§ 7.13 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. William Rodgers)
I beg to move,That this House takes note of the Consultation Document on Transport Policy.I hope that the House will allow me to start with a reminiscence. As Hansard for the 1962–63 Session shows, transport was one of my principal interests as a new Member, and I much appreciated the kind remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bradley) earlier today. The problems were many and, as a new Member, I thought that I knew most of the answers. But wideranging debates on transport policy were rare even then, and when one arrived, on an occasion such as this, I was prepared. At 3.30 pm I was in my place—and at 9 o'clock I was still there. I had not been called.
All hon. Members will have experienced what is a very common sense of utter frustration, but perhaps it was greater for a new Member who did not know then how common the experience was. I thought "What is the point of being in the House and knowing all about transport if I am not called in a debate?" Confident that the Speaker was out of his mind, I wrote him a defiant note and took it to the Smoking Room to canvass sympathy. I showed it first to Mr. Roy Jenkins, until recently my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham (Stechford), who is no longer with us. He read it and passed it to my right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland), now the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary. He read it, then tore it up slowly, saying "Have a drink. Sleep well. Tomorrow you will feel better."
Tomorrow has been a long time coming but, more than a dozen years later, I take a very special pleasure in having caught your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, so early in this debate. [AN HON. MEMBER: "Not the same speech, I hope."] I hope not to make the same speech but at least to make up for the lost time in the locust years in between.
Coming back to transport policy, I find that everything has changed but much has remained the same. The problems are more acute and some of them are new. But the debate on the relationship 709 between road and rail and between public and private transport goes on. There is still the urban problem and still the rural problem. The jargon is often familiar but seldom very helpful. I confess that at first sight my new responsibilities are a bed of nails.
There are probably more lobbies in transport than in any other area in which the Government have responsibility. I do not complain about that. Everyone has the right to make his voice heard and to ensure that his view receives attention. But, similarly, I have a right to ask that those who wish to contribute constructively to policy making should show open-mindedness. I say this because the transport scene is complex, and many elements must contribute to an effective transport policy, wherever the balance may be struck.
To put it another way, the great majority of households use public transport as well as the private car. They ride in buses and in trains. They depend on the movement of goods by road and by rail. At one period or another in their lives they ride a bicycle. They walk to school, to the shops, and sometimes to work. All this may seem obvious, yet all too often the case for one mode of transport is made dogmatically in terms of the shortcomings of another which is no less essential.
The private car, in particular, is a source of what I regard as bogus argument of that kind. Motorists, or those who choose to speak for them, frequently claim to be a beleaguered minority, unjustly restrained by speed limits and parking restrictions. But, similarly, non-motorists, or their spokesmen, sustain this image of motoring as a minority interest, though in this case privileged and unrepresentative. The argument becomes distorted and unreal. The fact is that over 10 million households, which includes about two-thirds of the population, have cars. Both the efficiency of other modes of transport—as I have said, we use them all—and the problems caused by the growth of car ownership are important to us all. No purpose is served by the polarisation of attitudes.
One of the problems involves road safety. There is a range of issues which from time to time demand the attention of the House. The last Road Traffic 710 Act was in 1974, and since that time the House has had two opportunities to consider the most important single proposal in that respect—namely, that drivers and front seat passengers should be required to wear seat belts. I shall not disguise from the House my great regret at the failure to pass that measure, which would save so many casualties and reduce the economic burdens on industry and the National Health Service.
Another aspect of road safety which causes me special concern is the continuing growth of the problem of drinking and driving. The 1967 Act, which introduced the breathalyser, was one of the most successful measures in this respect, but its impact has now worn off and the problem is now worse than it was 10 years ago, particularly among young drivers.
The issues involving seat belts and drinking and driving generate strong emotions. It is to be expected that the public, and indeed many hon. Members, will have a wide range of views on the merits of any proposals to change the law. Nevertheless, those issues are of such importance that in due course they will need to be tackled.
On the subject of transport policy as a whole, the House knows that in about May I plan to publish a White Paper. This debate is part of the consultation process. My rôle is to listen and to learn, and I shall be making no major policy pronouncements. There is much to which I shall not refer, because if I tried to cover everything I should speak for an intolerably long time. Despite that early reservation, no doubt I shall be condemned for my inevitable omissions.
Our starting point is the consultative document. I wish immediately to take up one criticism that is made of it in respect of planning. I hope the House will allow me to make a further personal comment. Almost 20 years ago I wrote a pamphlet called "What shall we do about the roads?" I would not commit myself to every dot and comma of what I then said—on the contrary. But I emphasised the wider land use aspects of transport planning which had not then become fashionable. In that respect my previous position stands. I agree with those who argue that transport policy cannot be considered in isolation from the wider context of where people live 711 and work and the patterns of our towns and cities. Even though it is now almost four months since my Department was set up, may I again say that I intend that my decisions shall take full account of wider planning and environmental matters.
Since I arrived in my Department, I have been pursuing other criticisms of the consultative document, along with the principal issues which it raised. My colleagues and I have held meetings with 35 major organisations in the two month period up to mid-December. Our aim has been to see how large a measure of consensus is possible and what scope exists for setting a framework within which transport policy can be developed on a consistent basis, with as much stability as Government can provide. Another aim has been to establish a better understanding of the facts and trends in transport and to get others to face the realities that I and other Ministers have to face.
Let us take the subject of public expenditure. I could have wished that I had inherited an expanding transport budget—or at least that the need for restraint in spending was temporary. But circumstances require a sharpening of priorities and a determination to get the best value for money. That goes for local authorities no less than for the Government in the next year and the year after.
I recently announced details of the Transport Supplementary Grant settlement for 1977–78. I had particular difficulty in considering the expenditure proposals of the metropolitan counties and the Greater London Council, which I had to judge before deciding their grant. I discussed the matter with them and I warned them of the prospects. But they showed themseves ready to accept unpalatable decisions and—with one exception—to reduce their spending plans to reasonable levels. Once they had done that, I for my part accepted that they should be free to allocate funds as they wished. A responsible local option is an important theme in much of the debate about transport policy.
The present Government have made a substantial switch in expenditure away from roads to public transport. The share of public expenditure that goes 712 on roads has been reduced from 71 per cent. in 1973–74 to 53 per cent. in the current year. Much of the increase for public transport has been in higher levels of subsidy for road and rail, to keep services going, to hold fares down and for concessionary fares. But with limited resources we must consider whether the rise in subsidies can continue, and whether more should not go into investment for the future, with less for subsidy and higher fares.
Subsidy to fares is often right, especially when it has a redistributive effect to the poorer members of the community and those with no means of private transport. That is my view and the view of my hon. Friends. But not all fare subsidies are redistributive towards the less privileged.
This brings me back to the question of objectives in transport policy. First, transport must make its contribution to economic growth. The whole economic future of the country depends—and this is agreed on both sides of the House—on the success of our economic and industrial strategy. For transport this means that we must so deploy our resources within transport that we make the maximum contribution to that strategy. Investment schemes—whether in road, rail or in the docks—must be rigorously scrutinised to ensure that they provide the best return on available national resources.
Secondly, we must take full account of the social objectives of transport policy —the needs of people not only to get to work but also in leisure terms in the fullest possible way. This means the maintenance of effective public transport systems because they are an important part of our cities and towns and in the life and mobility of the community. Furthermore, they are essential for the large minority who are without access to private transport, including many of the old and the young both in urban and rural areas. I shall have little to say about buses on this occasion, but I must make clear that I do not seek to diminish their importance in meeting transport needs as part of public transport. Buses handle nearly a fifth of journeys to work. The bus industry is a convenient and relatively flexible means of public transport which provides a service and is easily adjustable to demand.
§ Mr. Jim Craigen (Glasgow, Maryhill)
I take it that my right hon. Friend on a future occasion intends to place more emphasis on bus transport.
§ Mr. Rodgers
It depends a little on when the next occasion occurs. We have waited for this major debate for nine years. I cannot be sure that I shall be in my present office at that time in the future. If an opportunity occurs, I shall be happy to expand on the matter.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)
The Minister properly said that economic growth should be one of the first principles of any transport policy and that social considerations should follow closely alongside them. Does he not think that the switch of resources away from the roads that carry the bulk of our freight has gone too far? Does he not think that a shift in the figure from 7 per cent. to 50 per cent. is taking that process a little too far? Will he examine the situation and, if necessary, put it right?
§ Mr. Rodgers
If the hon. Gentleman will be patient enough to wait until the end of my speech, he will at least hear some remarks relevant to those considerations. It is a difficult balance. We must not neglect investment in the fibre of our economic life but, equally, we must ensure that our transport system helps to meet social needs. I have already said that there are sometimes questions of conflict. Not only is it a matter of balance—a matter of our changing the emphasis if not from year to year but from period to period, depending upon where the area of neglect is greatest; we must do so with contracting resources. We must face whatever our particular commitment may be within the transport sector.
The objectives sometimes conflict. There is, of course, the environmental factor, which is not quite a matter of economic growth or of social objectives, as I have defined them. The appearance of our towns and of the countryside and the quality of life generally is greatly affected by our policies for public transport, for roads and for the traffic using them. However, we should keep our objectives firmly in mind. Our transport system must serve our people, directly in terms of mobility and indirectly through the contribution it makes to rising living standards, in the fullest sense.
714 Against this background, I turn to three matters which are central to transport questions. Given the limitations on time, I hope that the House will understand that I shall not be able to deal as adequately with them as I would otherwise prefer.
First, the railways. As a result of the Chancellor's statement of 15th December, there has been a reduction of £13 million in PESC terms in support for the railways, still leaving some £416 million in central Government support in 1977–78. Having previously warned the House that the existing level of support might he difficult to defend in our present economic circumstances, I am glad that the cut is no more severe than that. As I said at the time, the Chairman of the Board shares my hope that this saving can be achieved by reductions in costs and will not of itself require additional fare increases in 1977.
The Board has in mind, all things being equal, to hold fares at their present levels at least until the autumn. The key to railway finances is the control of unit costs, and the Board has acted, with the full understanding of the trade unions, to achieve this. The fare increases which took effect from this month have followed the Board's policy that fare levels should not fall behind inflation. By such means, the Board not only succeeded, in 1976, in keeping within the expenditure ceiling imposed by the Government on support for the passenger railway; it has budgeted to keep its claim for grant in 1977 within the ceiling imposed for the year.
I hope that the House will want to pay tribute to both management and trade unions for making this policy work. All railwaymen have a great deal to be proud of in this country and we have reason to be proud of them. Ministers of Transport are fair game at all times. It is part of the political process. But those with day-to-day responsibility for the railways—at every level—sometimes become the object of unfair and niggling criticism.
I remind the House that in recognition of the changing needs of the railways, I announced last month a radical reconstruction of the Railways Board. This has been carried out under the guidance of the Chairman. Mr. Peter Parker, with the aim of creating a tauter management structure and putting the Board directly 715 in charge of the conduct of its major concern, the railways business. I have increased the number of career railwaymen on the Board and agreed to the abolition of one layer of management. Mr. Parker places great emphasis on the need to involve the railway unions in developing new policies. I was not surprised to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East, who is a distinguished trade union leader, say that the relations between management and unions are now notably better than in previous years. There is also, I believe, a new spirit of co-operation and understanding at all levels between my own Department and the members and officers of the Railways Board.
I mention in passing two important decisions that I have recently announced—namely, the electrification of the St. Pancras to Bedford line, at a cost of £80 million, and continued support for the Tyne and Wear Metro. The latter, in particular, raised awkward problems but, in different ways, both decisions should be seen as a practical demonstration of faith in the future of public transport and its advancing technology.
I turn, next, to a group of related issues Involving lorries, traffic and the motorist.
The consultation document repeated the proposals for a system of national lorry routes to ensure that the maximum use is made of the country's better roads. The consultations we have had about these proposals have shown, however, that there is less enthusiasm for that idea than might have been expected among local authorities and environmental groups.
I shall continue to give much thought to the problems caused by the heavy lorry, to which reference was made earlier, and to the need to "civilise" it and its behaviour as far as possible. We must continue to seek to minimise environmental problems by building such new roads bypassing towns and villages as resources permit, by our continuing efforts to make lorries quieter and less smelly, and by encouraging local authorities to use their traffic management powers to tackle local problems. We still have a long way to go, as I think the House will agree.
Another important issue for me is the extent to which it will be desirable to restrain road traffic in towns. Congestion 716 has not increased to the extent that many people feared it would five or 10 years ago, but a degree of restraint is inevitable if the hearts of our cities are not to be torn out by expensive and destructive road building. Policies on traffic management and the application of parking controls are rightly a matter for local decision and local option. In devising them and in implementing them in ways the public accept, we must seek to strike a balance. I do not welcome excessive regulations, and all the apparatus that goes with bureaucracy. But I am in favour of local authorities using the range of their powers and influence, and experimenting, when traffic conditions require it and when they are appropriate to local circumstances. They should be seen to be making the choice and taking the responsibility.
§ Mr. Peter Fry (Wellingborough)
In view of what the right hon. Gentleman was saying about local authorities taking decisions on parking matters, will he explain why he came to his recent decision not to have a public inquiry in respect of the GLC's proposals on controlling parking when the two London boroughs concerned apparently had great reservations about the scheme? Would it not have been a far better idea for there to have been a public inquiry so that all local authorities could have put forward their point of view?
§ Mr. Rodgers
The hon. Gentleman anticipated my next remarks precisely. I was going to say, and will say partly in answer to his question, that an example of the scope for local authorities to act within the powers entrusted to them by Parliament—as the hon. Gentleman knows, the powers which he mentions were the result of a measure passed by the House in 1969—arose from the current proposals of the Greater London Council to license public off-street car-parking in central areas of London.
As the hon. Gentleman implied, I had a statutory duty to have regard to representations about the proposals and to decide whether to intervene. It was not an easy decision to make and I had to consider all the factors, including the immediate consequences of my decision and the processes that would follow on. However, I took the view, bearing in mind all the safeguards that exist in 717 legislation and because the GLC is a local authority and subject, as we are, to decisions from time to time by the electorate, that it would be wrong to intervene in the circumstances.
I think there is much merit in such experiments, but I hope that they will be seen as experiments. I hope that everyone will contribute to seeking to strike the right balance and to make a success of them. I hope that opinions will not be unreasonably polarised without full and careful consideration of the factors involved. I shall be happy to discuss the matter further in greater detail if the hon. Gentleman wishes, but I think that all the factors which came into my decision will be found to be justified if they are carefully reflected upon.
§ Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch and Lymington)
Does the right hon. Gentleman intend to say more about local authorities having more power? If not, will he say a word or two now about the rôle of the Traffic Commissioners and the recommendation that their powers be transferred to local authorities, to bring more local choice and local reflection of circumstances into the decisions?
§ Mr. Rodgers
I had not proposed to refer tonight to the Traffic Commissioners. I shall be happy to listen to the views of hon. Members on the matter, as I have been to hear the views of all those who have been reporting to us on the basis of the consultation document. I am not currently persuaded that there is a need for change in the rôle of the Traffic Commissioners, but I hope that my mind is as open as I have been asking other people to make theirs.
Finally, I turn to roads and particularly the problems of major road schemes. I appreciate entirely the anxieties of those who find their homes, their habits and their community threatened by a proposal for road works. Many schemes are endorsed, by common consent, with a minimum of objections and with the support of right hon. and hon. Members. If the trunk road programme were to be halved tomorrow, the outcry would greatly exceed the sound of rejoicing. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary and I and our predecessors have been familiar with the representations of hon. Members on this point. So let us have a sense of perspec- 718 tive. The greater demands made upon us through elected representatives are to move forwards with major road schemes rather than to hold them back. But there is a genuine sense of grievance, which disturbs me. We shall not remove its causes overnight.
§ Mr. Bruce Douglas-Mann (Mitcham and Morden)
I was glad to hear what my right hon. Friend said on that subject, but the Public Expenditure White Paper envisages expenditure on trunk roads of £261 million in 1979–80, whereas paragraph 3.23 says that our oil supplies are certain only to the end of the 1980s. Why does my right hon. Friend consider it appropriate that we should plan roads so far ahead? Would it not be better periodically to review proposals for building particular roads, so that the blight imposed by schemes might be removed when it was clear that there was no longer a need for them, or that the resources to make them usable might well not be available by the time they were to be built?
§ Mr. Rodgers
My hon. Friend puts his finger on a fundamental point, about which I shall say a further word. I do not dispute the need continually to review the road programme, to take nothing for granted, and to ensure that it meets our needs and does not have an excessive demand on our resources. As my hon. Friend will understand, this is a minor point, in that the major matter to which he referred concerned the road programme, but I ask him not to rely on the figures in Cmnd. 6393, last year's Public Expenditure White Paper, because as a result of the announcements last July and December, there have been substantial reductions in the expenditure on roads forecast at the beginning of last year. Given the reservations that people have, their anxieties and sense of grievance, I hope that we shall be able to make progress and find a more sympathetic view being taken on necessary decisions, again, without prejudice to the much larger issue raised by my hon. Friend.
There is close and continuing co-operation at all levels between my Department and the Department of the Environment on common issues of transport and planning. Environmental and planning issues will continue to be weighed alongside narrower issues of transport efficiency in 719 choosing the route and design of new roads. The appointment of inspectors for trunk roads and motorway schemes and final decisions on them is now shared by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment and myself. We shall consider what further needs to be done on inquiries as a result of, for example, the Council on Tribunals' current work.
§ Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton)
Does the Minister accept that it is not only a question of scarce resources but of the crushing burden of uncertainty on many of our constituents, particularly in South London for those of us who are affected by the M23? Can he hold out any hope of a way in which planning permissions received by authorities for such motorway proposals lapse after a period if there is no clear prospect of the projects' going ahead?
§ Mr. Rodgers
I have a great deal of sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman said. I am not one to follow one of my elders and betters in remembering dates and quoting what I have written, but I referred earlier to my pamphlet "What shall we do about the roads?" I remember saying there that it was ridiculous that it should take all of four years from conception until a major road was on the ground, and I asked whether the lapse of time should not be shorter. Either as a result of the naivety of youth or the way in which matters have changed since I wrote that, the time is now longer. But the more one consults, the more one seeks to carry people with one, the longer the process becomes. One indicates one's intention and asks people what they think. Next one produces the scheme, and then there is a public inquiry, which may be interrupted. Then one thinks again, and there is another public inquiry. We are then talking not of four years but perhaps nine, or even 15.
It is very difficult to have the adequate consultation that people require, without delay and blight. But I shall bear in mind what the hon. Gentleman says, because from the point of view of anybody on the ground it is a crushing burden. I should find myself despairing of long years of uncertainty about whether I could stay where I was living and what other new factors I should have to deal with.
§ Mr. Phillip Whitehead (Derby, North)
As my right hon. Friend hinted, some inquiries have been interrupted recently. There are two brief paragraphs in the consultation document on providing a more independent assessment both for motorway planning and for the presentation of the Department of the Environment case. The conduct of the inquiries was not seen to be impartial by many people. Will these proposals be in my right hon. Friend's forthcoming White Paper?
§ Mr. Rodgers
I have said that the Council on Tribunals is considering the form of inquiries and whether it could be changed. I was about to refer to the second point in my hon. Friend's mind, about the appraisal of schemes. With the consent of the House, I think that I had better now continue to the end of my speech without giving way again, or there will be little time for other hon. Members to take part in the debate.
I agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) implied about methods of appraisal for road schemes, the need to make sure that traffic forecasts are soundly based, and the wish to carry more people with us in the decisions which we then make. For this reason, acting upon what was said in the consultative document, I have set up an independent committee under Sir George Leitch to advise me on these matters. I shall shortly announce the names of the other members. With Sir George's agreement, I want the committee to include someone who can contribute out of particular concern for planning and the environment. I am sure that many people and interests will wish to let the Committee have the benefit of their views.
What we have in the matter of roads—illustrated by the interventions as much as by what I have said—is a series of dilemmas. People already spend about £5,000 million a year—about 10 per cent. of all consumer expenditure—on some form of road transport. The number of cars on the roads is still increasing by well over 100,000 a year. But public investment in roads is contracting. The December cuts once again fell heavily on the road programme. Next year's expenditure on trunk roads has been 721 reduced by a quarter from the level planned in the public expenditure White Paper last February.
Yet the less we spend, the longer we have to put up with traffic delays. Industry has represented strongly to me that investment in transport infrastructure, in particular adequate roads to ports and bypasses, is necessary for its needs as the economy picks up. Road schemes are normally expected to show a return of at least 10 per cent. and frequently they produce a return as high as 20 per cent. in real terms.
