HC Deb 11 March 1976 vol 907 cc617-20
Q2. Mr. George Gardiner

asked the Prime Minister if he will consider recommending the appointment of a Royal Commission on public transport.

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment is reviewing transport policy and will shortly be publishing a consultative paper.

Mr. Gardiner

I accept that a Royal Commission might be a rather cumbersome form of inquiry, but does the right hon. Gentleman recognise the mounting anger of commuters who are being squeezed for substantial fare increases every few months? Does he accept that if British Rail continues this practice, it might have a considerable effect on employment patterns throughout the South-East Region? Will the right hon. Gentleman set up some form of independent inquiry into the managements and practices of British Rail?

The Prime Minister

On 17th December 1973 the Conservative Government told us of their plans to cut subsidies. Of course, they did not do so, but we are. If it is Conservative policy not to cut subsidies, we shall cost for the Conservative Party the further increase in public expenditure which will be involved. I can tell the House that it would be very serious indeed.

I think that the best inquiry into this matter, at least in the first instance, will be for the House to express its views when it has had time to study the consultative document, which it will get in the near future, including its views on whether any further internal or external inquiry is necessary.

Mr. Les Huckfield

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of my hon. Friends and I appreciate that the Department has been conducting a wide-ranging inquiry into the future of transport policy? Is he aware that many of us feel that what is wanted is not another inquiry—especially under a Royal Commission—but a statement as soon as possible explaining how the Government intend to put into practice the party's policy of a co-ordinated and integrated transport system?

The Prime Minister

I thank my hon. Friend for what he has said. I have no doubt that he will keenly await the report. I have seen the work that is being done, and I am sure that the whole House will agree that it is a valuable and important inquiry. I think that the House will want to get its teeth into it pretty quickly.

Mr. Hooson

Does the Prime Minister agree that public transport in rural areas is in a chronic state? Is he aware that there have been experiments with Post Office buses carrying both passengers and mail? Will the Government consider the possibility of changing the licensing system for cars so that people may give lifts without incurring penalties? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that there are practical ways of tackling the public transport system immediately with a view to improving it?

The Prime Minister

I agree with the hon. and learned Member about the vital importance of both rail and road services, particularly in rural areas, in all parts of Britain. Perhaps we can take up his last point when the consultative document is debated. The previous Labour Government introduced the experiment of using Post Office vans for passenger transport when my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House was Postmaster-General.

Mr. Kinnock

What account was taken of the massive lobby of the House by the Transport and General Workers Union busmen last month in constructing the policy in the consultative document? Is my right hon. Friend aware that the suggestion to which the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) drew attention and to which a Ministry circular refers rather euphemistically as less conventional means of transport in rural areas means to many of us scab taxis?

The Prime Minister

I do not know about scab taxis, but, quite apart from the lobby of the House, my hon. Friend will know that representatives of all those concerned in the different sections of the transport industry, including the busmen, have been very fully consulted in the preparation of this document. I ask my hon. Friend to await the report to see whether the matter has been adequately covered. If not, he can make further suggestions.

Mr. Wigley

Is the Prime Minister aware of the crisis in transport in Wales, particularly in rural areas? Is he aware that those working in the industry feel that the situation has deteriorated considerably since the National Bus Company took over, because management has become more remote and out of touch from what is going on? Will he consider an inquiry into this aspect of the problem?

The Prime Minister

I know these matters are being discussed in the consultative document, as is the ultimate responsibility for bus services, whether rural or urban. I ask the hon. Member to await that report.