishing for lack of investment and care. There has been some investment in such things as the Sheffield and South Yorkshire Navigation and there have been proposals for a major link to the canal system in London at the southern end of the M1. But those are only in the embryo stage. We lag far behind almost all continental countries in our investment in waterways.
We are asking the Government to return to our manifesto commitments, on which we won the election. We are asking for open government and open debate in the present grave economic climate, as much as in times of expansion and prosperity, not for secret surveys and snide comments, not for dismissal of fears and protests in a puff of cigar smoke.
The railwaymen, bus drivers and water-men want to know about their working environment. We all want to know about our living environment as well. We want a national transport policy for that. Governments tend to think in packages of four years. They buy the minutes and mortgage the hours. The cycles of investment in transport are not four years but 10, 20 or 50 years.
Like the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud), although I do not send party propaganda through the post, I write to my young constituents on their eighteenth birthdays, reminding them of their civic 1701 rights and responsibilities. They often write back, and I am glad that they do, though they often rightly write back rudely. I have just had a letter from a constituent who started work on the railways, saying:I have just completed 3.4 per cent. of my working life. There must be something wrong with your Government if a young person trying to save and invest in the future is now in danger of losing his job … Britain needs the railways, and the railways need Britain.When I defend the railways I am talking not of crusted ancients clinging to an outworn trade but of something that must be a part of transport future, for that young constituent and for me, a transport system which we control and which does not control us.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. George Thomas)
I wish to appeal for the co-operation of the House. I have a substantial list of hon. Members who wish to speak, in addition to the normal contributions from the Front Benches. If hon. Members will bear that in mind it will greatly ease the tension between 3 o'clock and 4 o'clock this afternoon.
§ 11.54 a.m.
§ Mr. Peter Fry (Wellingborough)
I welcome the Under-Secretary to his first debate on transport matters, and I welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler), who is also taking part for the first time from the Front Bench in such a debate. We look forward to their exchanges.
The House must be grateful to the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) for choosing this subject for debate. He was gracious enough to allow me to intervene when he was talking about the different uses of energy. Recent calculations by NEDO show that the ratio of energy used, both directly and indirectly, to the value of output is higher for rail than for road transport.
I entirely endorse the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that there should be further investigations into the Nottingham traffic experiment. In particular, there should be investigation of the cost to the ratepayers and how, despite an elaborate system, the drop in traffic at peak times is about the same as the national average drop in traffic owing to the energy crisis.
1702 My first quarrel with the hon. Gentleman is over his title for the debate—integrated transport. I believe that the subject should have been "The need for a transport policy." We have waited a long time for a clear indication of the Government's intentions. So far they have proceeded by a series of nudges, winks and half-veiled threats, combined with a masterly display of inactivity over the most important problems. There are now demands from almost all sides for a clear statement of the Government's policy.
Many railwaymen devote far too much of their time to protesting vigorously against reported cuts, which the Secretary of State has described as codswallop. If he is proved right, rarely will so much fuss have been caused by so many about so little.
At long last, after the Government have been in office for nearly two years, and after we have had two Ministers responsible for transport, we are promised a Green Paper, which is, to put it mildly, well overdue. Not only are railway workers worried about their jobs, but road transport operators are concerned that much more taxation is to be imposed on them. Commuters face service reductions, and all transport passengers, reeling from the last round of fare increases, await the next round. The inhabitants of many towns and villages are told that long-awaited and needed bypasses are being deferred for even longer. The motorist, already penalised by high taxation, is threatened with persecution by some local authorities. Last but by no means least, many people in the more remote rural areas are rapidly finding themselves cut off from the rest of the community.
The Government's record to date has been lamentable. We have had a Road Traffic Act which deliberately ignored the important question of the reform of licensing of public service vehicles, doubtless under the instructions of Mr. Jack Jones, and the appointment of a new Minister, who I am pleased to see here today, whose sole claim to fame so far has been laying headlight Regulations before the House and then ignominiously having to withdraw them, partly because of the opposition of his own Back Benchers and partly because of the 1703 widespread protests about his failure to carry out adequate consultations.
It is perhaps as well that the Secretary of State has decided to descend from his previously aloof attitude towards transport matters and to give a clear indication of policy. Let us hope that it will be possible and not, as a recent contributor to the Daily Telegraph feared,a variety of carefully contrived obscurities and ambiguities in every section of State-controlled transport".The debate is to be welcomed, although my first duty must be to refute the idea of an "integrated system". If the phrase is to be more than mere political jargon it must imply a degree of direction and a loss of freedom of choice which would be economically damaging and costly and personally unacceptable to many people.
Let us look first at the implications for freight. Such a policy would imply that, for example, someone other than the customer would decide the mode of transport for his goods. As there is no reason for any prejudice in considering modes, most businesses already use that which suits them best because of its efficiency, speed and reliability, and only partly base their choice on price. To enforce a change which would reduce the advantages now enjoyed cannot be in the best interests of the business or of the country's economy as a whole.
As 93 per cent. of all road transport has a journey of less than 100 miles—the suggested break-even point for rail operations—there would appear to be very little scope, despite all that is being said, for a large-scale transfer from road to rail freight. This should be declared and acknowledged by the Government. Where there is scope for any change from one to the other, it can be effected without the creation of any apparatus for direction.
On the passenger side, unlike with freight, the question of price is crucial. Of course we do not want a bus service that is inadequately supported competing on the same route with a train service that is also badly patronised. The elimination of such wasteful activity and wasteful competition should be encouraged. Before all those who are anxious to extend the railways become 1704 too excited, I suggest that it is not usually the bus service that would be taken off.
Considering long routes, it appears at first sight to make good sense that people travelling from Manchester to London or from Newcastle to London should do so by Inter-City rail. But how many Members on the Government Benches would suggest that the public should virtually be forced to travel such long distances by rail? That would mean the ending of long-distance express coach journeys? Some people do not mind long-distance coach journeys, because the cost is approximately half that being charged by British Rail.
If people are to be directed towards more expensive means of transport, they will be deprived of a fundamental freedom—the freedom of movement. I do not believe that all those who want to travel but cannot afford to travel by rail should be forced to stay at home. Lastly, we should not forget that it is the express coach that is probably the only profitable sector of the National Bus Company.
§ Mr. Leslie Huckfield (Nuneaton)
I am following closely what the hon. Member is saying. I recognise that he is trying to make a consistent point, for which I admire him, namely, that integration in some way means regulation, co-ordination and direction of traffic. Will he accept that we on the Government side are equally sincere and genuine in our intention to move towards integration? What we are concerned to see is integration and co-ordination of pricing and investment policies. Nobody is talking about regulation or direction of traffic. We are talking about co-ordination of investment and pricing policies. That is the real key.
§ Mr. Fry
I take that point. My further remarks will be directed to the question of co-ordination. However, the hon. Member will not deny that there are voices amongst his colleagues in the Labour Party and in the unions who would have a form of direction, forcing the movement of certain goods from road to rail.
I suggest that by the practical rather than by the theoretical test what is known as an integrated transport system is largely a myth. I accept that what is needed is much greater co-ordination. 1705 I will go on to suggest one or two areas where co-ordination is most needed.
It is in the area of investment that the main political arguments are occurring As Sir Richard Marsh said only the other day:We cannot continue in a situation where vast sums of money are poured into an organisation the objectives of which are clear to no one.That having been said, it must be remembered that Sir Richard is presiding over a British railway system that has manifestly failed to use its income and the taxpayers' support towards the most profitable and productive investment. If the future of the advanced passenger train is uncertain, and even the introduction of the high speed train is not yet secure, it is not because British Rail have not had some good ideas and some very excellent staff looking towards the future. It is because greater and greater amounts of money have been squandered in paying out higher wages that British Railways could not afford. At the time when they were losing £97 million and receiving Government grants of about £150 million more, they negotiated a pay deal which added £225 million to their operating costs. They did this without gaining any worthwhile concessions from the unions.
I make it clear that I do not want to abolish the railways. Like most of my fellow countrymen, I have some emotional hang-up about trains. However, I think that the time has come to ask whether the nation is getting anything like value for money from what is is investing and being asked to invest in British Rail. I believe that the investigations of the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Huckfield) showed that, on British Rail's own admissions, 40 per cent. of its investment showed a net return of less than 10 per cent.
§ Mr. Ron Lewis (Carlisle)
Before the hon. Gentleman continues with his argument about investment, I should like to take him back to a previous statement he made about the increase in wages for railwaymen. Is he saying that railwaymen in Britain were not entitled to their fair share, in the form of an increase in wages? That was his implication to the House. If that is what he is saying, he 1706 should go back to Wellingborough and tell those who work on Wellingborough station that they are not entitled to proper wages.
§ Mr. Fry
Of course I am not saying that railwaymen are not entitled to increases in their wages. However, any undertaking is entitled to consider its wages bill and to see whether it can afford a higher wages bill for its employees. If the hon. Member cares to stop at Wellingborough, he will have a very warm welcome from me as well as from his fellow union members in my constituency.
On even a modest estimate of the losses of and subsidies to the railways—let us put them at £500 million—every railway worker is at present being subsidised to the tune of £2,000 per annum. If the figure given by the Economist of losses of £750 million is accurate, it would put the subsidy per railway worker up to £3,000 per annum. The country must realise these figures before people become too emotional about the future of the railways.
What does this mean in investment terms? It should mean that, but for a very few lines which are needed for social reasons and which cannot be replaced more cheaply by buses, the limit for subsidy from now on should be very strictly defined and future investment directed to those areas which would at least help to reduce the losses now incurred and give a more efficient operation. It should not be used to bolster revenue, even if this policy means consideration being given either to cutting back part of the network or some reduction in stations on the present network.
I know that hon. Members opposite will say that there has been an enormous cutback in staffing in recent years. I also know that much overtime working is going on, particularly in the Midlands Region. I would make two points here. During the past year or so there have not been massive large-scale reductions in the labour force. They largely stopped two or three years ago. Yet it has been in this period that losses have been mounting very fast indeed—I suggest that a revision of the rules might do much towards reducing the amount of overtime that has to be worked.
§ Mr. Fry
I have already given way twice and other hon. Members want to speak. Hon. Members opposite will have plenty of opportunity to make their points. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not mind if I do not give way.
I repeat that of course we need a railway system, and I believe that in certain areas it could and should be extended and developed, but we must make it clear that it is the secondary and not the primary mode of transport in the United Kingdom and, because of this, there is no realistic case in our present economic situation for devoting 28 per cent. of public expenditure on transport to the railways, which carry only 10 per cent. of the traffic.
I therefore suggest that within the context of the present economic situation it is important that investment should go where the best economic return is to be realised. That means undoubtedly that the progress towards completing the primary road network should not suffer at least any more cuts over what it has suffered already. Already our road facilities are inferior to those of our main competitors and, even on the most pessimistic forecasts produced by Government Departments, more and more goods and passengers will be travelling on our roads in 10 years' time. The needs of our industries require that the taxes that we invest should assist their recovery.
With a limited amount of room for manoeuvre, it is essential that we push ahead with key roads such as the Al-M1 link and the route from the Midlands to the East Coast ports, which will assist our economic recovery and go a long way towards removing from the roads heavy vehicles which are unsuitable on those roads.
Before I am attacked by hon. Members on the Government Benches about the relative costs of road and rail, I remind them that the taxes from road use amount to 10 per cent. of our national revenue, and that even allowing for the cost of policing and the non-insured cost of accidents, about twice as much is raised from the use of road vehicles as is spent. Therefore, I hope that we shall not hear too much today about the vast amounts of money being spent on the roads and the cost of this compared with the returns paid by the user.
1708 Following my theme of co-ordination rather than integration, may I urge on the Government a much more flexible approach to public road passenger transport. It is not just a question of reviewing the licensing system. It is also necessary for a much higher priority to be given to trying to give the public what they really want and the kind of services they require at the lowest cost to the community. Some rural areas will need services which will in the foreseeable future have to be subsidised, but the size of those subsidies can be reduced if a much more imaginative approach is made to the problem. Where private operators are in existence, rather than attacking them as some hon. Members tend to do, they should be encouraged to tender for routes, perhaps linked with lucrative school bus journeys so that the vehicles are utilised for more than a few hours a day.
Despite the entirely justified complaints of poor services, evidenced in surveys undertaken all over the country—one was conducted by the Evening Telegraph in Northamptonshire—the truth is that there are ample buses in the country to give the public the service it needs. But they are badly under-utilised. Very often a too ambitious schedule will only result in frustrated passengers when the bus fails to turn up. I suggest that relying solely on the National Bus Company and its subsidiaries often means that the demands of the network preclude giving even the limited service that people need. If we are to cater—I accept the point made by the hon. Member for Derby, North—for those whose movement depends entirely on a public transport system, I believe that we have got to show more energy and urgency in new ideas and co-ordination than we are at the moment.
As we are proceeding, either fares will go up quickly, as the Secretary of State has suggested, and therefore passengers will be fewer, or the need for subsidies will increase. If we continue to pay increased subsidies, all we shall do will be to prop up the system until the next crisis. The answer emphatically is not to penalise the car user and force him to use public transport. Any bus operator will confirm that his main problem is providing enough vehicles to cope with the peak hours demand. An increasing 1709 demand at this time will only burden him further and will mean that more buses and staff will be even more unproductive in the hours between the peaks.
Therefore, a real effort must be aimed at co-ordination, to stagger the peaks and to try to get other operators to come in to share the load. In this respect the Government should give more firm advice to the traffic commissioners and the NBC, as well as seeing what changes in the law may be necessary. Only by such efforts shall we be able to escape from what has become a vicious circle of higher costs, increased fares and fewer passengers. I deliberately have not mentioned the introduction of higher subsidies because I understand that the Secretary of State has eschewed this course of action.
