HC Deb 21 November 1977 vol 939 cc1172-240

7.2 p.m.

Mr. Norman Fowler (Sutton Cold-field)

I beg to move, That this House condemns the Government's handling of transport policy. I shall try to be reasonably brief as I know that many hon. Members on both sides wish to take part in the debate, and I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will agree to fairly short winding-up speeches at the close.

I should make clear at the outset that the charge we level against the Government relates to their whole period of office of almost four years and not to just one period of their administration. The charge is directed against a succession of Transport Ministers, not just the present incumbents. It certainly includes the Secretary of State, but it includes his predecessors, too, as well as colleagues in the present Government.

Moreover, although the Opposition have put down the motion, criticism of the Government's transport policy is by no means confined to this side of the House. The proceedings of the Labour Party conference are always hard to interpret, but it seems reasonably clear that most of the delegates at this year's conference would have found no difficulty in voting for our motion.

According toThe Guardian, this is what happened. The hon. Lady the Member for Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor) was in the chair. When she called the Secretary of State, he made his way to the rostrum to the accompaniment of jeers and boos. It is one thing to get the bird after one has spoken, but one can only reflect that it takes a certain amount of application to get it before saying a word. The Secretary of State then spoke, and such was the persuasive effect of his address that the hon. Member for Eton and Slough, a fair-minded lady, responded in the only way she knew how—by turning off the Secretary of State's microphone. Taking this subtle hint, the right hon. Gentleman returned to his seat, to the accompaniment of more jeers, and when the motion which sought to reject the Government's White Paper on transport policy was put to the vote it was overwhelmingly carried.

I do not wish to jump to hasty conclusions. Perhaps that was the best reception the Secretary of State has had at a Labour Party conference for years. But what is clear beyond doubt is that the Government's transport policy has been rejected by the Labour Party itself, and doubtless many hon. Members on the Government Benches will be voting with us in the Division tonight.

However, be that as it may, the Government know that they do not carry their own party in support of their transport policy, and for good reason. What has been the Government's approach? Basically, the Secretary of State's own view is that transport policy is all very difficult and there are arguments both ways. If anyone thinks that I am exaggerating, let him read the right hon. Gentleman's article inLabour Weekly of last July. The most the Secretary of State could find to say about his job was that it was a bed of nails, and he went on to say this of his policy: It is never possible to please all of the people all of the time. In transport it is becoming difficult to please anyone in any way at all. That is his commentary on his own policy—and who am I to argue?—but by a Freudian slip he got the quotation wrong. The actual quotation should be you can not fool all the people all of the time". If the right word is inserted, one at least makes sense of the right hon. Gentleman's view, which is that in transport it is becoming difficult to fool anyone in any way at all.

Yet that is precisely what the Labour Party has sought to do, because no one can reasonably reconcile what it said at the time of the last General Election with what it is saying now. In 1974 Labour promised a massive shift of freight from road to rail. The consultation document of 1976 referred to this as a pipe dream. The White Paper said that it was not a sensible long-term aim. In 1974 the Labour Party promised an integrated transport policy. The Government now reject that.

Thus, the Government have abandoned one or two of their more untenable positions, and we certainly welcome that, but the trouble is that in that rejection they have not yet found a transport policy.

The result has been stalemate—thousands upon thousands of words but precious little action. The outcome has been four wasted years in transport policy in which delay has followed delay, and nowhere has this been clearer than in the question of rural transport.

It was to help ease the specific problem of rural transport that my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton), when he was Minister for Transport Industries, brought forward his Road Traffic Bill of 1973. In January 1974 the Bill had its Second Reading. Three clauses in the Bill introduced reforms in the licensing system. For example, they permitted the development of minibus services and the giving of lifts for payment. They were moderate reforms. Indeed, the major complaint of the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley), who led for the then Opposition on transport matters, was as follows: We would have liked to see something more dramatic to meet the problems of public transport, especially in rural areas. A Labour Back Bencher, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Kelvingrove (Mr. Carmichael), intervened in the debate to say that he hoped that there will not be too many pettifogging regulations about the use of minibuses."—[Official Report, 30th January 1974; Vol. 868, c. 473–4.] In the event, what took place? A General Election intervened and the progress of the Bill was brought to an end. When the Labour Party came to power it reintroduced the Bill, but with one exception. It left out the clauses on de-licensing. The party which a few weeks previously had talked of dramatic solutions now turned its back on all reform, while, with true irony, the Back Bencher who said that there should not be too many pettifogging regulations was the very same junior Minister who argued against the amendments to the Bill to have the delicensing proposals reinserted.

That was the history of the matter at that stage. For the next two years the Government did precisely nothing. The right hon. Member for Sheffield, Park was awoken from his transport slumbers and gave way to the hon. Member for Dudley, East (Dr. Gilbert). Eventually, in November 1975, there came a dramatic Government announcement. A committee was to be set up to consider the problems of rural transport. That was from the party which had complained that progress on rural transport had not been sufficiently dramatic. Yet such was the priority—even at that stage—given to that committee that it took seven months for the committee to meet for the first time.

It is this that we complain about in Government policy, that delay has followed delay. Now, in 1977, the Government say that there is an urgent case for reforming the traffic licensing law. The evidence has been there for years. The fact is that the Government have ignored that evidence.

We will wait to see what is contained in the Transport Bill. The Government have suggested that their solution is that the traffic commissioners should be bound to take note of county council transport plans. Our view is that it will have to go much further than that so that it is made clear that the county councils' review should take precedence.

We in this country must be far more adventurous with new transport services. For example, there is no reason why there should not be experiments with commuter coach services, but for this to happen we must have a Department of Transport which is committed to reform. In the United States the Department of Transportation has just published a 66-page book, on innovation in public transportation. The amount of innovation carried out by the Government here could comfortably get on to the back of a postcard.

Mr. Ronald Atkins (Preston, North)

The hon. Gentleman has mentioned that in the United States a book has been published on this matter. He complains about the Government not taking action. A fair question is, what action has occurred in the United States? I found that commuter traffic in the United States was deplored by the Americans themselves. Will the hon. Gentleman give us examples?

Mr. Fowler

The examples I would give the hon. Gentleman are in the sector between public transport and private transport, which is what essentially we are talking about—the minibus coach service, van sharing, car pools and other things which are being experimented with in the United States. The hon. Gentleman is right about the conventional services. Where he is wrong is about the more unconventional services. What I am arguing is that we should be far more adventurous in experimenting with those more unconventional services and going forward. That is the point, and I should have thought that even this Government could grasp that.

So there is no question but that the Government have delayed and delayed. I suggest that politically the Government have deceived. The prime example here is what the Government referred to as local devolution, putting decisions down to the local level. The White Paper is thick with policies of that kind, but the question is, what is the Government's purpose? They declare that their aim is to give more responsibility to local people. The suspicion is that they are trying to pass the buck, to shift the blame for any inadequacies in transport provision.

That suspicion has been established by a letter sent by Mr. Roger Liddle, the Special Adviser to the Secretary of State, to leaders of Labour groups on county councils in England. I have a copy of the letter here. Included amongst the letters, he sent one marked "personal" to the home address of Mr. E. G. Barratt of the Buckinghamshire County Council. The only trouble with the Secretary of State's information is that Mr. Barratt is not a Labour leader but the Conservative leader of the Buckinghamshire County Council.

I think that in the interests of open government it would be right for me to publicise further the contents of this letter. I see that the Secretary of State nods in agreement. It is up to him to put the letter in the Library. If he does not, I will. The nub of the letter is in the last paragraph, because this spells out what the Secretary of State sees as the purpose of his policy and it has precious little to do with local devolution.

The letter says this: The success of the White Paper policy will depend a great deal on the extent to which local parties' groups capitalise on the opportunities now open to them. Bill "— that is, the Secretary of State— has written personally to our national organisers to let them know that he would be willing to help in this by speaking at meetings during the autumn and winter. So the success of the White Paper is measured not on how it helps local councils, even less on how it improves local transport, but on how local Labour Party groups can capitalise on the opportunities now open to them. Therefore, when the Secretary of State and his Under-Secretary turn, as they will, to attack the shire counties, the public should remember that this is part of an orchestrated campaign to discredit the councils. It has nothing to do with transport policy. It has everything to do with capitalising on what they see as political opportunities.

Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne)

Will my hon. Friend tell the House upon which writing paper this letter was written?

Mr. Fowler

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The letter went out on the writing paper of the Secretary of State for Transport, and presumably it went out in the official way. Apparently neither the Secretary of State nor the Prime Minister considers there to be anything exceptional in that pursuit.

What the Secretary of State has said in the letter and what he has laid down is not a plan for transport. It is an attempt to pass the buck, and as such and as revealed in the letter it is an attempt which should be rejected with contempt. The Secretary of State stands condemned by the words of his own Special Adviser.

When it comes to the Secretary of State's major policy in this area—the shifting of financial responsibility to the local councils for railway services—it has been overwhelmingly rejected both inside and outside the railway industry. I know of no one who actually agrees with it. The plan is regarded as so absurd that even the Liberal Party has condemned it.

There is one further point I wish to put on railway policy. All too often the person who gets missed out of the railways debate is the user of the railways—the passenger or the customer with goods to move. That is why we have called for publication of the different costs of the railway services so that passengers, for example, know what those costs are—a position which, amidst some floundering around, the Under-Secretary seemed to accept last Friday.

It is because of the importance that we place on passengers that we have stressed that, as two-thirds of the costs of the railways are the costs of wages and salaries, unrealistic settlements can only push up fares further and force passengers off the railways. With the ASLEF negotiations just beginning, I hope that the Secretary of State will make his position clear on that.

It is for the same reason that we want to see strong representation for the railway user through the transport users consultative committees. On this, the Government's record deserves examination. The committees exist to receive and investigate complaints from the public, and, according to the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection, when he is making appointments of the chairmen of the area and central committees he looks for robust and independent champions of the user". How extraordinary it is, therefore, that systematically these jobs have gone to avowed Labour Party members both at the area level and at the national level. Let us take the chairman of the central committee—the most important chairmanship. Whom did the Government choose for the users' "robust and independent champion" there? They chose Mr. Frank Higgins, the former Labour chairman of Nottinghamshire County Council's environmental committee. He had been one of the chief authors of the Nottingham parking plan which was overwhelmingly rejected by the local users and a member of the board of one of the biggest nationalised transport providers in the country—the National Bus Company.

It is impossible to take seriously Ministers—the Secretary of State was, of course, party to that decision; indeed, for all I know he may well have suggested Mr. Higgins—who act in that way. In making these appointments rewards for the party faithful, it seems to me that the Government have devalued the work of these committees and weakened the position of transport users.

That is what the Government have done—or, more often, what they have omitted to do. What plans do they have for the future? When the Secretary of State made his statement in the House on the White Paper—I give him credit that he does not deserve—he made no mention of the nationalisation of road haulage. The House will remember that the Secretary of State, in his way, did not allow Members to see the White Paper before he made his statement. Having seen the White Paper, we all know the reason for that.

But in the White Paper the pledge remains. There is just one line saying that it remains the Government's intention that there should be an extension of public ownership in road haulage. Let us be clear that that pledge remains. If, God forbid, a Labour Government with a majority were returned again, this pledge could be implemented.

I say this to the Liberal Party. The trouble with its policy of trusting the so-called moderates in the Labour Party is that it is not succeeding in changing policy. If the Liberals believe otherwise, they are deceiving themselves. All they are doing is to sustain a Government and a party who regard them with scarcely disguised contempt. If the Liberals support this Government, they must take the consequences of that support—and that includes policies like sustaining nationalisation of road haulage.

Thus the Government wobble towards their four-year mark. We shall have a Transport Bill which, if the Press is to be believed, will give one or two sops to the right hon. Gentleman's own side, like the majority ownership of Freightliner. Even on his Transport Bill, however, the Secretary of State has not been able to get his own way on, for example, road safety.

I am no supporter of compulsion on seat belts, but it seems to me that the compromise solution which the Government have come up with is derisory and must dismay even supporters of compulsion. For England, Wales and Scotland there will be no compulsion. For Northern Ireland there will be compulsion. Not only is that objectionable on constitutional grounds; it seems to me extraordinary to place a new burden on what must be the most overworked police force in the United Kingdom.

Of course, the fact is that the Secretary of State has been overruled in the Cabinet on the ground that compulsion would be unpopular in election year. What new goody do they unveil for our delight? There are to be new restrictions on parking, mentioned in the White Paper but spelt out in their generally unpublicised consultation document. There are plans which include the control of office car parks, the sale of permits and measures of enforcement described in their consultation document as being plans which involve the formation of a new enforcement body, duly authorised officers, neither policemen nor traffics wardens, with powers to enter private premises. They are the plans on which the Government are consulting in pursuance of their transport policy. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Bagier) does not realise that this is the Government's transport policy he had better wake up, because that is exactly what it is.

Mr. Gordon A. T. Bagier (Sunderland)

All I was looking for from the hon. Gentleman was something from the document that he has apparently published called "The Right Track". We want to know what Conservative transport policy is about.

Mr. Fowler

I have given indications of that, and it is certainly spelt out in the Conservative Party's transport document. I urge the hon. Gentleman to use his eyes and to read the motion on the Order Paper. That motion condemns the Government's transport policy, and that is what we intend to do.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) will deal with a number of other issues such as roads policy and EEC regulations. [Interruption.] I am sorry that hon. Gentlemen do not like it, but they will have to keep quiet. What is the Government's record on transport policy? Basically, it can be summarised in this way. It is a record of delay and inaction. They have neither seriously tackled the problems of rural transport nor given to local authorities the support that they deserve. They have paid lip-service to the value of competition in the freight sector while remaining committed to further nationalisation. Their White Paper, in the words of the internationally respectedJournal of Transport Economics and Policy, is "a pretentious failure". And they still grope towards a policy.

