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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 931: debated on Wednesday 11 May 1977

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Transport

White Paper

1.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he now expects to publish his White Paper on Transport.

2.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he intends to publish his White Paper on Transport.

26.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he intends to publish his White Paper on Transport.

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that the foreword to the consulation paper led us to believe that his White Paper would have the same momentous significance as the invention of the wheel and the introduction of the camel into Africa? Having laboured for three years to produce a White Paper, let alone a policy, does he expect any significant change in the trend of the past three years, namely, that of massively increasing subsidies in return for a rapid deterioration of public transport services?

The hon. Gentleman must await the publication of the White Paper. I shall not make the rather lurid comparisons that have been made by others, but I think that it will be interesting.

Would the Minster care to hazard a guess whether his White Paper will give consolation to those of us who are opposed to the further curtailment of the rail transport network?

I think that it will give consolation to some, joy to others and disappointment, perhaps, to a third group. I do not think that I can anticipate what will be an excellent White Paper, which the House should judge for itself when it sees it.

Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that the White Paper will deal in a clear and open way with the problem of commuter services? Specifically, will it spell out in a clear-cut fashion the implication of the Government's policy for future fare increases?

I am reluctant to say "Wait and see" to the hon. Gentleman. I prefer to say that I understand his point entirely. I hope that the White Paper will be as explicit as possible, given the changing circumstances. We know that, in transport, what is the case today may not be the case tomorrow. The White Paper will be as explicit as possible, within a reasonable length. It is getting rather long even now.

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind in the White Paper the suggestion made by the TUC about the setting up of a national transport planning authority? Will he also bear in mind the need to maintain public transport, which is essential to get people back and forth from work, because private transport cannot meet their needs?

Yes. I totally agree with what my hon. Friend says about public transport and its importance. I have been giving careful consideration to the proposals that have been made by the TUC and others about the best way of ensuring an effective transport policy.

Without anticipating details, will the right hon. Gentleman say whether there is any reference in the White Paper to the acceptance of the principle that rural and distant areas should have a fair chance of survival with a fair transport system?

The right hon. Gentleman will find that particular attention is given to the problems of rural areas. As he will know, we debated the matter last week. At that stage I tried to give an indication of the direction of my thinking. I agree that it is important to give some new help to the rural areas, and I shall do my best in the White Paper.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the long-awaited report of the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries on the rail industry is being published tomorrow? Therefore, he has no further reason for continuing to delay the publication of his White Paper.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for telling me that the report of the Sub-Committee of which he has been a distinguished chairman will be available tomorrow. I shall read it with great interest. I shall wish to take account of it, as far as possible, in the White Paper. However, as my hon. Friend and the House will know, it is the normal practice for the Government to give due and full consideration to a report of a Select Committee before giving a formal reply.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is considerable concern in the transport industry about the future of Freightliners and the suggestion that majority control should no longer rest with the National Freight Corporation? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the most important people who will be affected by the decision are those who work for Freightliners and those who are its customers, who are overwhelmingly opposed to any change in control?

I agree that Freightliners has an important function and that it must be an effective and efficient part of the public sector transport system and pay its way. There have been arguments about where the ownership should lie—for example, whether it should remain with the National Freight Corporation or lie with British Railways. As the hon. Gentleman knows, this is only a part of the problem of the whole future of the National Freight Corporation. I shall take account of everything that is said, including what the hon. Gentleman has said today.

Parking (City Centres)

4.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport what representations he has received in the last six months about the problem of private nonresidential parking in city centres.

None, apart from the response to the consultation document issued on private non-residential parking in July last year.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the results in the recent local elections were in part votes against the rather stupid and harsh policies of certain cities in squeezing the motorists out of city centres? Does he accept that it is necessary to encourage short-term parking for shopkeepers and housewives? Will he give more encouragement in this direction?

I agree with the second part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question. But, although it might be nice to believe that we could attribute responsibility for election results to local decision-making, they are more likely to be an indicator of the general mood of the country mid-term. I do not, therefore, think that the second part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question follows from the first.

My view, irrespective of political control, is that local authorities should have very wide discretion. I believe that they are best able to judge what is required in their localities for parking purposes and for any other action, and that, by and large, Parliament should seek to provide enabling powers. As the hon. Gentleman implied, there is always the redress that the electorate can exercise if local authorities make unpopular decisions.

Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that residents in many of our suburbs are grossly inconvenienced by non-residential parking, particularly those living adjacent to factories, as is the case in my constituency? Is there any possibility of having residents-only parking sectors?

This is a complicated matter. Some areas have inadequate parking, but it is fair to say that the extent of non-residential private parking creates problems of traffic management. In my judgment, what the hon. Gentleman has said is further reason why Parliament should provide enabling powers. But discretion should lie at local level.