In a democracy, and in an increasingly car-owning democracy, no transport policy will be acceptable which does not recognise that when a private car is owned it will be used. People with their own personalised method of transport will not leave it sitting in their garages. I agree that we cannot allow absolute licence in the use of motor cars. There has got to be a certain amount of regulation, especially in the urban areas. But good traffic management can do much to reduce the waste and frustration which is often experienced in towns cluttered with cars. But this does not mean that we should indulge in some exceedingly wasteful schemes—and the Nottingham experiment is one—which are aimed at excluding the motorist and making life more difficult for him.
If I had to define the Government's role in transport, it would be as follows: it is to identify the present and future needs of the user, private as well as commercial, and to make available funds for investment in the necessary infrastructure, whilst at the same time protecting society from any adverse effects.
In this context it must be appreciated that the user will increasingly be in a private car, that movement will increasingly be by road. Restrictions inevitably there will have to be, but I submit that the diversion of large resources—for example, from road to rail—will, far from solving the problems, only compound them, and sooner or later we shall again be discussing yet another transport policy.
1710 I have a certain sympathy with the Under-Secretary of State this morning because has has to reply to the debate and he has little personal responsibility for the sorry mess which the Government have created through their own inactivity. Perhaps he would like to report back to his seniors that the main criticism of the present Government is that they have been consistently and deliberately wasting the time of the House and the resources of the country by putting through legislation solely on the grounds of political prejudice, and that it has had nothing but an adverse effect on our economic plight. In fact, it has delayed, often to the eleventh hour, our tackling the real problems which face us. I say this because it is true of their transport policy as well as of all else.
§ 12.17 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Kenneth Marks)
I intervene at this stage, briefly, in the hope that later, with the permission of the House, I shall be able to reply to the points raised in the debate.
We welcome the debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) on choosing this subject. It gives hon. Members an opportunity to state their views before the main consultations take place on a transport policy review, and it will give me an opportunity later to deal with some fundamental misconceptions about transport and Government policy.
One is the misconception that it is the Government's intention to slash the railway system. It is not. Another is that the Government favour cars and roads at the expense of public transport. They do not, and they have not in their past two years of office. The third is that open-ended subsidies can be paid from unlimited public funds. They cannot and will not.
It is over eight months since there was a major debate on transport. It is eight years since there was a major transport policy review. There were none at all during the period of office of the last Conservative Government. In the light of the Labour Party manifesto, the review will be very much concerned with the need for integration and co-ordination. A consultative paper will be issued in the next few weeks. This will pay special attention to the need for a clear 1711 framework for co-ordinating transport policy both at local and national level. It is clearly important for us to consult, among others, the trade unions—which we shall be doing at an early date—the nationalised transport industries and the local authorities before reaching firm decisions on the outcome of the review.
Both welfare and environmental considerations are important to the review. The difficulties of those who have no private transport in areas where the majority do, and of those in all areas whose essential journeys on public transport face increasing costs, must be recognised in the review and in the policy that results from it. The impact on the environment of different kinds of road and rail traffic development must be taken into account, however difficult it is to measure it.
The debate is therefore a timely and valuable opportunity for hon. Members to put forward their constructive views on how they would like to see transport policy developing—views to which we shall pay close attention. I hope to catch the eye of the Chair later, with the leave of the House, to comment on the views expressed.
§ 12.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)
I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead)—a most fitting constituency, in this context—for raising the subject of an integrated transport system. Perhaps I should at the outset declare a financial interest, in that I have five £10 shares in the Keighley and Worth Valley Light Railway, a co-operative Socialist enterprise, by and large. No dividend has ever been paid, neither is one likely, I trust.
The hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry) did not wish me to intervene during his speech, so I make now the comment which I then had in mind. When people talk about the rule book of British Railways they forget that the rules are concerned largely with the safe carriage and movement of goods and passengers, and very often those same people use a similar argument about safety when advocating more motorways because, it is said, motorways are safer. In that argument, there is left out of 1712 account, of course, the enormous capital difference between railway construction and motorway construction, although the railway rule book is brought in to justify an argument about restrictive practices. The truth is quite the contrary.
In our October election manifesto we promised an integrated transport system. We said that the energy crisis had underlined our objective of moving as much freight as possible from road to rail and water transport. My hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North said that there was cautious optimism about the movement of traffic from road to rail, and I submit that we ought now to implement what we said in our manifesto in 1974 about the railway network.
I have been pursuing the matter of the grants, which may run at a rate of £5 million per annum, for the reopening of private sidings. In 1975 about 57 private sidings on British Railways closed, and only three were under consideration for grant aid. When the sidings are brought into use, they will bring on to British Rail about 1 million tons of freight, whereas the capacity of British Rail to carry freight is enormously greater than that. There are only 11 further applications for grant aid at present.
If that sort of level of activity is maintained, British Rail will simply not have enough freight traffic to reduce the drift from the railways which has been taking place over the past few years. A further remarkable feature is that many railway depots and warehouses have been closed yet those same depots have been bought by road operators, and now we see lorries going in and out of them. The loads are removed and are then broken down and distributed from the depots by means of further road haulage. Thus, the very function which was being performed on the railways has been transferred to the roads, with the exactly the same amount of handling involved, although that is one of the factors always advanced in argument by those opposed to railway facilities. This has happened on an alarming scale, and it demonstrates that the route centres chosen by the railways were often extremely sensible in the first place.
One of my sad experiences of late has been that the Minister has not always 1713 given the maximum amount of information. At Question Time, for example, my hon. Friend now on the Front Bench said that a number of sidings had closed because works had closed as a result of an alteration in the fabric of our industry. I therefore asked how many works had closed and caused sidings to close, and how many sidings had closed because there had been a transfer of traffic from rail to road. The answer was that I should seek that information from British Rail.
I do not consider that I ought to go to British Rail to seek information. In my view, it is the Minister's duty to provide such information. If we are to have an open debate on transport policy, it must be conducted in and through Parliament, not through letters that are not put on the official record and not through communications with bodies which, in my view, are not sufficiently under the control of the House.
It has been suggested that British Rail's investment level will be kept at about £238 million per annum. If that be so—the Minister can confirm or deny it, and I shall be only too pleased if I am told that it will be raised above that level—British Rail will face a 13 per cent. cut in freight and parcels rolling stock. There will not be a planned curtailing of services. It will simply mean a withering away because of lack of investment. That is what the railway unions and many members of the public are concerned about—not so much a deliberate chopping of the railways as simply a withering away. Certainly, if the level of investment is curtailed and there is a 13 per cent. cut in freight and parcels rolling stock, it will not augur well for the promise in our manifesto to transfer freight traffic from road to rail.
I understand that British Rail is investigating the scrapping of 30,000 wagons, and this hardly seems to tally with the TOPS system, which is designed to utilise the existing wagon stock.
British Rail is competitive, with a 5-ton lorry travelling more than 50 miles, and this sector of road haulage represents about 200 million tons of road freight. If all that traffic were transferred to the railways, there would still be 1,538,000 tons per annum to be carried by road. There is, therefore, no question of the roads not still having a very large slice 1714 of business, the largest slice by a long way.
Unless the drift away is halted and freight is put back on the railways, they will bleed to death. The railway freight haulage service is currently losing about £70 million per annum. The railways have the capacity to carry freight, and it should be used.
It should be remembered that our Government have produced a White Paper on agriculture. We want more production from agriculture, but we cannot at the same time allow the continuous erosion of our stock of agricultural land through the covering of it by concrete for roads. There are a number of private rights of way which have been established and built up in this country for over 100 years and which will not involve the blighting and breaking up of communities which so much motorway building produces. We ought to utilise these facilities.
In my view, National Carriers Limited and Freightliners Limited should once again be merged with British Rail. There have been occasions, again because of lack of responsibility in this House, when there has been an unfortunate element of competition between them. Only 12 months ago, a charge made by British Rail to Freightliners Limited resulted in the movement of freight from rail on to the roads, when the Freightliners service between Hull and Sheffield was closed. If the two were integrated, there would be a much greater emphasis shown by the railways on the securing of traffic instead of simply setting a price which may or may not result in the traffic going by rail.
It is clear that there is the potential Some private firms are using the railways, I am happy to say, but the scale is diminishing and there is not enough encouragement. Tilcon Limited, in West Yorkshire, because of environmental considerations and partly because of pressure by local inhabitants who were tired of lorry loads of limestone thundering along country roads, has transferred a significant quantity of its limestone traffic from road to rail. Where such potential exists, it should be used. If we simply lurch and stagger from one situation to the next, some firms will take advantage and some will not. We should implement those sections of the 1968 Act which 1715 would ensure that the railways had a genuine opportunity to seek freight traffic.
Before turning to the passenger side, I add this further thought. British Rail might try a few minor experiments in operating steam haulage on one or two marginal lines such as the Cambrian coast line, which is in a tourist area. I offer this as no panacea, but it might just help one or two lines that have been subject to threat of closure over the past five or six years. In tourist areas, British Rail could well use its imagination, and I am sure that the employees would be very happy and co-operative in such a venture. It might take away some of the glossy postcard picture of railway operations at present in the hands of private enterprise organisations, albeit largely of a voluntary nature. I see no reason why British Rail should not participate in such operations to a far greater degree than it does at present.
From my experience with the Keighley and Worth Valley Light Railway, I learn that it is dealing with 130,000 passengers a year, many of them schoolchildren who have never in their lives travelled on a train before. Unless we attract a lot of young people to realising that the railways provide excellent passenger services, the strong potential of their custom will be ignored.
If investment in the railways it to be kept to an annual rate of £238 million, it means a 3 per cent. cut-back in rolling stock and a 40 per cent. cut-back in structural works, including stations. This would spell a slow death for the passenger services. Already, passenger rolling stock, particularly on the cross-country minor services used by ordinary passengers as opposed to the first-class business expense account men, need refurbishing—indeed, it is a vitally important matter that it should be. I need only mention the diesel units which have now been running for 15 years and are in a seedy condition. That applies to the stations on such lines as well. If track spending is also cut by 30 per cent. the diesels will continue to rock and roll in an increasingly uncomfortable fashion, which will not encourage greater use by passengers.
1716 A study by R. Travers Morgan and Partners of services in the Bradford area was undertaken by the progressive—therefore Labour-controlled—West Yorkshire Metropolitan County Council. The report was published in July 1975 and said:The level of utilisation of trains and stations is at such a level as to require an urgent reappraisal of the role of trains. Either way should be found to greatly increase the level of utilisation or the value of discontinuing rail services seriously considered.That was with regard particularly to the railway services in the Bradford area. A Labour Government must take the course of improving rail services and encouraging progressive local authorities, such as the West Yorkshire Metropolitan County Council, to get passengers off the road and on to the railways. That means refurbishing passenger trains and stations in those areas.
The refurbishing of stations can frequently be undertaken with the assistance of local district councils. The opening of new "park and ride" stations, again with the assistance of district councils, is one way of improving the services. A main element must be the stabilisation of fares.
County councils, in addition, run bus services, and many in the metropolitan areas are moving towards complete integration of transport services. But difficulties occur in the provision of cross-boundary services. For example, one local authority may provide concessionary fares, or attractive fares, under a metro-card system, whereas a neighbouring local authority, almost certainly under Tory or independent control—both being the same thing—seeking to keep the rates down, will say, "We are not prepared to assist in providing concessionary fares." Thus, people going on a cross-boundary trip find that they are not able to take advantage of the low-cost metro-card, and so on.
I ask the Minister whether he will introduce legislation to encourage local authorities to join together in providing cross-boundary services. I do not say that they should be compelled to do so, but where they cannot reach agreement there should be some sort of arbitration system, so that a decision can be made which would be binding on the local 1717 authorities. We could thus avoid the sort of annoying situation as that of a village in my constituency, which is inside the boundary of one local authority that provides concessionary fares. Unfortunately, the geographical centre happens to be in a local authority that does not provide concessionary fares. The negotiations in that case have not been fruitful. My hon. Friend should look at this matter urgently in order to produce an integrated transport system, as we promised to do in our manifesto—a system which would not cost any money.
The same sort of difficulty will arise with refurbishing railway lines, where these go across the boundaries of passenger transport executives. A local authority may refuse to participate in refurbishing a railway line or in providing "park and ride" stations. The result is that one section is improved while the neighbouring one is not.
The Ministry should also assist in the integration of bus services where the services of a passenger transport executive are competing with a subsidiary of the National Bus Company. In West Yorkshire, where this wasteful competition is going on, negotiations are proceeding for a joint company in order to eliminate such difficulty. The Ministry could and should assist local authorities, where such circumstances prevail, in order to get negotiations going. As I have said, the West Yorkshire Metropolitan County Council is Labour-controlled and is concerned to produce an integrated transport system. But that is not true of every local authority.
I turn to the question of resources. It is true that we cannot have open-ended subsidies. We have to recognise that there are limits. It is a question of applying priorities. The Ministry should have a very close and careful look at the amount of money to be spent on roads. We have 1,000 miles of motorway and have reached the point where we ought to say that there will be no more motorways for this country beyond schemes already in the pipeline. As I have said, it is becoming a very serious matter that so much agricultural land is being lost because of motorway construction. Also, of course, we are reaching the position where, having got the main trunk motorways, we are embarking on the construction of urban 1718 motorways at the astronomical cost of between £4 million and £5 million a mile.
Motorways also bring blight. In my area, the Airedale trunk road project, a scaled-down version of the previous motorway proposal, has been undergoing some local difficulties. The inquiry has been brought to a halt for about five days continuously by hymn singing and chanting, which is not a very fruitful way to proceed. I believe that the inquiry should proceed because a decision needs to be made. I do not like to see hundreds of people with planning blight over their heads. The inquiry should be held, objections heard, supporters given their opportunity, and the Minister should then make his decision. When he gets the report of the inspector, if he decides that only a section of the trunk road should be built it should preferably be the end at Kildwick and Keighley. The rest should be made up by bypasses. No one would greatly object to that. If at the same time we used the plans to improve the Airedale railway, we might have the sort of integrated transport system we have been talking about.