Over the last four years the Government's transport policy has failed to match up to the demands of the nation. Above all, the Government have not served the interests of the users of transport—the passenger and the customer. If transport policy fails on that issue, it fails on everything. I urge the House to support the motion.

7.24 p.m.

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. William Rodgers)

The hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler) always shows signs of strain when he tries to work himself up into a temper. He is a very reasonable man and it is not his natural style. I think that his display of anger this evening has been a very shallow cover for a lack of anything much to say. I welcome the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Bagier), who rightly said that there was not one single piece of policy in what the hon. Gentleman had to say.

At the beginning of my speech I wish to say that far from the debate being an embarrassment to the Government—which is what I thought Supply Days were meant to be—the hon. Gentleman has put me in his debt. I am grateful to him and to the Opposition for allowing me a platform in Opposition time. It comes conveniently soon after the publication of the White Paper and also enables me to give the House a trailer for the transport Bill, which was mentioned in the Queen's Speech.

In the course of what I have to say about the Government's intentions I may answer some of the points that the hon. Gentleman has made, not necessarily to his satisfaction. Others will no doubt feature in the remarks of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary when he winds up the debate.

My problem today is not of speechless anxiety in the face of a ferocious attack by the hon. Gentleman. I am full of thoughts to vouchsafe to the House but I have too little time to disclose them if hon. Members on both sides are to have a chance of joining in.

I want to make three comments about the White Paper: first, about objectives; secondly, about public expenditure; and thirdly, about the respective role of central and local government, something upon which the hon. Member for Sutton Cold-field had certain remarks.

It is right that every Government should set objectives and judge their separate policies against them. In the simplest terms, the White Paper says that the transport policy should meet real needs by contributing to economic growth and national prosperity and by ensuring a reasonable level of personal mobility for everyone. At the same time, decisions must minimise the danger to our environment and take full account of the uncertainties of energy prospects.

These objectives sometimes conflict. I do not query that at all. I believe that the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield would find that that was the case if he were in my place. The Government of the day must find a balance in seeking to reconcile them. But no Government should accept either the blandishments of the lobbies, and there are many, or the simplicity of present trends. Transport policy must be flexible and it must evolve.

It follows that no Government can predict what share of the national resources should go to our transport system, say, 10 or 20 years ahead. That is why the White Paper refers to an annual White Paper on roads and periodic White Papers on the development of transport policy as a whole. I hope that the House will welcome this. I am personally very anxious that the extent and quality of the debate on transport which the consultation document and the present White Paper have provoked should go on. I believe that my Department is more open-minded about these issues than ever before.

Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch and Lymington)

The Secretary of State described his Department's policy as flexible and wanting to evolve. Can he explain why in Paragraph 145 of the White Paper, referring to the National Bus Company and the Scottish Transport Group, he says: the decision that they should remain as national organisations will secure their role for the future."? Is that to be flexible and evolutionary, or is the right hon. Gentleman absolutely determined that there should never be any change?

Mr. Rodgers

I am not determined that there will never be any change. That is something for the House to decide. But part of the task of the Government in the White Paper was to make decisions in order to present a degree of certainty to the industry. I am sure the House will recognise that evolution produces new circumstances and the need for change, and I think the hon. Gentleman will see the logic and reasonableness of what I have said. I have said that because no one knows what resources will be available.

For the present public expenditure on transport must remain within the figures in the public expenditure White Paper as modified by transport's share of the recent construction industry package. I regret this necessity. In the current year 1977–78 I shall have significantly less to spend than I had in 1976–77, and I cannot plan on any significant increase for the rest of the decade. But I accept the wider priorities that this implies both for other claims on public expenditure and for taxation.

Hon. Members may argue whether the priorities of the White Paper within the total of transport spending are right, although the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield had nothing to say on this essential matter. But if hon. Members believe that we should be spending altogether more—on new motorways, road maintenance or on revenue support to keep bus and rail fares down—they must say where it is to come from. Should we cut spending on education, housing or social security? Alternatively, should we raise taxation or maintain it at its present level in order to divert resources from private consumption? This is a dilemma that cannot be fudged by those who want the Government to spend more on some element in our programme.

Let me say this about rail fares: I fully understand the burden that increases represent for those who regularly use the railways. Although the average household in this country spends less than £30 a year on rail travel, quite a few people spend as much as that every month. There is no way of shielding the traveller from inescapable increases in costs. As inflation eases, I hope that we shall experience smaller increases than we have known lately. Meanwhile, I am glad that the British Railways Board held fares for a full calendar year without any increase. In fact, there was very little loss of passengers as a result of last January's increase. On the inter-city routes the number of passengers is increasing—I hope that the House will welcome that—despite the Board's intention that this part of the network should pay its way without a subsidy.

I recognise the special problem of commuters. But commuter services, making a heavy demand on track and rolling-stock at peak periods, continue to receive significant subsidies. We have not imposed in the White Paper a specific financial objective for the commuter services in London and the South-East and we certainly believe that commuters should have a period of years to adjust fully to such increases as may be necessary.

But for commuters as for other rail passengers there is no escape from the dilemma I have already mentioned. Without increases in fares we should have to raise revenue support. The money would come from higher rates or taxes unless it was diverted from other spending programmes. The Government have no intention of following this course and the board—anxious to operate within what its chairman calls its "contract" with the Government—does not want it either.

I do not leave out the question of productivity. The White Paper mentions that over the years there have been notable improvements. The House should recognise and applaud these. But the White Paper also says: There must be continuing improvements in productivity and efficiency. There is no other way to secure the future of the railways I am content to rest on that, not only for the passenger side but for rail freight.

The White Paper marks a clear and deliberate shift towards a steady level of support for public transport. In particular it spells out the need to remedy the long-term neglect of our rural areas. This intention, despite the crochety remarks of the hon. Member this evening, was warmly welcomed by both sides of the House in the debate that we held on 2nd May last. There is now an obligation upon Government to ensure that it is fulfilled. I am sure that every hon. Member who believes that there should be an improvement in the rural situation will endorse that.

The White Paper emphasises the importance of local planning and choice. Local communities are best able to judge their particular needs and to describe how they can best be met. But this local option must be exercised within the resources available. The Government have a clear duty to lay down a framework of policy for the country as a whole.

This situation is not new. It arises annually—and I have heard no complaints about it—in the regular procedures for the distribution of transport supplementary grant, which largely stems from the highly unpopular local government reorganisation, for which we had no responsibility.

Mr. Arthur Jones (Daventry)

I wish to ask the Secretary of State about the responsibilities of the county councils. Is he prepared to accept a recommendation from the traffic commissioners that the National Bus Company should be required to surrender routes to private operators? I am thinking in particular of the rural areas.

Mr. Rodgers

The hon. Member raises an important point about the licensing system. I prefer not to comment on that now, because it does not arise directly from what I was saying about the local transport supplementary grant.

Mr. Arthur Jones

Certainly it does, on grounds of local accountability and responsibility.

Mr. Rodgers

I fully understand the hon. Member's concern. Perhaps the Under-Secretary of State might like to comment on that matter later.

I am dealing with a matter to which the House attaches great importance and which the hon. Member for Sutton Cold-field mentioned. He should listen carefully to what I am about to say. I shall not bother the House with all the details of the TSG settlement. It would be wrong to do so. I shall certainly not refer to individual counties, because I have yet to determine individual allocations. But, as I announced on Friday, I propose to introduce special arrangements to ensure that all support for rural bus services qualifies for TSG In this way I shall be helping counties to implement the White Paper's clear priority for public transport. In addition, within the total sums available for capital investment, I shall give preference to those counties whose policies take proper account of the priorities in the White Paper.

I shall be significantly less generous towards those who seem indifferent to rural needs in this respect. This means that, on balance and after taking account of each county's specific needs and circumstances, shire counties that spend more on buses will have more to spend on new road schemes. Those that fail to face up to their responsibilities for public transport will have less. Total expenditure on subsidies must be within the ceiling set out in Cmnd. 6721 and in the White Paper, which means that I cannot approve unlimited allocations for revenue support. There must be fair shares of what is available. Nevertheless, there will be no excuse for any counties cutting out socially necessary rural services. If they do so, it will be their choice and not mine, and I shall take it into account when deciding on future TSG settlements.

I now want to turn to the forthcoming transport Bill. The Second Reading will be the occasion to go into detail. Many highly desirable proposals in the White Paper cannot be the subject of legislation in this Session because there is no time. The Bill can deal only with those matters that are the most urgent and worth while.

However, I think that it may help the House if I indicate broadly—I emphasise "broadly" because the time will come, when the Bill is published, to examine it in detail—what its contents are likely to be. Part of the Bill will provide for continuing Exchequer support to the passenger business of the railways as envisaged in paragraph 223 of the White Paper and part will deal with the financial reconstruction of the National Freight Corporation, as promised in paragraph 238.

Otherwise I have in mind that it should provide for the preparation of county public transport plans and for some relaxation of existing public service licensing in order to help community buses and car sharing. These proposals are an essential part of our charter for rural areas.

We propose that the responsibility for public transport plans should be placed on county councils, but that in preparing them they should work closely with their district councils and with local public transport operators. In the course of preparation there should be an opportunity for everybody—trade unions, consumer bodies, and individual users of public transport—to comment and make suggestions.

I want this to lead to clear, comprehensive plans for the public transport network which meet the needs of people in each county, backed up by firm agreements between county councils and operators for services which need revenue support.

These agreements must be for a long enough period to give operators and users a reasonable degree of security, which is particularly needed for rural services. The relaxations on bus licensing will supplement the plans and agreements by permitting a much wider range of solutions to the needs of rural areas for which the conventional bus, even with subsidy, is not the right answer. I want to remedy that neglect, and these important and urgent measures provide the means to that end.

The Bill will also include measures to deal with dangerous offences, such as the overloading and inadequate maintenance of lorries, and car parking. But perhaps this also is the moment to mention two items which it will not contain.

The White Paper made certain proposals about cost-ineffective local railway services. This was one of the two "green" areas in the White Paper—the other referred to the prospect of a little Neddy for transport—where further consultations were promised in advance of final decisions. As the House knows—this came up in Question Time last Wednesday—these consultations have not yet begun. The question of legislation at the present time cannot, therefore, arise.

Then, on parking, the White Paper set out two decisions: to give local authorities power to license privately operated public car parks, a power which the Greater London Council alone at present enjoys and to give local authorities, including the GLC, power to control private non-residential car parking, which is known as PNR.

The hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield made great play with these proposals. He said that they were generally unpublicised, but, as he must surely remember, the proposal for PNR was raised in April 1976 in the consultation document. It is referred to in Paragraph 124 of the White Paper. There was a consultation document in July 1976 and the present consultation document was sent out on 25th August last. I do not know why the hon. Gentleman should think of it as in some way secretive. It was sent to some 500 organisations and copies have been in the Library of the House of Commons.

If I intended to conceal anything from hon. Members I certainly would not circulate the document on that scale or put it in the Library of the House. The hon. Gentleman may not like the proposals in the document, but there is no question at all but that I have been anxious to see open and free debate and have done all I can to ensure it. It just happens that some people have overlooked the import of these proposals and very late in the day—and I am sorry that the hon. Member may have neglected his duty in this respect—they are beginning to complain.

Mr. Norman Fowler

As the Secretary of State knows, his last remarks are totally untrue, since it was I who wrote to him to get the consultation document. I hope that he will therefore withdraw that remark. But why, if he is making such a play of publicising the matter, did he not release the contents of his consultation document to the Press, radio and television organisations? Would that not have been the normal way of publicising the proposals?

Mr. Rodgers

I think that I am right in saying that a number of newspapers have certainly had copies, but it has been freely available to anyone who wanted it. If the hon. Member wishes to pursue this matter, I shall be delighted. My case is powerful and he has none. The document has had a very wide circulation and if hon. Members would like copies, they can have them at any time. It is perfectly right that the House should discuss these matters. We all have a very large postbag, and I do not want to add to the burden of it. However, these consultation documents are available and I see no reason why hon. Gentlemen should not have them if they wish.

However, in spite of all that—and here I shall be disappointing the hon. Gentleman after the fuss he has made—in the interests of a short Bill, which I hope will command widespread support in the House, I do not propose to seek to legislate at this stage on PNR. Therefore, all the energy and fury that the hon. Gentleman has been bringing to this argument have been unnecessary in terms of the immediate future.

I am not proposing to legislate on PNR, but I intend to legislate on what I call POPP; in other words to extend the powers which only the GLC has at present, to license privately operated public car parks. This power was given to the GLC by the House of Commons some years ago and this is totally consistent with the approach of local option which underlies my White Paper and which, for that matter, is contained—and I hate to advertise the hon. Gentleman's little book—in references to traffic management in "The Right Track". Proposals on this will be in the Bill when it is published.

I referred earlier to the reconstruction of the National Freight Corporation. The House has been impatient to receive our proposals. I make no complaint. I regret that it has not been possible to bring them forward sooner than the forthcoming Bill. I must say frankly to the House—drawing now, I am ashamed to say, on ministerial experience in six different Departments, on-and-off over 13 years—that matters concerning the financial structure of public sector industries are some of the most difficult with which Ministers are required to deal. These are complex areas—I am not afraid to say that—which tax us all. It is not always easy to get them right.

However, the House may wish to know now that I have decided to transfer Freightliners into the 100 per cent. ownership of British Rail. The debate about the future of Freightliners has gone on long enough. Everyone has had an opportunity to express a point of view and I have considered these most carefully. In the interest of the business it is now time to end the argument and look for a period of certainty.

I know that Sir Daniel Pettit and his Board will be saddened by my decision. The NFC has done much to rid Freightliners of its deficit and pull the company through difficult trading conditions. I pay tribute to its achievement. But, similarly, I know that Mr. Peter Parker and the British Railways Board will welcome the challenge that the ownership of Freightliners will present.

