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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 941: debated on Wednesday 14 December 1977

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Policy (White Paper)


asked the Secretary of State for Transport, what further response he has had to the recent White Paper on Transport Policy; and whether he will make a statement.


asked the Secretary of State for Transport how many representations he has received to date about the White Paper on Transport Policy.

The White Paper itself did not invite a general response. However, several hundred comments have been received on the subsequent consultation papers.

Is the Minister aware of the sort of response that I have had from commuters in my constituency and in the wider area of the South-East who are being asked by British Rail to accept on 8th January an increase in the rail fares that they must pay? Does he realise that in some cases for my constituents travelling from Herne Bay to London this means an increase from £522 a year to £602 for the pleasure of travelling to and from work?

This is not a point on which I want to argue the toss with the hon. Gentleman, who has a proper concern for commuters to London. The decision of the British Railways Board does not arise directly from the White Paper which was published in June.

Will the Minister pay particular attention to the submission that has been made by the Scottish Association on Public Transport, pointing out that lower public transport fares could have a tremendous benefit on the conservation of energy and also be of great benefit to people on lower incomes, including young people, old-age pensioners, and those living in rural areas? Would it not make good economic as well as socal sense to subsidise a low fare system using some of the money which was announced on Monday for energy conservation?

I have sympathy for proposals that public transport should come first, and that was a plain theme in the White Paper. We have made provision for a higher level of subsidy for buses than had hitherto been anticipated. It is a difficult job to find the right balance between the level of fares and the rate of subsidy and the problem is that if fares do not rise to keep pace with inflation, subsidies must rise, and that is money out of the taxpayers' pockets.

Is the Minister aware that the White Paper recommends another cut in road maintenance, of 5 per cent? Does he realise the burden that this places on the shire counties which have the overwhelming responsibility for roads in this country when that is allied with the rate support grant cut?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for drawing attention to the problem of the many claims on resources and the need to choose priorities. I recognise that some councils have genuine problems with road maintenance, but there are others with problems of maintaining public transport that I know the hon. Gentleman would want to see solved. We have to strike a balance, and I feel that we have done it, broadly, in the right way.

In the White Paper, the Government accept that steep fare increases cause great hardship to commuters and should be phased. Is that not even more true at a time of Government-imposed wage restraint, and could the Government do something to ameliorate the 16 per cent. increase in fares in the South—if necessary by increasing the subsidy to British Rail?

Any subsidy must be a sum of money diverted from other good causes with a claim on public expenditure, or the money must be raised from the taxpayer. The House has generally accepted that a number of rail services must pay their way, so that subsidies available should go to the lines that can never be cost-effective but where the need is greatest. There must be some hardship at a time of rising prices.

It is not simply a choice between increased fares or subsidies; there is another factor involved with the railways, namely, improved productivity. Does the Minister agree that if the railways achieve the improvements in productivity that the British Railways Board says are possible, it would be a giant step towards containing rail costs and keeping fares down?

I wish I could agree that it would be a giant step. It would be an important one, and the White Paper has made plain that improved productivity is essential and that there is no other way of securing the future of the network. However, we should squarely face the fact that as long as the level of inflation is too high we shall pay more subsidy out of the public purse through higher public expenditure, or else fares will go up—however uncomfortable that may be.

Rural Transport


asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a further statement on rural transport.

What rural transport needs now is three things—finance, basic stability and imaginative development. Government policies aim to provide the finance by a £15 million increase in annual provisions for bus services outside the conurbations, the stability by requiring shire county councils to prepare and give effect to a statutory public transport plan. As for imaginative development, this must be mainly for local initiative but our proposals for community buses and social car schemes will be of great help.

I appreciate the efforts that have been made by Ministers, but is my hon. Friend aware hat my constituents are extremely perturbed at the Trent Bus Company asking for a further 12 per cent. Increase—the fifth increase in just over two years, bringing the total increase to 55 per cent.? In order to ameliorate such situations, could he, in addition to the local initiatives that he hopes to encourage, urgently investigate reports that at least one of the national bus companies has managed to save money for itself and its customers by the imaginative and flexible use of routing and timing?

Order. We are getting back to long supplementary questions. I hope that we shall have shorter supplementaries and shorter replies.

I am indeed aware of what the National Bus Company is doing in market analysis and making route changes which enable it to provide a very good service at a cheaper cost.

Will the Government introduce national concessionary bus fares? If not, will they at least implement the promise given to two councils that they may have their own schemes?

The NBC is considering the introduction of concessionary fares on an experimental basis in certain areas, though it does not yet have full results of the experiments.

In his consideration of county transport plans, will my hon. Friend bear in mind the importance of rural railway services and try to ensure that when county plans are drawn up the Government do not threaten to withdraw their support because of the cost? Is he aware that in inclement weather, for example, it can be vital to have such links open?

