HC Deb 09 April 1963 vol 675 cc1088-90
Q4. Mr. Woodnutt

asked the Prime Minister if the public statements made by the Minister of Transport, in an authorised interview published in the Sunday Times on 31st March, on the reorganisation of the railways, represent the policy of Her Majesty's Government.

The Prune Minister

I understand that in the interview my right hon. Friend underlined, as he did in his statement in the House on 27th March, the opportunities presented by the Railways Board's recent Report for providing an efficient, economic and well-balanced transport system for Great Britain as a whole. This is a policy which has the Government's full support.

Mr. Woodnutt

In thanking my right hon. Friend for that reply, may I ask him whether my interpretation of two points is correct? When proposals for a closure are made and a case of hardship, either on the local economy or on social grounds, is recognised by the Minister, will Her Majesty's Government recognise the principle of subsidisation? Where a case of hardship is not proven, will local authorities and local private enterprise be given the opportunity of taking over and running the service?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend knows that there is first the consultative committee and then the Ministerial decision before a closure can be authorised. That is perfectly clear. I do not know the precise legal situation in respect of his second question, but I have no doubt that any workable plan would be encouraged.

Mr. Shinwell

May we have an assurance from the right hon. Gentleman that before the Beeching Plan is put into operation, and in view of the possible danger of industrial strife, the Government will produce an integrated transport plan including not only the railways, on the basis of the Beeching Plan or some modification of it, but a reorganisation of the road system and even bringing in coastal shipping services?

The Prime Minister

It will take some time before the full plan for the railways can be implemented, but as it develops it will facilitate the operation of the bus system, which is closely linked with the Transport Board anyway, helping to make it as efficient as possible to take up the passengers available, and the general road system. I will call my right hon. Friend's attention to what the right hon. Gentleman has said about coastwise shipping.

Mr. H. Wilson

Taking up what the Prime Minister has just said; as the Beeching Report is only a partial survey, dealing with the railways only on a balance-sheet basis, in view of what he has just said, will the right hon. Gentleman give an undertaking that there will be no railway closure until there has been a separate assessment of the cost of the additional bus services and other road services in the area and an assessment of the cost of improving roads adequately to avoid additional congestion? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that whether the railways are subsidised or in other ways financially helped, or whether the money is spent on roads, bus services and additional lorries, it comes out of the same national pool, public or private? Will he give an assurance that the matter will be looked at nationally and not purely in a railway context?

The Prime Minister

I will not give the assurance that no closure will take place until a full survey of the whole country has been made. But under the system it is the duty of the Minister of Transport, after receiving the report of the consultative committee, to take into account what measures can be taken to suit the whole system to the needs of the passengers of the district.

Mr. Wilson

The Prime Minister did not answer the question which I put to him. Under the transport users' consultative machinery, the Minister is required to consider only hardship. I am asking the right hon. Gentleman to consider the questions of cost and economics. If it were proposed to close down a railway which was losing £8,000 a year and then spend £250,000 on additional road facilities, would not that be uneconomic? Will he, therefore, give an undertaking that before the Minister agrees to a closure he will examine the financial and economic implications in each case?

The Prime Minister

I will give an undertaking that he will consider all relevant considerations.