HC Deb 11 December 1963 vol 686 cc396-7
32. Mr. Hector Hughes

asked the Minister of Transport if he will state the procedure adopted when objections are lodged to railway closures under the Beeching plan; in particular, who hears and determines the objection; whether the objectors are allowed to be present in person and/or to be represented by solicitors or counsel; and whether they may adduce written and oral evidence, cross-examine, and address the tribunal.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Vice-Admiral John Hughes Hallett)

Section 56 of the Transport Act, 1962, provides that, when a passenger closure is proposed, users may lodge objections with the appropriate area transport users consultative committee. The committee is required to consider the objections and report to my right hon. Friend on the hardship it considers will be caused by the proposed closure. In the light of its report and of any other relevant factors my right hon. Friend decides whether the closure should take place. Objectors can submit written evidence and can attend and speak at any meeting held by the committee to hear representations. They can, if they wish, be professionally represented at such meetings, which must be held in public. In general, the committee determines its own procedure but I understand that it allows objectors and their representatives reasonable latitude in the manner in which they present their case. This includes making statements and asking questions relevant to the matters within the scope of the committee's functions.

Mr. Hughes

Does not the hon. and gallant Gentleman realise that this is not a matter to be treated with levity and that these closures deprive hundreds of Scottish citizens of long-standing and cherished business and social contacts and ought not to be made without there being the proper opportunity to have them considered judicially—presenting the evidence and having the opportunity to cross-examine witnesses—and generally treating the matter as a serious social problem? Will he take steps to see that justice is done by readjusting the present procedure?

Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett

I can assure the hon. and learned Member that there is no disposition whatever to treat this matter with levity, I also point out that, until the Transport Act, 1962, users had no means of objecting to any rail closure, whereas the Government then gave them for the first time a statutory right to lodge objections to passenger rail closures. We are quite satisfied that these committees are properly conducted.

Mr. P. Noel-Baker

Will the hon. and gallant Gentleman give instructions for these consultative committees to be given professional assistance and for a full transcript of their proceedings to be made available? Is it not quite wrong that I should not be able to have a verbatim record of what passes in the objections made by many hundreds of my constituents about the closure of railway services to which they attach great importance?

Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett

That is a slightly different matter from the Question, but I will convey the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion to my right hon. Friend.

Sir C. Osborne

Why cannot these committees be given the most important bit of information which they require? The most relevant question is how much money a line is losing. This the committees are not allowed to know. Why cannot we know how much is being lost and how much would have to be made up for a line to be kept open?

Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett

I do not agree with my hon. Friend. Under the Act the committees are concerned with reporting to the Minister on hardship and on proposals to alleviate it. Hardship is normally shown by the evidence of the objectors. Other questions are considered by my right hon. Friend at the same time as he considers a committee's report on hardship.

Mr. Hughes

In view of the very great importance of this matter, I give notice that I shall raise it on the Adjournment at the earliest possible opportunity.

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