The second sector of resources that we should look at concerns defence. Recently, the Radio Corporation of America decided to pull out of Skelmersdale New Town. It is one of the two sources of colour television tube technology. Yesterday, the factory finished. Yet the same company is to receive £55 million from the Government, spread over five years, for the purchase of Lance tactical nuclear missiles.
When the Government are considering priorities, we do not suggest that we dismantle our defence system altogether. But when it is a question of maintaining such things as rail services and social services—of which the railways form part—or lavishing money on nuclear weapons, which are really a totally undemocratic means of dealing death, a Labour Government's priority should be to get rid of such overseas contracts as that for the updating of Polaris, which we said we would not do anyway, and to take account of conference decision, because those decisions call on us to make real and not paper reductions in defence expenditure. If that were done, we could seriously talk about devoting resources to an integrated transport system.
1719 There are cynics who say that such a system is moonshine, but the Settle-Carlisle line, in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, has shown that such a system can attract enormous numbers of people. On the route a number of stations that had been closed were reopened by the Yorkshire Dales National Park, which undertook responsibility for expenditure. It hired multiple units from British Railways, and it provided linking bus services. As a result, the experiment has been oversold. Now it is part of a permanent framework. The trains are packed. People have to book in advance. They are being taken into the Yorkshire Dales National Park by the least obtrusive method. They will enjoy the dales without destroying them.
That is the way in which we should go forward. That sort of experiment—and integration on a much wider scale—must be encouraged by the Government. We want to make sure that that investment will not be curtailed but expanded. The resources are there if the will is there.
§ 12.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell (Beaconsfield)
The hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) seems to be proposing that the railways should be rejuvenated by cutting down on defence expenditure. It is not an unexpected theme coming from him but I do not think that it will help the railways. Nor, with great respect to the hon. Gentleman, do I think that the introduction of steam traction on certain branch lines in Wales or the packing of railway carriages with visitors to the National Parks will be very useful.
§ Mr. Bell
The hon. Gentleman says that it will help marginally. When I look at the figures I see that the subsidy to the railways is running at about £500 million a year and that the total revenue of the railways is about £800 million. It is obvious that that is an absurd situation.
I am tempted to say that I forecast that this would happen when we started subsidising the railways. It is worth remembering that the railways have faced the challenge of road transport for a long time and that in private hands the 1720 railways made an operating profit in every year up to the moment of nationalisation. Even in 1926 and 1931 the railways made an operating profit. They did not pay dividends, at least the London and North-Eastern did not on its deferred shares or its preferred shares. But all the four main lines made an operating profit in every year, including the year of the General Strike and the 1931 crisis. They made a profit up to the time of nationalisation and for the first two years of nationalisation. Then they went into the red. That is the historical fact.
I do not think that this position was entirely due to nationalisation because there was another cause about which we all know. The railways were run hard for six years during the war and the Government of the day milked them too hard. They took the excess revenue, with the result that the railways were left in a run-down condition at the end of the war. That is the historical background. When the railways, for whatever cause, began to run into deficit the wrong solutions were applied. A subsidy would have been all right for a year or two while the matter was corrected. Instead the subsidy has been allowed to run on every year as a normal feature. We now have the absurd position when the income from the railways is a good deal less than twice what is received by the railways in terms of subsidy. We have reached a position which cannot be allowed to continue.
Such phrases as "integrated public transport system" do not bring us any enlightenment or comfort. If we analyse what the hon. Member for Keighley has said, it means that roads should be discouraged, that the public demand for road transport should not be met. I do not believe that a country can be run in that way. We have to look at the railways and discover what is wrong. The basic error when the railways ran into deficit was to begin to cut down the system. I was not a Beeching fan—ever. Some cuts may well have been right but it is pretty obvious that if branch lines are cut, traffic on the main lines is reduced.
If we drastically cut down the number of depots handling freight, it follows that we shall lose some of the freight traffic. The railways have this characteristic 1721 rather more than some other enterprises —they will pay well if there is heavy utilisation of the permanent way but they will not pay at all if there is light utilisation. This is because of the heavy standing charges.
The traffic has gone down. The cutting down of depots inevitably lost traffic. I am afraid that the sheer unreliability of the service has lost much more. People do not use the railway freight system now because they cannot rely upon goods being delivered at the time they are wanted or the time promised. There are losses, mistakes, mis-routings, goods left in sidings—all of these episodes are so common that the railway freight service has in large measure acquired a bad name.
Whenever we generalise in that way we do injustice somewhere, and it can not be as broadly true as that. I am sure that there are some aspects of the freight service which have a high reputation with those who use them. On the whole, however, people regard rail delivery as slow and unreliable. That is the first thing that must be put right. That is a matter first for management and second for the unions. They must get together and deal with the problem. There is no other solution. It is no good sitting back and waiting for a general upturn in world economic activity.
From a constituency point of view, I am more particularly affected by the passenger traffic situation. Here again it is the density that counts. It is naturally astonishing to be told that the London commuter services lose money. Apparently the biggest loss-maker is the Southern commuter service, which is not the one with which I am concerned. How can that be the case when the trains come in packed with people and leave in the evening packed with people? I am told that my own line, which used to be Great Western and is no Midland—the Marylebone-High Wycombe line—loses 1¼million a year. One is led to ask how these costings are carried out. They certainly produce some odd results.
If there is a fast, middle-distance train, the railways are inclined to say that that train is running at a profit. If that train is stopped at two extra stations, although it may actually carry a few more passengers, we are told that it is running at a 1722 loss because an additional share of the costs has been put in. This may be how the commuter line costings are done. It is an absurd position when the same train, taking perhaps the same time on a journey, with the same amount of staff, is described as having moved from a profit-making position to a loss-making position if it stops at two additional stations. There are some very funny systems of costing in operation.
§ Mr. Bell
I am sure that that is true. It would be interesting to know, leaving out the pension fund, where the other £360 million is going. One cannot consider this matter except on a general system basis. To cost particular lines, which Beeching did, is nonsense.
What worries me is the way in which fares are going up and the service, on the whole, is going down. I say that with full appreciation of the excellent, in some respects, Inter-City service. Reductions in service mean further reductions in traffic, and, as it is proposed to cut the number of trains in the next month or so, there will be fewer trains to carry the same standing costs and the deficit will be even greater. This is a recipe for fading out the railways, which would be absolutely disastrous.
The railways could pay their way without subsidy. They are suffering in three respects. The first, with all respect to Sir Richard Marsh, who I am sure is doing a very good job, is bad management. Secondly, they are suffering from over-manning. We all know about the guard on the fully-braked freight train who rides in the loco but cannot be dispensed with because of restrictive practices. Thirdly, the railways are pricing themselves out of the market. They must be run on a commercial basis. They must attract back passengers. Very few people in the commuter belt who travel to work by road want to do so. They would far rather go by train if the journey were agreeable and reasonably priced.
1723 Almost nothing has increased more in price in the last few years than passenger fares. I exclude the price of meals in the House of Commons Refreshment Department.
§ Mr. Bradley
Surely the hon. and learned Member would concede that one of the reasons for the recent large increases in rail fares stems directly from the action of the Government which he supported which compelled British Railways to keep their fares artificially low for a long time.
§ Mr. Bell
The hon. Member may or may not be right about the immediate steep increase. I would not necessarily argue about that. I have tried not to make party points because the railways concern us all. Rail fares have increased disproportionately to the change in the value of money in the last five or 10 years. I know that they have been outpaced by the increase in the cost of meals in this building, but, apart from that, I know of nothing which has increased to a greater extent than railway fares. This is the way to destroy the undertaking.
I realise that I have not today put forward suggestions which can be adopted for improving the rail service. That should be the purpose of a debate such as this. The difficulty is that it is very hard to obtain information on these matters, as I tried to do in preparing for this debate. For example, I tried to ascertain the costing system upon which the railways base their results. As on a previous occasion, I failed. We are short of information. We do not want to fight a party battle over the question of the railways. We want to find out what is wrong with them and to use the procedure of debates to canvass the subject and to be helpful. I hope that the Minister will try to make it easier for hon. Members to do that.
§ 12.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Tom Bradley (Leicester, East)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) on his good fortune in the Ballot and on his choice of subject, which is particularly relevant at this time, when the rôle of the railways is under controversial discussion. I congratulate him also on his method of presentation and his balanced and agreeable approach to a 1724 subject that arouses fierce differences of opinion between the road and rail lobbies. I hope that we shall not have, today, a road versus rail difference of opinion, because it is a sterile approach. In recent years many responsible bodies have done their best to show, quite convincingly, that both road and rail have a proper, responsible and substantial rôle to play in the conveyance of inland traffic, provided it is done sensibly.
I find it incredible that in 1976 we should still be discussingthe need for an integrated transport policyThe hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell) took us back to the inter-war period. I remind the House that it is nearly 50 years since a Royal Commission was set up to consider and report on what measures were necessary for better regulation and control of all available means of transport in Great Britain. The background to the setting up of the Royal Commission was the concern developing in the country about the increasing volume of road traffic.
The Royal Commission reported in 1930 with a firm recommendation that there should be some form of compulsory co-ordination and unification within our inland transport system, operated by a national organisation. It was not until 1947 that a sensible system of integration was approved by the House—and I refer, of course, to the Transport Act 1947, introduced by the first post-war Labour Government. The Act began to show very encouraging results. The hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield was wrong when he said that the railways had not made a profit since the early 1930s. British Railways made a profit, including meeting interest charges, until 1953 as a result of the arrangements agreed within the Transport Act 1947.
The Act was working well and developing in a most encouraging way. Then the incoming Conservative Government, in 1951, laid their doctrinal hands upon it and began the break-up of the concept of co-ordination by their 1953 measure which was designed to sell off the major part of British Road Services to private hauliers. From 1953 to 1954 the story is one of duplication and waste, together with the mounting financial deficits of British Railways, which have cast that organisation, in particular, into a political cockpit, to say nothing of the effects 1725 on the morale of the staff as successive Governments have repeatedly applied their pet solutions by way of political interference, economic retrenchment, or disturbance of investment plans.
The Transport Act 1968, which was introduced by another Labour Government, was a fresh attempt to achieve co-ordination within the public sector of transport, but it sought to do so by different means. It was an Act that was doomed to failure. Totally ignoring the advice of the trade union of which I have the honour to be President—the Transport Salaried Staffs Association—to recreate the old British Transport Commission which disappeared in 1962 and which would have given us an overall body with vigorous controlling powers, the then Minister, who is now the Secretary of State for Social Services—my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle)—set up, instead, an entirely new road-oriented public body, known as the National Freight Corporation. It is still with us. It was comprised principally of the British Road Services group, National Carriers Limited—a new company formed out of the old British Railways Cartage Fleet—and a 51 per cent. shareholding of the British Railways Freightliners organisation.
The idea behind my right hon. Friend's thinking at that time was that the National Freight Corporation would collaborate at national level with the British Railways Board, and its subsidiaries would collaborate at local level with British Railways in achieving one of the principal objectives of the Act, which was to obtain a more balanced structure of the conveyance of traffic by our inland transport system, with the emphasis on switching as much suitable traffic as possible from road to rail. It has not worked out that way.
I remind my hon. Friend the Minister of the terms of reference applied to National Carriers Limited, as set out in Section 1(1)(a) of the 1968 Act:
1726 I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister has noted those terms, because they will become crucial.
- "(i) to provide, or secure or promote the provision of, properly integrated services for the carriage of goods within Great Britain by road and rail; and
- (ii) to secure that, in the provision of those services, goods are carried by rail whenever such carriage is efficient and economic".
Unhappily, National Carriers Limited added to its rôle of customer and supplier to British Rail another rôle, that of competitor. That rôle has gradually become paramount. It was hoped that by influencing traffic to use the inter-modal services, the National Freight Corporation and its constituent bodies would act impartially. It became evident some years ago that the National Freight Corporation had found its rôle as an independent arbiter in the place of traffics incompatible with its main task of ensuring the profitability of its road haulage business. I regret to say that the result is that competition, and very wasteful competition, is as strong within the public sector of transport as it is outside.
At the very least it was expected that National Carriers Limited would develop the use of British Railways for long-distance trunk haulage. The hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry) said that railways become competitive only after 100 miles. Indeed, I believe that the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield said that they became competitive after about 60 miles.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell
I do not think I placed any figure on it. I was merely referring to the importance of increasing passenger traffics in general.
§ Mr. Bradley
Perhaps it was my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) who put forward a different figure. I have always understood that railways become competitive after 75 miles. However, there can be no dispute that rail is an eminently suitable form of transport for long-distance haulage. It was hoped that National Carriers Limited would use it to the full. However, far from considering how to increase rail cartage from an environmental and fuel conservation point of view, National Carriers Limited is busy trunking traffic by road all over the country. That was never the concept of the Transport Act 1968.
I shall illustrate my point. Last year, National Carriers Limited withdrew a whole company train on the Bristol/ Paddington route, with the resulting diversion to road of about 20,000 rail wagon 1727 loads per annum, involving the loss of £3,000 a week to British Rail. This is outrageous. The story is much the same on other regions of British Railways. My hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North quoted his own local examples of freight depots closing down as a result of the activities of National Carriers Limited. The story is much the same elsewhere to the extent that senior railway management no longer regards National Carriers Limited as a major customer supporting a national network of wagon-load services.
