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White Paper

Volume 931: debated on Wednesday 11 May 1977

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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 lieā€”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.