HC Deb 25 April 1984 vol 58 cc757-828
Mr. Speaker

Before I call the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) to move the motion in the name of the Leader of the Opposition, I inform the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

Mr. Michael Meadowcroft (Leeds, West)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Opposition day is shown on the Order Paper as the 13th allotted day. I wonder whether you would care to give your guidance on the accuracy of that? I recall that on 3 April we had the 12th allotted day to the Opposition, which was halved by the Opposition's own choice, because they gave back to the Government half their allotted time. Ought not this Opposition day to be shown on the Order Paper as the 12th allotted day? Are the Government about to give the remaining half day to Opposition parties other than the Labour Party?

Mr. Speaker

We dealt with that before the Easter recess. I must say to the hon. Gentleman that I have no knowledge of what goes on between the usual channels.

5.3 pm

Mr. John Prescott (Kingston upon Hull, East)

I beg to move, That this House condemns the Government's transport policy which is based on an ideological obsession with competition, profit, privatisation and reduced Government financial support and inadequate investment, which has resulted, since 1979, in higher fares, poorer services, massive redundancies, reductions in rail services and bus route miles, especially in the rural areas, and a serious deterioration in road and rail infrastructure; notes that a policy of privatisation and competition has reduced the United Kingdom merchant fleet by 500 ships, and is creating greater uncertainty in our ports, waterways and aviation industries; affirms that the provision of a comprehensive efficient and integrated transport system at prices which do not unreasonably constrain demand cannot be provided by reliance solely on market forces; and therefore calls upon Her Majesty's Government to pursue those policies which meet the essential needs of a modern developed economy. In the motion we condemn the Tory Government's ideological obsession to sweep away the public controls, standards and democratic accountability of past transport policies in the name of competition and user interests which in reality is a pursuit of monetary objectives to reduce public financial support. Four years of Tory transport and economic policy, followed by a mass of transport legislation, have produced fewer services and higher costs to the user and taxpayer, and a deliberate policy to increase transport unemployment. The main beneficiaries have been the plunderers of public assets at knock-down prices.

This is the first comprehensive transport debate that the House has had since 1977 when the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler) returned from the United States with bold new ideas for transport policies for Britain of car sharing, trial areas and deregulation to replace the public service meeting public needs with competition and profit for private interests. The right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield — later to become the first of the Government's four Secretaries of State for Transport— in that debate attempted to indict the Labour Government for their inactivity in transport policy which he believed was detrimental to the transport user's interests.

It may be useful at the beginning of the debate to compare the four years of Labour Government, which the then Opposition spokesman the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield was condemning, with the four years of Tory Administration and their effects on the public transportation system. I seek to use an impeccable and impartial source for my comparison—the Department of Transport's publication on transport statistics. I shall look at the total picture of transport in the country and then make some comparisons for similar periods within the individual sectors of the transport industries.

In the total picture, one finds that passenger journeys by rail increased during the last four years of the Labour. Government by 47 million. The following four years of Tory Administration led to a massive decline in passenger use of rail totalling 118 million. On the bus side, we witnessed what has been a continuing decline over a considerable period — certainly since before 1979. Passenger journeys by bus in the four years of Labour rule declined by 700 million. In the four years of Tory Administration, with their new competition and transport policies, something like 1,000 million passengers were driven off the buses. However, revenue support for transport policies has doubled from £410 million to £835 million. Thus, in the four years of Tory Administration the user in the country has been paying a lot more for a lot less, and has been paying more as a taxpayer.

As to those employed in the transport industries, in the four years of Labour Government, employment in the transport industries increased by 6,000 extra jobs per year. Four years of Tory Administration produced a reduction of 30,000 jobs per year in the transport industries—a total of 120,000 jobs. It is clear that the user and the employee are considerably worse off as a result of the Government's policy.

One benefit of the policy which has often been put forward in the House is the development of the competition of inter-city coaches with British Rail. Indeed, it was the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield who, with great publicity, waved off the new venture into privatisation of coach services called "the British Coachways." It was to collapse within 12 months. Nevertheless, the Secretary of State for Transport has not been discouraged by the fact that the private sector has not been able to offer the new private services that were predicted. Indeed, he is now overruling the traffic commissioners whose judgments have often been used to maintain the public interest, as defined in public legislation. The traffic commissioners, in judging applications for private competitive coaches, which want to operate only in profitable times and on profitable routes, have ruled against them when they have considered that this would undermine the general cross-subsidised rural and urban transport that has been a common feature of public transportation in the country. Not to be outdone by that, the Secretary of State for Transport is now considering further the possibility of overruling the traffic commissioners' judgment about the provision of minibuses in the London area.

It is interesting to note that in some cases those judgments, after the decision of the Secretary of State to overrule the traffic commissioners, were eventually taken to the courts. Regarding the evidence of the Secretary of State and the Department of Transport, the Law Lords said: There was a marked difference between the detailed examination of the issues in the commissioner's decision and the inspector's report and the almost barren disposal of the material in the Transport Secretary's decision letter. That will come as no surprise to those of us who are used to facing him across the Dispatch Box or in Committee. The Secretary of State is rarely concerned about evidence; he is concerned with his ideological obsession to introduce competition at any price.

It is not surprising that the aviation and shipping industries, which have been welcomed into the Department of Transport—I hope that they will soon be joined by the waterways industry, which has an important role in a comprehensive transport system—have begun to fear the Secretary of State's policy, which will mean facing domestic and international competition. The Governments of most countries play a supporting part in protecting and advancing the interests of their aviation and shipping industries.

All aviation routes are negotiated by Governments in bilateral agreements, and all decisions on routes affect airports and aviation policy. As the Opposition said in 1981, in proceedings on the Civil Aviation Bill, it was clearly nonsense to expect that the Civil Aviation Authority could deal with all the problems of regulation and control in the aviation industry and that the Secretary of State could stand aside from the important issues involved. Since the Civil Aviation Act 1980, Secretaries of State have constantly intervened in the provision of international and domestic routes. In some cases, the Secretary of State has intervened to overrule CAA decisions which, in the case of British Midland Airways, will only increase the problems caused by the Government's ceiling on flight movements at Heathrow.

The Government's declared policy for the privatisation of the aviation industry will undoubtedly mean a difficult decision for them. They wish to sell British Airways at the best possible price, with the many routes in its network, but at the same time they are suggesting that there should be an optimum size for aviation companies in competition and that the Secretary of State can arbitrarily pinch routes from British airlines. If that happens, British interests will be undermined, especially bearing in mind the competition from international airlines, and more aviation unemployment will follow.

The Government's obsession in not protecting British industries is most savagely seen in shipping. As an island nation, Britain needs its fleet. British seamen were welcomed as heroes during the Falklands affair, but since 1979 a fleet of 1,200 ships has been reduced to 700—the industry predicts that it will decrease to 400 by 1986—which means the loss of two British ships for every week since the Government came to power. Our great British merchant fleet has been reduced to one third of its size since the Tories came to power, 30,000 seafarers' jobs have gone, and they face wage cuts from Budget proposals to cut overseas allowances. Today only one third of British goods are carried in British ships.

The Government's ideological obsession is reflected in their attitude to the threat of competition. When the threat comes from flag-of-convenience ships, which represent 30 per cent. of the world's fleets and which are growing because they offer tax havens, cheap crews, unsafe vessels and unfair competition, the Secretary of State, only response is to say that he believes in competition and to assure us that he will use his port state controls, as agreed in the Community, to enforce international safety standards.

However, I have given the Secretary of State examples of where his Department's inspectors have failed to carry out their obligations under the agreement. In one instance a ship that was passed as safe by the Department's inspectors was stopped from leaving a German port because it had more than 30 faults, mainly with its lifeboats, rudder and compasses. To be fair, the Secretary of State apologised for misleading me when he said that he thought the vessel was safe after the inspector released it, but he was not prepared to act in that case.

The Russians provide 5 per cent. of the world's ships. The Secretary of State is now prepared to consider proposals for new merchant shipping legislation to counteract the threat of the Russian menace, but there is no such response to the flag-of-convenience ships, which pose the main threat to our fleet. The Minister with responsibility for shipping has visited Norway many times to discuss protection, but the measures taken by the Norwegians to protect their fleet from outside competition have been at the direct expense of British ships and British seamen's jobs in the North sea, even in the area of our drilling operations. The conversations and discussions have produced little action or change.

The link between our great land transport industries and the sea is our ports, which have an excess capacity of about 50 per cent. in both conventional handling and containerisation. Although 20,000 jobs have been lost in the ports since 1979, the Government's response was to sell the British Transport Docks Board at a loss to the taxpayer, on a proper evaluation, of between £25 million and £30 million, to say that all ports should be private and to threaten an attack on the National Dock Labour Board's schemes because of the belief that a high cost of wages was involved.

I warn the Secretary of State that if he proceeds along that road and avoids his responsibility to take decisions under present legislation—he has given notice that he divests himself of the responsibility for making a decision on whether Falmouth should add to the capacity for containerisation—he will be fuelling the fires for an industrial dispute of a considerable size in our ports.

Mr. Tim Smith (Beaconsfield)

That is all very negative stuff. Has the hon. Gentleman noticed since the Government sold shares in Associated British Ports, how successful that company has been?

Mr. Prescott

Clearly the hon. Gentleman does not know about the performance of the British Transport Docks Board before it was privatised. If he goes to the Library and examines its profit or productivity record—however he wishes to measure it—he will see that it always had a fair measure of success. The hon. Gentleman is clearly not from a port area — [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman should go to the Library as I suggested. He has shown his ignorance on the Floor of the House, but he might improve his performance by looking up the facts before he intervenes.

The motion states that there has been a deterioration in transport, so I must justify that statement and attack the Government's policy. The Government cannot be indifferent to the pattern of transport locations. In the 1970s we pursued the idea of building roads to ports. However, now the roads go to ports which have little traffic and the expanding ports are demanding more investment in roads at a time when road improvement and maintenance are deteriorating. That was shown by the Department's independent survey, which stated: Assessment of underlying trends is however more important than simple comparisons between two years. Between 1977 and 1980, the general trend was one of improvement, followed by deterioration up to 1982. That was improvement under a Labour Government and deterioration under a Tory Government.

The sole response to that decline in our network and the appearance of a patchwork quilt of maintenance notices in the papers that point to this year's provisions for motorway traffic is to allow bigger and faster lorries to use our motorways, with deteriorating infrastructure and adding further to lorry drivers' unemployment.

The Government's abdication of responsibility for the matter is shown especially by their ignoring many of the proposals in the Armitage report. The Government, compared with the Labour Government, are building fewer bypasses to deal with large lorries. That has led to local authority initiatives, in which more than 12,000 lorry bans have been documented. The latest example of local authority initiative is in the GLC's Wood inquiry, which the Government have attacked but to which they have offered no alternative other than the free access of lorries to urban areas. The Government's further response to local authority action has been to propose the abolition of the GLC and to introduce Tory quangos. No doubt those quangos will he used as the means of implementing the changes in London's roads that the Secretary of State wants to see, without the usual inquiries that are possible under legislation.

The nationalisation of London Transport has shown us how the Government deal with the transport needs of Londoners. It was no surprise to many of us that, within days of considering the London Regional Transport Bill, the Secretary of State, in a headlined article in The Standard of Thursday 12 April, said: Yes, fares will have to go up. The article makes it clear that there will be cuts in services, and redundancies. The consequences of privatisation were often denied in Committee. The Secretary of State even said that Tory Members would not vote against the Bill. That is untrue, as a Tory Member voted against it. The Secretary of State is not often factually correct in his approach to these matters.

The London Regional Transport Bill will cause higher fares, fewer services and more redundancies. Tory policy will be introduced in all the passenger transport areas, where Labour's successful transport policies were regularly voted for by local electors. We have seen the comparison between Tory and Labour passenger transport areas in the different principles and policies of high and low fares. Indeed, the only reversal in the decline in the number of people using public transport has been in areas such as Tyne and Wear and South Yorkshire. The level of support given there, from 50 to 60 per cent. of revenue costs, is equivalent to the normal rates of support for European transport systems. The usual level in the United Kingdom is about 30 per cent. The Secretary of State could learn much from a study of the 10 years of operation of the passenger transport authorities.

When we compare the authorities with another bus transportation system—the National Bus Company—we see that a considerable decline in passengers has resulted from the policies that it has been forced to pursue, with little direct public support except what it can get from local authorities. The National Bus Company has a high fares policy. Again, when we compare Labour and Tory Administrations, the decline in passengers on National Bus Company buses of 7 million a year during Labour's period of office accelerated to 60 million a year and vehicle miles were halved under the Tory Administration.

The Tories can say — no doubt it gives great satisfaction to the Secretary of State — that the company's profits increased from £5 million in 1979 to £40 million today. The National Bus Company, in the process of showing that profits can be made by nationalised industries, is clearly a candidate for privatisation.

Those profits are made at a heck of a price. The desire for increased profits has proved bad for rural areas with fewer services. It has considerably reduced many thousands of jobs on national buses. The only claim in favour of a national bus policy — I assume that the Government may claim it tonight — is that there are more inter-city services, which means that lower prices must be introduced in competition on the routes between our main towns. That has been at the expense of rural services, and it has also added to the competition difficulties of inter-city rail services, which have considerable financial problems.

It is clear that the 5 per cent. return on capital imposed upon inter-city rail services will not be achieved. When one considers that the loss in 1982 was £159 million, it is no surprise that the only routes likely to show profits, by that definition, are the east and west coast runs. The inter-city services operating cross-country in the west and the north will not be able to meet the financial targets. That might cause further threats to them and overall inter-city investment when assessments are made in 1988.

Today the trade unions launched a demand for a hygh investment low fare strategy for British Rail. It is undoubtedly true that we have the worst-financed railway system, with the lowest level of investment in Europe. Although the level of Government investment was not good enough under Labour, in the four years of the Labour Administration it was about £415 million a year. Under the Conservatives it was reduced to £343 million a year. We should bear it in mind that Germany invests three times as much in its railways, and France spends twice as much.

British Rail's plan in 1980 made it clear that it needed a minimum investment of £600 million a year to maintain its high investment strategy. The answers given by the Secretary of State at Question Time make it clear that some of the investments on his desk were withdrawn by British Rail. It is important for us to understand some of the reasons why an investment of £330 million by British Rail was withdrawn.

I wrote to the chairman of British Rail to ask why, with such a shortage of investment in British Rail, he felt that he could withdraw more than £300 million for British Rail. He replied by picking out certain investments, including the five-year rolling programme for the construction of freight rolling stock of £136 million. That was cancelled and withdrawn primarily because the chairman felt that the freight sector could not meet the financial targets that were set for it and closed Shildon.

The rolling programme for the construction of the EMU vehicles for 1980 to 1984 is in two batches of £164 million. Some of those have already been undertaken. In his reply, the chairman of British Rail said: It is clear that the Department of Transport's support for the rolling programme has waned. Indeed, the programme is running two years behind its original schedule. On the third area of the construction of 180 MK III loco-haul day coaches at £34 million, the reason for the withdrawal by British Rail was that it believed: There was never a strong financial justification for these 180 vehicles … The timing of its investment was strongly influenced by a production gap at BREL's Derby Litchurch Lane Works. Those men are desperately in need of work. We are desperately in need of modern coach work. Yet, because of the new political climate and financial stringencies being placed upon British Rail through reduction in its financial support, it has been forced to reassess its investment position and prepare BREL for privatisation.

Mr. Conal Gregory (York)

The hon. Gentleman suggests that British Rail has been starved of investment, but nothing could be further from the truth. If he considers the factors involved, he will see that British Rail has asked for an external financing limit of £936 million, which was not reduced by the Government. The limit was decided by agreement. All the investment that has been requested by British Rail has been fulfilled, quite contrary to the hon. Gentleman's suggestion.

Mr. Prescott

I do not have time now to take up that matter, except to say that the external financing limits are not a problem for British Rail. It suffers from a lack of capital with which to carry out investments. Money comes from the Government or from fares. That is the way investment is financed. Without sufficient resources, there will be cuts.

The hon. Gentleman's point is sound when one considers that British Rail is being forced to reduce services and maintenance on its rural network and, indeed, throughout its whole network. We have heard the Secretary of State constantly saying that there has been a cut in services of only 2 per cent. At least the cut is of not more than 2 per cent. A letter sent to me by the transport users' consultative committee for London makes it clear that percentage reductions are of the order of 25 to 30 per cent., with a few at 60 per cent. Drops from 30 minutes to 50 minutes frequencies. It really is dishonest of various defenders of the policy to state that cuts amount to 2 per cent. overall. That statement shows the sharp edge of the policy's effect. There have been cuts in routes such as the Goole line and the Settle-Carlisle line. Such cuts are leading to the overall reduction of our rail system. Savings are being made through increasing unemployment. British Rail's PSO has been reduced to zero by the Secretary of State, so it finds savings in other ways. It does so by reducing services and employment. In the four years of Labour's period of office, the number of jobs in British Rail was reduced by 1,000 a year. That number increased under the Tory Government to 6,000 a year, and there is now a predicted figure of 10,000. According to the chairman's estimate, by 1986 there will be a loss of 60,000 jobs or a saving of £300 million in the wage bill. Savings will be made through further mass unemployment in British Rail, and also by the privatisation of assets, which British Rail sets at about £265 million.

The body in charge of selling the taxpayers' assets for British Rail is British Rail Investment Ltd. It sold the hotels at half their market value and it gave away hovercraft. The company concerned is now known as Hoverspeed. The original company, valued at £11 million, was given to a few people in management, about which there are few details. The chairman of British Rail Investment Ltd., which gave away the company to Hoverspeed, also sat on the board of Hoverspeed. I should have thought that that was a definite conflict of interests. BRIL is also in charge of selling Sealink. There have been low earnings and losses in Sealink that can only be detrimental to its sale value at this time. That is why I referred the matter to the Public Accounts Committee. It is a scandalous disposal of public assets. [Interruption.] The Secretary of State may laugh, but if he thinks that it is satisfactory for a person to give one company's assets to a board on which he sits, I believe that many other people will not. In that case, there is a clear conflict of interest.

The Government's policy for British Rail was predicted in Serpell. Forty-three Tory Members from the south wrote to the National Union of Railwaymen saying that they rejected Serpell and believed in a high investment policy. However, one should look at what the Government are doing. Theirs is not a high investment policy. It is in line with Serpell's recommendations. Tory Members should bear that in mind when they vote on the motion.

The Tory Government's policy represents an ideologcial obsession with introducing competition by rolling back the frontiers of Socialism. Exposed for what it is, it is an ideological obsession with market ideology, an inevitable consequence of their monetary policy. It is an excuse to plunder the taxpayers' assets, producing disintegration of our transport, damaging our nation's competitiveness, producing fewer services at higher prices, paid for by massive unemployment, placing a greater burden on those who depend on public transport, and replacing a public service, meeting public transport needs, with competition, privatisation and profit. By voting for our motion, we shall commit ourselves to a reversal of those vicious Tory policies. We shall certainly reverse them on our return to office.

5.35 pm
The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Nicholas Ridley)

I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: 'welcomes the steps Her Majesty's Government is taking to improve the transport system of the United Kingdom.'. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) has hardly made his case. He must substantiate the first word in the title of the motion: Deterioration of British Transport Systems". What deterioration? Since 1979 total passenger mileage has increased by 12 per cent. There has been rapid expansion. Private passenger car mileage has increased by 18 per cent. It is true that conventional public transport has declined. The number of rail passengers is down by 5 per cent., and bus passengers by 17 per cent., but the Labour party must realise that transport is for the benefit of the traveller, not the operator. If travellers prefer to go by car and can afford to do so, that is a sign of progress. More people do so every year. They are exercising their freedom of choice to do so, and I am delighted that they can. It is excellent news. I make it clear that, unlike the Labour party, we welcome it. Why do the Opposition hate car owners so much? I cannot understand it.

Freight has also increased over the years. Equally, it has moved for the benefit of the customers. The proportion of all domestic freight going by road as opposed to rail in the early 1950s was about 35 per cent. In the early 1980s it was about 60 per cent. Over the same 30 years road freight has trebled and rail freight has halved. That is because businesses find it cheaper and more efficient to send their goods by road, yet the Opposition would frustrate that.

The hon. Gentleman, speaking at a conference at Heathrow on 23 March, said that he wanted to bring in some form of quantity licensing for heavy lorries, which was most interesting. He also said, on a side issue: Political pressure did force the Government to propose the 38 tonner despite Armitage making it clear that damage to the roads would be no greater from a 44 tonner. Clearly logic is not a sufficient counter-force to political pressure from community groups. Those words will be useful in the debates ahead. I shall not forget them.

I return to the hon. Gentleman's views on road freight. Why, if road transport is cheaper and more efficient for the businesses that want to send freight, does the hon. Gentleman want to reduce road transport and restrain it with quantity controls? If it is the best form of freight transport, what is the point of imposing restrictions upon it?

I shall give Opposition Members the answer to both those questions. They see the railways and the buses as major nationalised employers. They see the employees, heavily unionised, as a political constituency for Labour. However, it has declined, as the hon. Gentleman admitted in his speech. That is what he is worried about. Opposition Members want to protect that, so they stoop to carping at freedom of choice for the traveller because they would rather put the operators before the travellers. They are not interested in providing new jobs by keeping industry's costs down and improving services to customers. They are interested only in preserving jobs, whatever the cost to the user, and whatever the long-term costs to the public transport network, the economy and jobs.

The motion complains about competition, profit, privatisation and reduced Government financial support and inadequate investment". I shall examine each in turn. First, I believe in competition. It is good for travellers, good for workers and good for taxpayers. I shall take aviation as an example. British Midland now flies from Heathrow to Glasgow, Edinburgh and Belfast with a better fares structure, improvements in frequency and a remarkable improvement in the standard of service. The result is that both British Airways and British Midland have reported significant increases in traffic—at least 10 per cent. That is the way to safeguard jobs. It has even made British Airways provide breakfast on its morning flights. British Air Ferries and Guernsey Airlines will soon start summer services between Jersey and Scotland. They are willing to compete. I see no reason to stop them.

