HC Deb 12 November 1962 vol 667 cc136-66

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. —[Mr. Rees.]

8.59 p.m.

Mr. J. C. Jennings (Burton)

This is the fourth Adjournment debate that I have been privileged to initiate on certain aspects of railway policy. I have been most interested in the policy affecting the closure and curtailment of branch lines. The Parliamentary Secretary and I are by now well acquainted with each other's speeches made on the subject over the last few years. He may recall that the first occasion was a very sentimental one, on the subject of "Aggie". That was the affectionate name given to the "Great Western" steamer which plied between Fishguard and Waterford and was unceremoniously abolished as a passenger steamer. Having travelled on it many times, I took great exception to the manner of its demise.

Then there was the death of the famous "Tutbury Jenny", which almost isolated Burton-on-Trent from Wales and the north-west of England. After that there was the closing of Marching-ton Station, in my division of Burton. The keynote of these debates was my objection to the method by which these closures had been made, especially with regard to the rôle played by the transport users' consultative committee. I took great exception to the methods being used.

All that is past history, but there is a tie-up with the present case of the curtailment of services on the branch line between Leicester and Burton. In the previous cases the consultative committee played a predominant part, but here no such question arises, because it is not a closure that I am arguing about: it is the curtailment of services. I am delighted to see the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin) here. I have had conversations with him on this matter. His division is predominantly affected by the curtailment of services on this railway line.

The consultative committee does not enter into this matter because no apparent consultation has taken place with any authority affected by the curtailments on this branch line. I have the authority of the Town Clerk of Burton Town Council to say that he knew nothing about the changed time table until he saw it in the Press. Another authority affected by these curtailments is the Repton Rural District Council. At its last meeting it made strenuous protests about the manner in which these proposals had been made.

My point is that there should be better public relations between the British Transport Commission and the local authorities concerned when new proposals are made, especially for curtailment. The machinery is there in the case of the closure of branch lines or stations, and there should certainly be better liaison work. Before the Recess I tabled a Question about the rumours which were circulating, especially in the council chambers of the various authorities affected by this line, concerning the proposed closure of the line from Burton to Leicester. The answer I received was that no proposals for closure had been made. But it was obvious that a review was being made and that proposals of some kind were in the offing. The proposals finally made are for the curtailment of services, and I will deal with those in a moment.

I applied for this Adjournment debate because I strongly suspected that these curtailments inevitably mean eventual closure. I want an assurance from my hon. Friend tonight about the future policy concerning the closure of this branch line. The times I have argued the British Railways policy with regard to the closure of stations and branch lines is systematic of my worry, as a supporter of the Government's policy, over railways and particularly branch lines. I regard branch lines as the "feeds" into the main lines, and if the feed is cut the main line will be denuded of a substantial proportion of passenger traffic. I ask my hon. Friend whether the closure of the passenger service between Leicester and Burton represents the thin end of the wedge.

I also ask my hon. Friend to look at the question of the Leicester-Burton branch line, not necessarily in the context of a service for the villages and the important towns of Ashby and Coalville between Burton and Leicester, but as a feed line for the main line route from Burton to London. I know that that there is an alternative route via Derby, with which I will deal in a moment.

Mr. Charles A. Howell (Birmingham, Perry Barr)

Not through Coalville.

Mr. Jennings

I am glad that point has been raised, regarding Ashby and Coalville. There is no alternative route except this one. I ask my hon. Friend to look at this question in the context of the route to London, especially in relation to places such as Moira, Ashby, Coalville and other places in the constituency of the hon. Member for Loughborough.

When my hon. Friend and the Minister consented to the demise of the "Tutbury Jenny", they literally cut off Burton from direct contact with the north-west. New passengers from Burton have to go via Derby and back to Tutbury. This represents not only an extra chore but an extra cost. The curtailment of this service damaged the direct contact between Burton and London, as I hope to show in a closer examination of the time-table.

Let us examine what happens. I have gone into the matter thoroughly, but I will sum up the result. The number of trains from Burton to Leicester has been drastically reduced. Altogether six trains have been cancelled, leaving four running, except on Wednesdays and Saturdays, when two extra trains are put on. This is a drastic cut when it is remembered that on Sundays there are no trains at all. Regarding the service from Leicester to Burton, the picture is not quite so black, and I should like to know why. It is probably because British Railways regard Leicester as a more important place than Burton. Two trains were cancelled and seven have been left running. There is one extra on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

The service from Burton to Leicester is pretty grim. There is no connection to Burton and intermediate stations from Leicester—that is the London train—until 12 minutes to 4 in the afternoon; except on Wednesdays and Saturdays when there is a train at 12.13. Anyone coming from London to Burton who wishes to travel via Leicester cannot get a train to Burton until 12 minutes to 4 in the afternoon—unless he gets there at 10 past 9 in the morning. That is a deplorable state of affairs. It means almost that there is no branch line at all. If someone wants to connect with the 9.10 a.m. to Burton, he has to leave London at twenty-five minutes past four in the morning and arrive at Leicester shortly after 6.30 and wait until ten past nine. That is asking too much.

On this line from Leicester to Burton, where the curtailment has not been so drastic, even so there is no train between ten past nine and twelve minutes to four in the afternoon. There is no train from Burton to Leicester between seventeen minutes past eight and twenty-five minutes past five in the afternoon. That is a much bigger gap than in the reverse direction, but a sop is offered because on Wednesdays and Saturdays two extra trains are put on, the 10.25 and the 12.40. There is a drastic position. My hon. Friend might say that there is an alternative route. He may say that by neglecting the hardships of people in Moira, Ashby, Coalville, Desford and Kirby Muxloe—a station which is to be closed—the people of Burton are well served. All they have to do is to take a train to Derby, from Derby to Leicester and from Leicester to London. That, however, costs more money. If one is affluent and travels first class it will cost 6s. 2d. more on the return journey. I got these figures from Burton Station this morning. If one is not so affluent or if one is more democratic and travels second class, the cost is 5s. 6d. extra. [An HON. MEMBER: "They will get there at the same time."] One gets there at the same time, but it costs more. This is something to reckon with. What about the people of Moira, Ashby and Coalville and other places?