Rural Transport

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport what plans he has for improving rural transport; and whether he will make a statement.

27.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport what plans he has for improving rural transport; and whether he will make a statement.

During the debate on rural transport on 2nd May, my right hon. Friend announced that the forthcoming White Paper will provide a new charter for the rural are as. Meanwhile, the Government's rural experiments, relying on the Passenger Vehicles (Experimental Areas) Bill, are exploring what can be done by community self-help.

Will the hon. Gentleman bear in mind that the last Conservative Government were beginning to deal, and deal well, with rural transport problems in their 1973–74 measure, which fell with the February 1974 General Election and has not been revived by the Labour Government? Apart from four proposed experiments which are still before the House and have not yet begun, what have the present Government done for rural transport in their three years of office?

The last Conservative Government achieved nothing in three and a half years. Not only that, but the previous Conservative Governments throughout 13 wasted years achieved nothing either, part from one small change in 1956. Since the war, Conservative Governments have made no substantial alteration to bus licensing of any kind. I think that we shall improve on that.

Does my hon. Friend agree that since January 1974 the cost of motoring and motor cycling has increased by 79 per cent. whereas the cost of travelling by public transport has increased by 104 per cent? As the rural areas are particularly dependent on public transport, will my hon. Friend focus his attention on this issue?

I think that my hon. Friend is on the right point. Fares in rural areas have gone up steeply in the last two or three years, partly because they were held down artificially in the early 1970s. There has, therefore, been a catching-up process, for otherwise the subsidies would have been even larger. We have tried to ease the problem by helping to raise subsidies for those services which could be helped in no other way.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that increased bus costs in rural areas hit particularly hard pensioners, disabled people and others on fixed incomes? Good schemes are available in inner city areas to help pensioners with their bus travel costs, but, by and large, they are not available in rural areas. Will the hon. Gentleman examine the possibility of such schemes being made available in rural areas?

It is true that the rural areas—by and large, Tory-controlled—have not the same generous concessionary fare schemes as are widespread in metropolitan areas controlled by Labour local authorities. We intend to deal with this aspect in the White Paper.

I look forward to the Secretary of State's new deal for the rural areas with great interest. Will the hon. Gentleman accept that in many places there is now a bus desert, with large numbers of people marooned, and that what is required—I hope that it will be forthcoming in the White Paper—is a practical programme to allow people to help themselves by reducing some of the restrictions which exist, quite unnecessarily, on the part of the traffic commissioners?

The hon. Gentleman has put that point, which is often put to me by the Opposition, in the best way I have yet heard, if I may say so, and I entirely agree with him.

Buses (Licensing Laws)

6.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport whether he has plans for relaxing licensing laws for buses.

25.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport whether he has plans for relaxing licensing laws for buses.

During the debate on rural transport on 2nd May, my right hon. Friend indicated that the forthcoming White Paper will include proposals for changes to the bus licensing system. Meanwhile, the Passenger Vehicles (Experimental Areas) Bill includes modifications to the present licensing law.

Is there any recognition by Ministers that the most efficient and effective form of public transport, particularly in rural areas, is not necessarily a heavily-subsidised 32-seater bus, and that there are other forms which should be allowed to show that they can produce the service that the public requires?

Yes, Sir. In the debate on rural transport, the hon. Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Spicer) made precisely that point. We are aware that subsidies are not the whole answer to the problem, although at the moment they are an inescapable part of it. If subsidies are sliced, as has been done in some parts, to the great detriment of rural bus services, there is a speedy effect on fares and the level of services. Some support is inescapable. Nevertheless, I agree that we must look anew at the responsibilities of the traffic commissioners and the licensing system.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that many of us from the rural areas will be pleased to have heard what he said? Will he recognise the extreme urgency of tackling this problem, because the lack of flexibility available to county councils makes their life difficult? Will he undertake to bring forward his proposals as early as possible, and give them the maximum possible flexibility, to tackle the question of rural transport?

We are anxious that local authorities should have the maximum power and flexibility to tackle these problems, which, fundamentally, are best solved by local people because they know them best. We accept that action is urgently needed.

Will my hon. Friend direct his attention to the number of serious accidents involving buses that have taken place in recent months? In the light of that figure, does he not agree that there must be no lowering of safety standards which would endanger the public or the employees?

I accept that point. The safety check must be preserved—that is accepted on both sides of the House. Indeed, the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler) referred to it in his speech in the rural transport debate.

