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Transport

Volume 21: debated on Wednesday 7 April 1982

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Accident Statistics

1.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he will give the latest figures for accidents involving pedestrians, motor vehicles and motor cycles.

Casualty figures are more useful than accident figures, because an accident can involve more than one type of vehicle. In the year ending September 1981 there were an estimated 61,800 pedestrian casualties—5 per cent. fewer than in the previous 12 months. There were 70,200 motor cyclist casualties and 168,500 casualties in other motor vehicles—a reduction of 2 per cent. in each case compared with the previous 12 months.

I welcome the reduction that my hon. Friend has announced. Does she agree that in 1981 rather more than 15,000 pedestrians were hit by cars or motor bikes during the hours of darkness? In those circumstances, what is she doing to initiate a campaign to persuade pedestrians, especially in country areas, to make themselves more visible at night by wearing either a white belt or light coloured garments?

There is at present no specific campaign, because of the pressure on resources for the "Think Bike" campaign and all the other safety campaigns. I am well aware how good reflective belts are, and I urge all pedestrians to wear them to reduce the number of accidents.

In view of the appalling and still rising number of motor cycle accidents and the importance of training motor cyclists, what plans do the Government have to replace the RAC-ACU training scheme in view of the introduction of the two-stage driving test system?

There is on the Order Paper another question on that subject. I shall be speaking on this matter tomorrow. I assure my hon. Friend that resources that would have gone to the RAC-ACU training scheme will be put to excellent use in furthering the training of young motor cyclists to reduce accidents.

In what percentage of the cases that the hon. Lady has cited was alcohol a factor? If she cannot give the figure off the top of her head, will she investigate the matter?

From the figures that are readily available, I understand that about 30 per cent. of the people involved in fatal accidents were suffering from an excess of alcohol above the permitted limit. I wish to examine the figures in greater detail than I have so far been able to do, and I shall take up the hon. Gentleman's suggestion.

Will the Under-Secretary confirm that during the last financial year the road construction budget was £100 million underspent? Does she agree that that money could have been spent on bypasses and a better road maintenance system?

I accept that less money than anticipated was spent because of lower tendering prices. Nevertheless, the Government have spent more money on more bypasses this year than at any time since roads of that type have been built.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You seem to have missed question No. 2.

Motor Coaches

3.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he is satisfied with the provision made for the safety of motor coaches.

Coach travel is now one of the safest forms of passenger transport and new provisions are coming into force to make it even safer. Statutory annual testing of passenger service vehicles was introduced on 1 January this year, and higher standards for braking come into effect from 1 October. Many of the latest models of coach have stronger seats and roof constuction, and we are working to get these improvements incorporated into the relevant international regulations.

Does the Minister accept that although there has been much progress in coach hardware, the problem ultimately lies with the driver and the individual involved in the maintenance of the vehicle? Will she warn her right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment of the effects of the removal of mandatory training in encouraging cowboy kerbside coach operators with the corresponding danger to life and limb?

I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern, but the new testing scheme for the vehicles will bring a greater uniformity of high standards. There is no intention by the Department to lower safety standards and vehicle testing, only to increase them. I shall bring the hon. Gentleman's remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment.

Is my hon. Friend aware that there is considerable concern in the South-East that the traffic commissioners have inadequate staff and powers to enforce action against illegal coach operators who appear to be breaking the law? Will she look carefully into this as it seems difficult to get a satisfactory response from the traffic commissioners?

I am sorry to hear that. I hope that my right hon. Friend will give me details, as I would most certainly wish to look into the matter.

In the light the Minister's comments about her intention to increase the efficiency of motor coach examinations, is she aware that the entire motor coach industry disagrees with her and that all the evidence given to the Select Committee was against the denationalisation of the testing stations?

The hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that although there has been controversy about PSV and HGV testing, and the transfer to the private sector, this is now welcomed by some.

We have every intention of ensuring that the standards to be maintained under the authorisations granted by the Secretary of State will be at least as high as in the past.

Will the Minister name one person or company actually in favour of the transfer of HGV testing stations?

If I said that anyone was in favour, the House must forgive me, as it was an error. I intended to say that people had accepted the arrangements for HGV and PSV testing and were now working to ensure that safety standards, with which the original question was concerned, should be at least as high as they have been in the past.