The policy in regard to this branch line is sending more people on to the roads. It is not for me to go into the general policy of British Railways in this debate. I should be out of order if I tried to do that, but in the case of this one branch line people are being forced on to a road which is already congested. My hon. Friend should ask the Minister to cycle, or even to motor, through the main street of Coalville. That is now a hazardous occupation. He should try at peak periods to get round the Clock Tower crossing in Leicester in order to get to the main line station. There is also the difficulty of parking a car if one goes by car to join the train at Leicester. I have tried that and I know it is difficult. An old person who has no car and cannot cycle has to go by bus from Ashby or Coalville and leave the bus at the other end of Leicester from the station.

We are told by Dr. Beeching that the railways cannot be run on emotion or sentiment, but after all people who use the railways are human beings. They may be guilty of emotions, but the emotions of people trying to win their way from one end of Leicester to another and then waiting for a long time on Leicester Station to catch a connection is something to be reckoned with. We cannot altogether rule out human feelings and emotions when dealing with British Railways. It is not just a question of economics.

I should like to declare a general interest in this problem. I use this line, and for the last seven-and-a-half years, while I have been a Member of the House, this has generally been my way of getting to my work here on a Monday and getting back home and to my division on a Friday—because I live on the edge of my division, and I get off the train at a little village station called Moira. I know all about the economics and emotions of this branch line. I therefore declare an interest.

I also want an assurance from my hon. Friend about future policy in respect of this branch line. The decision to make a cut is an interim measure, and I know that the big show-down on branch lines, in particular, and part of the main line system is still to come. I am very much afraid, when looking at the tendencies and the economic laws, that this branch line will be abolished in the very near future when the big show-down comes. If my hon. Friend cannot give me an assurance now on the subject, I hope that he will write to me later and give me some indication of what British Railways' policy will be on this branch line.

I have one or two suggestions to make to my hon. Friend, in conclusion. First, for heaven's sake let us improve public relations and liaison with local authorities in the areas affected. Do not let Burton Town Council or Repton R.D.C. or Ashby U.D.C. learn about these things from the Press. Surely it is not beyond the wit or ingenuity of the British Transport Commission to keep these people informed.

Secondly, I made the point that from Burton, in particular, there is an alternative route via Derby, but that it is more costly. If a miner takes his wife and two children on this journey, the extra payment is quite considerable. My practical suggestion is that British Railways make the ticket to Burton via Leicester from London interchangeable at no higher cost with the ticket for the journey via Derby. In other words, the one ticket at the lower cost would be available either for the journey via Leicester or for the journey via Derby.

My next suggestion is also practicable. I have shown that there are two big gaps between the first train and the early evening train from Leicester to Burton and from Burton to Leicester. I suggest that it would be practicable to put on a train in the middle of that period each way. If Dr. Beeching would restore the 12.13 p.m. train each week-day, leaving Leicester for Burton, that would enable two trains from London—the 10.15 a.m. and the 10.25 a.m. to Leicester—to meet connections. It would be a big help particularly to myself when travelling home on a Friday.

My second suggestion in this respect is that, without trouble, Dr. Beeching could restore the 12.40 p.m. train from Burton to Leicester. Here, again, this would connect conveniently with the 2.26 p.m. train to London. This would also affect me, but it would do not only me good; it would do good to many of my constituents as well as constituents of the hon. Member for Loughborough.

I am grateful to the House for listening to me with such patience. I hope that my hon. Friend will look favourably on the practical and constructive suggestions which I have made to him.

9.19 p.m.

Mr. John Cronin (Loughborough)

Hon. Members on both sides of the House must feel some gratitude to the hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Jennings) for raising this subject on the Adjournment. It not only has an important application in Burton and to citizens who live in the western part of Leicestershire, but it is an example of how Government policy in respect of the British Transport Commission is proving a complete failure. I will not press that point, because we have here tonight my hon. Friends the Members for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West (Mr. Popplewell) and Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel), who are authorities on these matters from the technical railway point of view.

I feel that I have a very serious duty to put the Parliamentary Secretary the views of my constituents in as firm a voice as possible, consistent with the traditions and the good order of the House. I should mention first that we had a debate on this matter during the summer, when we discussed the general policy of British Railways. We on this side of the House felt that we had to challenge the Government in the Division Lobbies, and I only regret that the hon. Member for Burton, who has spoken so well this evening, did not come with us into the Lobby on that occasion and vote against his Government's policy.

Mr. Jennings

The hon. Gentleman should look at my past record of voting.

Mr. Cronin

I have no doubt at all that the hon. Member for Burton wishes his constituents well in every possible way, but he would have been more convincing tonight if he had voted with us on that other occasion. One feels that he would have spoken with more authority and strength about the curtailment of this service. Nevertheless, the hon. Gentleman has done a very useful service to the House, and we all recognise it.

I should like to approach this matter solely from the point of view of my constituents who live in Ashby-de-la-Zouch and also in Moira, to which the hon. Member for Burton referred. I confirm that my constituents will suffer even more hardship than will the citizens of Burton in this respect, because Ashby-de-la-Zouch and Moira are both intermediate stations between Leicester and Burton. I know that my hon. Friend the Member far Bosworth (Mr. Wyatt) also feels very strongly about this because Coalville is a station affecting his constituency, and I understand that only a pressing engagement has kept him away on this occasion.

Nevertheless, I should like to confirm, first, that Ashby-de-la-Zouch and Moira are concerned because they have had no fewer than six of their trains to Leicester cancelled, leaving four trains running. Admittedly, on the return journey, there are more trains from Leicester to Ashby and Moira. Only two have been cancelled, and seven have been left running. This is an intolerable inconvenience for people living in Ashby and Moira. Coming from Leicester, they cannot get a train until about 3.48 p.m. This is very serious indeed. In the reverse direction, there are no trains at all—I cannot remember exact times—from about 8.45 in the morning until roughly 5.45 in the evening. This is a very wide gap in what is a very popular service. These trains have been used by every type of person who lives in Ashby and Moira, and this has a particularly serious effect upon the miners who live in my constituency. As hon. Members on both sides know, there is a tendency for miners to live in comparatively isolated villages. It is very important for them to be able to get on to a bus, go to a nearby station, and be able to go to a neighbouring city—to take their wives there, to buy their wives some clothes, to take their wives to the theatre, or to take their children to the cinema or to a pantomime. This will be intolerably difficult as the result of the curtailment of these services.

