HC Deb 25 February 1981 vol 999 cc868-9
10. Mr. Stott

asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he will consider raising the maximum level of grant which can be obtained for investing in freight terminals alongside railways under section 8 of the Railways Act 1974, as amended by section 16 of the Transport Act 1978.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

This is one of the recommendations made in Sir Arthur Armitage's report, "Inquiry into Lorries, People and the Environment", which we are currently considering.

Mr. Stott

The Minister's reply will be seen as a disappointment by those of us on both sides of the House who think that, for economic and environmental reasons, the extension of section 8 grants is vital if we are to get more freight off the roads and on to the railways. The proposals in the Armitage report are supported by many hon. Members on both sides of the House who want to see that happen. Can the Minister say whether, independent of the report coming back to the House, he is prepared to make a statement or to make a stand on the issue of section 8 grants and implement suggestions in the report?

Mr. Clarke

I do not see why my reply is disappointing, because we are keen to see a transfer of freight from road to rail where it makes sense and where there are environmental advantages. We give section 8 grants regularly. We have not cut the sum available. We have allowed all the applications bar one; I think that we have allowed 33 different grant applications so far.

We are considering Sir Arthur Armitage's recommendation that there might be improvements in the system. Therefore, I do not think that my reply is disappointing. The Government are clearly committed to transferring traffic from road to rail wherever that is practicable.

Mr. Cryer

Will the Minister accept that action needs to be taken urgently, and that it is not part of an Armitage package? Does he agree that what we need is less intrusion by the lorry—not larger lorries in return for more grants—but simply more grants to switch traffic from road to rail? If less than 2 per cent, were switched, British Rail's freight operation would move into the black.

Mr. Clarke

It is not part of the Armitage package. We are determined to transfer traffic from road to rail. We are already giving the grants, and have turned down only one application. All that we are looking at is the possibility of improvements. We have not been guilty of neglecting this area so far.