We should not reduce decisions on road policy merely to a matter of formulae and expenditure. Decisions on roads involve major questions of national economic, transport and environmental policy. I hope that all these aspects will figure in today's debate, for Parliament has been criticised in the past for being too little involved in how the money voted to roads is spent. I would also welcome hon. Members' views on the idea of an annual White Paper on the road programme which could provide Parliament with an opportunity for a regular review and debate.
I am sure that in transport policy Parliament should have a more central and important part to play than it has been able to in the past. We spend much time discussing local questions which are rightly our concern as constituency Members, but all too little on broader issues and objectives.
I should welcome hon. Member's views not only on the specific question of the White Paper on the road programme but on ways in which we can more effectively involve Parliament in the decision-making process.
§ Mr. Ronald Atkins (Preston, North)
Will my right hon. Friend couple with his White Paper on the road programme a White Paper on railway investment, so that we can discuss that as well?
§ Mr. Rodgers
It is a chastening experience, when one is trying to be helpful, to find my hon. Friends suggesting how one can move even further in that direction by making papers available. I agree with my hon. Friend in so far as the reports of the British Railways Board, and, the work of Select Committees, do not provide a suitable basis for discussion. 722 I am glad that my hon. Friend has made the point.
What I am trying to suggest is that at present we have documents upon which the House can discuss railways matters and absolutely rightly. Some people who perhaps believe that our decisions on roads are not well based feel that there should be some further means by which the House can discuss these matters. Like my hon. Friend, I am anxious to see as much information made available as possible.
We are at the beginning of our six-months' presidency of the EEC. I want this period to be one in which we can make real practical progress on the important transport issues for the Community. Next week I shall address the Transport Committee of the European Parliament. I want to be able, in all this European activity, to take into account the views of the House on general policy and on specific items. For example, the new social regulations, dealing with the hours and conditions of the drivers of goods and passenger vehicles; the Commission's freight market proposals; the harmonisation of safety and environmental regulations for motor vehicles. Discussion of these issues, and of the general aim for a common Community transport policy, must reflect the different national backgrounds to the transport policies of the member states and not least those of this country.
As I warned the House, in my remarks this evening I have not systematically followed the consultation document in making a comprehensive review of transport policy. I would be happy if the debate went wider than the matters I have covered.
There is, for example, the question of the organisation or re-organisation of transport. I have no wish to avoid responsibilities that are properly mine. Similarly the House of Commons is jealous of its central role in subjecting the decisions of Government to scrutiny.
I am sure that no one would wish to devise an extra-mural, extra-parliamentary forum for discussion or decision merely to escape from the awkwardness and unpopularity of policy making. But there may be scope for change. In this area, as in others, we should not be afraid to face the unfamiliar.
723 I come to transport as an enthusiast, fascinated by its complexities and excited by its challenges. I come as a consumer aware of current grievances and anxieties and intending that decisions should be related to economic and to social need. There is no instant formula that will create a wholly satisfactory transport system but I believe that the problems we face are capable of solution. But if we take a long, hard look at realities, then, with a proper sense of purpose, I think that we can move ahead.
§ 7.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Fowler (Sutton Coldfield)
This has been a much postponed debate. One result has been that the welcome we would have liked to give to the two new Ministers when they arrived in the autumn has also been postponed. Perhaps I can first repair that omission. I must, however, warn them that it seems that the transport job is one of the more precarious perches in the Government. I took over as Opposition spokesman on transport 12 months ago. Since then we have had no fewer than three Secretaries of State, one Minister of State and two Under-Secretaries. That is an average of one new Minister every two months. I would perhaps be uncharitable to hope that the new Ministers would follow that tradition. But they will perhaps agree that it makes it a little difficult for us to catch up with the present views of each new arrival.
Although the right hon. Gentleman, the present Minister, has not written a book happily we have his 1959 Fabian pamphlet entitled "What shall we do about the roads?" As the right hon. Gentleman was in a reminiscent mood, I shall refer to one of the proposals that many motorists will find most interesting—his support for the idea of toll roads in Britain. In the United States, he said, toll roads were accepted whereas in Britain, he argueddislike of the turnpike and its abandonment in the 19th century has left a hangover of prejudice against tolls".We look forward to debating the right hon. Gentleman's ideas on the introduction of toll roads. If it is of any assistance I might be able to persuade my right hon. Friends to make some Supply time available.
The opportunity for this debate is welcome, and for the reason that one of the most serious effects of the rapid turnover 724 in Ministers has been the uncertainty about how the Government viewed their own paper.
The right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) produced it, but his immediate successor—the right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore)—was less than overjoyed with it and stressed that it was only a discussion document that had been published merely for debate. We should be clear from the start that it was much more than that.
For example, the consultation document discusses the popular belief that it is possible to secure a massive shift of long-distance freight from road to rail. Alas, says the document, "it is a pipe-dream". That is considerably more than feeling one's way to a tentative conclusion. It is more than that, of course. The popular belief, dismissed so summarily, was until then the official policy of the Labour Party. Again, on the freight deficit, the Government have already made their view clear about the fact that there is no justification for subsidy going to rail freight.
But the document fails to set out an approach to transport policy. In the main, this is because its authors felt constrained by the often repeated pledge of their party for an integrated transport policy. There is precious little in the document about an integrated transport policy, and one of the omissions from the speech of the Secretary of State was that he did not mention the concept of an integrated transport policy. If that shows a change in style and approach, we welcome it. But if this consultation means anything, it means a new start at a time when public transport is in crisis and many of the transport industries face major difficulties.
The trouble with so much of the present transport debate is that it is dominated by the rival lobbies—the rail and road lobbies. Too often, it is a matter of the providers of transport pleading their own case. One example was the response of the British Railways Board to the document arguing that the EEC rules on drivers' hours and distances should be implemented. This had nothing to do with a touching concern for drivers' hours and conditions. It was because it would make road haulage more expensive and thus allow rail freight charges to be increased.
725 The person who gets left out of such a policy is the customer who has to pay. We all recognise the right of the providers to put their case as long as it is also recognised that the two most important groups of people in the transport debate are the users of transport—the passengers, the commuters, the many millions for whom some form of transport is a necessity, the motorist, the customer who needs to move, and the taxpayers who increasingly are asked to finance so much. It is their interests which are paramount and, above all, any transport policy should seek to meet their interests.
I suggest that, if we take that view, it becomes the proper starting point of the debate and leads to natural conclusions. A transport policy which puts the user first should not tolerate unnecessary legal restrictions which stand in the way of that public demand being met. Here we have a curious divergence of policy. In road haulage, we have one of the most liberal licensing systems in the world. Entry into road haulage is infinitely easier in this country than it is in the rest of Europe and in the United States. The result is that we have a private sector road haulage industry which is highly competitive and highly efficient.
When we come to passenger transport, we adopt an entirely different approach. It is a pity that the right hon. Gentleman did not refer to it. We have a licensing system which was laid down in 1930 and which prevents new services from developing naturally. In my view, it is patently out of date.
Anyone who doubts that statement should attend a traffic commissioners' hearing. One of the nearest is at Acton. I went there a few weeks ago. The case concerned a private coach operator who wanted to develop a new service. The objectors were National Travel, part of the National Bus Company, and British Rail. The House will recall that one of the purposes of the licensing system is to protect the routes of existing operators. The routes to which NCB and British Rail objected were to go not from London to Birmingham or from London to Leeds but from London to Moscow, from London to Vienna and from London to Barcelona. In other words, the private operator was trying to develop a 726 service like that of the Greyhound coaches which operate in the United States. He wanted to develop a new service.
Objection was made possible because, for the first tiny part of those journeys, the route ran from London to Dover, and the case of National Travel basically was that here was an operator doing something new. It was totally irrelevant to it that such a service would enable the public to travel cheaper. The user did not come into the argument at all. The name of the game is to oppose the plan of anyone who wants to move, irrespective of whether it has any effect on one's operations.
I must say frankly that it seems quite ludicrous that we should have a system which allows that kind of objection—a system which was designed for the Britain of the 1920s. Equally, I believe that it is ludicrous that teams of legal and transport advisers should turn up at traffic commissioners' hearings with the intent only to stop innovation.
The system also affects services in this country. In some cases, it is true that an operator can apply to develop a service with some chance of success, although it is also true that he has to pit his ability to pay against the big battalions. Even when an organisation has the resources, it must contend with the delays of the system itself.
Here, there is the example of the Oxfordshire County Council scheme. The county council was told by the National Bus Company that it would require a subsidy of £330,000 to provide 18 rural services which carried, the county council discovered, 75 people a day. Not surprisingly, but significantly with no help from the Department of the Environment, the county council looked for cheaper solutions. Local groups were set up and an effort was made to discover the needs of those who wanted to use the services. In the end, this meant an application to the traffic commissioners. But the county council has encountered delay after delay, and this has been going on month after month. If the criterion is swift response to local needs, the system leaves almost everything to be desired.
The fact is that our present system stands in the way of innovation. In other 727 countries there are examples of minibus services, car sharing, jitney services, and coach services organised by groups of commuters. They do not replace conventional public transport systems. They supplement them. There is no reason why they should not be allowed to develop here—no reason, especially when the basis of much of the licensing laws was cross-subsidisation which, frankly, is again out of date.
On rural licensing, the record of this Government is lamentable. The modest reforms made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) in 1973 were scrapped immediately that this Government took office. For two years they did nothing. Then, in December 1975, they announced the formation of a committee to consider the problems of rural areas. It took another seven months for that Committee to meet for the first time. Now, in the last couple of months, we have a Bill which allows experiments to take place in selected areas.
I do not blame the present Under-Secretary for that. The fault lies with his predecessors. But I blame his Government, and perhaps he will understand why we say that what he is doing is too little, too late.
What we mean initially by putting the user first is getting rid of restrictions which stand in the way of new services developing. In the freight area, we want decisions left to the customer. The Government have a rôle in devising fair track costs for both rail and road. But the rôle of the Government should not extend to seeking to direct traffic. Both rail and road have natural advantages—rail for heavy bulk traffic and road for the many shorter distances in this country. But, in that choice, the man most likely to get the decision right is the customer.
The public interest is best served not by integration but by competition. That point was perhaps best put in a response to the consultation document which said:We adhere to the view that a market which is too tightly controlled and in which users' choice is severely restricted cannot best serve the needs of either the consumer or society.That was not the view of the Selsdon Group. It was that of the National Freight Corporation.
728 If we are to have competition, clearly it follows that proposals for nationalisation must be dropped. In a revealing part of the document, the right hon. Member for Grimsby admitted that nationalisation in road haulage had no relevance to economic recovery. With that, I agree completely. At the same time, the ports industry, which is a sadly neglected area in this transport paper, would also benefit from such an assurance. It was also one of the most powerful arguments against the takeover of Felixstowe, because it would have reduced competition substantially in that area.
Fourthly, if we are to recognise the interests of the user, we should not ignore the interests of the motorist. Twenty years ago, public transport was more important than private motoring but today private motoring is four times as important, in terms of journeys made, than public transport. We should remember that 55 per cent. of all households in this country have cars, and this increases to 70 per cent. in rural areas. No political party would contemplate making a policy which omitted those without cars. Equally there is no reason to miss out those who own cars. It is a curious fact that the Labour Party is committed by the manifesto of 1974to make the nation less dependent on the private car.Some of the policies pursued by some councils at local level go far beyond the sensible prevention of congestion—which I support—and amount to an indiscriminate attempt to ban motorists from city centres, including those motorists who really need their cars for business.
I attach great importance to road safety. Obviously the law has a part to play, and we could argue about what should be included in the criminal law on road safety. But road safety goes beyond making laws. We should make an effort now above all to improve training and to prevent accidents. We should encourage schemes such as the RoSPA schemes for schoolchildren, and the advanced motorists scheme to encourage better driving. We should develop a much better road safety training scheme for motor cyclists. We cannot be content to shuffle the problem of road safety on to the police.
A transport policy as a whole must provide for the interests of the users and 729 must meet certain requirements, including environmental requirements. That is why I attach great importance to the network of national and local lorry routes. Rather than seeking artificially to direct freight from road to rail, we should confine lorries as far as possible to roads which are most suited to them—away from residential areas. Sometimes this is possible but sometimes it is not because the roads do not exist.
The first priority in road investment is to get roads which aid our economic recovery—the economic routeways. After that, we should invest in roads which bring environmental benefit such as bypasses around villages and towns. We hear a great deal from those who do not want roads at any price, but many people badly need bypasses to take traffic away from their areas. The public must be consulted on road plans, and I emphasise the need for that.
We shall examine and support any scheme the Government propose to improve the road inquiry system. I think that the starting point here would be an initial debate in this House on the issues involved, followed by the kind of annual debate which the Secretary of State has suggested. I think that he put forward a first-class idea, and we would certainly like to take up his suggestion. That is how I would summarise some of the requirements of a transport policy.
When we come to the big public transport operators we must attempt to strike a balance between the needs of the users and the demands of public expenditure. Any Government in present circumstances would have to look for savings in transport, and we support the Secretary of State in his attempts to do that. Any Government would have to look at the justification for subsidy, and once again we support the Secretary of State in stating that there is no justification for subsidising freight operations. We wanted earlier action on this matter, but at least the Department has got the message at last and we welcome that.
With passenger operations the position is more difficult. Over the last two years passenger fares in many parts of the country have doubled. British Rail fares have gone up by 100 per cent., London bus fares by 94 per cent. and 730 London Underground fares by 114 per cent. Obviously price restraint has had an effect, particularly on London Transport, but the major cause of the fare increases has been inflation. When one has the biggest period of inflation since the war in an industry where between 66 per cent. and 70 per cent. of costs are labour costs. of course fares will rise. Thus what we have seen is yet another effect of the unprecedented inflation which this country has experienced, and equally clearly this Government must bear a major responsibility for their failure to tackle the problem early enough.
These fare increases have no doubt had a cruel effect on hundreds of thousands of passengers, particularly commuters for whom travel to and from work is not a luxury but is essential. Anyone who feels that commuters are affluent members of the middle class who can afford ever-increasing fares should look at a survey carried out in the South-East by the Evening Post, serving Gillingham, Rochester, Chatham, and Gravesend. This showed that no fewer than 77 per cent. of commuters had moved out from London for one reason only—cheaper housing.
I take up a point made by the Secretary of State. He said that in transport matters we should seek areas of agreement. I agree with that. Nowhere is that more important than in developing policies for the railway industry. I have already stated my view on rail freight—a view which in principle, at any rate, the Government accept. My view is that no support is justified. Equally there is no reason why inter-city services should not be profitable. They are good, and in many cases they beat air services for cost and speed.
But to go to the other extreme, it is difficult to see how some commuter services can do without support at this time. The reasons are well known. Commuter services have to deal with two short peak periods of demand with equipment and labour which is vastly in excess of what is needed for the rest of the day. Of course, if we could extend the peaks the problem would be made infinitely easier.
I do not place undue weight on overseas experience, but on commuter services the evidence I have seen persuades me. This summer I spent a month in the 731 United States looking at the transport system in that country. Although there are railroad companies making money out of freight, the story on commuter services is the same as it is here. In New York, Chicago and San Francisco no one breaks even on commuter services. Indeed, in San Francisco one of the major companies is so eager to get out of business that it is giving away minibuses to any commuter who will undertake to take six or seven others off the railroad, and so enable it to close down the service. The only way commuter services keep going in the United States is by State support.
In any agreed approach to the railway industry I believe that we should follow the advice of The Times which, in a leader last year, set out a programme for economic stability. Referring to the nationalised industries. The Times emphasised that a better financial performance was required—and this was required of British Rail no less than any other nationalised industry. When, however, an industry was required to operate specific uneconomic services it should be recompensed for them. In principle I agree with that approach, but in practice it brings us back to a major obstacle—the identification of specific uneconomic rail services. This is no longer possible because Briitsh Rail no longer identify the costs of separate services. As with freight, this is a major omission for many people. It affects the rail passengers, such as the one who wrote to the Press recently:If one is to pay one-twelfth of one's salary to get to and from work, it seems reasonable to ask British Rail for an explanation of where the money goes.It also affects the rail manager. As the Economist said in 1966:An organisation can scarcely expect to improve its performance if managers do not know if what they are doing makes a profit or a loss.I mention the 1966 Economist not only because the Under-Secretary was then in charge of its transport coverage but because if that could be said in 1966, how much more true it is today.
But above all it affects a Government who frankly do not know how the money is being spent. As I have suggested, the evidence points to the conclusion that passenger services, including commuter services, are being blamed for far too much when they are not getting 732 a fair share of the savings which have been made over the last decade.
Again I urge that an essential part of the agreed approach is that the Government must have better financial information on exactly how public money is spent in the railway industry. The taxpayer is now paying over £400 million a year in operating subsidies, but the passenger is facing sharply increased fares. It is in the interests of both taxpayer and user that better information is provided, while for Government it must surely be a natural prerequisite of policy.
§ Mr. Ronald Atkins
I find some of the hon. Member's remarks confusing. He says that commuter travel is very expensive even in those countries which do not assist freight. He seems to blame freight, saying that the commuters want to know where their money is going, although it is obvious that public travel is expensive and does not pay its way.
§ Mr. Fowler
I do not want to repeat the speech I made about three hours ago when I dealt with the rail freight deficit, but perhaps I could refer the hon. Member to what I said then when I set out the argument in some detail.
What is clear—and no one should attempt to disguise it—is that over the next year further substantial improvements will be required in the efficiency of British Rail. In particular there will have to be improvements in productivity. Here the response of the British Railways Board is important. In it the Board envisages a reduction in staff of about 40,000 by 1981, most of which can be achieved by wastage and control of recruitment.
Clearly, such a change is important, but where I believe we in the House can help is in emphasising that it is the united desire of both sides that there should be a real future for the railway industry in Britain. Clearly, no system can be immutable, and, equally clearly, we should avoid the American example where, after years of decay, it is costing not millions but billions of dollars to put a basic system back together again.
I therefore want to see a future for the railways in this country. That future lies not only in the hands of Government, but, crucially, in the hands of those working in the industry. What is in the public interest is that we should achieve an 733 industry which is working to maximum efficiency and is providing the best possible service for the passenger.
Transport is a vital area of government. It is important to millions of passengers and to close on 3 million people who work in it. It is also of growing importance and concern to the taxpayer. The problems are also formidable.
Of one thing I am convinced. Those problems will not be resolved by a crude rail-versus-road slogging match, yet this has been a characteristic of the transport debate in recent years. The consultation document provides us with an opportunity of getting the debate off to a new start. I hope that we shall take that opportunity.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. Roughly 40 right hon. and hon. Members have indicated their wish to speak in the debate. In addition, there may be others who have not yet expressed their intention. There are three hours left for the debate. It will be impossible to get in everyone who wishes to speak. However, I shall do my best to get a balanced debate.
§ 8.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)
The Minister started his speech by recording how he had attempted unsuccessfully to intervene in a transport debate 14 years ago. My first intrusion into this subject was in the debates on the transport nationalisation Act in 1947. It is a somewhat sobering thought to remember that at that time we all assumed that public transport overall would be able to pay its way and to make a profit, taking one year with another.
Like the hon. Member for Sutton Cold-field (Mr. Fowler) I do not want to speak either for the rail lobby or the road lobby. I want to put briefly to the Minister some specific points which seem to me to arise out of the consultation document.
First, I wish to know why the Government have not yet introduced a higher tax on heavy lorries which the document says on page 26 is justified. The relevant paragraph on that page says that there is a strong argument for systematically relating lorry taxation to resource costs, and then it goes on: 734This would mean steeper tax increases for heavy lorries, particularly for those with few axles and high axle loading".However, the foreword to the document was dated April 1976. We have had at least two mini-Budgets since then in which the Government, so we understood, were desperate for revenue. Why do the Government not then make an increase in this tax since it would provide a benefit in transport terms as well as providing extra revenue. May we have an assurance tonight that this will be done in the next Budget, whenever that is?
Secondly, the whole case for lavish expenditure on new motorway building, which I believe has never really been made out, is further greatly weakened by a careful study of the document. Some hon. Members may not have noticed the remarkably explicit and, I think, wholly justified declaration on page 125 of Volume 2, which says:Lorries are and will remain a relatively small percentage of total traffic, and their contribution to the case for justifying new roads is correspondingly modest.That is a statement which most people who drive on motorways will endorse. But it undermines a very large part of the case for a massive motorway programme, a case which has been put repeatedly in recent years—the arguments that motorways are mainly intended to carry industrial goods, to take exports to the ports, and all the rest of it.
