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Transport

Volume 649: debated on Wednesday 22 November 1961

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Right-Hand Driving

4.

asked the Minister of Transport what consideration he has given to introducing right-hand driving on United Kingdom roads as in most other countries; and what estimate he has made of the approximate cost of instituting such a change.

The subject is at present being studied in my Department. The cost of adapting roads, changing traffic signs, and converting buses and other vehicles would be very high, but no estimates are yet available.

Will my right hon. Friend please remember that every month of delay in this matter is bound to add to the cost of any ultimate change, if one is desired? Will he also remember that it is somewhat absurd that we should continue in this way, placing an extra disability on our motor car industry's export drive?

I do not think that left-handed steering is a very severe disability for exports. The point which my hon. Friend has made will be taken into account, along with other items such as questions of traffic signs, which would have to be altered, white lines, minor works at road junctions and the 76,000 public service vehicles which would have to be converted. The accident factor would also have to be taken into account.

Public Service Vehicles (Travel Concessions) Act, 1955

6.

asked the Minister of Transport how many local authorities have promoted Private Bills seeking powers to make travel concessions to pensioners and afflicted persons since the passing of the Public Service Vehicles (Travel Concessions) Act, 1955.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say why these Bills were opposed during their passage?

Surely the right hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that in Private Bill promotion the Government's views are not sought. If the Government had wished that these Bills should go through there would not have been opposition to them.

In the case of all Private Bills it is up to the House of Commons as a whole to decide.

7.

asked the Minister of Transport whether he will give consideration to the introduction of legislation to amend the Public Services (Travel Concessions) Act, 1955, by extending its provision to local authorities competent to discharge the purpose of the Act and desirous of doing so.

While I sympathise with the problems of the classes of traveller affected by the provisions of the Act, I am not prepared to propose an extension of the concessions under the Act.

Why are the Government so much opposed to travel concessions for blind persons, people suffering from disabilities and old-age pensioners when so many of the large towns already provide these facilities?

To give concessions on particular services would give benefits to pensioners who use the services but not to those who do not use them. The same principle can be applied to such things as tobacco, where concessions which helped smokers did not assist nonsmokers. The great thing is to do what the Government have done, and that is to raise pensions.

But is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that some of the large towns have already implemented these concessions. Why, if they are able to do so—in spite of the anomalies about which the right hon. Gentleman talks—are the Government not able to do so as a whole? The Government would get a lot of credit for this, and that is what I thought the Minister was after.

Channel Tunnel

15.

asked the Minister of Transport, in view of the possibility of the United Kingdom entering the Common Market, what is now the policy of Her Majesty's Government towards the Channel Tunnel.

66.

asked the Minister of Transport to what extent regular cross- Channel boat and air services were delayed or cancelled as a result of bad weather conditions during the month of November; and, in view of this experience, what is the policy of Her Majesty's Government towards the construction of a Channel tunnel.

68.

asked the Minister of Transport if he will make a statement about the progress which he made in his discussions with the French Minister of Transport last week on the subject of providing a Channel tunnel; and whether he is satisfied that machinery can now be set in action to ensure a rapid decision which will enable private enterprise to provide the necessary facilities at the earliest possible date.

I had a useful discussion about a Channel link on 17th November with the French Minister of Public Works and Transport, and reached agreement with him about the next steps to be taken on the proposals now before our two Governments for the construction of a tunnel or a bridge. Many aspects of these projects require further joint study, and this is to be undertaken by officials of both countries.

I have some detailed information about recent delays to cross-Channel services, which I will circulate, with permission, in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many people will be pleased to hear of his discussions with the French Minister of Transport? Would he confirm now that this technical study will go ahead seriously and quickly, because private enterprise is ready to finance and to build the Channel tunnel without any recourse to public funds? Would he also bear in mind that, since the East Goodwin lightship went adrift, maritime interests really think a bridge is not possible?

That may be so. I can assure my hon. Friend that the joint study—and joint study is necessary in this case—between the two Governments will go ahead as fast as possible. I must say that I myself suggested to the French Government in December last, 11 months ago, that we should have these joint talks, and it is not my fault that they have only just taken place.

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that for nearly three years a study group has been working on this, largely started by pressure from a Parliamentary Committee of over 100 members? That study group has already spent over £½ million on the possibilities of either a Channel tunnel or a Channel bridge and, having worked it out, has decided that a bridge is not possible. In the circumstances, would my right hon. Friend try to use what information has already been obtained by the Committee, and save a lot of time and trouble?

The information given by the Committee will certainly be used by the joint study group—information given on the tunnel—but a lot of questions will be asked on separate aspects—the legal aspect, the economic aspect, the financial aspect, and so on. But it would be wrong if we omitted from our considerations and calculations evidence presented to us only in October on a Channel bridge. There, again, many detailed considerations will have to be gone into.

As the Minister said in reply to an earlier Question that the limitation on the expansion of our transport services is due to shortage of physical resources and not of capital, will he give an undertaking that when it becomes possible to begin construction of a Channel link, it will be done as a public enterprise under public control?

I think that I had better await the outcome of the studies before I start giving assurances—that is the first thing to do—but I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the question of resources, both the French resources and our own resources and priorities, must be taken into account.