The hon. Member pointed out that the citizens of Burton can take a train to Derby. Admittedly they have to pay more money, but the unfortunate people in Ashby and Moira cannot take a train to Derby. They have to take a taxi, which costs much more money, or they have to depend on a bus service, which is not always entirely adequate. I can see the Parliamentary Secretary nodding his head, as if to say that the bus service is a point in his favour.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. John Hay)

All I did was to indicate pleasure at the fact that at last somebody in the debate has mentioned that there is an alternative form of transport to the railway.

Mr. Cronin

This is a very important illustration of the difference between the Government's attitude and ours. We who are more closely in contact with these things realise that the bus service is overcrowded and inadequate. The Parliamentary Secretary rises to his feet at the Dispatch Box to indicate pleasure that a bus service exists at all. This illustrates the difference between ourselves and the Government. We want the hon. Gentleman to adopt a more human attitude towards this and realise that it is very unattractive to have to queue in the cold and wet and get on to an overcrowded bus, particularly in the winter. This causes the severest possible hardship.

The Government do not have the common touch. The Parliamentary Secretary can take a taxi to wherever he wants to go, but for my unfortunate constituents this is a very serious problem. They cannot step into a taxi at any time. I should like the Parliamentary Secretary, whom we know is basically a very agreeable and sympathetic person, to stretch his imagination as to the very real hardships suffered by the people who live in the neighbourhood of Ashby and Moira. I beg him to give this very serious consideration and see what he can do, first, to get restoration of the important mid-day service which has been curtailed. It is so important for everybody who lives in the district. Most of all, I warn him in the most serious possible manner that if there is any attempt to close the line between Burton and Leicester which feeds Ashby-de-la-Zouch and Moira we on this side of the House—not least I myself—will rise in our wrath and denounce him in the strongest manner. I am sure from what I know of the Parliamentary Secretary that he will not allow such an iniquitous situation to arise.

Mr. Ernest Popplewell (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West)

Hope springs eternal.

Mr. Cronin

In the meantime, I beg the Parliamentary Secretary to restore at least part of this very important curtailed service.

9.28 p.m.

Mr. A. Bourne-Arton (Darlington)

The hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin) has claimed that he is closer to these matters than hon. Members on this side of the House. However, he will agree, when he remembers my constituency, that I am not very far distant, and have not been ever since I have been in the House, from railway-matters. I will not pursue the question of this branch line, important though it no doubt is.

Though I cannot claim that I always see eye to eye with each constituent of mine who works for British Railways—least of all at the moment, perhaps—nevertheless the House will understand that I am not distant from the problem. It has a very great impact on the problems in my constituency. A large proportion of the people in my constituency work for British Railways.

When the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin) talks about the total failure of Government policy, I wonder what he is indicating. Is he against modernisation? If he is for modernisation, as we are, as I am, as the trade unions are, he is for redundancy.

Mr. Archie Manuel (Central Ayrshire)

My hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin) was against overcrowded buses. He never mentioned modernisation.

Mr. Bourne-Arton

The hon. Member for Loughborough talked about the total failure of Government policy, and Government policy is modernisation.

Mr. Charles A. Howell

Extermination, not modernisation.

Mr. Bourne-Arton

That is the hon. Member's opinion and he is entitled to it, as I am entitled to mine. Let us be clear what this means. Modernisation means fewer men. That is the object of it. One builds locomotives which last longer and require less maintenance, for what purpose? In order that one may employ fewer men in the railway workshops.

Mr. Philip Noel-Baker (Derby, South)

Is the hon. Member suggesting that a diesel engine lasts longer than a steam locomotive or an electric locomotive?

Mr. Bourne-Arton

I am suggesting that in manufacture and maintenance it requires fewer men and that one of the objects of its introduction is that there should be fewer men employed.

Mr. P. Noel-Baker

The hon. Member was saying that modernisation makes locomotives last longer. With great respect, the diesel does nothing of the kind.

Mr. Bourne-Arton

The right hon. Gentleman has had the privilege of representing a railway town for far longer than I have, and, of course, I would accept what he says and I am grateful for his instruction, but, with respect, it does not affect the main point. This is something which we must recognise. Are we or are we not, however much we may argue about trying to get the best transport policy for the country, in favour of a policy the object of which is the employment of fewer men?

Mr. Cronin

I think that all of us, on both sides of the House, are entirely sympathetic with the hon. Member's desire to have the railways modernised, but what we object to very strongly is the curtailment of services and complete stoppage of services which are occurring all over the country. If the hon. Member studies carefully the railway transport problems of other countries which are putting in an intensive policy of modernisation—and I refer to France, Germany, Italy and Soviet Russia—he will find that modernisation is taking place on a very large scale but without any curtailment of services. This is where the difference lies.

Mr. Bourne-Arton

No doubt in those countries somebody either uses the railways now or can be persuaded so to do in the future.

I should like to quote to the House, and particularly for the benefit of the hon. Member for Loughborough, the case of a railway line which I know very well although it is not in my constituency. There has not been a passenger train on it since 1928. With the exception of the war years, it has had generally, five days a week, one train which has anything up to two trucks of coal behind the engine. It has to go up to deliver coal to the stationmasters on that line who if they were not coal merchants on the side would have no reason for being there at all. This has been going on since 1928.

Mr. Popplewell

If the hon. Member is quoting a case, will he give details of the amount of traffic on the line? To say that the line is kept open for stationmasters' coal sales is a lot of rot, to say the least.