I agree that railways have a clear rôle to play in this respect, but I am distinguishing between what we are proposing in the county public transport plans and our proposals for discussion on local railway plans.

National Bus Company


asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he next intends to meet the Chairman of the National Bus Company.

When the right hon. Gentleman does meet the Chairman of the NBC, will he ask him to explain how it is that the Bristol Omnibus Company is asking for an increase in fares of as much as 100 per cent., which will put its fares 100 per cent. in excess of those charged on buses belonging to the passenger transport department of the borough of Thamesdown? I appreciate that there is a degree of cross-subsidisation in respect of rural areas, but is not the solution to have many more locally-based and locally-owned bus companies?

I shall draw the hon. Gentleman's point to the attention of the chairman and I am sure that he will be prepared to consider it. There are difficulties concerning the fare structures between different bus companies. As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary said earlier, the NBC is genuinely trying to adapt the existing route system in the most flexible way, but it needs a reasonable level of financial support.

Will my right hon. Friend pay regard to the fact that in cases such as this the position of people in rural areas is very much undermined when they see people across the road being able to travel similar distances for half the cost? Should not the NBC pay special attention to this problem and do something about its organisation?

My hon. Friend recognises that the problems of operating efficiently in rural areas are very much more difficult, and, as I have said before, this can be done only if the counties are given adequate revenue suport. We cannot maintain the services in any other way. Of course, there are problems in urban areas, but there is a much greater density of traffic there, which helps to solve some of the problems.

When the right hon. Gentleman has an opportunity to meet the chairman, will he ask him about companies such as Crosville, which persistently refuse to introduce off-peak fares?

The chairman is fully aware of this matter, which the hon. Gentleman has raised in the House before. I am sure that he is giving attention to it, though there are problems in having the NBC, with a degree of consistency, on the one hand and local option, which most of us want to see, on the other.

Now that the right hon. Gentleman has referred to local option, will he tell us what is likely to happen when the proposals that he is bringing forward in the Transport Bill—proposals for greater flexibility and a greater say for county councils in licensing matters for rural transport and buses—conflict with the views of the traffic commissioners? What thought has he given to that matter, and who will have the final say if there are disagreements?

That question goes far wider than the original Question. The hon. Gentleman should await the publication of the Bill and, in particular, the proposals in the county public trans-port plans. He will find all the details there.

Kidney Donor Cards


asked the Secretary of State for Transport how many kidney donor cards have now been issued to applicants for provisional driving licences.

Will my hon. Friend accept the grateful thanks of many renal failure patients, especially children, whose lives have been saved by his action? May I further impress upon him that it is equally possible to extend the service to applicants for all types of driving licences rather than simply provisional ones'? Will he consult the Secretary of State for Social Services in order to secure this further provision?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks. The problems about extending the scheme are purely ones of practicality. We should have to devise a new form, and by the time we did so most people would have driving licences that last up to the age of 70, and we would be back to the situation in which we could give the forms only to people applying for provisional licences. I do not think that we can extend the system too far.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that renal specialists throughout the United Kingdom appreciate what has been done, but are dismayed by the fact that so many motorists have not been given donor cards?

We are getting on to questions of privacy, practicality and cost. I am sympathetic to what has been said by the hon. Member and my hon. Friend, and we have taken sensible action. Whether we can go any further is a serious question.

As there are too many Ministers making too many excuses for not co-operating in the distribution of kidney donor cards, will my hon. Friend redouble his efforts to make sure that every traveller carries a card?

We issue forms to all people who get provisional driving licences. That is the way to achieve the maximum distribution in a sensible manner.

Supplementary Grant


asked the Secretary of State for Transport whether, in his grant allocation for transport purposes, he will take special account of those counties which contain towns which have committed programmes of town development.

One of the main purposes of the transport supplementary grant system is to take account of special local needs. I have examined counties' transport policies and programme submissions with this in mind in preparing for decisions on the grant for 1978–79.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that where a town has a committed housing programme designed to help the whole region and in line with the Government's own requirements, it deserves special consideration? Will he confirm that in the grant to Staffordshire there is special provision for Tamworth's committed programme of expansion?

I know that my hon. Friend has been very assiduous in drawing attention to the problems of Tamworth. I hope that the county council will continue to recognise Tamworth as a special case in making provision and application for TSG.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the amount of money being made available is wholly inadequate for most counties to provide even essential local roads? Will he look closely at this matter, particularly at improvements which would give assistance to through traffic, in view of the appalling delay in decisions on many of our proposed motorways?

Of course there is less money available than we should like, but the counties get substantial assistance not only through TSG but through the rate support grant. They have to accept their own responsibilities for carrying some part of the total cost on the rates. They have to make a choice, and it is a difficult choice for almost everyone.