We now learn from the document that the case for a new major road has to be made out largely on two grounds. The first is the saving of accidents and the second is the saving of time, mainly in the case of vehicles other than lorries carrying goods.
The first argument, about accidents, is somewhat suspect, because although it is true that on a motorway there are fewer accidents per vehicle-mile than on other roads, the building of the motorway itself in almost every case increases the total volume of the traffic. So we are really largely reduced to the second argument: that the time of drivers of vehicles other than lorries is saved by the building of the new road.
It is interesting to find that the time saved is calculated according to the earning power per hour of the people who are conveyed in vehicles on the road, 30 per cent. of which, we are told, is not working 735 time in any event. It seems that the better one is paid, the stronger is the case on this criterion for building a road on which one is likely to travel. We should all bear that in mind as part of the criterion which is now used for the most expensive forms of road building.
Another interesting conclusion which emerges from this document is this: if a railway line is demonstrably making a financial loss, a strong case can be made for closing it. But a given section of road cannot be shown to be making a financial loss because, as the document on page 32 rightly points out,there is no feasible method of associating tax revenues with particular road proposals.The advocates of a given road—they cannot help this—therefore fall back on the rather more mystical method of so-colled cost benefit analysis which I have just mentioned. But it may be that some railway lines which fail to qualify, because they are making a financial loss, might qualify if the cost-benefit analysis argument were applied to them. That leaves us with a certain inbuilt inequality between the arguments in each case.
§ Mr. John Lee (Birmingham, Handsworth)
I think that I can reinforce my right hon. Friend's argument still further. I put down a Question to the Minister a few weeks ago asking how many roads had been closed for economic reasons since 1950. The answer was "None".
§ Mr. Jay
That precisely confirms my argument. It is even more interesting to discover that apparently for the first 1,000 miles of the motorway programme, even the cost-benefit system was not used. No rational case was made out at all.
Next, where the building of a motorway causes an increase in the rail deficit, will that deficit, which somebody has to meet, be counted in as the cost of building the motorway? It would seem that it should be included. We spent some hours earlier today discussing the unfortunate rail deficits and what should be done about it then. However, nobody mentioned that one cause of the increase in those deficits was the money that the Government themselves spent on building motorways which compete with rail. The Minister should not neglect that point.
736 Finally, what precise cuts have been made in the road construction and improvement programme for 1977–78, as set out in the last public expenditure Blue Book dated February 1976—"Public Expenditure to 1979–80"? That Blue Book gave expenditure, both national and local, on new road construction and improvements, omitting maintenance, as being £681 million for 1977–78. We have had three Budgets since then, but all that the Chancellor told us about the figures in his statement on 15th December was,New construction will be suspended or curtailed in several other central and local government programmes, including roads, other environmental services, school building, Government accommodation, and capital spending by the water authorities."—[Official Report, 15th December 1976, Vol. 922. c. 1528.]That was an unclear way of telling us what change there has been in road expenditure. My right hon. Friend said that there was a reduction of one-quarter below the figure set out in the public expenditure Paper. If he means that, as a result of all the Budgets since then, one deducts 25 per cent. from the figure of £681 million, that would be an answer. I do not know whether he wishes to confirm that.
§ Mr. William Rodgers
That was not what I said. If my right hon. Friend will refer to a Question which I answered on the day following the Chancellor's statement, he will get the detailed answer to his question. However, it would be most helpful if my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, when he replies to the debate, could give the House all these figures, because I understand that there may be some confusion.
§ Mr. Jay
I hope that he will be able to do so.
If we are serious about public economy when dealing with public expenditure on motorways or other major road projects which have not yet been started, mere suspension or curtailment is not good enough in every case. In some cases, outright cancellation is needed. In my view, high priority should be given to new road building in areas of genuinely high unemployment. But I could mention other examples—the hon. Member for Carshalton (Mr. 737 Forman) mentioned South London—where cancellation would not only be warmly welcomed by large local communities, but would save the Government many millions of pounds and help cut down the public sector borrowing requirement.
§ Mr. Adley
I hope that the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) will not think me discourteous, but would it not be advisable for him to mention that he is one of the few privileged people in the House and in the country who are old Wykehamists and that he is a leading campaigner in the anti-Winchester bypass campaign? That might help us to understand his views.
§ Mr. Jay
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for reminding the House that the proposed M3 motorway past Winchester to Southampton is one of the schemes that might most usefully be cancelled.
I would also like to confirm and support what the hon. Member for Carshalton said about the case of the M23 proposed extension northwards from Hooley into the built-un London area of Mitcham. There is no doubt that if the Minister cancelled that scheme and ended the blight that has affected that part of London for many years there would be universal applause. I think that the hon. Member for Carshalton can confirm that.
I want to impress on the Minister that I doubt whether his Department has ever grasped the strength of feeling about the continuing blight and uncertainty that has existed over a long period of years in some of those cases. It is not just a matter of holding public inquiries as the Minister has suggested. The trouble is that in some cases like this no decision ever seems to be reached. If the Minister wants other concrete examples of schemes that could usefully be cancelled I will gladly supply them.
There are, however, many sections and a number of arguments and conclusions in the Consultation Document with which I entirely agree. If the Minister is able to give a satisfactory answer to the points that I have raised, I hope the House will wish him a favourable journey on a not-too-expensive road system.
§ 8.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Donald Stewart (Western Isles)
The Minister will not be surprised if I confine my remarks to Scottish transport. The consultative document is uninspiring and lacking in relevance to Scotland. The rôle of transport in facilitating or initiating economic change is hardly touched on. There is the same old deference to existing transport interests, whether or not they serve the public interest. It is disturbing that the document shows a lack of appreciation of the differences between the Scottish and English transport situation and needs. I shall give an example in relation to railways.
It is a matter of common knowledge in Scotland, and a matter of some resentment, that antiquated and rejected rolling stock is used on many Scottish lines. When I make railway trips in England I never find stock that is as dilapidated as that in Scotland. I am not arguing that more bad stock should be used anywhere, but I do not see why Scottish lines—particularly those in the North—should be the dumping ground for clapped-out material.
Because of the terrain in Scotland, and other factors, we should have more railways rather than fewer. The railway unions themselves have stated in their document "Railway Developments in Scotland 1976–81" thatThe general levels of investment in the railways in Scotland over the last few years has, generally speaking, been below the proportionate level of the Scottish network".Many lines were chopped under the Beeching regime, which is now regarded as one of the greatest economic disasters ever to have struck the country. I agree with previous speakers that it would be undesirable and counter-productive to enter the road versus rail argument in a way that would polarise discussion, but I confess that I am of the school of thought that believes that more freight should travel by rail than by the road than at present. Much cargo ought to be carried by rail, and the Government should introduce statutes to compel certain loads to be carried by rail for greater safety and for the benefit of the environment.
The costs and inadequacies of the shipping services on the west coast of Scotland and to the islands in the North are a drag on development and are pushing up the cost of living to the level in 739 London. The local authority has had to give its workers a weighting allowance of £3.50 a week, and its example has been followed by other authorities and firms in the area.
A much better economic basis has been given to Norwegian islands, which are even further north—including some inside the Arctic Circle—by actions taken by the Norwegian Government to help them to survive.
I urge the Government to accept the recommendations of the Highlands and Islands Development Board in its report "Roads to the Isles" which contains details of road equivalent tariff which fair-minded people would accept as reasonable.
I am glad that the consultation document acknowledges that air services in Scotland are an important basic means of communication. However, the excessive fares in Scotland make travel per mile from Stornaway or Benbecula to Glasgow almost twice as expensive as travel per mile from Glasgow to London. British Airways tell me that they cannot reduce fares because the load factors are less than 50 per cent.—but this has come about only in the last two years and has been caused by excessive fares.
I suggest to British Airways that if they reduced fares to a level which people could afford, the load factors would increase and the airline would be taken out of the red or at least put in a better financial position.
There is in the document ignorance of and a lack of concern for the transport problems of Scotland. There is little Scottish data. Figures for the south-east of England are used to justify the unjustifiable in Scottish terms. An integrated transport system is desired, but the means are not given to a devolved Assembly to enable it to create one.
§ 8.43 p.m.
§ Mr. John Ellis (Brigg and Scunthorpe)
After a late sitting yesterday, some of us may have been bad tempered and perhaps inclined to be slightly critical of your rôle earlier today, Mr. Speaker.
I want to express my gratitude for having caught your eye now. The sun of natural justice has shone through and though it is rather late in the day it is welcome.
740 The Minister said that he would issue a White Paper later this year and presumably this will reflect some of the thinking in the consultative document. There is a special factor in my constituency which I hope will be taken into account when decisions are taken.
The transport infrastructure of my constituency and South Humberside will be affected by the opening of the new Humber Bridge. It was recently announced that the cost of the bridge, including the immediate approach roads, was now estimated at £54 million—at August 1976 prices—and that the anticipated opening date was now March 1979. For the benefit of those concerned with planning and the implications of the bridge on investment the toll should be established at an early date. The toll will have a major effect on many other decisions.
I have always been against toll bridges as such. I have never understood why people should have to pay a toll just because they have to use a bridge rather than a road or motorway, although I recognise that it can be expensive to build a bridge on difficult terrain.
I have been investigating the prices of the other 16 toll bridges in the country, two of which were constructed this century. Leaving aside the two constructed this century, the average price for a motor car is about 5p. The Tamar Bridge cost £2 million to build, and the tariff there is 15p. The tariff on the Severn Bridge, which cost £17 million to build, is 12p. The Humber Bridge is already costing £54 million, and the philosophy appears to be that the cost must be recovered. If the figures for the Severn Bridge were used the toll for the Humber Bridge would be £1 but if the Tamar Bridge was used as a comparison the toll would be £4. Those figures are unacceptable and I should react with some violence if a tariff of that magnitude were imposed.
I am a realistic man and I know that we cannot have a free bridge, but I repeat my plea that the toll should be reasonable, and should be announced as soon as possible.
Other implications arise because the infrastructure in the area will be entirely changed. For many years we have been served by a ferry. An Act establishing a steam ferry connection across the River 741 Humber went through the House in 1846. Queen Victoria, who owned the ferry and the foreshore, received compensation of about £200 a year. In those days the fare for a passenger exposed to the weather was 4d., passengers on the sheltered side were charged 6d., dogs and pigs 1d., coaches with one horse 2s., and coaches with two horses 3s. We should pause to think of the generations of people who gave their devoted service to keep the ferry running in difficult conditions when such equipment as radar did not exist.
Let us not jump to too hasty conclusions about what is to happen to the ferry. Let us plan and let us think. The railwaymen who work the ferry are naturally concerned about their future. The village of New Holland will be affected, because that is where the rail connection is. The bridge will affect the railways, because the rail link comes down to the ferry. It will affect road communications and bus services.
While some have been quick to say "Close down the ferry", or "Keep it going", railwaymen have been very responsible. They have said "Let us do the planning." The Humberside County Council is conducting a survey into the spin-off. There are other factors involved, such as whether it is likely that the bridge would have to be closed because of adverse wind conditions at certain times. I have mentioned a railway serving the villages, and we all know that rural transport services are difficult to maintain adequately. Not all of those who now use the ferry have motor cars. The ferry is right in the heart of Hull. On one side of my constituency, the distance to Grimsby is shorter, but the distance to parts of my constituency from Hull could be a great deal longer by the bridge. There is a great unemployment problem in Hull, but work is available on my side of the river, in the oil refineries, and so on.
This is not a simple matter. There may be a case for retaining a ferry which could carry vehicles. There may be a case for a ferry which could carry passengers only. I am willing to accept that there may not have been much of a case at all. However, I have a feeling that there would have been some case for 742 retention and that we ought to proceed locally along these lines.
Many people have been involved in the surveys. Hon. Members may imagine my horror when the House rose for the Christmas Recess at the last minute and I got home to find that Sealink had called a meeting of the men concerned in Hull and had said "When the bridge opens, the ferry closes." I say to British Rail that that was the most deplorable example of lack of consultation if it was done in ignorance, and that if it was done knowing the facts, the condemnation of British Rail cannot be too strong.
I am aware that the Sealink division of British Rail makes its money from cross-Channel ferries. What happens here affects the lives of my constituents. The ferry has made money over the years. Perhaps British Rail wants to get rid of it. Perhaps British Rail has its greedy eyes fixed on the compensation that it will get when the bridge opens. In any case, it was deplorable for an industry, particularly a nationalised industry, to proceed about its busines in this arrogant fashion. As British Rail needed an Act of Parliament previously, it may be that it will need other Acts of Parliament. I assure British Rail that it is net likely to get my co-operation in any such endeavours if this is the way in which it proceeds with its business. I think that that is a fair point to make.
I look to British Rail to reconsider its attitude regarding these matters. Let us have the job done properly and well. British Rail has succeeded in alienating public opinion in my area, at every level, by this kind of action, which was thoughtless, at the least—and if it was more than that, it was deserving of the most savage action that we can take.
I have commented on the survey in relation to my area. In my constituency we need a co-ordinated approach to all the problems. What will take place there on the opening of the bridge proves the theory that is put forward over and over again in the consultation document. I am a Member of Parliament sponsored by the Transport and General Workers' Union. No one from my organisation, in the studies that we have done—or anyone else, as far as I know—is saying that 743 there is any point in pursuing the road-versus-rail argument. Both have a part to play.
My constituency produces steel, and it makes sense to move that product by rail. Steel is produced at Scunthorpe, where British Rail has modernised the marshalling yards and the tracks to the Midlands and the South. All that makes sense, and I hope that British Rail will keep a sharp watch on things.
We have done rather well from the point of view of the motorway network, because in our area it is being extended to meet the river bridge. There will be competition with the railways, but nobody minds that. I hope that British Rail will realise that the steel trade is one of the jewels in its crown. It makes a lot of profit from the steel produced at Scunthorpe, and I hope that it will ensure that it keeps this trade.
I thank my hon. Friend for what has been done to help in the provision of roads in our areas. Despite cuts in the road building programme, we have always managed to get our part of the motorway programme coupleted, but there have been difficulties in dealing with the problems of towns and villages. There is still a problem in the Immingham area. A group of my villages are badly affected, and they need some relief. We need a north-west orbital road at Scunthorpe to serve the new network as it comes into being and we get the bridge across the Trent and the motorway. However, I cannot complain over the progress that has been made.
One matter that merits further consideration is referred to in Chapter 4 of Volume 1 on Transport Policy. One sees there a suggestion by the TUC, and it is supported by my union, for a national transport authority. I sometimes think that we in this House have short memories. Some of us went through a traumatic experience during the late 1960s when we were dealing with the Transport Bill.
It has been said that Ministers come and Ministers go, particularly those in the Transport Department. It is said that they suffer a stormy passage. I had the privilege to work as a PPS to the late Stephen Swingler when he was Minister of State. He occupied that post for a long time and, with respect to my hon. 744 Friend, I think that he knew transport as well as any Minister that we have had with responsibility for this job. Some of us think that Stephen Swingler's death resulted from his marathon work on that Transport Bill. It took an enormous amount of time to get it through Parliament. The measure was hotly disputed, but it became law and provided the Minister with powers which he could invoke by means of orders.
That measure had much merit. It contained powers which could be used in the present circumstances. It was not merely a case of giving a block grant to a local authority and somebody then considering problems relating to buses, or cars, or other facets of planning isolation. It contained ideas about passenger transport associations and passenger transport executives. Those bodies were set up to look at all aspects of the problem, and on them there were members from local authorities, from the police, from road planners, from road hauliers and from the railways. They would consider all relevant local aspects before making a decision.
I think that there was much merit in that approach. There is a lot to be said for economies of scale, with Ministers at the centre knowing all the factors that need to be taken into account, whether it be in an English constituency or a Scottish one, but emphasis should be given to local needs, and use should be made of local planning facilities.
I should like to see the powers under the Transport Act invoked, and I do not think that that would be alien to the TUC's suggestion that there should be a national transport authority to look at all the threads that were revealed.
Decisions should not be taken from the top downwards. Solutions should be based on the problems encountered by ordinary people, whether at work or in business, in the areas where they live, where people are trying to invest or to create more jobs. Let the details be examined, whatever those details may be. Looking at problems in this way, one begins to discern the strands of a problem which has national application and on which national decisions must be taken. Taken together, all these local factors give a firmer indication of national needs. The problem with bureaucracy is that planning decisions are 745 taken from the top downwards instead of from the bottom upwards. I commend those thoughts to the Minister.
Finally, I ask the Minister to use his influence with British Rail in connection with the boats that run across the estuary, on which we still rely and which will be needed until 1979—certainly if the construction of the bridge is not put back. They are two old boats, the "Lincoln Castle" and the "Faringford". They are paddle-boats which have been in use for many years. The staff are dedicated to keeping them running, but they are breaking down increasingly often, and surveys and repairs frequently have to be carried out. One of them ran into some driftwood in the channel last week and was out of service for a whole week.
I ask hon. Members to be patient with me, because this is a matter of considerable importance to people on both sides of the estuary. If British Rail has any idea that because it will be getting rid of these boats, anyway, it does not matter whether there is a complete service, it certainly has the wrong idea. I hope that British Rail will approach the matter in an entirely different frame of mind, recognising that it has an obligation to provide a service until the consultations have been completed and the full situation taken into account, with an alternative service, if that must come about, and other decisions taken at the end of the day. In the meantime, however, British Rail is under an obligation to provide a reliable, efficient and safe service.
§ 9.3 p.m.
§ Mr. John Stanley (Tonbridge and Malling)
I am one of those who believe that small is often beautiful and that bigness is certainly no guarantee of being beneficial. Therefore, it did not cause me any particular heartache to see the Department of Transport being fragmented from the rest of the Department of the Environment. Yet, despite that sentiment, the whole thrust of what I have to say goes the other way.
The consultation document's policy on commuter fares in the South-East—which was not referred to at all by the Secretary of State and which, I hope, the Under-Secretary will refer to when he replies—shows a striking deficiency in that transport policy has been planned 746 in total isolation from planning policy related to London itself.
One cannot sensibly plan a policy for transport into a city except against the background of the planning policy for the city itself, and not for the city as it now is but for the city as it is now changing. London is changing profoundly. The starting point for any rational policy on commuter fares must be the background of how London is changing.
Many hon. Members will have seen the survey in the Economist entitled "London's Burning, London's Burning". It was a grim study of declining population, declining employment opportunities and increasing dereliction. London has effectively been "burning" for many years, if one measures it in terms of a declining population. At one time London's population, in what is now the Greater London Council area, amounted to 8½ million people. The disturbing feature of the current trend is the way in which the depopulation of London is accelerating. No doubt the worst is still to come. The Office of Population Censuses and Surveys shows that in the decade 1965–1975 London's population has declined by 750,000 people, but in the next 15 years up to 1990 London is bound to lose about 1,500,000 people, which will bring the population down to 5.8 million.
The vicious thing about that spiral is that it tends to be self-perpetuating. The greater the decline in London's population, the more parlous London's finances tend to become, the greater the deterioration in London's amenities, and the greater the burden thrown on the residual domestic and non-domestic ratepayers of London. So great is the burden that they tend to move out and give the spiral another downward twist.
It is improbable that this trend will be reversed to produce a repopulation of London, but we must try to reach a level at which London's population can be stabilised. The only prospect of doing so is to preserve in the capital a means by which there can be a thriving, positive centre for those who wish to seek employment in the capital, but who come from the commuter belt areas that ring the capital.
It has been argued that commuters are expendable and not integral to the 747 revitalising of London—in other words, that they can be safely priced out of the rail system into London. My constituents believe that that has been the policy over the last three years, and that little notice has been taken of their capacity to pay the ever-spiralling costs of getting to work.
It is a mistake to assume that London somehow can gradually do without its commuting population. About 500,000 commuters come into London every day—roughly 300,000 by public transport, and the balance by private transport. They bring into London every day a great deal of money and contribute a great deal to small and large businesses in the capital. The most significant feature about the maintenance of that stream of commuters into Greater London is that, if those people did not make that daily journey, thousands of businesses would have to move out of the capital. If that were to happen at a faster rate than now, it would spell financial disaster for London.
London is being sustained more and more by the yield from non-domestic rates. A recent parliamentary answer showed that the rate yield estimated for the financial year 1976–77 on non-domestic properties in Greater London is estimated to be over £800 million from commercial properties alone. If London were to be deprived of that sum, it is evident that financially London would become totally non-viable. I argue that the only way in which London is to be made to stop "burning" is by keeping the commuter population at something like its present level. That seems to be the only rational basis from which we can start to consider future fare policy.
