HC Deb 20 June 1994 vol 245 cc5-6
4. Mr. Hayes

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what steps he is taking to encourage freight to be moved by rail rather than by road.

The Minister for Public Transport (Mr. Roger Freeman)

We are encouraging rail freight in a number of ways. We have liberalised access to the rail network; facilitated the restructuring of British Rail's freight businesses prior to sale; improved the freight facilities grants scheme; introduced a new track access grant for marginal freight flows; and raised the maximum gross vehicle weight limit to 44 tonnes for combined road-rail transport.

Mr. Hayes

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the rail strike, in which workers are demanding 11 per cent. for nothing whatever in return, will tip freight back on to the roads, which will be to the detriment of the environment and, of course, the long-suffering public?

Mr. Freeman

I hope that everyone accepts that significant pay increases cannot be afforded without compensating improvements in productivity. If inflationary pay settlements are awarded, costs and prices go up and that means freight is tipped back on to the roads.

Ms Jowell

Will the Minister urgently tell the director of Railtrack to undertake a study of alternative routes for freight other than through the centre of London? Does he accept that misery is caused to thousands of Londoners, including my constituents, as a result of increased freight traffic? Does he also accept that 75 per cent. of freight traffic is intended for destinations outside London? Will he draw to Mr. Horton's attention the successful all-party lobby of Parliament today organised by the London Channel Tunnel Group as evidence of the extent of concern felt across London?

Mr. Freeman

The answer to the first part of the hon. Lady's question is yes—we have instructed Railtrack to consider an alternative west-about route through Redhill and it will consider the costs involved.

I understand the concerns of those who live by the west London line because of increased noise, particularly caused by the movement of freight at night. That traffic will be modest to begin with, but I will visit the line together with local Members of Parliament, Labour and Conservative, on 13 July.

Mr. Dunn

The Minister will be aware that those of my constituents who use the A20 and the A2 want a better balance between rail and road for the dispatch of freight to and from the Kent coast to London. As long as there is uncertainty about the movement of freight, caused by regular railway strikes called by the RMT union, will not the effect be to keep freight on the road, ultimately damaging the environment of north-west Kent?

Mr. Freeman

I am grateful to my hon. Friend because, if one compares the rail freight and road haulage industries, he must be right. Every time a strike interrupts the supply of passenger or freight services, custom is lost. This strike, therefore, should be condemned by everyone with a real interest in supporting the rail industry.

Mr. Skinner

Is the Minister aware that the Government have a cheek to attack railway people who go on strike for more pay, especially when the Government do not have the guts to introduce a pay policy and instead use a policy based on the dole queue? They have someone permanently present at those talks when they are supposed to be outside. In any case, if the boss of Railtrack can get £120,000 for three days a week, why should the Government condemn workers who are trying to get a living wage?

Mr. Freeman

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport has made plain on a number of occasions over the past two years, there is widespread support in the country for the notion that one cannot afford to make inflationary pay increases of that significant size without compensatory improvements in productivity. We have been through this matter before. The days of something for nothing are finished.