Drivers (Regulations)


asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he will announce the final details of the transitional arrangements for the implementation of drivers' hours and distances regulations; and whether he will make a statement.


asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he will announce the final details of the transitional arrangements for the implementation of drivers' hours and distances regulations; and whether he will make a statement.

Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that there is considerable uncertainty and confusion in the industry because of the delay? Does he also recognise that in the generality of today's motorways and traffic routes, the distance of 450 km. is considered to be inadequate? Will he use his best endeavours to see that this is extended?

In the second part of his supplementary question the hon. Gentle man refers to one aspect of this problem where I am afraid there is no room for manoeuvre. However, I entirely agree with what he said concerning the present uncertainty and confusion. I wish that we had had a firm indication before now of the stages for implementation. He can take it from me that I am doing my very best to obtain a firm reply very soon.

Is the Secretary of State aware that the Highlands area covers one-sixth of the land mass of the United Kingdom; that the railway network is extremely meagre, and that, therefore, the implementation of the EEC directives regarding hours and distances would place an intolerable economic burden on the region? Will he keep that in mind?

Yes, I shall certainly bear that in mind. That applies to other parts of the United Kingdom as well. In discussing those matters in Brussels prior to the decision on 22nd October, I was very fully aware of the importance of this matter.

Order. I made a mistake. I did not follow my usual rule of calling the other Member whose Question was being answered. I call the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton).

Is the Secretary of State aware that these EEC regulations will face haulage contractors and passenger transport contractors with new very inflexible restrictions and, in addition, that substantial extra costs will be forced not only on the industry but inevitably also on the end consumer, the customer? What action is the Minister taking? Will he now tell the House?

If the hon. Gentleman had listened a little more carefully he would have been aware of the extent to which we succeeded, at the Luxembourg Council, in negotiating an agreement by which the drivers' hours regulations can be introduced over a period of three years instead of having to be implemented from 1st January 1978. The industry takes the view that this is a very substantial gain, but I recognise that it still depends upon the final decisions of the Commission and, beyond that, on the ability of the industry itself to absorb the extra cost.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the shorter hours and shorter distances might be as acceptable to British drivers as to those on the Continent if the British drivers did not have such absymally low basic wages for so shocking a trade, having to live, as they do, on overtime and other perks?

I know that my hon. Friend is being helpful. I wish that I could entirely endorse all that he said. It is certainly true that some drivers of heavy vehicles are paid badly. I think that those firms which are responsible should look into that matter, despite the inhibitions which are bound to determine the outcome this year.

On the subject of the distance regulations, as the Secretary of State is aware, the deadline that he has put forward is 1st January 1978. Is he expecting the road haulage industry to meet that deadline? Is he also aware that as the fitting of tachographs is the only practical way of avoiding the new distance limits, there are many road haulage firms which want to come to an agreement voluntarily with their staff? What help are the Government planning to give those companies to resolve the obvious and clear difficulties that they have with the unions on this question?

Again, the hon. Gentleman raises two related but separate questions. On the first of his supplementary questions, I entirely understand that in the absence of any plain statement, though we are to implement the regulations from 1st January, the industry does not know the way in which it will be done. I regret that, but there is no way out of that impasse. I shall certainly inform the industry as soon as I have the information that is required.

The hon. Gentleman's second question deals with the 450-kilometre limit. As I say, this is something that we are obliged to take into account, but there is a great deal of scope because it allows for the carrying of two drivers.

As a member of the Transport and General Workers Union myself, may I ask whether the Minister recognises that many drivers in the Transport and General Workers Union feel that they are being subjected to pressures, since vehicles with tachographs fitted will be accepted as a way of twisting their arms? This is no way in which to achieve agreement. Since these regulations will have the force of law in January and the details are not yet cleared up—another example of Common Market legislation—will he agree that there should be no prosecutions until they are cleared up?

I think that we should be relatively relaxed about the situation, simply because there is no quick way round it. But I take the points made by my hon. Friend.

What advice would the Minister give to a Cornish broccoli grower who now discovers that he is 301 miles from London by the very expensively built motorway and 263 miles from London by the old A30, which goes through many villages?

I would hesitate to give any advice to a Cornish broccoli grower. These are issues that will have to be sorted out by the industry. The industry has found it possible to adapt to changes in the law. It has grown, it is prosperous and it has contributed substantially to Britain's economic strength. I think that in due course these problems will be solved.

British Railways


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


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


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

May we have a categorical assurance from the Minister that there will be no further cuts in the railway network north of Glasgow and Edinburgh? May we also have a categorical assurance from him that the London-Perth motorrail link will be maintained?

