HC Deb 18 April 1962 vol 658 cc559-647

Question again proposed, That "or reduction" stand part of the Bill.

6.15 p.m.

Mr. Hay

When the House went to the other place I was saying that we could not take the view that it was desirable to confer upon the area transport users' consultative committees the powers of overseeing reductions of service by, in particular, the Railways Board for the simple reason that the Board will be in no different position now that it is to have commercial freedom for any other transport undertaking.

After all, road haulage services and bus services which operate in competition with the railways are not being put under the handicap of having their activities and services reviewed by these committees, and I do not see any reason why if the Railways Board came to the conclusion for good commercial reasons and as a pure matter of management that its train services should be adjusted —that the number of trains run should be either increased or reduced—these are matters which ought to come within the purview of the consultative committees.

I have done my best to explain why we cannot accept the Amendment. I think that on reflection my hon. Friend and others who may have received points of view on this matter from a very distinguished body may themselves decide that this is not really a sensible Amendment to make. The whole point is that we want to give the railways commercial freedom, and the fewer controls that we have over their activities in these circumstances the better.

Mr. Cooper

In view of the very full nature of my hon. Friend's reply, which I hope will satisfy many people outside, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Hay

I beg to move, in page 58, line 9, at the end to insert: (12A) Where for the purposes of subsection (9) of this section a committee decide to hear an objector orally, or to hear oral representations made on behalf of a Board, they shall hear the objector and the representations in public.

Mr. Speaker

I think it would be convenient to discuss with this Amendment the next one in the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Transport.

Mr. Hay

Yes, Mr. Speaker.

During the proceedings in the Standing Committee on 22nd March my right hon. Friend undertook, in response to suggestions made on both sides of the Committee in the discussion of an Amendment moved originally by my hon. Friend the Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson), to consider what parts of the proceedings of consultative committees might be held in public. My right hon. Friend said—I think it was generally accepted on both sides of the Committee—that it would not be desirable to require a committee to hold the whole of its proceedings in public because, to use his words, this would make the procedure intolerable.

But since my right hon. Friend gave that undertaking he has consulted the chairmen of the area transport users' consultative committees, and the consensus of their views is that where a committee decides to hear oral representations in relation to a railway passenger closure either by an objector or on behalf of a board, they see no reason why this might not be done in public. Therefore, in the light of the views of the area chairmen, and after further consideration, we have drafted the new subsection (12A) in Clause 56 which will have the effect of requiring that where a committee decides to hear an objector orally or to hear oral representations which may be made by a board the hearing shall be in public.

I think that this meets the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Mapp) that not only must justice be done but that it must be seen to be done. I hope that the Amendment will be accepted by the House.

Mr. Rees-Davies

I strongly support the Amendment. It is important to bear in mind what is linked with this Clause, The Amendment relates to subsection (9), which provides the opportunity to objectors at public inquiries to put forward their objections before the appropriate committee. The grounds of their basic objections will be in relation to hardship, and I have little doubt that, in practice, these inquiries will become very like the town planning inquiries and that shortly some of us will have the opportunity to see how they work.

It is important that not only should they be in public but that the procedure —which lies in the hands of the Committees under subsection (13)—shall be in accordance with what has hitherto been laid down under Ministerial powers. We spent many days of anxious debate on the Franks Committee's Report and subsequently on the admirable rules which followed, which have been very effective.

I want to see the same high standard from the Ministry of Transport and the Railways Board in future inquiries as has been set by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. I am speaking to this Amendment for that reason. I am sure that it will be an important but not a difficult matter for the Minister, by administrative arrangement with the various consultative committees, to make sure that there is proper opportunity for fair hearing. That is what people want.

The case of the Ministry of Transport, of course, is slightly different from that of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. In inquiries conducted by the latter Ministry, any person opposing an application has to be a party affected by the proposal under examination. But in the case of the Ministry of Transport everybody in the nation is affected. The Minister obviously cannot accede to a request that every person should be entitled to an oral hearing, otherwise he might be held up in these inquiries for twelve months or more. Those with powerful objections might gang up together and there might be 1,200 or 1,500 objectors, which would hold up the administrative work of the Railways Board.

The Minister of Transport must make sure that the consultative committees work out a system to give fair hearings to genuine objectors. When objections are heard publicly, and it is found that local alternative road services are being provided to replace a discontinued line, hardship is something which can be thrashed out. If one locks behind closed doors what appears to be hardship, one creates a grievance. If one drags the issue into the open, that is avoided.

Many people who have come to object at Ministry of Housing and Local Government inquiries have gone away satisfied after hearing the evidence. I believe that that will happen at many of these branch lines inquiries. The hardship would be seen to be not as bad as people thought. I feel that we might have written in stronger safeguards, but I commend this Amendment if it is coupled with sensitive administrative procedure. It may be that we could not go further than this in the case of the Ministry of Transport, which has different functions from those of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government.

Mr. Hay

I speak again, by leave of the House, to welcome the support of my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies), but I would not want (him or the House to think that the type of consideration of closure proposals which the consultative committees at present carry out, and which they will continue to carry out under the remodelled procedure provided by this Clause, is completely analogous to planning inquiries. There are certain similarities, but I would not want my hon. Friend to imagine that they are absolutely on all fours. Nor would I want him to push too far the request to the Minister of Transport to act as does the Minister of Housing and Local Government in relation to planning inquiries.

The matters before the consultative committees are not in the remotest degree judicial. Planning inquiries are at least quasi-judicial. Indeed, in many things, as my hon. Friend knows, they become almost entirely judicial. There is a difference here, however. I make this point so that there may be no misunderstanding. Otherwise, I am obliged for the support of my hon. Friend.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In line 10, leave out from "to" to "every" and insert: subsections (12) and (12A) of this section". —[Mr. Hay.]

  1. Clause 58.—(RESTRICTIONS ON CARRIAGE BY ROAD IN LONDON.) 4,146 words, 1 division
  2. cc573-5
  4. cc575-6
  6. c577
  7. Clause 74.—(COMMISSION'S POWER TO DEVELOP LAND.) 40 words
  8. cc577-8
  9. Clause 75.—(THE COMMISSION'S SUBSIDIARIES.) 394 words
  10. c578
  12. c578
  14. c578
  16. c578
  17. Seventh Schedule,—(TRANSITIONAL PROVISIONS.) 14 words
  18. cc579-647
  19. Eleventh Schedule.—(REPEALS.) 26,337 words, 1 division