HL Deb 20 December 1982 vol 437 cc846-8

2.40 p.m.

The Countess of Loudoun

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government how many applications for grants under Section 36 of the Transport Act 1981 for freight haulage by inland waterway have been approved.

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, no applications for grants have been approved. Only one formal application for grant has so far been received, but this was later withdrawn. The department is ready to discuss any worthwhile proposals where grant is necessary to secure the carriage of freight by inland waterway and where the alternative is heavy road freight traffic on unsuitable roads.

The Countess of Loudoun

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Is he aware that the complexity of the conditions and regulations which are attached to the making of grants under Section 36 is an inhibiting factor in the submission of a successful application for grant? Am I right in thinking that the draft memorandum prepared by the Department of Transport for those seeking to apply for these grants has yet to be approved by the Secretary of State?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, we think that the grant rules are the minimum necessary to safeguard public funds. The noble Countess will be delighted to hear that the revised memorandum was published on 8th December, and many copies have already been sent out. I did not realise that the noble Countess had not seen one. I shall make sure that she gets one.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, would the noble Earl confirm that freight transport by waterways is both economic in actual costs and energy efficiency? Would he also confirm that the freight that can be carried on 18 of the proposed new 38 tonne lorries could be carried by one modern barge on our waterways? In addition to the press notice issued by the Department of Transport on 9th December, what other steps will be taken to publicise these facilities?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, the noble Lord, as always, produces statistics about which I can only say I am sure they are correct. Indeed, we are trying to get heavy vehicle freight on to the canals. As he knows, we published this last memorandum on 9th December, and we shall have to wait a few weeks to see whether that is going well. I believe that the noble Lord is also aware that we have spent quite a lot of money on the Sheffield and South Yorkshire navigation improvement scheme, and are very much waiting to see how well that goes when it opens in the spring of next year before considering more capitalisation on this sort of score.

Lady Kinloss

My Lords, can the Minister say whether Section 36 grants are part of the Government's national policy for water transport, as intended under Section 13 of the Transport Act 1978?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, in relation to inland waterways transport policy under Section 13, to which the noble Lady referred, methods of assessment and financing are different, to suit the different characteristics of each mode, but all come within the Government's policy that freight services should be supplied on a fully commercial basis and that the need for fair competition between modes is met. That is the line along which the Government are moving.

Baroness White

My Lords, is the Minister aware that even those of us who have had the benefit of studying the illustrated booklet find it absolutely daunting, and that the preliminary expenses that would fall on even a successful applicant in the preparation of his application and preliminary design, are not recoverable? Is he aware that that is bound to inhibit the smaller freight firms, and many of the firms on the canals fall into that category? It is a very different story from British Rail, from whom these conditions are copied.

The Earl of Avon

I take the point raised by the noble Baroness, my Lords, but experience of Section 8 in relation to rail applications has shown that applicants need time to understand the grant and to prepare applications which have a chance of success. There have, on the other hand, been occasions when we could not come to terms on the grant and the other side have gone ahead and done the operation without grant.

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that the most usual and economic form of inland waterways operation is one in which one end of the operation is based on a seaport? Is he also aware that the dock labour boards are banning and blacking many of these operations on the grounds that inland waterways transport is a form of lighterage and therefore contrary to their interests, whereas they are not doing the same for road transport? Will he comment on that?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, so far as the effects on the ports and dockers' livelihood are concerned, there is absolutely no reason why there should be an adverse effect. The intention is to administer the scheme to assist freight handlers to get traffic off the roads where it can be shown that there are benefits to communities which would otherwise be adversely affected by the use of a road route. It is not to shift it a short distance to by-pass docks. We should require there to be a substantial movement on inland waterways and evidence of environmental benefit, and that is when we should consider offering grants.