Mr. Bourne-Arton

I did not tell the right hon. Member concerned, my right hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton), that I would be mentioning this. It is the line that runs through the village in which I live. It is not in my constituency. It runs from Ripon to Masham. It has some stations on it, and one is in my village. There are miles and miles of fencing, culverts and ditches to be kept open for one train five days a week. Admittedly the train has another vital function. The British Transport Commission owns two or three houses at crossings, which have no water, and the train has to take up two five-gallon milk churns filled with water for the inhabitants of those houses. Therefore, it must run. I do not believe that there is much other purpose for its existence—

Mr. Popplewell

The hon. Gentleman has named the line. If he will look at the working timetable he will find that his observations are absolute nonsense—there are far more trains than that. I know that line, too. The hon. Gentleman should withdraw the over-painted picture he seeks to produce.

Mr. Bourne-Acton

I am well aware of the deep and far more detailed knowledge of railway matters possessed by the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West (Mr. Popplewell), but he keeps on asserting that there are far more trains running that I have said. I happen to live within earshot of that line, and for a great many years I have never heard more than one train. If the hon. Gentleman says that there is more than one, I can only say that I have never heard them, but he may well be right.

These changes are painful and difficult. I ventured to speak of some of the problems last Monday in this House. There are also human problems involved that are taking up a great deal of the time of other hon. Members and myself. But, granted all that, surely the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West would agree that it is not much fun working in an industry, and trying to take the erstwhile pride in being a railway man when most of one's fellow countrymen, knowing that they are paying £3 a head out of their own pockets to bolster up the railway system are against one and bullying one.

By and large, the conditions and pay are not what many of us would wish, but this is a matter of morale. Is it fun—and I will give way to the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West if he will deny this—to work in an industry that is running down, and running at a loss? Is it not in everybody's interest that the system should be streamlined and run as a service that is not only efficient but is seen to be efficient, and has the confidence and respect—and the glamour—that it had in the old days?

Mr. Popplewell

The hon. Gentleman must realise that the loss on the service has only developed since this Government took control of Parliament in 1951. The loss commenced in 1953. Prior to then the railway system was showing a profit after paying all working costs and interest charges.

Mr. Bourne-Arton

The hon. Gentleman for once astonishes me. I find that very hard to swallow. I can swallow a great deal, but I cannot swallow that the railways—and this is what we are talking about—were by themselves making a profit before 1953. I will grant the hon. Gentleman that there was a great wearing out in war-time, and great arrears of repairs, and so on, but if he or anyone else can really say, taking all that into account, and over the certificate of a good firm of chartered accountants, that the railways were running at a profit between nationalisation and 1953, I would be astonished——

Mr. Charles A. Howell

Does not the hon. Member know that in the very first paragraph of his report Dr. Beeching says just that—that the last time that the railways paid their way was 1953? Is Dr. Beeching telling lies?

Mr. Bourne-Arton

Of course not, but what was being done by way of modernisation? What was being put aside for that?

Mr. Popplewell

I can easily supply the hon. Member with the answer. He must know that £100 million was put aside for depreciation during the war years. Instead of being ploughed back, however, it was confiscated by the Government of the day—and I admit that it was a Labour Government—and the money was never ploughed back. Nevertheless, £100 million was made available for this purpose.

Several Hon. Members rose——

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Robert Grimston)

We are not in Committee. I think that we will get on much better if the hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Bourne-Arton) is allowed to make his speech.

Mr. Bourne-Arton

I hope my hon. Friend will forgive me if I do not go to Burton for the same reason as he does, but I have a warm feeling for that place. I am also grateful to hon. Members opposite for assisting in my education. After all these interruptions I have forgotten where I was before we went into a fascinating discussion of the profit and losses of the railways prior to 1953.

Mr. Manuel

From Burton to Leicester.

Mr. Bourne-Arton

From my admittedly short experience, though of very close contact, with people working in this industry—much shorter experience than some hon. Members opposite —I would say that the best service which any Government can do is to raise the status of the industry so that the men working in it will have a greater pride in the service they are performing. I do not see any way of that coming about if—whether it be branch lines or surplus capacities in workshops—they are kept in being on a dole from the general body of the public.

No man will have enough pride or wish his son to become a railwayman under such conditions. We must consider the railways not only in terms of what Britain needs now but of what will be required at the turn of the century. I am no railway engineer or even an expert on the subject and arguments can be great as to what that system should be. Let us at least get the object clear. The object of Government policy, as I understand it and as I have been supporting it, is that this should be a viable, exciting, expanding industry again and I believe that that cannot happen without pruning. This is the hard fact we must face, however unpopular it may be with many people and however unpopular I may become from time to time with some of my constituents when I put forward this argument. I admit that, but I say what I think.

9.44 p.m.

Mr. Archie Manuel (Central Ayrshire)

The speech of the hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Bourne-Arton) ranged far and wide and the debate appears now to be wide open. I had intended to allow the hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Jennings) the courtesy of receiving a reply from the Parliamentary Secretary, but since I understand that the Parliamentary Secretary wishes to reply to the whole debate I rise to raise the subject of branch line closures generally and, in doing so, I intend no discourtesy to the hon. Member for Burton.

I realise, too, that several of my hon. Friends wish to take advantage of this opportunity to deal with the closure of branch lines, possibly not wishing to range as widely as did the hon. Member for Darlington, who dealt with the policy of the British Transport Commission generally. I wish to deal with branch line closures in Scotland mainly and with one in particular—one in my constituency about which I feel a little aggrieved.

