HC Deb 23 July 1980 vol 989 cc473-5
4. Mr. John Hunt

asked the Minister of Transport when he expects to announce his decisions with regard to the leases of the 38 motorway service areas currently on offer to interested operators.

Mr. Fowler

My agents, Richard Ellis, are continuing their negotiations with the existing operators and other interested parties for disposal of the motorway service areas on new long leases. I shall announce the results of those negotiations as soon as they are concluded.

Mr. Hunt

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there will be widespread disappointment if these leases go to the same dreary lot who operate our motorway service areas at present? Will he seek to ensure that at least some of the leases go to operators in France, Germany and Italy who run their motorway service areas with such flair and imagination, so that the British motorist can discover what he has been missing all these years?

Mr. Fowler

I take on board what my hon. Friend has said. I must point out that we seek to change policy in this area because of what we regard as the failure of the operation over the last 20 years. We are trying to open up the motorway service areas to new competition with the aim of getting a better service.

Mr. Gregor Mackenzie

Will the Minister tell some of these private enterprise sharks who operate the service areas that they should not charge 20p a gallon more for petrol than the prices in the city areas?

Mr. Fowler

The previous Government made £ 2 million of taxpayers' money available for the support of petrol prices on motorway service areas. We do not believe that that is the right use of public money, given all the restraints that exist at present. There is competition, there will be further competition and that is the way to proceed.

Mr. Waller

Does my right hon. Friend hope to find operators to take out leases on those sites for motorway service areas that have not yet been allocated? What chance is there of ending the current situation where, on some motorways, such as the M62 between Leeds and Hull, there is no motorway service area for about 80 miles?

Mr. Fowler

We hope to improve the spread of motorway service areas and that is one of our policy aims.

Mr. Clinton Davis

Will the Minister say what effective surveillance he will put into operation when the new contracts come into being to ensure that the disgrace to which the hon. Member for Ravensbourne (Mr. Hunt) referred, is not repeated? Will he take steps to ensure that contracts which are breached in the way that he has described are terminated immediately?

Mr. Fowler

We do not intend to do what the last Government proposed and have catering inspectors going around tasting fish and chips in various motorway service areas. That was absurd. Instead we intend to improve the competition on motorway service areas and to enable, for the first time, the operators of such service areas to advertise their names on the motorway. It will be up to the common sense of the public to choose between the services.