We are carrying those principles into Europe, too. At the next Council of Ministers meeting I shall press for more competition in air services within Europe. I see no reason why it should cost more to fly from London to Paris than from London to Glasgow. London to Paris is a shorter distance, yet the flight costs more. Why? Because there is no true competition such as that which has been introduced on the Scottish service. If more evidence of the efficacy of competition for airline business is needed, I ask the hon. Gentleman to look at the traffic across the north Atlantic.

Let me also remind the House of the results of deregulation of the long-distance coach market. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East even carped at that because it was competition for the railways. The result has been more frequent services—700 new services were introduced between 1980 and 1983—a better quality of service and, above all, lower fares, which have fallen by some 40 per cent. in real terms on the major routes. Again, more passengers have been carried. This change has shown what competition does to help the traveller.

I believe in privatising transport concerns. It has dramatic effects. We have privatised some nationalised industries, thereby reducing the role of the Government. The ports and road haulage undertakings which the Government previously owned have both been sold, and both have since produced far better results in the private sector. Only recently the National Freight Company announced an increase in profits, turnover and investment for the first full year of its existence, and the operating profits of Associated British Ports were up by more than a quarter in its first year.

Last week we had a splendid sale of our remaining shares in ABP—at 2.4 times the price of the original sale only 14 months ago. That shows how an enterprise can thrive under competition in the private sector. British Airways is poised for sale in early 1985, Sealink UK Ltd. is being bid for now, Hoverspeed (UK) Ltd. is already in the private sector, and I am happy to tell the House that we shall have further plans for the privatisation of transport industries.

Mr. Lewis Carter-Jones (Eccles)

What profits did British Airways make last year and the year before while publicly owned?

Mr. Ridley

I shall be able to give the hon. Gentleman the 1983 profit figures very soon—they are about to come out but—I do not have the 1982 figure in my head. However, he will find that there has been a dramatic transformation in the profitability of British Airways since Lord King started to prepare it for privatisation.

Mr. Carter-Jones

Is not the Secretary of State really saying that a change of management rather than a change of ownership has caused this?

Mr. Ridley

I am not saying that——

Mr. Prescott

The right hon. Gentleman just has.

Mr. Ridley

I did not. The hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones) said it. I do not believe that Lord King would have taken the job had he not been asked to take the company into the private sector. He is a professional manager who believes passionately that the only way to manage such a concern is in the private sector.

I am delighted with all this, and so are the customers and workers. National Freight Company worker-shareholders have seen their original shares go from £1 to the equivalent of £5.20, and ABP shares have gone from £1.12 at initial purchase to £2.60 this morning on the stock market—a little bit more last week when that company was sold.

What makes the Opposition so unhappy about all this? I read in that extraordinary publication "Labour's Manifesto 1983" that: Labour believes that, together with a properly enforced licensing system, a publicly-owned share of the road haulage industry is essential. It would clearly be sensible for the National Freight Company to form part of this sector; and we are examining how best to bring this about. I also read in the TUC-Labour party liaison committee "Transport Policy" 1982: There could be resistance amongst NFC employees to the re-nationalisation of their company. It is anticipated that the NFC should form part of a public sector approach to road haulage. How is that from the party of workers? Is it still the Opposition's policy to renationalise the NFC? Would they take it into public ownership if ever they were to come back into government?

Mr. Prescott

We are quite prepared to say that we believe in a strong public ownership element in the national transportation sector of our lorry industries. As we have said, the NFC could be one of the candidates for consideration. There is no embarrassment in making that point. However, it is understandable that when people have shares in these industries their attitude may be affected if certain acation were taken, but that is the reality of looking at such problems.

Mr. Ridley

The NFC workers will not thank the hon. Gentleman for that. That is the quickest way of losing votes that ought to go to him. What about ABP, Sealink and British Airways? The employees who buy shares in those great undertakings, and who are looking forward to a more prosperous and successful time under private ownership, also want answers to those questions.

Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)

The right hon. Gentleman may have made a slip of the tongue, but is he quite certain that the employees of, say, Sealink will be given the chance to buy shares?

Mr. Ridley

The hon. Gentleman has not done his homework, or he would know that in deciding who should buy the company British Rail took particular account of whether the employee shares scheme was adequate.

Mr. Stephen Ross

That does not answer my question.

Mr. Ridley

I have answered the hon. Gentleman's question.

Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Ridley

I have a lot more to say, and I have been interrupted for longer than I have been speaking, but I shall give way.

Mr. Snape

The right hon. Gentleman ought to reflect that that is probably a relief for the House. As he has encouraged us to intervene, may I ask him about his letter to the chairman of the British Railways Board on 24 October 1983, which referred specifically to Sealink? Incidentally, the right hon. Gentleman singularly failed to address himself to that point in reply to the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross). That letter stated: Sealink must be made ready for privatisation as soon as possible". There is nothing in it about shares for the employees.

Mr. Ridley

The hon. Gentleman has not read the invitation to bidders, and he should not come to the House without doing his homework. He will find that it is stipulated there.

I wish to discuss profits, which the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East also seems to dislike. The Labour party cannot bear commercial success or profitability. Its whole ideology rests on the belief that the profit motive is evil, yet the NFC is an outstanding example of what private ownership, profitability and employee participation can achieve. The Labour party cannot countenance the idea that the profit motive is a force for progress. It would send the NFC back to the golden years of the mid-1970s, when it lost £31 million in 1975. There is no profit motive there.

The motion also refers to reduced Government financial support and inadequate investment". The private sector has been investing with great vigour, and I am amazed to see the Opposition motion trying to stop it. When I announced earlier this month the abolition of section 9 of the Harbours Act 1964, which has enabled Governments to stop investment in ports, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East had the temerity to table a motion — [Interruption.] — he signed a motion which said: That this House … believes that such action will give the go ahead to a private company to construct a container terminal at Falmouth". Does the hon. Gentleman want investment, or does he want me to stop it? Again it can be seen that the Labour party's policy is to look after the interests of the registered dock workers in Liverpool, London, Bristol, Southampton, Scotland and Hull, and not, I emphasise, those wishing to ship their goods and to export and import them. The Labour party is interested only in the transport workers, not the transport customers.

The Labour party screams for more investment in infrastructure, yet screams again when I take the restrictions off people wanting to invest in infrastructure. Private investment in ports, lorries, coaches, cars and aeroplanes has been booming, but the motion may be trying to sidestep that. The Opposition are interested only in public sector investment. I am happy to tell the Opposition what is happening to public sector investment.

Let us take the example of roads, which are crucial for industry and commerce. We have been reversing the massive cuts in capital spending which took place before we came to power. Under Labour, between 1975–76 and 1978–79, capital spending on trunk roads and motorways—which does not include maintenance expenditure—fell by 40 per cent.—more than £300 million in real terms. That was a 40 per cent. cut, yet the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East has the audacity to criticise the Government's record on roads.

We decided to gear the programme up again. It could not be done all at once, but there have been some healthy increases since. In 1982–83 capital spending on trunk roads was more than 20 per cent. higher in constant price terms than in the last year of the Labour Government. This year we shall see a 13 per cent. cash increase, about another 6 per cent.in constant price terms, on road spending.

We are also fulfilling our responsibilities on local authority road maintenance. We have accepted for transport supplementary grant nearly £900 million this year — 8 per cent. up on last year — and we have accepted a local capital spending programme of £647 million, 4.5 per cent. up, which will enable local authorities to keep up with work on new bypasses and urban relief roads.

Such roads are important not only for passengers but for freight. Transport and transport infrastructure play a central role in the economy, and if we want to see growth and regeneration I suggest that we concentrate more on making life possible for industry. The philosophy of responding to demand applies just as much to freight transport as to passengers, and jobs and prosperity depend on it just as much.

This expenditure, by central and local government, all helps to take heavy traffic out of towns and villages and residential areas. We have opened 42 trunk road bypasses and about 30 more should be completed in the next couple of years—that is trunk road bypasses only.

While we must have the roads, we are equally determined to reduce the effect of heavy traffic on the environment where people live. The two aims of good roads and less nuisance from traffic are compatible. We have made a much better fist of reconciling them than did our predecessors.

We hear a lot about railways from the Opposition, and the terrible restraints on their investment, as we did this afternoon. The hon. Gentleman seems to have a bee in his bonnet about railway investment. I advise him to get an apiarist to help get rid of it. It is not true, I am afraid. Since we took office, BR has invested almost £2 billion at present-day prices. In addition, it is spending £100 million per year on replacing old track with continuous welded rail.

I have made it quite clear that my policy is to support all worthwhile investment. That is why we have approved electrification to Cambridge, to Ipswich, Norwich and Harwich and to Hastings. That is why we have approved major signalling projects—for example schemes worth £20 million in Leeds, and £28 million for the west of England. That is why in the past six months we have approved new rolling stock—some 400 vehicles—worth some £85 million. That is why the board envisages an increase in investment of about 40 per cent. by 1986. I hope that the Opposition will not talk too often about railways starved of investment. They are chasing an illusion.

I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman has read the White Paper on transport issued by his own Government in 1977. If he has not, I urge him to do so. It is, of course, defective in parts, but there is a lot of wisdom in it. For example, on page 3 we are told: The objectives — of investment in transport to support industrial recovery and the provision of adequate public transport — have both to be met from the resources we can afford. More for one means less for another … those who wish to see a significant increase in transport expenditure have a duty to say where the additional money should come from. I ask the hon. Gentleman: where should the additional money come from, particularly as British Rail has not been denied any worthwhile investment that it has suggested, as the hon. Gentleman knows?

British Rail now at last has clear objectives to go with its financial target. When I wrote to the chairman last autumn I made it clear that I did not want a programme of major route closures. What is needed is a modern, efficient railway at a low cost to the taxpayer. This depends above all on a willingness to provide a service that customers really want, and the same goes for all transport enterprises. That is the real way to a secure future.

The railways are responding. I congratulate British Rail on its very encouraging results for 1983. It has turned a large loss into a small token profit of £8 million, for the first time. Let me quote from the annual report: In 1983, British Rail demonstrated that a combination of firm management and sound business principles can, with the co-operation of a committed workforce, turn a previous year loss of £175 million into a small but, in terms of the morale of the industry, significant surplus of £8 million. Now that a lot more work has been done, the Board is confident, provided railway operations remain reliable. that BR will move close to the objective of a faster reduction in support. Finally, in perhaps the most telling of the points made, and one which the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East should remember, the chairman says: Years of practical experience as a railway manager, rather than any particular view of transport policy, have convinced me that the less dependent an industry is on any source other than the paying customer, the more efficiently it will run. The way to prosper in any business is to satisfy the customer by giving value for money. Those are salutary words, from which I hope Opposition spokesmen will learn one day.

When it comes to what the motion calls "Government financial support"—which means extracting money front the taxpayers—it must not be forgotten that the railways PSO grant at £855 million, with another £78 million from the local authorities—a total of £933 million for 1983—is an enormous sum of money.

I recognise that public transport needs support. The difference between the Government and the Opposition is that they think the more the better. We want value for money. Comparisons with France or Germany are very favourable to us—for once we seem to be doing better than they are, because we have to use very much less support.

The Opposition measure everything by how much of other people's money is spent on it. I should hate to take the hon. Gentleman out to a restaurant for dinner at my expense. He would only look at the menu to see what item was the most expensive. If we can run public transport at less subsidy than other countries can, it is a success story, not a failure. I never understand why, in Labour mythology, any cut in subsidy must be a cut in services.Will the Labour party ever understand that it is possible to save subsidy by cutting out inefficiency, by modernisation and competition?

Let us take the example of bus subsidies in the big cities. Some local authorities have been frankly extravagant, and I make no apology for the fact that the protected expenditure levels that I set for 1984–85 were below what the GLC and metropolitan counties wanted, but I am still protecting nearly £500 million of subsidies. That figure is higher than I would ultimately wish. It is also higher in real terms than the Labour Government anticipated in their 1977 transport White Paper. Their commitment to maintain support in real terms at £150 million a year would translate to about £300 million at today's prices. However, there must be constraints on the rate of reduction, to avoid disruption.

What I do not recognise is the claim that fares must be kept down for the sake of it. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East quoted a headline from an article in The Standard—I hope that he read the article—when I said nothing new; only that fares in London would stay roughly in line with inflation. That is not putting fares up. That is real-term fares staying level, and the hon. Gentleman knows it.

Perhaps there is less between the two Front Benches than there seems. I remember 1977–78, when South Yorkshire refused to cut its spending plans. It would have received £4 million in transport supplementary grant. Instead, it got £291,000. But that was in the days when Labour Government transport White Papers explained: Public expenditure will be limited for many years to come, and investment to support economic recovery must not be hampered by allowing too high a proportion to be pre-empted … Subsidy should be paid only when there is a clear requirement for it to meet social needs in transport that would not otherwise be met. I reject that part of the motion which criticises "reduced Government support."

Mr. Stan Crowther (Rotherham)

Before the Secretary of State leaves that, he will recall that the Secretary of State for Transport who imposed that £4 million fine on the South Yorkshire county council is now no longer a member of the Labour party, but is a member of the Social Democratic party.

Mr. Ridley

I do not know whether that is praising or damning him.

It is more in the nature of a pay claim than a serious debating point. There is a very clear need to bring bus subsidies under control. At present they are consuming some £930 million of taxpayers' and ratepayers' money—joy for the Labour party but not, alas, for those who have to pay it. If Labour Members ever want to win an election, they must one day begin to think of the taxpayers and ratepayers. They are voters, too. They are the majority of our people.

The Labour party goes on a lot about rural bus services. Yes, they have been reduced, but that is because the customers of the bus industry are reducing at the rate of 3.5 per cent. a year. Rural bus services have declined inexorably since the 1950s, under Governments of both colours. Since 1978 rural bus mileage has declined by some 2 per cent. per annum, and passengers by some 4 per cent. per annum. That means that there is a better service.

I believe that Labour Members should look at the innovative ideas on rural transport that are happening in some of the counties — [Interruption.] I must tell the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) that if the decline in the number of services is 2 per cent. per annum, and the decline in the number of passengers is 4 per cent. per annum, there are more services per passenger at the end of the day.

Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)

How can it possibly be a better service for a pensioner in a village which is perhaps more isolated than it has been for a century as a result of Government cuts in bus services? How can that be a success story?

Mr. Ridley

The hon. Gentleman must know that the Government do not make cuts in bus services. It is the county councils which are responsible for bus services. The county councils must use what resources they think fit to help those who need the transport.

I was saying that Labour Members would be well advised to look at some of the innovative ideas on rural transport in some of the counties. I know that it is exceptional, but in my constituency there is a service called the villager bus, which is a minibus sevice run by retired people who offer their services free one day a week to take people to and from the towns. It is a great success. It takes all the pensioners to the shops. In Hereford and Worcester—one of the trial areas—by deregulating and seeking tenders for uneconomic routes, the county has made real savings in subsidy, and passengers have seen lower fares as well as better services. There are also interesting experiments in Sussex, Devon and Norfolk.

There is one other matter to which I must refer, and that is shipping. The Opposition motion is ridiculous and fails to address itself to the real problem facing this very important industry. It is not "privatisation and competition" that has reduced the British merchant fleet. There has been no change from the last Administration's policy of keeping our fleet privately owned and seeking to combat protectionism wherever it occurred round the world. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East talked about my ideological obsession with competition and privatisation. I have made no change from the type of policy that the last Administration followed. The only ships to be privatised are those of Sealink, and they have not been privatised yet. The motion is absolute rubbish.

I accept that the United Kingdom's merchant fleet has declined substantially since its peak in 1975. This is due to a combination of factors—the substantially higher investment in preceding years, world recession, oversupply of vessels brought about by massive world shipbuilding subsidies, and competition from emergent nations which see a shipping industry as a national must. But we still have a large fleet and one that continues to depend critically on cross-trading and therefore on open shipping markets. It is in our shipping and our trade interests to keep those markets open; otherwise our fleet will be considerably smaller than it is today and our exports will be less competitive. As the president of the General Council of British Shipping said in a speech last year, the Labour party's naive belief in protectionism and nationalisation meant that we would see emerge another inefficient, expensive state corporation surviving on a drip feed of taxpayers' money. That is what the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East wants.

I have pulled the Opposition motion to pieces limb by limb. There is nothing left of it but a naked desire to soak the taxpayers for the benefit of the transport operators. Nowhere does it even mention the traveller or the sender of goods. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East and the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) represent respectively the NUS and the NUR. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East made that clear.

I ask the House to accept the Government amendment and to reject the motion.

6.9 pm

Mr. Ron Lewis (Carlisle)

As is the custom, I begin by declaring my interest as an hon. Member sponsored by the National Union of Railwaymen. It is on the railways that I intend to concentrate what I have to say in this very important debate.

Despite all that we have just heard from the Secretary of State, the Government's approach to the railways and to transport in general has been scandalous. The Prime Minister, who is not here, attaches such little importance to the subject that she appoints Secretaries of State for Tranport and then discards them with bewildering frequency. Often it is difficult to remember who holds office at any one time. If a straw poll were taken of the ordinary man in the street to name the present Secretary of State, I doubt whether eight out of 10 would know.

It is no wonder that transport policy is inconsistent. It is no wonder that the pro-road bias of Department of Transport officials has not been kept in check and that the morale of loyal dedicated workers is at rock bottom.

Last autumn there was a moment of hope. The Government spent most of the summer looking for a hatchetman to take over from Sir Peter Parker as chairman of the British Railways Board. What a pity it was for the Prime Minister that it was impossible for Mr. MacGregor to make a reality of the triple alliance by becoming chairman of the steel, coal and railways industries simultaneously, but in the end she grudgingly accepted Mr. Bob Reid.

I have a reasonable regard for Mr. Reid's management ability. He has the advantage of being a career railwayman who knows the industry inside out. I support a few of his objectives, not least his determination to maintain the rail network at its present size. However, some questions must be answered about that commitment. I quarrel with Mr. Bob Reid about his apparent belief that by keeping quiet and not upsetting the Government or the Secretary of State for Transport, by not allowing local management to press the railways' case with their Members of Parliament or even local authorities, he will achieve the investment and revenue support needed to modernise the railway and to make it attractive for customers.

No sensible person would disagree with aiming to give value for money, but the BRB must recognise that there are ways of measuring values other than by concentrating on how much industry is costing the taxpayer. Is it value for money to drive away passengers by continually putting up fares or even by cutting out trains, as will happen when the new timetables are operated from 8 May, if the effect is to force people back to their cars and on to congested roads? Is it value for money to close down one local freight depot after another if that transfers more consignments to dirty, dangerous, over-laden lorries? Of course it is not, but that is what the Department of Transport means by value for money. I am afraid that Mr. Reid appears to be falling for it.

The Under-Secretary has told us many times that the Serpell report has been shelved and that the infamous network options were only illustrations, which were not to be taken seriously. We are told that there is such a cosy relationship between the Secretary of State and his officials and Mr. Reid and the BRB that the railways, like the Health Service, are safe in Government hands. The railwaymen do not think that that is true.

Is it not surprising that the cost savings identified in the Serpell report bear more than a passing resemblance to the new objectives set for the BRB by the Secretary of State, that the decision has already been taken to put out to tender all major orders for railway equipment in line with what Serpell said? Is it not surprising that the option of privatising British Rail Engineering Ltd.—selling it off, closing most of its workshops and sacking most of the staff —is still being considered, according to the chairman of BREL, Mr. James Urquhart, whom some of us remember from when he appeared on television during the ASLEF strike a couple of years ago? What about the mystery of bus substitution—closing rural railways and trying to persuade someone to provide a bus service? If Serpell is dead, that idea should have died with it, but a commitment to some bus substitution was part of the BR chairman's objectives.

No one at BRB will say which lines are being considered, or whether the substitution will be a genuine experiment so as to allow the trains to run again if the bus service is not a success. No one will say who will run the buses. It is hard to see the National Bus Company doing a deal with BR, because its main interest is now to smash as much of the railway inter-city business as it can with its under-taxed, often illegally driven, long-distance coaches.

Has that much changed since the dark days of Serpell? Has the influence of the railways' enemies on Government thinking disappeared? What is Professor Walters saying about railway electrification now, bearing in mind that he torpedoed it last time round? Where is his friend, Mr. Alfred Goldstein, who did everyone a good turn by carrying his anti-rail bias on the Serpell committee to absurdity?

What about the other Alf, Sir Alfred Sherman, who sat on a British Rail inquiry into converting railways into roads — the most pointless study of all time — while taking money from the National Bus Company as a consultant on the same subject, an interest which he never voluntarily declared to the BRB chairman?

Previously, Prime Ministers have been criticised for their choice of friends, but the hangers-on at Queen Margaret's court are as bad as any who went before them. The refrain that we hear from Ministers whenever we criticise the Government is, "There is no alternative " In virtually all areas of policy that is a blatant untruth, especially in relation to transport.

I commend to the House an excellent publication by Transport 2000, the environmental organisation which commands intelligent support across the political spectrum. It has demonstrated conclusively time and again that a high-investment, low-fares strategy makes good sense. That approach has been followed by almost all the railways in Europe in recent years. France, despite having invested heavily in the train de grande vitesse, is still committing itself to about one and three quarter times as much railway investment over the next three years. West Germany, even with a right-wing Government, will be investing nearly three times as much as the United Kingdom.

Main line electrification lies at the heart of BR's needs. The House must not be satisfied with the Secretary of State smugly sitting back saying that he is waiting for BR to jump through yet more hoops.

Mr. Gregory


Mr. Lewis

Now we are dealing with the so-called viability of the inter-city sector; previously there had to be a line-by-line analysis; and before that, the network had to be viewed as a whole. The Government are not just moving goal posts at half-time; they are saying that in the second half the game must be played with a differently shaped ball and to different rules.