Is not the only reason why the licensing revisions of the Conservative Government are not on the statute book now that the incoming Government, in March 1974, disreputably scrapped proposals which, only a few months previously, they had supported when in opposition? The next Conservative Government will reintroduce these revisions—and, following the local elections, nothing is more certain than that there will soon be a Conservative Government.

The hon. Gentleman is indulging in some wishful thinking. I find his explanation of what the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton), who was the Minister then, was doing somewhat curious, to say the least. The fact is that the Conservative Government themselves had grave misgivings about their 1973 Bill, which itself was a heavily modified form of the consultation document, and even after Second Reading the right hon. Gentleman announced that he would have further consultations. All we got in three and a half years was the promise of more consultations. I assure the House that we will take some action.

Will my hon. Friend beware of allowing flexibility to destroy existing public services, particularly stage services? It would be folly to allow existing services to be destroyed, thus creating the transport desert to which the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) referred.

My right hon. Friend is right. The whole point of policy here must be to strike a balance between preserving existing stage services, including protecting them by the bus licensing system and adequate levels of subsidy, and getting a reasonable degree of flexibility whereby unconventional means of transport can be used in those areas where they are most right for people's needs.

Will the hon. Gentleman exert his considerable powers of persuasion on the large bus companies to try to get them to accept that it is far better to provide really cheap fares in the middle of the day than to run large buses which are completely empty?

I accept the hon. Gentleman's point. We shall be coming to this later when the hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley) has a Question about the National Bus Company. I think that the hon. Gentleman is on to a very fair point. If we can utilise capacity in off-peak periods in a more imaginative way—this is true of the railways as well as buses—we can make some considerable progress.

British Railways (Chairman)

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport whether he will make a statement on his last meeting with the Chairman of British Railways.

I press the right hon. Gentleman to make a statement. Further, will he please now answer the Question, which he totally dodged when he last answered Questions on 6th April, and state whether he and the Chairman of British Rail will ensure that British Rail does nothing to obstruct the granting of licences to commuters who now seek to travel to work by coach?

If I wanted to obstruct them I could not do so, because it is not within my statutory power. I am all for encouraging endeavour and I think that British Railways provide excellent services, including their service to commuters, and could face the sort of competition that the hon. Gentleman has in mind. Certainly the Chairman of British Railways has not raised this as a matter that causes him anxiety.

Will my right hon. Friend tell the House whether he has given any reply to the Chairman and Board of British Railways in their request for the investment programme to be put on a rolling basis, which would give British Railways better value for money and more security to the supplying industries? When can we expect a response to this reasonable and realistic request?

There is a later Question on the Order Paper about investment and it may be more appropriate to give a full reply then. But, of course, investment is one of the matters that I discuss with the chairman. It is difficult to make regular statements to the House, because the House would get bored with them. I have what I think the popular jargon calls an ongoing relationship with the chairman. For that reason, questions of investment are regularly discussed. I hope that my White Paper will help deal with the question that my hon. Friend clearly implies is a very important one both for the Board and for those who work on the railways.

When the Secretary of State next sees the Chairman of British Railways—

Order. The Question deals with the right hon. Gentleman's last meeting with the chairman. I think I had better call the next Question.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the totally unsatisfactory nature of the reply from the Secretary of State, I shall seek to raise the matter on the Adjournment at the earliest opportunity.

9.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he will next meet the Chairman of British Railways.

19.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he next intends to meet the Chairman of British Railways.

20.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he next intends to meet the Chairman of British Railways.

Good. In that case, in one of his ongoing meetings, will the right hon. Gentleman raise with the chairman the fact that many passengers are rather browned off with diesel engines constantly breaking down, and will he therefore raise the question of equipment or repair of these machines? [Interruption.] No, not expenditure. Will the right hon. Gentleman also draw the chairman's attention to the long time that he has taken over coming to a decision about pigeons and the carriage thereof?

Certainly I have discussed the first matter with the chairman from time to time. Indeed, the chairman is very anxious to run an efficient railway within the cost limits allowed to him to meet the needs of passengers so far as he possibly can. I am very impressed by what he and the reconstituted Board are seeking to do.

I know the hon. Gentleman's particular interest in pigeons. As he knows, and as I told him, the matter has now been discussed by the Central Transport Consultative Committee, and I am sure that decisions will be made by the Board as soon as it gets a reply.

Will the Secretary of State convey to the chairman that there is considerable concern about British Railways' attitude towards the increase in charges for unaccompanied livestock, such as pigeons and puppies, which is regarded as a mean, spiteful and vindictive retaliation following the thwarting of the Board's efforts to stop this traffic altogether? Will he ask the Chairman of British Railways whether he is willing to open his cost accounts to independent inspection, since he claims that he requires to put up the charges to this extent?