I propose the transfer because I believe that over the recent past the Freightliner services have increasingly complemented, in terms of type of service, other British Rail services for general merchandise traffic, such as "Speedlink". It makes increasing sense that the Freightliner services should be marketed by British Rail alongside its other services within its own freight marketing organisation.

The recent report of the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries recommended that Freightliners should return to British Rail.

I recognise also that the great majority of Freightliners staff regard themselves primarily as railwaymen and fully support the return to British Rail. There are practical reasons for this in terms of wider career prospects as well as sentiment.

Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that even if Sir Daniel Pettit is saddened, there will be a general welcome in the country, because this is essentially a rail-oriented operation, in any event? Will he comment on the timetable which he envisages for this transfer?

Mr. Rodgers

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he says. The timetable will depend upon the publication and progress of the Bill. I think that it is in the interests of everyone that it should be as short a transition as possible, because if, a decision having been made, we want certainty, the House should ensure that the business prospers under its new owners. But it would be rash of me at the moment to suggest a date when the Bill should receive the Royal Assent. However, I would be looking for a date about July next year, if that could be achieved.

Mr. Gow

The Secretary of State says that he will be transferring Freightliners from the NFC to British Rail. Will he tell the House exactly what he means by that? Will it be a sale? If it is a sale, surely no parliamentary authority is required? NFC can sell it.

Mr. Rodgers

The hon. Gentleman is wrong in his reading of the statute. I do not believe for one moment that the House would tolerate a decision of this kind being made by a Minister without proper legislative authority. There is no way in which it can be transferred, and, of course, its transfer will be part of the total reconstruction of the NFC, which will be set out in detail in the Bill when it is laid before the House.

I must now seek to end my remarks, or I shall be trespassing too much on the time of hon. Members. However, there is one further point about Freightliners which is important. I shall expect the British Rail Board to be rigorous in the management of the company and ready to make any necessary changes. It will be important not only to develop existing profitable traffic but also, by effective marketing, to find more, because some unprofitable traffic may have to go. But I am confident that the board will maintain a close relationship with the NFC both in the transitional period and after.

As I said in commenting on the date for the transfer, the transfer does not promise an easy time either during the transition or thereafter, for the management or the employees of Freightliners. It provides, however, an opportunity for success in which everybody can share.

When I first heard that the Opposition had chosen to debate transport policy on a Supply Day, I was puzzled by their decision. The appearance on the Order Paper of the motion standing in the name of the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition left me no wiser. I confess that in his speech the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield confirmed me in my impression that the Opposition had made a mistake. The hon. Member was solicitous in seeking to protect me from my hon. Friends, from the Labour Party Conference and from virtually everyone else in sight. I have no need of his kindness or protection. I am happy to rest on the White Paper and the proposals for legislation that will follow.

7.53 p.m.

Mr. Peter Temple-Morris (Leominster)

I am very pleased at having been called to speak following the Secretary of State. This is the second time that I have followed him in our transport debates. The last occasion was when we debated rural transport. Let the right hon. Gentleman rest assured that there has been no mistake about the motion. We considered the Government's transport policy to be at fault. We consider it now, today, to be far too little and far too late.

Having said that, let me take up one or two matters that the Secretary of State has mentioned. Rural areas were discussed in our previous debate. I then gave my views to the House in some detail. However, I cannot quite stomach—this may go for some of my hon. Friends—the fact that for three years we have had nothing for rural transport, and now, suddenly, amidst a puff of smoke from the Treasury Bench, we have a charter for rural areas. It is the expression "a charter" to which I take exception, because we have a charter which has taken a great deal of time in the writing, and even now we wait breathlessly to see whether it contains anything that has not been promoted by the Opposition.

We wish to register firmly that the rural areas owe far more to Opposition Members, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral (Mr. Hunt), with his minibus Bill, and my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler), with his amendments to the experimental areas legislation, than to the Government. All of that was due to the Opposition. I hope that the hon. Member who will shortly be speaking for the Liberal Party, the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon), will at least acknowledge these matters, coming, as he does, from a rural area, and supporting, as he is, a most "unrural" Government.

Mr. David Penhaligon (Truro)

I thought that the hon. Gentleman had just indicated that matters were improving. Surely he would give the Liberal Party some credit for that.

Mr. Temple-Morris

I dare say that they are improving because a General Election is nigh. When the hon. Gentleman speaks in the House, it is usually to register the fact that he has made a representation to the Secretary of State which the Secretary of State has entirely ignored. That was the hon. Gentleman's position at the last Question Time—

Mr. Penhaligon


Mr. Temple-Morris

No. I do not want to take up undue time.

It falls to me to be the first Opposition Member to react to the Secretary of State's announcement about Freightliners. I dare say that most of us—there are hon. Members present on both sides who have had this matter out in Committee—view this decision with some foreboding. For some time we have admired the efforts of the NFC. The Secretary of State was kind enough to pay tribute to the NFC. However, our foreboding amounts to a fear, if not a downright suspicion, that this action is the result, no more and no less, of political pressure. Indeed, it goes against the 1968 Act, introduced by a Labour Government who, at that time, launched the whole inter-modal argument about which the House has had various discussions.

Allowing for the mentioned Select Committee report, let me say that this matter comes through from 1968, when this was set up by a Labour Government, to 1973, when the then Select Committee on Nationalised Industries again came down quite clearly and firmly against any trespassing on the premises—if that is the right way of putting it—of the NFC. Many hon. Members have asked for something positive tonight, and with regard to the NFC I think that it is high time that that body, having been made profitable by private enterprise-style management, should be handed back, at least in large part, to private capital and to private interests. To dismember it just because of political pressure is not good enough.

Mr. Ronald Atkins

Will the hon. Gentleman specify those parts that he would like to see denationalised?

Mr. Temple-Morris

I did not say that. I said that it should be handed back in large part to private capital. If the hon. Gentleman would read "The Right Track", a copy of which I shall lend to him during the debate, he would see that the solution that is advocated there is a BP-style solution—that private capital should have a stake of up to 49 per cent. Indeed, NFC was going so well that that would have been possible. That is the tragedy of tinkering away with its component parts, not least Freightliners, which was made profitable above the line by good management.

One of the reasons why NFC has been made profitable—I do not wish unduly to tread on any corns of Labour Members—is that because of its independence from British Rail it has been able to take, where economic, off rail and on to road. That is what Labour Members cannot stand. They want it merged, so that rail will have a complete monopoly. I hesitate to think for how long it will continue to be profitable.

There is one other point from the Secretary of State's speech to which I wish to refer. It concerns shire counties. Here I am speaking more as a rural constituency Member. It smacks somewhat of blackmail when shire counties are told that only if they spend more on buses—when many of them are resenting not only the lack of buses but the inefficiency of those that operate and the lack of a fluid and adaptable licensing system, which the Oppposition have advocated time and again—will they get more for their road schemes.

In these times of severe rate support cuts on the shire counties we see a reluctance in these areas to spend money and match the supplementary grant. That is understandable, bearing in mind the great calls on their money, particularly for social services and education. However, as a result our roads will suffer as these counties are responsible for controlling 95 per cent. of them.

Leaving the Secretary of State aside—much to his relief, I expect—I shall now make a few points of my own. The White Paper has been mentioned in detail and many of us see parallels with agriculture. The less the Government have to do, the more White Papers they put out. The debate on the White Paper is mentioned in various contexts, not least of all the parliamentary context. Most hon. Members will have heard my Select Committee argument before. Paragraph 285 of the White Paper reads: The Government's further proposals relate to Parliament and the public. Concern has been expressed in recent years that Parliament's opportunities to register its views on major issues affecting transport policy have been few and inadequate. It is fair to say that this year there have been more opportunities to debate transport matters than in the past. However, when we get the occasional debate it is impossible to query the details of transport policy. The same goes for a Standing Committee upstairs. It would take far longer than three hours to debate transport; indeed just to concentrate on the details of British Rails' avoidable cost argument—and what a jungle that can be—would take us days.

However, I believe that we are dealing with a subject which gives enormous scope for a mature bipartisan approach. The Government talk in the White Paper, when dealing with the road programme, about the possibility of not one little Neddy, but three to cover the whole transport spectrum. If there is to be a continuing debate, it should take place in this House. There is far too much conversation and discussion in governmental and quasi-governmental bodies outside this House, and that is not a tribute to us.

We have here a Secretary of State who has advocated a Select Committee in the past. We have a subject where we can have a departmental cover by way of a Select Committee, which is still a rare thing. Then I dare say it would not get into the troubles of the present situation caused by this Government's policy.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield mentioned nationalisation and paragraph 47 of the White Paper. It was mentioned in Question Time last week as well, but we did not get an answer. I hope that the answer will be given by the Under-Secretary when he replies tonight. Paragraph 47 says: It remains the Government's intention that there should be an extension of public ownership in road freight transport. In other words, if it makes a profit, nationalise it. We deplore that attitude. It is just another sop to Left-wing pressure within the Labour Party.

Mr. Adley

Perhaps the words "after the next election" should be inserted in that paragraph.

Mr. Temple-Morris

I am obliged to my hon. Friend. The paragraph also has the temerity to say that massive upheavals are costly and cause uncertain ties. What greater uncertainty can there be than going back along the road to nationalisation, with all its dreariness?

On the point about European legislation, I wish to draw the attention of the Under-Secretary to the fact that the Secretary of State was not too anxious to answer questions on this last week, and on the question of tachographs, in particular. It is nice to see that the Secretary of State is here; no doubt he has been remanded on bail from the European court. Perhaps with any luck that court will remove him from us before long if the proceedings continue.

I have no axe to grind on tachographs, but I believe that there is a lot of good to be had from them in the context of road safety and fairer competition. However, the more European rules and regulations we get, the more abuse we are likely to see—particularly from the cowboys or small operators. What disturbs us most is, not the Minister's decision on tachographs, but the fact that a decision appears to have been reached by the T and GWU in general and Mr. Alan Law in particular. That is not good enough. It is one thing to talk about confrontation; it is quite another to talk of downright submission by the Government to one faction of the population.

Mr. John Ellis (Brig and Scunthorpe)

Is the hon. Member aware of the T and GWU policy, and that it is the union, not Mr. Law, that has a policy on tachographs? The union's policy is well known, and the hon. Member should not make statements without knowing what the policy is.

Mr. Temple-Morris

I wish that Jack Jones would say that—or, if he has said it, I wish he would say it a little louder.

The roads programme has not yet been mentioned. It is mentioned broadly in these debates in terms of what the money is being spent on, and where it is coming from. But the roads programme comprises 95 per cent. of the £20 billion of road transport expenditure. Ninety per cent. of passenger mileage and 80 per cent. of freight traffic are by road. Public expenditure on the programme is declining by £400 million a year. We have had £23 million put back by the Chancellor, but this is not sufficient to get economic growth in the 1980s, which is vital.

A lot is said about economic growth, and the use to which North Sea oil revenues should be put, but if we are to have that growth we must have the roads to put the growth on. We must give priority to our roads. Paragraph 255 of the White Paper deals with the value for money to be spent on infrastructure, such as roads, over and above direct investment in industry.

Just as serious is the expenditure which should be devoted to road maintenance. There is no doubt that the way we are going now means that we are mortgaging our future. Our roads are deteriorating and the county councils' TPP statement made it quite clear last August that this was happening in county after county. Expenditure has been cut continuously from 1973 right up to 1980–81, yet there is more traffic on the roads, heavier vehicles, and all the associated problems.

I hope that if there is a change of Government soon our party will agree that this is an area where public expenditure is needed. I urge the Government to look again at this. When we talk about public expenditure, we at least have the political imagination not always to talk of depriving something else of money. We talk of giving people the encouragement and incentive to work harder, earn more, take home more through less taxation and increase production. This is where the money would come from if we were in power today.

8.9 p.m.

Mr. Tom Bradley (Leicester, East)

The Opposition motion condemns the Government's handling of transport policy. It was moved by the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler) in a rather feverish manner. I understand that he spent most of the recess writing a pamphlet designed to solve our transport problems. It was called "The Right Track". I tried to obtain a copy of this document and failed. I cannot believe it has been a sell-out and therefore I can only assume it has been withdrawn.

Mr. Norman Fowler

I could debate this matter ad infinitum, because the publication has been a sell-out. However, since I know the hon. Gentleman so well, I shall obtain for him a copy at the normal price of 60p.

Mr. Bradley

I shall certainly put the money on the board for the hon. Gentleman. I would not have been the least surprised if the publication had been withdrawn.

This evening we heard a speech from the hon. Gentleman that was very strong on accusation, but wretchedly thin on any possible alternative policy. This motion comes from a party that broke up the only real concept we have ever had of an integrated transport policy through the dismemberment of British Transport Commission, as that service was then named, by the sale of publicly owned lorries to private enterprise. We also remember the Conservatives' ad hoc approach to transport matters. They raided the Contingency Fund to assist British Rail over a problem and added a dash of doctrinaire treatment for Thomas Cook by hiving it off to private enterprise. However, the Labour Government soon after taking office produced the Railways Act 1974.

Mr. Peter Fry (Wellingborough)

Will the hon. Gentleman say whether Thomas Cook made losses in the public sector or the private sector?

Mr. Bradley

The hon. Gentleman should pay a visit to the Library. He will see that Thomas Cook was a profit-making concern when in the public sector.

As I was saying, the Labour Government produced the Railways Act 1974, which endeavoured to deal with the railways, finances on a more realistic basis than raiding the Contingency Fund. This Government also produced a consultative document on total transport policy and then a White Paper. In the recent Queen's Speech we were promised some detailed legislation, about which we have now been given further information by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport.

The hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield referred to this year's Labour Party Conference. I have an advantage over the hon. Gentleman since I was there at that conference and he was not.

Mr. Hal Miller (Bromsgrove and Red-ditch)

Does the hon. Member regard that as an advantage?