I could multiply the example I have given many times. The situation represents a serious breach of the spirit of the 1968 Act concerning integrated transport. I emphasise what the 1968 Act says, namely, that rail must be used whenever it is efficient and economic. The Labour Party's policy is crystal clear; the railways' freight carrying capacity should be exploited to the full. However, we all know that at present there is an enormous amount of unused capacity on British Railways which lies alongside our congested road network system—a road system where the volume of traffic is growing but where the Government have recently announced a 39 per cent. reduction in investment. Therefore, it is surely common sense that some of the more unsuitable traffics for conveyance by road should be switched, by some means, to British Railways.
At present, British Railways face a deteriorating situation, with a freight deficit of over £60 million last year. The Chairman of the British Railways Board is pleading for a freight subsidy from the Government in addition to the present financial support for all the passenger services.
The other former British Railways organisation, Freightliners Limited, which is a constituent of the National Freight Corporation, has seen its profits slump and a loss begin to appear. Reports are available which indicate that National Carriers Limited is failing to direct traffic to Freightliners Limited. I am bound to ask the Minister what happened to the Freight Integration Council, which was supposed to look into these matters. It was set up under the 1968 Act but 1728 actually met only twice. Possibly it has now been disbanded. It showed little interest in this unfortunate development.
When the 1968 Act was discussed in this House I said that it was a terrible mistake to transfer Freightliners Limited to the National Freight Corporation. To put its operating and commercial functions under different and separate managements was a nonsense, and was certain to lead to the type of difficulties that we have experienced ever since. Freightliners is now starved of investment and is cutting services and reducing staff, although it was once described by a former Chairman of the British Railways Board as the brightest jewel in the railway crown.
I have asked successive Ministers to return this company to British Railways. I think that the management of both British Railways and Freightliners Ltd would welcome such a change. The administrative effect would be negligible, but all levels of management and staff of British Railways and Freightliners Ltd could then combine to do the same job. The Minister of Transport in the Conservative Government declined to do it, and this Government decline to do it. They should tell us clearly why not.
If time permitted I could tell a similar story about the conveyance of small parcels traffic. At the moment the public sector resembles a bear pit. There is severe competition between National Carriers Ltd, British Road Services (Parcels) Limited and British Railways in a reducing market, to say nothing of the activities of the General Post Office. If the only effect of returning National Carriers Ltd to British Railways were to achieve some sort of rationalisation in this area, it would be beneficial and well worth doing.
It is my firm conviction that the time has come for the Government to admit that the Transport Act 1968 has not proved to be a practical proposition and has run counter to the interests of everyone, including customers and staff. The Government have already conceded, by the introduction and passage of the Railways Act 1974, which gave massive financial help to British Railways, that the financial provisions of the 1968 Act are no longer relevant. I hope that I have 1729 demonstrated that other aspects of the Act are similarly faulty. I believe that the Government should abandon it.
If major new transport legislation cannot be envisaged at this time—we are impatient for the review that the Minister has promised and to which reference has been made today—certain steps are open to the Government to end the rivalry, discord and inefficiency which exist within our publicly-owned transport undertakings. I suggest that the Minister should take steps now, in advance of any legislation that he may be contemplating or that this House will be discussing shortly.
First, there should be increased use of rail facilities to overcome the problems of hazardous loads on our roads and as a contribution towards energy saving. I hope that we shall get an answer on quantity licensing today. That is a subject on which experts are not agreed, but there is nothing new in that. I remind my hon. Friend that one of his predecessors, now Secretary of State for Education—my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley)—as our Front Bench spokesman in opposition, in an interview with the magazine Motor Transport, on 9th March 1973, said that the quantity licensing provision hadnever been implemented, but the power to bring it into force is still on the Statute Book. … I am sure a Labour Minister will wish to use this measure or something similar, for example, financial incentives, to get more freight traffic moving by rail and in particular to utilise the full capacity of freight liner services.I should like an up-to-date version of my right hon. Friend's judgment in 1973 on quantity licensing or similar provisions.
Secondly, further electrification of our railway system must be inescapable if we are thinking of projecting our railways into the twenty-first century.
Thirdly, I repeat the plea that I have made both inside and outside this Chamber that, as soon as possible, the Minister should return National Carriers Limited and Freightliners Limited to where they properly belong—the British Railways Board.
Fourthly, the Minister should encourage the greater use of rail of course, by the National Freight Corporation, as I hope I have outlined. I recognise, and ask him to recognise, that that organisa- 1730 tion has a distinct and vital role to play in providing a transport service for which it is best fitted, and that greater investment in its British Road Services group would help it to compete with the private road haulage sector.
Fifthly, I hope that the Minister will not overlook the other important nationalised transport bodies—the British Transport Docks Board and the British Waterways Board—and the part that they can play in a better organised inland transport system.
Finally, it is my judgment that the objecives that I have outlined can be secured, and will produce the best results, only in the context of a national transport planning authority that would have responsibility for investment planning and the co-ordination of passenger and freight services, docks, airports, the roads programme, research and development. Only a comprehensive framework at national level can help the co-ordination and integration of transport which the Labour Party over many years has always sought.
My hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North mentioned some of the bodies which have been studying and producing policy proposals for a new look at transport. However, he omitted one with which I am proud to be associated—the Trades Union Congress Transport Industries Committee, which has produced an excellent agreed document by all the transport unions engaged on that Committee. I recommend it for close study by my hon. Friend. He will find developed in it the concept of a national transport planning authority, which most of us believe would overcome many of the problems which confront and confuse us today.
In the meantime, I ask the Minister to intervene quickly to reverse developments within our public transport sector which I believe are extremely damaging to its interest.
§ 1.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Roger Moate (Faversham)
I apologise to the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) for having missed the first part of his speech, but I add my congratulations to him on his choice of subject. It is evident from the nature of the debate which has taken place that it was an extremely wise choice.
1731 I endorse the welcome given to my hon. Friend, the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler) in his new post as Shadow Minister for Transport. He comes into a post totally unencumbered with any semblance of existing policies. He has a totally clear field as there is a complete vacuum of Government policy on this matter. Therefore, he has a splendid opportunity to emerge with clear and constructive policies, which will be a novel and very welcome situation.
Government policy seems to be, "Wait for the White Paper on the subject of an integrated transport policy." Those of us who have seen this White Paper develop in the minds of Ministers are entitled to be a little sceptical about what it will contain. Certainly, we can be extremely sceptical about an integrated transport policy. We are in the process of watching transport disintegrate. We have cuts in rail and bus services and, of course, a negligible roads programme. How we can integrate that situation I fail to see. I suspect that the White Paper is likely to be the joke of the decade. I wish the Minister well. If he were unencumbered by his party's policies and a Secretary of State who has an intellectual dislike of coming to clear-cut decisions, the hon. Gentleman could probably produce some clear-cut transport policies. However, we are not likely to have any more clear transport policies this time next year than we have at present.
I do not wish to introduce a note of disunity, because I want to come back to the problem of the railways, on which I suspect there is far greater accord across the Chamber than is usual. However, the idea of an integrated or co-ordinated transport system is a piece of Socialist mythology which should be discarded as soon as possible. I do not need to obtain the agreement of hon. Gentlemen opposite to that proposition, because I suspect that that does not much matter. Our transport systems are not likely to be any more integrated or co-ordinated in the years to come than they are now, whether the Labour Party believes it or not.
However, I would also put the proposition that co-ordination, national integration, reduces flexibility and I believe that the people of this country want greater flexibility if they are to get the transport service that genuinely meets their needs.
1732 The classic example is the National Bus Company. In this decade there is a greater need than ever before for flexibility in our bus services, but this creation of an integrated national bus service has come at a time when, all over the country, we see fewer and fewer bus services. Increasingly, this rigid structure has meant totally unsuitable substantial buses running on our rural roads when we should have changed that and provided minibus services on a large scale.
There are one or two minor experiments in running minibuses in one or two areas, and I wish them well, but the national colossus moves very slowly, and if we are trying to give the public the service that they require, let us have less talk about integration and co-ordination and more freedom and flexibility. This is not a public versus private enterprise argument. It may be that the National Bus Company can encourage private enterprise beneath an umbrella of franchises or licences, but, somehow, if we can seek a consensus and obtain greater flexibility we shall give a far better service to the public.
A greater disservice to the public is created by continuing the belief that open-ended subsidies are available to support public transport systems. The day of reckoning always comes, whichever party is in power, and I think that it is doing a disservice to British Railways, to the National Bus Company, to the travelling public and not least to the employees of British Rail if people continue in the belief that subsidies will be forthcoming to maintain inefficient services.
It is in everybody's interest that a greater measure of viability is applied, and that a highly efficient—I shall not say profitable—and viable economic form be found for British Railways. I believe in British Railways. I do not believe that the answer to its problems is likely to be found in major cuts in route mileage or in substantial closures of existing lines. If we do that we shall bleed the railways to death. That is a never-ending process of cuts that will end with no system at all. The answer has to be found in other ways.
I must, on behalf of my constituents, register a protest at the latest report of 1733 another increase in fares of about 17½ per cent. I wish to make clear to the House the background to this situation. If the report of this 17½ per cent. increase is correct, and if the increase goes through, rail fares will have increased for my commuters by 100 per cent. in about 12 to 14 months.
§ Mr. Huckfield
I am following the hon. Gentleman's interesting argument. If he is against further subsidies to British Rail, and if he is against fare increases, how does he believe we shall pay for British Rail?
§ Mr. Moate
That is an obvious point, and I assure the hon. Gentleman that I shall not leave it, because I want to say how we can have a flourishing, strong and effective British Rail.
A 100 per cent. fare increase in just over 12 months is intolerable. The cost of an annual season ticket from Faver-sham to London last January was increased from £234 to £263. In May 1975 that figure went up to £327. In September it was increased to £375, and if the latest increase goes through the price will be £441 for a journey of less than 50 miles. I presume that this increase of 17½ per cent. is to be applied under the criterion of what the market can bear. For that reason, presumably, freight which is losing money will suffer only a 10 per cent. increase and inter-City fares are likely to have a similar increase. It is because they are more price sensitive than the poor captive commuter.
"What the market can bear" is an understandable phrase in a free competitive situation, but in the context of a monopoly it is a brutal monopolistic statement because commuters travelling that distance to London have no choice. They have to pay up, but there is no way of knowing whether they are paying a fair amount for that service or simply bolstering up other areas of loss-making within the British Rail system. There is no way of knowing whether the system 1734 that they are using is efficient or inefficient, whether there is overmanning or not. They simply have to pay up, and I maintain that that situation is intolerable.
One accepts that in an inflationary period prices will rise, and I do not believe that commuters expect to be subsidised by other rail passengers or by people generally, but they are entitled to know the facts, and the facts are something that we do not have. I have one special plea to make. If the Minister is to produce a White Paper, I do not think that he should hurry it. He should not produce it just to please his own supporters. Let us get it right. Let us have constructive views rather than a White Paper that is produced in a hurry for its own sake.
If the Minister is to produce a White Paper, I urge him to open up British Rail's books and let us have the facts and figures. Let us know how much each division is losing or making. Let us know the breakdown between freight and passenger services. If we know the figures, even for individual routes and lines, to the extent that that is possible, and if the books are opened and exposed to public scrutiny, there might be far greater public acceptance of fare increases than would otherwise be the case. At the moment, it is virtually impossible to know the facts of the situation. It is intolerable that Parliament has to talk this way without sufficient information, and the Minister will be doing a service to the travelling public, to British Rail and to Parliament if he changes the whole philosophy of the publication of British Rail's statistics.
It has been said that some of the fare increases stem from the period of price restraint under the Conservative Government. I accept that, but I remind the House that we are talking about a 100 per cent. fare increase in a fairly short time. Whenever fares have been increased we have been told that it is due to the last period of price restraint. This argument can be flogged too often and too long. Until 1973, broadly speaking, railway fare increases were keeping pace with the cost of living. It was only in 1973–74 that price restraint bit deeply into British Rail's revenues and one accepts that that has to be made up, but. 1735 we have exhausted that point and moved into a new situation.
The fact of the matter is that the total revenues of British Rail, apart from Government support, just about meet the wage bill. Whenever there is a wage increase, even £6 a week, I hazard a guess that that leaves a gap of 10 per cent. to 15 per cent. that has immediately to be applied to railway fares. Any wage increase means immediate fare increases.
The hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Huckfield) asks what the future is for British Rail if we cannot recover from the consumer all the money that is needed. I say that it has to be found from increased productivity. I do not go along with those who say that railwaymen are overpaid. If I had to make such a broad generalisation I would say that they are underpaid, and this will be the great problems of the railways in the future. At the moment we have high unemployment and, generally speaking, there is no great problem of recruitment, but if we move into a different, expansionist era when there is difficulty in recruiting people—this will not happen under this Government but in a few years time it will happen—it will be difficult for British Rail to maintain their large staff of cleaners, night workers, and so on. The railways will do that only by being able to pay much higher wages than they pay now.
I am sure that Government Members and I would be at one in saying that we want British Rail to be a capital-intensive high-wage industry that offers first-class job security to its people, far better pensions to its employees, and has a proud and confident work force. But can it maintain that position with 250,00G employees? Although it has gone through a decade of which it and the unions can be justly proud, having co-operated in a massive rundown—something akin to an industrial revolution—in recent years, productivity has levelled out.
Is it asking too much of British Rail and the unions to accept that if the railway system is to work in the 1980s and 1990s, it may have to do so with a work force of 150,000? So many figures have been given on overmanning that I would only put the general propositions that most railwaymen work very hard, they are 1736 not over-paid by any means, but that it is impossible to maintain the present size of the work force for the decades ahead. It might even be impossible to recruit that size of work force and to maintain it into the next two or three decades.