The document, however, starts and finishes solely within the financial and commercial framework of British Rail. It appears to assume that there will be further steady and substantial increases in commuter fares until 1981, probably over and above the increase in the cost of living. Certainly that applies to outer London commuters.
If we experience between now and 1981 the rate of fare increases that has been experienced over the past three years, it seems self-evident to me that many tens of thousands of commuters, if not hundreds of thousands, will be driven off the railways.
748 I suggest that there are two essentially false assumptions behind the fare increase policy as set out in the document. The first is that somehow commuters are able to devote more and more of their disposable income in increased fares. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Cold-field (Mr. Fowler) said, it is a myth that when set against their commitments, the commuting population is somehow especially affluent.
The overwhelming majority of commuters in my constituency are people of modest incomes. In many cases they are first or second generation owner-occupiers with relatively modest houses, large mortgages and fixed costs. They are now beginning to reach the limits of their capacity to pay.
The second myth, which is enshrined in paragraph 7.36, is that commuters still have cheap fares. The paragraph states:After the recent fare increases, season ticket holders are still paying only about 3 pence a mile".It does not matter to the commuter whether he is paying 2p, 3p, 4p, 5p or even 6p a mile as that is not the significant factor. The factor that bothers him is the relationship between his take-home pay and the amount that he is obliged to pay to get to work. That is the crucial equation, and the equation against which it has now become impossible to put an equals sign.
I use my constituency as an example, and I suspect that it is relevant. In February 1974 the cost of an annual season ticket from Tonbridge into London was £164. It is now £390. That is an increase of 138 per cent. Have people's after-tax incomes increased by 138 per cent. in that period? If they had increased by anything like that amount, it would not be a serious problem.
The truth is that on an after-tax basis—it is the only one on which we can work—incomes have not increased by anything like 138 per cent. The Library has kindly undertaken a study for me, determining what has been the increase in average earnings after tax for a married man with two children under 11 years since February 1974. The increase has been about 50 per cent. compared with a 138 per cent. increase in his travel costs. If that relationship continues between now and 1981, I am certain that is spells death for commuting to London by rail for many tens of thousands.
749 The whole policy enshrined in the document of increasing commuter fares steadily until 1981 appears to be based on the need to reduce the subsidy payable to British Rail in respect of commuter fares. I do not for one moment question their desirability and, indeed, the necessity of questioning every subsidy in our present economic circumstances. The Government are entirely right to do so. However, the financial thinking is essentially mistaken when the Government's fare policy is based on considering only one subsidy. They should be considering the two subsidies that are directly related to commuter fare traffic.
The Government are considering the subsidy payable to British Rail for their commuter fares. The document states that it is a subsidy of about £80 million a year. They are ignoring entirely the second a related subsidy—namely, the Exchequer subsidy that is having to be paid to London to keep it financially afloat. Next year the Exchequer subsidy to London will be £910 million. It would be ludicrous to try to shave a few tens of millions of pounds off the subsidies payable to enable commuters to work in London, if the price was to prevent them going to London at all and probably in the medium term adding hundreds of millions of pounds to the cost of Exchequer financial support for London.
I hope very much that before publishing his White Paper in May, and deciding his fare policy for commuters, the Minister will consider two fundamental points. First, I hope that he will consider his policy on commuter fares against the planning strategy for London and the vital need to maintain employment for commuters in London if London is to survive financially. Secondly, I hope that he will now recognise that many commuters have already reached the limits of their capacity to pay. In my constituency and many others they are already saying "We can no longer afford to go to London. We shall now work locally." They are moving their jobs. If that process continues much longer it will spell increasing subsidies to British Rail and to London and mean the death of London as an employment centre.
§ 9.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Walter Johnson (Derby, South)
I very much agree with what the hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Mr. Stanley) said about commuter services. What is not fully understood about them is the vast amount of rolling stock required by British Rail, particularly on the Southern Region, to get the hundreds of thousands of commuters in and out of London. As well as the vast amount of rolling stock needed for two or three hours in the morning and again later in the day, staff are needed to operate the services. This means a great deal of expense.
I understand the problem of commuter fares, particularly on the Southern Region, even though it does not concern my constituents. Many young people were advised by their firms to move out of London to the fringe of the area and saddled themselves with a big mortgage. As the hon. Gentleman said, they are now looking for work locally, but many cannot find it, in view of their experience and the jobs they now do in London.
There must be a case for regular subsidisation of commuter services not only into London but into other big conurbations. The policy of the British Railways Board in this direction has been very wrong in recent times. People are finding alternative ways to travel in and out of London, which is making travel more difficult for those who normally have to use other forms of transport, such as cars. Traffic jams are building up all over the place. This is wasteful. Commuter services should be provided at a reasonable cost.
I hope that when he is drawing up the White Paper, and the legislation to follow, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will take into account the vital need to keep commuter fares down, in the interests not only of the people concerned but of industry and commerce in the big cities. The series of fare increases in the past 18 months or so has caused great hardship to many young people, particularly those who have been forced to move out of London.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary on the patient and courteous way in 751 which they have received the vast number of deputations which have seen them on the consultation document. I am honorary national officer of one of the railway unions. We have been most impressed by the way in which our case has been looked at. As a result of these real consultations we are hoping that we shall get a transport policy that will be in the overall interests of the nation. I believe that we shall see that in due course.
I am not making a speech against road or rail this evening. We ought to be thinking in terms of an integrated transport policy working in the interests of the nation. That is what most of us are looking for. Until now there has been wasteful competition within the nationalised sector itself. We have had the ridiculous situation of National Carriers, Freightliners, British Road Services, British Railways and the Post Office all competing for the same traffic. What nonsense. It has to stop.
There has to be a clear understanding of the need for full and proper integration, particularly within the public sector. I am pleased that there seems to be a new look in respect of National Carriers, Freightliners and the National Freight Corporation generally. I believe they now realise that they have to work together if they are to survive. There are signs that that is happening.
There is also wasteful competition with regard to inter-city services. We have fast inter-city services between London and cities such as Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow and Edinburgh. Yet we also have shuttle air services, run by British Airways, which are unnecessary and should not be allowed to continue. I did not think that I was being as provocative as the interruption from the public gallery suggests.
We now have a situation where British Rail, the air services and the coach services are all competing for the same passenger traffic. That is a ridiculous situation. I personally believe that it is wrong for British Caledonian to start an inter-city service between Gatwick and Manchester. That is quite stupid because we have one of the finest railway inter-city services between London and Manchester. There is no reason why there should be a duplication of such services.
752 I hope that my right hon. Friend will also carefully consider the need for a re-examination of the investment policy of British Railways. I hope my right hon. Friend will consider what sort of aid will come from the Government not this year or next year but over a period of four or five years so that there can be proper planning. One of the troubles that British Railways has faced for a number of years is that it has not known what level of investment will be available next year and the year after.
Electrification is being held up. Although the advanced passenger train is working on some services its further advancement, development and technology is not going ahead as quickly as it should. Track modernisation is being slowed down. All this is absolutely vital if British Railways is to compete on a fair and equitable basis with other forms of services.
I believe that there is a strong case for much of the traffic that is now on the roads to be put on to the railways. There should be a proper utilisation of, as well as improved, railway facilities.
Come with me to the M1 motorway. One section outside London has a railway line running by the side of it. On the motorway there are masses of juggernaut lorries going in and out of London, yet on the railway there is hardly a train. One weekend I spent half an hour there and while masses of juggernaut lorries were going in and out of London only one train passed by. There must be a case for much of the traffic now on the roads being put on to rail. It might only mean a marginal increase of about 10 per cent. or 15 per cent. But surely it is common sense to make full use of our railway network. We are not doing that at present.
For example, we should be using the railways for the carriage of all dangerous liquids and chemicals, rather than risking the chaotic situation of bad smashes on motorways, with the accompanying danger to human life.
The freight side of British Railways has been told that it must reduce its deficit from the £70 million that it received last year to £30 million this year and to wipe it out completely next year. I believe this to be unfair competition. I am sure that hon. Members will have 753 seen the article in The Sunday Times a few months ago in which it was estimated that the damage caused to motorways by juggernaut lorries was costing us £70 million a year—precisely the amount of subsidy at present given to rail freight. By insisting that rail freight should not get any further subsidy but should make ends meet, we are creating unfair competition. The juggernauts and other lorries should pay a proper sum for the use of our roads.
There is much talk about there being far too many railwaymen. There is a great deal of ill-informed and misleading criticism about this aspect of transport policy which is quite disgraceful. Over the years, the railway unions have been extremely co-operative. Productivity schemes have been introduced. There has been a considerable reduction in staff numbers. Real transport problems have been dealt with, and we have very much more harmonious arrangements in being. In 1963, there were 476,000 railway employees. By 1975, that number had been reduced to 234,000. There is no other industry in the country which has made a reduction of that kind and which is still operating an efficient service.
§ Mr. Fry
I am interested in the hon. Gentleman's statistics about the number of people employed by British Rail. Does he agree that in more recent years there has been only a very small contraction. The very large drop in the numbers employed occurred some years ago. What the hon. Gentleman said about other industries having to cope with similar work forces is not quite as true in the immediate past as it is if we look back some 10 years.
§ Mr. Johnson
I agree with the hon. Gentleman, but reductions are still being made. He will know that reorganisation schemes are being implemented practically all the time, and their effect is to reduce the number of staff.
§ Mr. Whitehead
My hon. Friend might have pointed out to the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry) that if the reduction had continued at the level of the period between 1963 and 1970 there would now be no railwaymen left at all.
§ Mr. Johnson
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We cannot have the ridicu- 754 lous situation where we ask for more freight, more passenger services, the development of high speed trains and the advanced passenger train, which should mean more traffic coming to the railways, while we are reducing the work force to such a degree that there is a need for massive overtime. This has been one of the problems of the railways. Staff numbers have been reduced in the wrong areas, resulting in overtime having to be worked. This has meant a greater expense in trying to keep services going.
My right hon. Friend has a rare opportunity to come forward with a White Paper and later, we hope, with legislation which will result in the full integration of our transport systems with the road and rail sides working together in the interests of the nation and not against each other as they do at present.
§ 9.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)
I begin by congratulating the absent Prime Minister on setting up a Department of Transport. It is one of the best ideas of the present Government. It has given proper recognition to the importance of this complex subject and to the need to take positive and probably unpopular decisions.
Since the publication of the Government's Green—or orange—Paper in April we have all received scores of voluminous documents from many interested parties and private individuals. We have also had a few dummy starts to this debate. I am just about punch-drunk from the effect of reading all the documents and trying to make up my mind.
It is my view that the first question that the Secretary of State must resolve is the future rôle of the railways. Shall we maintain the existing network largely as it is, or shall we consider a further Beeching-type exercise? Some months ago, there was speculation about the latter course in the Press, but it seems to have died down now. I do not wish to enter into the road-rail argument, because that is barren ground, but I come down very much in favour of maintaining the existing rail network and directing our future transport policies by trying to make the greatest possible use of the substantial assets we have in our network. I accept that this must mean a continuation of a 755 substantial subsidy, but it certainly must not be a bottomless one.
Before they commit themselves to such a policy, the Government must obtain from both management and unions firm undertakings on productivity and overmanning. There is still over-manning, despite what the hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. Johnson) says, and I know he knows his job. Undoubtedly this is so in British Rail.
I am aware that in both the British Rail and the NUR evidence, the comments of Messrs. Pryke and Dodgson have been challenged, although the British Rail Board's present plans do apparently envisage a gross reduction in manpower of 40,000 between now and 1981. I was at Western Region the other day, and was told that it has reduced its manpower from 65,000 in 1966 to 26,000 today, and it is reducing by a further 1,000 this year. I accept that those are very considerable reductions in manpower. Nevertheless, the information contained in the document submitted to the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries by the Railway Rescue Group is alarming, and is certainly not in accord with section 2.42 of the NUR evidence. I am certain that savings still can be made.
Another requirement of the continuing help to the railways should be greater urgency in rationalisation of assets. British Rail continue to sit on vast acres of unoccupied land, as is evident from a single rail trip. It has been said that it was keeping land for the Channel Tunnel. I agree that great areas of land may have been retained in the London area for that reason, but I accept that British Rail has had problems with planning authorities—it is having one with Liverpool Street at the moment and it was probably harshly treated over Euston. I think that British Rail could do a great deal more with the land, even though it cannot get the large profits from it which could have been realised a few years back.
There is a great need to make railway stations more attractive. They should be centres of activity like Birmingham New Street. They should not be cold places to dodge like the plague, like Portsmouth Harbour on a rainy Friday night or Nottingham at 1 p.m. on a Sunday. Many disused lines and stations are being left to rot. Run down buildings and poor 756 facilities do not attract customers. I congratulate the Government on their programme of aid for private sidings. They are giving substantial grants to private firms to put in their own sidings. I repeat my call for a siding to be restored to the new Covent Garden site in London.
At Southampton, British Rail is taking two-thirds of the container rail traffic, but I wonder whether it will bid for the South African produce trade when that starts coming in containers later this year. British Rail would be mad to miss that opportunity. It is a marvellous chance to provide a quick service to central London.
I believe that the railways could take a great deal more freight. I do not take the gloomy view of the document, but it is obvious that it would be an advantage to our roads if the railways took more.
I think that the programme of electrification should be pursued as funds permit and this could provide the opportunity for welcome reductions in fare structures, as well as superior services, as instanced by the recently electrified Welwyn-Moorgate service. I am pleased that the Minister decided to go ahead with the St. Pancras to Bedford electrification. I hope that he will now turn his attention to the main East Coast route, where a rolling programme of electrification should be approved.
British Rail has been imaginative with its off-peak, Awayday and pensioners' tickets. It has given a lead to the bus companies, but we are entitled to some information on the whole subject of fare structures. If someone guarantees a full train to Liverpool it can apparently be run at a return fare of £3.50, and I ask therefore why it is necessary to charge as much as £17 or more for an ordinary monthly return. Are Southern Region commuters being penalised to the advantage of others? We do not know because separate accounts are not published.
Inter-City and the high-speed train services are quite magnificent. I do not think that they have been given the plaudits they deserve. We should also bear in mind the rise in morale which comes with the introduction of the high-speed train. To those who have not used it yet I recommend a trip. The staff on the train immediately feel that they are in something worth while. I am concerned, however, that Inter-City may now have started 757 to over-price itself, and that is something which should be closely looked at.
British Rail seems also to work in separate compartments. Perhaps the changes in the structure of management will do something about that. I make a plea to the new chairman. I went to school with him, although I am not sure that he would be happy to be reminded of that. He left to study Japanese, but perhaps he studied Japanese railways instead and will inject some of their success here. I support everything that has been said about him. He is an able man. My plea is, however, that he will insist on greater co-operation between rail and shipping services. Too often, as I know from my experience, there is a lack of co-operation between British Rail services and Sealink. Living as I do on an island, I have suffered from this short-coming on the cross-Solent services. The boat times do not always seem to coordinate with the trains, and trains are not held when they could be.
Finally, I suggest that anyone who is mad enough to travel on a Sunday or on late night services needs his head seen to. The right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) spoke about the condition of the rolling stock in Scotland, and British Rail certainly seems to reserve its old stock for services operating after 11 o'clock at night. Not all of us who travel on those trains are drunks or illiterates, and I believe that we deserve something better.
I do not favour handing over the electrified suburban services to the Greater London Council. British Rail should retain management of them. However, there may be a case for examining the Broad Street to Richmond line. If that was taken over by the London Underground and it appeared on the Underground map a great deal more attention would be paid to it, and that could prove most useful.
I have concentrated on British Rail because it provides the key to the whole transport programme. But this must imply that there has to be an integrated system with buses and coaches linked to the stations to a much greater extent than at present. I think that the management and administration of the buses should be restructured to accord with county boundaries, thus providing local authority 758 participation which is overdue. I would much prefer to see National Bus restricted to controlling the long-distance coaches which also should integrate with British Rail to a much greater extent, perhaps under some joint board.
I believe that metropolitan transport executives should be given the chance to prove themselves. The remaining city bus services, which have been pretty successful through the years, should also be allowed to expand their activities. Too often their services are cut at city boundaries and some of their most lucrative routes are pinched from them.
Public vehicle licensing must be reformed and the smaller operators encouraged by local authorities to move into areas to fill the void left by the withdrawal of larger concerns. Experiments in Hertfordshire, Oxfordshire and Bedfordshire should be studied and extended.
The education authorities which run their own buses should seriously consider whether the vehicles would not be more fully utilised and more cheaply maintained under a small private operator. I suspect that most would be. There is probably a good argument for taxing petrol rather than vehicles. It is cheaper and simpler. But we would have to keep a nominal licence charge, if only to allow some employment to remain at Swansea!
Concessionary fares are a great bone of contention among pensioners. There is a great need for a national scheme to be introduced. We can deal with that matter at greater length elsewhere. However, it is a matter of considerable controversy.
I cannot advocate the idea of a national transport council—it will be another bureaucracy—but, with the likelihood of Scottish and Welsh Assemblies and possible regional authorities in England, there is some sense in having elected regional transport executives to try to coordinate road and rail expenditure on a more sensible basis.
Transport, as the Secretary of State said, cannot be looked at in isolation. It must be considered in the context of land use planning.
If we seriously wish to encourage the return of residents to inner urban areas 759 —and I understand that is now the Government's policy—our road, rail and bus structures must be designed to fit in with that concept. It should mean more traffic-free precincts, better provision for cyclists, and, above all, adequate footways. Over 41 per cent. of all journeys are made on foot. Planners should pay more attention to the needs of pedestrians and cyclists when looking at development schemes.
I think that the Government should introduce stronger measures of traffic restraint—it would be politically unpopular and the Government would probably need to be elected for seven years in order to accomplish it—with financial and capacity control limitations on private and public car parking, and so on. We cannot proceed in the present laissez-faire manner with bigger and better traffic jams. We had examples of such jams over the Christmas period in London.
Road casualties are unacceptable to me. Regrettably, we have come to regard life too cheaply in this respect.
The new construction programme should be restricted to linking our main manufacturing centres with the ports and to building bypasses around our small towns and villages. The Minister was asked about the Government's present policy on that matter. We were promised a White Paper. I look forward to seeing it. It is a good idea to think in terms of an annual White Paper.
Traffic forecasting is admittedly open to question. The Department's figures over the years have often been proved wrong. They have usually overestimated the amount of traffic which would be using our roads in the years ahead. I have had some interesting graphs prepared on that forecasting.
I appreciate that the Minister's remit does not run to canals. That is a pity, because canals have a role to play. The saddest story that I have read about in recent months was the failure of the "Bacat" scheme to make progress in the Hull area. It is beyond belief that the intransigence of the dockers should have brought about its withdrawal. No Department seems now to be interested in canals. We appear to have given them up altogether and handed them over 760 to the Minister for Sport. At least he will keep them filled with water.
I suggest that the Secretary of State should concentrate on setting out the general guidelines in his White Paper and should try to obtain as wide consent as possible to his proposals. When the legislation has been agreed, we should leave the professionals to get on with the job. There has been too much political interference.
I should like to come back to a constituency matter—the Isle of Wight railway. The old steam line from Ryde to Ventnor carried 2½ million people. However, on the casting vote of the Minister in the 1966 Labour Administration, that line was castrated at Shanklin. Therefore, it lost a great deal of its throughput. We spent £750,000 on electrification. I listened with interest to the speech made by the right hon. Member for Western Isles. I suggest that he should come to the Isle of Wight. We had 1927 Piccadilly Line tube stock taken from the breaker's yard, transported to the Isle of Wight, and put on our line. What a way to run a railway! It is again threatened with closure, but it is still carrying 1½ million passengers a year—a maximum of 45,000 passengers a week in the high season. If the line were closed it would place an impossible burden on our roads.
I have sympathy for the lady who shouted from the Public Gallery during one hon. Member's speech. I think all the people of the village of Brading would come here to shout if the bus service that goes through their village had to replace the railway, because their lives would become intolerable. There are more licensed vehicles per mile of road on the Isle of Wight than in any other part of the United Kingdom. British Rail may decide to close the line in the foreseeable future, and I give the Minister warning that we will fight tooth and nail. All these troubles have arisen because of a wrong political decision taken 10 years ago. No doubt there are many other similar cases throughout the country.