Mr. Bradley

I am chairman of the NEC transport committee and it was my duty to reply to the transport debate at that conference. The hon. Gentleman was a little unfair to my right hon. Friend, because he failed to mention when describing the Labour Party Conference and deploring my right hon. Friend's policy that the debate on transport at this year's Labour Party Conference focused on two narrowly drawn resolutions dealing with certain railway problems. They were not the kind of resolutions suitable for a wide-ranging transport debate.

Those resolutions rightly reflected the anxieties of the railway industry, an industry tormented by continual Government interference by both parties ever since the war. Nevertheless, I wish to emphasise that our conference did not discuss transport policy in its widest aspects. Therefore, it was unfair for the hon. Gentleman to mention that matter this evening.

Whatever one may think of the Labour Party's views at our conference, or the White Paper, one must agree that the White Paper is a vast improvement on the consultative document which preceded it. Let me give two principal examples in that respect. First, the White Paper has granted the bus industry a reprieve by a decision not to halve the national provision for bus revenue support, which had previously been foreshadowed in the consultative document and the public expenditure White Paper, Command 6721.

Secondly, the White Paper has removed the question mark over the future size and shape of our national railway network by making a clear commitment to maintain a national railway. It has rejected the notion that our rail system can be reduced to some mythical profitable core by cutting out one service after another, irrespective of the national interest. Surely we all agree that the railways have suffered an intolerable degree of Government interference over the years and therefore a natural nervousness persists throughout the industry.

It is all very well for Conservative Members to scoff at that remark, but I invested my life in the railway industry when I became an employee, and I know very well the turmoil created in the industry as one massive reorganisation followed another in the period after 1948. What is needed now is a boost to British Rail in the form of higher investment limits to enable it to provide a better service and attract more passengers.

A strong organisation base is needed in addition. Therefore it is right that Freightliners should be returned in its entirety to British Rail. It is also the most effective and practical way of achieving a meaningful degree of road-rail integration. My right hon. Friend's announcement tonight of the return of Freightliners to British Rail will be warmly welcomed throughout the Labour movement generally and the railway unions in particular.

However, there will be problems, and my right hon. Friend is right to say that we require speedy passage of those provisions. For the rail unions there will be many complex problems of renegotiation between one management and another in terms of pay structures and promotional opportunities, to mention only two factors.

Until we can achieve a nation-wide system of sensible, co-ordinated freight transport movements, the statement in Paragraph 180 of the White Paper, that there should be fair competition between road and rail, must be welcomed by everybody. Once such conditions have been set, so that all transport modes are paying their true costs, there can be no case for subsidies to freight carriers, road or rail. That much is accepted by the British Railways Board.

An improved and more secure railway system cannot, however, provide the answer to our transport problems in isolation. Road will always remain the dominant partner, but there is still plenty of scope to shift certain traffic to rail. I am glad that references to pipe dreams have been dropped by the Department.

Above all, we must not abandon the Labour Party's long-standing emphasis on co-ordination and integration. This is much more important than action at local level. Any moves that might lead to the handing over of responsibility for the future of many provincial and rural services to shire counties could lead only to the fragmentation of the national rail system and endanger the stability of the main trunk routes.

In any case, the past record of county councils leaves no room for optimism. There is no reason to believe that providing local authorities with wider powers will result in more effective planning and integration of services. Of course there is a need for local initiatives, but, without the type of controls and supervisory powers over planning and investment by a national transport planning authority envisaged by the TUC and Labour Party, there can be no guarantee that the aims of an efficient and co-ordinated system of inland transport will be met.

In my judgment my right hon. Friend is receptive to ideas. He said so again this evening. This is certainly not the time to pillory him. He wisely said that his own White Paper was not the last word on transport policy. I and my right hon. and hon. Friends have every confidence that he will produce a policy that will provide a less wasteful and more efficient transport system for our nation.

8.20 p.m.

Mr. Peter Fry (Wellingborough)

I wish to make two comments on the speech of the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bradley). First, I point out to him that the anxiety felt by the railway unions on the very narrow motion at the Labour Party Conference is echoed tonight by the much wider anxiety from the public about the lack of Government transport policy. That is why the Opposition tabled this motion.

The hon. Member also spoke about no subsidies for any form for freight. Do I understand him to mean that he would welcome a complete change in the accounting system of British Rail so that freight would cover the full share of its costs, not on the rather spurious device that it now uses?

Mr. Bradley indicated assent.

Mr. Fry

I wish to refer to some of the comments of the Secretary of State, who, I regret to say, has left the Chamber. What was most interesting about the right hon. Gentleman's speech was that he proved the necessity for the motion. He spent almost all his time talking about a transport Bill that we have not yet seen and a transport supplementary grant details of which the county councils have not yet seen. If ever there was a condemnation of Government policy it came from the Secretary of State's speech tonight. We heard more tonight about new policies than we have heard in the past four years. Therefore, the motion put down by my right hon. and hon. Friends has been totally justified.

The Secretary of State said he thought that the anger of my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler) was a little synthetic. I contend that if the right hon. Gentleman wishes to see real anger he should talk to commuters whose season tickets are to go up by 17 per cent. while their incomes are pegged at a 10 per cent. increase. He should go to talk to people in small villages and towns with heavy lorries rumbling past their doors who cannot have bypasses because of Government cuts. He should talk to people in rural areas who are becoming totally isolated because of the lack of public transport due to the Government's failure to take action on the licensing system. He will see anger there. There is plenty of anger for Ministers to discover if they wish.

Mr. Roger Moate (Faversham)

My hon. Friend has mentioned the anger of commuters. Does he not think that they would be even more angry if they heard the Secretary of State say that some commuters were "even paying £30 a month"? If the Secretary of State displays such ignorance and insensitivity, does that not explain why the Government have disregarded the true interests of the travelling public? Many commuters are paying £50 or £60 a month, and that is by no means exceptional.

Mr. Fry

My hon. Friend is correct. The latest increases come after savage increases in recent years.

My comments in this debate are made more in sorrow than in anger. The Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary have usually been most courteous and helpful within the constraints of the policy of almost total inertia which they seem to have been pursuing in the last few months. I hope that the Under-Secretary will pass on my remarks to his right hon. Friend.

I also feel considerable sympathy with them. They are merely making the latest move in the peculiar game of musical chairs in the Government and in the Department of Transport since Labour came to office. If the same determination had been shown in pursuing new policies as there has been in changing Ministers, this debate need not have been so censorious.

There has been some movement inside Government circles and it is interesting to see exactly what that movement has been. We began with the Labour Party's 1974 manifesto. I suppose that Labour Members would agree that the least said about that, the better. But, whereas the hon. Member for Leicester, East regarded the progression to the consultative document presumably with a certain amount of[...]orror—

Mr. Bradley

With reserve.

Mr. Fry

—because he thought that the White Paper was a better document. I hope that he realises that the Opposition thought that the consultative document had taken one or two faltering steps in the right direction and that we were tending to win the argument on transport matters.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris) pointed out, nearly all the useful and constructive suggestions and constructive pieces of legislation have emanated from the Opposition. Therefore, I do not think that the Government need take any particular credit for any improvement in the past few years.

I wish to take up one point raised by the Secretary of State. He said that we should try to see what the objectives of transport policy should be. It is rather interesting to examine those objectives and the comments that have been made on the White Paper in the light of those objectives. From what the Secretary of State said the impression might be given that the White Paper had been greeted with cheers from all kinds of organisations. As the right hon. Gentleman knows all too well, it was not only the Labour Party Conference which had some adverse thoughts. The RAC described it as: a dangerous U-turn in … transport planning which could be heading along a route to disaster". The AA described it as: a disappointment in that it has abandoned the concept of freedom of choice. The Society of Motor Manufacturers said that it was a major disappointment. The reality of consumer choice … is frankly stated but the obvious conclusions are ignored. In case my quotations appear selective, I add in fairness that the NUR stated that the White Paper pays lip service to the idea of producing a well-planned national policy. The Labour Party Conference rejected it.

It is possible to make quick, snap judgments on the White Paper in such terms, but I wish to look at three particular areas where the Government's policy has totally failed.

The first is in the realm of public transport, where in the past five years we have seen subsidies increased by four times. The total of public money now put into road and rail public transport amounts to the staggering figure of £1,200 million. Subsidies to road and rail since 1971–72 have increased by no less than 362 per cent. Whereas investment on road maintenance has gone up by only 21 per cent., spending on new roads, motorways and trunk routes has dropped by 20 per cent. It is obvious that in looking at public transport the Government have preferred to subsidise rather than to invest in the future, and that is my criticism of Government policy on public transport.

The quite blatant attempt at blackmail of the county councils by the Secretary of State has already been referred to, and that is an extension of the same approach. The real question that we should be asking is whether, after this enormous investment, public transport is any better, and clearly it is not. In many respects it is considerably worse.

If the Government are hanging their coat-tails on the idea of making bus companies the main source of transport in this country, I refer them to the TRRL Report, which indicated that subsidies—without any cuts in services—will amount to £800 million by 1985. If the Government are to keep within their spending limits, where will they find the money to make up the subsidies? I have a sneaking suspicion that the Government will hammer the county councils and force local authorities to find more money from the ratepayers to keep up the levels of subsidy. If the Government's policy had been shown to work, that might be acceptable, but when the Government's policies palpably fall short, that is an indictment of their public transport policy.

Another serious subject is the Government's failure to make available sufficient funds to maintain roads. The figure for 1973–74, the allocated amount, was £428 million. For 1979–80 that will drop to £351 million.

It is easy to think that one can save money on roads because that is more convenient than saving money on some other kind of spending. However, the House should stop and reflect upon the real dangers created by a cut-back on road maintenance on such a scale. There is increased danger to road users, particularly as skidding becomes more likely. Devon County Council has reported that skidding accidents have increased by one-third since 1974 There is increased danger to pedestrians. A large number of footpaths are no longer properly maintained, and South Glamorgan County Council has referred to the growing number of claims for compensation. There are increased noise and vibration from vehicle movement, and the GLC has received a greater number of claims for such damage. There is increased damage to vehicles caused by potholes and deformed surfaces. Dorset County Council, for instance, has had difficulties there.

Above all, and most important, this can produce a long-term waste of public resources because—as any county surveyor could tell the Minister—the longer one delays essential maintenance, the bigger will be the cost and the loss to the public purse. The Government have clearly failed to achieve their object with road maintenance.

I finally turn to the road programme. The House knows of my personal commitment to providing an efficient road system in this country. I do not push this idea because I do or do not want a road through my constituency or because I have a particular interest. I do so because I genuinely believe that if this country is to have the economic revival that we want, it is absolutely essential that we invest in a road programme that will give British industry modes of transport comparable with those of its competitors on the Continent and give, for example, our hauliers a far better chance of competing with those on the Continent. The Minister must know that facilities in Europe are better than ours and that we are now falling woefully behind.

I advocate road building not purely to upset the environmental lobby—although that lobby might take heart from the fact that a new road often brings great environmental advantages—but because we want a fairer apportionment of total transport expenditure on essential links. In that respect Government policy in recent months has been most deficient. During Transport Questions last Wednesday my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) made this interesting point: Is the Minister aware that the high number of purely local Questions on the Order Paper amounts to a criticism of his Department and its procrastinating attitude towards the development of road systems? "—[Official Report, 16th November 1977; Vol. 939, c. 568.] There were no fewer than six Questions for oral answer on the Order Paper last Wednesday about new road projects and many more for Written Answer. They had been put down by hon. Members and my hon. Friends whose concern about the future of the road programme is extremely real.

Yet every time public expenditure has to be assessed, it is the road programme that is cut. Of course that is the easy way out, but in the long run it is the disastrous way out. It is time that the Government began to invest in the future rather than to placate a few voters for the next General Election.

8.35 p.m.

Mr. Ronald Atkins (Preston, North)

The speech of the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry) was typical of the political schizophrenia that emanates so frequently from the Opposition. The hon. Gentleman complained about fare increases for commuters but went on to attack subsidies for public transport. The problem with commuters is common to every country. Unlike Britain, other countries are very generous with their public subsidies.

The hon. Member spoke about the deficit on the railways, but in West Germany last year the railway deficit, including subsidies was £3,750 million. The hon. Gentleman's figures were minimal compared with this sum. To take the example of another high-flying country, Japan spent £2,500 million on its railways last year.

Mr. Fry

I am aware of the figures that the hon. Gentleman is quoting, but those countries have produced the wealth that enables them to spend money in that direction. Unless we make the right kind of investments, we shall not be able to produce the wealth.

Mr. Atkins

Those countries are high flyers because they invest in their public transport systems and make money in that way. They are not the only countries. France is another example. This has nothing to do with public ownership either, because the United States has found the same great difficulty with its privately-owned railways. The railways in the United States have been reorganised time and again, yet the federal Government still have to pay billions of dollars to keep them going—and they are kept going because they are needed in order to build up the wealth of the country.

The hon. Member for Wellingborough also spoke about the rumbling of heavy lorries outside houses, but this is bound to happen with a criss-cross network of roads. Other countries make sure by way of public grants, that a much larger proportion of freight traffic is taken by rail. We have the lowest proportion of freight carried by rail of any major industrial country.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned fair competition for our lorry firms with those on the Continent, but firms on the Continent are taxed much more heavily than British firms and they have to deal with tachographs and limited drivers' hours as well. Our firms are being sheltered compared with those on the Continent.

The hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler) said that criticism of the Government's transport policy was not confined to Opposition Benches, but the policy is not really opposed by the Opposition at all. There has been a good deal of shadow-boxing in the debate between the Front Benches, and the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield has more strength in his footwork than in his punches. This is partly because he is a friendly sort of person, but partly because his case is lacking.

The Opposition's chief criticism is that the Government are not doing as much as hon. Members opposite would like in cutting Government expenditure. I have some sympathy for the Government Front Bench because it is having to operate at a time of great financial restraint. There is no doubt that it is inhibited in that way. It prevents it from formulating the transport policy that we should like to see. The Opposition are always complaining about Government expenditure in general and about expenditure on transport in particular. They demand better public transport, but they are prepared to spend more money to get it? That is the way to get better public transport.