In addition to being lectured on value for money, the House is lectured about the virtues of so-called competition. When will we have a fair competitive framework in transport? When will the Secretary of State make heavy lorries pay for the damage they do, not just in terms of track costs—the juggernauts are still not paying their fair share of those costs—but in terms of environmental damage, pollution, noise, filth, accidents, policing, regulation enforcement and the destruction of buildings and bridges? How is it that we can cheerfully — I am not quarreling with this point — pay up for repairs to the Severn bridge, which are necessary solely because of the volume and weight of road haulage vehicles, yet deny BR relatively tiny sums for repairs to the Ribblehead viaduct on the Carlisle-to-Settle line and for a swing bridge at Goole on an important line between Doncaster and Hull?

How can the competition be fair when the road-building fanatics in the Department of Transport justify questionable motorway schemes on the basis of a shaky cost-benefit analysis, when railway investment is subject to the far harsher disciplines of Treasury rates of return?

Mr. Gregory

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Lewis

I am coming to a conclusion. The hon. Gentleman can make his point if he catches the eye of the Chair.

Within the past few weeks, Professor Philip Bagwell has published a book, "End of the Line? The Fate of British Railways under Thatcher". The concluding paragraph on page 180 states: The millions of people who use buses or trains each day have an interest in seeing public transport services maintained and improved. The 'core of the matter' today is that the nation 'must will the means' to sustain a level of public transport services which will meet their needs. Transport is an area of policy in which Britain is out of step with the rest of the civilised world. Governments, not just in Europe but in the far east, North and South America, Australia and many other areas, are appreciating the benefits of large-scale railway investment. I suggest to the Secretary of State and the Government that now is the time for them to change course.

6.24 pm
Mr. Terence Higgins (Worthing)

It is a good thing that we are debating transport in broad terms. As the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) pointed out, this is the first time since 1977 that we have had such a debate. It is curious that the Opposition have chosen one of their days to hold this debate at a time when many of the results of the railway and road building programmes are going remarkably well. Clearly, there is still room for improvement.

I welcome the structural change in the machinery of government that enables the Department of Transport to cover air and shipping transport as well as roads and rail. That is an improvement, but it is difficult to speak in a general debate because one must cover an enormous range of subjects. I suspect that it is easier to do that from the Front Benches than from the Back Benches.

I shall take up some of the points made in earlier speeches and set out a shopping list of matters that the Government can improve. I shall deal with each of the main transport areas briefly, but I have a general point affecting the railways and the roads involving those commuting into London. We suffer from a severe peak hours problem because of the working hours in London. The need for capital and the congestion on the roads are exacerbated by the peak problem. No Government of any party have made any serious attempt to stagger working hours so that less capital investment on the railways is needed and less congestion occurs on the roads. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, in conjunction with other Departments, will pay some attention to that matter, because a great deal must be done.

It is extraordinary to compare the statements of the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Lewis) and those writing the type of heavy book to which he referred running down the railways all the time with the results reported a few days ago in The Times. The first paragraph stated: British Rail emerged from years of gloom yesterday with record profits, after subsidy, and an optimistic view of the future. The railways achieved a group surplus of £8m last year, after a £175m loss in strike-torn 1982, and a £62m operating profit, the highest since BR was formed 22 years ago. That contrasts with the points made by the hon. Member for Carlisle.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

How were those figures achieved? How many assets were sold off?

Mr. Higgins

That is something to do not with asset sales, but with operating profits. One must take the operating profits as a whole. Much can be said also for the degree of divestment.

There must be a team effort. I take up the point made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State about investment in BR. We all know of the scandal of the Bedford-St. Pancras line. A vast investment was made and for a considerable period equipment lay idle. Only if we achieve flexibility on the industrial relations side can we justify to our constituents the investments in BR that we would all like to see. My right hon. Friend has responded rapidly and constructively, given the improvements after a strike-torn 1982 and the trauma involved. The Serpell report, to which the hon. Member for Carlisle referred, was unfortunate in many respects, but it is wrong for the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East, to quote selectively and out of context the changes proposed in the timetable for the southern region. The rail network is not being cut, as Serpell suggested. This afternoon my right hon. Friend gave an assurance to that effect. Certainly, in my constituency substantial sums have been invested in signalling on the Victoria to Brighton line. It is not true to say that the railways are not getting Government support.

I cannot envisage any future for transporting coal, if, as the National Union of Mineworkers wants, we continue to subsidise coal mines that will never be economic at any level of energy cost. The union should encourage the closure of uneconomic pits in the hope that more investment can be made in the coal industry, so that total coal production and the amount of business for British Rail can be correspondingly increased. It is not in the interests of the rail industry to support Mr. Scargill in his backward-looking approach.

Following the road congestion during the holiday weekend, it is clear that Britain has become a car-owning democracy. That creates a number of problems. The Government have implemented a substantial road-building programme. However, I am worried that future opportunities to increase the programme may be frustrated because of the delay in the preparation of road projects. A recent NEDC report suggested that the average time for preparing a major road programme was 10 years. I hope that, rather than spending all the available money immediately on building certain roads, my right hon. Friend will devote a considerable amount to carrying through the planning and preparation arrangements. Should the economic position allow us to move ahead faster than expected, it will be necessary for the planning to have been completed. That point should be noted in the general context of the combination between road and rail programmes.

Although more bypasses are being built, we are not undertaking the large bypasses that are needed, such as one around Worthing. The bypass planned by the Labour Government would have gone straight through the cente of Worthing. That was not a good idea. It took me 10 years to stop that absurd proposal. I hope that it will not take me another 10 years to obtain plans for a suitable bypass around the town.

There is not sufficient co-ordination on road maintenance. The cones on every motorway are clearly breeding at an enormous rate. All too often there are hold-ups because of cones that could have been removed for substantial periods, especially during weekends. Such delays are quite unnecessary. I hope that the Department will consider whether improvements can be made to ensure that roads are not unnecessarily coned, especially when traffic is heavy.

I wish to make three brief points about the relationship between the Department and other Departments, especially with the Home Office and local authorities. Existing legislation is not being enforced adequately. For example, the 38-tonne limit for heavy lorries approved by the House is not being enforced. Many hon. Members have been concerned about the suggestion that it does not matter if lorries are 5 or 10 per cent. over the limit. I welcome the reply given to me by my right hon. Friend that he is devoting more resources to ensuring that the law is properly enforced. Having said that the limit is 38 tonnes, nothing above it should be allowed.

Secondly, the law about lighting on pedal cycles is not being enforced. More than 50 per cent.—possibly 75 per cent.—of cycles in central London at night do not have lights. The police clearly make no attempt to enforce the law. I hope that my right hon. Friend, perhaps through an advertising campaign, will ensure that the law is observed so that that dangerous practice ceases.

Thirdly, the 70 mph speed limit on motorways is not being enforced. We should encourage the police to enforce the limit, and not accept the suggestion that it should be increased because it cannot be enforced. If we cannot enforce the current limit, we certainly cannot enforce a higher limit because of the problems of catching offenders.

My right hon. Friend, in his concluding remarks, referred to shipping and extolled the virtues of competition. That sits a little uneasily with the support that the Government have given to the UNCTAD liner code provisions, which we debated during the last Parliament. I hope that my right hon. Friend will carefully consider whether that is in the interests of British shippers and shipowners.

My right hon. Friend also referred to the international trade in shipping and the fluctuations in that. Britain operates in a competitive market and there is little we can do about that other than to discourage other countries from adopting unfair practices. The provisions in the Budget on capital allowances and free depreciation are causing concern in the industry. In general, I entirely support my right hon. Friend the Chancellor's proposals, but the shipping industry, subject as it is to substantial fluctuations, needs other arrangements. The profits in shipping fluctuate to a considerable extent. I hope that my right hon. Friend and the Chancellor will discuss that matter and take account of the representations being made by the shipping industry. I hope that they will ensure that those operating in the industry — who are also determined to ensure that competition prevails and that the industry is efficient—do not find themselves unjustifiably penalised in one of the few areas where it is possible for the Government to make reasonable arrangements.

I fully support the idea of competition. My right hon. Friend rightly stressed the importance of transport being for passengers and those who transport goods. However, in some areas there is a real danger of establishing a private monopoly in the place of a public monopoly. Insufficient attention has been paid to the regulatory procedures that may be necessary to ensure competition once assets have moved from the public to the private sector. A monopoly in the private sector is no better than a monopoly in the public sector. Therefore, while I support the proposals for privatisation and hope that competition will be maintained, we must ensure that the benefits of competition and privatisation are obtained by those for whom the transport industry works—the consumer and those who wish to transport goods by whatever means of transport are available.

6.40 pm
Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)

I agree with several of the comments made by the right hon. Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins). I agree especially with his remarks, at the conclusion of his speech, about the merchant shipping fleet. I hope that the Secretary of State's views will not continue to represent those of his Department. I know that the Minister who is to reply to the debate has the responsibility for shipping. I suspect that he has recently seen a delegation from the Maritime League. The whole nation should be concerned at what has happened to our merchant fleet. We cannot go on trying to pretend that it is all part of competition and that we have to live with it. I do not think that the Secretary of State for Defence believes that we can live with it.

I found the Secretary of State's speech totally complacent. It is tragic that the Government, with their huge majority, have not had the courage to tackle the real problems of pollution, congested roads, and too many private cars and heavy lorries in our town and city centres at peak times. The right hon. Member for Worthing suggested that we should be more determined about flexible hours of working. I do not think that we are likely to make much more progress in this respect than we have already. If the Government were to bring in regulations concerning the use of private cars in inner city areas, no doubt they would be unpopular for a time—certainly we should get the heavy lorries out of city centres as soon as possible and on to principal routes—but I think that after a while the public would come to appreciate the great improvement in the quality of everyday life and the greater freedom of movement. A really effective integrated public transport system could bring that about.

I know that today is Anzac day, and it is right that Whitehall should have been closed, but the traffic round Parliament square was chaotic. That sort of chaos happens far too often in our cities. For example, mornings and evenings it takes at least half an hour to grind one's way into and out of the centre of Portsmouth. That position, which is repeated in every town and city in the country, will get worse and worse. Some Government—it should be this one—must tackle the problem.

A recent investigation showed that the average speed of traffic in the inner city areas of Britain—I understand that the position is similar in other European countries—is exactly the same now as it was 20 years ago. The average speed is about 8 kph. All the so-called improvements, the upheaval and loss of amenity have succeeded only in holding the position. Hon. Members may say that it could not have been held if those actions had not been taken. That is possibly an example of the market-type economics which appeal to the Secretary of State. He seemed to be eulogising them in his speech.

The marvel of car travel is not some independent absolute to which we are all constrained to bend our wills and our policy. People's preference for cars is relative to other forms of transport. As other forms of transport change, so will their perception of car use. If public transport improves, people will use it more and cars less. That has happened in London, much though it apparently grieves the Secretary of State. It has also happened in Sheffield and Plymouth. Through the new fares policy it is happening in Oxford, and in Tyne and Wear as a result of imaginative traffic management schemes.

I understand that the latest statistics for the travelcard scheme in London, introduced last May, show a drop of 10 per cent. in car commuting. In Newcastle, 7 per cent. of the passengers on the new metro used to travel by car. It is clear that there have been improvements. I picked those examples almost at random; there are others. Unfortunately, they are now all at risk because of the nationalisation of London Transport, the abolition of the metropolitan counties, rate-capping, and the apparently imminent deregulation of local bus services.

Mr. Matthew Parris (Derbyshire, West)

Is not the hon. Gentleman's figure for Tyne and Wear a worrying indictment of the argument in support of which he quoted it? If, after the huge expense of building the Tyne and Wear transport system, it has succeeded in capturing no more than 7 per cent. of people who used to travel by car, is that really an argument in support of the hon. Gentleman's contention?

Mr. Ross

It certainly is, because the metro has only just been extended, and I hope that it will be extended still further. The hon. Gentleman should recognise that it also means that there is 7 per cent. less traffic in the inner city area.

I am suggesting that it will be necessary to introduce regulations, but it is no use introducing regulations or a price system to prevent cars from coming into the inner city area unless a proper public transport infrastructure has already been provided. I believe that the authority was right in going ahead as it did, and I hope that the figures in the future will show even further use of the public transport system.

While it would be niggardly not to congratulate the British Railways Board on its much improved financial position — Sir Peter Parker should take some of the credit for that—it must be recognised that it has been achieved by substantial sales of assets, by further substantial cuts in staff — 6,000 have gone and it is planned to get rid of another 15,000—and by higher fares and shorter trains. In the south of England we are suffering considerably from the introduction of shorter trains. There have also been delays in replacement and reductions in maintenance standards, and they do not give us much confidence for the future.

In 1982, compared with investment in railways in Italy, West Germany, France, Holland and Sweden, investment in British Rail was still lower in real terms. In fact, since 1976, investment in British Rail has fallen by 68 per cent. in real terms. That consistent decline is unique among the railway systems that I have quoted.

At least 12 shire counties plan to spend less than one halfpenny per person per day on bus and train revenue support in 1984–85. As a county councillor, I know that they are forced into that position because of the various penalties imposed upon them.

If the Government relax the bus licensing system, the private operators will come in and take over the most remunerative routes, and then public bus operators will be unable to continue to cross-subsidise loss-making rural services. That point was made to me only yesterday by the general manager of Southern Vectis in my area. He asked me what the Government's plans were likely to be. I appreciate that the Minister happens to know the Isle of Wight. In the Isle of Wight the only routes which pay are those running between the main towns, such as Cowes, Newport, Ryde and Shanklin. Those are the routes that would interest competitors. They would not be interested in taking over the rural routes on which we have managed to maintain a reasonable service up to now.

Recently a young gentleman sought to set up a rural bus service in the Isle of Wight and we all encouraged him—indeed, the Vectis bus company actively helped him — but he lasted only three months before going bankrupt. I do not believe that the possibility of competition in the rural areas is anything like what some Conservative Members believe it to be.

In 1984 British Rail had the lowest proportion of its network electrified in the whole of the six countries with which it was compared by Transport 2000. Chapter 8 of that document is particularly pessimistic when it states that the continental European rail network is developing all the time, and by comparison British Rail is being left behind in terms of technology and its ability to meet changing demand.

Why has permission not been given for the east coast main line to be electrified? I am amazed that it has been delayed for so many years. The St. Pancras to Sheffield line is a further example, and there are many others.

At least the idea of converting rail into road has been shown to be the non-starter that we all expected it would be. However, according to press reports a week ago, Sir Alfred Sherman wants to see double-decker coaches going into Marylebone. Yet, according to the report in which he played some part, the tunnel size limitation would not permit anything larger than a single-decker bus to get through. Sir Alfred seems to be allowed to get hold of public money and to carry out all sorts of investigations, and one wonders when he will be stopped. Are not our roads and motorways already full enough? As we all know, there are constant traffic jams, and on our radios every morning we hear of the latest hold-up, with single-line working on the MI or the M5. Serious accidents are taking place and there are constant repairs to roads.

I accept that there is a case for a north London coach terminal to relieve Victoria, which is not only full to overflowing, but dangerous. I do not suppose that many hon. Members use the Victoria coach station, but I use it, and my wife used it only yesterday. It may be that Marylebone could provide one of the answers, but why not have rail and coach integrated terminals? Is there not a case for that at Marylebone? Does Marylebone have to shut? We should consider the possibility of an integrated terminal.

Mr. Snape

With regard to Sir Alfred Sherman and his plans for Victoria coach station, I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is aware that Sir Alfred Sherman lives in Gerald street. The coaches to and from Victoria coach station pass the end of the street. That infuriates him and makes him even more determined to proceed with his scheme to turn Marylebone into a coach station.

Mr. Ross

I understand that recently Sir Alfred went on a trip to South America. It would be better for all of us if he were to go back there.

Developments of the Bristol parkway type would surely be possible in some of the outer areas of London. The possibilities of rail and coach interchange should certainly be actively pursued particularly at our regional airports.

As I have said before—in terms that I was obliged to withdraw—I believe that the London Regional Transport Bill is a step back to the past. Mersey rail, the Tyne and Wear metro and the west midlands system are all examples of sensible, forward-looking public transport systems. What is to be their future? Are there to be more nationalised bodies without the directly elected representatives who know and can respond to the interests of their constituents, as those of us with local government experience know so well? Public transport must continue to be administered and organised on a regional basis.

The most imaginative investment in rail engineering now would be a firm commitment to build a Channel tunnel. Dare we hope that agreement to proceed may be reached before this year is out and the work actually put in hand?

The final part of my speech concerns the privatisation of Sealink. I apologise to the Minister for having to call off my Adjournment debate on this—due to sciatica, not seasickness! When my colleague Lord Winstanley was a Member of this House, he once said that he welcomed interventions as he had gout and wanted to sit down as much as possible. I felt like making the opposite request and asking hon. Members not to intervene because I could not sit down.

Sealink is vital to my constituents. Under British Rail management it has served the Isle of Wight well, although the cost of the cross-Solent services is a source of constant complaint, especially from private car owners, as the return fare for a medium-sized car with driver and two passengers is about £30 in the high season. Up to 30 September 1983, Sealink took 70 per cent. of the 6.37 million passenger movements, including 78 per cent. of car movements and 70 per cent. of commercial vehicle movements, and it has recently completed capital schemes totalling £18 million. As the Minister knows, that total would have been greater if he had not spoken to one of the engineers on the boats serving the Ryde-Portsmouth route, with the result that replacement of those ships has not been permitted by the Government. Despite the engineer's pride in his engines, those vessels were built in 1948 and are reaching the end of their days.

I accept that if the Government are determined to privatise Sealink we shall have to go through with it. Indeed, I accept that a case can be made for it in some respects, as "Holiday Which?" has recently shown. I see no point in opposing privatisation for the sake of opposing it, but I am extremely concerned about the outcome. The ultimate decision is, of course, that of the Secretary of State and not of the British Railways Board. The Monopolies and Mergers Commission has already ruled out the possibility of a takeover by European Ferries.

The same objection must apply to P and O. If does not, I wish to make a personal comment. I understand that the chairman of P and O is industrial adviser to the Secretary of State for Industry. Will he stand down if P and O decides to put in a bid? Trafalgar House is scarcely renowned for patriotism and has little experience in ferry operation. It is all very well having an open door to No. 10 Downing street, but I trust that on this occasion saner counsels will prevail. Sea Containers Ltd. is in a similar position. It does not operate ferries and I understand that it is not under British control. I believe that the company is based in Bermuda.

I therefore greatly favour the idea of the present National Freight Consortium taking control, provided that the work force has every opportunity to participate, preferably in more than 20 per cent. of the equity. That is good Liberal policy and that is why I like it. I entirely agree with the structure of the National Freight Corporation. It has been a great success and it is marvellous that 2,000 shareholders turned up for the recent annual meeting at Wembley. One member of the consortium — James Fisher — is shown in Lloyd's shipping register as having an interest in Red Funnel at Southampton, which is the main opposition for the cross-Solent route. I understand, however, that it has disposed of that interest and that James Fisher now has no financial interest in any cross-Solent route.

Although not all Sealink ships have been built in United Kingdom yards, the vast majority are of British construction. The cross-Channel RO-ROs were built by Harland and Wolff, albeit a little later than scheduled. The latest cross-Solent ferries—the St. Catherine and the St. Helen—were built by Robb Caledon at Leith. It is a tragedy that that yard had to close, but those last two ships are a credit to its work force. It is important that whoever takes over the service employs British yards to build its ships. Sealink provided one of the ferries to go to the Falkland Islands. Such a facility might not be available if companies had their ships built and registered overseas.

For the Isle of Wight and doubtless for other routes, especially the Channel routes, it is essential that there should be continued co-operation with British Rail with through bookings, maintenance of piers such as that at Ryde, and so on. Another example is Portsmouth harbour. There must be close co-operation to avoid major maintenance problems. We must be assured of a service at least as good as that which we now enjoy. It may be costly, but it is an excellent service, running hourly and even half-hourly in the season. Will a new owner continue to run a ferry with only 10 cars at 10.30 pm when the vessel can take up to 150 cars? Will he not cancel and make them wait for the 11.30 pm sailing? To its credit, Sealink does not behave in that way, but we must have similar assurances about any successor company. The services are profitable and can no doubt be made more so, but we must have answers to these important questions.

We also need continual experimentation with fare structures and concessions for industry and commerce, the disabled and pensioners. Concessions to industry and commerce are essential if anyone is to manufacture on the Isle of Wight, as it costs between £60 and £150 to take a lorry there and back. It is not an assisted area, but there are some major industries in my constituency. The middle wings of Short's 330s and 360s are built in the Isle of Wight and taken across to Northern Ireland. Plessey and many other companies are also vital to our economy. The 40,000 to 50,000 island-registered vehicles enjoy a reduction of 25 to 30 per cent. in ferry tariffs according to the season. Will that continue? We certainly expect that it should. I cite the example of Wellworthy's of Lymington. Many years ago British Rail made a concession for the work force of that company using the night ferries. No doubt Britsh Rail regrets that concession, but will a successor company continue it?

I am sorry to raise constituency matters, but the bids are out and we must seek protection now. The Secretary of State spoke as though everything was provided for by British Rail, there would be worker participation with the ability to buy shares, and so on. In fact, it is extremely difficult to get hold of a prospectus for the sale of Sealink. It is in the hands of the merchant bankers Morgan Grenfell and Co. Ltd. When I asked the chairman of Sealink for a copy, it was refused, so I do not know what is in the prospectus. Perhaps the Minister will reassure us. My local authority is thinking of applying but cannot honestly say that it is likely to submit a bid to acquire the company, and probably will not obtain it.

I hope that the Minister will give proper consideration to all these matters when the decisions are made. I cannot support the Government amendment, which is unbelievably naive, but I support virtually every word of the Opposition motion, although it could have been worded a little better. As the alliance amendment cannot be called, I shall vote with the Opposition.

