HC Deb 06 April 1977 vol 929 cc1206-9
13. Mr. Canavan

asked the Secretary of State for Transport what representations he has received about the Consultation Document on Transport Policy.

Mr. William Rodgers

I have received a great variety of representations.

Mr. Canavan

Bearing in mind that some of the best representations have come from trade unions in the transport service, will my right hon. Friend emphasise the importance to employers in that service of giving full and adequate recognition to trade unions and trade union agreements? Is it not disgraceful that the Shadow Secretaries of State for Scotland and Wales should pretend to represent the interests of the people of Scotland and Wales while maintaining their connections with a crowd of international pirates, such as Globtik Tankers?

Mr. Rodgers

I think that the appropriate answer is "Yes". Reverting to my hon. Friend's initial point in the opening part of his supplementary question, I entirely agree that many of the representations from trade unions have been extremely helpful and very constructive. I hope that both sides of the industry, particularly in the public transport sector, will attempt to ensure that we have a system that meets the needs of our people, whether in town or in country.

Mr. Bowden

Is the Secretary of State fully aware how angry the National Association of Rail Passengers is at his consistent refusal to meet a deputation of its members to discuss the consultation document? Does he recall that at the last Question Time on transport matters his hon. Friend undertook to review the matter, but that I have heard nothing from him? Will he now agree to meet a deputation from the NARP, which represents commuters who at the moment are going through hell?

Mr. Rodgers

I am very sorry if they are angry. I do not think that the National Association of Rail Passengers can claim an exclusive right to represent commuters. I believe that the association has made representations to the Chairman of British Rail, who is in fact to meet some of its members. I am always prepared to receive anything in writing and am happy to consider it.

Mr. Moate

The consultation document touched on the question of the taxation of heavy goods vehicles. Will the Secretary of State clarify the Government's intentions in that respect? As the Chancellor has now taken steps to increase licence fees, will the right hon. Gentleman assure the industry, so that it can plan ahead, that there will be no further increases in licence fees in the foreseeable future?

Mr. Rodgers

No, I cannot give that assurance, and the House would not expect me to do so. It was for the Chancellor to make the decision. As my right hon. Friend explained to the House, he bore in mind at the time the extent to which there was general agreement that tilting the vehicle excise duty to heavy goods vehicles made good sense. It may be that it should go a good deal further.

Mr. Bagier

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the vast majority of representations made to him about British Rail are to the effect that the present network should, by and large, be maintained? Will he also confirm that amongst those representations are views that it is desirable that the correct amount of investment should be provided in order that those services should be maintained at a proper level? Does he agree that some of the representations concerned the diesel multiple units, which are now 20 years old and therefore need investment to provide the kind of service that is required in many rural areas?

Mr. Rodgers

I confirm that a number of representations have been made on the lines of my hon. Friend's remarks. I fully recognise the importance of future investment levels. I sometimes feel that we fail to emphasise the extent to which the railways have a continuing and central rôle in our public transport policy and a great deal of which to be proud. I wish that people would not always take too gloomy a view. However, I understand my hon. Friend's anxieties.

Mr. Spriggs

What effect is the present investment policy having on the repair and maintenance of British Rail's coaching stock and rail track, and what is it likely to be in future when the new investment figures are known?

Mr. Rodgers

There is not a great deal of argument about the present levels of investment being adequate for immediate purposes, but there is a good deal of discussion about what may happen five years and more ahead. These considerations were very much in my mind during the consultations, and they will inevitably be commented upon when the White Paper is published.