HC Deb 03 June 1981 vol 5 cc921-2
17. Mr. Edwin Wainwright

asked the Secretary of State for Transport what assessment he has made of the effect of the recession on the transport of goods by (a) roads and (b) rail.

Mr. Fowler

Freight transport is a service industry and both rail and road carryings have inevitably fallen because of lower economic activity. Rail freight traffic was about 11 per cent. lower in 1980 than in 1979, although some of this fall was due to the effects of the steel strike. Provisional figures for road, which was less affected by the strike, show a decline of 8 per cent. between 1979 and 1980.

Mr. Wainwright

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the Government should realise what their policies are doing, not only to industry and commerce, but to the transport system in this country? When he next goes to a Cabinet meeting, will he stand up and tell the Government that it is time that more money was put into the public purse so that the purchasing power of the nation will increase, more goods will be produced and a better transport system will result?

Mr. Fowler

My colleagues would be a little surprised if I stood up to make a speech of that kind, but I am conscious of the demands of transport, and particularly of transport investment, which is the crucial issue. I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's support.

Mr. Foster

Is it not time that the Secretary of State redoubled his efforts to divert traffic from road to rail? Does he realise that if he were to pursue these policies more vigorously and to increase investment, particularly in British Rail Engineering, he would be safeguarding up to 5,000 jobs in the Northern region?

Mr. Fowler

The only system one can have in the freight area is one of fair competition between road and rail. That is the policy of the Government. It was the policy of the previous Labour Government. Any policy that sought to direct freight would be bound to fail.

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