We could provide many schemes that would improve public transport immensely if the capital expenditure were provided. I believe that the expenditure would be recouped as a result of increased production. The Government's grant to British Rail is extremely modest compared with the grants made by other countries in their rail systems. I wish that both sides of the House would acknowledge that public transport throughout the modern world poses a difficult problem. That is not due to the inefficiency of public transport or to the sort of ownership under which it operates.

The Conservative Party, as well as the Labour Party, expresses aspirations about transferring freight from road to rail. That is stated in the February 1974 manifestos. It is definitely stated that the transfer of goods from road to rail should be encouraged. At that time we had just suffered a great oil crisis. The Front Benches were in harmony. They were both claiming credit for the Railways Bill in our debates in 1974. There seemed to be unanimity at the time of expenditure on the Channel Tunnel. All that has changed because of the financial crisis that came upon us.

Despite the aspirations of the Conservatives to transfer freight from road to rail, I have heard the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield call for the abolition of the diminishing freight grant. That is his call even before heavy road vehicles are taxed at their true attributable cost.

At present, British Rail is in great difficulty because petrol is so cheap. Road haulage is relatively cheap. It would be a sad thing if rail services were so eroded that they could never be re-established so as to meet our requirements when they will be truly needed as a result of oil shortages.

I heartily congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on taking the practical step of retaining rail freight services by putting Freightliners under the control of British Rail. That will make for easier integration with the air-brake wagon that British Rail is trying to develop. It will make co-ordination easier.

There was some conflict between the two organisations not so long ago when the National Freight Corporation chairman complained about British Rail's investment in air-brake wagons which were so badly needed. It is important to remember, bearing in mind that British Rail is so often hit by politicians, that it was British Rail that pioneered Freightliners. It was well ahead of railway organisations in any other country. It showed its ability to run the service, which was extremely successful.

It is true that the real opposition to the Government's transport policy comes from Labour, both in the House and in the country. There is no doubt about that. I can understand that it has been difficult for the Department of Transport to provide the money that is necessary. However, the Labour Party and Labour Back Benchers are consistent. We believe that Government funds in the short term, and perhaps in the longer term, will be needed to hold fares and freight charges. The Opposition do not believe in that increased expenditure. That is where the fundamental difference lies.

I agree with the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield that an attempt to devolve transport responsibilities to the shire counties would be unsafe. I agree that an attempt to cut down total expenditure may be the reason behind such a move. Would the Opposition agree to the extra expenditure needed to provide good transport in the shires? That is absolutely vital if we are to retain transport there.

The hon. Member for Wellingborough spoke about freedom of choice. There is no freedom of choice in passenger transport for the majority of people, and there never will be. The majority will never have individual access to a car.

Mr. Fry

Has not the hon. Gentleman seen the statistics showing that 63 per cent. of households have their own cars? How can he talk in this way?

Mr. Atkins

That is perfectly consistent with what I have said. For most of the time, the majority of individuals will never have access to a car. What usually happens is that the husband commutes by car, leaving his wife without the vehicle. Often in our matriarchal society the wife keeps the car and the husband commutes by train. Even so, children, old people and other who cannot drive rely entirely on public transport.

We have the awful example of Los Angeles, the biggest city in the world in terms of area. One-third of it is taken up by roads, one-third by car parks and the other third by houses. There are 16 or 17 three-way motorways going through the city. The families there need four or five cars, depending on the size of the family. This is madness. When the Beeching Report was published, Mayor Brown of Los Angeles, speaking to the British people, begged them not to lose their public transport system, a system which some hon. Members are anxious to destroy. To hand over public transport to the Conservative-controlled shire counties would destroy public transport in those counties.

Public transport is going through a difficult period because there is a glut of cheap oil. This will last for only a short period. One reason why our transport patterns are so wrong is that we have relied on cheap oil for so long. This will not continue. The glut will soon disappear. It will soon become obvious that all transport services must be maintained and expanded. It is a pity that we do not have a joint view on the Front Benches as we did in 1974. The crisis of 1973 will return, but it will be far more dangerous and more permanent.

8.50 p.m.

Mr. David Penhaligon (Truro)

I take the view that as time goes by the Government's transport policy gets better. The White Paper was better than the Green Paper, and at least two out of the three announcements today represent an improvement on the White Paper. Perhaps we can keep this ball rolling. We might end up with something at least reasonable or a great improvement on the attitudes we have experienced in rural areas for a very long time.

Hon. Members have spoken about maintaining transport in rural areas. What is wrong with the Government's White Paper saying that they will provide extra money to moderate bus fare increases and to maintain some form of rural transport? There is a clear recognition now of a rural transport dilemma and of the bidding between the Conservative and Labour Parties to convince the rural electorate that each knows them best. That situation can only help people in areas like mine.

There is a willingness now to try to experiment in order to find the answer. Any hon. Member who claims to know the answer to the rural transport problem is a very clever man. I assure the House that the answer to the problem is very complex, if one exists at all. But at least we are to have such new experiments as car-sharing, community bus services and the encouragement of post buses. There must be more flexibility.

As someone brought up in and now representing a rural area, why do I think that this new attitude is a great improvement? People in rural areas face a fundamental problem both in society in general and in transport problems. As our nation gets richer and people can afford more and more things—not only cars, but telephones and other modern appliances—what is going to happen to the minority of people who simply have not got the money to join the increasingly prosperous general club?

Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)

Who is getting richer?

Mr. Penhaligon

Observations such as that are nonsense. Everyone is getting richer over a period, and the process will continue. I used to work for Homan Brothers in Cornwall. It rebuilt a factory in 1950, and the car park then covered an area smaller than this Chamber. All that the firm has built in the last 20 years has been car parks. Therefore, to say that people are not getting more prosperous and are not getting more of the commodities of modern industrial society is nonsense.

However, that little exchange sums up my belief that the Conservative Party does not understand what is happening to the rural poor. It does not seem to appreciate that there is a minority of people in our community who have been left out of the improvement in living standards, and, as vicious policies, including the abolition of rural buses, as has been the case in some areas, are carried out, such people will have relatively still worse living standards than people in their own villages have experienced over the past 100 years.

Great play has been made of the fact that responsibility is to be given to the shire counties to make the decisions. I welcome that—indeed, I encouraged the Secretary of State to make such a move. I cannot believe that any authority other than the Cornwall County Council—it is not controlled by the Liberal Party—can make sensible decisions about transport in Cornwall. I fully recognise the political complexion of many shire counties, but their people must campaign; they must nag their local councillors. My experience of county council politics is that the vast bulk of those elected are, frankly, in some ways political cowards, and if they are shouted at loud and long enough by people in their area they will make more logical decisions.

If that should prove to be wrong, all I can say is that I do not believe that those who inhabit that enormous building which basically houses the Department of the Environment, of which the Department of Transport seems to be taking over a growing section, can possibly solve the problem. I spoke earlier of the rural transport dilemma, and there may not be a full answer, but I am quite sure that the bureaucrats in the vast office block here in London cannot solve the problem of rural transport in such areas as mine.

We have another £25 million for concessionary bus fares. I am pleased about that, though I am ashamed to admit that my county council is one of the meanest in the country in that respect. However, it has another chance. That is the local option.

Mr. John Ellis

Only a couple of minutes ago the hon. Gentleman was saying that we should give them more power.

Mr. Penhaligon

The House is in the process of making a major devolution of power. If we devolve power, we must give power not just to do what we would like others to do; we must give them power to do things that we would not like them to do. I am prepared to argue for the system as it is, and I shall continue to use all available platforms to get Cornwall County Council to change its attitude on that matter.

There are no substantial rail cuts. The White Paper indicated that there might well have been. The changes hinted for the control of local train services are largely dropped. I know that the Minister claims that he would not introduce them for this year anyway. If the present Parliament continues, he had better not try to deliver them next year either. I believe that there is no great chance of that.

I was pleased today by the announcement about car parking. As outlined by the Minister, it made a great deal of sense. On the other hand, I am not convinced of the rightness of the announcement with regard to Freightliners. I read the submissions presented from both sides. The paper from British Rail arguing that it should have Freightliners convinced me that it should not, and the argument from the other side saying that it should keep Freightliners tended to make me think that perhaps it should get rid of it, so much did each overstate its case.

I suspect that the reason for the decision is that the rail unions have asked for an enormous amount of investment. The simple fact is that the Minister does not have the money to give, the only thing he has to give is Freightliners, and he has decided to hand it over. When the Divisions come on that, they will be very interesting. I am not saying that my party is necessarily against it at this precise moment—

Mr. Norman Fowler

In the unlikely event of a vote on it, how will the hon. Gentleman vote?

Mr. Penhaligon

I have not decided. I can see nothing wrong with it. I do not understand the panic in the House to make decisions about chucking Freightliners back and forth. I cannot believe that another 12 months with Freightliners in its present position would do any harm at all.

I turn now to a subject which has already been mentioned several times and on which a case is now being made which calls for an answer. I refer to the maintenance of local roads. Obviously, it is in the interest of counties generally to argue that if they do not get a lot more money than they are now getting the level of maintenance will fall. I should like there to be an inquiry into the validity of that claim. If it is valid, the House should do something to put matters right. If it is not, we can carry on as we are.

It is nonsense to suggest that the roads in the United Kingdom are particularly bad. I recently visited New York. Locally, New York is known as "pothole city". I admit that there is not a road in my constituency from one village to another which compares in dereliction with the main road through the centre of New York. It is not an accurate representation to portray the British road system as antiquated. I would appreciate an inquiry into the road system because that allegation is made by many people with conviction and venom.

The money previously allocated to the building of a trunk road system has been reduced. However, I must point out that I can drive from Plymouth to the north of Glasgow on dual carriageway roads or motorway every inch of the way.

Mr. Ronald Atkins

The hon. Gentleman could go by train.

Mr. Penhaligon

I agree, but I am saying that it is possible to drive every inch of the way from Plymouth to the north of Glasgow on dual carriageway or motorway. The vast bulk of that part of the road system has been built since I was legally able to drive a car 16 years ago.

It seems to be argued from this side of the House that road building at that intensity must continue for ever. I do not believe that the argument is justified. I cannot believe that such a level of road building must be maintained. It is true that some ports deserve to have a better road system to connect them to London, the Midlands and the North of England. I am not arguing against an investigation of that. I am arguing the case for what I call community bypasses—that is, bypasses around some smaller areas, the bypasses being built not necessarily with the motor as the first thought in the Department's mind but built with a view to securing an improvement in the living standards and environment of those living in the smaller areas.

A series of community bypasses would improve many villages and make them much more livable. Dual carriageways have been built to near motorway standards to within 10 miles of Land's End. I sometimes take the view that if one is forced to argue in the House to the effect that the Government are wasting money I want a fair share wasted in my area. I cannot justify the building of dual carriageway roads to near motorway standard to within 10 miles of Land's End. I believe that the Government are beginning to recognise that.

The Minister has not got his transport policy far wrong. If anything is condemned by the Automobile Association, the Royal Automobile Club the Conservative Party and the Labour Party Conference it must mean that the Government are getting their policy somewhere near right. I shall not vote for the motion tonight.

9.3 p.m.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe)

I have a strong sense of smell, and I detect a slight whiff of hypocrisy in the Chamber. Apart from anything else, my right hon. Friend is to be congratulated on the fact that the Opposition could come up with only such a miserable suggestion that they disapprove of the Government's handling of transport policy What we have not heard from the Opposition tonight is what they would put in place of that transport policy. All we heard were the same arguments that the Opposition ordinarily rely on. It is right that someone should point out exactly what the transport policy of a Conservative Government would be. It would be to give certain cosmetic assistance to some commuter areas but not to provide any money for investment for new rolling stock or improved services for the railways. The Tories would give a certain number of extra licences to small operators in rural areas, but we have no indication from them as to how they would insist that the licensees would comply with requirements as to drivers' hours and proper insurance on ensure that the rate at which such one-man firms operated complied with the standards to which rural populations are entitled just as much as those who ordinarily benefit from properly organised bus undertakings.

My right hon. Friend is to be congratulated because the White Paper is a tremendously constructive move.

Because of the lateness of the hour, I shall concentrate on one narrow point. The Secretary of State must be courageous when the Bill is introduced. That is for the simple reason that there has been a great deal of expenditure on roads. My right hon. Friend's arguments in answer to the roads lobby are balanced and they show that he is aware of the real problems.

The Secretary of State must be deeply concerned about morale in the railway industry. I emphasise that because what is happening in the railway industry is dangerous. It is easy for the Opposition to use the railways, the railwaymen and the Railways Board as a platform for their constant attacks on nationalised industry, but they are destroying the faith that the ordinary railwaymen have in the future of the rail system.

My right hon. Friend's proposals are probably the most constructive that we have seen in the last 15 years. I represented a rural constituency in the West Country when the Beeching exercise was operating. I fought hard to retain rural transport lines. All sorts of tricks were used to distort the figures that were meant to show how many people were using rural railway lines.

I remember that in that highly independent, unique and thoroughly intelligent kingdom of Cornwall men working at Falmouth Harbour always took an early train to work. Under the then Conservative Government and Lord Beeching, the times of those early trains were so altered that people were not able to use them because they did not get them to work on time. Artificial figures were used to prove that the trains were under-used and that they must be cancelled.

We need an act of faith from the Government. The simplest way in which they can restore the true atmosphere in the railway industry is to facilitate investment so that the railway system not only holds its own but is developed.

When I was a child, I had difficulty in imagining what Hell was like. Since I have been involved in the EEC, I have attained a relationship with the railways of Europe. I can tell the House that British Rail is the best railway system to be found in Europe. That situation can be maintained only if money is invested in research and development.