6.59 pm
Mr. Matthew Parris (Derbyshire, West)

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is not here, I shall be mischievous and say that I am intrigued by his argument that as rural bus services are not being withdrawn as fast as the passengers are disappearing, the quality of the service is getting better. I am reminded of a bus conductress whom I once encountered on a No. 77 bus, who by the use of her little bell prompted the driver to pass a bus stop where three people were waiting. When one of the passengers on the bus asked her whether she had not seen the people waiting at the bus stop—she must have been something of a wag and an economist — she replied, "London Transport loses 10p for every passenger who is picked up. I have just saved London Transport 30p." The Minister's reasoning seems to be similar to hers.

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) started his speech by saying that it is the Government's deliberate policy to increase transport unemployment. The Government's deliberate policy is to increase productivity in public transport. If we can reduce the number of people needed to provide a service, we can give passengers an equally good service at a lower cost. Passengers, taxpayers and ratepayers will benefit from that, because it will be possible to reduce the subsidy. I agree with the Minister that although the Government must have a good deal of concern for those who are employed in public transport, our first concern is for the passengers. Public transport does not exist primarily for the benefit of those whom it employs. Primarily, it exists for the benefit of the passengers.

The hon. Gentleman complained that, under the Conservative Government, revenue support for local bus services had increased. Elsewhere in his speech, however, he complained that in various areas of public transport, Government subsidy had been reduced. On the whole, he regards an increase in subsidy as evidence of Government benevolence. He cannot have it both ways and complain because in the case of rural transport the subsidy has increased. The subsidy has been increased for the reason that he pointed out. The number of passengers has decreased, and it has been necessary to increase the subsidy in order to maintain a service. It is churlish not to congratulate the Government on increasing the subsidy.

The hon. Gentleman seemed to gloat over the collapse of British Coachways. It is a pity that he took that attitude. The 1980 Transport Act was a success in every way. British Coachways collapsed because the National Bus Company reacted quickly and admirably to the new competition to which it was exposed and was able both to increase the number of services offered and to lower the fares. Fares have been lowered by 40 per cent. in real terms since the Act was passed.

There has been a ricochet effect in that the railways have adopted a more competitive fare policy on inter-city routes. The inter-city saver fares are, I believe, a direct response to competition from the coaches. The 1980 Act was a great success, although it was a pity that British Coachways went under.

The hon. Gentleman complained about the problem posed to British shipping by flags of convenience. I agree with the hon. Gentleman about that, but he seemed to imply that the problem was a new one, whereas in fact it is older than I am. There is a serious and continuing problem to world shipping from unfair competition from ships registered under flags of convenience. I do not suppose that our Government can solve the problem alone, but Governments of all colours in all countries should do all that they can to address it.

The hon. Gentleman complained about the level of support for public transport in this country relative to levels of support in Europe. If we are able on the whole to maintain good bus services and a good railway system on a lower level of subsidy than is provided by our European allies, that is a reason for congratulation rather than complaint. The very high level of subsidy which is required by the West German railway system is a cause for concern, not congratulation, to the West German Government. I am sure that the West German Government admires and envies what we have done in this country.

Mr. Snape


Mr. Parris

I shall give way in a moment.

I travel fairly widely in Europe by rail and bus, and I think that we have good rail and bus systems. They are not markedly worse than, for instance, what I have found in France.

Mr. Snape

Why, in the hon. Gentleman's view, do the West German Government subsidise the railway system to such an extent?

Mr. Parris

I am not an expert on the German railway system, but I believe that the problem is a historical one. It is possible for a Government to find that they are stuck with a level of subsidy and that it has become politically impossible not to continue to pour money into an ever-open pit.

Mr. Snape

I take the hon. Gentleman's point, but it is hard to imagine that, with Chancellor Kohl in power, that reason is the correct one.

Mr. Parris

I have great admiration for Chancellor Kohl, but it is clear that our own Prime Minister has been even more effective where the railways are concerned.

Except for the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross), most Opposition Members have spoken mostly about the railways. We all use and admire the railways and wish to see the railway system maintained and improved. However, my own rail journeys have suggested to me that the principal beneficiaries of rail travel in this country are middle-class—often upper middle-class—people. They are business people, and those who commute to their places of work from the leafy suburbs. If I was primarily concerned with the poorer or more needy sections of the population, I think that I would be more interested in bus transport and subsidies to the bus system, but the Labour party seems to be much less interested in the bus system than in the railway system.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)

indicated dissent.

Mr. Parris

I may be mistaken

Mr. Home Robertson

You are.

Mr. Parris

Many of the subsidies advocated by Opposition Members seem to me to tax the middle classes in order to provide services which are enjoyed primarily by the middle classes. That cannot be sensible.

Clearly, I shall not become the Secretary of State for Transport or be offered a chair in transport studies at any university or polytechnic.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

The hon. Gentleman is too modest.

Mr. Parris

Nevertheless, I shall deliver a little lecture about the theory of transport subsidy, even if it falls upon the desert air. I do not think that any hon. Member in the Chamber is against subsidy in principle. All three parties recognise that public transport must continue to be subsidised. The question is not whether we are for subsidy or against it.

Why do we subsidise public transport? First, subsidy can be a means of redistributing wealth and of transferring wealth from the rich to the less well-off. It can be a means of helping the needy and those who for special reasons may lack access to private transport.

Secondly, subsidies can be a means of sustaining the backbone of our transport system and protecting it from collapse. On grounds of public transport policy itself, subsidy may be used in order to provide an efficient means of transporting people and goods with the speed and in the quantity which in some cases only public transport can offer. Those two strands—the redistribution of wealth and the maintenance of a transport infrastructure—are hopelessly confused in the public mind and sometimes in parliamentary debate. I wish to discuss them separately.

Firstly, there is the question of the transfer of wealth. Why do we use public transport as and to the extent we do for transferring wealth? The reasons are historic. Many local authorities have ambitions for social engineering but the means available to them to be architects of social policy are fairly limited. South Yorkshire county council, for example, does not make foreign policy or determine the criminal law but it is responsible for the south Yorkshire passenger transport authority. Public transport is one of the few means by which ambitious local authorities have been able to effect a little social engineering. That is perhaps why the resources. interest and weight that have gone into public transport subsidy have been directed in that way by local authorities.

The second reason for our choosing to transfer wealth as I have described is based on an illusion—the illusion that transport subsidy is an efficient way in which to redistribute wealth. The argument goes that we take 20p from a rich man and give a fare worth 20p free to a poor man. There are two reasons why that is not an efficient means of transferring wealth. First, the value lost in the process of transfer can be considerable. Value is lost because of rigidities and inefficiencies in the bureaucratic and mechanical means by which money is removed from the tax and ratepayer and the subsidised journey is delivered to the passenger.

Secondly, value is lost because free or cheap transport might not be what the beneficiary would have chosen if he had had a choice. It might have some value to him but it might not be equal to the cost of the subsidy. If, for example, we subsidised sandwiches and distributed them free or at reduced prices throughout the capital. the sandwiches would all be eaten and enjoyed and some wealth would usefully be transferred, but it would be an inefficient means of transferring wealth because it would not necessarily be what everyone wanted.

Mr. Crowther

I listened with interest to what the hon. Gentleman said about south Yorkshire's policy. Does he accept that the beneficiaries of that policy—the public of south Yorkshire — have voted overwhelmingly in favour of it, knowing all the implications to which he has referred, in every county election since 1973?

Mr. Parris

I accept that and that argument would take us, if I was prepared to stray from order, into a debate on financing local government. Those people are quite right to vote for that policy. Their interests lie in voting for it and it is logical and rational that they vote for it, because they are not paying for it.

Mr. Crowther

They are all ratepayers.

Mr. Parris

Yes they are, but 19 per cent. of the cost of subsidising south Yorkshire passenger transport executive is paid for out of domestic rates and the remaining 89 per cent. is paid for by the taxpayer and out of business rates.

Mr. Snape

Eighty-nine and 19 per cent. comes to more than 100 per cent.

Mr. Parris

Eighty-one per cent. Maths never was my strong point — another reason why I shall never be Secretary of State.

The second reason why public transport subsidy is not an efficient means of transferring wealth is that it is not only the needy who use public transport. Moreover, many of the needy do not or cannot use public transport. Many of the middle classes depend more on public transport than do many of the working classes.

Mrs. Dunwoody

I am following the hon. Gentleman's argument with some care and difficulty. I thought that he was about to suggest that we should give each poor family in the land a Rolls-Royce and that that would solve the problem.

Mr. Carter-Jones

She has a constituency interest.

Mr. Parris

I was not about to suggest that, but there might sometimes be a case for examining what each poor family in the land costs in terms of public transport subsidy which is directed their way and asking whether they might not prefer the money.

I have made it clear that the transfer of wealth is not a good reason for subsidising public transport. The second reason—maintaining an efficient and necessary transport infrastructure—might be good in certain cases. Why is a transport infrastructure necessary and why can it be maintained only with public subsidy? It is necessary in the urban context because our road network is not up to carrying the volume of private motor traffic that it would have to carry if we had no public transport system in cities and towns. I do not need to labour that point, as I am sure that it is clear to everyone.

A transport infrastructure is also necessary for environmental reasons. It does not need restating that the environment is less damaged and threatened if many passengers are carried in a small number of conveyances as opposed to a small number of passengers travelling, as is the case with private motoring, in a large number of conveyances. Public transport therefore has a less damaging impact per passenger on the environment than private transport. It will be clear that the beneficiaries of public transport in an urban environment are not solely the users. In cities, the beneficiaries include pedestrians and residents, whose lives would become impossible if the place was clogged with private cars. In terms of the environment, the beneficiaries are all those who enjoy, or live in the vicinity of, a road or railway.

In a perfect free market system which was sensitive to needs and costs, we would be able to ensure that we extracted from the beneficiaries of public transport something like the price of the extent to which they have benefited. We would be able to charge the people whose environment had improved as a result of public transport the cost of providing that public transport. We would be able to charge motorists and residents the cost of providing the underground railways and the bus system which is necessary if motorists and residents are to continue to be able to motor and reside. Unfortunately, we do not have such a finely tuned system and it is unlikely that we shall ever achieve one. We have a fairly clumsy, imperfect and inefficient free market system and our attempts to subsidise public transport amount to no more than an attempt to compensate for the inadequacies of the free market system. That should be more widely recognised, especially on this side of the House.

Technology will eventually enable us to charge people much more specifically for the services they consume and the benefits they enjoy. I have in mind the extension of tachographs to motor cars. There will come a time when we know how often a person used his car and where he has gone in it, so that when people drive into central London we shall easily be able to record how much driving time they have used in peak hours in central London——

Mrs. Dunwoody

Nineteen eighty-four.

Mr. Parris

—and we will be able to charge them for it. When we can do that, we shall be able to charge a competitive price for buses and tubes, because it will be much more expensive to travel by car. [Interruption.] Those days have not yet come. My right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) murmurs that I have just blown any chances that I might have had of becoming Secretary of State for Transport. I shall therefore deal with a less controversial matter—my constituency. My hon. Friend the Minister has recently given people in Ashbourne in my constituency some welcome news. The Government are to commission a study into the possibility of a bypass around Ashbourne.

Mr. Home Robertson

There is a long way to go.

Mr. Parris

There is indeed a long way to go. It is only a first step, but it is further than we have got before. The announcement could not have come at a better time for the people of Ashbourne as, during the bank holiday weekend, we had traffic jams extending five miles out of the town in two directions. That is a perennial and worsening problem in the town. The statement could not have come at a better time. I hope that the study is concluded speedily; I feel sure that its conclusion will be that Ashbourne needs and deserves that bypass as soon as possible.

7.19 pm
Mr. Ted Leadbitter (Hartlepool)

I shall not attempt to follow the attractive speech of the hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris). Instead, I shall try to return to realities rather than the mythology of a free market.

The House must attend to the question whether we are satisfied with Britain's transport system. A mounting body of evidence suggests that there is public concern. Nearly all the transport-related organisations and interested transport bodies have expressed positive objection to the general trends in the last two or three years in transport policy. More pertinently, they have expressed worries arising out of the proposals for the future, not least of which is the Bill for the abolition of metropolitan counties and the effect that that will have on valuable transport undertakings. Therefore, the House must not be complacent and seek to follow the usual speech that the Secretary of State makes in whatever ministerial role he has. He produces the same speech whatever the responsibility that the Prime Minister unfortunately gives him.

We must say that there is some concern about the present state of transport in the United Kingdom. It would be dishonest for Conservative Members to align themselves wholly with the policy of their Front Bench when to our knowledge they are protesting to the Government about the effect of their policies in the areas that they represent. The most recent example is that of the Settle to Carlisle line. Indeed, Conservative Members have been more vocal than most on that topic.

We understand that the Government have to make their case. They have to hold their corner. However, it must not blind them to the reality of what is happening in Britain. Informed opinion shows strongly that we are running our railway system on the cheap. A recent report on European railway systems, commissioned by an independent transport consultancy, shows that British Rail is locked in a vicious circle of decline. The Government's misguided attempts to save money—those are the operative words—will cost us dear in future, and certainly in the short run. Fewer passengers will mean less revenue, followed by poorer services, followed by still higher fares and the further sales of assets to try to balance the books when those assets are beginning to dry up. The sale of assets is one reason why British Rail's annual report shows it to be in the black for the moment. Let us not be bemused by that because we have not had an analysis of that balance sheet. British Rail's assets have been a source of income which it will not enjoy in future.

Management, responding to Government policies, must cut certain services. It has to close lines and scrap some of its undertakings which need more investment. That is the factual picture. We cannot deny it, for it is there for all to see. That is the position in which management has been put. But worse than that, management is acting as agent provocateur for the Government. The message has gone out to area managements to say nothing which will embarrass the Government. The Government are doing the ordering, with the pretence that it is the management's responsibility. When management has to do such things, the consequences for Britain's economy are, to say the least, desperate.

We must decide what kind of transport system we want in the United Kingdom. If we believe that an upturn in the world economy will produce growth, that there will be more output and more employment, we need a transport system that will reflect those efficiencies in the quicker movement of passengers and goods.

The sad fact is that British Rail has been forced to withdraw about £600 million of planned investment because the Government refuse to give approval for it. Warnings have come in the past few years. British Rail's investment performance ceiling target for 1979 was £387 million. In 1980 it was £398 million, and that figure continued until 1982–83. The amount needed in 1982 to equal the 1979 allocation in real terms would be £569 million. In other words, between 1979 and 1982–83 there was a 30 per cent. shortfall in investment ceiling targets. The total investment in 1979 was £379 million, and in 1982 £265 million—a shortfall of 48 per cent. That is the investment figure taken from the annual report of the British Railways Board. In fact, British Rail's investment in real terms by 1982 had fallen to little more than half the low level of 1977. In 1983, British Rail expected an investment of a further £200 million. That should be compared with the target figure of £1,300 million in West Germany and £900 million in France. Even the public service obligation in Britain last year fell 12 per cent. below the 1979 figure. Britain's financial support in percentage terms of the gross domestic product is the least favourable of eight European countries, with the exception of Denmark.

It is no good the Government coming to the House with a puerile insignificant and unreal amendment to the Labour party's serious proposition today in the light of the authoritative opinion of Sir Peter Parker, a respected chairman of British Rail, in March 1980. He said: High fares on British Rail are due neither to excessive wage levels, nor poor productivity, but to relatively low support from the taxpayer for railways in Britain. In other words, there is too little support from the Government. That was his conclusion and his considered opinion. I believe that that opinion is more acceptable to the general public and to the people who are concerned about transport than the prognostications of the Government.

The reduction in railway jobs, as an indication of the contribution to productivity to which Sir Peter Parker referred, can be summed up in this way. In 1950, 497,000 people were employed in the British Rail network. By 1981, 166,000 employees were left—a loss of 331,000 jobs. In the last year, 6,000 jobs have been lost and, by 1985–86, another 15,000 jobs will have gone.

In 1981, passenger mile figures were only 5 per cent. below the level of 1950. Set against over 70 per cent. shedding of jobs, from a manpower and trade union point of view this represents a contribution to productivity which is not only startling as an example of the dedication of the work force and the unions to British Rail and the desire to see it a productive and efficient undertaking, but demonstrates that it has not been matched by any investment programme to achieve the objectives of an efficient service. The nub of the problem in the decline of British Rail rests with low investment, not with manpower or with the trade unions. Those are the hard facts and figures.

There is an abundance of evidence, comparing British Rail with other European countries, that we have a favourable record of productivity on low pay and longer working hours, but we receive far less in Government support and investment.

Sir Peter Parker gave a warning a little less than four years ago, in an annual report, when he said: The results of under investment are now showing through in the deteriorating quality of service in parts of the system. We are replacing our assets at a lower rate than any other European railway, and we are not investing in new opportunities which railways and other Governments elsewhere see as necessary to the long-term futures of their countries. Sir Peter Parker is a man of considerable business acumen and experience with an excellent record in British Rail. He was fighting his corner, before he was nobbled by the Government, when he made that kind of judgment. I challenge the Government to say that Sir Peter Parker's warnings were wrong. He has better knowledge of the situation than any Minister and of any advice in the Department that might come to a Minister.

Mr. Gregory

It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman has referred to Sir Peter Parker so regularly. He may like to be reminded that there is a new chairman of the British Railways Board. We have not heard the hon. Gentleman say very much about that. Sir Peter Parker was also a former Labour party parliamentary candidate.

Mr. Leadbitter

I shall ignore the last comment. However, the hon. Gentleman is wrong. I have not referred to Sir Peter Parker regularly. I have quoted Sir Peter Parker twice only, and I have referred to the present chairman. I have suggested that he is acting as an agent provocateur. It is my understanding that the message had gone out to regional managers not to say anything that would embarrass the Government, so I have referred to the present chairman. Indeed, I suggest that hon. Members dwell on one simple thought. Why did Sir Peter Parker go, and why did Bob Reid get his job? It was because it was more convenient for the Government. The Government were pursuing policies of fragmentation and privatisation.

Indeed, on one subject alone there is a record of procrastination and delaying tactics on what mattered most to British Rail — electrification. If ever there was a disgraceful story about postponing investment in electrification, there has been one in the past few years. On 7 May 1981, a firm promise was given to carry out a comprehensive programme of electrification. Each time that we have raised the question in recent years, one excuse after another has been given. A comprehensive plan has been proposed, and it has been thrown back to British Rail. We asked questions about the north-east line, and were told that the information had not come in. When we asked about another line, we were told that the information was about to come in.

The problem arose because the Government, in a doctrinal fashion, were set on two fronts. The first was the attack on the trade union movement. The Government cannot deny that. During the ASLEF strike, words were used which implied an attempt to smash that union. That union, the NUR and the Transport and Salaried Staffs Association have shed thousands of their members in cooperating with the productivity objectives of British Rail. The unions have not fought against proper management and manpower objectives in the face of increasing new technologies. Electrification can produce quicker rail travel, and that is an economy. It is also cheaper to run, and that is an economy. The energy savings that accrue after electrification are an economy, and the clean air for the travellers is a benefit. Electrification also brings profitability, which is what the Conservative party claims to want. Why is there hesitation about electrification?

What is the state of British Rail today? Who dare mention management's struggle to maintain safety levels on British Rail, with the backlog in track maintenance and the clapped-out rolling stock? Even the 125s are now so overworked that reports are coming in of regular breakdowns. The feeder lines have been allowed to wither away. Not only is there a reduction of services, but there is a tremendous backlog in signalling modernisation. These are the facts.

I mentioned earlier that I was concerned about future policies. The Government might listen to opinion in the House, since they have not found it convenient to express an opinion about the objections that have been raised to the proposals for the abolition of the metropolitan counties. I shall quote here not my opinion, but the opinion of people who are in the business. In responding to the White Paper on transportation, the Automobile Association said: On road construction and maintenance … the Metropolitan County Councils have performed satisfactorily. It appears most unlikely that devolution will result in any benefits. The British Road Federation stated: In many respects the Metropolitan Counties have improved upon the record of their predecessor highways authorities. There is a danger that worthwhile schemes will be seriously delayed by the transfer of power from six authorities to 36 highways authorities. The British Railways board—the Government have kept this quiet—stated: Devolution of structure planning to Districts will inevitably lead to an increasingly complex network of relationships. The PTEs will have to consider potentially divergent structure plans from up to 10 district councils rather than from a single County Council. British Rail engineers will now be required to liaise with each individual district council over bridge works … This will inhibit the Board's ability to reduce its staff. The National Waterways Transport Association stated: The proposals … by removing the conurbation-wide overview of transport, will artificially fragment the local government element in transport planning. This function will be redistributed between interests whose views may well conflict, resulting in indecision, delay and increased bureaucracy. The Freight Transport Association stated: The FTA believes that the Department of Transport consultation papers put too much reliance on the establishment of voluntary joint committees and simple voluntary co-operation between adjacent authorities. All our experience tells us that such arrangements just do not work. The Public Transport User Group stated: We have considered value for money, and support efforts to reduce waste. We must be assured, however, that the abolition of the Metropolitan Councils and the GLC will save money. The White Paper does not give this assurance. Indeed there is evidence that costs could increase. We can foresee that the proposals … will lead gradually to disintegration and a return to the confusions of the pre-1968 period. In the light of that evidence, I put it to hon. Members who represent such conurbations that if the Government presume for one moment that it is right to pursue this policy and put aside all those objections and anxieties about their policy, they will rightly be charged with pursuing a dogmatic policy that is so philosophically hidebound with the past that they cannot envisage future needs. The Government will try as best they can to win the day, but I put it to seriously disposed hon. Members—not fettered by the straitjacket of the Department but thinking about the matter from their own experience—that it would be wise to take note of those comments.