In our debate on the British Transport Commission Report on 27th June, I raised the matter of this impending closure and said: Presently there is the intention in my constituency—and both I and the local authority have been notified of it—that all passenger services are to be removed from the branch line between Beith and Lugton. I believe that this branch line pays because of the freight service, apart from passenger service; it is certainly not in the category of the hopeless cases which the Minister mentioned. It pays particularly because of the big Admiralty depôt at Beith. But I do not believe that every possibility has been explored to try to keep the service going for the people who are using it, who are not an inconsiderable number. The diesel-electric rail buses run between Beith and Lugton to meet with the main line services at Lugton, but a little further along the main line is the electric service extending from Glasgow out to Neilston. I am positive that there would be a good chance of success if the Beith-Lugton service continued to Neilston in order to meet the half-hourly electric service in the outer circle from Glasgow. I understand that it is now a 20-minute service. This could be a reasonable proposition. But no thought has been given to it. I hope that the Minister will give consideration to this suggestion."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th June, 1962; Vol. 661, c. 1235–6.] From my experience with other Ministers in other debates, I naturally assumed that that proposition would receive some consideration and that I should have a reply before the beginning of November, which was listed for the withdrawal of passenger services. As that date drew near, I wrote, during the Recess, to the Minister of Transport. I pointed out that I thought that my proposition would at least have had some consideration, and that I had learned the definite date for closure from the British Transport Commission. The Minister replied to me in a very courteous fashion, saying that he was sorry that he had not replied to me previously, but he gave no hope that the proposition could be considered.

I simply cannot understand it. The plan would have halved the time taken by passengers going from Beith to Glasgow by bus, and I feel that it could have paid. We have a body of public-spirited people in the town of Beith who were willing to canvass the whole town, and they have since done that and have the signatures of several hundred people who were prepared to support their petition and to travel by train. All I was asking for was a probationary period for this last effort by extending the service to meet the outer electric service around Glasgow. I felt that it was a clear winner. The Minister of Transport thinks I am wrong, and I dare say he has been briefed from Scotland in some way, and so I have to accept that position now. But I feel aggrieved that I did not get a reply following the debate in which I made the proposition.

In Scotland we are very worried at the possible effect of the economic reappraisal which Dr. Beeching is undertaking, because it will be unreal and is not, in the words of the hon. Member for Darlington, an attempt to get more modernisation. This economic reappraisal is of existing lines which, to a great extent, have been dieselised or electrified. Dieselisation has taken place in the outer services, with electrification in and around Glasgow.

When we consider transport, we must think not only of railways but of whatever type of transport will meet the needs of the people including waterways, coastal shipping, roads and air traffic. I am pleased that the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) and the hon. Member for Darlington have grasped this nettle firmly at last. We have been advocating since 1948 that we should have a transport system based on the needs of the people.

Without trying to arouse too much hostility, I want to put to the Parliamentary Secretary what is really worrying us in Scotland. The decisions which, it appears, are to be taken by the Minister arise from an appraisal of an economic position in Scotland which at present is stagnant. Our economy is not buoyant. It is not thrusting forward. Our industries are not getting ahead and turning out the products which they should. Thus lasting decisions may be made based on a run-down economy.

In Scotland, 85,000 workers are now unemployed and this figure is expected to reach over 100,000 by the beginning of 1963. There are 195,000 people on National Assistance. Between 1957 and 1961 there were in Britain 310,000 more registered workpeople, but in Scotland there was a reduction of 26,000. In that same period, the loss through migration from Scotland, mainly to London and the Midlands, averaged 27,000 workmen a year.

We are now dreadfully afraid that the Government will make lasting decisions, based on Scotland's present economic position, about the withdrawal of trains and the closure of branch lines, thus hastening the depopulation of areas which are already too much under-populated. This, in turn, will wreck the possibility of attracting new industries to such areas.

I could say a great deal more, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman will tell us that the Government will delay making sweeping economic changes which would affect us very severely and will not put the responsibility on a future Government for the rehabilitation of the areas affected.

9.55 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)

I must apologise to the House for not being present at the beginning of the debate. I was writing in the Library when I heard that it had begun, but when I came in I found that hon. Members opposite, some of whom are experienced railwaymen, were trying to pull the wool over the eyes of my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Mr. Bourne-Arton), I felt impelled to intervene. Hon. Members opposite do not like to admit that I am a railwayman, but I think that they will agree that I know a little about the subject.

It is true that in the first few years of nationalisation the British Transport Commission was not making a loss, but the fact that it is now making a loss has nothing to do with the alteration in Government policy and the partial denationalisation of British Road Services. As hon. Members opposite know very well, the great increase in road traffic has not been in lorry services. The numbers of buses and coaches have decreased in the last ten years. The number of A and B licences has increased only very slightly. The increase has been in the number of private users, private motor cars and C licences.

Unless hon. Members opposite are prepared to go a great deal further than they went in 1947 and radically to restrict the use of private motor cars and C licences, their policy of integration is quite useless, because they would not integrate that part of the road traffic which is the greatest competitor with the railways. I am sure that they do not propose to make drastic restrictions on the use of private motor cars, and they will not go far in restricting C licences because the biggest users of C licences are the co-operative societies.

Mr. Manuel

The hon. Member has said this a hundred times.

Mr. Wilson

It happens to be true.

Mr. P. Noel-Baker

Does the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) believe it to be desirable public policy to allow 39 million tons of coal to be moved from the pits by road every year?

Mr. Wilson

Not a bit, but hon. Members should consider the policy which Dr. Beeching is advocating and should read the first chapter of the last report of the B.T.C., which makes clear what he is doing.

If there cannot be a policy of integration, willy nilly something else has to be found, and the obvious way of making the best use of the railways is to improve those services of which the public makes the greatest use. There are three kinds of services which are widely demanded and which could be greatly improved. The first is the long-distance passenger traffic, particularly at night when comfort and convenience can be much greater than can be provided on the road, and the regularity of whose services can be better than those which can be provided by air. There should be an increase in long-distance passenger traffic, particularly first-class traffic and traffic at night.

Secondly, the commuter services should be improved. Nothing can replace trains for dealing with commuters, unless we are prepared to pull down half our cities and build 12-lane highways on the Los Angeles model. As we will obviously not do that, we must largely rely on the trains for commuter services and we must somehow get over the great difficulties of rush hour traffic and provide better and more convenient services for commuters.