So how do we face up to this? It is no good saying that we should cut down the work force unless we are prepared to maintain a high capital investment programme to provide the capital backing which will allow a number of existing jobs to be dispensed with. What is totally deplorable is confrontation. If the Board of British Rail is doing its job properly—I do not think it is—I should have thought that it would by now have created an atmosphere of co-operation and would have learned how to work much more closely with the unions. If I were asked to judge who could run the railways best, my preference would be for Mr. Weighell or Lord Greene than Sir Richard Marsh. Although I have immense respect for what I would call the middle management of British Rail—totally dedicated and professional people who are determined to make the railways a flourishing and confident industry—I do not get that same impression from the Board of British Rail—that is, if that Board exists. Despite many years of taking part in transport debates, I have never met any members of the Board so far as I can remember.
I am not impressed by a chairman who apparently spends most of his time criticising politicians when he himself has run the railways into mammoth losses and when industrial relations leave a great deal to be desired.
§ Mr. Leslie Spriggs (St. Helens)
Is the hon. Gentleman not being a little unfair to Sir Richard Marsh and the Board when both Governments have interfered with his policies? In view of that, I think that he should withdraw any criticism of Sir Richard Marsh.
§ Mr. Moate
I do not think that I would withdraw the criticism, but I will try to justify it without taking too much time. I accept that it is easy to make these broad and fairly cruel criticisms of people within the public service, but one must judge by results. Certainly Governments have interfered regularly, and rightly so. Had the results of British Rail been any better, I agree that we could have left Sir Richard and his Board 1737 to manage with less interference and that it would be unfair to criticise. But they have not been good.
The stature of a man in charge of a nationalised industry must be measured not by his complaints about Government interference but by how he reacts to it. If he is convinced that he has a viable programme and that Government intervention is wrong or damaging, ultimately he resigns. But he should not go on for ever with a bad brief, losing more and more money, and always criticising successive Governments.
I am sorry to criticise Sir Richard Marsh, because from all that I have heard of him, and from the occasions that I have heard him in person, I judge him to be an amiable, charming and witty man. I am not prejudiced against him because his only qualification was membership of a Labour Government—I am sure that that is not a complete disability—but I think that the Board of British Rail has been seen to fail and that the sooner a change takes place there the better, assuming that the new chairman and the new Board are given a clear brief to obtain union co-operation for a long-term plan based on a continuing programme of capital investment resulting in a much smaller work force.
A smaller work force must be in the interests of the unions themselves, but it can be achieved only with greater cooperation between unions and management. It is sad for the public and for British Rail that that level of cooperation does not seem to exist.
§ Mr. Bradley
I should not like the hon. Gentleman to give the impression that there is absolutely no exchange of views between British Rail management and the unions. That is not true. The Board meets the railway unions regularly and I attend those meetings. But perhaps he would accept that it is not easy, in a business which is over 66 per cent. labour-intensive and which operates a service for 168 hours a week, to bring in sweeping changes overnight. The Board and the unions have a very good record in the achievement of manpower reductions over the last decade, and it has been done with an absence of friction which the hon. Gentleman will find that few other industries can demonstrate.
§ Mr. Moate
I think that the hon. Gentleman will agree that I gave credit to the unions for the enormous change which took place until two or three years ago. I have not been indulging in traditional attacks on the unions for bad industrial relations—to a large extent, where they exist they are as much the fault of management—and I have not been engaging in the usual attacks on high wage increases paid to railwaymen. I agree with the hon. Gentleman, but the situation has now changed.
If we are to get the sort of railway system of which this country can be proud, with roughly the same route mileage as now, an industry of which railwaymen, management, unions and everyone concerned can alike be proud, we must involve the unions and their leaders not just in helping with the rundown of the services and ensuring that there is as little friction as possible. They have to be engaged in a much more creative and progressive enterprise. They have to be involved in management.
Perhaps I have not put the point as clearly as I should have liked. When one wants to see a creative policy for the future to get out of this depressing era—it must be depressing for every railwayman to hear constant talk about redundancies, route closures and so on—there must be clear-cut plans to carry us through to the next century so that everyone can feel that there is a future for British Rail.
At the moment, the railwayman can have little job security or happiness in his job. Let us change that. The commuter sees only a never-ending journey involving higher fares and higher taxes to pay higher subsidies, in which the only comforting prospect is to be told, "Do not worry: at the end of the day we may save you from paying these fares by closing your line altogether." It is a dismal prospect. The public are entitled to good public transport facilities.
There is an opportunity in the present situation of crisis for far greater co-operation across the Floor of the House and among unions, management and the travelling public. Let us hope that, in the present crisis of public transport, we can use the opportunity to secure that greater co-operation and to provide the services that the public need, and not just those 1739 which the establishment think the public need.
§ 1.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Les Huckfield (Nuneaton)
The hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) normally makes a constructive contribution. I was, therefore, a little perplexed to hear him lay the blame for British Rail's rather precarious financial position at the feet of the unions. He said that overmanning is the real reason for the serious and deep deficit into which the railways have run. He represents a part of the world where the hallmark of British Rail's services is not overmanning but staff shortages. The number of services from his part of the world into the large London stations that have to be cancelled is due to the number of train crews available. We do not have the required number of station staff. The hon. Member knows as well as I that overtime working on the Southern Region and train crew shortages are just as much a cause of poor services and passengers leaving the railways as are fare increases. I am surprised that he has used the analysis of overmanning as blame for the main deficit of the railways.
§ Mr. Moate
I accept a great deal of what the hon. Gentleman said. I have very little information on which to work, but as far as I can judge the South-East Region is by no means significantly overmanned. I ask the hon. Gentleman to address himself to the question: do not 250,000 people represent a substantial degree of overmanning, which can and must be solved by increased capital investment?
§ Mr. Huckfield
I should, of course, prefer to make my own speech but I hope that the hon. Gentleman will examine the manning position in his constituency. He will find much overmanning in that part of the world.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) on his choice of subject today. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment on his new Government office and the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler), in his new capacity. I know that they will both make worthwhile and valuable contributions to these debates.
1740 As the parliamentary representative of the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen, as a sponsored member of the Transport and General Workers' Union, and as the Chairman of the Labour Party's Transport Group in the House, it behoves me to take as broad a perspective as possible of the transport situation which faces this country. I believe that I shall be the only member of the Transport and General Workers' Union to speak in this debate, because I do not believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, West (Mr. Horam) will be called. That does not mean to say that I do not want to take up all of his time as well, but as I recognise that he does not have much likelihood of being called, and as my union represents 1.8 million members, I hope that the House will recognise the strength of feeling that exists in my union.
My view is based on the motion, and I am glad to know that it makes reference to all the publicly-owned transport services in this country. It would appear from the remarks of one or two hon. Members that it was only the railways that were publicly-owned. We have a publicly-owned National Freight Corporation, which includes the large element, British Road Services, which has a parcel attachment. We have a nationalised bus company, which is a flourishing operation although it is currently in some financial difficulties, and a fairly involved and comprehensive British Waterways Board as well.
I hope that the House will recognise that we do not have only a publicly-owned railway system. There is potentially a much wider coverage of public ownership. I should like to see that coverage spread even wider. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North concentrated on the need for co-ordination and integration, because, although at annual conferences of the Labour Party, almost as a matter of routine, we say that we want a coordinated and integrated transport policy, we have never got down to telling anyone what that means. I shall try to do so today.
I am not at all envious of the task that has fallen upon the shoulders of my hon. Friend the Minister, because in his present incarnation he will have the duty 1741 of formulating in detail something that the Labour Party has always failed to do in the past. Attempts to co-ordinate and integrate were made in the 1947 and in the 1968 Acts, but the Labour Party failed in those two interpretations.
I do not favour the resurrection of a British Transport Commission, which would be the owning and operating authority for all nationalised forms of transport. It would be too bureaucratic—and I do not want one body to own and operate everything. Neither do I want a continuation of the present policies of State-sponsored competition—that is all I can call it—which we have not only between the British Railways Board and the National Freight Corporation but also within the National Freight Corporation.
The main emphasis of the 1968 Act was supposed to be in the integration of like with like, under the aegis of the National Freight Corporation and the passenger transport authorities. Certainly under the National Freight Corporation we have not integrated a great deal—in fact, it has created even more competition.
In the sphere of smalls and parcels carriage we have National Carriers, British Road Services (Parcels), British Rail Express Parcels, the Post Office and the private parcel services. We are now getting the private mail carriers. This is a diminishing market, and all those bodies are making losses. I do not regard that as a co-ordinated or integrated situation. Much of the situation has been produced directly by the 1968 Transport Act. I hope that in the area of smalls and parcel carriage the White Paper or Green Paper—whichever colour it turns out to be—will at last grasp the nettle.
The main comment I wish to make, to which the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry) referred, concerns the need for integration and co-ordination of investment. A good example of this is the London-Glasgow route. Currently British Airways operates a shuttle service, and may pay no more duty than 1p a gallon for the aviation fuel that it uses. British Caledonian operates a London-Glasgow service although not on a shuttle basis—it cannot afford to do so; indeed, it does not deserve to do so. British Rail operates its "Electric Scots" 1742 service, which is an expensive capital investment programme about which questions have been raised. The National Bus Company operates an express service, and there is also the motorway itself. If one is quick and looks in the rear mirror one can go from London to Glasgow pretty quickly.
All those investment decisions were taken in isolation. The British Railways Board did not examine the motorway potential. Before it put its extra coaches on the road there was no kind of examination by the National Bus Company about the effect of the "Electric Scots" service. All those forms of transport are in competition. They operate under completely individual and separate investment and pricing policies. In a world of consumer choice—a subject that is often espoused by Conservative Members—that might be all right, if all the investment decisions were in private hands. However, the trouble is that the majority of those investment decisions are in the hands of the same Department. At present the Department of the Environment is not even co-ordinating the investment and pricing policies of those industries for which it has direct and sole responsibility.
The taxpayer is paying more than the passenger for every passenger journey made on British Rail.
Despite all that we have still not defined a rôle for the railways and we have still not told the Chairman of the British Railways Board what he is supposed to do. I do not favour a British Transport Commission to sort the matter out. I was not impressed by the 1968 Act as a method of doing that. My hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North was for a couple of years Chairman of an independent Transport Review Commission, set up under the auspices of Socialist Commentary. Although Socialist Commentary paid for it, the conclusions were entirely our own. I say that as a member of the Tribune Group.
Our conclusion was that as neither the British Transport Commission nor the 1968 Act, nor the Department, was doing the co-ordinating we favoured a national transport authority, whose main job would be the co-ordination of investment and pricing policies. We also said that the only sensible method of allocating traffic between road and rail was to base the 1743 costs of carriage, and the fares and rates for carriage, on the economic, social and environmental costs of each mode of operation. It is only when each transport mode has a fare and rates structure, based on the total economic, social and environmental costs, that we shall have a much more sensible allocation between road and rail.
I am not in favour of direction of traffic. Neither I nor my union favours quantity licensing. It is bureaucratic nonsense, and I do not believe that it will work. I consistently voted against it in 1968, and I still have a great deal of difficulty in supporting it. The best means of allocation between road and rail, the best means of ensuring the kind of modal split that we should see for both passenger and freight, is a cost system based on the economic, social and environmental costs.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will have taken some note of what I have said and of my Committee's report. But I agree with what my hon. Friends have said about the railways. Railwaymen—I am the son of one—deserve to know where they stand. They do not know now. The travelling public deserve to know where they stand, and they do not know, either. It is worrying for the railwaymen when they see being passed round maps that leave the whole of Wales and most of Scotland without railways. When 50 per cent. of railway fares are now, in effect, paid by the taxpayers, it is about time the Government told the railways what they were supposed to do.
We have had a new book by Messrs. Pryke and Dodgson. The hon. Member for Faversham has advocated big railway staff rundowns. Apart from the fact that I do not believe that over-manning is the chief problem that British Rail faces, the lesson of the rundown of the coal industry in the 1960s should be borne in mind. It was our Government and my party that embarked on that big rundown. The word rapidly got round that there was no future in the mining industry. I still believe that it is as a result of that decision and that tragic undermining of confidence in the mining community that the National Coal Board still has great difficulty in recruiting miners in key areas. Despite the well-deserved increases in 1744 wages over the past five years we still have a shortage of coal miners.
If ever there is a massive rundown of railway manpower, and there is that same tragic loss of confidence among railway workers, we shall see a massive drift away from the industry, and it will then be difficult to get railway workers back in key areas. Engine drivers and signalmen cannot be trained in a fortnight. An engine driver has to go through years of training, starting with cleaning and then working as second man. I hope that railwaymen's confidence will not be undermined. They deserve above all to know where they stand.
A like problem faces the National Bus Company. Unless it receives increased financial support, it will have to withdraw about 40 million route-miles of passenger services over the next year. That could involve about 10,000 bus drivers' and platform staff jobs. Bus workers also need to be told where they stand.
The real problem, which seems to have been avoided in the debate so far, is that both on the railways and on the subsidy-supported stage carriage bus services we are reaching the point where a fares increase does not increase total revenue. I suppose that the economists would tell us that we now have a demand elasticity greater than unity. We have gone into that part of the demand curve where demand is elastic, so that every time fares are increased there is a corresponding reduction in the number of passengers. That is precisely the situation facing both British Rail and the National Bus Company.
We are in that difficult area of decision-making in which my hon. Friend must decide how to allocate scarce resources between competing needs at a time of public expenditure restraint. Both the British Railways Board and the National Bus Company are seeking financial assistance from the Government. Neither has been helped by the period of fares restraint imposed by the last Government, who insisted that the burden of restraining inflation must be borne by the nationalised industries. That is why there has been some of the catching-up that we have seen recently.
Another point to mention is the financial difficulties of the National Freight Corporation, which will need temporary 1745 assistance. Yet another is the fact that many of my constituents would not be able to get to work without their cars, so I am not against the private car. They use their cars to get to and from Coventry and other places. As my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bradley) said, there has been a 40 per cent. cut in the road programme. Road spending has been cut already.