There has been too much transport legislation. Many transport managers no longer enjoy job satisfaction, and cannot wait to retire. They must be given fresh hope and encouragement, and we look to the present Secretary of State for that.
§ 9.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Gwynfor Evans (Carmarthen)
Transport in Wales has not been the success story of any Government in recent years. That is in spite of the fact that we all agree that transport is essential to the infrastructure that is necessary if we are to build a balanced economy. Ever since I began to take personal interest in this subject—and that is a long time ago—I have heard people talking about the need for an integrated system of road, rail and air transport. Yet we do not seem to be any nearer such a system today than we were several decades ago.
There is much public feeling about transport. I can give an example from the area of my own county council of Dyfed. It issued a questionnaire asking people in the county which issues concerned them most. Public transport was the greatest concern of most people. More than 400 said that transportation was their most serious problem. The situation in that area can be judged from the fact that the head of the roads division of Dyfed County Council has said that, given present costs and the expenditure that he is allowed to make, it will take 30 years to macadamise all the roads in the county.
Many people believe that a Welsh Transport Board would have ensured not only less destruction of railway lines but also better development of road, rail and air transport for freight and people. Administrators in London regard Wales as little more than a fringe nuisance. They do not have plans for Welsh development and rarely take any initiative for such development. It is only infrequently that they even take the trouble to inquire into the Welsh situation.
The consultative document, for example, says that rail passengers come mainly from higher income households. That may be true in London and parts of the South-East and Midlands, but it is certainly not true of Wales. Passenger transport there is mainly important to those who travel from the Valleys and they are largely from lower income families. It is because of lack of concern in London that those appointed to executive posts in Wales are often drafted in from England. Often they have no local knowledge of or enthusiasm for Welsh development. For them, jobs in 762 Wales are just stepping stones to better jobs elsewhere.
An example of this can be seen in West Wales with the unhappy situation in the National Bus Company. That company badly needs reorganising. At present, only the humblest posts are filled by people who know local circumstances and who are enthusiastic for the development of the service in their areas. Yet the majority of employees are local people. They are only rarely consulted; the National Bus Company seems to have heard of industrial democracy only recently. The quality of its management does not inspire confidence and it cannot be absolved from all responsibility for the unhappy situation which has developed in an area with an unemployment rate of 13 per cent.
A number of the bus routes involved are in rural areas which are already suffering more than their share of trouble because of the lack of public transport. We have heard about the problems of commuters, and I concede that they are serious, but there is another hard-hit group to whom no reference has been made. Within half a mile of my home there are hundreds of people who rely on their cars. Most are low-wage earners—often manual workers—and the only way in which they can get to work is by car. We know how expensive that can be together with maintenance and petrol costs. These people suffer perhaps more than any others although we must also remember that in such areas pensioners are becoming housebound because they cannot get around. They do not have cars and the absence of public transport prevents them from getting to nearby towns. This is a key factor among the causes of rural depopulation.
Industrialists in Wales have told us time and again that the failure of the transport system is the most serious problem in trying to develop industry in the Principality. Motorways are not our greatest need, but England has 1,045 miles of motorway compared with the 27 miles in Wales. Dual carriageways as major highways are more important for us than motorways. I fought a General Election in 1945 against a Labour candidate and the Labour leaflet said that if a Labour Government were elected it would build a major central highway through 763 Wales from North to South to unite the country. We are still waiting for it.
§ Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)
Surely the hon. Gentleman will agree that the biggest priority of industrialists and others in Wales is the East-West road and the development of the M4. Why does he not give the Government credit for preserving the priority of the M4 and for introducing the high-speed train to Wales?
§ Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarvon)
Does my hon. Friend not agree that while there have been beneficial developments with the M4 and the rail link to Cardiff, road developments in North Wales have been sacrified in order to pay for them and the rail service to Holyhead is being run down?
§ Mr. Evans
It is mainly industrialists from such areas who have spoken to us about defects in the transport system. I asked in the House in the late 1960s about the cost of a dual carriageway from Cardiff to Caernarvon via Wrexham and was given an estimate of £110 million. That would not have been too much to invest. It would have helped in the attraction and development of industry throughout Wales. Industry follows roads rather than roads following industry. As it is we have this road only as far as Abercynon, and I am told that it will not not go to Merthyr Tydfil until 1986. That is not good enough. Quicker progress should be made on the road.
In summer, conditions on many of the roads in the West and South-West are chaotic, and many hon. Members have suffered because of that. We need a dual carriageway through St. Clears and Carmarthen with a slipway from the East into St. Clears.
We also suffer from the tragedy caused during the building of the Cleddau Bridge. The people of parts of Dyfed who had no responsibility for the decision to build that bridge, must now pay more than £1 million a year in interest, a burden which the Government have refused to share. It is a scandal and dis- 764 grace that the Government will not accept any responsibility.
Discrimination against Wales is also to be seen in air travel. The Government have contributed £22 million towards airport development in England and Scotland but not a penny has been given for Welsh airport development. The CardiffRhoose airport should be developed as a national Welsh airport, but we shall probably have to await a Welsh Government for that.
I have often drawn attention to the continuing anxiety felt by the railway unions about the future of the lines West and North of Swansea. A group of NUR men came to see me yesterday about the ending of cheap day return tickets on early morning trains. This will slash the traffic from Swansea to London. A day return ticket used to cost £12.50, but now the cheapest ticket costs £18.90. There are now no cheap day returns on early trains, which allowed people to have a day out in London.
The residents of Fishguard believe that there is also a policy of running down the traffic between Fishguard and Ireland. They have reason for fearing that, because they know that such decisions are not made in Wales or in the interests of Wales, but are made in London. That is one of the reasons why we should have decentralisation of decision-making. Transport autonomy and Welsh control of the railways would provide the enthusiasm and knowledge that is necessary for expansion and development. In the early 1960s, South Wales railways were the most prosperous in the United Kingdom. In fact, 86 per cent. of the income came from freight.
§ Mr. Evans
I have already given way to the hon. Member.
I turn now to electrification. If we had the type of control for which I plead, we would not be in our present situation. In Norway 58 per cent. of the railway lines are electrified, 62 per cent. in Sweden, 27 per cent. in France, 30 per cent. in West Germany, 33 per cent. in Japan and virtually all in Switzerland. Even in Great Britain, 19 per cent., or a total of 2,150 miles, of the lines are 765 electrified. But in Wales not a yard is electrified.
We are told that there is to be a new electrified line between St. Pancras and Bedford at a cost of £80 million. But, although we export so much electricity from Wales, not one of our lines is electrified. That is a scandal and a disgrace.
§ It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
That the Motion relating to Transport Policy may be proceeded with at this day's Sitting, though opposed, until Twelve o'clock.—[Mr. Shape.]
§ Question again proposed.
§ 10.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Atkins (Preston, North)
I can agree with the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) in one regard. That is that the commuter lines between the Welsh Valleys and Cardiff and Barry certainly do not cater for higher income groups. There are many branch lines like that in Lancashire and no doubt in other parts of the country. I think that the comments on higher income groups using commuter lines arise from some brain washing which must have arisen in relation to those who live in London and the Home Counties. The position on commuter lines out in the provinces is very different.
The hon. Gentleman said that Wales had no control of its railways but that England had. That is not true at all. We have no control of English, Scottish or Welsh railways. I should like this House to have such control.
One of the most revealing features of the transport consultation document is that we have no transport policy at all. We plan for roads but not for public transport. It is very significant that my right hon. Friend mentioned the probability of a White Paper every year on road invest- 766 ment. I immediately ask for a White Paper on railways. It is absolutely essential that investment in all modes of transport is considered together, both to see the relevance of the different forms of transport and to prevent duplication between them. If transport has suffered at all, it has suffered most of all from duplication.
I am not blaming my right hon. Friend for the lack of transport policy. I think that he said that he made some remarks on this subject 20 years ago. No doubt if they had been listened to, we should have a transport policy now. However, we have not had a transport policy since the end of the British Transport Commission. Over the last decade we have had just a series of non-events—the Transport Act 1968, the Rail Policy Review of 1973, the White Paper on Urban Transport Planning, the Railways Act 1974 and the Channel Tunnel. All were non-events.
We had high hopes for a sound transport policy in 1974, when there was a change of heart, but those hopes were dashed by the financial crisis that followed. Even the Tories were well disposed to rail transport in 1974. In their election manifesto, they said—it is worth-while hon. Members listening to this because they may have forgotten it—Continued growth of traffic has brought with it problems as well as advantages; and has, in particular, made necessary an increasing reliance on public transport. We have recently announced a massive 5-year programme for the railways, to provide a modern network with a secure future, and the opportunity to regain freight traffic from the roads.I wish that they had those sentiments today. It would help my hon. Friends very much if the Tories were to declare those sentiments today instead of continually asking for public expenditure cuts.
It is true that we were still in an oil crisis in early 1974 and that the Tory Government had created a large supply of money in the easiest way—by printing it. However, it is sad that the euphoria surrounding public transport was quickly dissipated in the storms of financial crisis which followed. This is the story often repeated since the war. Every plan to regenerate public transport, especially the railways, is destroyed by financial crisis, whereas what is needed is a long-term plan allowed to reach fruition. For, as our foreign competitors know well enough—they do not 767 hesitate to spend money on the railways —railway investment is industrial investment and is part of the infrastructure on which our industrial prosperity must rest.
The consultation document was written at a time of financial crisis and became not a formulation of transport policy hut an apology for cuts in public expenditure. An anti-rail bias appears in the document, without doubt. It is predisposed to the Socialist Commentary report of April 1975, which it describes as "authoritative"—I wonder why—and to similar views expressed by Richard Pryke again, in a book called "The Rail Problem". Like that book—it is amazing how close it is to it—this document is more concerned with immediate financial objectives and less with the 1990s and beyond, when the oil shortage will really begin to bite and the need for the existing railway network and, indeed, for its expansion, will be unchallenged.
The document statement that passenger subsidies to railways benefit the lower income groups less than the higher income groups, who travel more, was well answered by Anthony Harris in the Financial Times of 30th July 1976. He says—and this is the view of many of us with regard to freight as well as passengers—that given the long-term existence of a railway system—and we must accept its long-term existence—there is a case for subsidising it—that from the Financial Times, let it be noted.
Where such an industry is operating with declining marginal costs, that is where the cost of carrying an extra passenger—and I should like to add "or ton of freight", because the same consideration applies—falls as traffic increases, a subsidy will give a greater benefit to the traveller than its cost to the taxpayer. Moreover, I may add, the lower paid who cannot afford a car would in many cases be isolated without a rail service on which they now have the advantage of concessionary fares. The progress which the railways have made on economy fares especially caters for the kind of passenger who, as I say, would in many cases be isolated without the railways.
There are many examples of the higher paid groups getting more benefit from public services than do lower paid groups 768 —that is a way of life—but that would be no reason for reducing public expenditure on, for instance, higher education from which the higher income groups benefit the most, or the letter service which they use more because they are more literate and write more letters, or the health services. The higher income groups benefit from many of the services because they are intelligent enough and well educated enough to use them.
I now turn to the details in the document. Chapter 1, paragraph 9 and Chapter 3, paragraph 9 refer to the EEC. Chapter 3, paragraph 9 needs to be revised, because the Secretary of State has moved towards harmonisation on lorry size but not on tachographs and lorry taxation, and especially wages and hours. I wonder why there is no harmonisation on those matters. It seems to me that the road lobby has won its way in one regard but in other regards harmonisation has been ignored.
I now come to Chapter 2, paragraph 13. I do not believe in an open-ended subsidy to public transport, but the Government's financial support is very modest when compared with that given by countries such as Germany, Japan, France, and most continental countries. For instance, the Japanese and German Governments each pay £2,500 million a year to their national railways. These countries are high fliers. They are not inefficient. They realise the value of their railways, and how valuable the railways are in economic recuperation. We could well follow their example in this regard.
Nor, when they pay up to £2,500 million every year, do they say that the money must go to passengers and not to freight. Why should the money not also go to freight? Is the environment destroyed any less by lorries than by buses? The environmental disadvantages of heavy road traffic, both in towns and in the country, are very great, as are the social disadvantages of heavy lorries going through villages, destroying their peace and quiet, and also destroying their water and gas mains. No doubt, this is one of the reasons for the recent mysterious explosions—heavy traffic on urban roadways which were not built for heavy traffic, and lorries of ever-increasing size and weight.
769 The subsidy should be used to run the railways to capacity, and to integrate the different modes of transport, eventually reducing the need for a subsidy, as we have been in the United States.
Paragraph 22 of Chapter 2 of the consultation document is a good example of have seen in the United States.While traffic on motorways has quadrupled since 1964, goods vehicle traffic on urban roads has been falling.I discovered from the Department that the criterion for this happy conclusion was based on the number of lorries on urban roads but not their weight and size, whereas, elsewhere on other roads, it was based on weight and not numbers. As the document says in Chapter 2, paragraph 22, the sharp increase in goods carried by road has been catered for by increases in the size of lorries, not in their number. The Department admits it.
Conditions on urban roads are much worse because of the heavier lorries damaging roads more severely, since wear and tear is related directly to the weight on the axle to the fourth power. At least one of the recent gas explosions was the result of a fractured gas main caused by a heavy lorry, and there must be much more of this and other damage in our towns.
Turning to Chapter 2, paragraphs 24 and 25, I point out that the 300 million tons of freight now carried by road on distances of over 100 kilometres is the kind of traffic that Beeching envisaged as most suitable for carriage by rail. If even a relatively small proportion of this was transported by rail, it would have very beneficial revenue implications for British Rail, and would make a consider- 770 able contribution towards its financial viability. The National Freight Corporation is carrying only 10 per cent. of the traffic envisaged by Beeching—3 million tons instead of the projected 30 million tons.
After putting a strong case in Chapter 3, paragraph 5, for public transport, the document goes back to twisting the facts again in paragraphs 12 and 13. Paragraph 3.12 states:Even if all freight movement of more than 100 miles were transferred to rail, total road traffic would be reduced by only 2 to 4 per cent.This is misleading because it fails to compare like with like. Total road traffic as mentioned in the document refers to all vehicles, including milk floats, passenger vehicles, cars, and, no doubt, even bicycles as well. It is true that if 11,000 million ton/kilometres were transferred from road to rail the decrease in road traffic would be only 2 per cent., but such a transfer would reduce road freight traffic by 12 per cent., or, if the transfer were in the over-100 mile range the reduction in road freight traffic travelling over 100 miles would be 28 per cent.
We do not suggest that this volume of traffic could be transferred to rail, but we believe, as did Beeching, that considerable amounts could be transferred, with benefits to the environment and dramatic improvement in railway finances.
Paragraph 3.13 states:Gains from getting some lorries off interurban roads might be offset by losses in sensitive urban areas—that is to say, in unloading a 700-ton freight train in an urban rail goods depot by 80 medium-sized lorries. The document overlooks the fact that the number of lighter lorries is far less important.
§ Mr. Forman
Should not the hon. Gentleman declare his source, when he appears to be quoting so extensively from a published document?
§ Mr. Atkins
I wrote it myself as Chairman of the Transport Group of the PLP. My last quotation came from the Transport Consultative Document. I trust that the hon. Gentleman has read it. That document says:The document overlooks the fact that the number of lighter lorries is far less important than the urban mileage of juggernaut lorries delivering from door to door, and causing maximum damage to roads, (and buildings, water, gas mains, etc.), on the basis of the weight on the axle to the 4th power ratio. The GLC has just recently shown an awareness of this problem by designating a number of peripheral jugggernaut unloading points for goods redistribution by lighter vehicles. But greater urban road mileages will be covered this way, than by unloading freight trains that relatively quietly reach inner city depots for redistribution by lighter lorries, on the principle that distances travelled from the centre of the circle are generally shorter in total than distances travelled across the circle from outside.I shall now refer to paragraph 3.21. We are debating this document and we are right to keep to it. We have heard many other things, but little about the document. That paragraph is concerned with energy conservation. I believe that the Government's present transport policies do not, in practice, meet the requirements of energy conservation in two ways. First, the percentage of track electrification, has remained low. Secondly, a great deal of transport-related taxation is on the motor car. This is therefore the same, regardless of the size of the vehicle, or the annual mileage it travels. If the taxation were entirely on petrol, the revenue raised would more nearly be in proportion to the use made of the roads, by vehicles. Studies have indicated that this system, if introduced on a no-net-loss-to-the-Treasury basis, would benefit the motorist who drove less than 8,000 miles per annum.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not be encouraged by those who are cheering him. I think that they have given up hope of being called.
§ Mr. Atkins
The discouragement I have received from you, Mr. Speaker, far 772 outweighs any encouragement from Back Benchers.
My right hon. Friend spoke about our objectives and I shall finish on that note.
I conclude by begging the Government to abandon the attitude that to carry less and less at higher and higher prices will be good business for British Rail. Every reputable railway economist—I leave out one who might think himself reputable—knows how much lower would be the resource costs of using rail transport for additional ton miles and passenger miles compared with road alternatives.
This is by far the best way to increase productivity. We should not be reducing staff but using the railways to capacity. Road haulage would not be hurt, as the document states and as the hauliers tell us, because it is an expanding industry that will continue to expand. In this way the railways would become viable. We would get rid of the present problems and the most unpleasant traffic would disappear from our country areas and cities.
§ 10.21 p.m.
§ Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)
Thank you for squeezing me in, Mr. Speaker—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] When listening to the Secretary of State's reasoned and pleasant introduction to the debate, I could not help thinking that the tone of the document would have been very different if it so happened that he had written it. Although there is some useful information in it, much of which has been referred to us in detail, and some helpful suggestions, I feel that the whole of the document is very much anti-rail. That is a feeling that is shared by some others. To my mind it is downright snooty in parts.
Surely it was quite unnecessary to bring in what was no less than a nasty bit of class warfare in page 20 of the first volume, which states:the predominant users of subsidised rail services are members of better-off households".So what? If they use the rail services and thereby make them more economic, the rest of the people will benefit. In fact, the assertion to which I have just referred is not true, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler) proved quite conclusively in his 773 opening remarks. I am glad that he took up the point.
The Minister made the level-headed observation that the vast majority of households use both public and private systems of transport and, therefore, benefit equally. But that is not what is said in the document. This is what makes the document appear to be anti-rail. In page 36 it is stated:it may be sensible … to substitute good bus services for heavily subsidised rail services.By the way in which it is phrased it manages to convey the impression that railways are rather fuddy-duddy and that the national bus services are get-up-and-go organisations that whisk us straight to our homes. Unfortunately it does not work out like that in practice.
When my area's stretch of the main Glasgow-London line was electrified—and I am glad that it was—I used to dread travelling on Sundays because part of the journey had to be done by bus. It was most inconvenient. If some of the proposals in page 51 are implemented, and what are described as "other provincial services" comprising local and stopping passenger services are axed, which carry 6 per cent. of rail passenger mileage, we shall get a Sunday service every day of the week. That will be a serious blow to many extremely lovely areas not only in my part of the world but throughout the rural areas of the country. It will be a particular blow to my area, which is just blooming out as a category "A" tourist centre.
In my part of the world we have the finest railway museum in the country at Carnforth. If the small lines are closed we shall not be able to get to many such places. As I understand it, all the local services in my area are at risk. Many of them pass through countryside so lovely that they are worth using on that score alone—for example, Keighley to Morecambe via Skipton, Leeds to Morecambe via Skipton and, best of all, LancasterOxenholme-Kendal-Windermere, a line that is known to many millions of holidaymakers. If we axe that latter line, we shall add to congestion on roads in the Lake District when the amount of traffic on them urgently needs reducing, not increasing.
774 Many hon. Members in the Second Reading debate emphasised the need to be able to identify routes that are uneconomic. The Minister said that next week he will be addressing the EEC Transport Committee. He will find that for many years that committee has been struggling for greater transparency in transport costing—in other words, for attaching costs openly and accurately to different parts of an undertaking and allowing the subsidy required for social purposes to be openly and fairly given. There is nothing to stop the subsidy from being given but it must be identifiable as such.
The urgent question of rural transport was discussed at length by my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Mr. Hall-Davis) and myself with the Minister's predecessor. As has been said, Ministers disappear so fast that it seems that as soon as we discuss something with one of them he is going out the back door. Many of the points we discussed are on page 48. They are reasonable points. I am convinced that most of them were already in the emergency powers introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton). Unfortunately, they were cut out of the Socialist Government's Transport Act which followed. We are completely hamstrung by the present licensing structure administered by the traffic commissioners, although the document inquires politely.How much, if at all,—I emphasise "if at all",—should licensing regulations be relaxed".This ties up all too ominously with the reference tomodest relaxations of the bus licensing system",on page 36.