Thirdly, there must be an improvement in the moving of heavy goods in bulk, either mineral traffic or other heavy goods. In this respect, trains can provide a better service than the roads. Coal is one of the examples which is mentioned, but the difficulty with moving goods traffic is that up to now we have moved it in penny packets. The wagon is the unit of movement and there is endless shunting and making up of trains and so on. If we could concentrate traffic on a limited number of depots and move goods in full train loads, we could reduce the cost of carriage and provide a regularity of service which does not now exist.

Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)

When did we move coal in penny packets?

Mr. Wilson

We move it by the truck load.

Mr. P. Noel-Baker

Is the hon. Member suggesting that if we reduce the number of goods depots, we can increase the amount of goods traffic?

Mr. Wilson

Yes. Instead of having goods depots within a radius of 2½ miles of each other, or little local stations with their own goods yards, and we have hundreds if not thousands all over the country, each handling small quantities of traffic and not suitable to our modern needs, traffic could be concentrated at a smaller number of depots, thus producing greater certainty of delivery. These lines were built in competition with horse and cart traffic one hundred years ago, and the distance a horse could travel was about 10 miles there and 10 miles back. The goods depots, therefore, had to be close to each other, but there is no need for them to be so close now because cartage and delivery services can be used over much greater distances.

It being Ten o'clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Rees.]

Mr. Wilson

Certainty of delivery is the chief reason for the use of C licences. The Traders Road Transport Association's Report of 1959 gave the results of an inquiry about why its members used C licences. The principal reason was not cheapness, which came far down the list. The principal reasons were certainty of timing and certainty of delivery, the avoidance of breakages, the avoidance of pilferage and the collection of cash, the use of less materials for packing and sometimes even advertising on the side of the vehicle. None of those things would be affected by a policy of restricting C licences or putting higher charges on road traffic. The obvious answer is to improve rail services which are most used by the public, and that can be done.

Dr. Beeching's latest report indicated that he thought that there was £90 million worth of traffic which might be got back on the railways from the roads, and that would be a useful contribution.

Mr. Manuel

Is the hon. Member supporting the wiping out of railways in the seven Highland counties of Scotland because none of them pays?

Mr. Wilson

Not a bit. The hon. Member has not been reading the White Papers of the last two years. The Government have made it perfectly clear in two White Papers that they recognised that although the railways are not a social service, there may be a social need in some cases.

Originally, following the Report of the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries, it was suggested that there might be a subsidy for certain lines. That was rejected because it would involve precedents for other nationalised industries. The general policy was put into a subsequent White Paper that in so far as nationalised industries were called upon to carry out services which were unremunerative that would be taken into consideration in fixing their target for a year, so in fact there would be a degree subsidy. It rests with the Government whether or not a particular line is closed and, in the case of Scotland, it may well be that a line will not be closed and will be run uneconomically. On the other hand, if we look at the recent Act—and I know that the hon. Gentleman knows about that because he was in Committee with me at the time—in Section 4 we see that the Railways Board has power to run road services either for pasengers or goods, if other services are not available and the Minister may so direct.

Mr. Manuel

We have no roads.

Mr. Wilson

If we have no roads then, presumably, the Minister will have to continue the railways, but if he does not continue the railways, then the Government will have to provide the roads, and in some cases it may be much cheaper.

The loss of subsidising the road services is very much less than subsidising the railway services. The figure that we were given in a recent speech by Dr. Beeching at the Albert Hall indicated that where the loss on a branch line might be as much as £5,000 per year per route mile a bus service would make a profit of about £1,250 per route mile. So in fact a bus service for the same number of passengers and the same frequency can be run much cheaper than a railway service on the same site. I was pointing out only that the hon. Member had missed the point, in that it is much better to get the railway services to concentrate on those things that they can do and in so far as there is a public need the Government must meet that by either continuing the railway service, or some other service, if it is proved that there is a hardship.

I do not know about the hon. Member's constituency but in many cases, especially those around London, there is in fact no hardship and some of these protests about branch lines have been of rather sentimental value. In Cornwall and in some other parts perhaps that is not so because other local services are not sufficient, but in many areas in the centre of England there are branch lines which grew up in the early days of railways, which were not necessary then and are not necessary now because there are adequate alternative services.

10.5 p.m.

Mr. Ernest Popplewell (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West)

We have just heard a remarkable speech from the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson). How well he has learnt Dr. Beeching's speech of a few months ago. It is refreshing to hear the hon. Gentleman talking in that view. When, on previous occasions, we have talked about modernisation and what should he done to help the railways, we have met with a cool reception from hon. Gentlemen opposite. Now that Dr. Beeching and the Minister have completed their publicity stunts the hon. Member for Truro has learnt his lesson well and is repeating it like an Edison Bell gramophone record.

Mr. G. Wilson

The hon. Gentleman must be wrong, because I wrote a pamphlet about this in 1959, long before I had heard of Dr. Beeching.

Mr. Popplewell

I do not want to be detracted from my theme by what the hon. Gentleman says.

I want to make a few observations on the topic of this Adjournment debate. Before doing so, however, may I welcome the Parliamentary Secretary's return to health. We are glad to see him in the Chamber, and we hope that he has fully recovered. We may differ from him in our opinions, but we always like to see him in the Chamber.

The hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Jennings), after saying that this was his fourth Adjournment debate in connection with transport matters, took his stand on the fact that this debate was rather unusual compared with the previous ones, because he was objecting particularly to the method which was being adopted on the closing of the branch lines and the curtailment of services, and the effect of such policies.

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman realised that he was echoing a truth which led to the railway strike of only a few weeks ago. The methods being adopted by the British Transport Commission, which was carrying out Government policy, led to the railwaymen's consultative machinery not being used. This led to unsatisfactory public relations, which in turn led to that token strike. The hon. Gentleman was condemning not only what was happening with regard to this branch line, but the general lack of good public relations with the railway staff which has resulted in such a tremendous lowering of morale and uneasiness among railwaymen.

We know that the Government, through the British Transport Commission, have suggested that there is to be a further curtailment of about one-sixth of the 18,000 route miles of railway track.

Mr. G. Wilson

Who said that?