Tyres

4.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement on his review of the construction and use regulations on tyre tread depths.

As I stated in reply to a question by my hon. Friend on 30 March, I intend to retain the existing minimum tyre tread depth requirement of 1 mm over three-quarters of the width, but to introduce regulations that will require the remaining quarter to have some visible tread pattern. I shall also require replacement tyres to meet the same international standards as original tyres fitted to new cars, and retreaded tyres to meet the criteria laid down in British standards.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Recognising my past and present interest in tyres and tyre safety, will she accept my sincere congratulations on the introduction of EC regulation 30, which will go a long way towards removing dangerous, downgraded killer tyres from our roads? Will she amplify by what regulation and means the visibility test on the remaining one-quarter of tread pattern will be, so as to prevent ambiguity for the police?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his welcome for EC regulation 30 on the extension of tyre safety. On the second part of his question, I shall have to investigate the details as this has not been finally decided. I should say, however, that it behoves every motorist to check his tyres regularly, because that is the way in which greater safety will be achieved.

What kind of scrutiny will take place at the ports to prevent the import of potentially highly dangerous tyres? We accept and welcome the regulation making them illegal, but does the Minister agree that there must be scrutiny to halt the import of such items? Is she aware that this country continually imports defective goods and equipment without any scrutiny at the ports?

There are already checks on motor equipment and accessories. Any particular curb on imports is a matter for my noble Friend the Secretary of State for Trade, but I shall certainly investigate ways to ensure that such tyres do not reach the market. As I said before, however, it behoves every motorist to keep checking his tyres.

Bus Operators

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he remains satisfied with the working of the provisions relating to bus operators under the Transport Act 1980.

Yes, Sir. An object was to cut bureaucracy and remove barriers to the changes needed. Patronage of public transport had been declining and costs rising for a quarter of a century. The Act is giving the travelling public a better deal.

Will the Minister give specific examples of new services in rural areas? Has he obtained a report from the traffic commissioners on the ratio of new services in rural areas to closures caused by the 1980 Act?

We work continuously and closely with all the bodies concerned with the interests of rural dwellers, and they welcome the measures that we have taken, for example, on car-sharing freedom. In a number of the trial areas, interesting proposals are coming forward which I believe will yield considerable benefit.

I fully accept what my hon. Friend has said about the advantages of the 1980 Act, but is he aware that that message has, unfortunately, not got across to the public and to minibus operators? Will he try to get the message across to those who could operate minibus services in rural areas that they can now do that, as there is an inadequacy of minibus and general services in rural areas?

I am glad that my hon. Friend acknowledges the advantages to be obtained under the Act. I shall certainly do everything possible to draw extra attention to the proposals of the Act.

When will the Minister acknowledge that massive closures of bus services, especially in rural areas, have resulted from the 1980 Act? Will he publish a report from the traffic commissioners showing the number of operators who have withdrawn services for which road service licences have been issued, and contrast that with the miserably inadequate number of additional services that have resulted from the Act?

Adjustments are taking place, but new proposals are coming forward to deal with problem areas. I am pleased at the way in which bus operators, local authorities and voluntary organisations are meeting the needs of the travelling public more cost-effectively.

Is the Minister aware that, as a result of the appalling 1980 Act, five rural routes in my constituency have been lost? Will he undertake an inquiry into the number of cowboy operators under the 1980 Act who hire non-union labour?

Will he also find out by how much they undercut the national rates agreed in the transport industry?

Despite the hon. Gentleman's remarks, competition will bring better services and reduction in fares in those areas.

Rail Traffic (Scotland)

6.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport how freight and passenger rail traffic in Scotland for the most recent available three months compares with the equivalent three months of the preceding year.

I understand from the British Railways Board that the figures are 14·2 million passenger journeys and 2·841 million tonnes of freight for the 12 weeks ended 31 December 1981. The figures for 1980 are 14·1 million journeys and 2·884 million tonnes of freight.

Does the Minister realise that there is great concern in Scotland, where the railway is often the only lifeline during the bad winters that we have almost every year, about the effect of reductions in British Rail's finances? Will the Minister give a categorical assurance that it is not the Government's intention that any railway line in Scotland should close?