If my right hon. Friend wants to know what the horrors of rail travel in Europe are like, I suggest that he takes the 1.16 a.m. stopping train out of Genoa to Milan. That journey proves conclusively that British Rail has no faults so far as the passenger is concerned.

British Rail needs investment. In my constituency, high-speed trains of quality and imagination are being built with such drive that they will show the rest of the world the best of British workmanship. They can be developed only if cash is made available.

The railway industry should not come under constant attack. I wish that an Opposition Member would get up and say that British Rail is something of which we should be proud and that the Conservatives would like to see the suggestions in the White Paper put into operation, because they believe that they are an act of faith. If an Opposition Member did that, for once in his life he would be doing something of which he could be proud.

9.10 p.m.

Mr. Anthony Fell (Yarmouth)

I hope that the hon. Member for Crewe (Mrs. Dunwoody) will forgive me if I do not take up her comments, because I have particular points that I wish to put to the Minister. In doing so, I pray that the deliciously belligerent speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler) will in no way upset the Minister's usual charm and equanimity to such an extent that he does not consider the points that I shall raise with him and, indeed, that he will look upon them with the greatest benignity.

One of the issues I wish to mention concerns the ports, which, the Minister will remember, were excluded from his survey in June. It was said in that survey that The review has concentrated on inland surface transport, and has not dealt substantively with some matters, notably ports, shipping or aviation. The question I want to raise concerns shipping and ports, and in particular the area of East Anglia. I have written to the Minister about this. We are in some difficulty. A short time ago an hon. Member talked about being able to drive from Plymouth to Glasgow on motorways. That is quite a long way. We in East Anglia cannot drive more than two-thirds of the way from London to Yarmouth on motorways.

Yarmouth, together with other ports on the East Coast, has developed enormously in the past few years. For instance, when I went there as the Member of Parliament Yarmouth was almost falling into the sea, but it is now a thriving port. I claim no credit for that fact. It is now a port largely used by traffic going to the Common Market and other countries in Europe. It is part of the lifeline between this country and the EEC. Yet it will be in dreadful difficulties unless the Minister is able to carry out the implied promise contained in the Press statement issued on 26th October.

The introduction to that Press statement stated: The Parliamentary Under-Secretary today announced decisions on two bypasses in Norfolk: the selection of the route for the eastern half of the proposed Norwich southern bypass and the addition of a scheme of the western bypass of Great Yarmouth to the trunk road preparation pool. I pray that "preparation pool" will not mean that it goes round in a sort of whirlpool for years and years before decisions are made and action taken.

It is vitally urgent that two things happen. One is that the trunk road from London via Newmarket and Norwich to Yarmouth is completed. The second separate urgency is that the second river crossing, as it has been called for about the last 40 years in Yarmouth, at last becomes a fact. If this does not happen and the Haven Bridge should fail in some way—Heaven knows, it is old enough—it would stop altogether traffic movement to the port of Great Yarmouth.

I hope that the Minister will seriously consider putting these two matters on the priority list for roads and ports development in this country, particularly as Yarmouth is so important to the European lifeline.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. The winding-up speeches will begin at about 9.30 p.m. With the co-operation of hon. Members, I can get another two speakers in, one from either side of the House.

9.15 p.m.

Mr. Robin F. Cook (Edinburgh, Central)

I am grateful for this opportunity to say what I accept should be a few words, and I shall try to make my contribution as brief as possible.

The Secretary of State dealt with two matters on which I should like to comment. The first was his remark about the return of Freightliners to British Rail. In view of the time available, it would be pointless of me to rehearse the arguments in favour of this move. As the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris) said, we have been through them in Standing Committee earlier this year. Of course, my right hon. Friend has reached the right decision. It would be foolish of me to pass by the opportunity to put that on the record, as it is not certain when I shall have the next opportunity of saying so to my right hon. Friend.

It is a welcome and sensible change, and I believe that the work force and management of Freightliners will be particularly welcomed when they return to British Rail. British Rail will be foolish if it does not give full range to the expertise of the management of Freightliners, including the current managing director, who is a former British Rail man.

The other matter to which I refer is one on which I cannot give the same degree of endorsement to my right hon. Friend. It concerns his remarks about local participation in decisions on branch lines. He said that part of the White Paper was tinged with green. Some of us might hope that the typescript had faded completely from the pages. We are disturbed that he intends to press ahead with consultations, but we are not surprised to hear that these consultations have not started.

The question which my right hon. Friend will put to the shire counties is awesome. He will say to them that these are branch lines which he, with access to the Treasury and direct access to the Consolidated Fund, can no longer afford to support, and that they are branch lines which he, with his position in the Department of Transport and his relationships with British Rail, is unable to see a way of making profitable. He will then ask the shire counties "Will you take them over?" It will not be surprising it most of the shire counties, faced with that choice, say "No".

Before my right hon. Friend consults the local authorities, I hope that he will answer one or two questions about the proposal. What happens when these branch lines run through more than one shire county? If one takes the 6 per cent. of "other passenger mileage" referred to in the consultative document—and I assume that these are the lines about which my right hon. Friend will consult—he will find that only one in five of these branch lines runs within one shire county. Two in five of them cross three counties and a few even cross six counties. What conceivable arrangement could one have if one had to consult six shire counties about the future of a single line, bearing in mind the need to share out these costs?

What expertise do the shire counties have to decide whether a line is essential or to decide their appropriate share of the costs? It is a depressing fact that very few of the shire counties have to date used their existing powers to make any kind of contribution to real costs. Out of 47 shire counties, only six are at present making any kind of financial support to British Rail, and three of these six are making payments of £4,000 or less. That does not encourage us to have any great hope about the future of branch lines if they are passed into the hands of those who have shown such little interest in rail transport to date.

A question also arises concerning the future of the transport users' consultative committees if these proposals go through. There is a reference in the White Paper to legislation, if necessary, to change the 1962 and 1968 Acts to make this consultation procedure possible. The only reason for changing the legislation, however, is to take away the existing power and authority of the TUCCs where there is a proposed closure.

What is my right hon. Friend saying? Is he saying that the TUCCs have paid insufficient regard to local interests and that local interests nave had difficulty in making their views known about branch lines? If he is saying that, it is difficult for us to agree. After all, the figures show that the TUCCs have been very vigilant in guarding against closures of branch lines. Some of us suspect—perhaps it is because of our devious minds—that that is precisely why this change is suggested.

If the TUCCs lost this power they would lost the only power they have over railway operations, and if that happens they are liable to much more of a tootheless tiger, ignored even more by the nationalised industries than they are at present. I shall be extremely surprised if my right hon. Friend finds any support for this proposal among any of the people who have served on the TUCCs.

I am conscious of your instruction, Mr. Speaker, to save time, but I think that it would be unfortunate if we were to conclude by dealing only with the Government's policy. It is, after all, an Opposition day and it is an Opposition motion that is before us. It would be only fair, before we conclude the debate, to spend some time on the policy statement which has been issued by the official Opposition spokesman on transport.

Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Mr. Bradley), I have been able to obtain a copy of "The Right Track", and I would recommend it to my hon. Friend as at least making easy reading, if not possibly rather too tactile reading. I quote to the House the key sentence from the passage on railways: The central aim of policy must be to seek for the passenger and the taxpayer a railway running at maximum efficiency and the lowest possible cost. I do not think that there will be many hon. Members who feel that that is perhaps too bold a statement or too imaginative a proposal. I think that I can straight away reassure the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler) that it is not our intention to campaign for a railway running at minimum efficiency and the maximum possible cost.

There are, indeed the makings of a consensus here, a pact, perhaps, between the two Front Benches on the issue. It is curiously, the possibility of a pact which is reinforced when one comes to the one passage in the booklet which refers to the pricing of British Rail, that being on page 11 and referring to commuter services. Having concluded that railway services should meet their costs, the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield then hurriedly adds: In some cases this will take time. Commuter services … are a case in point. What does he conclude about commuter services? He concludes not that they should not pay their costs but that the commuter must be given time to adjust. The curious thing about this is that it is, of course, only four months since we had a White Paper in which the Government themselves produced the absolute commitment for the commuter to pay his own costs. What do they say in Paragraph 132 of the White Paper? They say: Increases which prove necessary should be phased so that commuters have a period of years in which to adjust. So there we have it. There is the gulf between the two Front Benches. The reason for a motion condemning the Government's transport policy boils down to this difference: the hon. Gentleman believes that the commuter should have time to adjust, my right hon. Friend believes that he should have a period of years in which to adjust. That is the sole difference between the two doctrines.

However, the full rapidity of the docucent can be savoured only when we reach the final paragraph on railways, when, in acknowledgment, I think, that something is lacking in the previous four pages, it says: Clearly many decisions about railway policy—for example the level of investemnt—must wait until we have taken office. I am bound to say that, in view of the hon. Member's commitment that our approach is to seek a future for the railway industry", we should have the right to ask him to seek and to find that future before the Conservatives take office, especially when dealing with what is the vital question of investment—the question on which all else turns—because unless we get the kind of investment to which my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester. East has referred there will be no future for the railway industry, whether or not we get Freightliners.

I should like to end by saying that I, too, was in America earlier this year and I made a particular point of looking at the railway industry while I was there. I was appalled at some of the things that I discovered. I discovered that there are freight branch lines in America on which the maximum speed is 6 mph because of the lousy state of maintenance of the track. I discovered that the passenger timetable for the whole of the northeast of America is exactly this size. For the benefit ofHansard, which can hardly indicate my gesture of its size, may I say that it fits very conveniently into one breast pocket.

The Americans are now desperately aware of what they have lost because they are aware of the cost in lost environment, the cost in social problems and, most of all, the very greedy energy consumption of the private car. They are now trying to find their way back, but it is very expensive to do so once one has allowed the railways to sink into a state of irreversible decline. We must learn that lesson and prevent it happening here before we reach that state of irreversible decline.

9.25 p.m.

Mr. Robin Hodgson (Walsall, North)

In the few minutes that are left to me I am afraid that I cannot follow the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook) and I hope that he will not mind.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry) made an important point when he referred to the necessity to have an adequate maintenance programme to preserve our existing road network. He referred to the damage done to lorries and other vehicles if the road surfaces were not adequately maintained. There is another aspect to this problem. In my opinion a great deal too much salt is applied to motorway surfaces. This does great damage to the underside of vehicles, to the motorway itself and the environment generally. I hope that the Government will look into this. If they do, they may bring great benefits to motorists and taxpayers alike.

I wish to concentrate on a small corner of the Minister's vast empire—that of motorway service areas and the conditions available at them. I do not wish to repeat the remarks of Mr. Egon Ronay which have been highly publicised recently. I just ask the Minister to consider the position of the great British motorist with two fractious children in the back, a tired wife in the front and 100 miles to reach home who pulls into a motorway service area looking for a snack, a chance to stretch his legs and top up with fuel.

The reality that faces him is that often there are queues stretching through the restaurant doors and out into the corridor, there is litter all over the floors and the meal is expensive and poorly served. Added to this he has to pay top rates for petrol, the lavatories are often dirty and there is a "couldn't-care-less" attitude among the staff.

The Minister has it in his power to do something about this. In reply to a parliamentary Question that I tabled, the Under-Secretary told me that it was a condition that the lessees should provide all the services specified in the lease to the satisfaction of the Secretary of State. Operators were required to provide good quality meals and refreshments at reasonable prices. The Minister's ideas of satisfactory meals, reasonable prices and good quality are very different from mine.

I hope that when he winds up the debate the Under-Secretary will explain more fully the standards he requires, and whether teams of inspectors look over these service areas. I understand that the inspectors do not have to look at all at the quality and condition of food. They look only at the physical aspects of the motorway service areas such as fire precautions, maintenance standards, and so forth.

I hope that the Government also will consider the whole question of the design of motorway service areas. Very often these areas are on exposed sites and the parking areas are a long way from the restaurants. In such cases the restaurant and the parking area are often divided by the access road, which presents a road safety hazard of considerable magnitude. The hallways and corridors are often poorly lit and dingy.

As regards the operators, there are a number of requirements the Government should demand. I believe, for example, that the Government should insist that motorway service areas take all major credit cards. There are some, for example, that do not take Barclaycards.

I am not so concerned that the Minister should have powers to control prices, but I believe that there should be opportunities for more competition among motorway service area operators. Perhaps the Minister would consider letting off the different sectors each side of the motorway to different companies. This would engender some form of competition.

The Minister has been promising the possibility of an inquiry into motorway service areas for some time. It has developed into a "now you see it, now you don't" situation. Today's edition ofThe Times said that there would be an inquiry. TheFinancial Times of 1st August said there was likely to be an inquiry. Last week the Minister said he was considering the need for an inquiry and hoped that a decision would not be too long delayed. He has been considering this need for four or five months. This is not speedy enough for an important, but relatively minor matter.

I hope that he will announce the setting up of an inquiry soon and will allow hon. Members to go to that inquiry and present letters from their constituents expressing dissatisfaction about the way in which motorway service areas are run. In this way I hope that we shall get some action on this vexed question.

9.30 p.m.

Mr. George Younger (Ayr)

If the Opposition had had any doubts about their decision to table this motion, those doubts would have been dispelled by the course of this debate. At no point in this debate so far have there been any straight or clear answers to the extremely well-put points advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler) in his opening speech.

The key to this lies in the way the Secretary of State for Transport chose to tackle his task of answering the motion. I should like to have been a fly on the wall in his office when he was working out tactics. There are numerous ways of tackling a critical motion in the House when one is defending. One can decide to tell all and prepare for all the questions and have those answers ready, or one can spend one's time attacking the other side in the hope that that will deflect attention away from oneself, or one can talk away, using as many long words as one possibly can, hoping that nobody will notice. The right hon. Gentleman chose to take the last course.