Mr. Charles A. Howell

Father Christmas.

Mr. Popplewell

The British Transport Commission has said that that is to happen, and that 150,000 fewer railwaymen will be employed. Does not the hon. Gentleman listen to these things? I think that as from the end of September recommendations from the Transport Consultative Committees have to go to the Minister who, in accordance with the 1962 Act, has to decide whether or not a service should remain open to meet social needs.

This will mean not only the closing of branch lines, but the curtailment of services, and the Government will not now be able to shield behind the activities of the British Transport Commission. This has now become a matter of direct Ministerial responsibility, and if the hon. Member for Burton is not satisfied with what his right hon. Friend is doing he ought to come over to this side of the House and vote against the Government. The hon. Gentleman has confined his activities mainly to educational matters, and I would welcome his support on transport problems.

Mr. Jennings

I am grateful to the hon. Member, but I am becoming tired of being invited to go into the Lobby with hon. Members opposite. I repeat what I said to the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin): if the hon. Member will look up my record during the seven-and-a-half years of my sojourn here he will find—and not only on matters of education—that I am probably the most independent-minded voter on this side of the House.

Mr. Popplewell

I suggest that the hon. Member carries his independence into transport matters. We would welcome him in our Lobby on a matter of this kind.

There is much that I should like to say, but I know that the Minister wants to speak. I end by saying that I am tired of hearing the hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Bourne-Arton) and others, both inside and outside the House, telling railwaymen to face the question of modernisation. They have been facing it. There are to be 150,000 fewer railwaymen.

Mr. Bourne-Arton

I said that they did.

Mr. Popplewell

The hon. Member for Darlington referred to the question of slowing down the modernisation programme. It was his own Government that did that. The 1954 modernisation plan was slowed dawn in 1956, and the 1956 reappraisal was slowed down in 1957. On four occasions the brake has been put on by the Government. The switch from electric traction to diesel traction on the main lines is a further indication of the Government's complete lack of thought.

I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to give us some encouragement on the question of route mileages, and will allow normal wastages to operate. He will find a ready response, both from the railwaymen and the whole nation—just as there has been a response from the mining fraternity—if his policy is based on the question of service, and not on the need for pounds shillings and pence profit in every section of the transport industry.

10.12 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. John Hay)

I have a feeling that my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Jennings), who originally raised the question of the curtailment of services on the Burton—Leicester branch line, has, during the last fifty minutes or so, felt rather like the driver of a runaway train. Our debate has ranged far and wide, over a vast field. The hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West (Mr. Popplewell), the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) and other hon. Members who have either spoken or interjected in the debate will remember the numerous debates that we have had both this year and last on many of these topics. In those circumstances, I hope the House will forgive me if, in the quarter of an hour that remains, I do not attempt to traverse all the ground that has been covered.

First, I want to deal specifically with the subject of my hon. Friend's Adjournment debate and refer to the facts that I have been told about the curtailment of services on this branch line. I emphasise that the facts are those which have been given to me by the British Transport Commission. Hon. Members will probably know that, strictly speaking, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport is not responsible for matters of this kind. He does not run the railways, although many people outside the House and in the newspapers sometimes speak as though he did. All that he is concerned with, under Statute, is the very strictly limited field of ministerial decisions consents and directions on major matters of policy. He is not concerned directly with curtailments of services and whether or not the 12.40 train should be restored.

As I understand them from the Commission, the facts are these: As from 5th November a number of trains have been withdrawn from the line between Burton and Leicester. Prior to 5th November there were 20 trains a day, 10 in each direction. Three things have happened. First, five of the trains have been completely withdrawn, one from Leicester to Burton and the other four from Burton to Leicester. The second thing is that on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays three more trains have been withdrawn, and the time of two others has been altered. My information differs a little from that given by my hon. Friend, but perhaps we may adjust that later.

The position appears to be that eight trains have been withdrawn, two have been retired and 10 out of the 20 are completely unaffected. These matters of train withdrawals and the timing of trains and so on are, as I think the House will recognise, clearly matters of management and not matters with which my right hon. Friend is directly concerned. I should like to tell the House why the British Transport Commission has taken this action.

The hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin) who is interested in this subject from the point of view of his constituents, has said that the services between Burton and Leicester were very popular. The Commission conducted a survey of passengers between 14th May and 19 May. Regarding the trains now withdrawn completely the minimum load per day was six passengers. The maximum load per day was 44 passengers. On Wednesdays and Saturdays the load was heavier, but it is on Wednesdays and Saturdays that trains are being retained by the Commission. It seems to me from the facts that the railways have cut out the trains which, clearly, are unused.

I come now to the first principal point I wish to make. It is that the lesson we can learn in this case, and from what has happened with other branch lines, is that the problem caused by the withdrawal of services and the closure of branch lines would not have arisen if people had used these services. There has been an element of unreality in the debate, in that hon. Members have been talking as though the railways were the only form of transport available. We know that there are bus services. The hon. Member for Loughborough thought that it was a hardship for people to have to use these bus services. But the fact is that these services are not very well patronised. There are also private transport facilities. Many of the miners who, according to the hon. Member for Loughborough, are clamouring at the gates of the railway stations for trains, in order that they can take their wives into the towns on shopping expeditions, probably use their own cars for that kind of journey.

Similar happenings all over the country have led to the vast deficit accumulated by the British Transport Commission over the years. This was the main and almost the sole reason for the major operation carried out during the last Session to ensure that henceforth the railways and other activities of the Commission should operate on a sounder basis. There has not been a word from hon. Members opposite about the £150 million deficit.

It has been made clear, from the information which we have already secured in the surveys conducted by Dr. Beeching, or the traffic studies as I prefer to call them—the surveys are still incomplete—that much of the system is unused and that a large proportion of the traffics have been carried by a very small proportion of the system. Nevertheless, the rest of the system goes on, and it is there that the money is being lost.