I know that this is one of the matters that have perhaps caused disproportionate concern from time to time. It has been well aired in the House, and the Chairman of British Railways was as surprised as I was at the strength of feeling on the matter. I do not think that there is anything vindictive about his action and I would like to believe that the hon. Gentleman is not endorsing such ungenerous thoughts. The chairman is aware of these matters, and if information can be made available to the House to enable it to see how the Board arrives at its figures I shall certainly make clear to the chairman and the Board that this is what the House would like to know.

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman has got some useful ideas for his agenda when he goes to see Mr. Peter Parker. May I suggest that he raises also the question of double manning on the footplate, particularly on diesel engines, which I know, from my own observations, is widespread? The right hon. Gentleman will be aware of the publication of "Railway Rescue", referred to in the Press on 18th April, suggesting that the manning of footplates could be reduced by over 50 per cent. Does he think that is a useful matter to discuss with the Chairman of British Railways?

Questions of manning are ones that come up from time to time. I see no reason why, if this is something that is worth discussing, we should not discuss it. I must make it absolutely clear, and I repeat, that I do not believe it is the right course of the responsible Minister to get himself involved in detailed day-to-day matters. Equally, I think that the chairman is quite capable of dealing with matters raised by the public on, for example, the question of manning.

As the hon. Gentleman will know, the chairman does make a point of seeing that the great majority of trains are no longer double manned. He is anxious to improve productivity, and so are the unions. If there can be discussions, and if there can be changes, so be it.

When my right hon. Friend next meets the chairman, will he explain that some of us believe that the time has come for some experimentation with regard to fares? For example, on the inner city runs we would like to see the reduction of fares for a period of time in order to see precisely how this works out. Many of us believe that if there were a real reduction for a period we would see people coming back to the railways rather than using their own transport or other forms of transport.

My hon. Friend may know that I made clear some time ago that I would welcome experiments in reducing fares on British Railways. That would have my blessing. I have also said that to the trade unions involved and I have said that it seems to me to be a proper business risk to try to reduce fares to attract traffic back to the railways. As my hon. Friend will also know, the Chairman of British Railways has recently announced a very interesting scheme for main lines between London and Scotland, and we must hope that it succeeds.

As my representations have failed elsewhere, I wonder whether the Secretary of State will be kind enough to make a plea to the Chairman of British Railways to treat rather better than they do at present passengers who unfortunately have to travel on Sundays. People who unfortunately have to use the Portsmouth line are regularly unloaded half-way down the track and put into totally unsuitable carriages. Many of them are old ladies with heavy bags. That is no way to attract people back to the railways.

I shall draw the chairman's attention to the hon. Gentleman's point. We have all been victims of the delays from time to time involved in Sunday travel, but most are due to essential engineering work. To be fair, if we are to maintain the track we must close it at some time.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that on the Southern Region—the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) mentioned the Portsmouth line—the recent timetable changes appear to have been introduced without consultation with either passengers or staff? In the circumstances, is he surprised that some of the staff have threatened industrial action? Does not he agree that British Rail—indeed, all the nationalised industries—should set the best example of discussions between staff and management? When he sees Mr. Parker, will he ask for assurances that in future, before major timetable changes are made, the outline of the proposed changes is discussed with regular customers and with the staff concerned?

I agree that the public sector should set an example in consultations with the trade unions and customers. However, this is very much the case. The level of consultation between the unions and the British Railways Board today is better than it has ever been. I do not know the details of the case mentioned by the hon. Gentleman but I shall make sure that the Chairman of British Rail looks into it.

Preston Docks (Report)

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement on the report on Preston Docks by the National Ports Council.

I have seen a copy of the National Ports Council's report to the Preston Borough Council about the port of Preston. It appears to make a number of useful suggestions which I hope that Preston Borough Council will consider carefully.

In view of the fact that the report contradicts the assessment on the viability of Preston Docks by the Preston Borough Council, which still wants to close the docks, what action is the Secretary of State prepared to take to keep this valuable national asset open?

As my hon. Friend knows, the port of Preston is and must remain the responsibility of the Preston Borough Council. I have no powers in this respect. I agree, however, that the report from the National Ports Council is significant and indicates that there could be advantage to the ratepayers of Preston if it was adopted. It is not for me to take an initiative at this stage, but I shall be interested to know whether the borough council feels able to adopt the proposal of the National Ports Council.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the survival of the docks at Preston is of consequence to people far removed from the Conservative-controlled council and that the economic welfare of the North-West generally is tied up with the docks? Will he take an initiative in this matter?