I can give a categorical assurance that no proposals for rail closures are before me at present. On the second point, I shall draw the hon. Gentleman's concern to the attention of the chairman of the Board.

When the right hon. Gentleman has an opportunity of seeing the chairman, will he draw his attention to the poor maintenance of both locomotives and rolling stock on the line to Bedford? Will he also bear in mind that high rail fares are totally inequitable if the maintenance is not properly carried out? Will he also try to indicate to the chairman, insistently, that we should have price stability in this matter?

On the first part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question, I accept that rolling stock is not always of the quality that we would like to see. But, as the hon. Gentleman knows, I announced earlier this year an £80 million new scheme for improvements to the St. Pancras-Bedford line. We ought to give the Board credit for the fact that for the past year there has been fare stability. It is very important that the gaps between fare increases should be no less than a full 12 months.

Will the Secretary of State support my plea to the Chairman of British Rail to give special fare concessions to students aged 14 and over who have to travel daily from the Isle of Wight to Portsmouth, on religious grounds, because there is no schooling for them on the island, and who are now facing charges, with the increase announced for January, of up to £7 a week? I ask for some special concession for them.

I shall certainly draw the attention of the chairman to that matter. It is for the British Railways Board to determine its fares structure within the framework laid down by Parliament's decisions, and decisions of this kind can be made in a commercial way in the light of the Board's need to raise income from fares, given the level of subsidy that the House has agreed upon.

When my right hon. Friend meets the Board will he convey to it the fact that many people in the House who are paricularly enthusiastic about railways as a form of energy-saving transport view with some alarm the fact that British Railways are introducing a scheme to phase out the carriage of bicycles—another form of energy-saving transport? Will he do so on the impeccable ground that one form of energy-saving transport should help another?

I was not aware that British Rail was intending to phase out the carrying of bicycles. On the contrary, I thought that this was a new and very desirable benefit, which I would personally want to encourage.

Will the Secretary of State impress on the Chairman of the British Railways Board that there are constant fears in certain areas about the possible continuation of rail closures? As an illustration, I refer to the line from Salisbury to Exeter. In those areas, a great deal of uncertainty is engendered by these rumours. Therefore, a positive statement by the chairman about the situation on closures is essential.

If there is any misapprehension, I am sure that the chairman will wish to dispel it, but there are bound to be problems as long as some local railways lose a great deal of money and as long as the House believes that there must be some limit to the amount of money available in subsidy. Those are problems of which which the chairman and the Board are fully aware.

When my right hon. Friend sees Mr. Parker, will he tell him that there is a good deal of feeling in the trade unions because of British Rail's accent on catering for business men and the well-off members of the public who rush from one town to another, thus deserting the social service aspect of British Rail?

I shall remind the chairman of my hon. Friend's views, but they are not wholly fair. It is by running a sensible inter-city service, which is not likely to need subsidy and which is experiencing a growth in traffic, that the available subsidy can be devoted to those lines where need is greatest. I know that my hon. Friend and I share the wish to see that money spent in the best way possible.

If the Government expect inflation to be down to single figures by 1978, will the Minister explain why commuters must face a 16 per cent. fare increase in that period?

The increases in costs which have occurred in the last year, and which are likely to continue, are not related only to the rate of overall inflation, but if we get overall inflation down to single figures, as we must all hope, some of these problems of future fare increases will be a great deal easier to solve.

Shipping And Air Services


asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he encourages the development of new shipping and scheduled air services as an important factor in the nation's transport infrastructure; and if he will make a statement.

Yes, so far as it is for me to do so. But, as the hon. Member knows, my responsibilities relate essentially to inland surface transport.

I thank the Minister for that reply. Does he agree that the new scheduled air and ferry services are an important part of the transport infrastructure, particularly in areas with bad communications? In view of what he said in his reply, is it not unfortunate that in Britain alone of the EEC countries civil aviation and shipping are not the responsibility of the Department of Transport? Is it not worth while reexamining this aspect?

If the hon. Gentleman will advise my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to transfer these matters to me, I shall not quarrel. There is a need to examine these matters as a whole. That is why I am in close consultation with my right hon. Friends about the matter.

Has my right hon. Friend noticed that the hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley) has only to make one speech attacking a former Prime Minister in order to be promoted? On that basis, should I not be in the Cabinet?

Is the Secretary of State aware that his colleague the Under-Secretary of State reiterated this morning, in Committee, that the Government are pressing ahead with the nationalisation of ports? Will the right hon. Gentleman say loudly and clearly how the creation of a new infrastructure will be helped by nationalisation or by proceeding with a plan which plainly has no support throughout the nation?

Road Traffic Forecasts (Report)


asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he intends to publish the Leitch Report.


asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he proposes to publish the report of the committee on road traffic forecasts presided over by Sir George Leitch.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that road forecasting is a major factor in road costing, that many forecasts have been wrong, and that we need a truer costing of roads in terms of money and the environment?

Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend. Traffic forecasting is an extremely difficult matter, and the Leitch Committee was appointed for the reasons that my hon. Friend mentioned. We think that these decisions are important and that we must get them right.

Although we hope that the Leitch Report will be helpful, is it not absurd that the Minister should make decisions on traffic forecasts that are three years out of date? Will he take note of the fact that the standard of living has been virtually stagnant in that period and that oil prices have increased? Will he give an assurance that he will make no decisions in future without up-to-date forecasts?

That is a somewhat unfair rendering of the nature of the problem. I know that the hon. Gentleman has his own problems, but we cannot stop making decisions because committees of inquiry are taking place. That would be a bad principle in government, as elsewhere.

Trade Unions


asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he next intends to meet leaders of the trade unions representing transport workers.

I meet the leaders of transport unions frequently. I expect to meet some of them tomorrow.

Has the Minister raised with Mr. Jack Jones the allegation made in the Press by British Rail that the Transport and General Workers Union is using "blacking" methods to prevent goods being switched from lorry to rail, and that it has used the same methods to negative the use of the Didcot distribution centre?

I do not want, in the House, to comment on confidential conversations that I have from time to time on an informal basis, but the hon. Gentleman fairly indicates the sort of problem that is bound to arise from time to time, in circumstances in which men are competing for too few jobs.

Has the Minister received representations from the trade unions over the artificial demarcation between his Department in dealing with the ports and the Department of his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment in dealing with inland waterways transport?

I do not think that I have had any formal representations to that effect, but my hon. Friend has drawn my attention to the need to look at matters affecting inland waterways and ports together. I am in close consultation with my right hon. Friends to ensure that there is proper harmonisation of policies in this respect.

Will the Minister take note of the pressure that is being applied by the railway unions in Wales for the electrification of railways there? There is not a single mile of electrified railway in Wales, compared with 2,000 miles in England and 58 per cent. of the railway system in Norway.

The railway trade unions and the British Railways Board are fully aware of the advantages of electrification. I am willing to consider on their merits any proposals that are put before me.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that in some ways it is natural that there should be differences of opinion between the various trade unions representing their members on the carriage of traffic? Does he not agree that, understandably, discussions are taking place and that the "blacking" is a bit bad? [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Therefore, will he use his good offices to encourage the leaders of the two major unions involved to thrash out these matters, in the interests of integrated transport?

My hon. Friend fairly describes the problems. I do not think that there is any need for a positive intervention from me, because both major trade unions at the most senior level are aware of the need to get together in trying to solve the problem.

When the Minister next meets the leadership of the Transport and General Workers Union, will he discuss the decision reached yesterday by 5,000 trunk route lorry drivers in Glasgow that they will strike on 1st January if tachograph proposals and regulations on drivers' hours and distances are implemented? Will he confirm that he will be introducing the tachograph as part of these arrangements from 1st January—or what will he say to the TGWU?

I do not know whether I shall be discussing this matter. My discussions are informal, on common problems. We must not jump to any conclusions, and I do not think that anybody will act unwisely. We are not wholly clear what the obligation will be from 1st January, but everybody in this country has respect for the law, whatever the law may be.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that in the face of criticism the TGWU—Opposition Members know nothing about its workings—in its general approach has been kind to a fault? It has recognised the difficulties of other trade unions, has always put forward its belief in an integrated road transport service, and, indeed, has been criticised for not holding its end up enough.

The House would be wise to "cool it" on some of these matters. That is often the best way to find a solution to difficult problems.

National Freight Corporation


asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he will announce his plans for the financial reorganisation of the National Freight Corporation; and whether he will make a statement.


asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he will announce his plans for the financial reorganisation of the National Freight Corporation; and whether he will make a statement.

I refer the hon. Members to the answer given to my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South-East (Mr. Cohen) on 12th December. Otherwise, I must ask them to await the Transport Bill.

Will the right hon. Gentleman give the House some idea of the performance of the National Freight Corporation this year? Does he stand by his policy of eliminating deficits in freight?

The performance of the Corporation this year has been a great deal better than in previous years. The House agrees that there is a need for financial reconstruction, and I hope that we shall be able to accomplish that.

Does the writing off by the Government of a substantial amount of the accumulated losses of the NFC mean that the Secretary of State has no hope of the Corporation's making a profit and of being able to repay its losses out of profits?

Indeed not. I have said that freight must pay its way. We have accepted that there are some historical problems that face the Corporation. If the House remedies them, I hope that it will do so once and for all and that the Corporation will be put on a firm foundation for growth.