However, there is more to it than that. If we want a transport system that integrates rail, road, freight, air and port services, does not recent transport legislation conflict with the Trade Descriptions Acts 1968 and 1972? If the Government win tonight, the country will lose, because we are living in a changing world with changing technology. There has been a 70 per cent. contribution by the work force since 1950—[Interruption.] It is no good laughing about it. This is a serious matter. We are talking not about political enhancement in this place, but the quality of life and the future of people's children. Compared with European countries, Britain has made a dismal hash of its transport policies for too long. There has been too little investment, policies of expediency, policies tarnished by dogma, and too little response to what has always been the support of our institutional lives — consensus. Abrasive government is not successful government.

As soon as the Secretary of State entered office he sought to devise how best to aggravate an already dangerous situation. He sought how best to close his eyes to reality. I ask the Minister to come to the House one day and report the worries of the British Railways Board about maintaining safety standards. We need more investment. Europe has seen the sense of that. I hope that the Government will recognise that tonight's vote is much less important than need for them to change their mind.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

Order. Clearly many hon. Members wish to speak in the debate, so the briefer the speeches the fewer unhappy hon. Members we shall have at 10 o'clock.

7.47 pm
Mr. Gary Waller (Keighley)

I shall try to accede to your request, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I shall certainly speak much more briefly than the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Leadbitter), because I recognise that many hon. Members wish to speak in the debate.

Throughout five years of Conservative Government, we have heard repeatedly from the Opposition predictions of the imminent end of the transport world as we know it, and we heard that story again today. In the past, and again today, the Government have been portrayed as being anti-rail, but as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, it is not the job of Government to discriminate between one mode of transport and another. The customer should be allowed to make the choice.

As early as November 1979 The Guardian printed a story that there were firm plans to close 900 miles of the railway network. Since then, the Labour party has done its best to scare the electorate into believing that a Conservative Administration, in Whitehall or in the town hall, would have as its priority the closure of more lines and services. The Serpell report, which set out several illustrations of the effects of a variety of options, was leapt upon as a clear sign that most of the network was destined to disappear.

The truth has been different, as the letter from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to the chairman of British Rail, Mr. Bob Reid, made clear. As he again said today, the Government do not intend to pursue a programme of major route closures. While the Opposition have prognosticated gloom and doom, the British Railways Board has adopted a different approach. It has gone on with its job of providing a better service for the customer and giving the taxpayer better value for money.

The annual report that has just been published shows that the new management reforms designed to make BR more competitive by splitting it into five different businesses have already produced dividends. There were clear indications that there will be a better future for the railways.

Just before the recess, the glossy book referred to by the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Lewis) arrived on my desk. It is published by the National Union of Railwaymen and sets out the familiar theme of an impending end to railways in Britain if the Government's policies continue to be followed. It is interesting that there is no suggestion in its 200 pages that the union has ever been slow to embrace change, although I must say that the NUR's rival ASLEF does not escape a few sideswipes.

The thesis of the book and of many Opposition Members today is that all that has been wrong with British Rail in recent years is a dearth of investment. All that is necessary to bring about a radical improvement is a massive infusion of money. The aim of the next Labour Government should be to expand the network of public transport so as to provide a minimum level of services at low prices for the population as a whole. No suggestion, one notes, that benefits should be measured in relation to their costs.

Later, there is an endorsement of the option put forward by the consultants, Transport and Environment Studies, to electrify as much as 60 per cent. of the network at a cost of £3.9 billion over eight years. That suggestion takes no account of its inflationary effects or, indeed, of where the money should come from.

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) did not say whether the Labour party is committed to such an investment or infusion of £3.9 billion. Perhaps we shall hear from his hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape, i whether the Labour party is committed to that investment and where the money will come from.

Mr. Snape

Can the hon. Gentleman tell the House, perhaps by answering his own question, whether he was a member of the House of Commons Select Committee on Transport, which recommended widespread further electrification of the railway system and, if so, why he supported that recommendation?

Mr. Waller

I was certainly a member of that Select Committee when it considered the electrification proposal. The Committee did not suggest that there should be massive investment without conditions. It suggested that the electrification of the east coast main line should go ahead, subject to the satisfaction of some stringent conditions. I stick by that view.

The latest report from British Rail records much better punctuality and reliability, as well as improvements in nearly all the key performance indicators and a reduction in overmanning. That contrasts with the unwillingness of ASLEF to accept flexible rostering in 1982, although the practice was widespread on the Continent.

The hon. Member for Hartlepool suggested that the unions have never stood in the way of progress Perhaps he has forgotten what happened in 1982. The shortsightedness of that policy was quickly seen in the accelerating acceptance of flexible rostering when the predicted extra money found its way into the drivers' paypackets. What a tragedy it was that that unnecessary strike cost BR almost £170 million, which could have been invested for the future in much the same way that has been suggested today.

The motion castigates the Government for their privatisation policies. Those policies have, however, produced benefits, no more so than in the case of the National Freight Company. It has achieved vastly accelerating profits since it was taken over by a consortium of management and employees. Between October 1981, when the company was in the public sector and October 1983 when it was in the private sector, turnover increased by 12.5 per cent., trading profit by 23.5 per cent. and operating profit by as much as 58 per cent. That really was not bad, as Opposition Members may grudgingly accept, in a period of international recession.

We have started to see some of the benefits for BR deriving from privatisation that Sir Peter Parker was looking for when he called as early as 1977 for the introduction of private capital into some of the subsidiary activities.

Although British Rail tends to hold the spotlight, we should not forget that many of our constituents depend upon buses for short-distance travel. Buses can be highly efficient in terms of land use and in reducing congestion. It is also significant that between 1971 and 1981 the number of bus conductors was reduced by 74 per cent., leading to an improvement in vehicle miles per member of staff employed.

The fact that the National Bus Company has been a major beneficiary of the relaxation of licensing is to be welcomed. So long as NBC remains in the public sector, it is for everybody's benefit—user and taxpayer alike—that it should be run as efficiently as possible.

One of the benefits of the 1980 Act is that it makes it easier for county councils such as Oxfordshire, Hereford and Worcester, and Norfolk to pursue a tendering approach to public transport subsidies. Just as the Government accept the need for what Sir Peter Parker called the social railway, so subsidies—I agree entirely with my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris) —will be needed for many bus services for the foreseeable future. However, I should like to see an end to cross-subsidisation, which is an economically inefficient means of allocating support. It seems to me much better that unremunerative bus services should be offered to those operators who are willing to accept the lowest subsidy, just as profitable services should be given to those operators who are willing to tender the highest bid.

Not so happy a story is that of London Transport under the GLC. The fact that, while passenger demand fell by about 25 per cent. between 1970 and 1982, staffing remained almost constant and fares rose in real terms by 85 per cent. but that no steps were taken to deal with a scandalous level of fare evasion that any other system would have regarded as unacceptable shows that the moves taken by the Government to reorganise it and to acquire responsibility are more than fully justified.

The latest scare story is that the abolition of the metropolitan county councils will inevitably lead to a collapse of public transport services in the conurbations. It is, likewise, a story to be firmly put in its place. I have to say that the record of local authority reorganisation a decade ago is not a good portent. I tend to be one of those to approach more changes with mixed feelings. It would have been much better to get things right the first time round.

I must agree, however, with the consultation paper, which says: Most transport functions can be carried out satisfactorily by the District Councils whether they are acting separately or together, and adds: re-organisation provides the opportunity to eliminate the duplication of functions. One of my reservations about the joint boards that would form the passenger transport authorities relates to the quality of people representing the districts. Experience suggests that appointees tend to be those least likely to succeed in their own authorities, who can be conveniently shunted out into the sidings.

With regard to roads, reorganisation must provide the focus for a clear examination of the division between trunk and local authority roads. As the Minister of State has said, there may not be the same need as in greater London for extensions of trunking, but many of the existing divisions between trunk and county roads result from historical factors rather than present-day movements, and they should be subject to close scrutiny.

The terms of the Opposition's motion in relation to roads do not stand up to examination. The road-building programme has moved ahead fast, although it has been inhibited sometimes by the laborious public inquiry procedure, to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) referred.

My constituents hope to see a start made on the Airedale route in the next financial year. It has been held up by objections of one kind or another, and no one should be surprised at their scepticism. The route is certainly vital to the future development of the Aire valley.

The way in which road space is allocated in cities such as London is highly inefficient. The hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) hinted at some of the ways of putting the matter right. My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West went a little further. The logic behind road pricing is inescapable, especially as the technical problems can largely be overcome. However, as my hon. Friend suggested, the political objections remain as formidable as ever.

The results of the Hong Kong experiment will be very interesting, but there is a world of difference between Hong Kong and London. In the meantime, I believe that there is a need to do something about the wholesale flouting of parking regulations, which artificially favours the car and therefore congestion, and makes the movement of public transport in the cities more difficult.

If we are to believe the motion, investment in transport has all but disappeared. In fact, the Government's critical approach has produced benefits and will produce more in future. As Jim O'Brien, joint managing director of British Rail, has said—I hope that he will not be dismissed as another poodle of the Conservative Government— There is no crumbling edge, investment really isn't a problem now. He was quoted in The Sunday Times only last month.

Of course many improvements are needed throughout the transport infrastructure, but, as in so many other areas, throwing money at the problem would produce the greatest possible waste of resources. Choice for the customer will be more likely to flow from sensible investment based on competing modes with a minimum of interference from the Government. Although the Opposition's motion obscures rather than illuminates their own policies, enough is clear for us to know that those objectives are totally at odds with their approach.

8.1 pm

Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)

I should like to declare a new interest, in that I, like my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson), have just become sponsored by the Transport Salaried Staffs' Association.

I am intrigued to take part in another debate with the Secretary of State. Over the years we have encountered each other in various Departments, either when he has been in government and I have been out of government, or I have been in government and he has been out of government. I remember him being the scourge of the quango, but he is now complacently reconciling his conscience with the fact that he is just about to create the London Regional Transport Board. I remember him saying constantly in Committees on industry Bills that he would never accept that the man from Whitehall knew best. However, now he is the man in Whitehall, and it became apparent today that he is convinced that he knows best. We were not surprised at the element of consistency that emerged, which was that his old commitment to privatisation remains. He will not be surprised to find that our commitment against privatisation also remains.

I ask the Secretary of State, apart from the doctrinal arguments for and against, to take into account the fact that the privatisation programmes that have been implemented have had some problems, to which the Secretary of State and his colleague the Minister of State should turn their attention. Problems have arisen from the sale of the British Railways Board hotels to the Virani Group and Barclay Brothers. Those people now flatly refuse to honour the commitments and obligations that they entered into when they were allowed to go ahead with the purchase. They have had to be taken to court in some cases to ensure that sickness payments were made to employees.

I hope that the Secretary of State will bear in mind that, with regard to Sealink and the London Regional Transport Board. the unions and members of the concerns to be privatised will need convincing that there will be a more adequate protection of their rights as employees—their negotiated contractual rights. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will consider the inadequacy of the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 1981 and what can be done to tighten them. He owes it to us to say what he and his colleagues are doing, faced with that blatant disregard for the protection that the House intended and that apparently the Government intended when they introduced the regulations. Alternatively, do the Government care about breaches in undertakings or rules only when they are made by what they see as the other side in industry?

The hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris) asked why we subsidise. The Secretary of State spoke about the need for value for money. Let us bear in mind that profitability is not the sole criterion by which one judges value for money. Any motorist has only to be reminded what it would mean if £140 million-worth of freight went on to the roads instead of the railways for him to appreciate the value of having an alternative element in the transport system. It also has an important strategic role, which successive Governments have recognised.

The industry has a strong social impact. I warn the Secretary of State that the policies that he is forwarding will lead inevitably to a decline in the services offered by the railways. The Government's policies are generating a vicious downward spiral in services. During this decade we shall see a marked fallback in the quality of service. There is a certain self-defeating logic in the Secretary of State's argument. For example, there is his approach to privatisation as a goad to greater profitability. The reality is that, if one successively creams off the sectors of an industry that are making a profit, one makes it increasingly impossible for what remains to carry out traditional cross-subsidisation. Cross-subsidisation in the railways is traditional. The old Great Western Railway used cross-subsidisation for good commercial reasons, because it needed the feeder lines to ensure that it got the business on to its main lines. It also needed them as delivery lines to local communities.

Cross-subsidisation is not evil or uncommercial. It is not even a Socialist precedent. It has always been a fact of life in the railways system. However, if one takes away the profitability, one takes away the capability to cross-subsidise. Therefore, one predetermines the collapse of the system or a massive rundown in it. Meanwhile, in the profitable chunks of the industry that are being sold off, the purchasers prune away at the elements that are least profitable, so that at both ends there is a diminution in the service to the public.

That is made worse by the fact that the Government are making massive cuts in the PSO grant, which successive Governments have made to the railways to recognise the social impact to which I referred — the need to keep certain non-remunerative services in existence. Yet the Government, in their generosity, propose to cut the £855 million of PSO grant last year to £635 million by 1986. That is a cut of £220 million, at the same time as profitable sectors are being hived off. The Secretary of State should note that, if British Rail had not had the profit of Sealink alone in the past 12 months, that would have turned the profit from the British Railways Board's operations, about which the right hon. Gentleman boasted, into a loss.

In addition to hiving off the profit-earning elements and the massive cut of £200 million in the grant to keep the non-remunerative lines open, there is the Government's proposal for the metropolitan authorities, which could deprive transport of as much as £77 million that it receives from the metropolitain authorities at the moment. The major factor that predetermines the downward spiral is this. Not only is there creaming off, a cut in the grant and a loss of support from local authorities, but the Government are unwilling to recognise, as other Governments in Europe have, that there is a need for a massive infusion of capital into the railway system.

The Minister boasted about an increase by 1985 of 40 per cent. in investment in rail, but in 1980 the British Railways Board told the Government that by 1985 it would need an increase of 60 per cent. just to sustain its network and to keep it running. On that criterion alone, the figure about which the Minister boasts is substantially below the level necessary to sustain the system in the long term. One must bear it in mind, as the Minister smirks away, that by taking into account purely short-term considerations, the Americans have found that their railway system is now virtually beyond resurrection and salvation. Massive modernisation and renewal are essential.

The latest plan shows only a 40 per cent. increase by 1985, yet the British Railways Board reckons that, in addition to the £200 million that will have been taken from it by then, it needs a further £170 million invested than the Government envisage. Here we have a cut in grant, inadequate provision of investment and the hiving off of those areas that are providing the profit that might enable the industry to become more efficient and to carry out its own investment.

It is no good the Minister pretending that efficiency is purely a manpower function and that so long as we deal with the manpower problem we deal with the problem of efficiency. Paragraph 3.2 of the corporate plan states: Assuming that investment in the railways were confined to existing levels, it is forecast that by 1990 some 3,000 out of the present 22,000 miles of track will have had to be closed. Before then"— and the Minister boasts of improving efficiency— progressively severe restrictions of speed will have to be imposed because of deteriorating conditions which will make some journeys slow and unattractive. By the same time the signalling equipment on 7,000 miles of railway will be more than 50 years old—in many cases much older still. Capital stock as well as manpower efficiency is essential if we are to maximise the efficiency of the rail transport system, as is efficient and expanding marketing. Indeed, in his press statement earlier this month, the present chairman said: The way to prosper in any business is to satisfy the customer by giving him value for money. I am sure that the Secretary of State would agree entirely with that proposition, in which case he should look at paragraph 3.3 of the British Railway Board's corporate plan, which also states: So, looking ahead, existing investment limitations, if continued, will lead to closure of substantial parts of the railway during this decade. Money will be diverted to patching up old rolling stock which ought to be scrapped and replaced with new modern vehicles, which in any case could be a more cost effective course of action. Unreliability caused by engineering breakdowns will increase. That is the consequence of the investment programme about which the Minister has had the impertinence to boast. It must be judged against the injunction from the current chairman—the Secretary of State's placeman—that the way to prosper in any business is to satisfy the customer by giving value for money.

Does the right hon. Gentleman seriously suggest that the scenario of the corporate plan—of reduced speeds and the use of outdated rolling stock and antiquated signalling equipment—will add to the efficiency of the industry? He is offering a continuation not of investment but of make do and mend. He is predetermining that the industry will be typified by the obsolescence of its equipment. He is selling the future of our transport industry to his own doctrinal imperative to privatise everything and anything.

8.14 pm
Mr. Tim Smith (Beaconsfield)

I hope that the right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) will forgive me if I do not follow him on the subject of British Rail, because I wish briefly to refer to the ultimate lame duck that is the least attractive and difficult responsibility of the Department of Transport—the Port of London Authority.

The PLA is a public trust with no equity capital, but it has two quite different functions, which the last annual report succinctly described. The first is responsibility for the conservancy of 95 miles of the tidal River Thames and the second is the ownership and operation of facilities for the handling of … cargo. I regard those two functions as entirely distinct. The first is an entirely justifiable activity for a public authority, but I am not sure about the second. I see no apparent reason why a public trust of this kind—indeed any public body—should be responsible for cargo handling.

In the long run, a simple solution to the difficult problems which the authority presents to my right hon. Friend would be to dispose of cargo handling. Unfortunately, the PLA at present is making no money, for a number of reasons. The first is the very fact that it is a public trust. If it were in the private sector, it would perhaps be more profitable. The second and more important is its historical obligations.

The authority is bound by the national dock labour scheme and the Jones-Aldington agreement, which the chairman in his report describes as follows: We are required to pay the costs of surplus manpower that does not accept voluntary severance; we are the employer of last resort in the event of other employers in the Port of London shedding Registered Dock Workers. That is an impossible burden and a totally open-ended commitment which is completely inconsistent with a commercial operation and far more akin to the provision of a social service. If the Government want to support jobs in that way, it would be more sensible and honest to do so directly rather than by requiring the PLA to do so.

Historically the PLA has always been just about to turn the corner and make a profit, but in December 1982 the Government rightly put their foot down and announced the ending of continuing financial support. Although the accounts are not yet available, I understand that last year the PLA made a further trading loss. As no Government support was forthcoming, the only way in which it could be funded was by the sale of the Royal Victoria dock for £5 million.

In fact, the PLA is quite big in real estate. A whole page in the report is devoted to that subject. It has leased 90 acres in docklands for the short take-off and landing airport. Wates is building 220 houses on six acres of PLA land in docklands, and another 14.5 acres are to be developed for housing. In addition, 128 workshop units are being built for small businesses. This is all commendable stuff—I am very much in favour of such activity—but I wonder whether we would not be better off if all these assets were passed from the PLA to docklands. At Tilbury there is an Asda superstore and the PLA is the landlord, and 200 homes are under construction.

Is this really a proper role for a public trust, and has not the time come to start to sort it out? The solution is clear—to restrict the PLA to its conservancy function and to dispose of all its other activities and assets to the private sector, or simply to wind them up if no buyers can be found.

In fact, there is nothing simple or straightforward about this, because the national dock labour scheme and the Jones-Aldington agreement will have to be tackled first. I suppose that primarily they are matters for the Department of Employment rather than the Department of Transport. However, these agreements have achieved precisely the opposite object to that intended. They have destroyed jobs, not preserved them, and by January 1983 the work force in the port of London was down to 4,400.

There is one other inequity about this. The port rates, or dues, levied by the PLA amounted to about £9 million in 1982 and are currently the subject of an inquiry under the Harbours Act. The PLA told the inquiry, in defence of these charges, which are levied on private operators in the port of London, that it has to carry uncommercial burdens such as pension funding and surplus labour under the dock labour scheme. That may be the case, but this is the ultimate nonsense. Private operators are being forced to contribute to a social service. They are effectively being taxed if they operate in the port of London. The time has come for my right hon. Friend to put an end to that and to sort out this problem once and for all.

8.20 pm
Mr. Lewis Carter-Jones (Eccles)

I am glad that the Secretary of State is here, because in December he invited the Civil Aviation Authority to produce a statement on competition policy. It is difficult to shed tears for an old Treasury man, but I am sorry for the Secretary of State, because the statement stirred up a hornet's nest. Let me give a brief summary of what has happened in aviation.

Lord King has done a grand job and has brought British Airways into profitability. The Secretary of State is delighted about this, and said so, but he has forgotten that the company became profitable as a nationalised industry. The nub of my speech is that the Secretary of State should leave British Airways as it is. It would be delighted to have John King as its chairman and to remain as a nationalised industry.

Lord King wants to keep all the routes that British Airways possesses. In 1971 we implemented—after a fashion—the Edwards report. British Caledonian came into existence as a stronger force and obtained some routes. While the hot heavy language of privatisation was going around, British Caledonian, led ably by Adam Thomson, thought that it would like a slice of the action. He has made his bid through his famous blue book. The breakdown that Adam Thomson would like is 60 per cent. British Airways, 30 per cent. British Caledonian and 10 per cent. the rest.

The trouble is that that cannot be done legally without legislation. The document which the Secretary of State asked to be produced to assist him in encouraging competition has blown up in his face. Section 6 of the report, which is entitled "Consultation on Airline Competition Policy", says that the changes envisaged in section 5—the long-range scheduled routes desired by British Caledonian and others — are not a suitable vehicle to be used by the CAA. I hope that the Secretary of State will answer my question. Will we find that British Airways can be privatised but that the sharing out of the routes for competition, which the Secretary of State wants, cannot happen unless there is legislation to permit it?

This is an interesting question. I learned about it today, as the report is almost brand new. I have asked lawyers and they say that a serious constitutional issue is involved. The exercise on which the Secretary of State embarked in December 1983 almost takes us back to the merry days of debate in 1971 when the Government passed the legislation related to the Edwards report. I hope that the Secretary of State will reply to this point.

Something else emerges from the report. In looking for competition where it feels that that is possible, the CAA has arrogantly suggested that Manchester airport should have an airline of its own. Manchester's reply to that is "Over our dead bodies." Which dead bodies will get in the way? There is a whole range of them. First, Manchester airport does not want to lose British Airways. There is a relationship dating back to the days when BEA operated out of Manchester, and that collaboration continues to this day. Manchester airport wants it to continue.