Coming briefly and quickly back to the Burton-Leicester service, I wish to say a word about the bus services. I am told that there are alternative bus services very freely available. There is a half-hourly service, and the timing compares, I am told, extremely favourably with the timing of the trains which have been withdrawn. There is one instance, I am told, where the timing does not so compare. That is in the early morning service, 6.22 a.m. Otherwise it is a half-hourly service, and between Burton and Coalville it is a quarter-hourly service.

My hon. Friend complained about the lack of notification to the public and local authorities. That, of course, is not for me to answer. It is a matter entirely for the Commission to deal with on its own responsibility, but I should say—almost in parenthesis, as it were—that this seems to have been a change in service and not a withdrawal. If there were a withdrawal of service quite a different set of rules would come into play. Then proper notice has to be given, but in this case there was no obligation on the Commission to publicise what is intended to do. In fact it posted notices at the stations for several weeks in advance and also advertised in the local Press. So I think people would get to know fairly quickly that these alterations in the time-table were to be made.

My hon. Friend the Member for Burton appealed to me to ask the Minister to take various forms of action in connection with this matter. I hope he will forgive me for pointing out that my right hon. Friend's locus standi in this case is literally nil. He literally has no power whatever to intervene.

Going to a slightly wider field, I should put right a statement inadvertently made by the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West dealing with the Transport Act, 1962, in connection with the closure of lines and withdrawal of services and the effect on transport users' consultative committees. The new Act gives the railways a large measure of commercial freedom. As the House will remember, it had the aim of ridding the railways of many of the restrictions which in the past have prevented the system from being run on modern business principles.

I think it logical that the management should be as free as possible to make such changes in services as it feels desirable in the light of changes in users' needs. Nevertheless, as with other nationalised industries, there are good grounds for having machinery whereby the customer can secure redress when dissatisfied with the service provided. So the new Act has preserved the transport users' consultative committee machinery which was established under the 1947 Act.

In Section 56 (4) the committees can consider representations from users about the quality of the services provided by the four statutory boards, of which the Railways Board will be one. We have recognised that when passenger closures are proposed hardship can be caused to users. Section 56 of the Act accordingly establishes statutory procedure for considering any proposed passenger closure. The railways are required by the Act to give formal notice of such a closure, and, where users lodge objections, the area consultative committee is required to report to the Minister on the hardship which is likely to be involved. I must emphasise to the House that no opposed closure—opposed in that sense—can take place without the specific consent of the Minister.

The consultative committees, however, are debarred by subsection (5) of that same Section from considering questions relating to the reduction of services such as in this case and similarly freight service closures. To empower the committees to consider representations about reductions in service would conflict with the general concept we tried to develop throughout the Act of giving the railways the maximum freedom without which they cannot compete in any effective way with the other forms of transport not subject to restrictions of that kind.

Mr. P. Noel-Baker

Is the Minister saying that the only principle is profitability, which we regard as quite absurd as a basis for a public transport system?

Mr. Hay

I wish that the right hon. Gentleman bad been listening more closely to what I said. I have not yet said a word about profitability. I am talking about the transport users consultative machinery and how it operates and will operate. Perhaps if the right hon. Gentleman will be a little patient for a moment or two longer he will understand what I am driving at.

As I said, unless we give them the maximum possible freedom from out-of-date restrictions, we cannot expect them to compete with other forms of transport which are under no such restrictions. Those who were concerned with carrying through the Act in the last Session will remember well the debates which we had, in which I believe there was unanimity of view that it was time that many of these restrictions placed upon the railways in the middle of the last century were removed because other forms of transport did not have them.

Our experience shows that prompt action to cut out services which are only lightly used is an important contribution to viability. In some cases it may also prevent the complete closure of the services. Often I have found that when the closure of a service is proposed the users rush forward to criticise the railways because they failed at some earlier stage to effect economies by taking off trains which were under-used. But I must emphasise that, under Section 56 (4) of the Act, users can make representations about the existing frequency of a service. If, in the light of experience of this reduced service in the Burton-Leicester area, users wish to make representations that the service is inadequate, the committee is empowered to consider their views. If the committee makes a recommendation to the Minister of Transport under that same Section of the Act the Minister has power to give the Railways Board a direction. There is, I think, a substantial safeguard, and I underline this, to my hon. Friend's constituents. This is under the new Act which is in force.

It ought also to be borne in mind that the complete withdrawal of a passenger service may be followed by the taking-up of the track, and this is normally an irrevocable step. If the service is only being reduced, as in this case, it can be increased again if at any time there is clearly a need for extra services. In other words, if it is apparent that a large number of people in the Burton-Leicester area want additional services and are prepared to use them frequently and to pay the fare, I have no doubt that the railways, which are trying to improve their finances, will be only too willing to put a service on again. But this is the test: are people prepared to use them? If people will use the railways, half of the cases which are brought before us will not be raised.

If it is thought that this reduction in services in this case is to be the thin end of the wedge of closure as my hon. Friend said, I must reiterate that if at some future time the railways were to propose to close the line or to withdraw all the passenger services, under the new Act that proposal would have to be submitted first to the transport users consultative committee. The committee would consider what hardship would be involved.

Mr. Jennings

There is nothing new in that.

Mr. Hay

There is something new, because the criterion of hardship for the first time is enshrined in the Act of Parliament. I have the Act here, and I will quote the provision if necessary. In these circumstances the Minister has power to give or to refuse his consent, and a closure could not take place without his consent.

I speak frankly to the House: this is a genuine attempt on the part of the executive to deal with the situation in a manner which is fair—fair on the one side to the railways and fair also to those who want to use their services.

I have no doubt that this is only one of a number of debates of this kind which we shall have as time progresses. Whether I shall continue to be at this Box to deal with them in this way I do not know. In any event, I hope that our future debates, if we have any, will be as helpful to us and as good-humoured as I think this rather lengthy debate has been.

10.29 p.m.

Mr. Philip Noel-Baker (Derby, South)

I remember the hon. Gentleman saying about two or three weeks after the last election that of course the railways system had to contract. We think that an absurdity in an age when we are speaking of doubling the standard of life and——

The Question having been proposed at Ten o'clock and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at half-past Ten o'clock.