The whole system needs radical recasting or abolishing, since it rarely manages to keep services in being and prevents other forms of self-help and independent transport from springing up in their place. I was glad that the Minister said that he had an open mind on the matter. I hope that he will have not only an open mind but the courage to act decisively to break the present bureaucratic monopoly, which does nobody any good, except those few dogs in the manger who stand in everybody else's way while themselves providing poor, if not minimal, services.
775 Lastly, but by no means least important for a vast number of households, there is the vexed question of school transport, which comes under the Secretary of State for Education and Science. I believe that in any reorganisation it should come under the transport Department, which is the obvious place. My right hon. Friend the next Prime Minister brought out a consultative document in 1973, and the present Government brought out a revised consultative document in August 1975, but still nothing has been done.
The present system causes appalling hardship in most rural areas, and particularly in my part of the country. In my own village it costs £2.80 a week to send a child over the age of 15 to school by Ribble Bus. When the clerk to our Halton Parish Council raised the matter with me in October 1975, the cost was 18p a day for each child. The bus company had then just raised the child's fare from a half to two-thirds of the adult rate. Even then there was—to quote the clerk, and to my own certain knowledge—"considerable hardship". Today, with fares no less than 10p a day higher, and little if any overtime to be had, the hardship is very much greater. One family in my village is paying £1.20 a day for three children, a total of £6 a week. That is a dreadful hardship in a relatively low-wage area. Another family with two boys, aged 15 and 13, is paying £4.60 a week. There are similar examples throughout the constituency.
§ Mrs. Kellett-Bowman
May I continue?
When the House considers, moreover, that the unemployment rate in my constituency is estimated to be 8.4 per cent., and that there is no provision for rebating fares for children whose parents are unemployed, it is obvious that the hardship is very serious.
More flexibility of transport and greater sensitivity to local needs could, even in times of austerity such as these, do a great deal to raise the standard of wellbeing of millions of people, especially in rural areas. I very much hope that the Minister will assist in seeing that this is brought about and that nothing is allowed to stand in its way.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)
May I reinforce Mr. Speaker's appeal for short speeches? Fifteen hon. Members still wish to take part in the debate, and they have all been waiting patiently. There is roughly an hour before the winding-up speeches begin. I suggest, based on the practical experience of occupants of the Chair, that five minutes could allow an hon. Member to make all the salient points that he wishes to make. To confine a speech to that time would show a nice New Year spirit of co-operation and would allow nearly every hon. Member who wishes to do so to take part in the debate.
§ 10.29 p.m.
§ Mr. John Evans (Newton)
I have no sectional interest in this debate, either from a trade union point of view or from the point of view of any particular lobby.
I shall not advance constituency interests, although I could well do so, as I have two of Britain's great motorways, the M6 and the M62, running through my constituency, with a huge, 100-acre interchange at the heart of my constituency. The southern boundary of my constituency has one of Britain's great waterways—the Manchester Ship Canal. The first man to die on a railway line died in my constituency. When one considers the issue of the second runway at Ringway Airport, or the Manchester versus Liverpool argument, one realises that a great mistake was made in the 1950s when the old Burtonwood airbase was not chosen for use as an airport for the North-West.
But I do not want to follow up any of those points tonight. I want to concentrate on the essential importance of having an efficient transport system, and obviously that means an efficient railway system and an efficient motorway network. It is right that we should take account of the social and environmental cost of providing these systems. It is essential that, as far as possible, subsidies should not be applied to the carriage of freight. But I am mystified that when we consider subsidies on the carriage of freight we should identify the subsidy of British Rail but we do not even try to identify the subsidy on road transport.
Everyone who comes to Newton-le-Willows in my constituency is amazed by 777 the number of signs, at virtually every road and avenue in the town prohibiting heavy lorries from parking in the street. Newton-le-Willows is situated about halfway between London and Glasgow on the M6, and it is an ideal stopping off point for lorry drivers. These heavy vehicles were smashing up the roads, footpaths and drainage systems, and the tremendous social cost was borne by the Lancashire County Council and the Newton-le-Willows urban district.
If we consider the various costs of road and rail, we must ensure that these add up to the true amount. A railway-man asked me last Friday evening why British Rail must bear the cost of maintaining tracks, signalling, policing and financing. He wondered why such costs were not borne by the road haulage industry as well, instead of by the taxpayer. In fact, if we added up the costs properly, we might be surprised.
We must ask ourselves whether the present local government structure ensures that local democracy can play its full part. The Newton division, because of the disaster of local government reorganisation, is split between three county councils—Cheshire, Merseyside and Manchester—and the three carry out entirely different transport policies. For example, when I tried to get them all to agree on concessionary fares for elderly passengers, I could not, and as a result we have three different authorities administering different passenger transport systems. I suggest to the Secretary of State that a regional Assembly for England is the only sensible body which could handle transport affairs.
I accept that the argument of road versus rail is steriie. But I think that there should be a word of caution sounded about talking of a common or integrated transport policy. This is something one hears of regularly in the European Parliament and its committees. Sometimes people feel that because they have passed a resolution or made a statement, a common transport policy will result. In fact, it makes it even more difficult because there are so many conflicting points of view about what constitutes a common transport policy.
The Secretary of State made it clear in his opening remarks that he had 778 accepted my invitation to attend a meeting of the Transport Committee on Monday. I think he will find that he is putting his head in a noose, or certainly entering a hornets' nest. He will find a great deal of concern, argument, and debate about the lack of action on the part of Community transport Ministers in implementing a common transport policy. A great deal of that criticism is levelled at Britain.
Some hon. Members will appreciate that Britain should be obeying Transport Regulation No. 543/69 which would mean very substantial changes in the costing of road transport. The Minister has applied for another derogation. I believe that this is the fourth derogation for which we have applied since we joined the EEC, and it will be the last we can get. Unless the new proposal, which was debated in the European Parliament in December, is adopted, the regulation of 1969 comes into effect. That will mean substantial changes in costing for the road haulage industry.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State appreciates some of the things that the British Members of the European Parliament did there in December in getting a new clause for the document adopted. If the Council of Ministers adopt it, it will give Britain a further three years in which to bring our policy into line with that of the rest of the EEC. This is a criticism of the consultative document. I realise that my right hon. Friend and his hon. Friend had no part in writing the document, and I challenge the entire basis of it because the costings upon which it is based took no account of EEC policies.
My hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins) said earlier that little progress had been made on harmonisation of road transport, but he is wrong. This year all these policies will have to be harmonised. The argument about the tachograph is a little confused, to say the least. There is a "Catch 22" situation in the new regulation. It states that if a vehicle does not have a tachograph it will be limited to journeys of 450 kilometres, or 280 miles. If that were implemented it would require two drivers per vehicle for many journeys in Britain. That would have considerable consequences for the cost of living and for the road haulage industry.
779 The other aspect with which, as I appreciate, my right hon. Friend is wrestling is that of axle loads. If we are forced to adopt the heavier lorries on which the Continentals are insisting, substantial costs will be incurred in strengthening our motorway network and particularly in strengthening the bridges. Many of our bridges just could not bear the weight of heavier lorries. Many hon. Members supported our joining the Common Market. This is one area where we joined the club after the policy had been established and we shall have to accept the consequences.
Will my right hon. Friend attempt to quantify the costs involved in the implementation of Regulation 17/76? Will he comment further on the cost to the United Kingdom of allowing the heavier lorries on to our roads?
My right hon. Friend and his colleagues will have to take up the question of the tachograph with the Transport and General Workers Union. I believe that lorry drivers in this country have started from the wrong premise and that we have but a short period of time in which to persuade them to accept the tachograph. It does not matter how many Bills this House may pass or how much legislation may be passed by the European Parliament. If the lorry drivers in this country say that they will not work with the tachograph, they will not work with it.
I believe that in the long term it will be in their interests to accept it, but at present they will not. We therefore must persuade them. If we do not succeed, long journeys will be limited to 450 kilometres and we shall face substantial increases in costs. For that reason I urge my right hon. Friend to re-examine the document, ignoring past costings but bearing in mind future EEC legislation that Britain will have to accept sooner or later.
If my right hon. Friend considers the cost to Britain of joining the EEC and relates that to future transport costs I believe that the costing of the rail network will be greatly altered. One railwayman in Newton said to me recently "Remind your colleagues not to forget that once a railway line is removed, there is little chance of its being replaced".
I submit that the rail as well as the motorway network is absolutely essential 780 if the United Kingdom is to remain a fully modernised industrial country.
§ 10.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Hal Miller (Bromsgrove and Redditch)
I hope that the hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Evans) will forgive me if I do not take up valuable time, in deference to your advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in supporting his plea for a national policy on concessionary fares for old-age pensioners and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman) reminded us, scholars.
The Secretary of State showed a refreshing openness of mind which has not been displayed by some hon. Members who professed their totally objective approach to road and rail policy. Therefore, I wish to place the subject in context.
I assure the hon. Member for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins) that in the Council of Europe I proposed the motion that led to the passage of a resolution on the Channel Tunnel. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be equally objective in admitting that the M6 has relieved a great deal of intolerable congestion in Preston.
What I wish to say about the industrial context of this debate rests on a sentence in the Secretary of State's speech. The right hon. Gentleman said that road building is a vital part of total industrial investment; it is not simply the icing on the cake.
Those who have been propounding the case for the railways, particularly employment on the railways, would do well to reflect that the number employed in the road haulage industry is about the same as on the railways and that the self-employed in the road haulage industry number twice as many. For instance, there are 900,000 holders of heavy goods vehicle licences. Therefore, employment in both areas of transport must be borne in mind.
I wish to draw attention to the industrial consequences of transport policy. Some of the measures which have been advocated, including tax on petrol and the abolition of the vehicle registration fee, would have serious industrial consequences leading to the need to produce totally new designs of motor car engines.
§ Mr. Ronald Atkins
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that that is the usual system of taxation in practically every other country in the world and that those countries do well out of it?
§ Mr. Miller
The point is that it would have a considerable effect on the design and manufacture of motor car engines in this country. I believe that was why the Secretary of State for Industry prevailed in the argument with the Secretary of State for the Environment on that point. Serious industrial consequences often flow from decisions on matters affecting transport.
What manufacturing industry as a whole—I am not referring to the motor car industry—finds hard to understand about the roads programme, when considering it as part of the production line, as it undoubtedly is for many motor car manufacturers, is that our national priorities seem to have gone sadly astray. For example, the Midlands are connected to the holiday areas of Devon and Cornwall but not to the East and South Coast ports.
There is a demand for national priorities on motorways to be reassessed and to be seen to be reassessed. Doubt about national priorities having been got right not only as between road and rail but inside the road building programme has led to a great deal of dissatisfaction at public inquiries and to a lack of confidence by members of the public in the programme, about which some hon. Members have already spoken.
I want to take up a point about the Secretary of State's suggestion of holding an annual debate on an annual White Paper. I am not entirely satisfied that it would be possible—bearing in mind the debate that we have had tonight—to give consideration to national transport policies in that way. I would like the Minister to consider whether it might not be preferable to set up a Select Committee—or some other form of scrutiny—to send for evidence and witnesses, and to examine how a scheme of priorities should be drawn up.
I want to mention procedure. It is quite incredible that it should take 15 years to build a motorway. The waste of time and effort is incalculable. The motorway network should be decided 782 nationally in Parliament and local inquiries should deal with the matters of line. There is an intolerable position over the building of the M23 at Winchester. It has led to a total lack of confidence in the inquiry system, quite apart from recherché points about appeals and methods of computation of benefits. In that connection I welcome the appointment of the Leitch Committee to inquire into analysis and other figuring of investment value.
The Secretary of State should understand that the whole motorway programme has been brought into disrepute by the failure to establish priorities and to provide a sensible procedure for local inquiries, and by the manner in which inquiries have now been laid open so that the whole programme can be considered afresh in public. This is no way in which to provide a transport policy.
I ask those hon. Members who have spoken so strongly in favour of the rail lobby and of attracting people to public transport to consider who the people are that they want to attract. The present Secretary of State for the Environment has said that cars, television and the social wage have transformed the lives of millions of working people. It is those working people who do not have cars that some hon. Members would seek to deprive of the opportunity to acquire them. These working people do not want cars just for driving around, but to get to work, to enable them to find a house in an area in which they would like to live, and to enrich their lives.
A shop steward wrote to tell me that because he now has a car he can go further afield in the search for work, that he can live and bring up his family in an area far removed from the noise and grime of work, and that he can use his time for relaxation to its fullest advantage to pursue his personal development in a way that would not otherwise have been possible.
This trend of thinking—restricting road use by pricing people off the road—is among the worst examples of class discrimination, and it was conceived by people who are supposedly on the Government side. The question must be asked—against whom is the restriction proposed? I ask hon. Members who have spoken against motorways to understand that personal mobility has brought 783 a new freedom and liberation to the lives of millions of ordinary people.
§ 10.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Alan Fitch (Wigan)
I welcome the consultative document. That does not mean that I agree with all of it, but it is a basis for consultation and I am sure that it does not represent the Government's final word on this extremely important subject.
It is a matter of regret that the document has been attacked, more from outside the House than from within, for what it is not. It is an adequate basis for this debate and for outside representations. I stress that it is a consultative document.
I am pleased that the Prime Minister has recognised the importance of transport policy and included in his Cabinet a Minister with special responsibility for transport. My right hon. Friend the Member for Stockton (Mr. Rodgers) is an excellent choice as Secretary of State. I know that he will consider everything which is said in the debate and will also examine the views of outside interests. I know of my right hon. Friend's interest in transport. I still have a copy of the pamphlet, which he mentioned earlier, which he wrote 17 years ago.
I have a non-financial interest to declare. I am joint chairman of the all-party road study group, but I hope that my right hon. Friend will not regard my remarks as special pleading. I am sure that he will not be influenced by special pleading, whatever its source. No doubt he will exercise his judgment and make up his own mind.
Most of us travel by road and rail although if rail fares continue to rise as rapidly and excessively as they have recently, this form of transport will become increasingly prohibitive to all except those with expense allowances or on high salaries.
We must strike a balance between the various forms of transport, based on the facts. As the Secretary of State said, there are many claims on our limited resources in present economic circumstances, and manufacturing industry cannot be ignored if we are to overcome our economic difficulties. In considering a Socialist transport policy, we must get our priorities right and should not be 784 bound by tradition or settled habits. We must not be afraid to have a fresh look at transport problems. We need an efficient road system for passenger and freight traffic, just as we need an efficient rail system for passengers and freight. We must relate our reduced resources to economic and social objectives of the highest priority.
There must also be an element of choice. For many industries, road freight is a convenience, and if we unreasonably restrict it, we shall reduce the efficiency of industry. This can adversely affect our export performance and employment. We must dispense with some of our preconceived ideas about transport and base our policy on the facts.
Transport policy can be considered on two time scales—the immediate future and the period from now to the end of the century, as envisaged in the consultative document. The facts which I shall outline are crucial to both time scales.
Transport accounts for 13 per cent. of our gross national product; it will continue to be overwhelmingly road based; transport is one of the three main items of consumer expenditure; and the cost of all consumer goods is affected by the efficiency of distribution. As 90 per cent. of all goods are transported by road, the quality of the road network plays a vital part in keeping down costs. Employment in all sections of the transport industry involves about 3 million people, of which British Rail employs less than 10 per cent. As the consultative document states:We must bear constantly in mind the existence of all those who work in transport industries.Every business and every person uses transport and it is therefore everybody's problem whether directly as a consumer or indirectly through the consumption of goods and services. For the long-term transport policy should incorporate a plan for roads to provide satisfactory mobility for all users—lorries, buses and cars. That requires a programme to reduce or remove existing congestion and to prepare for future growth in traffic.
The current economic crisis gives urgency to the consultative document's claim thatThe prime objective of transport policy is an efficient system that provides good transport 785 facilities at the lowest cost in terms of resources used.Restraint on public spending should require that expenditure in the next few years is concentrated on investment with a positive rate of return, but unfortunately investment in roads has been cut seven times in the last three years. We criticise industry for its poor investment policy, but if the Government fail to invest in a viable road transport policy, they will be guilty of the same lack of foresight for which they have rightly Blamed industry. Roads are just as much an integral part of the industrial process as an assembly line or warehouse. Scarce resources must be directed to areas that will contribute most to economic recovery. The old road versus rail argument is out-dated and should cease.
Our future transport policy must be realistic. The days of thinking up slogans have gone. We must think about the problems. I have been as guilty as anybody in talking about an integrated transport policy, but now I am beginning to ask what is meant by it. There are many concepts of what is an integrated transport policy among our trade union friends.
I turn briefly to environmental objectives. The consultative document, in out lining environmental objectives, gives a fair and balanced account of the problems. It states:There is today, and rightly, immense public concern about the effects of the growth of transport, especially road traffic, on the environment.It is right that we should be concerned, but it is regrettable that certain organisations have used public inquiries to break up proceedings. Some people set a bad example. My right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) mentioned the M3 inquiry. I do not wish to pass judgment on that because I do not know enough about the pros and cons. An hon. Friend and I wrote a letter to The Times, and we received a number of abusive letters from educated people. Had the same uproar been created by miners or dockers at a trade union meeting we would have heard more about it. One would expect public school boys educated at Eton and Winchester to behave better.
I have truncated my speech considerably and I shall now turn to my final 786 point. I happen to live in a part of the world, Lancashire, which is surrounded by motorways. In my opinion, the M6, particularly the part from Preston northwards, adds to the environment. It does not detract from it. I say the same thing about the M62, which links Lancashire and Yorkshire. It is a fine piece of road engineering through the Pennines which adds to rather than detracts from the environment.
Good motorways have meant that millions of people have been able to enjoy the beauties of the Lake District and of our other beauty spots, people from various parts of the country, many miles away, because they have a route that provides easy access.
Finally, there is probably a case for the terms of reference of public inquiries to be altered. But there is no case at all for people who make it their job to disrupt what is a perfectly orderly inquiry. I know that the Minister is a man of judgment. He has in his possession a certain amount of money. Little though that amount may be, I know that, having heard this debate, he will spend it wisely and well.
§ 11.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch and Lymington)
I agree with the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Fitch) about the antics at Winchester. While they were going on, one of the local Transport and General Workers' Union officers rightly said to me that if his members had behaved like that in sitting-in at a factory, it would have been the people in the Winchester area, with their nice houses and smart addresses, who would be the first group to write letters to The Times deploring such appalling behaviour. It is surely an indication of the weakness of the argument when the behaviour has to degenerate to that level.
I start by congratulating both the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler) on the way in which they have sought to conduct the debate. I hope that it is not presumptuous of me to say that their speeches were extremely impressive.
Like most other hon. Members, I have been bombarded with paper on this subject. I decided to open my speech with the remark "Never has so much paper 787 been sent to so many Members of Parliament containing so little that is new." I shall try to respond to the Secretary of State's invitation to be constructive.
I agree with the Secretary of State that the road versus rail argument is totally sterile. For example, one will never get domestic deliveries of milk by rail! One could cite numerous similar examples.
There are so many matters that should be mentioned. In order to be brief, I apologise for concentrating on a few items and speaking rather quickly.
I also agree with the Secretary of State and other speakers that on the whole British Rail does an extremely good job often in very difficult conditions. I do not know how many other hon. Members sent a telegram, as I did, to the Chairman of British Rail congratulating him on the way in which services last week were kept going in really foul weather, particularly on the Southern Region with its third rail. A great deal of effort was put in throughout the night, on several nights, by hard-working people who received precious little thanks from the general public.
We have a valuable rail network. We must preserve it and improve it. I believe, nevertheless, that there is truth in the argument that the subsidy currently being paid to British Rail for the maintenance of the services is a subsidy wholly at the taxpayers' expense and that, although it is paid for by all taxpayers it is really for the benefit of a comparatively small number of people and, on the whole, people who are better off. To say that people in South Wales cannot be classified as better off is no longer correct. I suspect that many people in South Wales who have jobs have a great deal more money in their pockets than very many of my constituents who are living on fixed incomes, for whom a rail journey is but a memory of the past.
One thing that British Rail could improve—and improve considerably—is its marketing techniques. In view of the relationship that British Rail have established with the trade unions, it should be possible for them to provide off-peak services at attractive rates by using train crews who provide the peak hour services. Their hours of work should be allocated more intelligently than they are at present, and marketing should be the cata- 788 lyst to create new off-peak low-rate services.