On the future prospects of the Corporation, which is what financial reconstruction is all about, will the right hon. Gentleman say whether the NFC has asked for a written directive from the Government to settle within the Government's 10 per cent. pay policy? If it has asked for such a directive, what reply has the right hon. Gentleman sent?

I do not think that it would be right for me to disclose to the House the normal confidential correspondence between the Secretary of State and the National Freight Corporation. However, I have made it clear to the Corporation that it is within its own responsibility and its own managerial authority to seek to reach a settlement in the public sector within the 10 per cent. guideline laid down by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I am sure that Sir Daniel Pettit and the board wish to do so.

Will the right hon. Gentleman give us an idea of what effect the new EEC regulations on drivers' hours will have on the charges of the National Freight Corporation?

No, not at this stage, although I hope to be able to do so by the time that we discuss the Bill.

Car Parking


asked the Secretary of State for Transport whether he will make a statement on plans to introduce measures to control public nonresidential parking.

As my right hon. Friend told the House on 21st November, he does not propose to legislate at this stage to control private non-residential parking but he does intend to enable local authorities to license privately operated public car parks.

Does the Minister agree that further restrictions on parking would be damaging not only to the interests of the private motorist but to employment and commerce in the city centres?

The principle on which we operate is essentially that local authorities are responsible for implementing sensible traffic management policies and should have the power to do so.

Will my hon. Friend say something about the increasing practice of motorists to park their cars on pavements—a practice that is extremely annoying to pedestrians, extremely dangerous to blind persons and extremely costly for ratepayers?

Have the Government now abandoned their proposals for private non-residential parking?

Construction Industry


asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he is yet able to indicate the share of the construction industry package to be allocated to his Department and the purposes for which this additional expenditure will be used.

£23 million has been allocated for transport in England in 1978–79. This additional expenditure will be directed mainly to local road schemes.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that areply. Given the shocking state of the roads in this country, I am pleased to know that maintenance and road improvement must come before new road building.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. The proposals were designed to try to relieve some of the unemployment in the construction industry. I am glad to think that they will help to solve local transport problems as well.

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that he is considering the A2 Rochester relief road in my constituency as part of the local road schemes that he now looks on with favour?

The right hon. Gentleman replied to his hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. McMillan) about England. Will he now answer the Question in respect of Scotland and Wales?

As I think the hon. Gentleman knows, there is an allocation to try to help the construction industry in Wales and Scotland.

Traffic Commissioners (Licensing System)


asked the Secretary of State for Transport what plans he has to reform the traffic commissioner licensing system.

My right hon. Friend intends to introduce greater flexibility into the licensing system by making it easier for community buses to operate, by extending the simplified procedure for obtaining permits, and by recasting the criteria for road service licences to lay greater emphasis on the interests of the public.

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that these changes will be proposed in the forthcoming Transport Bill as part of the policy of developing new services?

Vehicle Registration (Cherished Numbers)


asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he will be presenting to Parliament the report on cherished numbers; and whether he will make a statement.

My right hon. Friend will make a statement on the review of the working of the new system after the recess.

Is the Minister aware that many people are concerned that cherished numbers may not survive? Does he agree that this harmless but eccentric practice might even make a reasonable profit for the authorities if it were continued?

If cherished numbers survive but the numbers are reduced by overt or covert Government pressure or pressure from Swansea, will the hon. Gentleman have a word with all the nationalised industry chairmen who love to drive around in large cars bearing registration marks such as NCB 1 and TWA 1?

Is my hon. Friend aware that there are hon. Members who have cars bearing the registration mark MP followed by a number as a cherished number plate? Will he have regard to the fact that very soon it may be necessary to issue XMP-prefaced number plates?

A27 (Worthing)


asked the Secretary of State for Transport what representations he has received from the West Sussex County Council regarding an urgent public inquiry into his proposals for the A27 route in the Worthing area.

The county council, at its meeting on 25th November, decided to urge my right hon. Friend to hold a public inquiry with broad terms of reference before detailed plans for the preferred route are prepared.

What is the Minister going to do about it? Is it not the case that the local authorities are unanimous in opposing the announcement of the preferred route? Is it not quite wrong that substantial public expenditure should be incurred in developing that route before a public inquiry has had the opportunity of examining either whether a new route is needed or whether the route that has been chosen is the right one?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, there has already been extensive public consultation on the question of broad routes. There will be further public consultation on the Arundel road improvement, and there will eventually be a public inquiry. I think that that is the right way to proceed.



asked the Secretary of State for Transport what steps he is taking to implement EEC regulations on the subject of tachographs; and if he will make a statement.

I have nothing to add to my previous statements or to my comments earlier this afternoon.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that, as promised to the EEC, he will be introducing tachographs as part of the implementation of the agreement on drivers' hours and distances from 1st January 1978?