The hon. Gentleman has misunderstood the position. This year's grant on the PSO basis is £100 million more than originally claimed last year. That will give the resources to the railway to provide the services needed in the areas that he has mentioned.

Is my hon. Friend aware that some of the lines in Scotland should be kept open for strategic reasons? If the main East Coast line were closed north of Arbroath, the only alternative would be the present line between Montrose and Perth, which is scheduled for closure. That could have a dramatic effect at strategic times.

I appreciate the importance of the point that my hon. Friend makes. He knows that running the railways is a matter for the British Railways Board. It be assisted by the considerable grant that is being given to it this year.

Is the Minister aware that we had hoped that he would do better at his first Question Time than give the House misleading information? The cut in the PSO is £15 million in real terms. That will do great damage to the railways.

I must deny the hon. Gentleman's statement. Last year's claim was £644 million. At 1982 prices, that amounts to £704 million. This year's grant is £804 million. Therefore, that is £100 million more than was originally claimed last year.

Railways (London And South East)

7.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he will issue a statement defining the objectives that the Government will expect the British Railways Board to pursue in operating its London and South East services.

I wrote to Sir Peter Parker last November outlining my views on what the objectives should be. I am now discussing them with the board and will make a further statement when these discussions have been completed.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that when he makes that further statement he will make it abundantly clear that British Rail must make significant improvements in punctuality, reliability and cleanliness? Unless it does that, it cannot hope to retain the present volume of passenger traffic, let alone increase it. Unless it can make those improvements, it will not be able to keep some jobs. Furthermore, will my right hon. Friend stress that those necessary improvements must be paid for not by fare increases that are greater than the rise in the cost of living, but by improvements in productivity that can easily be made?

I agree with my hon. Friend. The Monopolies and Mergers Commission said that the quality of service in London and the South-East could be improved without an increase in costs. That is a relevant consideration.

Would the Secretary of State like to join me on the 8·24 from Forest Hill to London Bridge tomorrow morning to experience for himself the grotty conditions that British Rail have to offer their passengers because of his refusal to allow it the necessary capital investment to produce a railway system that would attract passengers?

I want to see higher quality and better rolling stock serving the commuter areas and the southern region. That can be done. The resources are available. There is a £150 million social grant to London and the South-East each year. I believe that the objectives that I put to Sir Peter Parker in November can be met. I shall make a further statement on them. I am afraid that the ASLEF industrial action has delayed matters with regard to the British Railways Board's work of updating essential information. If we can overcome the problem of the dispute, improved services can be given with the money available.

In principle, does my right hon. Friend agree that commuter railway services are part of the nation's transport infrastructure and are a social service towards the provision of passenger transport in many cities? Can my right hon. Friend name any major city in the world where the State or corporate railway system is able to operate a commuter passenger service as a profit centre?

As my hon. Friend will have heard, I have explained that the London and South-East region receives £150 million of grant, which is a substantial proportion of the total grant for British Rail. That is the basis on which an efficient commuter system can be run. I am glad to see that there are plans for changing and improving the management of the London commuter services and that the manager of the London commuter services is to be appointed director of the entire London and South-East sector. Improved management and the cutting of costs will give the reliability, punctuality and cleanliness that the commuter rightly wants.

Does the Secretary of State understand that the cut in the PSO of £15 million in real terms must mean a reduction or worsening in services, or an increase in fares?

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman could have heard the figures that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary gave clearly in refuting the observations of the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes). Those observations turned out to be incorrect. An increase is proposed for the social grant this year of £100 million more than the originally accepted claim for 1981. It is true that an unprecedentedly large increase was granted to British Rail—a further £110 million for the large drop in passenger traffic in 1981. Nevertheless, the increase this year is £100 million more than was originally accepted. That is £200 million more than in 1977, a year in which the Labour Government made a more substantial cut than anything that is proposed now.

Transport Authority (Greater London)

8.

asked the Secretary of State for transport what recent discussions he has held on the possibility of establishing a new transport authority for Greater London to cover all bus, train and underground services within the capital.

In my recent discussions with the GLC, London Transport and the unions I have asked each to consider the defects in their current relationships and how they will be improved. I put to the Select Committee on Transport a fortnight ago a number of points on wider organisational issues. I shall study very carefully any recommendations that it may make.

In the meantime, is my right hon. Friend aware that my constituents and many others in London are heartily sick of the antics of Mr. Livingstone and Mr. Wetzel? They are sick of the expensive advertisements and all the other gimmicks that are being used. Is not a new transport authority for London which is directly answerable to the Secretary of State now the only effective way of stopping the ratepayers and farepayers of London from being used as pawns in Labour's political games at County Hall?

My hon. Friend's feelings are widely shared. I have put to the GLC the requirement that it should produce a proper plan for the organisation of London Transport, using the resources available, so that an efficient and good service for Londoners is achieved. It is correct that if it is not able to do so, or if it refuses to fulfil its responsibilities, put its house in order and proceed in a sensible way, it may be necessary for the Government to impose their own solutions, as I told the Select Committee. The first task is for the GLC to put aside its politicking and get on with giving the London Transport system the context needed for a fair deal for London.

Does the Secretary of State agree that, notwithstanding views about politicising in London, the head of London Transport thoroughly agreed with the GLC's fare cutting policy? We might think in abstract terms of the new structuring of the running of London Transport, but immediately there are urgent problems to which the Secretary of State must address his mind so that he can assist those in charge at the moment to return as quickly as possible to a cheap fares policy.

The head of London Transport does not agree that the move towards low fares and increased efficiency should be financed by sky-high rates. He was wise not to agree to that. High rates on businesses in central London damage the City and undermine employment opportunities. Such a move is rightly rejected on all sides.

As well as taking responsibility for London Transport away from the GLC, which has proved manifestly incapable of dealing with it, why not go one better and get rid of the GLC?

My hon. Friend must not tempt me. That question raises issues wider than transport.

When will the Secretary of State acknowledge that the GLC's campaign for its low-fares policy had support that went much wider than the Labour Party? There was broad-based support for that campaign. When will the Secretary of State reconsider his previous decision not to legislate to deal with the Lords' decision? Will he give an answer to the House on that issue before the GLC is forced to jack up fares even higher or start to cut bus services or close Underground stations?

My decision, which I believe to be wholly correct, was not to accede to the right hon. Gentleman's pressures that there should be emergency legislation to put the clock back and allow a continuation of the low-fares policy financed by sky-high rates. That was a wholly correct view for the Government to take, and we were right to resist the right hon. Gentleman's pressures. As for the GLC campaign, I am only sorry that the right hon. Gentleman has not taken the opportunity to condemn the conduct of that campaign with ratepayers' money, which I believe to be wholly reprehensible.

Vehicle Testing

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he is satisfied that the standards of training and qualifications of garage mechanics is adequate enough to apply the standards required for motor vehicle testing.

All mechanics who carry out MOT tests must be accepted by the Department as qualified to do so. They must have had a minimum of four years' experience in motor repair work, must have taken a training course with the Department and have passed an examination at the end of it. The Department carries out periodic supervisory visits to all testing stations to check standards; it can, where necessary, disqualify a mechanic from testing and withdraw a garage's authority to test.

Will the Minister arrange for senior officials from her Department to visit MOTEC Livingston, the purpose-built centre with its fault simulators and paint shops for the training of apprentices—30 per cent. from Scotland and 70 per cent. from the North of England—before any decision is taken to close it on 13 April?

I note what the hon. Gentleman has said and I shall see what can be done to achieve it. I shall even go myself if I am able to.

Railway Hotels

11.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport what conditions are being placed by British Railways on prospective purchasers of the railway hotels.

I am glad to say that the Railways Board is pressing forward to complete the agreed policy of transferring its hotels to the private sector, where what has been a loss-making business for BR will have a better opportunity to prosper. Six hotels have so far been privatised, and conditions of sale are a matter for normal commercial negotiation.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that prospective purchasers are being asked to accept current closed shop agreements with the National Union of Railwaymen? Does he not agree that that is an inappropriate union for hotels?

As my hon. Friend will know, the post-entry closed shop is a matter to be negotiated between the unions and the prospective purchasers of the hotels. While British Rail must ensure that the proper arrangements are made for its employees, it is not possible for British Rail to force conditions on a buyer in a free market, otherwise the buyer may well go elsewhere.