We realise that my hon. Friend and his Department have a difficult task. The allocation of scarce resources is the most fundamental problem for the economist. But we should not have a sudden drastic rundown in railway manpower. I say to my hon. Friend "Don't solve the problems of the National Bus Company by dismantling the licensing system." The hon. Member for Wellingborough has strong feelings on the matter, but God forbid that the main emphasis in public transport should be on private operators of minibuses and "grace-and-favour" lift-giving and "social car schemes". If we have that kind of emphasis, public transport will disappear in many rural and urban areas. Let us consider giving financial assistance to the National Bus Company instead of dismantling the licensing system, which would mean dismantling public transport.
I hope that my hon. Friend will solve the problems of the allocation of traffic between road and rail, particularly freight traffic, not by quantity licensing and not by regulation, but by seeing that both road and rail have a pattern of charges, fares and rates which reflects their total economic, social and environmental costs of operation. That is the only sensible allocation policy.
Finally, we in the transport industries have all become conditioned to years when there was always increasing public expenditure; if the railway deficit was a little greater in one year, the public expenditure could be increase the next year to meet it. The National Bus Company has also got into this rut, in that if the stage carriage services needed more revenue support that support could be increased. The nationalised sector of transport has become accustomed to increasing amounts of public expenditure support each year.
1746 We are now in a period of public expenditure restraint. This is bound to hit the railways and the bus industry and their expectations.
I hope that there will be a statement of overall transport policy and that my hon. Friend will realise that his problem is the allocation of scarce resources over the whole of public transport so that we can get the best out of all forms of public transport, not just the railways. I hope that this statement comes soon, because, unless it does, there will be a loss of confidence amongst workers and passengers that it will be difficult to regain.
§ 2.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Leslie Spriggs (St. Helens)
In view of what has been said about the Chairman of the British Railways Board it should be made clear in this important debate that most of us who have been interested in all forms of transport have at least been given a clear indication by the Chairman of the Railway Board's long-term plans.
Unfortunately, Governments being what they are and the Treasury being what it is, those long-term plans have been destroyed by Government after Government. The present Chairman is not the first chairman to have been frustrated in the job of managing one of the biggest undertakings in the commercial and industrial world. We should all give Sir Richard Marsh and his Board, and the trade unions which have been in consultation with him and his Board on so many occasions, credit for doing what they have done.
The railways trade unions deserve especial credit. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bradley) who referred to the great number of redundancies which have been agreed by the trade unions and the Railways Board over a number of years. This has meant the elimination of thousands of jobs. The railway unions could not have sold higher figures to their membership.
I refer my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary to the proceedings at the Labour Party Conference at Blackpool in 1975. David Bowman, President of the National Union of Railwaymen, 1747 speaking on behalf of the union's delegation to the conference, moved composite resolution No. 25, which was as follows:This Conference believes that railways and nationalised road transport, together with water borne transport have a vital role to play in the provision of an efficient public transport system. It therefore calls on the Government to boost investment in the railways and other publicly owned transport to enable much needed modernisation and electrification to take place. This policy will require a firm investment policy for at least a five or ten year period to ensure that a rolling re-equipment programme can be carried through economically. Conference believes that a reliable system of public transport is not only an essential social service but also a necessary pre-condition for economic recovery.Conference considers that the Government should introduce proposals for achieving a more satisfactory and efficient publicly owned and integrated transport sector, in line with the Labour Party October 1974 Manifesto, and prepare and keep under review a national transport plan, covering all aspects of transport and all areas of the country. It further urges legislation to take back into public ownership those nationalised industries sold off by previous Conservative governments.The importance of the transport industry and the need for integration should be acknowledged by the inclusion of the Minister of Transport in the Cabinet.The request at the tail end of the motion—that the Minister for Transport should be elevated to Cabinet rank—has been taken up by several hon. Members. When I raised the matter, the request was declined. Others have since raised the matter. We have got no further. I still believe that, in view of the importance of this great industry, the Minister for Transport should be elevated to Cabinet rank without further delay. I believe that the Prime Minister, whom I greatly respect and who is my friend, has made a mistake by leaving the Minister for Transport amongst the junior ranks of his Ministers.
There are a number of questions which hon. Members should ask the Government. We want to know the present position as regards the transport of passengers and freight. If anyone wishes to see fragmentation, the present unplanned and somewhat chaotic system of transportation is a good example of a fragmented industry. It is not in the interests of those in commerce and industry that the transport industry should be so fragmented.
1748 I have asked my hon. Friend to tell the House what consultations have taken place or will take place before the Government finally issue their White Paper. Before any Secretary of State drafts such an important document he should have full consultation with the Railways Board, the unions, and other bodies such as Transport 2000 and, environment groups, not forgetting those which are not ordinarily regarded as pressure groups.
The public ought to be consulted. There are people who have to travel 50 or 60 miles a day to and from their places of employment. As a railway traveller, it has been brought to my attention that many people find that their wage increases do not come anywhere near their increased travelling costs. From time to time requests have been made that travelling expenses between home and place of employment should be allowed against taxation, but such requests have been refused.
My experience, as I travel on the Glasgow to Euston train every Monday, is that fewer people travel by rail. The increased fares have made it impossible for ordinary people, who do not travel by warrant or on the firm's expense, to use the railway or public transport at all. The buses and the railway undertakings are pricing themselves out of the market. If any excuse were required to prove that the nation did not want trains or buses, this system of forcing up fares provides the excuse, and I believe it is dishonourable to use an excuse of this kind to show that trains and buses are running almost empty. The fact that they are running almost empty is the fault of the political Administration who are forcing the bus and railway undertakings to increase fares.
Although the Government tell us that they have no plans for reducing the overall mileage of the railway system, services are being cut and stations are being closed down. The public have made it clear that they are not prepared to tolerate any further cuts in public transport. I speak as a railwayman and as a member of the House of Commons Transport Group. My hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Huckfield) and all members of the House of Commons Transport Group have an interest in all forms of 1749 transport, and we want a balance between all forms of transport to enable people to get to and from their place of employment.
I regret that I have to speak as I do. As a loyal member of the Labour Party for about 43 years, I, like my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East, have to ask the Government to integrate and coordinate all forms of transport 29 years after the Transport Act 1947. I feel ashamed at belonging to a party which has not yet devised a system of integrating and co-ordinating transport as a whole and making it impossible for future Administrations to disintegrate and sell off. The worst possible of all worlds is that one Administration destroy what their predecessors in government have built up. As one of my hon. Friends has said, the travelling public and the workers in the industries concerned are entitled to know where they stand. I can assure the House that today they do not know where they stand.
I looked at the figures issued yesterday relating to the cost of alternatives. I considered the estimated costs of accidents on our roads last year. It is estimated that deaths and serious injuries cost this country £900 million. Taking the direct cost of using roads, 20 per cent. of all cars on the roads are wholly or partly company financed. Company car tax and VAT relief amounts to £1,000 million. Other costs are: research and compensation £25 million; planning and administration £120 million; lighting and drainage £200 million; policing and legal costs £260 million; road maintenance £333 million; new roads and improvements £469 million.
§ Mr. Spriggs
I believe that the relief to people who run company cars is in excess of what is contributed in the form of direct subsidies from the Government to public transport. As I have already 1750 said, tax and VAT relief is estimated at £1,000 million per year for private car users who use company cars. I could give examples of other people who benefit even more.
On the other side of the balance sheet, we must take into consideration those people who would have us develop more roads, put more vehicles on the roads and transfer traffic from the railways to the roads. I ask such people to consider the cost of air pollution, congestion, land blight and consumption, access severance, noise, personal stress, vibration, and visual intrusion. There are many more costs and problems which the nation will have to face.
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State said today that it was not the Government's intention to reduce the present railway mileage. He also said that there was not an open-ended deficit account from which payments could be made on demand. I assure my hon. Friend that responsible leaders of the trade union movement have never asked for open-ended deficits. What they want is a sensible use of resources, taking into account some of the figures and factors to which I have referred.
I appeal to the Government to make a special effort to meet the Board of British Rail for the purpose of discussing the Government's proposals for investment covering the period 1977–81. The cuts about which I am complaining relate specifically to that period. The short-term cuts already announced for 1976 have been most reluctantly accepted, in the light of the current national economic situation. Already, the railways have been forced to accept a disportionately large cut in investment. Of the £100 million reduction in nationalised industry investment announced by the Government in August, £25 million fell on the railways.
The Government are now proposing to freeze rail investment for each of the five years from 1977 at the sharply reduced 1976 level. The 1976 figure of £238 million, at 1975 price levels, is to be compared with the £341 million proposed by the Board of British Rail at the end of 1972 and the £276 million accepted by the previous Minister for Transport Industries at the end of 1973. When the future 1751 of the railways was endorsed by a previous Administration, for 1977 that Minister for Transport Industries accepted an investment figure of £294 million and kept an open mind for the period from 1978 onwards. For those four years, the Board's proposals were as follows: for 1978, £365 million; for 1979, £365 million; for 1980, £360 million; for 1981, £363 million.
The Government are now proposing to fix the amount at the maximum of £238 million for each of those latter three years. Thus, having accepted a massive cut for 1976, when it was originally proposed to spend—including items deferred from 1975—£290 million, the railways are to be stuck with this drastically reduced level for the next five years.
I end on this note: if my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State feels that what the trade unions have said about the suggested cuts is a load of codswallop, let him urge upon the Secretary of State that, if this great railway undertaking is to be limited at those figures, with ever-increasing costs and with inflation raging as we know it to be, no board, no matter how clever, can run such an undertaking with the aid now proposed.
Recognising that there is no bottomless purse or unlimited supply of cash for any undertaking, I urge that there be set in train, in conjunction with the management of the publicly owned undertakings and the trade unions, a study of the resources available. If the Government were to do what they seem at present to be failing to do, that is, to consult all those concerned before they finalise their White Paper, that would, I am sure, be a very wise step, for nothing could be worse for any Government than to appear to be dictating to the rest of the country. On those grounds, I appeal to the Minister to pass to his right hon. Friends the message which goes out from the House today.
§ 2.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Fowler (Sutton Coldfield)
All hon. Members will congratulate the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) on raising this subject. It is a great pity that the House is unable to find more time to debate it, for it is a subject of enormous significance—important to the public as both customer 1752 and taxpayer, and vital in terms of employment. It seems to me that we tend to debate transport at times of crisis, and, if I am right about that, no great powers of forecast are needed to predict that we shall debate it often during the coming months.
Perhaps I may tell my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) at the outset—it will come as no surprise to him—that after all of seven days as Shadow Transport Minister, I am still in the question-asking rather than the answer-giving stage. But both in the talks that I have had and in the reports, pamphlets and articles that I have read over the past week, I have found one point coming over loud and clear—that there is a substantial body of opinion which regards transport as a natural extension of my previous job in social services. The hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) specifically raised the question which underlies the debate: how far should transport be regarded as a social service and how far as an economic activity? In other words, who should pay for the journeys—the taxpayer and the ratepayer, or those who make the journeys?
I do not suggest that the economic criterion is the only one in transport. Plainly, there are other aspects of transport policy—for instance, the protection of the public, the protection of the environment, and the inescapable need for some public services—but I suggest that today, with the country facing its gravest financial crisis since the 1930s, the economic considerations must be paramount. I should have hoped that that would be a matter of no great controversy.
In this motion, the hon. Member for Derby, North calls for an integrated transport policy. He fairly makes the point that it is part of the Labour Party manifesto, and he says that the pledges made there are not yet being carried out. So far as Opposition are concerned, that is a matter between the hon. Gentleman and the Government. He will not expect us to accept the argument that the fact that something is in the Labour Party manifesto is a conclusive argument in its favour. It is worth remembering what that manifesto actually said in 1753 Ocotber 1974. It was the objective of the Labour Partyto move as much traffic as possible from roads to rail and to water; and to develop public transport to make us less dependent upon the private car.For reasons rather different, I suspect, from those felt by the hon. Member for Derby, North, I endorse one point that he made. It is not only the Labour Party that would like to know whether that still remains the policy of this Government; the general public wish to know, too.
§ Mr. Whitehead
Length does not necessarily come into the matter. As the hon. Gentleman is examining Labour policy, perhaps he will also tell us, although he has been Shadow Minister for Transport for only a short time, whether, for the moment at least, he sticks by the commitment of the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) to a railway network of substantially the present size.
§ Mr. Fowler
I shall come to that point, and to our whole approach. What is important at the moment, however, is the question how the Government now interpret their election manifesto and pledges. After all, it is Government policy that is tinder examination. What, for example, are the employment implications of a move from road to rail and water? There must be some. That is a vital point that we should recognise. We all share the concern expressed for those working on the railways. I once represented a Nottingham constituency and I know something, at any rate, about the feelings on this question. But surely we deceive ourselves if we believe that a shift from road to rail does not also produce its effects on employment.
Another question that arises in the changed circumstances is whether it will remain the declared aim of the Government to make us less dependent on the car. That is what the manifesto says is the aim. If it is, how is that reconciled—perhaps it can be—with the other major policy of massive financial support for car makers such as British Leyland and 1754 Chrysler? The country is investing enormous sums in these companies. Even on the Government's own calculations, the bill for British Leyland is over £1,250 million, and could be much more, while for Chrysler it is over £162 million. Are we to understand that, at the same time as they are pursuing that policy of support for the car makers, the Government are trying to make us less dependent on the very vehicles they are helping to produce? Can we have guidance on that question?