There are two separate issues. One issue relates to the general obligation that lies upon the United Kingdom to introduce the tachograph. I have explained to the House before all the obstacles that I see in moving in that direction. The second issue concerns a somewhat different provision, namely, the use of the tachograph for articulated vehicles when driven over 450 km. The obligation is not to fit a tachograph but to carry a tachograph or a double crew for journeys of over 450 km. That is not quite as simple and is not in the same category as the earlier matter. That provision will be in force from 1st January.

Irrespective of the merits of these devices, will my right hon. Friend consider the lack of restriction on hours of work in non-driving occupations before the driving hours start? Is it correct, for example, that a person may work hard at loading a vehicle for a number of hours and that that work will not count against the allocation later shown by the tachograph?

That relates less to the use of the tachograph and more to the general question of drivers' hours and the rolling week. These are complicated matters. At the moment I think that the House is primarily concerned with the problem of the 450 km provision. I accept that this is a problem, but there are remedies to it. It concerns a very small part of the total road haulage industry.

Surely the Secretary of State will accept that the employment of two drivers as an alternative to the tachograph will push up costs and that it is unrealistic to put it forward as a suggestion to the road haulage industry. What help, if any, will the Government give to assist in the resolving of the clear difficulties that have to be faced with the trade unions over the introduction of the tachograph on a voluntary basis? The industry will have regarded the right hon. Gentleman's answers up to now as totally unsatisfactory.

That remains to be seen. I am in close touch with members of the industry. I shall know what they have to say to me when I meet them. I think that have a meeting with them tomorrow afternoon. I am not so sure that they will take the harsh line that the hon. Gentleman suggests. It is not for me to make suggestions to the industry about what it should do about the tachograph and the 450 km limit. This is a question, first, of the law and, secondly, of negotiation for those parts of the industry that are affected. There is the larger question that I mentioned earlier, of the long-term future of the tachograph. No proposals on that have been made to me by the industry to the effect that it wants to see a change.

Greenford (Flyover)


asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he is satisfied with the progress of the flyover construction in Greenford, Middlesex, of the London to Fishguard motorway; and if he will make a statement.

The main contract commenced on 31st August 1977 and is substantially on schedule. Work is expected to be completed by summer 1979.

In that case is my hon. Friend aware that the notices on the Western Avenue will have to be amended, because they do not say that? The notices suggest that it will be a bit earlier. Is my hon. Friend aware that the considerable engineering construction is causing grave disruption in the Green-ford area and on the Western Avenue in my constituency? People understand that they have to put up with some degree of disruption, but will my hon. Friend liaise with the contractors, with the police in Greenford and with the London borough of Ealing, with a view to achieving more sensible collaboration between the three parties in trying to reduce disruption to a minimum?

I shall certainly endeavour to do all that my hon. Friend requires. The least I can say is that there has been no delay in the completion of the final contract.

Motorways (Maintenance)


asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he is satisfied with the standard of maintenance on the motorways.

Is it not now becoming clear that the construction of some motorways, particularly in the vital Midlands area, is seen to have been substandard? Does the Minister agree that unless extensive repairs and maintenance are carried out, there could be a serious effect on the total motorway system? Will he resist any complacency and ensure that he continues to be satisfied with the standards of maintenance and repair of motorways?

I do not think that any motorways were built below standard. The design life of motorways built in the early 1960s, which includes some of the Midlands motorways, is approaching its end. There is a standing committee on highway maintenance which closely monitors the situation, and we take careful note of what it recommends.

Will my hon. Friend take account of the fact that the M1 from London to the Birmingham turn-off seems to require more maintenance than any other stretch of motorway of which I am aware? Is he satisfied that the base was good when it was laid? Is he also satisfied about its maintenance? All too often two lanes are out of use, and that causes congestion.

I realise that people are concerned when a motorway is being repaired, because it can lead to congestion and in some cases to accidents. Clearly we must be concerned about that aspect. My hon. Friend referred to a rather old motorway. In many areas motorways are now approaching the end of their design life.

Will the Minister comment on the maintenance of decisions on motorways? There appears to be some doubt whether his decision on the extension of the M1 will be maintained. Will he encourage the North-East Development Council to accept that the new route that he has selected should be the one to be pursued, rather than to argue for the one that he has rejected?

The hon. Gentleman is once again adopting the old ploy of getting in a supplementary on a Question with which it has no real connection. None the less, I am delighted to give him the assurance for which he asks.

Who designed motorways with a total life expectation of just 17 years? What was originally intended to be used after they were worn out?



asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he will now make a further statement about the construction of the M40 motorway and the time scale involved.

My right hon. Friend will make an announcement as soon as he can. We regret the continuing delay.

