HC Deb 15 May 1963 vol 677 cc1317-21
26. Sir J. Maitland

asked the Minister of Transport at what precise stage and in what manner direct consultations will take place between his Department, local authorities and other interested parties when it is proposed by the Railways Board to close a railway service; and who will take the initiative in arranging such consultations.

Mr. Marples

I have already opened consultations with the local authority associations and other interested organisations upon the Railways Board's proposals as a whole.

When the Board gives formal notice of a particular passenger closure under Section 56 of the Transport Act, 1962, local authorities and other bodies representing users are free, if they wish, to lodge objections on hardship grounds with the area transport users consultative Committee, which then reports to me.

Local authorities or other responsible bodies are also free, once the Board have given formal notice, to make representations about aspects of a closure proposal other than hardship. I should find it helpful if these views were channelled through the Department with which the authorities normally deal on the subject concerned. I will also myself consult them if I feel that they can help over some aspect of a proposal before me.

Sir J. Maitland

I thank my right hon. Friend for that Answer, but does he not realise that if local authorities have to wait until the railways claim to close a line and then have to go through the usual channels of the transport users' consultative committee, there will be considerable waste of time and expense and also anxiety for a local authority over a very long period? In certain instances where local authorities think that they have an unassailable case, would not my right hon. Friend consider it at an earlier stage so that it might, as it were, be put out of the way, and thus save a great deal of anxiety?

Mr. Marples

I am bound by the Transport Act, 1962, which says that a formal proposal should come from the railways, and it should be advertised twice, and then, six weeks later, the transport users' consultative committee can listen to objections and then make a report to me. But I would tell my hon. and gallant Friend that there will be ample time for the local authorities to prepare their case and to make it before a closure is contemplated and approved.

Mr. Snow

Is the Minister saying that matters relating to freight cannot go through the transport users' consultative committee, but that individual interests or industries must make their own representations? Would it not be better to have some form of co-ordination where an area is concerned?

Mr. Marples

The Act lays down that the transport users' consultative committee shall consider passenger service closures only and not matters relating to freight.

Mr. Mellish

Can the Minister give any indication when the first of the Beeching Plan proposals for closures will start to operate?

Mr. Marples

I am afraid that I cannot. It depends on the Railways Board and not on me.

Mr. Shepherd

Can my right hon. Friend give an assurance that local authorities will be provided with information about the finance of a line which is proposed to be closed, because it will be very difficult for them to form a real judgment about it without this?

Mr. Marples

That is the subject of another Question on the Order Paper.

Mr. Strauss

As the Railways Board and the Beeching Report have already indicated the closures which are in mind, and which will, presumably, be followed up, would it not be wise for all the local authorities concerned immediately to take steps to prepare their case, if they feel they have a case, against a closure?

Mr. Marples

I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman. I hope that the local authorities will prepare their cases carefully and at leisure and present them at the appropriate moment.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

We cannot go all round the country on this Question. Mr. Vane, Question No. 27.

30 and 36. Mr. Boyden

asked the Minister of Transport (1) what plans Her Majesty's Government have for improving communications in South-West Durham if the Darlington-Crook, Darlington-Barnard Castle and Middleton-in-Teesdale railway passenger services are closed; and

(2) what estimate he has made of the cost of improving roads in South-West Durham to cater for the increased traffic that would be caused by the proposed railway closures.

37. Mr. Wingfield Digby

asked the Minister of Transport what plans he has made for improving road communications with Lyme Regis and Bridport, in view of the proposed closure of their respective railway branch lines and in view of the need to reduce to a minimum the extent to which the trade of these two seaside towns may suffer.

57. Sir K. Thompson

asked the Minister of Transport what consultations he has had with those concerned about the road traffic problems likely to arise when the Railways Board's proposals to close the Liverpool-Southport railway are put into effect.

63. Mr. R. W. Elliott

asked the Minister of Transport what progress has been made on machinery to strengthen and modify roads where necessary following the acceptance of the Beeching Report.

Mr. Marples

My divisional road engineers have already made a first examination of the Beeching Report from the point of view of roads and road traffic. I shall, where necessary, obtain their views and those of the local highway authorities about the effects, if any, on the roads of the Railways Board's individual proposals to withdraw passenger services. But each of those proposals will be considered in the first place by the Transport Users Consultative Committee who will report to me on hardship and alternative services. My decision will take into account all relevant factors, including the cost of any road improvements that might be needed.

Mr. Boyden

That means that the right hon. Gentleman has no plans and no ideas at all, and that his actions are as irrelevant as his actions at Burtree last week. How does he reconcile the actions of the President of the Board of Trade in trying to bring industry to this area with his own efforts in trying to stop it?

Mr. Marples

The divisional road engineers have made a survey of the general proposals of the plan. They now propose to make a detailed survey when each individual proposal is put forward.

Mr. Wingfield Digby

At what stage will my right hon. Friend publish these proposals so that local people will have some idea as to what alternative, if any, is provided? That is what is important to them.

Mr. Marples

The proposals would be published in the first instance by the Railways Board itself. They will be advertised twice, and six weeks later the transport users' consultative committees will begin investigation.

Mr. Pentland

Would it not be stupid to close down any services in the North-East before Lord Hailsham has produced his long-term plan for the area? What recent consultations has the Minister had with Lord Hailsham in order to compare the noble Lord's recommendations with those of Dr. Beeching's plan?

Mr. Marples

If it proves necessary, on examination of an individual proposal, that a line should not be closed—and my noble Friend makes his point of view known—it will not be closed. But the main point is that I am in continuous consultation with Lord Hailsham.