The interest in maintaining the port goes very wide, and this is a factor which the Preston Borough Council should take into account. But I must work within my statutory powers. The port is the responsibility of Preston Borough Council. I think that it would be wise to discover whether the council intends to take an intiative and act upon the advice which it appears to have been given.

South Humberside (Road Construction)

11.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement about the road construction programme on the south bank of the Humber.

The whole of the M180 South Humberside motorway from Thorne to east of Brigg is now under construction and is expected to be completed early in 1979 in time for the opening of the Humber Bridge. A preferred route for the extension of this road to Grimsby was announced last summer and, subject to completion to the statutory processes and the availability of funds, it is planned to complete it by the end of 1981. With regard to the associated county road improvements, the link between the M180 and the Humber Bridge is at an advanced stage of construction and preparatory works are continuing on the remaining projects.

Does the hon. Gentleman appreciate that that is a totally unsatisfactory reply? What is required on the south bank of the Humber for the port of Immingham in my constituency, which is the sixth largest port in the United Kingdom, and for the port of Grimsby, which is smaller but very important, is a decent east-west road system. The money wasted on the Humber Bridge would have been better spent on building a decent east-west road system on the south bank of the Humber.

My reply, far from being inadequate, was over-generous, certainly in its length. It indicated the massive amount of road building which is now in progress on both banks of the Humber in an east-west direction as well as in a north-south direction. I was on the M18 last Saturday, and I can say from my own knowledge how rapid the progress is.

Does my hon. Friend accept that, although we are grateful for the extent of this motorway which has been completed right across my constituency, the granting of development area status to Grimsby means that to capitalise on the investment that has taken place it would be as well to complete the motorway network through to Grimsby and allow the county council to build a spur road through my constituency, thus giving relief to the villages of Ulceby and Ulceby Skitter, to Immingham?

I refer my hon. Friend to my original reply, in which I said that a preferred route for an extension of the road to Grimsby was announced last summer. We are making rapid progress on that, so we are going right to the heart of the area about which my hon. Friend is concerned, although I cannot comment on his second point.

Railways (Investment)

12.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport whether he has received any representations from the British Railways Board on the need for increased investment in the railways over the next five years.

Yes, Sir. Investment levels are among the matters I have discussed with the Board.

Has my right hon. Friend seen the paper from the Board stating that the present level of investment means that it will have higher maintenance in the future, speed restrictions on perhaps as much as one-quarter of the track, and fewer high-speed trains—in other words, a less reliable service covering a smaller part of the country? Does my right hon. Friend have any basis for rejecting the professional judgment of British Rail management?

I have seen the paper to which my hon. Friend refers. There has to be a sense of proportion both about the extent to which there is bound to be a dialogue between the Board and the Government over matters like investment and about the Board making its best case. We also have to look for a cost-effective railway. Obviously, we have to have a higher level of investment in it. But we must not assume that it can in every way and at every point be maintained to the standards which may be appropriate on certain lines.

In considering the investment programme, will the right hon. Gentleman comment on the plans for the provision of food on journeys lasting a considerable number of hours? Is he aware that, on recent journeys which my hon. Friends have made from Scotland to England, there has been no food—not even a mini-buffet and not even a glass of lemonade for thirsty children?

I am sorry if there has been neither lemonade nor any other refreshment on trains recently leaving Scotland. They must be very poverty-stricken if they are not able to provide the minimum sustenance for their people leaving the country to come to happier places. That having been said, although we can all criticise food on British Railways—and I do it regularly—and although there are occasional lapses, the Board is doing its very best. But I am sure that the chairman will note what the hon. Lady said. Indeed, if she and her hon. Friends care to send a letter to the chairman of the Board setting out exactly where the railway is falling short, I am sure that he will take action on it.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the lack of investment on many branch lines, especially the one up the Calder Valley, is seriously damaging the morale of employees and seriously inconveniencing the public? Will he ensure that in the next investment programme many of these branch lines are brought up to scratch, and will he secure in that programme a guarantee that the line to which I have referred will remain open?

This is not the occasion to give a specific undertaking about any one line. I note what my hon. Friend said, and I appreciate the importance attached by his constituents to that line, as I do the importance attached to many lines of British Railways throughout the United Kingdom. I have not doubted the need for a high level of investment. On 26th April I announced very important new plans for high-speed trains to the West Country and for new electric multiple units for the London commuter area. The level of investment in British Railways is high. It could be higher. This is a matter which I discuss regularly with the Chairman of British Rail, and I shall continue to do so.

Railways (Electrification)

15.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport what is his policy towards trunk route electrification on British Railways.

I look at any schemes the Railways Board submits to me on their merits.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that Britain ranks only sixteenth in Europe in terms of rail network electrification? Is there not a lesson to be learned from this about the better use of scarce oil resources?

