§ Mr. Latham
asked the Secretary of State for Transport whether he will make a statement on the results of his Department in achieving the Government's policy programme since his predecessor's reply to the hon. Member for Melton on 9 July 1981, Official Report, c. 217.
§ Mr. David Howell
The sale of the National Freight Company Ltd. to a consortium of managers and employees188W has been successfully completed. The Transport Act 1981 has opened the way for further transfers to the private sector, by providing for the introduction of private capital into the British Transport Docks Board and the subsidiary businesses of British Rail. The Act also abolished the National Ports Council and gave the ports increased responsibility for their own affairs. The process of transferring British Rail's subsidiary businesses to the private sector has continued, with the sale of over £40 million of non-operational property and the privatisation of three further hotels, the hovercraft business and a number of other subsidiary activities. The sale of new leases on English motorway service areas should be virtually completed by the autumn, when these sales will have brought some £48 million to the Exchequer.
The current Transport Bill paves the way for the introduction of private capital into the National Bus Company's express coach services, following its successful expansion since the Transport Act 1980 came into force; into National Holidays; and into certain of the group's property interests. The Bill thereby creates a major opportunity for improving services to the travelling public.
Over the past nine months, the Monopolies and Mergers Commission has been conducting an investigation into the costs and efficiency of four publicly owned bus undertakings. I look forward to the publication of its report.
The Transport Act 1981 includes the first major road safety legislation for over a decade. There are new measures to combat drinking and driving, improve motor cycle safety and the safety of children in cars and provision is also made for the replacement of the totting-up procedure by a new penalty points system. I have also taken steps to implement Parliament's decision on seat belt wearing by adults by laying draft regulations this month. The current Transport Bill will improve and extend the fixed penalty system for motoring offences. It will also improve the enforcement of parking regulations. There have been steady improvements in vehicle safety and environmental standards over the year.
Our first two-year programme of trunk road construction and improvement was implemented. In 1981–82, more work was done than expected, and at lower cost. More than 90 towns and villages will be bypassed by trunk and local road schemes under construction at the end of 1981. Many more are starting during 1982 and planned for the next few years. I have recently added to the active trunk road programme schemes which will bypass 25 more towns. We have recently invited the private sector to consider with us whether we can devise a scheme to raise supplementary private funds to enable this work to be speeded up. Some 70 miles of motorway have been renewed to modern standards in the past 12 months.
My transport supplementary grant settlement for 1982–83 enabled local authorities to start 35 bypasses and relief roads, and supported increased road maintenance expenditure. The TSG system will continue for 1983–84. I intend to give particular support to new bypasses and relief roads, to special measures to mitigate the effects of heavy lorries and to schemes to promote cycling.
Comprehensive measures were announced in the White Paper "Lorries, People and the Environment" to deal with the long neglected problems caused by heavy lorries. Action already taken includes increased expenditure and staff on enforcement and encouragement of the vigorous use of lorry controls by local authorities. In the past 12 189W months, we have announced nine grants at a cost of £5.5 million for rail freight facilities under section 8 of the Railways Act 1974. These facilities will remove a considerable number of lorries from the roads with considerable environmental benefit. We have also extended this system to grants to waterway users, under section 36 of the Transport Act 1981.
Further action has been taken to help disabled people and to draw attention to their transport needs. I have consulted widely on new regulations designed to improve the operation of the orange badge scheme and these will come into operation shortly. A national guide to transport for disabled people was published in April 1982. I have supported Carbodies Ltd. to ensure that the new model of the London taxi will be accessible to wheelchairs. Work is being done to develop audible and tactile signals to help blind and partially sighted pedestrians.
We have completed the transfer of the work of designing and supervising new trunk road schemes, mainly to private sector consultants.
In the past 12 months, staff numbers in my Department have been reduced by 458, or 3½ per cent., making a total reduction since 1 April 1979 of 1,728, or 12 per cent. By 1984 I expect to achieve a 22 per cent. reduction overall.