Although the Minister made a long speech and we were waiting all the time with bated breath to hear his answers to the weighty matters put to him by my hon. Friend, nothing came of it at all. However, halfway through his speech, he took refuge in the age-old tactic of saying "I shall ask my hon. Friend to reply to that matter later". Therefore, we all wait with keen interest for the speech of the Under-Secretary of State, because we feel that he and his Department between them will have cooked up the answers to my hon. Friend's charges.

We were delighted to have in this debate a truly marvellous example of that interesting parliamentary phenomenon known as the Liberal Party speech. This time the speech was made by the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon). We all know that Liberal speeches, by definition, aim at attacking both sides equally. These matters are carefully timed, but I think that on this occasion the hon. Gentleman carried things a little too far. It is not necessary to attack both sides on every argument in every sentence that is uttered. The hon. Gentleman's remarks, which gave great amusement, came to no conclusion on any point.

If it is helpful to the hon. Gentleman, perhaps I can ask him a question which is relevant and important. He said that he did not intend to support our motion. Does this mean that the Liberal Party is in favour of the further nationalisation of road haulage, since that clearly is the indication of the White Paper and of the Minister's speech? We should like to know the answer to that question, because if the hon. Member does not go into the Lobby with us tonight, everybody in the country, and road hauliers in their thousands, can take it that the Liberal Party agrees with the nationalisation policy.

Mr. Penhaligon

If the Conservative Party wins the next election it will probable carry out all the nonsenses that appeal to it, and if the Labour Party wins that election no doubt it will carry all the nonsenses that appeal to its members. If somehow we can juggle things around so that neither party wins, we might carry on with a successful course of action.

Mr. Younger

It was foolish of me to expect the hon. Gentleman to answer my question on road haulage. However, road hauliers throughout the country now have an answer.

I should like to comment briefly on some of the points made by the Secretary of State in his opening remarks before I deal with the general questions raised by our motion. This debate has been worth while in producing some response from the Minister in terms of firm decisions to be taken. The first related to Freightliners. I shall not pretend that it surprised any of us that the Minister came down as he did in handing over Freightliners to British Rail. We suspected that that might be so.

But there are two assurances that we must have as a result, and I hope that the Minister will be able to give them tonight, or as soon as possible. First, if Freightliners is to be handed over to British Rail, I hope that it will be clearly stated that the Freightliners organisation will be given a devolved position within British Rail. By that I mean that it should be given a clearly separate management and as much autonomy as possible within British Rail. We should be very grateful for assurances on that.

The second point flows from the first, but it is equally important. If that is to be the decision and if I can receive that assurance, we must also have a clear differentiation of accounting procedures so that we may clearly see what Freightliners' performance is in future, even when it is part of British Rail. That is terribly important for the confidence of the Freightliners organisation and the industrialists who will be using Freightliners so that they can see exactly what it is doing.

We had an interesting statement from the Minister, which was perhaps not altogether surprising in the light of other decisions he had taken, about private non-residential parking. There was some argument earlier about whether the proposals had been given adequate publicity. Here is yet another retreat from what the Government intended to do and what was being foreshadowed, albeit inadequately, in the White Paper.

The Minister may choose to forget some of the words of the White Paper if he wishes, but paragraph 123, on page 27, clearly suggests that the Government intend to introduce provisions on private non-residential parking. That paragraph states: the Government believes that an effective scheme is practicable. Even though it is practicable, the Government have decided not to do it. I like to think that the Government have had to listen to some of the very strong objections to these proposals from my right hon. and hon. Friends and others outside the House and that they have decided to make yet another back-tracking on that policy.

Then there is the question of local decisions. There is much high-flown talk about how desirable it is to let shire councils and other local councils make their own decisions. No one can disagree with that sort of talk. Everyone says how good it is for local people to make these decisions, but we are deeply suspicious of the Government. Nothing that has been said today has wiped out the suspicion that their talk is really a cloak for hoping that the responsibility for these unpopular decisions on the closures of routes or whatever will be placed at the door of the councils rather than at the door of the Government and the transport users' consultative committees, as they are now.

It is all very well to try to pass over this responsibility, but I ask the Government to reflect on this. If they are finding it difficult to find enough money for the support of transport—they have admitted this—how is it likely that local councils will find it any easier? If the local councils at the same time are to have their rate support grant restricted by the Government's inevitable shortage of money, surely they will be unable to keep up certain rural transport services because they, too, cannot afford them. We must have some assurances for local councils that the Government will not shuffle off to them the responsibility for keeping alternative services going, under the cloak of saying "What a good thing it is to give local councils autonomy!".

Then there is the question of commuters, which was mentioned briefly by the Minister and by several of my hen. Friends, notably my hon. Friend for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris) and my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry). What he said was correct. Nobody pretends that at a time of galloping inflation one can allow the railways to continue to make ever-increasing deficits without any alterations in fares.

Our complaint about the White Paper is that the Government's view stated there is that commuters must be given time to adjust to the alterations, yet we are facing steep increases for commuters in a month or two. The increases will be larger than those permitted in remuneration in the past year, and yet the increases will be made in January. We should like to know how this will tie in with the Government's stated intention to give commuters time to deal with fare increases.

One is tempted to ask oneself, if this is giving time to commuters to adjust, what on earth would it be like if they were not given time? There is no doubt that for many people who have no viable option but to travel to work by rail the increases—which will be larger than their wage increases—will be a severe burden.

We do not have time now to talk about ports which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell) said, have not been properly discussed today. How-over, we are glad that the Government have at last—at least according to the White Paper—decided not to carry out their original intention of nationalising the ports as quickly as intended, or perhaps at all.

The motion seeks to criticise the Government for their conduct of transport policy generally and I want to conclude with a word on that. The motion covers the whole period of the Government since 1974. At that time, when this Government came into office, there were already various moves afoot. The decision that there should be no further major rail closures was, in fact, made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) and did not come out of this White Paper. The Government had before them in 1974 legislation that had been put in train by the previous Government.

There was, in particular, legislation intended to ease traffic licensing restrictions and so encourage innovation and new experiments in rural transport. The Government had the opportunity to put through that measure but clearly decided, as a matter of policy, not to do so. How- ever we are now, three or four years later, finding the Government announcing with pride that they are about to bring in measures to do precisely that. If three and a half years of sheer wasted time is not a cause for criticism of the Government's transport policy, I do not know what is. The Secretary of State must have known that that accusation would be made tonight and could well have prepared himself to have answered it in his speech. He could have said a word about the delay but he did not, and that in itself is a good cause for the motion.

The Government came into power with certain manifesto commitments—and the manifesto is always a source of great interest to my hon. Friends and me. The Government had stated in their manifesto an intention to introduce an integrated transport policy. No doubt many people thought that that was a marvellous idea and they voted for this Government as a result. However, it is now made as clear as possible in the White Paper that that policy has been abandoned. No wonder the Labour Party Conference was a bit shirty on the whole subject!

There was also a commitment in the manifesto for not just a transfer of traffic from road to rail but "a massive shift". However, the White Paper makes clear that the Government realise that that is not practicable and that it will not be proceeded with.

There was also an oft-repeated and clearly stated set of proposals for further nationalisation of road haulage and ports. According to the White Paper, those plans now have a slightly more ambivalent future, because the wording is sufficiently soft to persuade gullible people, such as the hon. Member for Truro, that although the proposals are in the White Paper, they will not materialise and that there is a sporting chance that the proposals will not be in the next Labour manifesto. On the other hand, it is all there and in the unlikely event of another Labour Government being returned, they would be perfectly able to quote these proposals and to use them to proceed with the massive nationalisation of road haulage.

One of the strangest things about the debate is that we have had no mention of road haulage except for passing references in one or two Back Bench speeches. I wonder what those working in the industry will think of that. They are going through an extremely difficult time. Many road haulage firms are going out of business. Indeed, one went out of business in my own constituency just the other day.

Mr. Adley

Is my hon. Friend aware of the row going on between the Transport and General Workers' Union Members opposite, whose membership work in road haulage, and the railway union Members, whose membership do not? Perhaps that is the answer to this question.

Mr. Younger

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's intervention. It would not be right to have a debate such as this without making clear that we appreciate the very difficult time that the road haulage industry is having with soaring costs, extra licensing charges, its exclusion by the Government from the 5p off petrol,—which reduction was a result of Conservative action in the summer—and increased bureaucracy, as well as the many other difficulties that are putting so many haulage firms out of business.

Whatever else may be said about the debate, the charges made by my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield at the start have been amply justified. No answers have been forthcoming and unless the Under-Secretary can produce the answers now—which I very much doubt—I hope that my hon. Friends will willingly go into the Lobby to vote for the richly justified motion.

9.47 p.m.

The Linder-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. John Horam)

I am delighted to welcome the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) to our debates, even though he slightly overran his time and has left me rather less time than I had expected to answer the points made in the debate. I understand the Opposition's difficulties in providing more than one speaker on transport matters. The Shadow Cabinet does not have very much interest in this subject, but we are delighted to welcome a spokesman on Scottish affairs doubling up on another subject.

Indeed, the Scottish scene gives us a good example of the excellence of Labour Party transport policies. This year we are celebrating the hundredth postbus in Scotland. That is a tribute to the initiative and common sense of the Scottish people in taking the opportunities presented by the legislation of a Labour Government, namely, the 1968 Act. That is precisely the sort of pragmatic, effective and practical reform of the licensing laws that my right hon. Friend and I intend to continue in what we are attempting to do.

The Opposition have still not made a single significant change to the licensing laws of this country since the war. That is a situation that all their brave talk cannot deny.

I wish to give some of the straight and clear answers that have been requested of me. My right hon. Friend's decision on Freightliners has been widely welcomed. The Chairman of British Rail has assured my right hon. Friend that, if the House agrees to the transfer, he intends to build on the strength of the Freightliners company, retaining the characteristics of an independent profit centre and a high degree of delegated responsibility and authority. That means that we shall be able to see precisely its financial performance. I can therefore give the hon. Member for Sutton Cold-field (Mr. Fowler) both the assurances for which he asked.

The hon. Gentleman and my right hon. Friend both asked me to follow up a point made by the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Jones) in an intervention during my right hon. Friend's opening speech. I think that the hon. Gentleman was referring to the decision of the traffic commissioners in the Oxfordshire case.

Mr. Arthur Jones

No, it was a general comment on the Government's policy in respect of the National Bus Company and the authority that will be left with the county council.

Mr. Horam

As the hon. Gentleman should be aware, the traffic commissioners are independent. The National Bus Company, or any private operator, must present its case to them. If an operator is dissatisfied with the Endings of the commissioners, an appeal can be made to my right hon. Friend, who will give his judgment accordingly.

Mr. Arthur Jones

But what is the policy?

Mr. Horam

My right hon. Friend's policy is to deal with each case as it comes up, which is the practical way forward. The worst possible thing would be to take a particular ideological stand and apply it to all the different circumstances that exist throughout the counties.

Mr. Arthur Jones rose—

Mr. Horam

The hon. Members for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris) and Wellingborough (Mr. Fry) talked about the problems of road maintenance. I have much sympathy with some of their remarks. Road maintenance expenditure has decreased progressively in the past three or four years. In the next financial year we have been able to accept for grant rather more than the total base bid by the authorities of approximately £407 million. That is about the same as is being spent this year. We have reached a plateau in road maintenance expenditure of approximately £407 million. It is a fairly sizeable sum, which indicates that the matters raised by the hon. Members for Leominster and Wellingborough are recognised. I say to the hon. Member for Wellingborough that we have provided £26.5 million more for local authority roads in the package introduced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. That indicates that there is compared with our earlier expectations an upturn.

I can tell the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon) that we are monitoring with local authorities the state of road maintenance. That is to be a continuous programme. The Government are concerned.

My hon. Friends the Members for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook), Crewe (Mrs. Dunwoody) and Leicester, East (Mr. Bradley) spoke mainly about the railway industry. I recognise their interest. I was struck by the comment of my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central—namely, that the Opposition appear to be applying the American solution to the problems. The hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield made precisely that point. The Americans have allowed their rail and bus public services to decline to an extent where they have to be not merely adventurous but positively almost reckless in their attempts to get ahead with their public transport policies They have reached that position because they have allowed their industries to decline to such a great extent. We do not intend that to happen here.

The hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield began by saying that his indictment was against successive Labour Governments and not specifically against my right hon. Friend and me. There is the clear implication that he cannot sustain his indictment against my right hon. Friend and myself, who are in charge of transport policy in the Government. That is the case that the hon. Member has to make, and he clearly has not done so. It says much that the hon. Gentleman, despite his forward-looking posture, had to spend all his time looking back to yesterday's team. It says much for the value that is to be attached to his own policy statement, which was issued about two months ago, that he almost failed to mention it this evening. So much for the positive statements that we have from the hon. Gentleman.

Once again, the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield launched into a long saga of the difficulties that will befall any Government who try to operate bus licensing laws. So, too, did the hon. Member for Ayr, who attempted to reply on behalf of the Opposition. The hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield said that Labour Governments have said thousands of words and done precious little. What has the Conservative Party done? The right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) produced a consultation document in 1971 containing brave words and ideological postures. They were not very determined ideological postures. If he was going to be ideological, the right hon. Gentleman might as well have been fanatically so. Two years later the Tories brought out a Bill considerably watering down the proposals in the consultation document. They proposed amendments in the other place which, yet again, watered down their own proposals. Such is the consistency—

Mr. Norman Fowler


Mr. Horam

No, I will not give way. Such is the consistency of the Opposition. The fact is that we have had no policy and no action on this issue from successive Conservative Governments, whereas Labour has a clear record of achievement.

I come now to bus services. The policy document produced by the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield states that priority should be to repair the financial damage inflicted by a combination of Labour policy-making at both the national and local level". That could not be further from the truth. It is the Labour Government and Labour-controlled councils who have supported bus services and Conservative Administrations who have neglected them. Each year the bus companies give their counties an estimate of the subsidy which will be required to maintain services for the following year. I do not say that bus companies should always be given the whole of what they require, but they must be given a reasonable proportion. Yet many counties, almost without exception Conservative-controlled, give a derisory amount.

This year the NBC received less than half the amount it asked for from Berkshire. In Wiltshire the figure was under half, in East Sussex it was one-third and in Oxfordshire nothing. This is bound to imply, unless the bus companies carry on bearing the losses—which is happening in some cases—fare increases above the going rate of inflation and service reductions.

Further, many Conservative-controlled councils do not even pay to the bus companies the resources which we have given them in respect of bus support. Last year bus companies received 15 per cent. less than we accepted, and this year the figure is 10 per cent. This is mainly in Conservative-controlled councils. Even more striking is the situation in local authorities where control changed from Labour to Conservative during the year.

In Northamptonshire, part of which the hon. Member for Wellingborough represents, bus support has been slashed by more than half. This, we are told, implies a reduction in bus mileage of over 10 per cent. Yet the hon. Member talked about anger in rural villages. This is his area, and this is what his colleagues are doing.

Mr. Fry


Mr. Horam

I cannot give way.

Mr. Fry


Mr. Speaker

Order. It is clear that the Minister is not giving way.

Mr. Horam

In Derbyshire, support has been cut by one-quarter and we are told that this implies a reduction in services of 9 per cent. as well as fare increases greater than the current rate of inflation.

The direct consequence of a Tory victory at the polls in the local elections is likely to be higher fares and poorer services for people in rural areas. That is not the case when Labour is in control. We see the realities of the situation. Wherever the Conservatives have been in power, almost universally they have been neglectful of public transport, while Labour Governments and Labour-controlled councils have a positive record of achievement.

Mr. Humphrey Atkins (Spelthorne)

rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.

Question put accordingly, That this House condemns the Government's handling of transport policy:—

The House divided: Ayes, 256, Noes 282.

Division No. 12] AYES [10.00 p.m.
Adley, Robert Boscawen, Hon Robert Carlisle, Mark
Aitken, Jonathan Bottomley, Peter Chalker, Mrs Lynda
Alison, Michael Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown) Channon, Paul
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Boyson, Dr Rhodes (Brent) Churchill, W. S.
Arnold, Tom Braine, Sir Bernard Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne) Brittan, Leon Clark, William (Croydon S)
Awdry, Daniel Brocklebank-Fowler, C. Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)
Baker, Kenneth Brooke, Peter Clegg, Walter
Banks, Robert Brotherton, Michael Cockroft, John
Bell, Ronald Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Cooke, Robert (Bristol W)
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torbay) Bryan, Sir Paul Cormack, Patrick
Bennett, Dr Reginald (Fareham) Buchanan-Smith, Alick Costain, A. P.
Benyon, W. Buck, Antony Critchley, Julian
Berry, Hon Anthony Budgen, Nick Crouch, David
Biffen, John Bulmer, Esmond Crowder, F. P.
Biggs-Davison, John Burden, F. A. Davies, Rt Hon J. (Knutsford)
Body, Richard Butler, Adam (Bosworth) Dean, Paul (N Somerset)
Dodsworth, Geoffrey Joseph, Rt Hon. Sir Keith Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Kaberry, Sir Donald Renton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts)
Drayson, Burnaby Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine Renton, Tim (Mio-Sussex)
du Cann, Rt Hon Edward Kershaw, Anthony Rhodes James, R.
Dykes, Hugh Kilfedder, James Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Eden, Rt Hon Sir John Kimball, Marcus Ridley, Hon Nicholas
Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke) King, Evelyn (South Dorset) Ridsdale, Julian
Emery, Peter King, Tom (Bridgwater) Rifkind, Malcolm
Eyre, Reginald Kitson, Sir Timothy Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Fairbairn, Nicholas Knight, Mrs Jill Rost, Peter (SE Derbyshire)
Fairgrieve, Russell Knox, David Royle, Sir Anthony
Farr, John Lamont, Norman Sainsbury, Tim
Fell, Anthony Langford-Holt, Sir John St. John-Stevas, Norman
Finsberg, Geoffrey Latham, Michael (Melton) Scott, Nicholas
Fisher, Sir Nigel Lawrence, Ivan Scott-Hopkins, James
Fletcher, Alex (Edinburgh N) Lawson, Nigel Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Fookes, Miss Janet Lester, Jim (Beeston) Shelton, William (Streatham)
Forman, Nigel Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Shepherd, Colin
Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'f'd) Lloyd, Ian Shersby, Michael
Fox, Marcus Loveridge, John Silvester, Fred
Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St) Luce, Richard Sims, Roger
Fry, Peter McAdden, Sir Stephen Sinclair, Sir George
Galbraith, Hon T. G. D. McCrindle, Robert Skeet, T. H. H.
Gardiner, George (Reigate) Macfarlane, Neil Smith, Dudley (Warwick)
Gardner, Edward (S Fylde) MacGregor, John Smith, Timothy John (Ashfield)
Gilmour, Rt Hon Ian (Chesham) MacKay, Andrew (Stechford) Speed, Keith
Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife) McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest) Spence, John
Glyn, Dr Alan Madel, David Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)
Godber, Rt Hon Joseph Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Spicer, Michael (S Worcester)
Goodhart, Philip Marten, Neil Sproat, Iain
Goodhew, Victor Mates, Michael Stainton, Keith
Goodlad, Alastair Mather, Carol Stanbrook, Ivor
Gorst, John Maude, Angus Stanley, John
Gow, Ian (Eastbourne) Maudling, Rt Hon Reginald Steen, Anthony (Wavertree)
Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry) Mawby, Ray Stewart, Rt Hon Donald
Grant, Anthony (Harrow C) Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Gray, Hamish Mayhew, Patrick Stokes, John
Grieve, Percy Meyer, Sir Anthony Stradling Thomas, J.
Griffiths, Eldon Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove) Tapsell, Peter
Grist, Ian Mills, Peter Taylor, R. (Croydon NW)
Grylls, Michael Miscampbell, Norman Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart)
Hall-Davis, A. G. F. Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Tebbit, Norman
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Moate, Roger Temple-Morris, peter
Hampson, Dr Keith Monro, Hector Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret
Hannam, John Montgomery, Fergus Thomas, Rt Hon P. (Hendon S)
Harrison, Col Sir Harwood (Eye) Moore, John (Croydon C) Thompson, George
Haselhurst, Alan More, Jasper (Ludlow) Trotier, Neville
Hastings, Stephen Morgan, Geraint van Straubenzee, W. R.
Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael Morris, Michael (Northampton S) Vaughan, Dr Gerard
Hawkins, Paul Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester) Viggers, Peter
Hayhoe, Barney Mudd, David Wakeham, John
Heseltine, Michael Neave, Airey Walder, David (Clitheroe)
Hicks, Robert Neubert, Michael Walker, Rt Hon P. (Worcester)
Higgins, Terrence L. Newton, Tony Wall, Patrick
Hodgson, Robin Nott, John Walters, Dennis
Holland, Philip Onslow, Cranley Warren, Kenneth
Hordern, Peter Oppenheim, Mrs Sally Watt, Hamish
Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Page, John (Harrow West) Weatherill, Bernard
Howell, David (Guildford) Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby) Wells, John
Hunt, David (Wirral) Page, Richard (Workington) Whitelaw, Rt Hon William
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne) Parkinson, Cecil Wiggin, Jerry
Hurd, Douglas Pattie, Geoffrey Winterton, Nicholas
Hutchison, Michael Clark Percival, Ian Wood, Rt Hon Richard
Irving, Charles (Cheltenham) Peyton, Rt Hon John Young, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)
James, David Pink, R. Bonner Younger, Hon George
Jenkin, Rt Hon P. (Wanst'd&W'df'd) Prentice, Rt Hon Reg
Jessel, Toby Price, David (Eastleigh) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Johnson Smith, G. (E Grinstead) Prior, Rt Hon James Mr. Spencer Le Merchant and
Jones, Arthur (Daventry) Pym, Rt Hon Francis Mr. Michael Roberts.
Jopling, Michael Raison, Timothy
Abse, Leo Beith, A. J. Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)
Allaun, Frank Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W)
Anderson, Donald Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N) Buchan, Norman
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Bidwell, Sydney Buchanan, Richard
Armstrong, Ernest Bishop, Rt Hon Edward Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green)
Ashley, Jack Blenkinsop, Arthur Callaghan, Rt Hon J. (Cardiff SE)
Ashton, Joe Boardman, H. Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)
Atkins, Ronald (Preston N) Booth, Rt Hon Albert Campbell, Ian
Atkinson, Norman Boothroyd, Miss Betty Canavan, Dennis
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur Cant, R. B.
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Boyden, James (Bish Auck) Carmichael, Neil
Bates, Alf Bradley, Tom Carter-Jones, Lewis
Bean, R. E. Bray, Dr Jeremy Cartwright, John
Castle, Rt Hon Barbara Hunter, Adam Perry, Ernest
Clemitson, Ivor Irvine, Rt Hon Sir A. (Edge Hill) Phipps, Dr Colin
Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S) Jackson, Colin (Brighouse) Price, William (Rugby)
Cohen, Stanley Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln) Radice, Giles
Coleman, Donald Janner, Greville Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S)
Colquhoun, Ms Maureen Jay, Rt Hon Douglas Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Concannon, J. D. Jeger, Mrs Lena Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)
Cook, Robin F. (Edin C) Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Robinson, Geoffrey
Corbett, Robin John, Brynmor Roderick, Caerwyn
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Johnson, James (Hull West) Rodgers, George (Chorley)
Craigen, Jim (Maryhill) Johnson, Walter (Derby S) Rodgers, Rt Hon William (Stockton)
Crawshaw, Richard Jones, Alec (Rhondda) Rooker, J. W.
Cronin, John Jones, Barry (East Flint) Roper, John
Crowther, Stan (Rotherham) Jones, Dan (Burnley) Rose, Paul B.
Cryer, Bob Kaufman. Gerald Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Cunningham, G. (Islington S) Kelley, Richard Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)
Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh) Kerr, Russell Rowlands, Ted
Davidson, Arthur Kilroy-Silk, Robert Ryman, John
Davies, Bryan (Enfield N) Lambie, David Sandelson, Neville
Davies, Denzil (Llanelli) Lamborn, Harry Sedgemore, Brian
Davies, Ifor (Gower) Latham, Arthur (Paddington) Selby, Harry
Davis, Clinton (Hackney C) Leadbitter, Ted Sever, J.
Deakins, Eric Lee, John Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South)
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough) Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Dempsey, James Lever, Rt Hon Harold Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Doig, Peter Lipton, Marcus Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)
Dormand, J. D. Litterick, Tom Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)
Douglas-Mann, Bruce Lomas, Kenneth Silverman, Julius
Duffy, A. E. P. Loyden, Eddie Skinner, Dennis
Dunn, James A. Luard, Evan Small, William
Dunnett, Jack Lyon, Alexander (York) Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Lyons, Edward (Bradford W) Spearing, Nigel
Eadie, Alex Mabon, Rt Hon Dr J. Dickson Spriggs, Leslie
Edge, Geoff McCartney, Hugh Stallard, A. W.
Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun) McDonald, Dr Oonagh Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)
English, Michael McElhone, Frank Stoddart, David
Ennals, Rt Hon David MacFarquhar, Roderick Stott, Roger
Evans, Fred (Caerphilly) McGuire, Michael (Ince) Strang, Gavin
Evans, Ioan (Aberdare) MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor Strauss, Rt Hon G. R.
Evans, John (Newton) Maclennan, Robert Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
Ewing, Harry (Stirling) McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C) Swain, Thomas
Faulds, Andrew McNamara, Kevin Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Fernyhough, Rt Hon E. Madden, Max Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
Fitch, Alan (Wigan) Magee, Bryan Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)
Flannery, Martin Mahon, Simon Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Mallalieu, J. P. W. Thorne, Stan (Preston South)
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Marks, Kenneth Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon)
Ford, Ben Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole) Tierney, Sydney
Forrester, John Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Tinn, James
Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin) Maynard, Miss Joan Tomlinson, John
Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd) Meacher, Michael Tomney, Frank
Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald Mellish, Rt Hon Robert Torney, Tom
Freud, Clement Mendelson, John Tuck, Raphael
Garrett, John (Norwich S) Mikardo, Ian Urwin, T. W.
Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend) Millan, Rt Hon Bruce Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.
George, Bruce Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride) Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)
Gilbert, Dr John Mitchell, Austin Walker, Terry (Kingswood)
Ginsburg, David Molloy, William Ward, Michael
Golding, John Moonman, Eric Watkins, David
Gould, Bryan Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe) Watkinson, John
Gourlay, Harry Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw) Weetch, Ken
Grant, John (Isington C) Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Weitzman, David
Grocott, Bruce Moyle, Roland Wellbeloved, James
Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick White, Frank R. (Bury)
Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife) Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King White, James (Pollok)
Hardy, Peter Newens, Stanley Whitehead, Phillip
Harper, Joseph Noble, Mike Whitlock, William
Harrison, Rt Hon Walter Oakes, Gordon Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Ogden, Eric Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Hatton, Frank O'Halloran, Michael Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)
Hayman, Mrs Helene Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Williams, Sir Thomas (Warrington)
Healey, Rt Hon Denis Ovenden, John Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Heffer, Eric S. Owen, Rt Hon Dr David Wilson, Rt Hon Sir Harold (Huyton)
Hooley, Frank Padley, Walter Wilson, William (Coventry SE)
Horam, John Palmer, Arthur Wise, Mrs Audrey
Howell, Rt Hon Denis (B'ham, Sm H) Pardoe, John Woodall, Alec
Hoyle, Doug (Nelson) Park, George Woof, Robert
Huckfield, Les Parker, John Wrigglesworth, Ian
Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey) Parry, Robert Young, David (Bolton E)
Hughes, Mark (Durham) Pavitt, Laurie TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Pendry, Tom Mr. Peter Snape and
Hughes, Roy (Newport) Penhaligon, David Mr. Ted Graham.

Question accordingly negatived.

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