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. We must, in all our responsibility, consider the energy problems as a background to the decisions which have to be made. I would only say that there are no proposals for electrification before me at present. I think my hon. Friend will agree that electrification is not always necessarily the best formula. The British Railways Board should be free to make proposals in the light of its own judgment and experience.

Does not the Secretary of State agree that British Rail faces a painful dilemma in building what it believes to be an operationally and financially secure base for the railways with the pressures of the public and Parliament to go on spending money on uneconomic services? Would it not be much more realistic for him to say that if we want electrification, the advanced passenger train and better rolling stock, we shall not be able to continue to support wholly unremunerative branch lines or continue with overmanning?

I do not think that I agree with the hon. Gentleman, although he tries to put his question in a persuasive way. The whole House has agreed that it is important to maintain a national rail network. That is the starting point, and to do that we must rely on support out of the public purse as well as support from fares. There are choices and the British Railways Board must face them. Unless we are able to spend much more than we are spending now, which means spending less in some other areas, the only way to increase revenue is to increase fares. Either we increase fares or we increase taxes. If we do not do that, at the end of the day there will have to be a reduction in the present standards or, alternatively, in some way in the quality of services.

Does the Secretary of State realise that the electrification of a route gives one at least the possibility of a decent service? Will he take care that in future electrification plans we do not get daft mistakes such as that in the South of Scotland when the line from Glasgow through Beattock to Carlisle was electrified in order to suit the inter-city whizz kids while neglecting the line through Kilmarnock and Dumfries to Carlisle, which goes through many more centres of population and which would have served many more people in the South of Scotland?

I am not entirely sure what conclusions I draw from the hon. Gentleman's question, whether he thinks that investment went into the wrong place or whether he thinks that there should have been more of it. We must, however, keep a sense of perspective about this. There are some first-class main lines which are not electrified. I enjoy one up to the East Coast. Electrification is not the be-all and end-all of an efficient system. My hon. Friend was right to ask his Question, but let us retain a sense of perspective and leave it to British Rail to bring forward proposals that it can make within the ceiling available to it.

When my right hon. Friend meets the chairman of the Board, will he refer to the question of the second man on a locomotive? Several hon. Members have today criticised overmanning. Will my right hon. Friend inform the chairman that the second man plays a very important part in preventing accidents when the train is moving?

Order. I allowed the hon. Member to ask his question, but really it was related to another Question on the Order Paper.

Motorway Network

16.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make certain the network of motorways planned for the 1980s will include a motorway between Sheffield and Manchester; and if he will make a statement.

No, Sir. On 18th February my right hon. Friend announced that proposals to build up an entirely new road linking Manchester and Sheffield could not be justified economically. I am satisfied that bypasses of Mottram, Hollingworth and Tintwistle to the west and Stockbridge and Deepcar to the east, together with selective and limited improvements to the existing A628 between the western and eastern bypasses, will be sufficient to meet traffic needs for the foreseeable future.

Is my hon. Friend aware that that is a most disappointing reply? Many people are unhappy with his Department and British Rail about the railway system across the Pennines. Has he ever driven a car or a lorry or even walked along this tortuous road across the Pennines? Will he consider including in the next programme the building of this motorway, and will he include in that consideration the provision of a good service station with a large car park so that people using the road can take advantage of the beautiful country around there?

I thought that the people who supported the rail line were in favour of the decision made by my right hon. Friend. I understood that they argued that a decision to provide a road system where a rail system already existed would have been a strange one. As for the beauty of the countryside, the whole point is that the section where a motorway will not be built includes a national park. That was one of the factors that my right hon. Friend took into account, and rightly so.

Does the Minister recognise that not all of us in Yorkshire disapprove of some of his recent decisions about motorway planning? On the point raised by the hon. Member for Dearne Valley (Mr. Wainwright), will the Minister bear in mind that, when he says that we should not have a motorway through a national park, it is equally worth preserving a green belt area between two metropolitan areas? Perhaps he will bear that in mind in relation to Pudsey and Dishforth.

I visited the interesting area between Bradford and Leeds, which is so important to the hon. Member, electorally and otherwise, and I looked at the whole alternative to the east-west route connecting the A1 and the M1, so I know the problems.

Is my hon. Friend aware that many people, certainly on the Manchester side, were delighted with my right hon. Friend's original announcement and were very pleased that he decided not to allow a national park to be spoiled by the intrusion of a motorway?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) for his restrained support, and I shall ignore seated interruptions.

M25 (Micklefield Green—South Mimms)

17.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he anticipates that up-to-date road traffic information will be available for a decision to be taken on the choice of route for the Micklefield Green to South Mimms section of the M25 motorway.

