Rail Subsidies

Oral Answers to Questions — Transport – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 9th February 1977.

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Photo of Mr Tony Newton Mr Tony Newton , Braintree 12:00 am, 9th February 1977

asked the Secretary of State for Transport what will be the direct effect on commuter rail fares in London and the South-East of the suggestion in the transport policy consultative document about phasing out subsidies.

Photo of Mr William Rodgers Mr William Rodgers , Teesside Stockton

There is no suggestion in the transport consultation document of phasing out subsidies to London and South-East commuter services entirely. In any event, the level of fares depends on other factors besides the level of subsidy.

Photo of Mr Tony Newton Mr Tony Newton , Braintree

Will the Secretary of State give a straight answer to the question whether he accepts British Rail's estimate that the objectives set mean a 7½ per cent. increase each year from now until 1981 in real terms in these fares? If so, does he not accept that he must reconsider this matter, or at least persuade the Chancellor of the Exchequer to do something about tax relief on travel-to-work costs?

Photo of Mr William Rodgers Mr William Rodgers , Teesside Stockton

I do not think that there is any very great prospect of the Chancellor acting on the hon. Gentleman's last comment, but that is a matter for the Chancellor and not for me. The matter is more complicated that the hon. Gentleman suggests. There is no question of my having taken a final view yet. The consultation document is still being discussed in the House and elsewhere. Many factors are involved in the number of passengers carried and the level of revenue. That is what I was trying to say.

Photo of Mr Nigel Spearing Mr Nigel Spearing , Newham South

Does my right hon. Friend remember that in the debate on London commuter fares on 12th November, various suggestions were put forward whereby those paying substantial commuter fares could get offsetting arrangements for off-peak periods and the citizens of London could make better use of their own rail network? What steps has he taken in that respect?

Photo of Mr William Rodgers Mr William Rodgers , Teesside Stockton

As I think my hon. Friend knows, it is not for me to take direct executive steps. I do not possess those powers, becaue they have not been given to the Secretary of State by Parliament. I know that my hon. Friend' suggestions, many of which were ingenious, have been noted by those concerned. I think that we shall see the results, such a they are, in due coure.

Photo of Mr Tim Rathbone Mr Tim Rathbone , Lewes

In this context, will the right hon. Gentleman deny once and for all the rumour that is being put about by some of those on the Labour Benches that commuter services are used only by the better-off? Will he bear that in mind when he formulates his policy?

Photo of Mr William Rodgers Mr William Rodgers , Teesside Stockton

I do not think that anything has been said as explicitly as that. I have said that if we have limited sums available for revenue support and for subsidies we must ensure that such support goes where it is most needed. If those sums are not raised in fares, they are raised eventually from the taxpayer and ratepayer. If there is to be cross-subsidisation, we must ensure that the money is not wasted.

Photo of Mr John Ovenden Mr John Ovenden , Gravesend

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the majority of commuters come into London to work not by choice but because of the economic structure of the South-East Region? Is he aware that unless his Department is prepared to give proper financial support to the London commuter rail system it will have to shell out more money in tackling the road congestion caused in London and on the outskirts?

Photo of Mr William Rodgers Mr William Rodgers , Teesside Stockton

I respect my hon. Friend's views. He has been persistent in advocating them in the House. I entirely agree that if we are to save money on the railways we shall have to consider the alternative costs involved. At the same time, those who choose or have chosen over a period of years to live outside London have done so for a variety of good and sufficient reasons. We must ensure that there is a balance between those who have chosen to live in the centre of cities and those who have chosen to live outside. We must ensure that everyone pays fairly—neither more nor less than fairly—towards the total cost.

Photo of Mr David Crouch Mr David Crouch , Canterbury

I put it to the right hon. Gentleman that he cannot brush this question aside in that manner with such a great macro-economic answer. There are several thousand commuters in my constituency, paying over £500 a year for the pleasure of travelling for five hours each day to and from their work. I do not know how school leavers, who probably earn up to £1,500 a year, do it. The Minister cannot stand and sit there—

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that, in his gymnastics, he has not yet asked a question.

Photo of Mr David Crouch Mr David Crouch , Canterbury

When the Minister stands to reply, I hope that he will tell my commuters how the hell they are to manage in future.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Order. I remind the House that I very much deprecate that sort of language here, whatever language is used elsewhere.

Photo of Mr William Rodgers Mr William Rodgers , Teesside Stockton

I do not think that anyone would accept that I have tried to brush this complicated question aside lightly. Many factors come into this. Whereas it is right for hon. Members to assert vigorously the positions of their constituents, I have an obligation to consider all factors, which includes those living in London and those living a long way from London. I have said that we must not have indiscriminate cross-sub-sidisation. We must have a fair sharing of the burden.