Secondly, the people of Manchester want to keep their airport. It is their airport and it makes more profit than Gatwick. Apart from Heathrow, no other airport makes a greater profit than Manchester and the people want to keep it. Thirdly, having lived through the management change introduced by John King, having suffered the hardship of loss of jobs, the work force of Manchester airport and of British Airways want the right to remain at Manchester. If we talk about freedom, they should be given that right.

I am also delighted to see the Secretary of State here, because he is an old Treasury man. Part of the new technique of producing competition and intensifying the activity in the airline service is to have feeder routes. This is why a Treasury man is so important. He can get the ear of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and allow us to buy the available British aircraft that will be useful for feeder routes. They will satisfy the requirements of a huh airport concept, which is what the Secretary of State is after.

The aircraft—British, I am pleased to say—are the 146, the Short 360, the 748 for short haul in the Highlands and Islands—I hope that the Secretary of State will hear this in mind, because British Airways wants to buy that — and the advanced turbo prop. Although this is a procurement problem, to get a satisfactory airport policy going the Secretary of State will need those aircraft.

There is another small point to be made about procurement. We should buy British aircraft as far as possible. Here I pay tribute to British Caledonian, ir that it has bought the A310 and has options on the, as yet unbuilt, A320. Lord King has kept his options wide open and has taken leases on the Boeing 737. I hope that at the end of the day the Secretary of State can exercise his pressure, influence, obvious charms and obvious powers of great persuasion to get British Airways to buy part of the Airbus series, the A310 and perhaps the A320. This would bring a great sense of satisfaction to the work force and to British industry.

I may be asked why I am always going on about buying British aircraft. The answer is partly because I used to fly them and partly because I do not want to see British industry going down the drain. We have seen cotton and steel go, and the motor car industry suffer. Here we have an industry that is supreme in the world. Do not be misled by the talk of Boeing—we produce first-class aircraft. With first-class British aircraft and a Secretary of State who has great and undoubted ability, the airline industry of Britain can be the pride and joy that it ought to be. The Secretary of State must persuade people to buy British. I am prepared to go on my knees to preserve the British aircraft industry.

I end on a constituency note, which is not unknown in the House. Manchester airport must remain in the possession of Manchester. British Airways must be allowed to continued flying in and out of Manchester. If the CAA report is accepted and an alternative airline is brought in, as the manager of Manchester airport says, it is like throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Manchester is prepared to take other airlines and will welcome them, but it wants to keep British Airways.

I hope that the Secretary of State will give me a reply, possibly in writing, on another and unrelated issue. It concerns the Manchester ship canal, which has served the north-west extremely well and is part of our transport system. We want the Secretary of State to try to keep it open as a navigation canal all the way up to the Salford docks.

The Manchester Ship Canal Company recognises and accepts its responsibilities to dredge the canal, but this is not just an ordinary canal. It is a canalised river. It is the River Irwell, which feeds eventually into the Mersey. The Secretary of State may feel that he is responsible for the transport side, but the major feature is the water course—the river system—which needs to be maintained. It is hoped that he will get together with the Secretary of State for the Environment, because the people of the north-west would welcome his intervention in preserving this route for pleasure, while sustaining adequate water resources in the region and at the same time making it available for navigation.

I hope that the Secretary of State will bear in mind the wishes of the people in my area. We want British aircraft built and flown by British companies. We want those airports which have been worked successfully by local people to remain in the hands of local people. Above all, we want to know what sort of dog's dinner the right hon. Gentleman will make of the report delivered to him last week.

8.32 pm
Mr. David Mudd (Falmouth and Camborne)

I am delighted to be called immediately after the hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones). It is refreshing these days to hear an Opposition Member making a speech which embodies the three qualities of optimism, patriotism and positive thinking about important issues.

I am unable to agree with the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), because I intend to support the decision of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to repeal section 9 of the Ports Act 1964 as speedily as possible. My right hon. Friend will recall that as early as January of this year I drew attention to the outmoded value of this rather dubious piece of legislation and pointed out that it had become a delaying and confusing factor in port development in that, were an applicant to succeed, he had to conjure out of thin air a formula which would be acceptable, although not defined, to a Secretary of State who had no definitions on which to base his decision. It was a miracle of crystal gazing, of double guessing and of double estimates.

Mr. Prescott

I must point out that the National Ports Council was the body advising the Minister, and that the last Tory Administration abolished it.

Mr. Mudd

It was kind of the hon. Gentleman to make that intervention. However, later in my remarks I shall deal with his views on the Falmouth container terminal, and no doubt he will want to challenge me about that as well.

Mr. Prescott

There is no time.

Mr. Mudd

The hon. Gentleman says that there is no time, but I shall be dealing with his comments about it in a moment.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on taking this positive decision. Having seen his positive decision in this matter, I should like him to use the same spirited independence when discussing with his right hon. Friends two other inhibiting factors or threats to port development in the United Kingdom.

I refer, first, to the effects of the Rayner scrutiny on customs attendance at ports. It will be well known to anyone with knowledge of the port industry that an effective port depends on the speedy handling of passengers, cargo and components needed for ship repair. If the Rayner scrutiny is implemented fully, we may see a reduction in the customs presence at our ports and a corresponding reduction in the ability of those ports to answer the demands on them.

I do not suggest that we should move away from cost effectiveness—that would be almost a heresy under this Administration — but I ask my right hon. Friend to consider whether a formula cannot be drawn up whereby a realistic structure of customs planning is available but any excess of availability is paid for by the customer rather than by the taxpayer. That would be helpful to the redevelopment and regeneration of many of our ports.

I also ask my right hon. Friend to take on board the arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Smith) about the future of the national dock labour scheme. It was introduced 37 years ago, but those covered by it have now dwindled to 13,000 in 54 ports. Since they are paid for by a surcharge of £1,200 per person employed in the ports industry, it means that British ports are coughing up about £15.5 million per annum which would be better used in the regeneration and redevelopment of port activities. When the scheme was drawn up 37 years ago, dock workers had to be protected—I do not argue about that—but the employment protection legislation now gives them that cover.

I now take up the comments of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East, who seemed to work up a fair old lather about the decision in favour of the Falmouth container terminal and hinted darkly that the end of the affair had not been heard. He appeared to suggest that industrial action would follow and that Armageddon would suddenly come upon us.

Mr. Prescott

indicated dissent.

Mr. Mudd

The hon. Gentleman shrugs his shoulders and denies that. I am glad that he does because, if the history of the British stevedoring industry had been one of staying at work instead of finding opportunities to break away from it and to interrupt work, the British ports industry would not be in the sad state that it is today.

I move on to discuss the future of the railways. We are now into the first year in which, in Cornwall, a decision was taken to return area management specifically to local level. The area manager has been given powers to decide his own scheduling, fares structure and timetable. He is introducing local uniforms. We are seeing the reintroduction of the livery and all that people traditionally associated with a local railway service.

One interesting development as a consequence has been a return of passengers to Cornish railways. In 1981–82 there was a fall-off of 7.4 per cent. in the number of passengers carried on the railways of Cornwall. In 1982 that dropped to a fall of only 2 per cent. That in itself is significant because in 1982 the railways lost 8 per cent. of their productive and earning time due to industrial action. Again, perhaps there is a message here — that, if needless industrial action can be avoided, the chances are there for the regeneration of trade and development.

I have made some specific points about the national dock labour scheme, the Rayner scrutiny report and my support for the repeal of section 9. I have offered a gentle guideline on the application of local good management, leading to public association with the railway system and increased revenue. I hope that I have made my point.

8.40 pm
Mr. Gordon A. T. Bagier (Sunderland, South)

I shall not follow the line taken by the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Mudd) because he talked mainly about his constituency. I declare my interest as a Member sponsored by the National Union of Railwaymen and who first joined the railways back in 1941. I have seen tremendous changes.

We must examine how important transport appears to be in the Government's strategy. The House must be convinced, particularly after the speech by the Secretary of State, that the Government have a strategy for the future of the transport industry. Government transport policy has been enlarged to include airways, airports and ports, as well as the more traditional functions.

Reference has been made to Mr. Bob Reid, the chairman and custodian of British Rail. He has been compared with Sir Peter Parker. I suspect that the Government do not take transport, and particularly British Rail, seriously. I am suspicious of the Government's motives. Mr. Bob Reid, as a railwayman, should have been the first choice for the job, but he was almost the last card in the pack. The Prime Minister hawked the job round almost every candidate. I suspect that the terms of reference associated with the job were not acceptable to the people who were first approached.

Bob Reid is now the chairman, and I hope that he will move away from his former duties as chief executive. The job is different. He now controls the whole situation; he does not merely carry out the wishes of someone else as he did when chief executive. I am worried that he may continue to succumb to the whims and wishes of the Secretary of State as he appeared to when he agreed to 1986 rather than 1988 for the payment of grant.

On 18 April 1984 Bob Reid was reported as having said that he hoped a campaign designed to change Government policies would be conducted through discussion and debate. I hope so, too. I do not want widespread strikes and discontent in the railways; I want discussion and debate. I hope that Mr. Reid will take the gag off his senior railway officials and allow them to act as advocates of the railway industry on the basis of their expertise and knowledge. They could be useful. They might even tell the Secretary of State something that could help him. I hope that Mr. Reid will encourage his officials to say what they think publicly so that the public can judge.

I had the forlorn hope that tonight we would be told something about east coast electrification. The Under-Secretary shakes his head, so I wonder when we shall hear about that. The issue has gone on and on. If ever there was a case for looking after our infrastructure with money from the North sea electrification of the railways, this is it. That could help to put money into a permanent infrastructure instead of wasting it. Providing that infrastructure would help to employ people. It would help to keep the expert electrification teams together and prevent some North sea oil money going down the drain to pay people in the dole queues.

What will happen to the transport responsibilities of the metropolitan authorities when they are dismantled? The Government have not said whether they will carry on the declared policies of the metropolitan authorities. For example, the Tyne and Wear authority has an excellent integrated service, which I recommend to other parts of the country. Its policy is to extend the metro system to Sunderland and out to the airport. I am amazed that it was not extended in the first place. The Secretary of State said that aid to metropolitan counties was somewhat below what was needed. I have no doubt about that.

The Government are gerrymandering by disposing of Labour-controlled councils and replacing them with their own quangos. Will money be found to continue free fares for old-age pensioners or for other travel concessions which were approved by the elected representatives of metropolitan authorities?

I do not know how many Conservative Members represent areas where free concessions are given, but I know that many of the shire counties do not provide such concessions. One can appreciate the look on the face of an old-age pensioner who, on a day like today, sets out for the coast or for the shops using concessionary fares. Pensioners are now frightened that such pleasures will be taken away from them. In future there will be no public guarantee of such concessions.

The Tyne and Wear authority has just issued a leaflet stating intended policy. I doubt whether it will be carried out when the Secretary of State is responsible for transport there. The county plans half-price travel this summer. It is experimental, but it is introduced with a heart. It provides half-price travel for people who are out of work, in receipt of family income supplement, non-contributory invalidity pensions or housewives' non-contributory invalidity pensions. The weakest in our society are being offered about 90p a week to travel anywhere they like in the Tyne and Wear area.

That is an example of an elected authority carrying out a transport policy based not on profit and loss accounts, but on the needs of individuals who want to travel to look for work or to enjoy benefits which would be denied them without a cheap fares policy. We are entitled to know whether the Government intend to continue to support policies introduced by elected representatives.

The hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris) philosophised about subsidies. The Greater London council's action on fares reductions has been a success story. By reducing fares by 25 per cent. the GLC increased ridership by 15 per cent. and increased the money coming into the kitty. What was the matter with that?

In discussing subsidising transport systems one must refer to the metropolis of private enterprise—the United States. The Bay and Washington areas are heavily subsidised. I note that the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller) is smiling. He knows that the Select Committee noted the operation of that subsidy. The transport systems in Ontario, Paris and Hamburg are heavily subsidised. What is the matter with that? The controlling bodies in those areas decided that the transport systems were a necessary part of the infrastructure and that a profit and loss account did not make them that way. The authorities had to think about the part played by transport in the national infrastructure.

I hoped that the Secretary of State would give us some news about the east coast main line electrification programme, but obviously he will not. I hope that the Minister will answer some of the fears activating the hearts and minds of people looking for transport facilities in the metropolitan counties, so that they are not denied finance—not necessarily because of the Minister's actions but through rate support grant cuts. The Government's responsibility should be to ensure that a transport infrastructure and the present concessions remain after they have completed their period in office.

8.51 pm
Mr. Conal Gregory (York)

The Conservative approach to transport is to ensure that the user has a fair choice between competing modes with a minimum of state interference. Contrary to the terms of the motion, there has been a continuing programme of investment in transport and an encouragement of the necessary infrastructure. No one should doubt the importance of transport. Businesses and consumers spend more than £50 billion on United Kingdom transport, accounting for more than one fifth of GDP. Despite the recession, transport spending has increased in the past three years by more than 25 per cent. Most transport is provided by the private sector, with a little under one fifth being supplied by the public sector.

I shall discuss two particular forms of transport—road road and rail. The motion erroneously refers to a deterioration in road infrastructure. The trunk roads and motorways, for which the Government are directly responsible, carry 13 per cent. of total traffic and 70 per cent. — a staggering figure — of the heaviest goods vehicles. Since 1979, we have protected more than 90 towns and villages on trunk roads in England by relieving them of through traffic, with four more bypasses due to be completed this spring. When the schemes now being built are completed, 65 per cent. of the historic towns on English trunk roads will have been relieved of through traffic, increasing to 90 per cent. when the existing programme of 156 schemes is completed by the early 1990s.

The Transport Act 1980 has enabled a freer approach to the approval of local bus services, by requiring those opposing a new bus service to prove to the traffic commissioners that the service will be against the public interest. Before that date, it was possible — in some cases this happened—for the National Bus Company subsidiary to hold the right to certain routes but, almost immorally, not to run them and to prohibit any other operator from so doing. The new legislation under this Government enables all operators to be more adventurous and competitive without the weight of bureaucratic decision which especially frightens the smaller operators. The legislation makes it considerably easier for those county councils to which my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller) referred, such as Oxfordshire, Hereford and Worcester and now Norfolk, to pursue a tendering approach to subsidised public transport to ensure a competitive market in local bus services. The 1980 Act removed the legal constraints prohibiting the local authorities from using school transport to serve the public sector. Durham and Gloucester, for example, have shown that way.

I commend the ESCORT scheme—East Sussex co-ordinated rural transport—as as an example of how that method can be undertaken in north Yorkshire and other parts of the country. ESCORT is an experiment whereby schools, social services, hospitals and public transport are linked. In the past, schools and public transport have been identified separately, but now all four modes have been brought together in one scheme, resulting in costs decreasing by 20 to 25 per cent. on £30,000. Passenger numbers have increased, and, not unnaturally, bus fares have come down.

Basically, we face four rather crude options with regard to rail. First, we could concrete over the rail lines and replace the system with coaches. If coaches replaced rail, they would quickly spread on to existing roads. The burden of the congestion of coaches on other roads would be intolerable and an environmental disaster. I therefore reject that option.

The other extreme, as apparenty advocated by the Opposition Front Bench, is to have massive Socialist railway investment on principle, regardless of whether it is economically justified. I reject that idea. A limited amount of money is available to be spent on investment, with choices such as education, the NHS, defence and job creation. Any investment in a training organisation must be serviced. It is a burden on any organisation to be saddled with unnecessary debt and interest costs from unnecessary investment. It takes no account of the available resources. I reject that option.

Thirdly, we can cut the railway system severely until it is profitable without support. It is true that financial help can be given to those less able through their own resources to travel and to choose their mode of travel. That is not a realistic way to maintain a railway system. It would have an immensely damaging effect on rural communities, because a successful trunk rail route requires feeder services. In 1981, 39 per cent. of all households had no car. A large proportion of the 9 million pensioners no longer drive or have never learned to drive. In 1982, more than 13 million young people were below the minimum legal age for driving a car. Therefore, many millions are heavily dependent on public transport for their mobility.

The railbus has possibilities, but studies have shown that fewer than half former rail users switched to a substitute after their line had been closed. According to Hillman and Whalley in their Policy Studies Institute paper of 1980, bus services were found to be slower, less frequent, reliable and comfortable than trains. At the general election, we promised no programme of major route closures. That, at least, should give the railways the confidence to innovate.

The fourth option is to maintain roughly the present network with a worthwhile and cost-effective investment. A successful railway should be efficient, reliable, clean, punctual and good value for the transport user. It should put the user ahead of the provider. It needs to meet the challenge of the 20th century, which means competition in transport.

The competition from coaches and private motoring led British Rail to increase its fares by the lowest level for 11 years—5.5 to 6.5 per cent. In the 1983 corporate plan, BR forecast a reduction in the central Government PSO requirement to £635 million by 1988 at last year's prices. The Government have asked BR to introduce their reductions two years earlier, which will be a challenge to rail staff at all levels. It is too popular to knock BR. BR runs more trains at over 100 miles per hour than any other railway in the world.

BR was an amorphous mass, over-large and unwieldy. My right hon. Friend referred to the sector directors in charge of marketing, standards of service, costs and so on. The great advantage is that each sector director can challenge the costs attributed to him. Is the service cost-effective? The 1983 BR plan advocated a £200 million reduction in taxpayers' support during the next five years, in addition to a significant increase in investment, concentrated on projects with a high yield. That means, for example, radio signalling, level crossings, the replacement of older rolling stock built in the 1950s and so on.

Equally important to many local communities has been the opening and reopening of stations, including the first new station in south Wales since 1942. Twelve new stations have been opened since 1979 and 19 reopened. Last October, for the first time ever, the BR chairman was given clear and comprehensive statements on Government objectives.

Looking at the railway network, it is right to consider the many rural communities. There is no policy for major route closures. The new, lightweight rolling stock between, for example, Ipswich and Lowestoft with radio signalling is one way in which the Government's policy will be implemented. The inter-city system has become increasingly successful since 1977 and has shown itself commercially viable.

I and other hon. Members are awaiting BR's review, especially on any decision that will help to achieve north-east electrification. That depends on BR producing a satisfactory prospectus for the inter-city sector. Electrification is in progress elsewhere on 184 route miles at a cost of £170 million. The electrification programme gives an internal rate of return of 11 per cent.

My right hon. Friend said that investment in BR is rising. It will reach £330 million this year, which is £50 million up on last year. That means that the external financing limit will be at exactly the same level as that requested by BR.

Overtime among rail employees remains a source of concern. It is flying directly against the industry for some railway conveners to urge no more productivity. The unions have lodged a claim for a substantial increase in pay and a reduction in working time. They must first implement the efficiency measures agreed in outline as long ago as August 1981. Only two of the six key points—variable rostering and open stations—are in operation. The sooner the other four are implemented, the healthier the industry will be. They include the phasing out of guards on some freight and passenger trains——

Mr. Prescott

More unemployment.

Mr. Gregory

The secondary picketing in Yorkshire and elsewhere on 28 February in connection with GCHQ, the wildcat strikes by ASLEF at Kings Cross and the left-wing political agitators in the coal dispute do not help the interests of our great industry.

Mr. Prescott

What would the hon. Gentleman know about that?

Mr. Gregory

The annual rate of improvement for train crews was 3.1 per cent. last year. We must encourage greater initiatives by management. There should be an extension of the experiment of telephones on trains, such as on the London-Bristol line, a trolley service for beverages, food and newspapers and some catering on all routes between major conurbations, including vending machines. Despite an income of £24 million last year, train catering made a loss of £4.9 million.

Decentralised management, continued cost reduction, better labour relations and an improved customer service will win a viable future for the railway industry. Therefore, I urge the House to support the amendment.

9.5 pm

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

I promise not to range as widely as the hon. Member for York (Mr. Gregory). I appreciate that another hon. Member has been waiting for as long as I have to speak.

I shall confine my remarks to the coastal shipping element of the British maritime industry. We have witnessed and experienced a history of failures and inadequacies in this area of maritime transport policies.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) referred to the decline in the British merchant trading fleet. It is a massive and debilitating decline. In 1979 there were about 1,200 British owned and registered ships, and we now have fewer than 750 vessels. A third have been broken up, tied up, sold off or transferred, and the prospects are worsening weekly. The General Council of British Shipping recently forecast that during the next year or so the British merchant fleet would be down to fewer than 600 vessels, and that by 1986 we would have only about 400 ships left in international trade.

There are several reasons for the decline. Some of them are outwith the control of the Government, but a change in Government policy could arrest that decline, particularly in the very important area of domestic shipping. Other countries, such as France, Greece, Norway and West Germany provide positive support for their coastal shipping industries. Our Government simply offer the litany of free competition. We know that other Governments offer homilies on the need for free competition, but they do not practise what they preach or seek to preach.

I am not for one moment saying that the Government have stood idly by and watched the British maritime transport industry decline — they have helped that decline with the Budget proposals. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has withdrawn free depreciation and ended the tax relief on overseas earnings. The latter will badly harm the incomes of officers and crews of British vessels in the international sector.

The incentives to reinvest in the industry have largely disappeared. So, too, has the competitiveness of British shipping. It has always been difficult to attempt to compete against flags-of-convenience shipping, with its moorings in tax havens and its systematic and often brutal exploitation of Third world seamen.

The position today is far worse. In terms of competitiveness, Britain has slipped from being on almost equal terms with other European nations to a position at the bottom of the league. This country needs a sensible maritime transport policy. If that is not brought about, the "Red Duster" will become an extremely rare sight on the oceans of the world. It will become a collector's item. There is a thought for a maritime nation.

Most maritime nations have some publicly owned shipping operations. Most maritime nations recognise the importance of their coastal shipping and seek to integrate it with their land-based transport system. Here in Britain, however, the Government allow a third of coastal shipping and fully 50 per cent. of our offshore supply shipping services to be run by foreign flag ships. It almost seems as though the Government are happy with this state of affairs.