Will the Minister consider the advantages of making this proposed road a dual carriageway rather than a fully-fledged motorway, because of the cost that will be saved and the advantages to people living in mid-Warwickshire, who, on the whole, are against the proposal?

Will the Minister, if he makes a favourable announcement, give a date by which the road should be completed and divide the time scale from now to then between the inquiries part of it and the actual engineeering?

I am aware that we have tried the hon. Gentleman's patience almost beyond endurance on this matter. Clearly a road of this kind, if we were to go ahead with it, would take between eight and 10 years to complete, though that would depend on how the plans were broken up. Some sections might be completed earlier than others. The actual building usually takes about two years. It is the statutory processes that take the time.

Will the Minister end 1977 on a helpful note by announcing the preferred route of the link between the M1 and the M4, in my constituency? In view of its importance to people in Bedfordshire, will he, within the next 11 days, announce the route?

I hope that we shall be able to announce the route fairly quickly. The question arises in respect not of the route but of the result of the feasibility study into this matter. It is a complicated matter, but we hope to come to a conclusion shortly.

Lorries (Maximum Loads)


asked the Secretary of State for Transport what progress has been made towards agreement within the EEC on maximum loads carried by commercial vehicles.

The Commission is now completing work on detailed proposals for maximum weights and dimensions. I understand that it hopes to publish these proposals shortly.

Is the Secretary of State aware that the British road haulage industry is at a considerable disadvantage compared with many of its EEC competitors? As the industry is now to suffer from a whole plethora of EEC regulations on distance limits, drivers' hours, and enforced training, is it not time that the Government took action to remove some of the disadvantages?

The industry always claims that it will come to a sticky end, but it never does. I think that it will overcome its present problems, however much it may complain about them meanwhile. The hon. Gentleman knows that this is a divisive issue. It can be argued that larger vehicles would be good for economic growth but that they would be unsatisfactory from an environmental point of view. We have to strike a balance between the two views.

Will my right hon. Friend disregard the siren song of the lobbyists on the Opposition Benches and bear in mind the fact that the heavy goods vehicles that the Opposition wish to introduce are 30 to 50 times more likely to cause accidents and serious injury than are equivalent loads carried by rail?

I shall not listen to siren voices on either side of the House, even when one of those voices is that of my hon. Friend.

The posture of the Secretary of State in all EEC negotiations seems to be to cause the maximum amount of confusion and chaos in the road haulage industry, particularly as regards distance limits, which we were once told would be abolished unconditionally but have now been accepted unconditionally by the right hon. Gentleman. In those circumstances, why should we have any faith in the right hon. Gentleman's negotiating position on lorry weights?

I am not sure that I have declared my negotiating position on lorry weights. Therefore, I do not see how, or how not, the House can have faith in it.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that one reason for motorways being so badly worn—this matter has been raised many times—is that lorry weights are already excessive? Consequently, the damage done to little towns and historic villages is very great.

My hon. Friend knows the distinction between overall weights and axle weights. It is axle weights that do the damage. Difficult issues are involved, and I think that the House will want to discuss them in due course. We are always in negotiation with the Community on these matters.

Roads (Planning Inquiries)


asked the Secretary of State for Transport what plans he has to improve the roads inquiry procedure; and whether he will make a statement.

A review of highway inquiry procedures is well advanced. I hope to announce the outcome before too long.

Has the Secretary of State received the report of the Council on Tribunals? If so, will he tell the House whether its recommendations are included in any action that he intends to take to improve the procedure?

The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to the work of the Council on Tribunals. We are having discussions with the Council. I shall inform the House of the outcome of these discussions as soon as they are complete.

Is the report on tribunals procedure likely to come before or after March? Will it come before or after the inquiry into the A2 stretch of the Rochester Way, in Woolwich?

I hope that it will come before March, but I do not want to be committed to that date. It will come as soon as possible. There are real problems, and I want to try to relieve any anxieties if I can.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it would save public funds if public inquiries took place immediately after the announcement of preferred routes rather than two years or more later, when a great deal of public money might have been spent on purchasing blighted property or on making plans for the route preferred by the Minister which a public inquiry might reject?

I am in favour of speeding up these procedures, if possible. However, if we consult the public in the way that we do today—I think rightly—and follow that by a public inquiry, it will always take much longer than the actual process of construction.

I recognise the need for improved procedures and welcome the Government's efforts to improve them. However, will the Secretary of State ensure that representations are not restricted to those who shout the loudest?

Yes. The task of Ministers, in so far as they make decisions, and, obviously, the task of public inquiries, is to take account of all points of view. Sometimes those who express these less forcefully have an interest that should be respected.

Ballot For Notices Of Motions For Friday 13Th January

Members successful in the Ballot were:

Mr. Malcolm Rifkind

Mr. Arthur Jones

Mr. Jim Callaghan