HC Deb 01 March 1978 vol 945 cc450-2
18. Mr. Flannery

asked the Secretary of State for Transport if there is any discernible growth of freight on British Railways as a result of the new Speedlink service; and if he will make a statement on the expansion or otherwise of rail freight traffic generally.

Mr. William Rodgers

More than 25 per cent. of the traffic carried by Speed-link in 1977 was new to rail. I am sure that the BRB will continue to take a positive view of the future prospects for rail freight.

Mr. Flannery

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer, which I regard as optimistic. Does he agree that efforts to take more freight into the safety of the railways and to improve their viability are difficult because of the tax position on heavy lorries that was referred to earlier? Does he agree that railways have to pay for their right of way while the taxpayers pay for the roads, and that there is therefore unequal competition? Will he seriously put his mind to this problem?

Mr. Rodgers

As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary said earlier, we see the need for a much fairer means of levying taxes on the two sectors. If freight is obliged to pay its way on the railways, there should be fair competition. The prospects can be good. There is a significant future for freight on the railways. British Rail must go out and get the business, and it is showing a positive approach.

Mr. Moate

When the figures are published, does the right hon. Gentleman expect to see that British Rail has met its statutory duty to break even on freight in the last financial year?

Mr. Rodgers

The statutory obligation referred to by the hon. Gentleman does not extend to the last financial year. That was the last year in which the railways were expected to carry a loss. I believe that it was less than £10 million. The coming financial year is the first in which they are expected to pay their way.

Mr. Buchanan

My right hon. Friend gave information earlier about the Speed-link service, which we welcome. Is he aware that many of us who are concerned about getting an integrated, co-ordinated Socialist transport policy are appalled at the pharisaical attitude of the leadership of the Transport and General Workers' Union in regard to the terminal at Didcot, which, if working, would increase the freight content of British Rail tremendously?

Mr. Rodgers

I know that there has been widespread and genuine concern and I should like to think that these matters will be settled. I understand that the General Secretary of the NUR has made clear his views to Mr. Jack Jones I regret the course of events, which has been widely reported, and hope that the matter can be resolved.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis

As I missed Question No. 10 because of a late train, will the right hon. Gentleman answer it now?