What conditions have been imposed to protect the security, conditions of service, pensions and so on of the staff presently employed in these hotels?

If the hon. Gentleman reflects on the answer that I have just given, he will see that proper provision has been made in that respect.

Do not any conditions, whether imposed by the British Railways Board or the unions, reduce the price that the purchaser will pay? In consequence, will not the taxpayer in the end be expected to increase his subsidy to make good that deficiency? Will the Minister ensure that neither British Rail nor the union is allowed to impose conditions that will reduce the attractiveness of the asset that is being sold?

When my hon. Friend looks at the facts in each case, I am sure he will appreciate that the sale price has not been adversely affected in the way that he has suggested. That is particularly so with regard to the sale of a hotel at Derby, which had been a bad loss-maker and where the factors mentioned by my hon. Friend were particularly relevant.

Rail Closures

12.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement on his policy towards major railway closures that require his consent.

I have frequently made it clear that I do not want to see substantial cuts in the passenger network. Against that background, I consider individual proposals on their merits.

The Secretary of State has always said that he would be opposed to major railway closures. Against that background, will he now reject any attempt by British Rail to close the Leeds-Keighley-Settle-Carlisle service? Will he also confirm that the diversion of the Nottingham-Glasgow service is not a backdoor method of closing the Settle-Carlisle railway, which is one of the most beautiful scenic routes in the country and a precious national asset? Will the right hon. Gentleman set his face against any reduction or closure of that route?

There are no proposals before me to close the routes mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. Like other hon. Members, I have read the somewhat irresponsible scaremongering stories of threatened widespread closures, but no such proposals of the kind mentioned by the hon. Gentleman have come before me. As I have already said, if such proposals do come forward I must consider them individually on their merits. However, I repeat what I said earlier—I do not want to see a substantial cut in the passenger network.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that his careful reply to the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) represents a slight change in view from that of his predecessor, who tended to regard the present rail network as sacrosanct? While I welcome his reply, will he take steps to ensure that British Rail clearly states how much money is being lost on some of its lines, so that the House and the country can be sure that the vast amount of money going into the British Rail network is properly used for the best transport needs of the country?

The words that I used in reply to the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) were the same as those used by my predecessor. My hon. Friend is right to be concerned—as I believe are British Rail and the taxpaying public—about the substantial sums that finance rising unit costs in the railway network. That is one reason why I have taken the decision to ask a member of Peat, Marwick and Mitchell to look at the finances and causes of rising unit costs on, the railways, and that is why both British Rail and the Government wish to see a review of the railways finances and objectives in order to safeguard both the performance of the railways and taxpayers' money.

In view of the delicate discussions that are now taking place with Lord McCarthy's tribunal, is it not inappropriate for the Government to announce major cuts and for the British Railways Board to talk about 3,000 white collar redundancies? Surely that is a delicate and sensitive point that does not help when these discussions are now taking place.

We are obliged to make clear the size of the social grant at the beginning of the financial year. We are obliged to do so under EEC regulations as well as for sensible accounting practice. That was, therefore, the right thing to do. However, I remind the hon. Gentleman of earlier exchanges at Question Time when it was made clear that, far from this being a cut, it is a substantial increase, bearing in mind the original claim last year. It is a judgment imposed by myself and is considerably lower than the even higher claim that British Rail put forward this year. It is £100 million more than the original claim put forward at the beginning of last year.

Nuclear Waste (Transportation)

13.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he will review the measures at present being taken to provide for the safety of the transportation of nuclear waste.

The measures for ensuring safety in the transport of radioactive materials, which are fully in accordance with the stringent safety requirements laid down by the International Atomic Energy Agency, are already kept under review as a normal part of a continuing process.

Does the Minister accept that there is widespread and deep worry about the movement of nuclear waste—which, as we all know, is so deadly—as a result of several accidents that have occurred in built-up areas in the centre of large cities? Recently, such an accident occurred in Leeds, when a group of railway wagons were derailed at 8.30 in the morning after having travelled through the night. Fortunately, they were empty. Will the right hon. Gentleman review this matter, because it is quite clear that, irrespective of the safety precautions that are taken, they are inadequate, as such waste will remain toxic for a long time? The only proper safety course is the abandonment of the entire programme, because then there will be no nuclear waste.

