Transport and Technology

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 16th November 1965.

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Photo of Mr George Strauss Mr George Strauss , Lambeth Vauxhall 12:00 am, 16th November 1965

It is obvious in a situation where the roads are overcrowded and the railways have not enough trade that it is desirable that the roads should be relieved of some of the transport and that it should go by rail. I should not have thought that the right hon. and learned Member would question that for a moment.

I suggest that the Government should say one of two things. They should either say that it is possible by a complete change in freight rates between road and rail to get goods from the roads on to the railways, or they should say —maybe they should say this as well— as it is inevitable that the railway system of this country will lose enormous sums of money for years to come, may be as far as we can see ahead. We must decide how the deficit should be met. It can be done by deliberate subsidy from the Government. It should be openly admitted that this is the right thing to do as in France and other countries. At present we spend 9d. in the £ Income Tax on keeping the railways going. Why not admit it as Government policy that the railways are to be kept in a state of efficiency by a straightforward Exchequer subsidy?

Or—and this is a matter for Government decision and I want to know what the Government think on these lines— they should say that national transport should not get a subsidy and therefore if people choose for their convenience to use the roads on a large scale but yet want an efficient railway system, road users should pay sufficient in taxation to keep efficient the railway system which they use on many occasions, especially in emergency. In short, there should be a cross-subsidisation between the two forms of transport. Either that or State money in the form of subsidies. One or other of those policies should be arrived at and publicly declared.