Is the Minister aware that if he proceeds with this project, he will have even less resources than before to carry out the proposals contained in Questions 1–14 and 16–69?

My hon. Friend is quite right, but the House of Commons has always been noted for asking for individual things which, in total, amount to more that the nation's resources.

Following is the information:

I am informed by the British Transport Commission that gales caused serious interference with cross-Channel shipping services on 4th, 5th, 13th and 14th November, including the cancellation of a number of services on the 13th and 14th.
On 4th and 5th November, the Dover-Dunkirk ferry services were seriously delayed, the longest delay being 7 hours. Other cross-Channel services were maintained with fair regularity.
On 13th November, all the Dover-Dunkirk ferry services were cancelled, and on 14th November they were all cancelled, with the exception of the night-passenger sleeping-car ferries. On 13th and 14th November, other cross-Channel shipping services were seriously delayed, and on 13th November the Calais to Dover Golden Arrow service was cancelled, and other services were diverted.
I am informed by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Aviation that a few cross-Channel air services were delayed by high winds in the early part of November but that, thanks largely to the absence of fog, air services were not much affected during the month by bad weather.

Motor Lorries (Long Loads)

16.

asked the Minister of Transport if he will take steps to prohibit the driving of long lorry loads requiring police escorts on the highways.

We hope shortly to introduce new controls on the movement of long loads; those over 90 ft. long will need an order issued under the authority of my right hon. Friend, and others will also be subject to control. Our original proposals met with considerable opposition, and we have revised them to reduce the burden on industry. I hope these controls will divert some loads to other means of transport or cause them to be split into smaller units. But complete prohibition would be no solution to the problem.

Is the Parliamentary Secretary aware that some of these long loads take as long as two days to pass through counties, escorted by police—and, incidentally, at no charge to the industrialist? Does he not realise that other countries have got together with industry and, as a result, the nature of the manufacture is such that it is possible to prohibit this type of escorted long lorry load being imposed on the highway? Does he realise that these long loads constitute a menace to all road users, including cyclists?

It is precisely those conditions which led us to circulate last year regulations to deal with this problem. We are now, as we are obliged by Statute to do, considering objections which have been made by the various interests concerned, and we will announce our decision as quickly as we can.

Rural Bus Services

17.

asked the Minister of Transport whether he has now had an opportunity of examining the Jack Report on Rural Transport; and whether he will make recommendations to assist bus operators in the rural areas.

22.

asked the Minister of Transport if he is aware that the position of the rural bus services is causing widespread concern; and if he will take steps to prevent a further deterioration in these services.

I am still considering the rural bus problem in the light of the report of the Committee on Rural Bus Services. But I am not yet in a position to make a statement about this.

While I recognise that the Minister has many urgent and difficult problems to contend with, may I ask whether he does not realise that this will cause great disappointment in the rural areas where there is a feeling that this long-standing problem has not had the attention which it deserves from his Department? Furthermore, if we have the closure of branch railway lines in the future, does it not become ever more important that we should have some policy for assisting the rural bus operator?

In any closing of branch lines under the new Bill, if the House passes it, the Area Committee will be deciding upon the degree of hardship and therefore will take into account the alternative bus services—alternative to the railways. We have invited and received the considered views on the Report of the Jack Committee of associations in England, Wales and Scotland representing local authorities and the bus industry, and these are now being considered.

In view of what my hon. Friend said, may I ask whether my right hon. Friend realises that this is a matter of real urgency, if some of the rural bus services are not to break down to the great detriment of the countryside? Will he consult his right hon. Friend and see whether we can have a debate on the Jack Committee's Report, for which we asked last Session and which we never had?

I will refer that to the Leader of the House. I am aware of the urgency of the matter.

Meanwhile, will the Minister bear in mind that the Welsh rural authorities have been making representations about his failure to reach conclusions on this Report, and that if we go on as we are at the moment, not only will there be no rail services in some of these areas but there will be no bus services either, because they are being withdrawn almost week by week. Will he please give us an indication as to when he can come forward with his conclusions and when he will give us a debate on this subject?

I have answered the question about a debate. That is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. I think that the hon. Member is grossly exaggerating this closing of the services. But we have received the reports from England, Wales and Scotland, and these will be considered in due time.

As this difficulty is particularly acute in Scotland, where a large number of branch lines are being closed, may I ask whether my right hon. Friend is in close touch with the Secretary of State for Scotland on the matter?

Yes, I am indeed. In addition, the Highland Transport Inquiry, which is a joint inquiry by the Scottish Transport Council and the Secretary of State's Advisory Panel on the Highlands and Islands, recently presented a first report dealing with bus services in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland.

As for any exaggeration, may I ask whether the Minister is aware that I am repeating to him what has been said to me by the Welsh rural authorities? In view of the criticisms which have also come from Scotland, is he sure that he is as closely in touch with the problem as he ought to be and could he not be less pert and a little more pertinent in some of his replies?

If the hon. Member thinks I am impertinent to him, I can only say that he is always courteous to everybody in the House at all times and I should like to return that courtesy, if I may. I promised, and I repeat the promise, that these representations from England, Wales and Scotland will be very seriously considered.