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Pigeons (Carriage By Rail)

Volume 929: debated on Wednesday 6 April 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement about the delay in reaching a decision on carriage of pigeons by British Railways.

I wrote to the hon. Member about this on 31st March. A memorandum has now been submitted to the Central Transport Consultative Committee and a final decision will be taken when the views of the CTCC are known. Meanwhile, British Rail is continuing to carry the traffic.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that in addition to continuing to carry pigeons, for which we are all grateful, British Rail has put up the price? Is that part of the tactics to drive them off the railways?

It is part of the tactics of British Rail's breaking even on its freight business, which it has to do by the end of the year.

Is my hon. Friend aware that there is considerable concern about this matter throughout the country and that pigeon racing is a pretty harmless pastime, which gives a lot of enjoyment to thousands of people? Will he prevail upon British Rail to make some concessions?

The amount of time that British Rail has already devoted to this matter since the initial announcement in April last year shows the amount of concern that exists. I understand the point made by my hon Friend, but the CTCC has been brought in precisely to give the public point of view and I am sure that British Rail will take account of it.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that British Rail has increased its prices by between 75 per cent. and 200 per cent.? Is that fair for a sport that has such traditional and loyal enthusiasts?

The problem in British Rail's mind is one not of cost but simply the operational difficulties that arise from dealing with such livestock. If British Rail is to continue with this trade it should be costed properly. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, with his views on public expenditure, would not want British Rail to proceed otherwise.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that although many of us are in favour of cut rates for the carriage of pigeons, we are terrified that if general fares go up much more British Rail will be carrying more pigeons than passengers? Hon. Members on the Opposition Benches may laugh, but they deplore the losses of British Rail, and we know that more public expenditure is needed. Will my hon. Friend make clear to Opposition Members, who would go mad if there were a one-day strike on the railways, that we must have public cash pushed into British Rail to keep it going and to enable it to carry more passengers than pigeons?

I have great sympathy with my hon. Friend's priorities. I do not think that I need to elaborate further.