HC Deb 26 January 1978 vol 942 cc1587-9
Q1. Mr. Corbett

asked the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for 26th January.

The Prime Minister (Mr. James Callaghan)

This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet, in addition to my duties in this House. I shall be holding further meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. This evening I shall be the guest of the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce at its annual dinner.

Mr. Corbett

Will my right hon. Friend take time today to consider the anger of rail commuters who, having faced six increases in rail fares in two years, are now paying about 120 per cent. more for their rides to and from work? Will he remember that during this period earnings have increased by only about 30 per cent.? Will he urgently consider ways of aiding commuters, through tax relief or subsidy or a combination of both?

The Prime Minister

I understand that the Price Commission is investigating the present proposed increase, and I think that it is due to report in two or three weeks' time. Perhaps we had better see what it does. As for the relationship between increased prices and increased incomes, this is one of the basic reasons why we should continue to work to keep down inflation. I am glad to see that British Rail has not increased its fares since January 1977 [Interruption.] Well in general. I hope that it will not do so. [HON. MEMBERS: " January 1978, not 1977.] I know. That is 12 months. That is what I am saying. That is what the Price Commission is investigating. Of course, costs have to be met. If the Opposition are shouting about this, I wonder why they voted against the Second Reading of the Transport Bill when their action could have destroyed all subsidies to commuters.

The position of the commuter is very difficult. Having travelled as a commuter for many years, I can say that it seems that only the youngest and the fittest can survive. I hope that British Rail will turn its attention, during the campaign being run by the London Evening Standard and other newspapers, to the conditions under which commuters have to travel to and from work every day. It seems to me to place a great strain on them.

Mr. Baker

Will the Prime Minister have time later today to look at the statement made by the Secretary of State for Energy this week when, speaking to a very receptive audience at the Institute of Oriental Studies, he said that public ownership was back on the agenda? Is it back on the Prime Minister's agenda?

The Prime Minister

I regret to say that I have not had the opportunity to study this latest script. However, I looked at the headings, which were "The Campaign for Jobs", "The Campaign for Better Public Services", "The Campaign against Fascism", "The Campaign for Internationalism", "The Campaign for Human Values" and "The Campaign for a Democratic and Socialist Perspective". Those headings seem to me to be admirable.

Mr. Park

When my right hon. Friend is in Birmingham tonight, will he bear in mind that when the Midlands are prosperous, so is the rest of the country? Will he have another look at the effects on the Midlands of the regional policy?

The Prime Minister

I shall be making some reference, in remarks that I hope to make tonight, to the important position occupied by the Midlands. Although I said that I was going to the dinner, I doubt whether I shall get there in time to eat anything. I suppose that I shall have to make a speech, and I shall refer to some of the points raised by my hon. Friend.

Mr. Freud

Will the Prime Minister consider the concern of local authorities and private individuals not on supplementary benefit who are victims of flood damage? Will he consider issuing a central Government statement of intent regarding aid to those people?

The Prime Minister

It would be better if that Question were put on the Order Paper. I believe, though I am subject to correction, that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment has today met local authorities to discuss the matter. I suggest that a detailed Question should be tabled.

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