We hope that preliminary traffic information for this section of the M25 will be available before the end of the year.

I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. May I have his assurance that he will make sure that any information that is published appears after the completion of any remedial roadworks but certainly before any public inquiry, to make sure that the greatest possible accurate information is available to the public? Will he bear in mind the problems that have arisen on the existing section of the A405, between Maple Cross and Hunton Bridge, in view of the effect that that will have in altering the traffic flows?

I undertake to take into account the traffic flows when the A405 and the A41 have been improved before the other section of the M25 begins to be constructed.

Will my hon. Friend resist any siren voices of persuasion to the contrary and appreciate the urgent need for this road to be built, because of the misery being caused to the people of Watford? Will he bear in mind that my request has nothing to do with my being the Member of Parliament for the area but refers exclusively to the discomfort suffered by these people because of the traffic conditions?

Whenever I think of my hon. Friend, I also think of the M25 between Micklefield Green and South Mimms. I know of the extreme importance of this to my hon. Friend's constituents and of his personal campaign in support of the building of that road. I am sure that he will deeply appreciate the misery that such a road will certainly alleviate.

Railway Accidents

asked the Secretary of State for Transport in how many railway accidents, in each of the last five years, locomotive failure has been the cause or a contributing factor.

The number of train accidents, excluding fires, caused by the failure of locomotives or multiple units over the five most recent years for which confirmed figures are available was: 1971, 28; 1972, 11; 1973, 21; 1974, 16; 1975, 15.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the figures that he has just given are a tribute to the skill and dedication of the people who care for and maintain the rolling stock on British Rail? The ageing nature of that rolling stock is presenting grave problems to these people. I appreciate the significance of my hon. Friend's announcement last month, but will he seek further to improve the rolling stock?

I support my hon. Friend's tribute to the efforts that have obviously led to the reduction in the number of accidents involving engines. The figures are a tribute to British Rail, in view of the existing state of its rolling stock. My hon. Friend will have noted my right hon. Friend's remarks about the importance of rolling programmes and investment levels generally. We take that to be an extremely important point.

I compliment the dedication of British Rail and its splendid record on having so few accidents, but may I call my hon. Friend's attention to a central line, not a branch line, up to Sheffield, with its increasing deterioration of rolling stock? It has more breakdowns of engines than it should have and has had in the past. Will my hon. Friend bear in mind that more investment is necessary for that line in order to improve its whole service?

Yes, indeed. I think that there will be some electrification on that line in the near future. I believe that there are plans for electrification, and my hon. Friend will then see some improvement.

Driver And Vehicle Licensing Centre

21.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport whether he is satisfied with the efficiency of the Swansea Driver and Vehicle Licensing Centre; and whether he will make a statement.

24.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport whether he is satisfied with the efficiency of the Swansea Driver and Vehicle Licensing Centre; and whether he will make a statement.

There has been a substantial improvement over the past year—though all concerned at the centre would readily admit that there is still room for further improvement.

I thank the Minister for that reply and accept that there has been a considerable improvement, but is he aware that I continue to receive a considerable number of complaints from my constituents about the work of the centre, and that there is clearly room for considerable further improvement?

The hon. Gentleman has raised three cases since he came to the House and in only one was the centre at fault.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that he should not brush aside complaints, as they are widespread, repeated, and received by many hon. Members? Is he further aware that he will not satisfy the public criticism of the operation of the centre unless he orders an immediate independent—and I stress "independent"—inquiry into the working of the centre to try to make good these faults?

I am aware of the complaints, because I have to answer them. I am constantly aware in detail and in depth of the sort of problems that have been caused. We take this matter seriously, but, given the volume of work that the centre deals with, the improvement has been quite marked over the last 12 months, and rather than our setting up an inquiry it would be better for the improvement to continue. If it does not, I shall look at the matter again.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree, on reflection, that the whole concept of this centralised Government bureaucracy was a disaster?

The Government of the day believed that the system in operation at that time—a system that was popular—of the local taxation offices handling these matters could not continue because of the increasing number of motor cars and the additional licensing involved. A decision had to be taken on that basis, and whatever the merits of the previous system we cannot go back to it.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that there have been a number of cases of people applying to Swansea for provisional licences and being issued with full driving licences? Can he tell us how many such cases there have been and how many people are now driving on the roads without ever having taken a driving test?

This is a new one on me. I thought that I had seen everything in the way of complaints about the centre. I shall certainly look into this matter if the hon. Gentleman will write to me, or perhaps I can speak to him about it later.

Lorry Drivers (Working Hours)

23.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport what discussions he has had with the EEC Transport Ministers on the question of drivers' hours and distances.