Many of our maritime communities suffer as a result of the Government's lack of concern for the coastal shipping and offshore supply industries. The National Union of Seamen and AUEW-TASS recently produced a report on those two sectors. I am not a member of either union, but I commend that report to the House as it clearly shows the extent to which British policy over a period has been at odds with that of other nations, and it spells out the consequence of that. It states: In mid-1968 according to the Rochdale Report, there were well over a hundred shipowners in the Coasting and Short Sea Tramp Sector, with nearly 700 vessels comprising over one million gross registered tons (grt.) By 1983 this was down to less than 20 owners with just over 150 vessels comprising under 300,000 grt. In 15 years, 80 per cent. of owners, and 80 per cent. of vessels and 70 per cent. of tonnage have disappeared. Almost all the major maritime nations, including France, West Germany, Italy, Greece, Japan and the United States, reserve coastal trade for their own vessels under a system known as cabotage. Britain is the odd man out. Although we do not allow other countries to operate within our railway system, and we do not allow foreign lorries to pick up and deliver goods within this country, we allow foreign vessels to trade between British ports at will. That is an absurdity.

The report claims that about 30 vessels would be needed to replace the foreign ships involved in our coastal trade, providing about 1,000 jobs for British seafarers. It surely makes sense to transport British cargo around the British coast in British ships crewed by British personnel.

The same circumstance obtain in the United Kingdom offshore supply industry, in which half of the 180 or so vessels are foreign owned and crewed.

We do not have free competition in those two sectors. British vessels are not allowed to operate in the Norwegian, West German or United States' sectors. The Government's concept of free competition is of considerable benefit to other maritime nations, but of little or no help to those sectors of British maritime industry. The decline of our industry bears witness to a disastrous record. The people in our shipping and shipbuilding industry deserve much more from the Government.

9.13 pm
Mr. Simon Coombs (Swindon)

It is sad that we should begin this new series of sittings on such a negative note. The Opposition motion says nothing about the good news from British Rail in the past few days. It takes no account of the aggressive attitude of the National Bus Company and municipal operators in the bus industry.

The motion also says nothing about the good news on motorway construction and repair, which the Opposition spokesman described as a patchwork quilt. If the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) went to see the 70 miles of motorway renewed every year he would realise what a good job is being done for the benefit of the travelling public. Bypasses and many other developments have been mentioned. There is a great deal of good to be said in this debate. It is a shame that we have not heard it from the Opposition.

I want to concentrate on two issues. First, there is the plight of the disabled motorist faced with the tightening up of the regulations which affect those entitled to a disabled parking badge. In the past there was monstrous abuse of the orange badge system by able-bodied people, who used badges to get free parking in town centres. The Government rightly tackled that abuse, but I believe that they went too far — even though they enjoyed the support of organisations for the disabled — with the result that many disabled people now simply cannot get an orange badge even though they are demonstrably in need of one.

In my own constituency—and there must be many similar cases in other constituencies—a pregnant woman whose legs had been amputated above the knee has been denied an orange badge. People suffering from agoraphobia—who if they cannot keep a car parked in sight while they are doing their shopping are likely to have an attack and run into the road, causing danger to themselves and to motorists — have been denied the badge. Only last week I visited a man suffering from arthritis. He was barely able to walk from one side of his kitchen to the other to get a pencil to write down his name and address, but he, too, had been denied an orange badge under the new regulations.

I support the Government in their aim of removing the abuse, but I cannot sympathise with a scheme which denies to those who are in need the chance to have a badge. I urge the Government to reconsider the degree of flexibility, ensuring that the disabled have a right of appeal—if necessary, a right of appeal to the Minister. I also urge them to consider introducing photographic passes so that it can be shown that the disabled person is the one who is using the car.

I should have liked to devote many minutes to that all-important subject. I regret any apparent discourtesy to the many disabled people in my constituency and elsewhere who have written to me on this subject and begged me to raise the matter in the House, but time is short, and I also wish to refer to British Rail Engineering Ltd., which is the largest employer in my constituency.

We debated BREL in January. At that time there was a threat of large-scale redundancies throughout the United Kingdom, and particularly in the rail works in my constituency. A figure of 1,200 redundancies has been put forward by the management of BREL as being likely, on current trends, to materialise by the end of the year.

The works fell into a mood of gloom, despair and despondency. However, within a few days the management gave us the welcome news that the redundancies had been staved off for the time being. Work had been diverted from other works and found from elsewhere to enable the options to be kept open. The management of British Rail Engineering Ltd. had done what I had asked it to do. However, the effect on the morale of the work force had been severe. I appeal to the management not to indulge in creating a see-saw effect, threatening the worst and then drawing back from the abyss. It has been doing that for years, and it is not good for man management.

Swindon is now a rundown repair and refurbishment centre, but it is capable of better things. The works are capable of new build, of producing new rolling stock and new locomotives, if the investment is provided. Swindon could also serve the west country as a regional repair and refurbishment centre. It is absurd that if a 125 engine breaks down 30 yards from the Swindon works it has to be towed to Derby to be repaired. That cannot make sense. If we want cost-effectiveness, we should look for it in areas such as that. Swindon has a pool of skilled labour and a tradition of high-class engineering. It would be a tragedy if the British Rail report ignored those facts and insisted upon some option which led to a severing of the connection between Swindon and the railway engineering industry.

I hope that I have been able to give sufficient weight to the two issues that have caused great anxiety in my constituency. With a few honourable exceptions, such as the hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones), the Opposition have done nothing to contribute to the debate. There has been a negative attack on what remains a successful tackling of the problems of transport. It is not sensible for the Labour party to follow a policy of saying, "If it moves nationalise it, and if it still moves chuck public money at it." That is the type of absurdity that will condemn the Labour party to perpetual opposition.

9.20 pm
Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)

I intend, if time allows me, to return to some of the points made by the hon. Members for Swindon (Mr. Coombs) and for York (Mr. Gregory) but I should like to start by dealing with a slightly less controversial aspect of the debate and put a couple of questions to the Minister. It is no secret—the Secretary of State is extremely proud of the fact—that the Government intend to privatise British Airways some time in the future. The Government have not told us today when that decision will be made. Indeed, the right hon. Gentleman, in characteristic fashion, has virtually handed that decision over to the Civil Aviation Authority, although it is an issue for Government transport policy.

The right hon. Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) referred to his dislike of private monopoly. His remarks could be applied to a privatised British Airways, bearing in mind the approach of the Department of Transport. The evidence is that the privatisation will occur later rather than sooner, but we should be grateful if the Minister would tell us of the Government's intentions and say to what extent he acknowledges that the Government have to some extent juggled the figures to paint a rosier financial picture of British Airways, no doubt with the intention of paving the way for privatisation.

Evidence of fiddling around with British Airways' accounts has been presented by one of its commercial rivals. Sir Adam Thomson, the chairman of British Caledonian, strongly believes that there has been rigging of BA's finances. He and the Opposition would welcome some comment on that from the Minister. British Caledonian believes that unleashing a privatised British Airways of its present size would be detrimental to its prospects. British Caledonian has said publicly that there should be a transfer of routes between the two airlines. What is the Government's view on that? Would such a transfer need legislation — which, presumably, would have to be debated in the House?

Another less controversial aspect of today's debate is the Government's airports policy, if one exists. It appears that the Government have no real policy on British airports. It might be controversial of me to say so, but I believe that both sides of the House acknowledge that there is some excess capacity and that, although every municipally owned airport likes to call itself international, there is a limit to the amount of international traffic around and the privatisation of the British Airports Authority is likely to reduce even further any prospect of an overall countrywide airports policy.

The threat of privatisation is already causing concern to the British Airports Authority. It has desperately tried to find out when privatisation will take place, whether the existing BAA airports will be kept together or split up, and if they are split up who will be the lucky person who collects the Heathrow jackpot. When the Government carry on with their sad and undemocratic policy to abolish the metropolitan county councils, what will happen to airports such as Manchester, which is run successfully by a joint committee of city and county council? Are we to have yet another quango from that former quango hater, the Secretary of State for Transport, which presumably would be created in order to maintain municipal airports which are at present—I hope all hon. Members would acknowledge—run extremely efficiently?

In today's debate, more than one Conservative Member has said that Labour Members in particular have been more concerned with railway matters. The hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris), in a characteristically thoughtful speech, warned us of the dangers of that approach. He said that we should have concentrated more on buses and less on railways. Indeed, he repeated the phrase that I first heard from the late Anthony Crosland—that the railways were primarily in the business of running round the middle classes and that Labour Members ought to be more concerned with bus services because more working-class people would be inclined to use them. I do not subscribe to that view. In the past, the number of middle-class commuters probably exceeded any others because of the travel-to-work pattern which went back to the 1930s, but that element of trave has diminished, or has certainly moved towards a more equal ratio than in the past.

Like many hon. Members, I well remember the fanfares that greeted the Transport Act 1980. The then Secretary of State for Transport, the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler) regarded it as a great leap forward. Indeed, on 1 July 1980, the day after the Bill received the Royal Assent his Department issued a press notice which said that the Act would encourage new operators to come forward, especially in rural areas. In February 1983, less than three years later, the Bus and Coach Council issued a document entitled "The country would miss the bus". On page 7 of that document it said: The hopes of the legislators have not been realised, because the market has invariably not justified the commercial investment"— that is, the hope of an improvement in rural bus services.

What happened in 1980 was exactly what was forecast by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) and other Opposition spokesmen on transport. They said that there would be a rush of operators of express services anxious to take advantage of the relaxed licensing provisions. Within six months of the Transport Act, the National Bus Company had put up its express mileage by 43 per cent. In doing so it had to destroy its principle of cross-subsidisation. Within 12 months of the 1980 Act, route mileage operated overall by the National Bus Company declined by 8 per cent.

The Conservative party has objected to the terms of the Labour party's motion condemning the Government's transport policy. The Secretary of State asked us to justify the word "deterioration". I hope the House will acknowledge immediately that that was a deterioration in services caused by one single mistaken act in Government policy. I accept that at least some Conservative Members in 1980 felt that the passage of the Act would benefit the rural bus user, who is, after all, the sort of person in the forefront of Conservative party thinking. I have never quite understood why, but most Conservative Members represent rural areas. Nevertheless, this Act of Parliament, which was passed by a Conservative Government, has had a severe impact on rural areas, contrary to what was forecast at the time the legislation came to pass.

Another aspect of the 1980 Transport Act that was greeted with some fanfares in the House, and elsewhere, was the clauses concerned with the principle of car sharing. I well remember that the Opposition were abused at that time for not recognising the great leap forward that was being made by the Conservative party in relaxing the regulations, and allowing the principle of car sharing. Indeed, the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), the then Secretary of State for the Environment, had a regular column in the Department of Environment house magazine for car sharers to advertise. By the end of 1980, regrettably, there were only two advertisers, and by June 1981 there was only one advertiser.

However, it was better than that. One south coast resort newspaper decided in October 1980 that it would establish a new classified advertisements section for this purpose only. In one case, the advertiser wished to share his car only with an attractive woman. In another case, there was an appeal, doubtless from a supporter of the Conservative party, for a car sharer to share in the cost of running a Rolls-Royce. As my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) reflected earlier, perhaps the whole intention and thrust of the Government's transport policy was to enable us all to ride around in Rolls-Royces. I suppose that, to that extent at least, for one south coast resort they were successful.

If they were successful in that aspect of their policy, the Government were completely unsuccessful as far as the provisions of the Act are concerned. I readily acknowledge, as do all Opposition Members, that, as a result of the 1980 Act, at least some people managed to find a cheaper method of inter-city travel. I repeat that that was not the purpose of the Act, but that was what happened. As Freddie Laker—the one-time hero of the right hon. Lady the Prime Minister—found out, any such market, no matter how cheap the fares, is eventually finite, and there is only a limited number of customers to go round. The result of that Act for certain long-distance passengers is that between certain cities there has been a reduction in cost, and a greater choice in modes of travel. That has not taken place for people in the rural areas. Indeed, the reverse has happened. The introduction of express coach services has led to an equal reduction in the number of people using British Rail's inter-city services. An Act of Parliament is passed through the House with the best of intentions, but we end up—I suppose that this is the competition that the right hon. Gentleman is always so keen to encourage—with two nationalised industries in direct competition with each other, and with the user of public transport worse off.

The Secretary of State for Transport in his opening speech said that the Labour party's love was only for those who work in the transport industries, while the Conservative party's concern was for the consumers of the industries. He said that, in the 1950s, 35 per cent. of total available traffic went by road, and the figure now is over 60 per cent. I am not sure about his figures—even he is not always sure about his figures—but that was the general drift of his remarks.

There is no arguing with the view that that was the movement of traffic between modes of transport since the 1950s. It would be surprising if the movement were different, because we know that the Secretary of State, with many of his predecessors, makes no secret of his dislike of subsidies to the railway industry. He accused my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East and myself of being obsessed with providing more subsidies regardless of the likely choice of consumers. However, he did not mention—nor did any Conservative Member mention—the generally acknowledged fact that we pay a subsidy of more than £2,000 million a year towards company cars. The Secretary of State is in favour of that sort of transport. No one would object if he was the recipient of such largesse, but the vast majority of people have no such opportunity.

The Secretary of State shook his head when I mentioned £2,000 million, but I hope that he accepts that, on motor manufacturers' figures, more than 60 per cent. of new cars are sold to companies. They are subsidised, directly and occasionally indirectly, but the Secretary of State shows no concern about that.

The right hon. Gentleman talked about the need for a modern and efficient railway service at low cost to the taxpayer. If he were a miracle worker—from our short acquaintance since October 1983 I fear that he is anything but that—the Opposition would sit back and wait to see whether such a system could work. However, Britain alone in the western world could not produce such a system. The fact that subsidies are an acknowledged part of the operation of public transport in every other developed nation leads me to believe that the Secretary of State is as inaccurate in that projection as he has been in every projection he has made since he took office.

An article in the Financial Times on 18 April said that the Secretary of State rarely compares like with like. Under the heading "How the juggernauts have taken their toll", Mr. Max Wallace concluded his article by stating: It is evident that Nicholas Ridley has been successfully reeducated in the wonderland economics of highway investment over the nine short months since he left the Treasury. The reason for that somewhat harsh conclusion is the damage caused to the Severn bridge. Most people would say that that damage is unlikely to have been caused by private cars. It was caused by heavy goods vehicles travelling between Wales and England. During the past few months there has been a movement of Welsh-finished steel off the railways because of a shortage of railway wagons—the hon. Members for Swindon and for York might wish to discuss this with the Secretary of State—on to the roads, which has increased the number of juggernauts using the Severn bridge.

Successive Governments, especially this one, have said that rail investment must show profitable returns, whereas road investment should come out of revenue. But the Severn bridge is different. Its costs are supposedly isolated and its funding is supposedly on the same basis as rail funding. However, last year, the engineers who designed the bridge 17 years ago—the consultants Mott, Hay and Anderson — identified a risk of failure because of a traffic jam. The engineers' remedy was to space the flow of bigger lorries and allow private cars unrestricted access. It would have been comparatively simple to have one lane for lorries and to restrict the number of lorries op the bridge at any time.

That did not meet with any favour from the right hon. Gentleman, who does not believe in subsidies. He has said that there will be an investigation into the prospect of a second Severn crossing. In Hansard on 1 November 1983 he said that he did not accept that the heavier lorries now on our roads are part of the problem in any sense. According to the right hon. Gentleman, there is no problem with heavy lorries, but the Severn bridge is about to have more money spent on it. That is not road hauliers' money, of course. Some areas of transport receive privileged treatment when it comes to subsidies.

The Government do not compare like with like. It is more profitable for the National Bus Company to run express services in direct competition with British Rail's inter-city services. Since the Budget, it has cost £67.50 for a road fund licence for a 45-seater coach. All that an operator must pay is the cost of the coach, the wages of the driver and £67.50 for a road fund licence. When one considers the infrastructure costs that British Rail must bear directly, it is not surprising that there has been a massive increase in long-distance coach travel and a consequential reduction in rail travel.

The Opposition stand by the motion. The Government ought to be condemned for their failure. There has been widespread deterioration in Britain's transport systems, and for that reason I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will join me in supporting our motion.

9.41 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. David Mitchell)

The House has had an interesting, if rather short, debate on a very important subject. It is important because transport has a vital bearing on our costs as a trading nation and because it touches on the quality of life for us all. It has been a revealing debate, exposing hon. Members' interests, concerns and legitimate fears and I shall endeavour to respond constructively to what hon. Members have had to say.

The debate has also given us an insight into the Opposition's real beliefs. Their motion attacks the Government for their belief in competition, profit, privatisation and reduced Government financial support. That attack makes clear the philosophy of the Labour party—an acceptance of loss rather than profit, a desire for nationalisation rather than the spread of ownership and wealth, and an increase in the spending of taxpayers' money, as if that were some sort of virility symbol. We reject that philosophy and that policy, as well as the thinking that lies behind it. We have good reason to do so, because of the improvements that have already flowed from our policies.

I shall deal with the matters raised by hon. Members during the debate, but before that I shall deal with the most revealing and incredible part of the motion. It notes that a policy of privatisaion and competition has reduced the United Kingdom's merchant fleet by 500 ships". It has been a sunny Easter recess, but it is a little early to use a touch of the sun as an excuse for such a motion. There have been no changes in privatisation or competition that affect the United Kingdom's merchant fleet. The privatisation of Sealink has not yet been brought forward. There is no relationship between the Government's policies, in the way that they have been expressed and condemned by the Opposition, and the decline in the United Kingdom's merchant fleet.

We are very concerned about the decline in the United Kingdom's merchant fleet, which has been caused by world recession and the introduction of fewer, bigger ships, the protectionism of emergent nations and their unnecessary building. The decline has not been caused by the Government, as the Opposition well know. Their reference in the motion to a declining merchant fleet shows that they are living in cloud-cuckoo-land.

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) said that the main threat to the United Kingdom's fleet comes from flags of convenience. I remind him that the United Kingdom flag is itself a flag of convenience. Has the hon. Gentleman forgotten that 43 per cent. of our fleet is there because of a flag of convenience? When he is so ready to condemn flags of convenience, will he bear in mind the effect of his condemnation on that 43 per cent. of the United Kingdom fleet?

Mr. Prescott

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Mitchell

I shall not give way, because of the amount of ground that I have to cover.

The hon. Gentleman also referred to Norwegian protectionism. Talks are continuing at official level. I expect progress and have invited the Norwegian Minister to visit London to discuss that progress.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) referred to the breadth of the coverage of the Department of Transport. I welcome that, but its only disadvantage is the wide area of aspects that may be raised. My right hon. Friend referred to railway investment and particularly to the south-east coast. The Victoria signalling system will be opened next Tuesday. In mid- May the direct non-stop Gatwick service from Victoria will start, providing improvements for air travellers and taking the pressure off some of the south coast towns.

My right hon. Friend drew attention to the tax problems of the shipping industry. I shall draw what he said to the attention of Treasury Ministers. He also warned the House against the danger of privatisation leading to a private monopoly. As I know my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will, I shall take carefully into account his advice and comments in that direction.

The hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Lewis) quarrels with the chairman of British Rail for allegedly preventing railwaymen from lobbying Members of Parliament for more investment. As the Government are not restricting British Rail's investment money, there is no point in lobbying Members of Parliament. It is for British Rail to propose what investment is wants, and for the Government to dispose. At the moment, apart from the east coast main line, we do not have in front of us any proposals for investment that are being held up by the Government.

Mr. Prescott

Only the east coast main line.

Mr. Mitchell

The hon. Gentleman refers to just the east coast main line. I shall come back to it, but he knows perfectly well that we are waiting for the inter-city strategy, which we expect in the next few weeks.

The hon. Member for Carlisle was disturbed about bus substitution because it originated from the Serpell committee. I assure him that that was endorsed by the Select Committee on Transport, which referred to the need for guaranteed subsidised rail services. Therefore, let us at least put that into its context and not be worried in the way that the hon. Gentleman was. The hon. Gentleman asked when lorry and road users would cover the costs which they incur through taxation. Road expenditure in 1982 was £3,300 million and the tax raised from road users was £6,400 million. Not only do they cover costs, but they cover much more than the expenditure on the roads.

My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris), in a thoughtful speech, underlined the Secretary of State's theme that transport is for the benefit of the customer, and illustrated the advantages of competition. He referred to widespread concern in other countries about railway losses. The House may be interested to know that so great are the losses in Japan that the Japanese have set up a commission of inquiry and have visited British Rail and the Department of Transport to discuss possible approaches to ways in which to cut their severe losses.

The hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) is anxious to get heavy lorries out of city centres. I agree with him, but the answer is not in bans, but in bypasses. The London M25 is the biggest bypass in history. It will do a major amount to improve the lot of those who are concerned about heavy lorries in the centre of London. Section 8, which we are using vigorously as a means of environmental grant to encourage the moving of loads from road to rail, is now having a considerable impact in many routes. Heavy lorries and juggernaut traffic is being taken out of the villages and towns and is going on to the railways. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman supports that.

The hon. Gentleman asked about Sealink privatisation. From my own personal investigations I am satisfied that the ferries to the Isle of Wight will last until the new Sealink management has the opportunity of considering its future investment programme.

The hon. Gentleman also referred to the building of Sealink vessels by Harland and Wolff. When I was on the Sealink vessel concerned, the management told me, "Yes, it was delayed. Yes, we did build vessels in other yards, but by God we go back to Harland and Wolff because they build so well." I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will join me in being pleased at that.

The hon. Gentleman asked for assurances that Sealink services to the Isle of Wight and elsewhere will not be cut. For a long time Sealink has operated on a fully commercial remit. Therefore, there is no reason why a change to privatisation should have any effect on the services operated by the management. [Interruption.] British Rail gave Sealink a remit to act commercially, and that it has done. No doubt that is what the new owners will do as well.

My hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Mudd) said that he was delighted at the ending of section 9 and saw it as the opportunity to go ahead with Falmouth's container base. I hope that he will not jump with joy too soon and assume that all the fences are down. Section 9 had become a sign of Government approval and a signal to investors that, perhaps, with abandonment, they could go ahead with any investment that involved a port development where section 9 approval had been given. Investors must now make their own independent judgment, and we shall have to see what happens.

My hon. Friend is worried by the Rayner scrutiny restricting ports developments. I understand his worry and concern. I have been involved in the problems that arose with the overtime limitations for customs at Great Yarmouth. We were able to overcome those difficulties, and I hope that my hon. Friend will discuss with me any particular problems that arise in his own constituency.

The hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Leadbitter) referred to the widespread concern, which I know exists, about the Settle-Carlisle railway line. I assure him that I and the Secretary of State are well aware of the widespread concern about the future of this line. It is now in the process of going through the various procedures that are laid down, as a result of which it will come to me and the Secretary of State for consideration in a quasi-judicial capacity.

At present, my mind is entirely open. I have no prejudices, but I intend to visit the line, to see exactly what is involved, to meet local people and to hear their views. I hope that that will reassure the hon. Gentleman. I give the same reassurance to the hon. Member for Carlisle, who insists on referring to this not as the Settle-Carlisle line, but as the Carlisle-Settle line. I understand his reasons.

The hon. Member for Hartlepool alleged that the Government had forced British Rail to withdraw investment proposals worth £600 million. Let me set the record right. Under this Government, British Rail has invested no less than £2,000 million in its future. The Government have rejected £30 million, and British Rail has withdrawn £300 million, some of which it has subsequently resubmitted. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will get the whole thing in proportion. Some £2,000 million of investment has been made, and only £30 million has been rejected by the Government.

The hon. Gentleman charged the chairman of British Rail with being an agent provocateur. I willingly defend the chairman. I do it sincerely, as he is a railwayman through and through. He clearly intends to be his own man. No one knows better than Bob Reid how the railways should be run. He is not a Government puppet. All that the hon. Gentleman has done in raising that particular canard is to show how out of touch he is with the reality of British Rail.

The hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones) raised the issue of the Manchester ship canal and its future. I should be happy to meet him to consider whether there is any positive role that I can play in connection with the future of the system. He will appreciate that this matter crosses Departments, and I am not sure that I am the right Minister to be in the lead on this issue.

The hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Bagier) wanted Ministers to listen to railwaymen. I assure him, as I have done before, that my door is open to him and to his fellow railway-sponsored Members of Parliament if they have particular points that they want to put to me and that they wish to have taken into account. I shall write to him on his technical question about concessionary fares in his constituency.

The hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) asked when British Airways is to be privatised. The answer is some time in 1985. Steps to enable that to be achieved are proceeding smoothly. He asked about route transfers. He will know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State put that matter to the CAA for it to consider. It has shown the breadth of the evidence that it has received, but it has not come out with its conclusions, and it would be wrong for us to prejudge what it may have to say. The hon. Gentleman asked whether this needs legislation. How can he speculate about the contents of a report that we have not received? How do we know whether the CAA will recommend anything that will require legislation?

I have covered many of the points that have been raised, and I shall write to hon. Members on any points which they feel I have missed. It is not enough to reject the Opposition's motion. We have a right to claim that things have improved, are improving and will continue to improve because of the Government's policies. I shall demonstrate that briefly with regard to three policy sectors—road, rail and air.

On road policy, competition has brought 700 new coach services with better and cheaper services than ever before. It now costs £12 for a return to Liverpool. I rang Victoria coach station today for that information. That is a sign of a massive improvement. Hon. Gentleman may laugh, but the customers are benefiting from that service. They praise my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his predecessors for having made it possible under Conservative policies.

Some £2 billion has been invested in the railways since 1979, and the British Rail chairman expects a 40 per cent. increase in investment in the next three years. The constant attacks that have been made on railway management are something that I resent, as do many Members of Parliament and railwaymen. The Opposition's continual attacks are deplorable.

As to our policy on air liberalisation, the benefits of competition are plain for any Scottish Member, Manchester Member or anyone who uses the shuttle system to see and verify for themselves.

Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 168, Noes 247.

Division No. 251] [10 pm
Anderson, Donald Corbett, Robin
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Craigen, J. M.
Ashdown, Paddy Crowther, Stan
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Cunliffe, Lawrence
Barnett, Guy Cunningham, Dr John
Barron, Kevin Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli)
Beckett, Mrs Margaret Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly)
Beith, A. J. Deakins, Eric
Bell, Stuart Dewar, Donald
Benn, Tony Dixon, Donald
Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh) Dobson, Frank
Bermingham, Gerald Dormand, Jack
Blair, Anthony Douglas, Dick
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Dubs, Alfred
Boyes, Roland Duffy, A. E. P.
Bray, Dr Jeremy Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G.
Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E) Eadie, Alex
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Eastham, Ken
Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E) Ellis, Raymond
Brown, R. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne N) Evans, John (St. Helens N)
Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith) Fatchett, Derek
Caborn, Richard Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M) Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn)
Campbell, Ian Fisher, Mark
Campbell-Savours, Dale Foot, Rt Hon Michael
Carter-Jones, Lewis Forrester, John
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Foster, Derek
Clay, Robert Foulkes, George
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.) Fraser, J, (Norwood)
Cohen, Harry Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald
Coleman, Donald George, Bruce
Concannon, Rt Hon J. D. Godman, Dr Norman
Conlan, Bernard Golding, John
Cook, Frank (Stockton North) Gould, Bryan
Cook, Robin F. (Livingston) Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)
Harman, Ms Harriet Park, George
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Parry, Robert
Haynes, Frank Patchett, Terry
Healey, Rt Hon Denis Pendry, Tom
Heffer, Eric S. Penhaligon, David
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth) Pike, Peter
Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath) Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Howells, Geraint Prescott, John
Hoyle, Douglas Radice, Giles
Hughes, Dr. Mark (Durham) Randall, Stuart
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Redmond, M.
Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S) Richardson, Ms Jo
Janner, Hon Greville Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)
John, Brynmor Robertson, George
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Rogers, Allan
Kennedy, Charles Rooker, J. W.
Kilroy-Silk, Robert Ross, Ernest (Dundee W)
Kirkwood, Archibald Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Lambie, David Sedgemore, Brian
Lamond, James Sheldon, Rt Hon R.
Leadbitter, Ted Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Leighton, Ronald Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)
Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Short, Mrs H.(W'hampt'n NE)
Litherland, Robert Silkin, Rt Hon J.
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Skinner, Dennis
Lofthouse, Geoffrey Smith, Rt Hon J. (M'kl'ds E)
McCartney, Hugh Snape, Peter
McDonald, Dr Oonagh Soley, Clive
McGuire, Michael Spearing, Nigel
McKay, Allen (Penistone) Steel, Rt Hon David
McKelvey, William Stott, Roger
McNamara, Kevin Strang, Gavin
McTaggart, Robert Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
McWilliam, John Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)
Madden, Max Thompson, J. (Wansbeck)
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Thorne, Stan (Preston)
Martin, Michael Tinn, James
Mason, Rt Hon Roy Torney, Tom
Maxton, John Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Maynard, Miss Joan Wareing, Robert
Meacher, Michael Weetch, Ken
Meadowcroft, Michael Welsh, Michael
Michie, William Williams, Rt Hon A.
Mikardo, Ian Wilson, Gordon
Millan, Rt Hon Bruce Winnick, David
Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride) Wrigglesworth, Ian
Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby) Young, David (Bolton SE)
Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Tellers for the Ayes:
O'Neill, Martin Mr. James Hamilton and Mr. John Home Robertson.
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Ancram, Michael Conway, Derek
Atkins, Robert (South Ribble) Coombs, Simon
Atkinson, David (B'm'th E) Cope, John
Baldry, Anthony Cranborne, Viscount
Biffen, Rt Hon John Currie, Mrs Edwina
Body, Richard Dicks, Terry
Boscawen, Hon Robert Dorrell, Stephen
Bottomley, Peter Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.
Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n) Durant, Tony
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Farr, John
Braine, Sir Bernard Favell, Anthony
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Fenner, Mrs Peggy
Brittan, Rt Hon Leon Fletcher, Alexander
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes) Fookes, Miss Janet
Bryan, Sir Paul Forman, Nigel
Buck, Sir Antony Fox, Marcus
Budgen, Nick Fraser, Peter (Angus East)
Carlisle, John (N Luton) Freeman, Roger
Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (W'ton S) Gale, Roger
Chalker, Mrs Lynda Gardiner, George (Reigate)
Chapman, Sydney Gardner, Sir Edward (Fylde)
Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th S'n) Garel-Jones, Tristan
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Goodhart, Sir Philip
Clegg, Sir Walter Goodlad, Alastair
Cockeram, Eric Gorst, John
Colvin, Michael Gow, Ian
Gower, Sir Raymond Maude, Hon Francis
Gregory, Conal Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Griffiths, E. (B'y St Edm'ds) Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N) Mayhew, Sir Patrick
Grist, Ian Mellor, David
Ground, Patrick Merchant, Piers
Grylls, Michael Meyer, Sir Anthony
Gummer, John Selwyn Miller, Hal (B'grove)
Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom) Mills, lain (Meriden)
Hanley, Jeremy Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon)
Hannam, John Mitchell, David (NW Hants)
Hargreaves, Kenneth Moate, Roger
Harris, David Monro, Sir Hector
Haselhurst, Alan Montgomery, Fergus
Hawkins, C. (High Peak) Moore, John
Hawksley, Warren Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)
Hayhoe, Barney Morrison, Hon P. (Chester)
Hayward, Robert Moynihan, Hon C.
Heathcoat-Amory, David Murphy, Christopher
Heddle, John Needham, Richard
Henderson, Barry Nicholls, Patrick
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael Norris, Steven
Hickmet, Richard Onslow, Cranley
Hicks, Robert Oppenheim, Philip
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L. Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S.
Hind, Kenneth Osborn, Sir John
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm) Ottaway, Richard
Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling) Page, John (Harrow W)
Holt, Richard Page, Richard (Herts SW)
Hooson, Tom Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil
Hordern, Peter Parris, Matthew
Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A) Pawsey, James
Howarth, Gerald (Cannock) Porter, Barry
Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldford) Powell, William (Corby)
Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk) Powley, John
Hubbard-Miles, Peter Prentice, Rt Hon Reg
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne) Price, Sir David
Hunter, Andrew Prior, Rt Hon James
Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas Rees, Rt Hon Peter (Dover)
Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick Renton, Tim
Jessel, Toby Rhodes James, Robert
Johnson-Smith, Sir Geoffrey Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas
Jones, Robert (W Herts) Ridsdale, Sir Julian
Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey
Key, Robert Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
King, Rt Hon Tom Roe, Mrs Marion
Knight, Gregory (Derby N) Rossi, Sir Hugh
Knight, Mrs Jill (Edgbaston) Rost, Peter
Knowles, Michael Rowe, Andrew
Knox, David Rumbold, Mrs Angela
Lamont, Norman Ryder, Richard
Latham, Michael Sackville, Hon Thomas
Lawler, Geoffrey Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Lawrence, Ivan Sayeed, Jonathan
Lee, John (Pendle) Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Lester, Jim Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd) Shelton, William (Streatham)
Lightbown, David Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Lilley, Peter Silvester, Fred
Lloyd, Ian (Havant) Sims, Roger
Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham) Skeet, T. H. H.
Lord, Michael Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Luce, Richard Speed, Keith
Lyell, Nicholas Speller, Tony
McCrindle, Robert Spencer, Derek
McCurley, Mrs Anna Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)
Macfarlane, Neil Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire) Squire, Robin
MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute) Stanbrook, Ivor
Maclean, David John Steen, Anthony
McNair-Wilson, P. (New F'st) Stern, Michael
Madel, David Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)
Major, John Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
Malins, Humfrey Stewart, Ian (N Hertf'dshire)
Maples, John Stradling Thomas, J.
Marland, Paul Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Marlow, Antony Temple-Morris, Peter
Mates, Michael Terlezki, Stefan
Mather, Carol Thomas, Rt Hon Peter
Thompson, Donald (Calder v) Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N) Warren, Kenneth
Thorne, Neil (Ilford S) Watson, John
Thornton, Malcolm Watts, John
Thurnham, Peter Wells, Bowen (Hertford)
Townend, John (Bridlington) Wells, John (Maidstone)
Tracey, Richard Wheeler, John
Trotter, Neville Wilkinson, John
Twinn, Dr Ian Winterton, Mrs Ann
van Straubenzee, Sir W. Winterton, Nicholas
Viggers, Peter Wood, Timothy
Waddington, David Woodcock, Michael
Wakeham, Rt Hon John Yeo, Tim
Waldegrave, Hon William Young, Sir George (Acton)
Walden, George
Walker, Bill (T'side N) Tellers for the Noes:
Walker, Rt Hon P. (W'cester) Mr. David Hunt and Mr. Michael Neubert.
Wall, Sir Patrick
Waller, Gary

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 33 (Questions on amendments):—

The House divided: Ayes 246, Noes 165.

Division No. 252] [10.15 pm
Ancram, Michael Gorst, John
Atkins, Robert (South Ribble) Gow, Ian
Atkinson, David (B'm'th E) Gower, Sir Raymond
Baldry, Anthony Greenway, Harry
Biffen, Rt Hon John Gregory, Conal
Body, Richard Griffiths, E. (B'y St Edm'ds)
Boscawen, Hon Robert Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)
Bottomley, Peter Grist, Ian
Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n) Ground, Patrick
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Grylls, Michael
Braine, Sir Bernard Gummer, John Selwyn
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Hanley, Jeremy
Brittan, Rt Hon Leon Hannam, John
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes) Hargreaves, Kenneth
Bryan, Sir Paul Harris, David
Buck, Sir Antony Haselhurst, Alan
Budgen, Nick Hawkins, C. (High Peak)
Carlisle, John (N Luton) Hawksley, Warren
Chalker, Mrs Lynda Hayhoe, Barney
Chapman, Sydney Hayward, Robert
Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th S'n) Heathcoat-Amory, David
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Heddle, John
Clegg, Sir Walter Henderson, Barry
Cockeram, Eric Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Colvin, Michael Hickmet, Richard
Con way, Derek Hicks, Robert
Coombs, Simon Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Cope, John Hind, Kenneth
Currie, Mrs Edwina Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Dicks, Terry Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling)
Dorrell, Stephen Holt, Richard
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J. Hooson, Tom
Durant, Tony Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)
Farr, John Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)
Favell, Anthony Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldford)
Fenner, Mrs Peggy Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk)
Fletcher, Alexander Hubbard-Miles, Peter
Fookes, Miss Janet Hunt, David (Wirral)
Forman, Nigel Hunt, John (Ravensboume)
Fox, Marcus Hunter, Andrew
Franks, Cecil Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas
Fraser, Peter (Angus East) Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick
Freeman, Roger Jessel, Toby
Gale, Roger Johnson-Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Gardiner, George (Reigate) Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Gardner, Sir Edward (Fylde) Jones, Robert (W Herts)
Garel-Jones, Tristan Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine
Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian Key, Robert
Goodhart, Sir Philip King, Rt Hon Tom
Goodlad, Alastair Knight, Gregory (Derby N)
Knight, Mrs Jill (Edgbaston) Ridsdale, Sir Julian
Knowles, Michael Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey
Knox, David Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Lamont, Norman Roe, Mrs Marion
Latham, Michael Rossi, Sir Hugh
Lawler, Geoffrey Rost, Peter
Lawrence, Ivan Rowe, Andrew
Lee, John (Pendle) Rumbold, Mrs Angela
Lester, Jim Ryder, Richard
Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd) Sackville, Hon Thomas
Lightbown, David Sayeed, Jonathan
Lilley, Peter Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Lloyd, Ian (Havant) Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham) Shelton, William (Streatham)
Lord, Michael Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Luce, Richard Silvester, Fred
Lyell, Nicholas Sims, Roger
McCrindle, Robert Skeet, T. H. H.
McCurley, Mrs Anna Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Macfarlane, Neil Speed, Keith
MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire) Speller, Tony
MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute) Spencer, Derek
Maclean, David John Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)
McNair-Wilson, P. (New F'st) Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Madel, David Squire, Robin
Major, John Stanbrook, Ivor
Malins, Humfrey Steen, Anthony
Maples, John Stern, Michael
Marland, Paul Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)
Marlow, Antony Stevens, Martin (Fulham)
Mather, Carol Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
Maude, Hon Francis Stewart, Ian (N Hertf'dshire)
Mawhinney, Dr Brian Stradling Thomas, J.
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Mayhew, Sir Patrick Temple-Morris, Peter
Mellor, David Terlezki, Stefan
Merchant, Piers Thomas, Rt Hon Peter
Meyer, Sir Anthony Thompson, Donald (Calder V)
Miller, Hal (B'grove) Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)
Mills, lain (Meriden) Thorne, Neil (Ilford S)
Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon) Thornton, Malcolm
Mitchell, David (NW Hants) Thurnham, Peter
Moate, Roger Townend, John (Bridlington)
Monro, Sir Hector Tracey, Richard
Montgomery, Fergus Trotter, Neville
Moore, John Twinn, Dr Ian
Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes) van Straubenzee, Sir W.
Morrison, Hon P. (Chester) Viggers, Peter
Moynihan, Hon C. Waddington, David
Murphy, Christopher Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Neubert, Michael Waldegrave, Hon William
Nicholls, Patrick Walden, George
Norris, Steven Walker, Bill (T'side N)
Onslow, Cranley Walker, Rt Hon P. (W'cester)
Oppenheim, Philip Wall, Sir Patrick
Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S. Waller, Gary
Osborn, Sir John Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
Ottaway, Richard Warren, Kenneth
Page, John (Harrow W) Watson, John
Page, Richard (Herts SW) Watts, John
Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil Wells, Bowen (Hertford)
Parris, Matthew Wells, John (Maidstone)
Pawsey, James Wheeler, John
Percival, Rt Hon Sir Ian Whitfield, John
Porter, Barry Wilkinson, John
Powell, William (Corby) Winterton, Mrs Ann
Powley, John Winterton, Nicholas
Prentice, Rt Hon Reg Wood, Timothy
Price, Sir David Woodcock, Michael
Prior, Rt Hon James Yeo, Tim
Rees, Rt Hon Peter (Dover) Young, Sir George (Acton)
Renton, Tim
Rhodes James, Robert Tellers for the Ayes:
Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon Mr. Archie Hamilton and Mr. Tim Sainsbury.
Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Barron, Kevin
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Beckett, Mrs Margaret
Barnett, Guy Beith, A. J.
Bell, Stuart Kennedy, Charles
Benn, Tony Kilroy-Silk, Robert
Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh) Kirkwood, Archibald
Bermingham, Gerald Lambie, David
Blair, Anthony Lamond, James
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Leadbitter, Ted
Boyes, Roland Leighton, Ronald
Bray, Dr Jeremy Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)
Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E) Litherland, Robert
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E) Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Brown, R. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne N) McCartney, Hugh
Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith) McDonald, Dr Oonagh
Caborn, Richard McGuire, Michael
Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M) McKay, Allen (Penistone)
Campbell, Ian McKelvey, William
Campbell-Savours, Dale McNamara, Kevin
Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y) McTaggart, Robert
Carter-Jones, Lewis Madden, Max
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Clay, Robert Martin, Michael
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.) Mason, Rt Hon Roy
Cohen, Harry Maxton, John
Coleman, Donald Maynard, Miss Joan
Concannon, Rt Hon J. D. Meacher, Michael
Conlan, Bernard Meadowcroft, Michael
Cook, Frank (Stockton North) Michie, William
Cook, Robin F. (Livingston) Mikardo, Ian
Corbett, Robin Millan, Rt Hon Bruce
Craigen, J. M. Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)
Crowther, Stan Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Cunliffe, Lawrence Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Cunningham, Dr John O'Neill, Martin
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli) Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly) Park, George
Deakins, Eric Parry, Robert
Dewar, Donald Patchett, Terry
Dixon, Donald Pendry, Tom
Dobson, Frank Penhaligon, David
Dormand, Jack Pike, Peter
Douglas, Dick Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Dubs, Alfred Prescott, John
Duffy, A. E. P. Radice, Giles
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G. Randall, Stuart
Eadie, Alex Redmond, M.
Eastham, Ken Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)
Ellis, Raymond Robertson, George
Evans, John (St. Helens N) Rogers, Allan
Fatchett, Derek Rooker, J. W.
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Ross, Ernest (Dundee W)
Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn) Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Fisher, Mark Sedgemore, Brian
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Sheldon, Rt Hon R.
Forrester, John Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Foster, Derek Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)
Foulkes, George Short, Mrs R.(W'hampt'n NE)
Fraser, J. (Norwood) Silkin, Rt Hon J.
Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald Skinner, Dennis
George, Bruce Smith, Rt Hon J. (M'kl'ds E)
Godman, Dr Norman Snape, Peter
Golding, John Soley, Clive
Gould, Bryan Spearing, Nigel
Hamilton, James (M'well N) Steel, Rt Hon David
Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife) Stott, Roger
Harman, Ms Harriet Strang, Gavin
Haynes, Frank Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Healey, Rt Hon Denis Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)
Heffer, Eric S. Thompson, J. (Wansbeck)
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth) Thorne, Stan (Preston)
Home Robertson, John Tinn, James
Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath) Torney, Tom
Howells, Geraint Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Hoyle, Douglas Wareing, Robert
Hughes, Dr. Mark (Durham) Weetch, Ken
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Welsh, Michael
Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S) Williams, Rt Hon A.
Janner, Hon Greville Wilson, Gordon
John, Brynmor Winnick, David
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Wrigglesworth, Ian
Young, David (Bolton SE) Mr. John McWilliam and Mr. Austin Mitchell.
Tellers for the Noes:

Question accordingly agreed to.

MR. SPEAKER forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.

Resolved, That this House welcomes the steps Her Majesty's Government is taking to improve the transport system of the United Kingdom.