Mr. W. H. K. Baker:
asked the Minister of Transport how many letters and other representations he has received to date on the Transport Bill; and what percentage of these letters were, in general, opposed to the legislation.
We have received a great many representations about the Bill. They reflect a wide range of views on its merits.
But since so much opposition to the Bill has consisted of politically-inspired circulars displaying profound misunderstanding of certain of the proposals without any reasoned criticisms of the policy, I see no point in attempting an analysis of all the letters received.
As the Minister has not answered the Question, can he possibly answer this supplementary question? To what extent has he had representations from the fishing and agriculture industries, and what are their reactions to the proposals?
It is quite true that there have been representations from different bodies which have been worried about some of the misleading statements made about the Bill and from groups such as fishing and agricultural organisations, particularly in Scotland. The replies have stated the conditions imposed in the Bill, of which the hon. Gentleman should be aware, to the effect that, if it is more costly and more inconvenient to the consignor, the railways will not be given the job.
In view of the importance of this piece of legislation, is it not essential that we should know the number of objections received which have been based on factual knowledge of the Bill?
This is extremely difficult, because some letters praise parts of the Bill and express worry about other parts. It is not simple to do what the hon. Gentleman suggests. I should say at a guess that my predecessor and myself have received 5,000 to 8,000 letters on the Bill, but it is very difficult to make an assessment of the number of those completely against, those completely for and the very large mass in the middle which are either ill-informed or approve of some; parts of the Bill.
Is my hon. Friend aware that a great many of the letters which Members have received have been based on completely wrong assumptions of how the Bill will operate? Is he further aware that leading members of the Opposition Front Bench have visited certain constituencies and conveyed misleading and wrong information, which has certainly multiplied the number of letters?
My hon. Friend served on the Standing Committee which considered the Bill a bit longer than I did and heard the sort of statements which were made. It should not be any surprise to him that certain Members have been going round the country making even more misleading statements.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that when visiting some constituencies, particularly in Scotland, we find not only the letter writers but those whom we meet are against the Bill?