Since the last meeting of the EEC Council of Transport Ministers on 16th December I have had informal meetings with several colleagues. There have been regular discussions at official level in preparation for the next Council meeting, which is planned for next month.

At the next meeting of EEC Transport Ministers, will the right hon. Gentleman impress upon his fellow Ministers the fact that implementation by this country of Community Regulations 534 and 642 is liable to cause substantial disruption to freight transportation and a substantial increase in rail fares? Will he urge that there should be considerable changes made to these orders and urge upon the Leader of the House that we should debate the matter soon?

My right hon. Friend will have heard the hon. Gentleman's question. We had a discussion on 4th April on various matters relating to drivers' hours in the EEC and there may not be a great deal of parliamentary time in the immediate future in which to discuss the matter again. I agree with what the hon. Gentleman said. This is a matter of great concern to our road haulage industry and it is something on which we shall have to negotiate to get the best possible deal. I shall be acting in the spirit suggested by the hon. Gentleman.

Can my right hon. Friend say whether the introduction of tachographs, and if I were persuaded that accidents? Will he consider their introduction, despite the opposition from certain quarters?

My hon. Friend is not referring to the regulations affecting drivers' hours and distances travelled. There are many arguments concerning tachographs, and if I were persuaded that they would have a significant effect on road safety I might have dealt with the matter in different terms. I am not convinced that they are more central to road safety than are many other matters to which we could give much higher priority.

Will the right hon. Gentleman say what is the Government's estimate of the total cost that would be likely to fall on our bus and road haulage industries if the Community requirements on drivers' hours were implemented in full?

It is difficult to say. I have tried to get estimates that convince me, and the industry has its own views. It could be more than£100 million.

Concessionary Bus Fares

28.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement on his discussions with the National Bus Company on the question of concessionary fares for the elderly.

I am told that the National Bus Company's studies will necessarily take some months to complete; therefore, I cannot yet add to the reply that my right hon. Friend gave to the hon. Member on 21st March 1977.

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that, although he has tried to make the difference between rural and urban areas a matter of party politics, this has nothing to do with the problem, and that it is related to the fact that in many urban areas the municipal bus services are run by local authorities which are free to make their own arrangements, and that Bournemouth, which is not, I think, a Labour-controlled area, has a scheme for concessionary fares? Does he agree that my suggestion that the National Bus Company should sell bus passes on a similar basis to the scheme operated by British Rail would not involve extra public expenditure and that it would help to eliminate the unfairnesses that exist among ratepayers in adjacent local authorities served by the same bus company where some enjoy concessionary fares while others do not?

I can confirm what the hon. Gentleman said about such a scheme not adding to public expenditure. If we could get a sensible scheme within the overall financial regime of the NBC, that would help. I am anxious to encourage it, as the hon. Gentleman knows because we have talked about this. Indeed, the initiative that the NBC is taking arose partly from our discussions.

When discussing concessionary fares for the elderly, will my hon. Friend also bear in mind those at the other end of the age scale, namely, schoolchildren over 14 and up to 17 or 18 who are being charged the full adult fare by most bus companies, both public and private? Does he agree that there is a widespread wish in the House and outside that a concession should be granted to these schoolchildren?

My hon. Friend is right. As a result of the raising of the school leaving age, a problem has been created for schoolchildren, who do not benefit because the age limit for concessionary fares has not been raised. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science is looking into the matter, and local authorities have discretionary power to help children who have to travel more than three miles.

Will the hon. Gentleman encourage the public enterprise bus services to introduce, before the report, concessionary fares on certain days when some country buses travel all but empty during mid-morning and mid-afternoon? Would this not be of great assistance to elderly people living a long way from towns, and should it not be done immediately?

The NBC has taken this point on board. That is why it is undertaking the study. It is an important matter, and I am sure that the whole House would urge the NBC to do something about it.

Railways (Productivity)

30.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport whether he is satisfied with current levels of productivity on British Railways.

I always welcome improved productivity in transport, as we must all do, throughout British industry.

Has my right hon. Friend read the recent Press reports about the claim of Railway Rescue that British Railways are paying railwaymen for doing nothing? This is a load of rubbish. Let me assure my right hon. Friend that the railway trade unions are co-operating with the Board on productivity deals. I can assure the House that railwaymen are working rest days and—

I certainly saw the report to which my hon. Friend referred. I think it is important to say that there is a great deal of unfair comment about moves towards productivity on the railways. My hon. Friend is quite right to draw attention to the co-operation that has existed between the rail unions and the British Railways Board on important productivity agreements, including those related to signalling. The record is a good one. That is without prejudice to whether it could be better.