Next, I come to the question of concessionary bus fares. The Under-Secretary of State will recall that recently Mr. Deputy Speaker and I went to see him to argue the need for the National Bus Company to operate a scheme of concessionary fares, particularly for pensioners, in off-peak hours. The present arrangements, whereby the ratepayer is asked to fund concessionary fare schemes —and that means for the benefit of the bus companies, and mainly for the benefit of the NBC—are wholly unfair and unsatisfactory. I cannot think of any other sphere where a local authority is required to pay out of the rates for the provision of services to people merely because they have become old. This is normally considered to be a function of central Government if it is to be a subsidy.
I believe that the National Bus Company could easily produce a national scheme of concessionary fares. British Rail have done it with their £6 card. If this payment of £6 can get someone a 50 per cent. discount for off-peak rail services almost anywhere in the United Kingdom, surely the NBC should be willing and able to introduce a similar scheme for use on its off-peak services, particularly by pensioners? I again plead with the Minister and the Secretary of State to take this matter up with the NBC and insist that in return for the virtual monopoly that it enjoys over wide tracts of Britain it should accept some obligation to provide concessionary fares. A card for sale would not involve any extra public expenditure.
The NBC has an extraordinarily elaborate scheme of concessionary fares for its staff and retired staff. One could quote scheme after scheme of staff concessionary fares, such as that which the National Freight Corporation inherited when it took over National Carriers Limited. It had to cope with the need to provide concessionary fare schemes for 26,000 people, which is now costing £1.2 m. annually.
My constituents live in two local authority areas, in two counties, and with two separate bus companies serving them. They cannot understand why different schemes of concessionary fares apply in 789 those local authority areas and within the workings of the two bus companies. It is wholly unsatisfactory.
The question of the traffic commissioners has been dealt with fully. I reinforce the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield. He mentioned the 1930 Traffic Act, which was introduced following the 1928 Royal Commission. Even though that Act was passed all those years ago it still forms the basis for the activities of the traffic commissioners. I ask the Secretary of State to reconsider his rather disappointing remark when I intervened in his opening speech that at the moment he is not persuaded of the need to reconsider the role of the traffic commissioners.
I believe that the proposals in the consultative document about local authorities being brought more into the consideration of licensing arrangements have a great deal to say for them. It is an unfortunate fact that so many of the bus company areas are not contiguous with county boundaries. This enables the NBC to play off one county council against another, or one district council against another. I plead with the Government to reconsider their views about the traffic commissioners. As many hon. Members have said, their activities are contrary to the public interest.
I believe, too, that the wish of many Labour Members to reduce competition is contrary to the public interest. I cannot accept that the public are best served by a single transport monopoly. One could quote case after case. British Airways and British Caledonian both provide services to Scotland. Most people accept that alternative services and consumer choice have meant that both airlines in competition are providing a first-class service, just as British Rail is doing Good competing public transport services keep prices down, increase business and create jobs.
It is interesting to realise that the only part of British Rail that operates at a profit is its Hotels Division. It is the one part of the organisation that is totally open to competition. Perhaps I should declare an interest even in mentioning hotels. I hope, however, that the Minister will take note of the criticisms of British Rail catering by the Central 790 Transport Consultative Committee. I have a great deal of sympathy with its suggestion that the catering service of British Rail should be let out to tender. It may have the result of giving the rail traveller a better service, and saving the taxpayers some money.
Let me say a few brief words about British Rail's attitude to railway enthusiasts. As a member of the Railway Correspondence and Travel Society, may I ask the Minister to ask Mr. Parker to treat with sympathy organisations such as the East Somerset railway?
I wish to make a plea for trams—the very mention of which usually causes giggles in the House. We must remember that many Continental cities—Munich, Zurich, Brussels—still have tram services. We are unlucky that it was thought fit suddenly to do away with trams in our major cities. We have done away with the trams, but we have finished up with bus lanes—which are an admission that trams are a good thing!
We must remember that transport can be a pollutant and that it can and does raise environmental issues; but it is worth noting the comments of Professor Peter Hall in the New Statesman last week. He said:Environmental fantasies are too expensive for a nearly bankrupt nation.Stress should be laid on the word "fantasies", but if we are not careful we are in danger of losing sight of the wood for the trees. I hope that we shall learn from what happened in the anti-Concorde campaign, when people with wholly different motives used an environmental argument for their own ends.
I wish to deal briefly with the question of the Winchester bypass. It was designed originally with dual 20 ft. wide carriageways, which by the design standards of the time, were provided for traffic flows between 4,000 and 9,000 vehicles per day. However, the average 16-hour day flow on that bypass in June 1976 amounted to 35,000 vehicles. I submit that nobody in his right mind could argue that there is no need for a new link between the M3 and M27.
If anybody should think that we have far more motorways per head of population than annbody else in Europe, I must inform the House that on that score in Europe we are almost at the bottom of 791 the league. The House might like to know, as a matter of interest, that the number of kilometres of motorway per million head of population in Holland is 105, in Belgium 103, in Germany and Italy 93, in Luxembourg 71, in Denmark 68, in France 64—and in poor old Britain which is bottom of the table, only 34 kilometres of motorway per million head of population.
The Minister has asked for constructive suggestions. Let us try to improve British Rail's marketing; make the National Bus Company introduce concessionary fares for the old; let the present role of the traffic commissioners be abolished, their powers redefined and transferred to local authorities; let the British Rail catering services be put out to tender. There should also be a general direction to British Rail to help light railways.
Experiments should be carried out in the use of tram cars. My final plea relates to the Channel Tunnel. The Minister said that we should seek to take advantage of British presidency of the European Commission. I suggest that there is no better way of helping British Rail into Europe than by resuscitating the Channel Tunnel project.
§ 11.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Gordon A. T. Bagier (Sunderland, South)
I am tempted to take up many of the points made by the hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley), but, in the interests of time, I shall dwell on only two or three. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the possibility of hiving off the catering services of British Rail. No doubt, with his general approach to politics, he sees the chance of some profitable plums there. Almost in the same breath, the hon. Gentleman said that British Rail hotels were profitable, and I know that he and many of his hon. Friends would like to take a profitable section away from the public sector.
The hon. Gentleman's general approach to politics seemed to creep into his attitude to old-age pensioners and travel concessions, too. I assure him that I do not know of any Labour-controlled authority with responsibility for these matters which has not found the money to provide such facilities, in spite of being hard pressed. The hon. Gentleman, who represents an area vastly different from 792 the one which I represent, seems to have difficulty with his local authorities passing the hat round to his constituents, via the rates, in order to provide what I regard as a service of great human value.
I hope that I shall be forgiven for raising now a matter which affects my area, since it will illustrate what could be a general aproach to transport. I refer to the exciting Metro project going ahead in the Tyne and Wear area. When completed, it will be part of a system which, I hope, will serve as an example of an integrated transport system. We shall have a system whereby the bus services, the local PTA services, the rail services, the old South and North Tyneside electric system and the Sunderland-Newcastle system will all come under the one heading, under the passenger transport executive of the Tyne-Wear authority. There will be interchangeability of services, with bus services meeting train services and fare structures generally designed to meet all requirements.
I look forward to the new system as an exciting new project in transport economics. It has been planned round the centre of Newcastle, and it will be connected with all the five metropolitan districts which comprise the area, bringing into being what I hope will be a fully integrated transport system.
I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department to recognise the value of this system. We could do well to learn some lessons about integration, or what we think we know about integration. It would be mealy-mouthed to suggest that there are not grave difficulties. We have had our share of them from the outset of the Tyne and Wear Metropolitan scheme. We had the problem of inter-union dispute about who should do what and who should drive what, and that problem is still not entirely settled between the T & GWU, the three rail unions and the management. People have had to get together to thrash things out and move away from decisions which they originally took. There have been problems between road and rail, problems of ownership, of management and of structure.
If such difficulties can arise in a comparatively small area such as the Tyne and Wear passenger transport executive district, we should be foolish if we did not learn some lessons and urge the 793 national officers of our various organisations and the transport executives to think now in terms of how they should approach an integrated transport system, however that concept is interpreted when the time comes. It is no good waiting till the last minute and then saying that there are problems.
If it is accepted that there is wasteful transport at present, with similar systems running alongside each other, the implication is that, if there is to be an integrated transport system, something will have to make way for something else, and there may well have to be some fairly close discussions between the various interests involved. I hope, therefore, that Ministers will quickly put in train some close talking with all the various interested parties.
I turn now to the question of our railways. I do not believe that there is necessarily a great face-to-face argument between road and rail interests, although it may sometimes be construed as such if one is trying to make a case for fully utilising what we have. I readily declare my interests here as someone who spent 23 years on the railways and as a Member sponsored by the National Union of Railwaymen. Sometimes, when we argue for the full utilisation of our railway services, it is assumed that we are attacking the road lobby. That is not necessarily so. If we have the present system and the mileage it provides, surely it makes sense to utilise it fully. It is owned by the nation and it must make sense to use it to the full. Before taking up expensive alternatives it makes sense to determine whether it is fully used. If it is not, why not? Is it being run efficiently?
I shall be charitable to Conservative Members and say that they sometimes do not study such matters as manning as deeply as they might. My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bradley), the present Chairman of TSSA, spoke a short while ago about the reduction in the number of railwaymen employed by British Rail in the past year. The total has been reduced from 400,000 to 200,000. The railway unions have entered into agreement with the British Railways Board on manning, recruitment, overtime levels, rest-day working, Sunday-working and the like.
794 It has been agreed that when a vacancy occurs, whether it is on the shop floor, in management or wherever, it will not be filled until a full examination and a critical analysis has taken place. However, a massive amount of overtime continues to be worked. Far from being over-manned, railway employers are being stretched to the limits. The average amount of overtime now being worked results in a working week of 51 hours or 52 hours in every grade except engine drivers. It is 52 hours for signalmen, 52 hours for platform staff, 52 hours for permanent way and 52 hours for technicians. If these men refused to work overtime, the system would come to a standstill. Let there be a proper analysis of what is taking place.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Johnson Smith (East Grinstead)
I know that the hon. Gentleman wishes to be brief and does not intend to mislead the House. Although I fully appreciate the efforts that are being made by the work force of British rail, the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that by every yardstick we can possibly use to compare the efficiency of British Rail with the rail system of any other country in Western Europe, British Rail is by far the worst and bottom of the league. A great deal of progress has yet to be made.
§ Mr. Bagier
But the progress is being made. We cannot all of a sudden throw a heck of a lot of people on the scrap-heap, people who put their whole livelihood at stake inside the industry. Those representing the men have made massive strides towards increasing efficiency. In the past year there has been a 7,406 reduction in the number of jobs. By common agreement there is no intention to fill the 9,000 vacancies that now exist.
The consequence is that when we reach rock bottom and have no spare capacity we shall not be able to handle a growth economy. If there is no spare capacity and there is a spate of sickness, there will have to be a reduction in the train services. In any service industry there is a limit to how far it can be reduced before it is seriously harmed. There is, for example, the problem of handling peak period traffic.
Recently my union and the other rail unions suggested the possibility of bringing more passengers onto the rails by 795 reducing fares. I know that it has been pooh-poohed in some quarters, but there is a limit to how far we can soak passengers for fares. I hope to carry some Conservative Members with me in advancing this argument. The fare structure has seen a dramatic increase over the past two years.
Let us consider Bletchley, which is attached to the new town of Milton Keynes. It might well be assumed that the whole idea of new towns for overspills from London is to encourage people to move out and to work in the new towns, but many people are still working in London. The rate for an annual season ticket prior to 26th January 1975 was £223. On 26th January 1975 the rate was increased to £251. Four months later it was £311. Four months later it was £359. Three months later it was £398. On 2nd January 1977 it was increased to £453. That is an increase of £203 per annum or 103 per cent. To meet the increase, a man paying the standard rate of income tax needs a salary increase of £354. These are tremendous costs to pile on commuters.
The Board may well take the view that commuters have no choice, that there is no other way of travelling into London. But in the area I represent and in Scotland, Wales and elsewhere the people have a choice. Such cost escalation tips the balance when a man is considering buying a car or using some other mode of transport.
We must remember what Professor Colin Buchanan said some time ago about traffic in towns. We must provide good, cheap public transport if we are not to allow our towns to come to a standstill.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I remind the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Bagier) that it was the intention that the winding-up speeches should start at 11.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Bagier
My reply to the hon. Gentleman is that we must search our consciences. Hon. Members must start considering whether they believe that there is a social cost which should be met by the Government, whether they are 796 opposed to all aspects of public expenditure.
I was very surprised to read in The Times on Tuesday a report of a speech by Lieutenant-Colonel McNaughton, Chief Inspecting Officer of Railways, Department of the Environment, according to which he had told the Institution of Mechanical Engineers that there could be a reduction in safety standards on certain branch lines. Perhaps I am being unfair, in that I am quoting a newspaper report. He and his predecessors have gained a great deal of experience, and the railways have a wonderful safety record. I hope that my right hon. Friend will ask Lieutenant-Colonel McNaughton to give a full report on exactly what he means. He may well be able to provide knowledge that will cut down some of the very expensive equipment that must be provided at present on many of our branch lines.
This has been the first opportunity to debate transport for some years. We wish my right hon. Friend well. He has a knowledge of the railways and an interest in the industry. The railway unions also have a great deal of admiration for Mr. Peter Parker, and we wish him well.
§ Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Before the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed) sums up the debate for the Opposition, I should like to protest most vehemently about the length of time given to the debate. A number of hon. Members on both sides of the House are still waiting to speak, in spite of the discipline exercised by some, but not all, hon. Members.
§ 11.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Keith Speed (Ashford)
We have seen that even at this late hour on a Thursday evening many hon. Members wish to take part in the debate. I hope that the Secretary of State will tell his right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that there is still a great deal of bottled-up emotion on the subject and that there are many good ideas still to be heard. I hope that it will be possible to have another debate before the White Paper comes out.
797 The debate has perhaps sounded the death knell of the integrated transport policy. Admittedly, one or two Labour Members made obeisance to that policy, but I am not sure that they were aware what it was. I was interested to note that the Secretary of State did not refer to it, and I think that the consultation document and the debate have marked its demise.
§ Mr. Speed
I do not have time to give way.
The right hon. Member for Battersea, North, (Mr. Jay) argued from the Back Benches that there should be a higher tax on heavy lorries. If that is so, there should be a lower tax on smaller lorries, as I believe that the balance as regards track costs is about right. But the right hon. Gentleman let the cat out of the bag when he said that his proposal was a way to raise extra tax revenue.
However, I agree with the hon. Gentleman and with the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mr. Douglas-Mann) and my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton (Mr. Forman), who raised the problem of the M23—the problems arise elsewhere throughout the country—where the line of a road has been known for far too long and there are problems of uncertainty and blight. This is something that the House as a whole has failed to recognise fully in the past and, in his considerations of road planning, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will pay particular attention to this aspect. I believe that the continuation of this situation is not satisfactory.
The hon. Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe (Mr. Ellis) made an interesting speech, in which he asked why there should be toll roads. The simple answer is that we are more likely to get something built with a toll road than without a toll road. That was certainly an argument that weighed with the Treasury when I was at the Ministry of Transport.
The hon. Gentleman also strongly advocated the National Transport Council, which is mentioned in the Consultation Document. I got the impression that the Secretary of State was not so 798 enamoured of the National Transport Council; nor was the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross). I am sure that they are right not to be enamoured of such a concept. I could conceive of no better way of delaying action than by having vast bodies of people coming to the National Transport Council.
I believe that we now have the set-up right, with a Department of Transport with a Secretary of State in the Cabinet answerable to the House. This is where the decisions should be taken, provided that there are more frequent debates on the subject of transport.
I welcome the fact that there is to be an annual White Paper on roads. I have grave reservations about an annual White Paper on railways. After all, there is the annual report of the British Railways Board, and the debate could take place on that and on the views of the Chairman of the Board.
The hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. Johnson) raised a number of important points, if only to be controverted. He spoke more than once about wasteful competition. The hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Bagier) echoed some of his views. The hon. Gentleman gave us an example of the route from London to Glasgow—a city with which you are well acquainted, Mr. Deputy Speaker. He said that a traveller could fly to Glasgow, he could go by road up the M6 and then up the road to Scotland, or, alternatively, he could go by British Rail Inter-City.
There are different reasons—the time of day, for example—why people use different modes of transport to that city. If somebody were to lay down that Inter-City was the way to get from London to Glasgow, he would be imposing a dictatorship in denying the consumer his choice. That is not a sound base for a transport policy.
I had much more sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's view about the problems of investment for British Railways. Every time our economy hiccups, as it does frequently, the investment plans of British Rail, particularly its electrification plans, are cut back. This means that investment is very much more expensive than it otherwise need have been. The Secretary of State will agree with this 799 point. It was true under the last Conservative Government, and it is true under this Government.
We must devise a system—not only for rail investment, but for road investment—so that we do not lead people, whether they are contractors for overhead electrification or makers of roads, to invest in expensive plant and equipment only to find that, following a hiccup in the economy, there is a cut-back on capital projects and, therefore, the cost of building the road or doing the electrification is much more than it would otherwise have been.
The hon. Member for Isle of Wight argued that British Railways should dispose of more of their assets to provide much-needed funds. I entirely agree with him, but he will know that their task is much more difficult now that the Community Land Act is in operation, as all the nationalised industries are making clear to the Government.
Then the hon. Gentleman spoke about productivity, as did the hon. Member for Sunderland, South and my hon. Friend the Member for East Grinstead (Mr. Johnson Smith). The facts are given on page 61 of the consultative paper. The Board of British Railways, particularly its new Chairman, and the trade unions should have page 61 enlarged and pinned up on the wall in their headquarters. It shows what we should be aiming at when comparing railways in Britain with railways in overseas countries. There is considerable scope for co-operation all round and for an improvement in productivity.
One of the messages that has come out of the debate is that there is a future for British Rail, that it has a job to do. One of the ways they can look after their own jobs, employment and future is by ensuring that this productivity and these targets are met as far as possible. I do not want to bandy about statistics on cuts in the numbers employed or to suggest that they could have done better. The facts are in the Government's paper for them to see, and they should be a challenge and a spur to unions, management and all those with the interests of the railways at heart.
A great deal was said about commuters, especially by my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Mr. 800 Stanley), in his very thoughtful speech. He rightly pointed out the effects, especially on London, if the commuter traffic dwindled and died, to say nothing of the importance of the commuter to the life of this great city. Various examples were given by hon. Members on both sides of the House of the considerable costs of commuting now. In my own constituency, for the journey between Ashford and London the cost of an annual season ticket is now running at about £500, which means that a person paying tax at the standard rate must earn about £800 a year to pay for it. The law of diminishing returns may be beginning to operate. This would be very bad, not only for British Rail but for London as well.
I am interested in identifying the costs of the apparent loss of this commuter traffic much more frankly than the consultative document does and much more than British Rail have been prepared to reveal so far. I say "so far", because I have the impression that in this regard the new Chairman of British Rail will be more forthcoming than his predecessors. If he is, it can only be good. At least if commuters realise the problems and British Rail are totally open and frank with them, it will help hon. Members, commuters and everyone else who is trying to cope with this problem.
The hon. Member for Derby, South referred to the capital being tied up at peak hours. We know the number of coaches and locomotives which are apparently tied up to take passengers for just a few hours in the day. I should like more information about this. Is not it possible to give a very hard incentive to employers to stagger working hours in a way that perhaps we have not even considered yet? In that way, we could spread the working load. The working day might start for some people at 7 o'clock in the morning, for others at 10 o'clock and for others at 11 o'clock. After all, we have Flexitime, and much more enlightened employment policies now. If we knew what could be saved by extending the peak hours by half an hour or an hour each way, that again could result in the more efficient utilisation of stock and perhaps a curb in the ever-increasing fares.
Rural transport has not received enough attention in the debate, although my hon. 801 Friend the Member for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman) referred to it. It was a significant omission from the speech of the Secretary of State. My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler) referred to the problems of rural transport and reminded us of the way that Clauses 16 to 19 of the Road Traffic Bill, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) introduced three years ago on 30th January, after it had been through another place, would have given much greater flexibility in licensing and would have allowed to be done the experiments now proposed by the Government. It would have meant many small vehicles in rural areas being able to take passengers without the almost insuperable difficulties which exist at the moment. This would have gone a long way to solving the vexed problems of rural transport. It is not just a matter of costs. It is the fact that in many places there is no rural transport at all, unless people can beg lifts from friends or neighbours, assuming that they have no private transport of their own.
