HC Deb 18 April 1962 vol 658 cc557-9
Mr. A. E. Cooper (Ilford, South)

I beg to move, in page 56, line 15, to leave out "or reduction".

This is a small point. The House is entitled to have the Minister's views on the interpretation of the words which it is proposed to delete. It would appear that the transport users' consultative committees are being given power to consider a proposal by the Railways Board when a railway service is to be discontinued from one station to another or on any one line. The committees do not, however, appear to be given any such power if a service is merely reduced.

What is the difference between a service which is discontinued and one which is simply reduced? It would seem that when there is a reduction in services, particularly in areas of considerable population, the users' consultative committee should be able to be consulted on the matter. I shall be glad to hear the views of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary.

6.0 p.m.

Mr. Hay

My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford. South (Mr. Cooper) has put something of a conundrum to the House but at the same time has moved an Amendment. My first task must be to tell the House what the effect of the Amendment would be if it were made. It would empower the transport users' consultative committees to consider any question relating to reductions of services whether it be in respect of passenger or freight services, upon representations being received from objectors, at the committee's own initiative, or on reference to the committee by the Minister. And they would have to give consideration to these matters under subsection (4) as part of the procedure whereby committees are still empowered to look at what we call "quality of service" questions.

At present the Clause, while it empowers the committees to consider quality of service questions, expressly debars them, by subsection (5), from considering charges or any question relating to the discontinuance or reduction of railway services, except as later subsections provide. Those later subsections relate to consideration of complete closures of railway passenger facilities, and that question in particular is dealt with by subsection (7).

Under the Bill, the position is that the transport users' consultative committees have the general oversight of any closures of passenger services which are made. The Railways Board has the power to reduce the frequency of either passenger or freight services, and it also has the power to close freight services completely without the Minister intervening, and those matters do not come before the consultative committee. All that is retained as the job of the consultative committee is, firstly, questions relating to quality of service, and, secondly, railway passenger service closures under subsection (7).

Having regard to the general objective which the Government are aiming at in the Bill of conferring on the nationalised transport undertakings a wide degree of commercial freedom, I do not think that it would be right for us to place upon the Railways Board in particular any obstacle which would prevent it from reducing the services that it provides. No ordinary commercial undertaking is prevented from ceasing to provide for sale what it normally would wish to pro vide. The real reason why the railways in particular are in trouble is that people are deserting them and no longer using the services. I do not think therefore that we should place the Railways Board under a particular liability to have any reduction which it may make in its services—

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