HC Deb 27 April 1983 vol 41 cc363-5W
Mr. Murphy

asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he will set out the principal achievements of Her Majesty's Government within his Department's responsibilities since May 1979.

Mr. David Howell

We have substantially extended the disciplines and opportunities of the private sector within the transport field. The National Freight Company, sold in 1982 to a consortium of its own managers and employees, is operating profitably, making better use of its assets and seizing new freight opportunities. We launched Associated British Ports successfully into the private sector on 9 February 1983, disposing of 51 per cent. of the state holding. We have sold 36 out of 38 English motorway service area leases, earning £48 million and leading to better, more competitive services to motorists. Of 29 British Rail hotels 27 have so far been privatised for more than £40 million; BR's hovercraft business has been merged with Hoverlloyd to form a new private sector company; and more than £100 million of BR non-operational property has been sold off. In 1981 the design and supervision work on motorway and trunk road schemes worth over £2,000 million was transferred from my Department to private firms of consulting engineers. Work on another £400 million of road schemes has since been placed with private firms. We have also taken powers to introduce private capital into the express service and property divisions of the National Bus Company, and to transfer heavy goods vehicle testing stations from my Department to the private sector, together with 1,000 staff.

Since 1 April 1979 staff numbers in my Department have been reduced by 1,730 or 12 per cent.; by 1984 I plan that the figure will be more than 20 per cent.

We have taken numerous measures to improve services to the travelling public. We have deregulated the long-distance express coach market, leading to a substantial number of new coach services and reductions in fares; patronage of National Express services rose from 9 million in 1980 to nearly 14 million in 1981 and over 16 million in 1982.

An extension of London Transport's Piccadilly line to Heathrow terminal 4 costing £20 million has been approved, as well as the docklands light railway costing up to £77 million which will help revitalise a rundown area.

We have given major financial support to changes in British Rail's business, and have authorised electrification of train services to Ipswich, Norwich and Harwich. We have encouraged the development of innovative local services to meet changing patterns of demand for local public transport, and we have taken action to help elderly and disabled people and to draw attention to their transport needs. For example, new regulations designed to improve the operation of the orange badge scheme have recently come into operation. We have supported Carbodies Ltd. to ensure that the new model of the London taxi —which will go into production at the end of 1984—is accessible to wheelchairs. We have encouraged various imaginative local services, such as the Readibus dial-a-ride, for elderly and disabled people.

Through the Transport Act 1983 we have moved to protect ratepayers from unreasonably high public transport subsidy policies, by requiring local authorities to evaluate and justify their policies in relation to the benefits which they produce. Monopolies and mergers commission investigations have been—or will be—held into BR's London and south east services, passenger transport executive operations, and London Transport bus maintenance. The Serpell report, commissioned by the Government at the request of British Rail, has identified scope for potential annual savings worth £220 million by 1986 on the existing network as well as opening the way to a full discussion about ways of providing a better structure for our railways.

We have also made good progress in road construction, safety and environmental protection. We have completed nearly 300 miles of new motorway and trunk road, and renewed the equivalent of nearly 200 miles of older motorway to modern standards. Spending on construction and major maintenance in 1982–83 is expected to have been more than 17 per cent. higher in real terms than in 1978–79. We have completed schemes to bypass more than 80 communities. The trunk roads programme now includes nearly 140 bypasses. It will ensure, when completed, that over 90 per cent. of historic towns listed by the Department of the Environment which lie on trunk roads will have been relieved of through traffic. The private sector is considering with us the possibility of devising a scheme to raise private funds for road building.

We have also given generous support to local authority capital spending. Our transport supplementary grant settlements for 1982–83 and 1983–84 enabled local authorities to start work on 70 local bypasses. We shall continue to give particular support to schemes to promote cycling and to special measures to alleviate the effects of heavy lorries. We have introduced a package of measures to civilise the heavy lorry and improve its efficiency, minimising the number of lorry journeys and the damage to our roads, improving braking standards, adding sideguards and rearguards, and saving industry more than £150 million a year. To encourage the transfer of freight off the roads where this would bring environmental benefit, we have extended the range of transshipment facilities eligible for grant to waterways as well as railways, enabled British Rail's subsidiaries Freightliner and Sealink to apply for grant and raised the grant ceiling from 50 to 60 per cent. of total costs.

We have improved motor cycle training and testing, brought in a new penalty points system for motoring offences, and improved the safety of children in cars. Following a vote in this House we have introduced compulsory front seat belt wearing. We have improved the enforcement of parking regulations and introduced streamlined and more effective procedures to deal with drinking and driving offences.