As a number of hon. Members have said, including my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove and Redditch (Mr. Miller), the car has brought real freedom to many millions of working men and women in a way that nothing else has, with the possible exception of the washing machine for the housewife. Industrial workers in Birmingham, Nottingham and Leicester, on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, can get out to the Dales, to the Lake District, or to Blackpool, and no one denies them that kind of freedom. I resent the intellectual arrogance of those who always manage to get to these spots but who, once they begin to get popular, complain how terrible it is and how congested the roads to the Lake District or to Blackpool are becoming.
The motorway programme followed, all through the 1960s, from a statement made by the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) in May, 1970, and endorsed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) in 1971, and the right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) in 1975, and never seriously challenged by this House.
802 It is a matter of great regret to me that now that capital is being cut back, subsidies are apparently to continue. Since there is a great delay now in the road programme, perhaps the Minister would tell us what future the road construction units have. Are the Government's priorities still the M25 around London and first-class access roads from the ports to the main industrial centres?
Could the Minister tell us what progress has been made on the quiet heavy goods vehicles programme? This was launched by the last Government with a contract, and great progress was being made. This is something which is very important to the environment, and therefore, in the long term, to very many people. Then there is the question of motorways providing a good environmental solution The M6 through Lune Gorge, and the M5 in Somerset have improved the environment, rather than detracted from it.
Where there are railway operations that are essential socially, but have no prospect of financial viability, these should be identified and helped accordingly. The help should not be open-ended, and should not be given in a way which will kill off management skills, enterprise, and expertise. The common carrier concept is the worst enemy of the railways. It is legally dead, but unfortunately its spirit lives on in some hon. Members opposite, and some people outside. It does the railways no good at all.
There are many problems associated with getting a strong and viable transport system, and these problems are not helped by consistent cut-backs in capital programmes of road and rail investment. For many years to come, money will be limited, so we must ensure that we get good value for money in all investment. I refer here to investment for road safety, not just for road building and maintenance. I am concerned about the way the road building programme has been cut and cut again, because good roads are an extension of our production lines and important to our economic survival.
This debate will help the Secretary of State in planning the White Paper which we hope to have in a month or two. There is still much to be done, but we are on the right road.
§ 11.43 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. John Horam)
Like many hon. Members I am sorry about the lateness of the hour at which this debate began. It is only the House of Commons which could plan a debate on transport which finished after the last trains, and certainly most sleepers, had gone.
Transport has had rather a rough deal over debating time in this House. The last full debate in Government time which covered transport policy as a whole was as long ago as 1968. The occasion was the publication by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) of the White Paper which preceded the Transport Bill. That seems to have been the last full-blown transport debate. One could sense the pent-up frustration in my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe (Mrs. Dunwoody), and I am sure that the Opposition felt this too. Perhaps they will think about providing some Supply time—and I do not make that as a debating point. If we want to debate transport we should not wait another eight years. I do hope that the Opposition will respond.
§ Mr. Bidwell
Would my hon. Friend accept that, as a member of the TGWU, I have been sitting here waiting to put the official case on behalf of my union, which has not yet been put in the debate?
§ Mr. Horam
No, I will not give way. I ask hon. Members to remember that I have sacrificed 15 minutes of my time, as has the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed).
During these past years we have had three or four debates on economic policy each year—sometimes more. If we had debated transport more, and gone further towards solving its problems, we might have been able to debate the state of the economy less.
A debate such as we have had today, therefore, is certainly overdue. We transport enthusiasts have shown great restraint. I say "we transport enthusi- 804 asts" because I, like my right hon. Friend, have a history of interest and activity in transport. Since I shall get no other opportunity tonight of mentioning my personal views on transport I should like to mention the Expenditure Committee Report on Urban Transport Planning which was produced in 1972 and of which I was an author.
This formed the basis of the section on urban transport in Labour's Programme 1973, and I believe that two of its judgments in particular have stood the test of time. The first is the importance of the bus industry, which was mentioned by many hon. Members, particularly the hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley). I recognise the importance of the point that he has made on a number of occasions. The second is the wisdom of restraining urban road building. These judgments were contained in the view of the report that we shouldmake the best use of the present road system before adding substantially to it".On this latter point our report was quoted in the consultative document, which is perhaps why I think that document has something to be said for it as a starting point for our debate tonight.
I noted the attempts of my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, South (Mr. Atkins) to transfer the debate on to the subject of the NEC document. He did not wholly succeed in that purpose, although I fully recognise the value of his points.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) asked for some specific figures about the effects of the cuts in the road programme in August and December. He mentioned the figure of £680 million for Great Britain as the amount before the cuts were made. We do not have comparable figures to hand because our figures relate principally to England, for which we have specific responsibility. In addition, he was talking in terms of 1974 prices, and our figures are in 1975 prices. However, taking account of these points, roughly the effect on trunk roads has been to reduce the amount by about £100 million, which is about a quarter of the total programme. On local roads the effect has been roughly to halve the programme as between this year and next.
805 In stating these figures I am certainly conscious of the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. Fitch) and the hon. Members for Bromsgrove and Redditch (Mr. Miller) and Ashford (Mr. Speed), which were in many respects cogent and informed, about the advantages of mobility which have been brought to all sections of the population by the revolution in car transport over the last 20 years. I would say to the hon. Member for Ashford that our priorities remain the M25, access to the ports, and roads with a high industrial rating.
I have recently written to the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) on the subject of the quiet lorry. This was the particular concern of some Conservative Members when they were in office.
The hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Mr. Stanley) made an interesting speech on the subject of commuters. He will forgive me if I do not go into it in detail. We had two debates on the subject just before Christmas. Those debates were replied to by my right hon. Friend and myself. I note the hon. Member's point about the crucial relationship between take-home pay and the cost of the season ticket.
My hon. Friends the Members for Derby, South (Mr. Johnson), Preston, North and Sunderland, South (Mr. Bagier), and the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) referred to the coordination of transport policy. Part of the answer here, as my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe (Mr. Ellis) so wisely said, is that we are building from the bottom. Our Transport Act 1968 created the PTAs and the executives and gave them the duties of securing a properly integrated transport system. There are some very good examples of the progress made since then. For example, there is the Tyne and Wear Metro. Another is the bus-rail interchanges which are being built in many areas. The Midlands travel card is a good example of co-ordination of the right kind.
Last October my right hon. Friend and the Greater London Council set up the London Rail Advisory Committee to consider investment and general fares issues, as well as operational matters and 806 interchange facilities. That is a further example of a co-ordinated approach to transport policy.
At national level the issues are different in character. My hon. Friends will have noted the proposal in the consultation document for a study of inter-urban passenger demands. Preparatory work for that study is in hand.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newton (Mr. Evans) challenged the consultation document on the ground that it takes no account of EEC policy and the effects of that policy on costs. If that were so, his point would be correct. However, in considering the balance between road and rail, despite the admitted difficulties of securing comparable figures, the document states, in paragraph 8.3 that even the "cumulative effect" of all the major EEC policies, such as drivers' hours and other matters, would beunlikely to alter radically the distribution between road and rail.That gives some idea of the situation.
§ Mr. Horam
There are problems about quantifying the figures now, but I shall write to my hon. Friend about that matter. There are difficulties of comparability, but we shall do our best.
The right hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) and the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) will, I hope, forgive me when I say that their remarks have been noted by the Minister of State, Scottish Office, and the Under-Secretary of State for Wales. My hon. Friend unavoidably could not be here, but he will take account of the remarks which have been made when he reads Hansard and will write to the hon. Member for Carmarthen on the specific points which he made.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe referred to the ferry on the Humber. Any decisions to withdraw any of the British Railways services involved on the Humber—either the ferry 807 or the linking rail services to New Holland—can be taken only under procedures laid down in the Transport Acts. Those procedures ensure that local interests shall have an opportunity of making known their views before any final decisions are reached. I know of no proposals by the British Railways Board to discontinue any services on the Humber crossing.
The hon. Member for Sutton Cold-field (Mr. Fowler) and other Opposition Members referred to the allocating of British Railways' costs. That is not a new point. The study by the National Economic Development Office on the nationalised industries brought out the importance of that matter. That study was published last year. All Governments have encountered problems in moving towards that desirable end. I think that most concern has been expressed about the densely packed commuter lines of the South-East. How can we allocate the costs of the Borough Market Junction, which is used by many services? Even the 1968 Act, which dealt with this matter more thoroughly than it had been considered before, did not distinguish between services in the South-East because of the difficulty of doing so. Obviously the British Rail-ways Board and the Government are looking at this problem in a positive way.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South referred to remarks made by Lieutenant-Colonel McNaughton. I ask him to look at those remarks in their true context. I have arranged for a copy of the lecture to be placed in the Library of the House so that hon. Members can look at it.
Our aim in the forthcoming White Paper will be to mark out a secure, long-term rôle for the railways. There are a number of areas where railways, if operated and marketed with efficiency and planned for with skill, have a clear advantage over other modes of transport and should have a solid and viable future.
Like every other part of transport the railways need to adapt to change. But they have the ability to do so. On my appointment I was caricatured in The Economist as a "railway enthusiast". I am indeed—after so many years spent travelling by train between London and 808 Newcastle, how could I not be? But I know that there are solid grounds for my enthusiasm.
The hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield and other hon. Members raised the important problem of transport in rural areas. The first essential is to give priority, within the resources that we can afford for bus revenue support, to keep essential but uneconomic conventional bus services going in rural areas. This is something that we have encouraged county councils to do as an immediate step. For 1977–78 we therefore accepted for Transport Supplementary Grant purposes about £37 million—at November 1975 prices—for bus revenue support in the shire counties. That is very nearly the whole of what we were asked for.
A second line of approach is for county councils and operators to exercise the kind of creative effort to which I have referred in order to rejig conventional services in to something better suited to demand. If present trends continue we shall have to look at unconventional services, and that raises the question of licensing. The arguments here should be examined carefully, but I would remind hon. Members that we still have far more bus services than neighbouring countries, despite a similar level of car ownership. Moreover, if our problem is that one bus is only carrying half-a-dozen people it would take the most doctrinaire supporter of universal competition to suggest that the solution was to have two buses carrying three each.
Traffic commissioners are not always totally preoccupied with services between London and Moscow. We should not throw the baby out with the bath water. Present licensing arrangements do have some odd side-effects and prevent us from using some of the possible unconventional methods. The problem is how to ease restrictions on initiative and experiment dictated by the needs of particular areas without losing the orthodox bus service, which is still the right thing for many country routes.
It is to find answers to this that we are setting up the rural transport experiments. In four areas of Great Britain we are first looking at ways of improving normal bus services, within the same resources and then filling the gaps with unconventional services—post buses, 809 school buses, car-pooling, minibuses, unconventional taxi services—and then monitoring the results. The Passenger Vehicles (Experimental Areas) Bill that we shall be introducing shortly will enable the experiments to be conducted without being cramped by the existing licensing system.
An hon. Member of the Opposition asks why we did not do that in 1974 or 1975. A more pertinent question would be to ask why it was not done in 1973 or 1972. This is the right pragmatic approach, looking at the problems on the ground. If the Opposition had not gone ahead with their all-or-nothing policy when they were in office, we would have made far more progress on the matter than we have done over the last few years.
The hon. Member for Carshalton (Mr. Forman) raised the question of blight. This is a problem that has concerned us all when studying urban road building. We must look long and hard before building a road and we must fit it into its surroundings sensitively. The M6 has been mentioned as a good example of
|Division List No. 42 [See c. 707]|
|Division No. 42.]||AYES||[7.3 p.m.|
|Anderson, Donald||Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)||John, Brynmor|
|Archer, Peter||Ennals, David||Johnson, James (Hull West)|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Evans, Fred (Caerphilly)||Johnson, Walter (Derby S)|
|Ashton, Joe||Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen)||Johnston, Russell (Inverness)|
|Atkinson, Norman||Evans, loan (Aberdare)||Jones, Barry (East Flint)|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Evans, John (Newton)||Jones, Dan (Burnley)|
|Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)||Ewing, Harry (Stirling)||Kaufman, Gerald|
|Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood)||Faulds, Andrew||Kelley, Richard|
|Bates, Alf||Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Kerr, Russell|
|Booth, Rt Hon Albert||Foot, Rt Hon Michael||Kilroy-Silk, Robert|
|Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur||Forrester, John||Kinnock, Neil|
|Bradley, Tom||Freeson, Reginald||Lambie, David|
|Brown, Ronald (Hackney S)||Garrett, John (Norwich S)||Lamond, James|
|Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green)||Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)||Latham, Arthur (Paddington)|
|Canavan, Dennis||George, Bruce||Lipton, Marcus|
|Carmichael, Nell||Gilbert, Dr John||Litterick, Tom|
|Clemitson, Ivor||Ginsburg, David||Loyden, Eddie|
|Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol)||Golding, John||Lyon, Alexander (York)|
|Coleman, Donald||Gould, Bryan||Lyons, Edward (Bradford W)|
|Colquhoun, Ms Maureen||Graham, Ted||Mabon, Rt Hon Dr J. Dickson|
|Cook, Robin F. (Edin C)||Grant, John (Islington C)||McDonald, Dr Oonagh|
|Corbett, Robin||Grocott, Bruce||McElhone, Frank|
|Cowans, Harry||Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||MacFarquhar, Roderick|
|Cox, Thomas (Tooting)||Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)||Mackintosh, John P.|
|Craigen, Jim (Maryhill)||Harper, Joseph||Maciennan, Robert|
|Crawshaw, Richard||Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C)|
|Crowther, Stan (Rotherham)||Hart, Rt Hon Judith||Madden, Max|
|Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh)||Hayman, Mrs Helene||Marks, Kenneth|
|Davidson, Arthur||Hooley, Frank||Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)|
|Davies, Bryan (Enfield N)||Horam, John||Maynard, Miss Joan|
|Davies, Denzil (Llanelli)||Howell, Rt Hon Denis (B'ham, Sm H)||Meacher, Michael|
|Davis, Clinton (Hackney C)||Hoyle, Doug (Nelson)||Mendelson, John|
|Deakins, Eric||Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey)||Millan, Rt Hon Bruce|
|Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)||Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)|
|Dell, Rt Hon Edmund||Hunter, Adam||Miller, Mrs Millie (Ilford N)|
|Dormand, J. D.||Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford)||Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)|
|Douglas-Mann, Bruce||Jackson, Colin (Brighouse)||Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)|
|Dunnett, Jack||Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)||Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick|
|Edge, Geoff||Jay, Rt Hon Douglas||Newens, Stanley|
|Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE)||Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)||Noble, Mike|
§ this. We should not keep schemes alive when the chances of them being completed are almost nil. In Liverpool, one-third of the land investigated in an inner area study was found to be set aside for road schemes that were years from realisation. The Government have asked local authorities to study their proposals for roads that are not planned for starts before 1978, with the object of releasing land.
§ There is a rôle for all of us in transport, whether we are politicians, administrators, operators, critics, or simply passengers. But it must be a creative rôle. There is a pronounced tendency in this area for the continual re-statement of entrenched positions. That will not do, because if it persists, we shall not solve our problems in a way that we like. And, if we do not solve them in a way we like, I remind the House that they will be solved for us in a way that we do not like.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That this House takes note of the Consultation Document on Transport Policy.
|Ogden, Eric||Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert||Weetch, Ken|
|Orbach, Maurice||Shore, Rt Hon Peter||Weitzman, David|
|Ovenden, John||Sillars, James||White, Frank R. (Bury)|
|Parker, John||Silverman, Julius||Whitehead, Phillip|
|Pavitt, Laurie||Skinner, Dennis||Whitlock, William|
|Penhaligon, David||Small, William||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Phipps, Dr Colin||Spearing, Nigel||Willey, Rt Hon Frederick|
|Prescott, John||Spriggs, Leslie||Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)|
|Price, C. (Lewisham W)||Stallard, A. W.||Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)|
|Price, William (Rugby)||Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)||Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)|
|Radice, Giles||Stoddart, David||Williams, Sir Thomas (Warrington)|
|Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S)||Strang, Gavin||Wilson, Rt Hon Sir Harold (Huyton)|
|Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)||Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley||Wilson, William (Coventry SE)|
|Roderick, Caerwyn||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Rodgers, Rt Hon William (Stockton)||Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)||Woodall, Alec|
|Rooker, J. W.||Tierney, Sydney||Woof, Robert|
|Roper, John||Tomlinson, John||Young, David (Bolton E)|
|Rose, Paul B.||Walden, Brian (B'ham, L'dyw'd)|
|Ryman, John||Walker, Terry (Kingswood)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Sandelson, Neville||Ward, Michael||Mr. peter Snape and|
|Sedgemore, Brian||Watkins, David||Mr. James Tinn.|
|Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South)||Watkinson, John|
|Adley, Robert||Gorst, John||Page, Richard (Workington)|
|Alison, Michael||Gow, Ian (Eastbourne)||Pardoe, John|
|Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne)||Grant, Anthony (Harrow C)||Parkinson, Cecil|
|Baker, Kenneth||Griffiths, Eldon||Pattie, Geoffrey|
|Bell, Ronald||Grylls, Michael||Percival, Ian|
|Berry, Hon Anthony||Hall, Sir John||Raison, Timothy|
|Biffen, John||Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)||Rathbone, Tim|
|Body, Richard||Hannam, John||Rawlinson, Rt Hon Sir Peter|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Hawkins, Paul||Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal)|
|Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown)||Hodgson, Robin||Renton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts)|
|Boyson, Dr Rhodes (Brent)||Holland, Philip||Renton, Tim (Mid-Sussex)|
|Braine, Sir Bernard||Hooson, Emlyn||Rhodes James, R.|
|Brittan, Leon||Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||Ridley, Hon Nicholas|
|Brockiebank-Fowler, C.||Howell, David (Guildford)||Rifkind, Malcolm|
|Bulmer, Esmond||Hunt, David (Wirral)||Roberts, Wyn (Conway)|
|Butler, Adam (Bosworth)||Hurd, Douglas||Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)|
|Carlisle, Mark||Irving, Charles (Cheltenham)||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)|
|Cnalker, Mrs Lynda||James, David||Rost, Peter (SE Derbyshire)|
|Channon, Paul||Johnson Smith, G. (E Grinstead)||Sainsbury, Tim|
|Churchill, W. S.||Jones, Arthur (Daventry)||Scott, Nicholas|
|Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)||Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine||Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)|
|Clark, William (Croydon S)||Kimball, Marcus||Shepherd, Colin|
|Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||King, Tom (Bridgwater)||Shersby, Michael|
|Clegg, Walter||Knight, Mrs Jill||Silvester, Fred|
|Cooke, Robert (Bristol W)||Knox, David||Sims, Roger|
|Cope, John||Lawrence, Ivan||Sinclair, Sir George|
|Corrie, John||Le Marchant, Spencer||Smith, Dudley (Warwick)|
|Costain, A. P.||Lester, Jim (Beeston)||Speed, Keith|
|Craig, Rt Hon W. (Belfast E)||Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Spicer, Michael (S Worcester)|
|Crowder, F. p.||McAdden, Sir Stephen||Stanley, John|
|Dean, Paul (N Somerset)||Macfarlane, Neil||Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)|
|Dodsworth, Geoffrey||MacGregor, John||Stradling Thomas, J.|
|Durant, Tony||McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)||Taylor, R. (Croydon NW)|
|Dykes, Hugh||Madel, David||Tebbit, Norman|
|Eden, Rt Hon Sir John||Marten, Neil||Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret|
|Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke)||Mates, Michael||Thomas, Rt Hon P. (Hendon S)|
|Emery, Peter||Mather, Carol||Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon)|
|Eyre, Reginald||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin||Viggers, Peter|
|Fairgrieve, Russell||Mayhew, Patrick||Walder, David (Clitheroe)|
|Farr, John||Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove)||Wall, Patrick|
|Finsberg, Geoffrey||Moate, Roger||Walters, Dennis|
|Fisher, Sir Nigel||Montgomery, Fergus||Weatherill, Bernard.|
|Fletcher, Alex (Edinburgh N)||Morris, Michael (Northampton S)||Whitelaw, Rt Hon William|
|Fookes, Miss Janet||Morrison, Charles (Devizes)||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Forman, Nigel||Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester)||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'f'd)||Neubert, Michael||Wood, Rt Hon Richard|
|Fry, Peter||Newton, Tony|
|Godber, Rt Hon Joseph||Nott, John||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Goodhart, Philip||Onslow, Cranley||Mr. Nigel Lawson and|
|Goodhew, Victor||Page, John (Harrow West)||Sir George Young.|
|Goodlad, Alastair||Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)|