Railways

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 4th July 1973.

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Photo of Mr John Osborn Mr John Osborn , Sheffield, Hallam 12:00 am, 4th July 1973

It must be taken into account, and there must be a correct method of measurement. However, it could well be that some of the space should be devoted to tracks for independent vehicles, not steel wheel on rail but perhaps rubber on tarmac. These alternatives could well be examined by the "think tank", because they may provide the public transport that is needed.

If goods are taken by a longer route, this must inevitably increase the cost of manufacture and distribution. The prices that are paid in the shop are of concern to the housewife and Parliament. If use is made of longer routes, with more costly distribution, on environmental grounds or for convenience, the price of goods in the shops must rise. The industrialist has a duty to choose the most economic route to move his goods from the factory to where they will be used. It will be essential to know the increased cost to the housewife and the consumer of using the longer route, but I readily take my hon. and learned Friend's point.

We must look to the future. British Rail must be allowed to go into the rest of the century with confidence. The construction of a Channel Tunnel will be advantageous in making it possible to put freight on direct route from city centres in England to the EEC countries and other European countries, but there are difficulties, which have been outlined to us, and the tonnage of freight so moved—5 million tons—will be small.

Energy has been mentioned during the debate. The Government must decide, perhaps not in the context of this debate, how future trains are to be propelled. If there is an oil crisis there must not be too great a reliance on diesel oil and there is a case for increasing electrification more rapidly, but such a crisis in this country is by no means certain.

The man in the street wants to own a car because of its convenience. Similarly the small, flexible transport unit, whether a juggernaut or some other method of conveyance, has economic advantages in moving goods from where they are made to where they are to be used, at the most convenient time and without being confined to timetables.

My right hon. Friend has been right not to be too dogmatic at this stage. When considering the short term, he must also consider the long term. It is reasonable that we should know his views. To have a White Paper on transport policy may be asking too much— [Interruption.] The right hon. Lady laughs, but many plans produced in the late 1960s can now be torn up, because they were based on the wrong assumptions. I hope that my right hon. Friend will not fall into the same trap as did the right hon. Lady and some of her hon. Friends.

There should be a survey of the alternatives. We should know what we can do to improve our environment, to encourage the railways and to limit the juggernauts, which are causing such concern to so many people who have to live near new roads.