I hope that it will reassure the hon. Gentleman if I emphasise that radioactive material is carried in accordance with stringent international safety requirements. The standards require flasks containing radioactive fuel to withstand extreme accident conditions. As to the minor incident mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, I emphasise the excellent safety record in this area. There has been no significant accident nor any release of flask contents in more than 20 years' operating experience. All rail incidents are investigated, and any incident on a running line or which involves damage to a nuclear container is reported to the Department and investigated by us. If an inquiry is necessary, it will be promptly held.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the facts that he has just given about the safety record and the rigorous tests show that there is no danger in the transportation of nuclear waste and that it is highly irresponsible to raise public fears by asking the sort of question that has just been asked?

I appreciate the validity of my hon. Friend's point and I wish to emphasise the importance of our excellent safety record.

Will the Minister confirm that nuclear power stations actually exist in this country and that, because of their existence, it is necessary to transport waste to a place of safety? Does he agree that the best way to transport that nuclear waste is by rail, because in the real world, in which most of us live, we believe that that is the safest method of transportation?

The hon. Gentleman will know that a large quantity of the material is carried by rail. I remind him that the safety aspects of the movement of irradiated fuel were examined during the Windscale inquiry. The inspector said categorically that he was completely satisfied with the transport arrangements made.

Do the regulations include any restraint on taking nuclear waste through built-up or urban areas?

My hon. Friend will appreciate that the stringent application of the international safety standards obviates the need for control of routeing.

National Parks (Heavy Lorries)

14.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he will take steps to restrict the use of heavier lorries on routes in national parks.

Local authorities already have extensive powers to control the movement of heavy lorries in national parks and elsewhere. I am providing them with further guidance on the use of those powers.

Is the Secretary of State aware that representatives of the Peak District national park are worried about any proposal to introduce even heavier lorries on to our roads? Will he ensure that, if that does happen, such lorries are not permitted to traverse national parks?

The concern about heavy lorries moving in areas of great beauty and national parks is before us anyway. The hon. Gentleman is right to be concerned about it. I propose to give further guidance to local authorities on how they should use their powers. I shall also ensure that, in accepting expenditure for transport supplementary grant, encouragement is given to those local authorities that tackle the problem of lorry routes. The problem must be grappled with, and it is one reason why we need a comprehensive approach to lorry controls generally.

In considering his guidance to local authorities, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that one problem with the national parks is that it is increasingly becoming more expensive for local people to continue to live in the areas where they were born? If he accedes to such proposals and makes recommendations as suggested, is he aware that that will exacerbate one problem faced by local people in the national parks?

I realise, as does my hon. Friend, that there is a balance to be struck between the impact on the environment of heavy commercial vehicles and the need for people to carry out their business in a sensible and restrained way. I shall take into account what my hon. Friend said.

M25 (A10-M11)

15.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport whether he is satisfied with progress on the construction of the A10 to M11 section of the M25.

Is my hon. Friend aware that it is vital to my constituents that that section of the motorway should be completed on time and to schedule? Is she aware that my constituents are suffering considerable inconvenience from additional traffic because the construction of that section may be running late?

There is a minor slippage on one part of the three contracts let for that part of the route, but I assure my hon. Friend that the last of the three contracts will be completed in January 1984. There is evidence that there are now fewer heavy goods vehicles on the metropolitan roads through the shopping and residential areas about which he is concerned, and more on the A10, which can cope better.

Railways (Investment)

17.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he next plans to meet the chairman of British Railways to discuss investment in the railways.

19.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he next intends to discuss with British Railways their future investment programme.

I meet the chairman regularly to discuss matters of mutual interest.

Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that the entire British Railways Board, without dissent or resignation, is prepared to stand up and fight for the only settlement that will justify future investment in the railways?

Both the chairman and the board of British Rail recognise the basic fact that they must secure higher productivity. If there is to be—as I wish to see—a modern, efficient and well-invested railway system, there must be a recognition that work practices must move on from 1919. I only wish that there was full support on both sides of the House for those inside the unions and the industry who are trying to press that view on the ASLEF workers, who appear to resist it.