What underlies the motion is the demand for an integrated transport policy. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry), I neither like the term nor support what I take to be the philosophy behind it, of seeking to direct people to do things which, left to their own economic and personal judgment, they would not do. Nor, of course, are we alone in that. As Sir Reginald Wilson, a past Chairman of the National Freight Corporation and a distinguished figure in transport, has pointed out:We must stop people from blindly accepting the idea that an integration of all transport activity must he the natural logical and civilised shape of it in the end whereas fragmentation is a word of abuse hurled at small providers who are not part of the transport establishment and must have something wrong about it.The real question is not whether there is to be co-ordination or integration of transport, however one seeks to express it, but who is to do it. To put the choice at its broadest, is transport to be coordinated by the customer, with the consumer choosing freely between alternatives, or is it to be done by the State or by public authority invested with powers to impose its decisions by eliminating alternatives?
It is here that I part company with the approach of the Labour Party. My belief is that the crucial component in this debate is not the lobby for roads or the lobby for rail but the consumer, the traveller, the member of the public. His are the interests which are overriding.
The public also have another crucial interest—to ensure that the money that they provide is efficiently used. Let us remind ourselves just how much public money is provided. Public expenditure on roads and transport now totals over £1,700 million a year. Subsidies to British 1755 Rail are now running at between £450 million and £500 million a year. It is of crucial importance that we get value for money, and nowhere is this more important than in the railway service.
I have listened carefully to every speech made in the debate. It is true that there is a mass of published advice about the way in which to run a railway. For the health services, the advice was usually headlined, "Cure for the NHS". In transport, it is, "Putting the railways on the right tracks". But there is one point that I think significant. The concern is not being expressed by what has been described as the" professional railway bashers". Surely the most significant feature is that the concern outside this House is coming from those who want to see the railways with a secure future, providing a good service to passengers rather than veering from one crisis to the next. The Times put the point in a leader last month, when it said:The railways probably have no external enemies. Ministers and officials certainly do not relish imposing on British Rail a discipline it has failed to impose on itself. As for the public, even those who rarely use the railways have an emotional attachment to them.When Richard Pope, editor of the Railway Gazette, advocates a reduction in the wage bill by reduced overtime and natural wastage, it is not because he wishes the railways ill but because he wants to see the continuance of the service but recognises that 70 per cent. of costs are labour costs.
Let us also take the report of Richard Pryke and John Dodgson. It is true that the report calls for economies over a number of years. It is also true that the report has been much criticised by Sir Richard Marsh and several others. But that report was not written by two Right-wing economists, or even by two disgruntled commuters. Pryke and Dodgson were part of the team that collaborated on the massive transport report of Socialist Commentary, chaired by the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Huckfield).
The point that I make is not that the solutions are necessarily correct—we can argue about them—but that we should take note when those who support the railways are pointing to problems that have to be tackled. The crucial point is that the only way of securing the future 1756 is by achieving a more efficient system, and the fact is that, rather than being in waring camps, the interests of the railwaymen, the passengers and the taxpayers should coincide.
Here, there is a responsibility upon the Government. Last week, Sir Richard Marsh delivered a speech to the Institute of Transport. It amounted, in part, to a virtual cry of despair, but it also contained a warning. He said that he wasconvinced that if we do not move rapidly towards a more rational policy for the Railway we will be faced with a railway system that will rot to a point where the quality will decline as the cost rises and the long-suffering taxpayer will be faced with even less value for his hard-earned cash than he gets at the present time.Clearly, when the head of British Rail talks in those terms, we and the Government must listen and learn. The Government have now been in power for two years, and we are still waiting for the transport White Paper which, when we were in power, we were pressed at every conceivable opportunity to produce.
The Under-Secretary of State, earlier in the debate, said that in the next few weeks we are to get not a White Paper but a consultative document. On my understanding, the position is that we shall still not be getting the White Paper that has been called for so consistently, but a document going out for observation. I hope that when he replies to the debate the Under-Secretary will give us some guidance on the length of the consultative period and what are the next stages in this process.
I shall set out briefly some of the elements that I hope will be contained in the broad approach of a White Paper, whenever it may appear. First, it is clear that our aim must be value for money. No one denies that public money is required, but I am concerned at the difficulties that arise in identifying how that money is spent. Part of the trouble is in the 1974 Act, by which we ceased to seek to define the subsidy element and went over to blanket support. I do not seek to make a party point of that issue, but with the subsidy running at the current level I believe that a new guide should be devised and that, as a general point of policy, we should have a far better information on the money that the taxpayers are spending. That was the-point emphasised by the hon. Member for 1757 Keighley and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell).
What is clear is that over the next few years our choice, as in every other area of government, will be one of priorities. The criterion should be the contribution that will be made to the economy. Roads and ports are obvious examples. I do not deny that the choice is difficult, at times cruel. As a nation we cannot afford to take any other course.
Second, no realistic transport strategy can ignore the dominance of cars and lorries. I hope that the Government will reject the charge that in some way the motorist has become Public Enemy No. 1. Clearly there is a need for control and policing. It is worth pointing out that the motorist pays dearly for his car through vehicle tax and fuel, not to mention the cost of the excise licence. If he continues to use it—and all the graphs predict increased use—this reflects the value he places upon it and upon the flexibility and pleasure that it gives him. Among other things, it provides him with the ability to get away from routine, something that was once the preserve of the wealthy. The denigration of the motorist in our society has gone too far. I hope that the process can be reversed.
Third, there are two classes of travel which I wish to mention briefly. This is not meant to be a comprehensive list. There is the commuter problem as stated by my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham. No one would claim that they should be specially protected from price increases at a time of exceptional inflation. Equally, the increases should be fair. That was basically the point made by my hon. Friend. Certainly there seems to be no case for picking the commuters out for specially harsh treatment at a time when inflation is pushing up their living costs. It is in that light that we shall judge their treatment over the coming months. What must be avoided is that they should be made to pay an unnecessarily higher fare and at the same time be clobbered by higher taxes.
A problem—different from that of the commuter, but just as vital—is that of rural transport. The social problem there is immense. People in villages are becoming cut off, without any means of transport. Many of these people are elderly. 1758 We have become greatly concerned about the question of mobility. I suggest that there is an important social issue here. The Government have been promising a statement for some time. That time has now come.
Fourth, I am also concerned about the problem of the large lorries—the juggernauts. It was our plan to have heavy lorry routes, but I accept that such routes must depend on the completion of roads. In the meantime, progress is possible where roads exist. The Government have just announced that they intend to go ahead on this front. I hope that the Minister will tell us more about this, including the question of enforcement.
This has been a valuable debate. Clearly there are profound differences of approach between us. No one would expect otherwise. What I emphasise is that there is total agreement on the importance of the subject and upon the urgent need to make progress even in this time of acute economic difficulties.
§ 2.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Richard Buchanan (Glasgow, Springburn)
I should first of all declare my interest in that I have spent almost all of my working life as a railwayman and I am still a member of the National Union of Railwaymen. I speak, therefore, from a biased point of view. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) for raising this subject today and giving us the chance to get back to basics in transport. Neither the Government nor the Opposition seem very keen to let us have a debate on transport.
Coming in as a "tail-end Charlie" during a debate means that the red pencil has to be used quite a lot. But I am grateful to the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) for a remark he made to the Minister about taking his time over the White Paper. This Government should not require any time to prepare a White Paper on transport. Minister after Minister has stood at the Dispatch Box with his hand on his heart and said, as justification for the policies being put forward, that they were in the manifesto.
Recently I sat through four days of the devolution debate. I am certain that not one-twentieth of the people of this 1759 country are interested in the subject or want to see devolution brought about. The justification for it was that it was in our manifesto. Over the years from 1945 to 1974 I have been struck by the familiarity of the words whch we have heard from Ministers. There have been the same sentiments expressed. There is no need for the Government to sit down and take much more time to prepare a White Paper on transport policy.
The Government of 1945 almost got it right. But, not for the first time, they were influenced by powerful voices within the movement. The Co-op used its influence with respect to the "C" licences. That was the Achilles heel of what the 1945–50 Government created. If that had been allowed to carry on we would not be discussing these problems today.
Our 1964 manifesto said that we would free the railway workshops to compete for exports with outside manufacturers. Since 1965 a total of 16,000 railwaymen have left the workshops. We are importing traction from Romania. If we are to encourage the railway workshops we ought to give them some work. My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bradley) attacked the National Freight Corporation. Under the 1968 Act the Corporation was meant to help road and rail. Now, because of national freight integration, the Council has not met and taken action. The Corporation—because of rigid financial control—is seeking economic ways of transporting goods and is doing so by road, taking business away from rail.
The 1968 Act was preceded by four documents—"Transport Policy", "Public Transport and Traffic", "Transport of Freight" and "Railway Policy". The Act was a long one and took longer than any other Bill until that time to pass through its stages in Parliament.
What were the basic principles behind the Act? The first was that transport should be modernised and planned as a whole; second, that the transport system should take account of the social and environmental as well as the economic needs of the country; third, that the urban traffic problem should be treated by a combination of methods and with much greater urgency; fourth, that public transport should play a key role in 1760 solving problems; and fifth, that transport planning was only one discipline among others in the planning of our environment. Transport must accordingly be planned, together with the location of industry and employment opportunity, housing and land use generally.
I do not think that anyone will disagree when I say that not one of those five points has been met in any way. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East that the 1968 Act should be scrapped.
I come to the situation in Scotland. I understand from my colleagues who operate in Scotland that the railways there are in a parlous state. We are actually using locomotives which have come from other regions. The diesel multiple units introduced in 1957 were intended as a short-term arrangement. It is a matter of serious concern that these services are now to continue into the 1980s. The Glasgow-Edinburgh line must be one of the busiest lines in Scotland. The push-and-pull system is being adopted on it, the track is being knocked to blazes and maintenance is costly.
In planning a transport system, we must bear in mind the people who will use it. Many of the commuter lines must be electrified, starting with the Glasgow-Edinburgh line. To have a terminal in my constituency is absolute nonsense. The line should be carried through to Kirkintilloch, thus completing the circle. Also, the north and south electric lines should be joined. Commuters in Glasgow are separated by one of the most comprehensive motorway schemes in Britain. I should like the north and south electrified lines to be linked and the electrification carried through to Cumbernauld, which is a busy new town in which many commuters reside.
We have been arguing today, not on the basis of rail against road or bus against train, but that we should have a planned transport system. Such a system has been advocated in manifesto after manifesto since 1945. Therefore, the Minister cannot get away from it. When he publishes the White Paper, I should like him to remember the commitment and the promises which we have made to the electorate.
§ 2.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Ron Lewis (Carlisle)
For my sins, I am a member of the National Union 1761 of Railwaymen. Like other hon. Members, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) on initiating this important debate. I should like to offer a bouquet, not of onions but of flowers, to the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler) on his first speech, to which we listened with great interest, from the Opposition Front Bench on transport matters. I hope that we shall hear contributions from him in future transport debates.
I congratulate also my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State on his appointment. If it had not been for this debate, it would have been my pleasure to show him some of the beauties of one of the finest constituencies in the United Kingdom, namely, the borough of Carlisle. However, because of this debate, that trip was cancelled, and rightly so.
There is a large number of railwaymen in my constituency. It was, and still is, a railway centre. At one time, the railways were the largest employers of labour in my constituency. The railwaymen who are left are very concerned about their future, and they have every right and justification to be. In the past 20 years, manpower on the railways in my constituency has been reduced, not by hundreds, but by thousands. The railwaymen have begged me and the railway unions from time to time to do something to keep them on the map.
The three railway unions are to be congratulated on the initiative that they have taken. It is no use taking an initiative when it is too late. The railway unions have drawn the attention of the public to what might happen if there were a reduction in the railway network. It is not a question of a battle between the railway unions and other transport unions. That battle was won or lost many years ago. All that the railway unions and the other transport unions are asking for is that someone should quickly work out a transport system which caters for all aspects of transport—road and rail, and shipping, which has not been mentioned today. British Railways have an important shipping division.
I speak as a railwayman. One of the troubles with the railways has been, and still is, that there have been too many experts who, on discovering the nature and magnitude of the problem, quickly 1762 looked for fresh pastures. We were told that if the Beeching proposals were adopted the railways would pay in a very short time. By and large, those proposals were adopted, but still the railways are not paying. The railway network is so complicated that, whatever we do, and however we tackle the problem, the railways will not break even and will not pay. They must continually receive grants from the Exchequer. Under the Beeching proposals, the Carlisle to Silloth line to the coast was closed. That was criminal folly, and my constituency is suffering as a result of it. I do not want the railway network to be cut any further.
Although we are having an important debate on transport, there is not a member of the Liberal Party or of the Scottish National Party present. We had a fleeting visit from a Welsh nationalist. If hon. Members feel so strongly about the constituencies which they represent, surely it is their duty to be here today. I confess that I am not a good attender of Friday debates, but when a matter which interests my constituents is raised it is my duty to be here.
I should like to put four important points to the Government. First of all I ask them to look again at the proposed closure of the Haltwhistle to Alston line, and not to close it. Secondly, we must increase the number of passengers and the number of trains. I am concerned that if, as is forecast in the newspapers, railway fares are likely to rise in the near future, rather than attracting customers to the railways it will drive them away. That will be an excuse for the complete closure of lines or the cutting of various services. Therefore, I want us to keep the present network of 11,326 miles and the present level of services. Indeed, if necessary—it is not beyond the wit of man—perhaps we can have even an extension of some services in certain parts of the country.
Thirdly, I want a realistic pricing system comparable with the prices of other modes of transport. Fourthly, I hope that the Government will give a firm undertaking for long-term adequate investment in British Railways. I am not fond of kicking into my own goal. I have been a Member of Parliament for nearly 12 years and I cannot be accused of doing that. However, I think that my hon. Friend the Minister has taken 1763 longer than necessary to produce his White Paper, his Green Paper or whatever type of paper it may be.
Last year I accompanied the chairman of our transport group to Marsham Street. We were promised that some kind of guidance would be issued before Christmas. However, we are almost at the end of January and we still have nothing.
