HC Deb 09 March 1977 vol 927 cc1394-5
15. Mr. Robert Rhodes James

asked the Secretary of State for Transport whether he will make a statement on the annual percentage growth of public expenditure on transport since 1973.

Mr. William Rodgers

Public expenditure on inland surface transport in Great Britain, excluding loans to nationalised industries, increased by 13 per cent. between 1973–74 and 1974–75 and by a further 1 per cent. in 1975–76. It has declined by about 3 per cent. in 1976–77.

Mr. Rhodes James

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that reply, but is he aware that it is the massive switch since 1973 from investment to subsidy that has created such long-term problems in the economy of the nation? What is he going to do about it?

Mr. Rodgers

One of the problems in recent years is the consequences of the period when natural price increases were held back, in the early 1970s, but I acknowledge the point that if investment were to be neglected, and if revenue support were to be open-ended, we could not have improvements in the transport system. These matters will be discussed in the White Paper.

Mr. Bagier

Has my right hon. Friend had representations from British Railways about the investment programme? Are British Railways satisfied with it since 1973, and even with the forward projections for the next three or four years?

Mr. Rodgers

I have had no specific representations from British Railways about the investment programme, but it is a matter that I discuss with them from time to time, and I was pleased to make a decision, in advance of the White Paper, some weeks ago to let the £80 million investment in the Bedford-St. Pancras line go ahead. But the level of investment is certainly central in considering the future of the railways.

Mr. Temple-Morris

May I support the point put earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry) by putting to the right hon. Gentleman that one of the most effective ways of controlling and continually surveying public expenditure is by Select Committee of the House? I know the right hon. Gentleman's difficulties over this, but does he appreciate that there is much support for that proposition, or at least much thought about it on both sides of the House? Does he also appreciate that there is lack of debating time for transport matters and that a Select Committee would largely get over that fact, which is frequently used to criticise this House by various protest lobbies in transport?

Mr. Rodgers

I think that the hon. Gentleman is unwittingly confusing two possible functions for a Select Committee. There is the Select Committee on Expenditure, which has had a distinguished record since its establishment. It is open to the House to decide whether and in what way it might be used for some of the purposes that the hon. Gentleman has in mind.