HC Deb 26 May 1976 vol 912 cc426-9
11. Mr. Durant

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he has received British Railways' annual report for 1975–76; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Shore

I laid the board's report and accounts for 1975 before Parliament on 12th May 1976.

Mr. Durant

When does the right hon. Gentleman visualise the report showing a balance and going into profit? Secondly, where does the annual report show the cost of concessionary fares for railway staff? Thirdly, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the report shows that the number of executives has nearly doubled in the past year?

Mr. Shore

The question of concessionary fares is a very specialised matter. I have a feeling that it may come up in a debate on a Bill before long. I cannot hazard a figure for that, but if the lion. Gentleman wishes to put down a specific Question I shall give him an answer.

Mr. Raphael Tuck

Can we look forward hopefully to a day in our lifetime when transport will be treated as a social service and not merely a money-making enterprise which is given a grant and must balance its books, or shall we be safely tucked up by the time that occurs?

Mr. Shore

I think my hon. Friend will agree that we must approach transport services in the knowledge that they use resources and, therefore, must be paid for. Whether they are paid for directly by the user or indirectly by the taxpayer is a matter of judgment. But as regards the Government and the doctrine in the consultation document, the important thing is to sustain a sufficient public transport service. That is what we intend to do.

Mr. Gow

What is the Government's judgment as to where the balance should lie between fares charged and subsidy paid by the taxpayer? What is the right hon. Gentleman's estimate of the amount of subsidy payable to British Rail this year by the Government?

Mr. Shore

The figures for the next three or four years, covering the public expenditure forecast period, have been published and are well known. They do not permit of an open-ended subsidy, but provision is still being made for substantial support for the railway system.

Mr. Cryer

Does my right hon. Friend agree that British Rail has taken a courageous decision to freeze rail fares for several months and that it should be congratulated on that because it is more likely to generate additional revenue and traffic? But does he also agree that we have the lowest freight usage of railways in the whole of Europe and that we are not achieving a significant shift from road to rail? What does he propose to do about it?

Mr. Shore

I note what my hon. Friend says about the freeze on fares until the end of the year, which will be widely welcomed by the travelling public after the inevitable increases of the past 12 months. Freight usage is one of the central questions that the transport review discussed. I shall be most anxious to hear the views not only of the railways—management and unions—but of other transport providers on this whole question.

Mr. Stephen Ross

flow many representations has the right hon. Gentleman received about British Rail's decision to withdraw facilities for racing pigeons and show birds, following legislation passed by the House? Is he prepared to introduce amending legislation which will enable this freight to continue? It affects my constituency very much and is a useful source of income to British Rail. It would enable British Rail to show something on the credit side.

Mr. Shore

The subject of pigeons on British Rail—[An HON. MEMBER: "And rabbits."]—was, I think, first raised when I last appeared before the House at Question Time. I have since inquired into the matter, and I am assured that the transport users' consultative committees and the central consultative committee are considering it. I shall decide what, if anything, I should do about it when I have received their reports.

Mr. Norman Fowler

Will the Minister say what effect the last fare increases had on the number of passengers who travel by rail? Will he confirm that it remains the Government's plan to eliminate the deficit on freight, which is currently running at £70 million? If that is the Government's plan, by what date do the Government intend to bring about that situation?

Mr. Shore

The evidence we have about the effect of increased fares on passenger movements, based on last year which shows an increase of some 50 per cent. in passenger fares, was accompanied by a surprisingly small fall of 2 per cent. in passenger journeys. I do not draw any conclusions from that fact for the future, but those are the facts as we have them.

On the question of the deficit of £70 million, the hon. Gentleman knows that on our PESC forecasts we hope to eliminate the freight deficit by 1978. That is one matter, among others, which I shall be discussing with British Rail.

Forward to