I notice that the Minister is looking at his watch. I do not want to encroach on his time or indeed that of the House. Whatever my right hon. Friend does, he must give the railways, the railway unions and the railwaymen confidence about the future security of their jobs. He must also assure the travelling public that they will be able to travel on British Railways at prices they can afford.
§ 3.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Marks
I should like to reply at least to some of the points made by hon. Members. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Lewis), I am sorry—I am even sorrier in my present capacity—that I am here and not in Cumbria. I hope to remedy the situation.
I come from a famous railway constituency. For the first four years of my working life I was a railwayman.
I welcome the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler) in his new post as Shadow spokesman on transport matters. If he thought that his duties in his previous Shadow appointment, concerning health and social security, were comprehensive and complicated, I have news for him. Transport may not be as integrated and co-ordinated as we should like, but its ramifications are enormous and the interests of Members of Parliament, especially as expressed in writing, are enormous, too.
The hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry) welcomed me to what he said was my first speech on transport matters. In fact, it is my fourth. As to my maiden speech, I lost my virginity at 1 o'clock in the morning about two days after I was appointed to this office. I might add that although I should be visiting Merseyside next Friday, I shall instead be speaking here on yet another transport debate.
1764 The hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield made a number of points, with most of which I shall deal as I go along. The review is complicated and made even more difficult by employment implications. We shall be having considerable discussions with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment on the effect of the review. The same applies to the car industry. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry keeps a close eye on anything that we do and on anything that may be done by way of taxation. The Chancellor of the Exchequer refered to motor tax and petrol tax in his last Budget speech, Any questions on that matter should be addressed to him. However, I do not think that they will be answered before the Budget.
The hon. Member for Sutton Cold-field said that there had been a period of asking many questions and not getting answers. That applies to many of the contributions that we receive, not only in debate but from outside.
There is a demand for a consultative document and for consultation. Most hon. Members have said that we must talk to people before we decide. A White Paper outlines what is proposed so there must be a period for discussion beforehand.
The hon. Gentleman referred to commuters. I know that not all commuters who travel long distances are among the better off. Some of them moved out of London because of the sky-high prices of houses and because rail fares were reasonably cheap. Despite the figures quoted the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate), I believe that the cost for the distance travelled is reasonable—about 2p a mile.
I do not want to touch upon the question of lorry routes in any great detail.
§ Mr. Marks
The books are not in my possession. This is a matter for British Railways. Before bringing in any increase, they go to the Prices Commission, 1765 and almost always there is a public inquiry, at which these matters can be raised.
I thank all hon. Members who have taken part in this debate. The fact that it has been wide-ranging is proof of some of the complexities of the subject.
Many hon. Members have raised detailed points regarding problems within constituency boundaries. I do not blame them. I should do the same. It is important that hon. Members, who probably know a great deal about the effects of transport policies on the people at grass roots, should bring out the effects of past policies and say what they believe will be the effects of new policies on their constituents. That is a major role of this House.
The transport policy review, which comes into the debate, is an examination in depth undertaken by the Government as a whole of the major problems of inland transport. A wide range of subjects has been studied. The review was set up to study and recommend ways of correcting the imbalance in the provision of public and private transport which has arisen since the 1968 Transport Act, as a result of inflation, changed patterns of demand, growth of the private car and the energy crisis
Many valuable contributions have already been received from non-Government bodies. I should like particularly to mention the report of the Socialist Commentary Group, with which my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Huckfield) is so closely associated. It has been closely studied not only by Ministers, but by the Department as a whole. The TUC statement on transport policy has been important, too, and there have been many other contributions from interested parties. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State informed the House on 14th January, he intends shortly to consult his colleagues on the likely recommendations of the review. I need hardly remind the House that the need for further measures to improve co-ordination and integration is a firm manifesto commitment, which the Government do not intend to ignore.
It is also my right hon. Friend's intention to issue, in a few weeks, a consultative paper that will set out general 1766 directions for transport policy, including the type of framework that will be necessary to achieve integration at both national and local level. I feel sure that this consultative paper and the eventual Government statement that will follow the consultations will dispel fundamental misconceptions, some of which I mentioned when I intervened briefly earlier in the debate. It is not the Government's intention to slash the railways. They have not neglected public transport, but there is a realisation that there cannot be open-ended subsidies. That view has been accepted by the House as a whole.
The views expressed by hon. Members today will be especially valuable in helping my right hon. Friend and his colleagues to reach decisions. We are already committeed to consulting both sides of the transport industry and the local authorities. My right hon. Friend will be holding a meeting next week with the TUC's Transport Industries Committee. We are also considering whether consumer interests should formally be consulted. That was the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens (Mr. Spriggs). The problem is whether to extend the consultation beyond rail users to other consumers. The consultation paper will be widely available, and representations by interested organisations or individuals will greatly help the Government in reaching their decision on transport policy.
I do not propose to deal with the eventual responsibility for transport in Scotland and Wales, not only because of the apparent lack of interest in the subject by Members of their national parties but because the matter was fairly thoroughly dealt with in the devolution Report. I intend to confine my remarks to matters that are the prime responsibility of the Department.
As I have said, the manifesto commitment to an integrated and coordinated transport system is one of the central concerns of the review. The Government have not yet decided on the best framework to be adopted, but there are considerable doubts about the wisdom of having a mammoth national transport planning authority. My hon. friend the Member for Nuneaton supported that view, although he was the Chairman of the Socialist Commentary Group which suggested it.
1767 Transport is not an isolated activity that can artificially be divorced from the political, social and economic matters that are the responsibility of the Government, and of the Government alone. For example, since coming into office the Government have concentrated investment on public transport, and as a result there has been less to spend on roads. That was a political decision, taken at Cabinet level and reported to the House. Such a political decision would be beyond the scope of the kind of national authorities that some hon. Members advocated.
The Government require local authorities to produce long-term transport policies and programmes. If we were to transfer responsibility for this to a new authority, whether at central, regional or local level, it would involve considerable upheaval and expense without any corresponding benefit. Above all, at a time when we are trying to cut back on bureaucracy we can see little merit in creating an additional bureaucracy to be introduced between the Government and transport operators and users. On the other hand, we fully accept the need for greater participation in decision-making, involving unions, management, local government and consumers, on all aspects of transport policy.
Hon. Members have today pointed out inconsistencies and drawn attention to the lack of information, to the lack of co-operation and to the damage done by misleading and ill-informed rumours about Government intentions. I shall attempt to deal in greater detail with some of the points that have been raised, but I hope the House will accept that my colleagues and I are not complacent about the present state of the transport system.
There is a great deal to be done. The first consideration, as the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield said, is the general economic situation and the need to limit public expenditure over the next few years. High priority must go to exports, investment, social services and housing. There has already been a substantial switch of resources into public transport. In 1970–71, 24 per cent. of total transport spending went to public transport; this year, the proportion is 45 per cent. 1768 The proportion spent on road construction in 1970–71 was 52 per cent.; it is now 35 per cent. So the subsidy to public transport is running at historically unprecedented levels.
The Government will be paying well over £300 million towards passenger rail transport this year, plus £90 million in transport supplementary grants to the county authorities for bus revenue support and £70 million in fuel duty rebate and new bus grant. When account is taken of the payments for freight deficits, passenger services in metropolitan areas, level crossings and pension liabilities, the total support for the railways in 1975 alone approaches £500 million.
These figures need to be borne in mind by those who claim that rail and bus fares have been allowed to rise too quickly. Without subsidies, they would have increased much more rapidly. But we cannot go on pouring money into public transport without taking a clear, hard look at the implications for other areas of public expenditure.
Some subsidies benefit the better-off. Unless we get our priorities right, we shall find it increasingly difficult to maintain a public transport system that will be within the means of people who do not have access to the private car because they are disabled, too poor, too young or too old. There is some question whether low fares encourage people to switch from cars to buses. Most hon. Members are car drivers and realise that a car owner will take a lot of persuading not to use his car.
I recognise the anxieties expressed about rail fare increases. The work that we are now doing in the review is of crucial importance to long-term policy on fares. The first priority, therefore, is to decide the rôle of the railways. I well understand the difficulties of the Chairman of British Rail in present circumstances. The Government have not yet reached decisions on the review, so it is too early to make predictions about future tends in rail fares, but I can assure the House that recent Press reports about "soaking the commuter" are speculative. In the short term, we have set the Board its financial target for 1976 and it is for the Board to decide what levels of fares and services—
§ Mr. Norman Fowler
When the hon. Gentleman refers to "speculative" Press reports, does he mean "untrue"?
§ Mr. Marks
I mean that no decisions have been made. The question has to be examined how far long-distance travellers—some do travel long distances, as I said in reply to the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Bowden) the other day—should be subsidised to the extent that they have been. That is a question that we must ask and that hon. Members should ask themselves.
Under the Railways Act 1974, we are now paying grant for the support of the whole of the rail passenger system. In 1975, this amounted to about £300 million. and when account is taken of payments for freight deficits, passenger services, and so on, it is a huge amount.
What we are saying is that if we are to pay out subsidies we must closely examine all the things that the subsidies go to help. One hon. Member spoke of subsidies amounting to £2,000 per worker. Subsidies do not go to the workers; they often go to the consumers —the passengers—and they sometimes go to the users of the freight services on the railways, because of the system adopted.
As for massive rail cuts, the Secretary of State made it plain, in answer to questions in December and on 14th January, that there is no truth in the stories that the Government have plans to cut the size of the network by two-thirds. The map that purports to reveal these plans have no foundation on anything that is going on in the Department. My hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) said that the campaign had the tacit support of British Railways. I question whether that map, which has been published as part of the campaign, has the support of the Chairman of British Railways. It is up to the Board to say whether it has or not.
The simple fact is that we shall not reach any decision on the size of the network until, first, we have completed consideration of the review and, secondly, we have had consultations. Meanwhile the rumours about huge cuts are doing great harm. They cause much worry to railwaymen and the public, and they stifle rational discussion of the complex questions that need to be answered if we 1770 are to achieve the integrated transport system that we believe to be necessary.
Investment levels for the next five years, not only in transport but in other things, will be announced in the next White Paper on Public Expenditure. In view of the present urgent need to restrain public expenditure, investment levels are unlikely to rise substantially in real terms, over the next few years. British Railways must concentrate primarily on essential replacement investment and adopt a selective approach to product improvement. However, I do not accept that a steady rather than a growing investment programme will lead to the massive reduction in the network that has been suggested.
The British Railways Board is well aware of the need to maximise productivity and efficiency, and has in hand a study of its future manpower requirements. The Board's previous record in achieving savings is impressive, though the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell) suggested that there have been no reductions recently. Since 1948 the railway labour force has been reduced by about 65 per cent. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment announced on 30th June last year that he had asked the Board urgently to examine ways and means of eliminating the present deficit in freight, for which there is no statutory cover. The Board is conducting a review of future strategy with a view to eliminating the deficit as quickly as possible. That review is still in progress. First results are now becoming available for discussion between the Board and the Department.
My hon. Friends commented about the transfer of traffic from road to rail. It is Government policy to encourage the transfer of freight from road to rail whenever this makes sense in social, economic and environmental terms. In the 1974 Railways Act we made provision for Government grants towards the cost of constructing private siding facilities. However, we must recognise that the scope for transfer is limited.
I welcome some of the suggestions that have been made today, and my right hon. Friend will certainly take note of them. Rail already has much of the traffic for which it is best suited, namely, the bulk 1771 flows of heavy goods. My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) mentioned that only three new sidings have so far received grants. It is an extremely difficult procedure to get started, particularly when industry is in its present state. A further 11 firms are interested and are preparing applications. What I told him last week at Question Time is perfectly true; some of the factories that used to have sidings—some are in my constituency—no longer exist as factories.
My hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North mentioned the Peter Hall report on the conversion of railways to busways. This study was intended to test claims that the conversion of railways to bus-ways was feasible. The report of the study, which the Department received last month, was based on a series of theoretical case studies. The Department is still studying the report. However, because of the accounts of the contents that appeared in the Press, the Department made it quite clear that it has major reservations about the detailed costings and estimates of the benefits that are its essence.
§ Mr. Marks
The Department commissioned the report. We have invited the British Railways Board to comment on it now that it is available.
It remains Government policy to encourage the transfer of freight from road to rail whenever possible. In the few weeks since my appointment I have visited many depots of the National Freight Corporation and its subsidiaries. I understand some of the Corporation's difficulties, particularly the size of the maritime containers,—which cannot be carried on parts of the railway network. The Corporation knows that it is its duty to move to rail when it is economic and efficient to do so.
Provisions for quantity licensing were made in the 1968 Act and it has been 1772 considered on a number of occasions since then. It is significant that it has not been accepted. There is a difference of opinion on my own side of the House on the matter. The TUC document says that the effect of quantity licensing would be very slight—about 2 per cent.
Rural transport was also mentioned in the debate. We hope to bring in legislation this year to enable us to make experiments in a number of areas. There is no single answer that is suitable for the whole country. I talked about this in an Adjournment debate on Monday. We hope to make some progress.
The many constructive contributions that have been made in the debate will be carefully noted in our policy review. I hope that hon. Members will continue to let me have their opinions by correspondence. My average mail from hon. Members alone is about 200 letters a week.
In our urgent appraisal of the transport system the Government will listen not only to Members but to all sections of the community. Transport has a tremendous effect on people's lives and is a measure of a country's civilisation. It is a means not only of getting to work but of visiting and holidaying. It is part of our social services. We recognise that many of the people suffering most from the deficiencies in our transport system are those who can least afford to travel.
I am grateful for the contributions that have been made in the debate and I trust that in similar debates in the coming year the same high standard will be maintained.
§ Mr. Whitehead
In view of what was said by my hon. Friend, who had to overcome the obstacle of an intervention from the Gallery, and although I should like to reserve my position, I am glad that there is to be a consultative document, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.