Is the Secretary of State aware that if he pursues his present strategy towards the funding of British Rail there will be very little of it left by the time of the next general election, which his Government will lose? Is he aware that during the past few weeks, on the Carlisle-London line, hundreds of passengers have had to stand for the whole of the journey because of the insufficiency of funds made available by the Government to enable British Rail to carry out proper coach maintenance? When the Peat, Marwick and Mitchell inquiry takes place, will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that it deals with the real issues and not the spurious issues put up by the Treasury?

If the hon. Gentleman had listened to earlier questions, he would have realised the inaccuracy of his remarks about funding. There has been a considerable increase granted over last year's original public service obligation claim. As to the real cause, I suggest that he combines with other hon. Members and those in the railway industry to bring home the need for higher productivity and modern work practices to those who have so far resisted them. Then we shall begin to see lower costs and more resources available for investment and maintenance, as the hon. Gentleman wishes.

Has my right hon. Friend had an opportunity to discuss with the chairman of British Rail the continually deteriorating standard of the catering facilities in both dining and buffet cars? Has he considered that perhaps private enterprise could do the job without making the same loss as British Rail and produce a much higher standard of service, similar to the Pullman service that used to exist?

I have discussed such issues with British Rail, which is always anxious to consider ways of improving the quality of its services. That is true in many areas, although my hon. Friend's specific point has not yet been identified. It is considering harnessing and making use of private capital as well as public finance in many areas, which I am sure is sensible.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the board and the railway industry in general are fed up with being sniped at about the state of its finances? Will he note that in his published statement of Government expenditure for 1982 to 1985 he suggests that British Rail should set up a joint review into its finances, with the Government, under an independent chairman? When will that inquiry be set up and when does the right hon. Gentleman expect to announce the name of the chairman?

Does the Secretary of State accept that, whatever the current arguments, the failure of the Government to back electrification shows them up as mean-minded, short-sighted Luddites? Does he agree that electrification would be of great assistance in achieving, a better railway system?

I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman. The Government have committed themselves in principle to a 10-year rolling electrification programme. However, I am sure he will agree that before there is a commitment of major investment funds it must be clear that there will be higher productivity—it is no use having the equipment if it is not properly worked—and that the investment will be profitable. Those are sensible ways of achieving the right hon. Gentleman's objectives.

Will my right hon. Friend make it clear to those who are being difficult about productivity improvements in the railway system that they are wrecking the job prospects of many thousands who would be involved in electrifying the railways, not to mention the many more thousands involved in supplying export contracts, if it were possible to obtain them with such a narrow home base?

I have sought to make that clear, the railways management has sought to make it clear, and, indeed, the National Union of Railwaymen has sought to make it clear to some of its own members and ASLEF. The only group that does not seem to have sought to make it clear is the Opposition Front Bench.

Will the Secretary of State, for once, stop insulting the railwaymen and address himself to the real problem, graphically expressed yesterday by Sir Peter Parker, that even if the Government approved electrification proposals now, the financial position of British Rail is so serious that it probably could not proceed? Does that not make nonsense of cutting the PSO by 15 per cent. from the figure that the right hon. Gentleman gave in the middle of the year?

The hon. Gentleman would do better to express his concern to those within ASLEF who cling to 1919 practices. The British Railways Board is the first to recognise that these practices must be left behind and overcome if there is to be the modern, efficient railway that all want to see.

Is it not a fact that the British Railways Board has told the Railways Staff National Tribunal, in the clearest possible terms, that unless there is agreement to a rostering system that ensures greater utilisation of footplate staff it will be unable to ask the Government for more money for investment in the railways? Is this not bound to lead to a reduction in the total rail network?

I think that the British Railways Board has made clear to its employees and railway staff exactly what is at stake. It is widely recognised. We shall have to await the outcome of the tribunal's deliberations.

Lincoln (Relief Road)

21.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport when the result of the public inquiry into the Lincoln relief road is expected to be published.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the bypass is necessary, both to improve the quality of life of those who reside in Lincoln and to help industry, and thus the provision of jobs? Will she ensure that work starts as soon as the decision is made, so that the quality of life in Lincoln can be improved?

I fully accept that my hon. Friend has said. It is very important that this historic city should be relieved of through traffic at an early date. I am aware of the strong local support for the scheme and I hope that construction work will commence next year.