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Freight (Carriage)

Volume 884: debated on Wednesday 15 January 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for the Environment how he intends to implement his policy of transferring freight from road to rail.

I have initiated discussions between British Rail and about 100 of the country's largest firms to encourage greater use of rail. There will also be grants under Section 8 of the Railways Act 1974 towards the provision of private sidings.

Do the Government intend to implement the quantity licensing provisions of the Transport Act 1968? If they do not intend to use those provisions, will they amend the Act by removing them?

Those provisions cannot be brought into effect without regulations being made. The hon. Gentleman will realise that several years have elapsed since the 1968 Act was passed and that no steps were taken to that end when there was rather less parliamentary business than there is this Session.

That answer is not satisfactory. In my area certain rail services were closed down at a time when my right hon. Friend was encouraging companies to transfer traffic from road to rail. The only way to get an efficient integrated transport policy is to implement the quantity licensing provisions in the 1968 Act.

I am aware of the difficulties to which my hon. Friend refers, and which have a bearing in my constituency as well as in his. I have had discussions with the National Freight Corporation, Freightliners and hon. Members on this subject. That situation would not be remedied by the implementation of quantity licensing.

Will the right hon. Gentleman also consider the possibility of transferring a certain amount of freight to the canals, where construction costs are very much cheaper than they are for road or rail?

I should certainly welcome every opportunity to put freight on to waterways where that can be done with reasonable economy.

Although we have been great supporters of the internal combustion engine, will my right hon. Friend ask his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry to review the enormous sums which are currently being invested on capital account in the railways and consider whether it is necessary to increase the number of trains on inter-city services, many of which are running half empty, and to invest a further £100 million in the advanced passenger train so that we can get from A to B 30 minutes faster?

It is right that the railways should be encouraged to continue their work on the advanced passenger train, and I have authorised some prototypes. In my discussions with the Railways Board, however, I stressed that we are also concerned with commuter, freight and other rail aspects. I will convey my hon. Friend's view to the Chairman of the Railways Board. They are his responsibility and not that of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry.