HC Deb 29 July 1964 vol 699 cc1555-92

10.11 p.m.

Mr. Charles Loughlin (Gloucestershire, West)

I should like now to raise the question of railway closures, both generally and with specific reference to my constituency. I have informed the Minister of the broad outlines of what I intend to say and I wish first to refer to the general issue. We have for some time been faced with a number of closures throughout the country, and a great deal of discussion has been going on in many quarters about how the closures impede not merely existing developments in the areas but possible future developments.

In the main, the closures affect rural areas and seaside resorts. The seaside resorts have complained bitterly, because a number of people face financial ruin in consequence of the closures of railways. Around the whole coast of Britain, the question of railway closures is causing great concern to those who are engaged in the catering trade, and in the rural areas the position is equally difficult.

The Minister will, I hope, have had the opportunity of examining the type of evidence which has been presented to the many hearings of the consultative committees. Heaven knows, he must be snowed under with representations made by all types of organisations, as well as the evidence which is submitted to the committee themselves, if the cases from my constituency are any yardstick. As each case is heard by a consultative committee, the Minister is inundated with representations ranging from those which are abusive of the whole system of closures to some which are justifiably pathetic pleading from people who face what is to them a desperate situation.

I am not a railway expert. I can only see what effect the closure of stations has in the rural areas. I can only see the possibility of many of our rural areas being entirely denuded of the people who live there.

I can only see an intense problem arising in the farming community in many areas. I am convinced that we cannot possibly hope to maintain continuity of labour in the farming communities if we take away from the rural areas the normal travel amenities. The farming community makes a tremendous contribution to our economy. I do not know what the problem would be in terms of our balance of trade if it did not make the contribution that it does. Consequently, I wonder what the problem is likely to be in future if the Government bring about railway closures which adversely affect the supply of labour to the farming community.

I raise this question tonight because I believe that, having had to examine the evidence which has been presented to him, the Minister, if he has any political knowledge at all, must at this stage be seriously concerned whether the policy which he is pursuing is correct. I believe that after October he will not be in that office, and that the Labour Party, when it forms the Government, will be able to re-examine the whole policy. I notice the Parliamentary Secretary shaking his head. I expressed a hope; I did not make a categorical statement. However, I think that we shall then find ourselves on the other side of the House.

I am not an expert in these matters. I am not an expert on the issue of the consequences of railway closures. Having no expert knowledge, I have to go, like most other hon. Members, to those who are accepted as the experts. I informed the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) that I should be referring in substantiation of my case to a pamphlet which he wrote. I think he rather abused the trust embodied in giving such notice by informing the Whips so that the Whips would inform the Minister.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. T. G. D. Galbraith)

The hon. Member is nearly right but not quite. My hon. Friend informed me himself, but too late for me to carry out any research.

Mr. Loughlin

The abuse of trust did not bother me, but unless we are confident that when we observe the courtesies of the House they will not be abused, the courtesies cannot be continued. I shall be very careful in similar circumstances before informing the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)

I merely told my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary that I hoped he would give me an opportunity to speak because I understood that the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Loughlin) was to quote me.

Mr. Loughlin

As far as I know the procedures of the House, the Minister has no control over the choice of speaker. That choice is vested in the Chair. The hon. Member has been in the House long enough, and if he does not know that on the Consolidated Fund Bill there is very little danger of one not being called if one stands up, all I can say is that he has been wasting many years here.

The hon. Gentleman's pamphlet is not an official Conservative Party publication. It is the twin of a publication from this side of the House. As far as I can ascertain it was written just prior to the last General Election.

Sir Arthur Vere Harvey (Macclesfield)

With good results.

Mr. Loughlin

This was ostensibly the Conservative view of transport, the policy on which the Government were asking for a mandate to govern the country, at least in respect of transport. The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey) said there were good results. That may be so according to him. I want to deal with the issues raised in the pamphlet as far as they relate to the railways. We are dealing with railway closures. I could certainly debate with the hon. Member for Macclesfield the advantages of nationalisation and whether it is better to have an integrated transport system.

The policy outlined in the pamphlet with regard to railway closures was presented to the people as the policy that would be pursued by the Government. I exonerate the hon. Member for Truro from blame. Having read the pamphlet and having seen his castigation of the Socialist concept of transport, I accept that he wrote the pamphlet in good faith and that he thought he was reflecting the policy that would be pursued by the Government.

The hon. Member wrote the pamphlet as chairman of the Transport Committee of the Conservative Parliamentary Party. He was the official spokesman of the Parliamentary Party as distinct from the Government and consequently was writing to convince the people that the Conservative Party would do what it said it would do. What did he say about railways? He said that there were different schools of thought on the question of what should be done about the railways. He referred to those who said that we should adopt a liberal policy and commented: Transport, they say, should be freed from all restrictions and obligations and the different transport undertakings should freely compete without restraint. The general assumption being that, provided all forms of transport are genuinely placed under equal competitive conditions, the traffic will gradually sort itself out between the different forms of transport on the basis of cost and service. Under this system, traffic which cannot justify itself commercially would cease to pass and any transport which could not pay its way would cease to exist. That is the policy which has been adopted. It is the concept of Dr. Beeching—the concept that one has to make British Railways pay and that if one cannot make them pay one must close them down. The pamphlet went on: Those who advocate such a policy forget their history. This country revolted against the logical harsh realities of laissez-faire long ago, and for many years British Governments of all political complexions have interfered with the laws of supply and demand in many directions. Because, for national reasons, we do not want to depend more than we can help on imported food, we give substantial subsidies to agriculture, thereby encouraging many people to stay in remote rural areas who would otherwise have drifted into the towns. The effect of such a policy is to drive people from the countryside and to denude the farming community of labour.

The hon. Member for Truro devotes much of his study of the problem to what happens. He talks about the young lady in the countryside who cannot get a job locally and who goes somewhere else to get a job and whose family invariably follows her to the nearest industrial town. He talks about the difficulties of the village shopkeeper who cannot buy bulk supplies and who often has to travel himself to purchase supplies in small quantities. The hon. Gentleman concludes: It would seem futile to spend large sums of public money on agricultural subsidies, rural water and electricity schemes if lack of transport causes depopulation. There are many other quotations which I could give, but I will content myself with quoting the hon. Gentleman's conclusions. No one can complain if I quote his conclusions, for in effect the hon. Gentleman is saying in those conclusions, "If you do not read the rest of the pamphlet, here are my conclusions upon which, I think, the Tory Party will base its policy."

Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)

Does the hon. Gentleman take the view that the population must always at all times in the future, however long one looks ahead, remain in the same places as now? Does he not realise that there is bound to be some movement of population in future years?

Mr. Loughlin

The hon. Gentleman has been here long enough to know that in debate after debate hon. Members on this side of the House have complained about migration from one area to another. Of course there has to be population redistribution. Is the hon. Gentleman arguing that rural railways ought to be closed so that people have to migrate? The point at issue is not whether people should remain where they are, but whether there should be a choice. There should be some choice about employment. I do not believe that the man who lives in Jarrow wants to go to the Midlands for a job, but he has no choice and he is driven to it.

We have now reached the position where we drive people out of certain areas not only because of the lack of jobs but because we do not provide rail transport. Is that the policy of the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke)? If it is, it should be well known in the City of Bristol.

Mr. Robert Cooke

I did not express a policy. I asked the hon. Gentleman a question. Does he take the view that the population as at present distributed must be forced to stay in the places where it now is? Does he not realise that in the next 50 or 100 years there must be some movement?

Mr. Loughlin

If the hon. Gentleman puts a question to me, surely he expects me to see the logical implications of it? What does he want me to say—"Yes" or "No"?

Mr. Robert Cooke


Mr. Loughlin

It is a question on a par with, "Have you stopped beating your wife?" He should save that sort of thing for his electioneering campaign, not put it in this House.

Colonel Sir Leonard Ropner (Barkston Ash)

Would the hon. Member please say either "Yes" or "No" in reply to the question?

Mr. Loughlin

Well, really. I do not know whether the hon. and gallant Gentleman is serious or not. Is he really serious? The most charitable explanation is that which has just been advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Snow), who says the hon. and gallant Gentleman has had a very good dinner.

Mr. Julian Snow (Lichfield and Tamworth)

Probably had a good dinner.

Mr. Loughlin

I want to come back to the conclusions in this pamphlet: We should build as many roads as we can afford, while encouraging the railways to relieve the traffic on them as much as possible by efficient competition and, in so far as uneconomical public services are deemed to be necessary in the national interest, both by railway or road, we must be prepared to pay for them as taxpayers … I pause there. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that I am being unfair I will continue the quotation.

Mr. G. Wilson

Please continue it.

Mr. Loughlin

… either by direct grants for particular railway or road services or, maybe, by tax remission to the providers of road services. This is precisely the point we are arguing tonight. We are arguing that the Government ought to put into effect the policy which the hon. Gentleman in his capacity as chairman of the Conservative Parliamentary Party's Transport Committee advocated to the electors of this country as the policy on which the Government should be elected. I conclude this part of my comments by saying that the Government are being quite consistent with their whole record when they argue one thing at a general election and practice a policy which is diametrically opposed to the programme on which they were elected.

Sir A. V. Harvey

For the benefit of those who have not read this very interesting book—and we do not all have it with us—would the hon. Gentleman go through the whole book? Let us have the whole book.

Mr. Loughlin

I am quite prepared to do that.

Sir A. V. Harvey

Hear, hear.

Mr. Loughlin

I am prepared to read it, and to read it slowly, and examine it chapter by chapter as we go along, because I am here all night—

Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Govan)

Not all night?

Mr. Loughlin

I know hon. Gentlemen want to come to the next subject for debate and it would be unfair to take so much time. I remind hon. Gentlemen that I said I was not going into the question of nationalisation, except what the hon. Gentleman said about the rail transport services, and I think it fair, when the pamphlet deals with one aspect of it, to quote it, provided the author of the pamphlet agrees with me that I have been reasonably fair in my quotation.

This policy of railway closures has, of course, affected my own constituency. My constituency has now become completely denuded of railways.

I would accept the position more easily if there were equity about the closures. While my constituency is completely denuded of railways, there is the closure of the Hereford line and certain stations on the Gloucester—South Wales line, vitally affecting some of my constituents. Within a short distance we have the farcical situation that the Badminton station, which has two or three members of staff and about two trains stopping there in a day, is to remain open. There is no economic reason for that. If it were done solely for the villagers of Badminton, I should be very glad and would applaud the Minister, but it is retained for the will and pleasure of the Duke of Beaufort and junketings which go on at Badminton Horse Show. This is stupid feudalism—

Mr. Robert Cooke

Will the hon. Member allow me—?

Mr. Loughlin

No, I am not giving way again to the hon. Member for Bristol, West. He came into the House for a few minutes and intervened three times. Then he went out and came back again. He had hardly resumed his seat before he wanted to intervene again. He will have an opportunity to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, after I have finished my speech. If he does so, I shall stay and listen to him and try to intervene as many times as he has attempted to intervene in my speech.

Mr. E. Fernyhough (Jarrow)

The hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) is anxious that my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Loughlin) should "belt up"—that was his expression—about the duke.

Mr. Loughlin

That is a very elegant expression.

There was a proposal to close the station, but the duke decided to petition just as my constituents decided to petition the consultative committee, and I as a Member of Parliament petitioned the Minister and advanced the grounds on which my station should remain open. My petition went unheeded. So did the petition of the humble farm labourers of my constituency, but the petition of the Duke of Beaufort was not unheeded. His station, so far as I know, is to remain open for ever and a day.

The stations of Grange Court, Blaisdon, Northwood Green and Oakle Street cater for a small number of people. I do not suggest that enormous numbers of residents are eager to jump on trains there. The trains have provided the only means of transport in the area, and there is no possibility of providing an adequate alternative by means of buses.

My constituents decided to oppose the proposed closures. They are not all members of the Labour Party, and it is doubtful whether many of the villagers voted for me at the last election. They will certainly vote for me in the next. It is the Minister's fault, and I say with confidence that he has handed me all the votes I need for the next election. Whatever their political point of view, I can find no one in the area who supports these closures. And since the Minister has received protests signed by almost everyone in the area, there can be no suggestion of this being a political agitation. When I heard that they proposed to object to the proposed closures, I agreed to meet my constituents, and when we discussed the matter I did not express too many political opinions.

The Minister says that alternative bus services can be provided, but has he considered the roads in my constituency? A bus is 8 ft. 2½ ins. wide. Many of the roads in the area are 9 ft. wide at most in parts. The maximum width of road there is 15 ft. I often drive down these roads; I call them lanes. Usually when I meet another car one of us must reverse into a wider section of the road. Imagine two buses meeting. Apart from this difficulty, the area is subject to flooding, making the maintenance of regular bus services extremely difficult.

Not only the Minister but the Prime Minister has said that if railway stations are closed, certainly in Scotland, alternative transport will be provided. I recall the right hon. Gentleman saying one Question Time that railway stations would be closed in Scotland only if alternative transport facilities were made available.

Mr. T. G. D. Galbraith

Where necessary.

Mr. Loughlin

Of all the stupid remarks! Is the hon. Gentleman prepared to get to his feet, instead of saying something while crouching, and say what he means by "Where necessary"? It does not mean anything. He cannot explain it. The Prime Minister said that he could give an assurance to this House that he would not close railway stations in Scotland and in England and Wales unless there was provided an alternative transport service—

Mr. Galbraith

I must put the hon. Gentleman right on this point. I was trying to correct him in regard to the quotation. The wording has always been "where necessary." If there were only one person it would clearly not be regarded as necessary. That was the point I was trying to bring to the hon. Gentleman's attention.

Mr. Loughlin

It would be necessary if it were the Duke of Beaufort, but it would not be necessary if it were one of my farm workers. The hon. Gentleman may be perfectly correct in completing the quotation of what the Prime Minister said, but that does not make it any the more intelligible. We have had so many of his quotations that did not make sense, anyway.

I should like the House to know the alternative bus service agreed upon by the consultative committee. Let me turn to the Annex, Part III, where it talks of additional bus services, and Item 5 contains what the committee considers is the transport service alternative to the existing rail service: Services in each direction between Blaisdon and Gloucester to call at Grange Court and Oakle Street as follows:— Ex Blaisdon-Gloucester, Monday-Saturday approximate starting times 7.55 a.m. and 5 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays only approximate starting times 10 a.m. So there is an additional bus on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Then we come to the return journey: Monday to Saturday, approximate starting times"— this is from Gloucester to Blaisdon: 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays only approximate starting time 10 p.m. Hon. Members will observe the wonderful ingenuity of the people who have recommended this bus service. A number of people in this area travel to London—business people. I had one of them on the telephone on Sunday night at ten minutes past ten urging me to do all I possibly could to try to get the Minister to change his mind because of the effect of the closures on the business people in the area. They are not all farm labourers.

The fast train to London leaves Gloucester at about 8.15. The bus from Blaisdon leaves at 7.55. According to the bus company, the journey will take an hour, so that the bus from Blaisdon will arrive at Gloucester at 8.55—far too late for the fast London train. But the better one is the 5 p.m. from Blaisdon. This, apparently, is one of these buses designed to allow people in the countryside to travel to Gloucester to have a bit of entertainment—5 p.m. at night. It is a bit early, I know. But if they travel on the 5 p.m. bus from Blaisdon to Gloucester they get into Gloucester to see the last bus from Gloucester to Blaisdon go out at 6 p.m.

This is the alternative transport which the Prime Minister said we would be entitled to have before he closed the railway stations. This does not involve just one passenger and I do not want the Parliamentary Secretary therefore to jump up again and ask if there is one or one and a half passengers. On Wednesdays and Saturdays the Minister is very generous. He will let the people in Blaisdon and Grange Court go to Gloucester at 10 o'clock in the morning and return at 10 o'clock at night. They can go to the pictures on Wednesday and Saturday, but he is not going to stand for their going on Monday or Tuesday. I suppose that this is a matter of the man in Whitehall knowing best.

What is the purpose of having a late bus from Blaisdon to Gloucester at 5 p.m. if the last bus from Gloucester to Blaisdon is at 6 p.m.? On the ground alone that the Government have not provided a reasonable alternative transport service, the closure of these stations is out of accord with a direct promise made by the Prime Minister to the House. This is not a question of one passenger but of a number of people who live in rural areas.

Will the Parliamentary Secretary explain to me how my constituents are to go backwards and forwards to Gloucester when this is the alternative bus service? Immediately the House rises for the Recess I want to go to my constituents to explain this to them. I cannot do so unless the Minister first explains it to me, because it does not make sense to me. This is an important question for me. Many women, many sick people, including hospital out-patients, live in this area. How are they to manage. There are many old people and it is a bit frightening for them to have to walk down country lanes when the bus returns at 6 o'clock. This is a human problem. It may not be a mammoth one. It may not seem significant to the intellectuals but it is to me because I know these people. They are not digits to me. They are human beings. How does the Parliamentary Secretary expect these people to deal with their every-day affairs? How is the young woman with one or two youngsters and a baby in a pram get her family on the bus? Is the Minister saying that because the young woman happens to live in the country, she can stay there as far as the Government are concerned, because they are not prepared to provided the services to which she is entitled?

Let me now deal with the problem from the point of view of the farming community. The N.F.U. has made representations to the Minister on this issue and states that there is a grave danger that within a short time the farmers in this area will have no labour left. Another problem that the Minister ought to consider is what is to happen to the casual fruit pickers. How are they to get around the area? Does the Minister suggest that the Government are indifferent to the needs of the farming community? Have the Government decided that they can do without the farmers in this locality? I must remind the Parliamentary Secretary that thousands of farming areas will be involved in this issue if the present policy is pursued.

I apologise for speaking for so long, but I tell the Minister that his job is to administer the transport system. He seems to think that he can do it in a way which is different from the normal method. A short time ago he was acting as a well-publicised glorified mechanic. There are many vehicles owned by private enterprise, over 50 per cent. of which have been certified as unfit to be on the roads. If one had been owned by British Road Services, a scream would have gone up pretty loudly. The Minister's job is to look after the Ministry of Transport and not to float around here and there opening every tinpot road and lying on the ground as if he were examining motor vehicles. He cannot do it. He is not a skilled mechanic; and besides, however inadequate his salary may be, we do not pay him to do jobs which carry a much lower wage.

I tell the Parliamentary Secretary, who has to face this barrage from my hon. Friends and myself tonight, that he has my sympathy. The person who ought to be on the Government Front Bench should not be the Parliamentary Secretary answering for the mistakes of his master; it ought to be his master. If the Parliamentary Secretary cannot answer honestly and truthfully the questions which have been raised about the lack of alternative transport, which is out of accord with the promise made by the Prime Minister, he has the responsibility to go to the Minister of Transport and ask him to face this issue squarely and, before he closes the stations in my constituency, at least to agree to provide an adequate alternative transport service.

10.58 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)

I am not going to enter into an argument with the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Loughlin) about the adequacy or otherwise of the transport service in the Gloucester area. It is an area that I knew well during my 20 years service with the Great Western Railway, although I admit that I have not been there in the last 20 years.

I would only observe, with regard to his constituency case, that he does not seem to have understood the system by which the present railway closures are taking place. There is no need for him to quote the Prime Minister. The factors which the Minister was going to take into consideration were explained in detail by the Minister himself in the House the previous March on the Beeching Report, when he gave in detail all the considerations that he would bear in mind when the railway closures took place. He particularly mentioned the adequacy of roads and the adequacy of bus services.

As I understand it, the system is that after the railway has made its statutory notice asking for a closure, if objectors raise a point, the case goes before the transport users' consultative committee, which has to advise on the question whether there is hardship, and only on that question. If the committee says that there is hardship, the matter comes back to the Minister, who has to decide what to do, whether there are adequate roads, whether there is an adequate bus service, and so on. What is more, if the bus service, the schedules of which are settled not by the Minister but by the bus company, with the authority of the traffic commissioners, is not adequate, one can go a second time to the T.U.C.C. This has actually happened in my constituency in connection with a railway closure on the Chacewater—Newquay branch. The line was closed, with the condition that there should be a better bus service. When the local people complained that the better bus service had not been provided, there was a second hearing by the T.U.C.C.

Mr. Roderic Bowen (Cardigan)

But dealing only with hardship.

Mr. Wilson

Yes; any other considerations are dealt with by the Minister.

Mr. Loughlin

I appreciate that the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) has a very low opinion of my intelligence. I gather that from what he has retailed to the House. I am very well aware of the procedure and of the function of the transport users' consultative committee. The fact is that the Minister has given a very comprehensive decision in this case. He stipulates that the bus services shall be as they are set out in the Annex, Part III. The point is that they are totally inadequate, even though the Minister stipulates them. Apparently, on the basis of the evidence which we have submitted, the Minister considers that it it an adequate bus service. What may happen in the future is an entirely different matter.

Mr. Wilson

With respect, I have not seen the papers—

Mr. Loughlin

What papers?

Mr. Wilson

The decision of the Minister. I am judging only from what the hon. Gentleman has said in his speech. However, I do not want to enter into an argument about that. I was pointing out to the hon. Gentleman, and I think it might help him, that if the bus service which has been suggested is not adequate he can still go again to the T.U.C.C.

Mr. A. R. Wise (Rugby)

This procedure takes a long time, and a great deal of hardship can still be caused. This has happened in my part of the country, since the closing of the line from Banbury. We have not got an adequate bus service, and people are having to take taxis from and to Banbury while the appeal to the T.U.C.C. is hanging fire.

Mr. Wilson

I had better not get involved in that case as well.

I wanted to say a word about the pamphlet which I wrote in 1959, from which the hon. Gentleman quoted. It was not a Conservative Party pamphlet at all. It was prepared for the Road and Rail Association as a companion pamphlet to one which was written by Mr. Ernest Davies, a former Member of the House, as the hon. Gentleman said.

The hon. Gentleman said that it represented the election policy of the Conservative Party. In fact, it was headed, "A Conservative's view", and it was merely my personal view of the policy which should, in my opinion, be pursued. Re-reading it, I am astonished how near to the facts and how near to subsequent policy I got. The pamphlet was published before the Report of the Select Committee on the Nationalised Industries, under the chairmanship of the then Member for Blackpool, North, now Lord Aldington, it was published before the Government White Paper on transport policy, and, of course, long before the Beeching Report.

Many of the things that I said have turned out to be accurate, and I think that they are worth quoting. The hon. Gentleman quoted one passage in this pamphlet about laissez-faire. I was referring to the Liberal Party. The Conservative Party's policy is not one of laissez-faire, and I said so in terms in this pamphlet. I pointed out that we could not leave things entirely to find their own level. I said that if we interfered with the laws of supply and demand, transport, like water, would not find its own level. It would form a bog. It would get into a mess.

Mr. Loughlin

Did the hon. Gentleman say, "if we interfered"?

Mr. Wilson

I said: All these actions have diverted the natural flow of traffic and are not those of a true liberal society (in which we are not living). We cannot be liberals in transport only. If the free flow of transport is obstructed without being channelled, like water, it will not find its own level, but form a bog! I said that as we were interfering with many things we could not adopt a laissez-faire policy.

At a later stage in the same pamphlet, I anticipated the sort of policy which has since been pursued. I said: The railways must be run as strictly commercial undertakings on a profit-making basis … and, secondly, that each particular unprofitable service, which the Government requires to be continued, shall be paid for in whole or in part by a grant out of public funds …

Mr. Loughlin

That is what I was saying.

Mr. Wilson

The hon. Gentleman seems to have forgotten that it was advocated by the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries. The Select Committee said that there should be a subsidy for an individual line if it was necessary to continue such a line in the national interest. The Government's White Paper which followed that expressed doubts about that policy, but said that it was being considered. A subsequent White Paper on the financing of the nationalised industries pointed out that that policy was not accepted and said that instead there would be a policy whereby, if a nationalised industry was required by the Government to undertake any action which caused it to lose money, that would be taken into consideration in fixing the target at which to work. That is the present position with regard to the railways. If a railway closure is refused by the Minister of Transport, and in consequence the railways are forced to face a loss, that matter is taken into consideration in arriving at the railways' total target.

Mr. Bowen

Does the hon. Gentleman agree, therefore, that if the Minister of Transport agrees to keep open a passenger service against the wishes of the Railways Board, this will not involve any financial liability on the Board?

Mr. Wilson

That is certainly the intention, and it is a logical policy. I am not a member of the Government, and never have been, so I cannot give the details of why that decision was made, instead of the policy advocated by the Select Committee, but I understand that it would have caused unfortunate precedents for the other nationalised industries, particularly the coal-mining industry, if the Government had subsidised piecemeal each particular railway line that it was desired to maintain in the national interest. We would have got into a tangle financially in other directions if, instead of taking a general target, we had subsidised individual lines.

Mr. Loughlin

I have a great deal of sympathy for the hon. Gentleman. I know that he is trying to apologise. All that I ask him to do is to re-read the passages that I quoted and then, when railway closures are discussed, to come over to this side of the House and vote with us.

Mr. Wilson

Not at all. A railway service cannot be run economically on a pattern which was designed haphazardly in the days of horse transport. Perhaps I have not elaborated the case sufficiently in my pamphlet, but I ask the hon. Member to read some of my later writings of 1959.

It is beyond dispute historically that the railways grew up haphazardly in an age of horse transport and that we could not expect the pattern of railways to be the same now as it was 100 years ago. There are bound to be changes. For that reason, there will have to be a revision. Railways are not the only possible transport, as my pamphlet from which the hon. Member quoted indicated. I referred there to the fact that road and rail transport must be considered together as the principal means of inland transport.

Mr. Bowen

What the hon. Member is saying amounts, does it not, to the fact that there may be circumstances in which a railway should be kept open for social considerations and that adequate arrangements are made to deal with that situation, so that, therefore, the ultimate decision of the Minister should be made upon social and not economic considerations?

Mr. Wilson

Certainly, that inference can be drawn. In his statement in March, my right hon. Friend the Minister specifically referred to that, as he did also in some of the subsequent debates when he spoke about surveys concerning the seaside towns and other places about which special considerations might arise. There are references to it also in the Beeching Report, in which Dr. Beeching observed that there might be instances, although perhaps not many, when it was desirable for some reason to maintain a railway although it was uneconomic.

That has never been disputed, except by those sections of the Press, and by some hon. Members opposite, who like to represent this side of the House as wishing to close railways willy-nilly whether or not they are needed for any special purpose, simply because they are not making a large profit. That has never been the position. It certainly was not the position envisaged in my pamphlet or in any subsequent White Paper or report. The hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West really was not supported in his argument by quoting from my pamphlet, which I advise him to read again.

11.13 p.m.

Mr. Julian Snow (Lichfield and Tamworth)

I have the honour to represent a constituency within the vast conurbation of the West Midlands which is a substantial overspill receiving area. I am extremely pleased to have caught your eye this evening, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, having sat unavailingly through three consecutive debates on agriculture and three on health in an effort to represent my constituents points of view. I am advised by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Dr. King) that the rules of order of this debate allow a Member some flexibility. Nevertheless, throughout what I have to say there will be detected a thread relating to transport.

Yesterday, in other proceedings of this House, there was a reference to the economic consequences of a greatly honoured right hon. Gentleman. When the history of this Parliament comes to be written, somebody should write a book about the transportation consequences of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples). In the West Midlands conurbation, I can only describe the position as developing towards what appears to be organised anarchy.

The needs of the great population which is being transferred from Birmingham to the peripheral overspill receiving counties in the West Midlands additional to the existing population have been wholly and utterly neglected by the Government, not only in transport but in all the other services which the community needs. There are inadequate schools, inadequate forethought regarding the provision of telephonic and postal services, and inadequate roads, and now, to cap everything, there is a threat to close some essential stations. I do not think that I am being either indiscreet or unfair when I say that when some of us met Dr. Beeching here he agreed with me that in making his proposals for my part of the West Midlands, and more particularly his proposal for the closure of Rugeley Station, he had not taken into account either the overspill agreement—which is between the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, the Staffordshire County Council and the various receiving authorities—or the specific clause in the agreement which related to the shifting of industry from Birmingham coincidental with the shifting of population. Indeed, he said, quite rightly, that it was not within his brief so to do.

What I cannot understand is that in all our debates on propositions from this side of the House that there should have been not merely a Beeching plan, but an integrated transport plan, I have yet to hear any real argument that the single Beeching plan was either an answer to or logically met the problem of the West Midlands. In the decade ending 1970 there will be shifted into my constituency from Birmingham between 35,000 and 45,000 people, and this example can be repeated all round the nucleus of the conurbation, which is Birmingham.

Listening to the remarks regarding the failure to provide alternative services, I cannot help noticing a remarkable fact, that whereas, a few days ago, we hurried through constitutional legislation for Malta—it was inadequately considered, in my respectful judgment—the function and operational rules of the transport users' consultative committees have not been changed since the inception of those organisations. Whereas they are supposed to take into account the interests of passengers, whether by road or by rail, the sorry fact is that as organising entities they are incapable of viewing the problem as a whole.

Also, we cannot ignore the rôle that the traffic commissioners have to play in all this. The development of vast new estates under the overspill plan and the consequential transport requirements of the population have simply not been met. Great new housing estates opened up by local authorities and private developers remain, so far as transport is concerned, largely ignored. In trying to get to their work, men have to use cars on roads which, 20 years ago, such as the roads into Birmingham, were hopelessly inadequate and are now death traps. Mothers and their families wanting to get to the shops, to the doctor, or elsewhere, find themselves having to walk inordinate distances, very frequently on roads which are dangerous and without footpaths.

Yet when, for instance, a relatively small transport operator wants to modify his licence to carry passengers in such a way as to cope with increased or changing demand, he finds himself up against a bureaucracy in the traffic commissioners and even hostility from the transport users' consultative committee, apparently both of them engaged in retaining the status quo.

I cite as an example the case of a transport operator in my constituency who recently applied for the removal of a restriction on one of his express licences. I have referred this case to the Minister already for his observations and the Minister has sent me what was, in fact, the decision of the traffic commissioners. It is obvious from this decision that there has been very little intimate survey of the new requirements for transport arising from this overspill development.

Incidentally, on a previous occasion, this transport operator, in proceedings before the same traffic commissioners—he is not what I would call an extremely large operator—was obliged to pay an additional charge of £69 for the conveyance of an inspector from Barrow-in-Furness to Birmingham to attend the hearing. When I protested to the Minister about this sort of charge, I was told in so many words that there was no other person suitable in Birmingham. But there are millions of people in the conurbation. I cannot be convinced that someone with objective views could not have been found among them to save my constituent that sort of charge.

This is not the only effect. There is the effect on the countryside, as was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Loughlin), of this long period, now coming to an end, of Conservative anarchy in transport. It is affecting the countryside in all sorts of ways which disrupt life.

Here we have a situation where an industry like agriculture is being seriously and adversely affected by the inadequacy of transport. The public are bored to tears with these committees and investigations. People see their lives being damaged and inconvenienced by the inability to provide their families, particularly the womenfolk, with transport facilities which would enable them to have some of the comforts, some of the shopping facilities, some of the little enjoyments of life which they could obtain in adjacent towns.

I was in the small village of Elford last week and had an experience which could be duplicated by every hon. Member. I learnt that the last bus gets back there from the adjacent town about 1½ hours before the end of the last cinema performance. I do not suppose that we should judge our civilisation on our ability to attend cinemas, but in the countryside this sort of thing means a lot. It used to be argued—it is no longer true—that farm workers and their families did not want these relatively sophisticated things of life. The other day I was reading an agricultural report, written in 1956, which said that there was no big demand for agricultural workers and their families for nice, modern clothes and nice, modern furniture. But television and other media have increased the taste in the countryside for slightly more sophisticated things.

The virtual cutting off of workers in the countryside is one of the results of the anarchy being produced and increased by the proposed rail closures. Another proposal for my constituency is the closing of the railway station near Lichfield on the Wolverhampton—Burton upon Trent line. Opinions may differ as to whether any communication with Burton upon Trent should be jeopardised. Personally, I believe that Burton upon Trent is a sort of Midlands Mecca. However, this line is being closed to passenger traffic in an area where many houses have been built, even since the Beeching Report, and where a little knowledge of the planning applications of individuals and the plans of the planning authorities would show what traffic is likely in the next few years.

In my constituency there is a perfectly appalling case of the threatened eviction of not one but probably nine families from one farm at the end of the harvest. Two of them have worked for one farmer for 25 years. What has this to do with transport? There is a drift from the land which we who represent agricultural constituencies deplore. We accept that there may be a reduction in the labour force because of mechanisation, and so on, but the greatest single factor militating against the maintenance of the agricultural population is the fear of eviction and the attitude, to quote my hon. Friend, that people are mere digits.

Some weeks ago, I put a series of Questions to the Minister of Agriculture about the failure of Staffordshire to attract and register an adequate number of agricultural apprentices. I elicited the information that it was a markedly smaller number than that of adjacent counties. The registration of these apprentices comes under a scheme which was the subject of legislation. I discovered that the numbers of apprentices registered as at 30th April last year were: Staffordshire, 6; Cheshire, 102; Worcestershire, 19; Derbyshire, 13; and Warwickshire, 102. I asked the Minister what explanation he had, whether it was because of lack of enthusiasm for the scheme by one of the principals in an agricultural college in Staffordshire, and he refused to give me an answer.

It may be lack of enthusiasm by a principal of an agricultural college; it may be lack of enthusiasm by farmers to give day release to agricultural apprentices; it may be failure to provide reasonable transport facilities for the families; it may be fear of eviction from their houses, such as is exemplified by the case I have given. But my personal view is that it is the general level of life in which transport plays so large a part which is the main issue.

I cannot understand why it would not have been possible for the transport users' consultative committees to have the functions changed if it was considered desirable by the Government to hurry through a constitutional change, such as in the case of Malta. Some members of the West Midlands T.U.C.C., who are not of my political persuasion, have told me that there is a bias against the countryside, and if there is not bias there is rank ignorance. The fact is that neither the traffic commissioners nor the T.U.C.C's seem conscious of the requirements under the overspill system and agreement, and I would hope that the Minister, when he replies, would give some indication that this transport anarchy, this desert, so far as amenities are concerned, can be reviewed, and these agencies changed so as to promote not only greater knowledge of, but a greater interest in, the area which I have described.

It does not only go for transport, this sort of thing; it goes for the medical services, the need for health centres in these towns which only recently were little, rather unimportant towns which are now becoming substantially larger, whose communications are becoming more complicated. These towns do need, and are justified in demanding, improved transport services.

I heard the other day, quite by accident, that the Corporation of Birmingham, with the full authority of the Minister of Transport, was putting into operation a West Midlands traffic survey. An hon. Friend of mine, a Birmingham Member, showed me a letter isssued by the Town Clerk of Birmingham. I had not heard of this before, but through my own constituency—an overspill area—run these arteries which feed into Birmingham, hopeless and congested as they are.

I made inquiries from the Staffordshire County Council and found that it is considering a traffic survey for Staffordshire. This is madness. If we look at the map and the congestion of population, the gradual closing together of towns which, 50 years ago, could be fairly well identified as single units, we see that the idea of regionalism, which many people are talking about now, is becoming an absolute necessity. It affects not only housing, population and the postal services, but more than anything else it affects transport.

11.35 p.m.

Sir Arthur Vere Harvey (Macclesfield)

I have a rather different story to tell from that told by the hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Snow). For 15 or 16 months I have been in suspense about the proposed closure of the Manchester-Buxton line, which passes through the north end of my constituency of Macclesfield at Disley. I sympathise very much with the hon. Member in his problems, but, unlike other lines mentioned tonight, the Manchester-Buxton line was a commuter line serving thousands of people daily and going on to Buxton 11,000 feet above sea level. It would have been impossible, without the line, for those people to get into Manchester on a very busy road or in snow. Properties in the Disley area have to some extent depreciated in value and people have had to consider changing their residence to nearer their work.

All the neighbouring local authorities organised an appeal to the consultative committee a month or two ago. I congratulate all those who took part on their preparation of their case. Other hon. Members should note that the preparation and presentation of the case has a great bearing on the result, and I congratulate my constituents who prepared the various lists submitted. They worked very hard. I have never had such big protest meetings in the constituency in the 19 years I have had the privilege of representing it. The Minister will recall that some months ago I warned him that if the railway were closed I should be in a very embarrassing position and might well have to fight the election as an independent Conservative. I have been spared that ordeal, because the users' committee justified the complaint of hardship and the Minister of Transport has agreed that the railway shall remain open.

My purpose tonight is to thank the Minister for giving this case such consideration. All my constituents are most grateful. I hope that other hon. Members, in similar circumstances, will consult the councils and others who cooperated in North Cheshire and West Derbyshire about the way in which they presented their case. It might help them, too.

11.38 p.m.

Dr. Horace King (Southampton, Itchen)

I wish that I could follow the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey), whom we all respect, in his success story. Most of the experiences which we have had on this side of the House show that although we have taken the care in presenting the case which the hon. Member obviously took, although we have recruited all sources of local opinion and although we have even formed the view that we had persuaded the transport users' consultative committee that our case was good, we have failed in the objective of preserving a service which we thought was vital.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Loughlin) on his powerful speech. I wholeheartedly agree with his main contention and the graphic picture which he painted of the vital necessity of railways to people in the countryside. I should like to underline a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Snow) about the transport users' consultative committee. I wish that the various committees in the country doing this job had been advised to take note of more than hardship. Important though hardship is, other factors, too, are involved in the closing of a railway. Part of this Government's trouble is that in many fields they have been tackling problems piecemeal without attempting to get an overall picture.

Mr. G. Wilson

Is that not a rather curious criticism from a Socialist? Surely the position is that the Minister decides on the national policy, taking all the various factors, one of which is hardship, into consideration, and on hardship a report is made to him by the committee. Surely the hon. Member would not have the committee form the policy. That must be a matter for the Government.

Dr. King

The hon. Gentleman must have a very curious idea of Socialism. Socialists believe in social democracy. One of the essential features of social democracy—indeed, any democracy—is participation. The hon. Gentleman is wrong when he thinks that the Socialist wants everything to be decided by Ministers. Any worth-while Minister will fortify himself with the opinions of various groups of people he consults. All I was suggesting was that the consultative committees should have wider terms of reference so that they could obtain firsthand information from people on the spot and so obtain a complete picture of all that the Minister ought to know in making a decision.

Mr. Bowen

Time and time again the transport users' consultative committees have expressed the view that they would have welcomed having wider powers.

Dr. King

I agree. One of our difficulties is that we have not yet found parliamentary ways of making criticism in detail of the nationalised industries, and, therefore, take the first opportunity I have had in this House since they happened, to protest with all the force I can against the British Railways closures which have been made in Southampton, and to plead with the Government even now to reconsider some of the other proposed railway closures in the South. I am not making a constituency speech particularly. I speak not only on behalf of Southampton citizens, but on behalf of the southern region of the Labour Party, which represents about 1 million organised workers in the South of England, whose chairman I am for the time being.

First, let me briefly give the background. Hon. Members who know the South-East Study know that it visualises that there will soon be 2½ million more people in the South even if we completely arrest the drift from the North and completely stop immigration. Even so, 2½ million more will come in the next decade. There are to be two new towns between Southampton and Portsmouth. Newbury, unless its citizens manage to prevent it, will be expanded to 100,000. Already Andover—of which I shall say a word in a moment—and Basingstoke are being expanded. All this vast expanse in the South of England, and especially in southern Hampshire, demands adequate road and rail communications. That is the first point.

Secondly, the Rochdale Report, as hon. Members know, says that Southampton will be one of the two major southern ports. It is already the premier passenger port, and will considerably expand as a cargo port. This, again, will demand the best possible communications by rail and road. We have not yet adequate communications, and the need is to extend, rather than to contract, road and rail services.

The third factor is that Southampton has for a century provided a close link with France, especially with Normandy. It will continue to provide, if the Rochdale proposals are implemented, a commercial link between the Midlands and Europe. This is good for cross-Channel trade. This is good for understanding between ourselves and the Continent. I am not an anti-Common Marketeer, but nobody who is anti-Common Market wants to isolate Britain from Europe. Even those who do not believe in the Common Market want to trade with Europe, want good relations with Europe, and anything which serves as a link between England and France is good for Britain from the international as well as from the commercial point of view.

The City of Southampton has a 100 years' tie with the City of Le Havre. This should be a time when British Railways should be seeking to expand their rail services to improve them to the South and to extend communications across the Channel. It ought to be a time when they are keenly interested in improving everything which can serve the interests of the great Port of Southampton. For a century the railways had a vital interest in Southampton Docks. Their historical contribution to the docks and to Southampton are beyond praise. After the war, Parliament passed the Act setting up the National Docks Board, gave the Board control of the Docks and since then British Railways seem to have lost interest in and written off Southampton. This is something I cannot understand.

I will give a trivial, but significant, illustration. In April, an excursion was arranged to Paris at £4 10s. per head. Fifty people went on it. Last year, a similar excursion was such a success that about 1,000 went on it. The local Press became interested in the failure and found that the excursion this year had not been advertised by British Railways. When they raised the matter, British Railways promptly declared that the excursion had been advertised. I took the matter up with them and their second explanation was that it had not been advertised because they did not know that it was taking place until it was too late to advertise it. I have since been informed by some friends in the Customs that the Customs were informed three weeks before that it was to take place.

There were two possible explanations for this. Some trade union friends would say that there was a third and worse explanation. It was either indifference to the excursion on the part of British Railways or, on the other hand, inefficiency in running it. The fact remains that the loss made on the excursion is a loss to be written into the accounts of the cross-Channel trade and it can provide part of the evidence of the loss being made on the cross-Channel service. Against that the background of this simple, trivial, but I think significant instance, I put my main concern, the closure of the Southampton-Le Havre boat service. British Railways tried to close it three years ago. Everyone in Southampton protested and Le Havre itself protested. We managed to persuade British Railways to keep it open.

Meanwhile, there has grown up a car ferry service across the Channel. When again this year British Railways sought to close the service, some of us urged them, as some of their influential friends had already urged them, that even if the boat service to Le Havre in its present form was not profitable, there was money to be made out of a car ferry service. We suggested to the transport users' consultative committee that British Railways should themselves run such a service from Southampton to Normandy. While we were pleading before the committee, someone was already arranging that a private company should operate a car ferry service between Southampton and Normandy.

The service which could have been profitably run by British national enterprise has been handed to a Norwegian private company. Indeed, the docks have admirably provided the foreign company with facilities. British Railways have themselves created a new jetty at enormous cost to make possible a car ferry service for a private company which they might have run themselves; and now a new private enterprise car ferry service to Normandy is receiving more magnificent publicity than the Southampton-Le Havre nationally-run service ever received.

As a result of the running down of the cross-Channel service, British Railways decided to close the marine repair workshops in Southampton Docks. I recall our telling the T.U.C.C. that this would happen; that if they took off the cross-Channel service it would not only mean the dismissal of the men who served on the boats, but gradually a running down of the men servicing the boats in the docks.

If my protest is against the closing of the cross-Channel service and the consequent closing of the marine repair workshops, I am even more indignant about the way in which all this has been done. The trade union leaders of the Confederation of Shipbuilding Workers were called to a meeting and told that the repair shop in the docks was to be closed. When they asked whether they might discuss the matter, perhaps thereby getting the decision postponed or modified, they were told that it was not a matter for discussion. They simply had to accept the diktat of the management.

It was even suggested by the management, so my trade union friends who were at that conference tell me, that they might not have closed the workshops had the hon. Member for Southampton not raised the matter in Parliament. I hope that I am misinformed about this; that my trade union colleagues misunderstood the management and that they did not mean to suggest that the factor which had decided them to look into the question of closing the repair workshops was that the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen, was doing his duty in the House of Commons.

If it is true, it is indefensible and it makes the picture look even sorrier than it is. So now the workshops are to be closed in a thriving port, with a thriving future, in neither of which does British Railways seem to be needed.

Mr. Nicholas Ridley (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)

I hesitate to ask the hon. Gentleman whether he still believes that nationalisation is the solution to our problems, after the tale that he has told us.

Dr. King

No one thinks that nationalisation is perfect. What is wrong with this is not nationalisation, but, as I hope to show, creeping denationalisation. I will answer the hon. Gentleman's question before I sit down.

My fellow trade unionists in Southamption and those in the great labour movement of the South have resisted from the start, the various shrinkages which British Railways were responsible for at Lancing and Eastleigh some years ago, and now in the docks. They believe in British national enterprise and good labour relations. They object to a policy of handing over what might be a successful service, run under a nationalised industry to private enterprise, especially a foreign private enterprise.

I try to be fair, but it is difficult not to be harsh about some of the things that have happened in this case. I want to be fair to British Railways. Their defence may be that it is right to put all their eggs in one basket; that Dover and Folkestone are such money spinners at the present time, with the car ferry service, that it is right to let those places go on ticking merrily and bringing the money into the coffers, and to let Southampton go to anyone who has the enterprise to make money out of it.

I believe that attitude to be wrong, and that, by adopting it, British Railways are shutting their eyes to other factors; to the importance of the southwest of England and, incidentally, to the future development of the South-West. The South-West will not always remain the rural area it now is if the population of England continues to explode at its present dramatic rate.

I believe that it is bad for our economic and political relations with France, and with the north of France. Other nationalised industries show enterprise and vision—and this is the answer to the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley). If we look at coal, gas or electricity—indeed, at some parts of British Railways—we find vision and enterprise being shown by the men who are serving the nationalised industries faithfully, and with devotion and skill. On the whole, the nationalised industries also seek to build up good relations between management and men.

I protest not only against what has been done, but at the way in which it has been done, and against making redundant railwaymen who have served in the boats or in the marine workshops for the best part of their lives, and have given some 20 or 30 years' service to British Railways. I protest against the refusal of the management to discuss with the responsible leaders of the trade unions concerned any question of deferring the decision until it could be really considered between the two sides. I admit that the men who will be dismissed get the benefit of the redundancy schemes which are part of the great British Railways set-up.

As for expanding the railway service, we have learned this week from the Minister of Transport that he proposes to close the passenger service on the Romsey-Andover line—a line that is destined one day to be part of the main rail link up through an expanded Newbury to the Midlands and serve the great future port of Southampton. I plead with the Minister to think again about the closing of the Romsey-Andover line. I speak in this matter not only as a Labour man, and not only for the great trade union movement to which I belong, but for the Hampshire County Council and the Andover Borough Council, both of which bodies are controlled by Conservative majorities.

I urge the Minister, not only from the hardship point of view mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, West but from the long-term view, to look again at the proposal to close the Romsey-Andover line. Similarly, on behalf of the southern region of the Labour Party, I urge the Minister to give careful consideration before finally deciding to close the passenger service on the Reading-Guildford-Redhill-Tonbridge railway. I urge this on the hardship commuter grounds advanced earlier in this debate.

We on this side hold the view that profit should not be the only yardstick when deciding whether to close a railway line or passenger service. We look forward, in the next Government, to a radical approach to the integration of road and rail as part of a great national plan. I express regret that a vital service that has been of great value to Southampton and to France should have been closed in the period under discussion, with so little consideration to the vital and human factors that I have mentioned.

12 m.

Mr. Roderic Bowen (Cardigan)

I intervene solely to draw attention to an anomalous situation in my constituency on the Carmarthen—Aberystwyth railway line. All the mechanics of the procedure for closing the line for passenger services have been gone through and the matter has been under the Minister's consideration for some months. I have no quarrel with that aspect and I deeply appreciate that the Minister has carefully considered all the implications of the possible closure of the passenger service. I hope that ultimately the right hon. Gentleman will come to a decision which will be welcomed in that area.

The anomaly which exercises my mind is that during the several months in which the passenger service has been in the balance, the British Railways Board, as it is entitled within its powers, has closed the line to freight transport. During the last few months the line has been open to passenger service but, with one or two exceptions, closed to freight service. I plead that at least during the period in which the Minister is making up his mind he should bring pressure to bear on the Board to keep the line open for freight service. It is most anomalous that the line must be maintained with all the safety precautions required for a passenger service, but that the normal freight service can no longer be operated.

The economics of the situation are ridiculous. No one could possibly attempt to argue that if the line has to be kept open for passenger service the additional cost involved in providing a freight service could provide other than a profit element. I ask the Minister to give ultimately a favourable decision on the passenger service, but my most immediate plea is that pending that decision pressure should be brought on the Board to maintain the freight service while the line remains open for passengers. There is a great demand for the restoration of the freight service. It would not involve any economic hardship on the Board. I urge the Minister to make representations to the Board. I do not know that under the Act he has power to do more than that at present, but it is utterly ridiculous that, while the line remains open for passenger service, the freight service should be withdrawn from it.

12.5 a.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. T. G. D. Galbraith)

I should like to begin by referring to what I thought was an ungenerous remark that the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Loughlin) made about my right hon. Friend. He said that he did not like my right hon. Friend's activity in trying to stimulate the campaign for testing lorries. That was a most unfortunate remark and I am very sorry that the hon. Gentleman made it, because I could not disagree with him more. I think that my right hon. Friend was absolutely right to do what he did.

Nevertheless, in spite of that failure, I think that in other respects the hon. Gentleman made a good, and in parts humorous, and interesting speech. It had a fascinating introduction referring to the book written by my hon. Friend the Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson), but, as I have not had an opportunity to read it, I cannot comment upon it.

What really concerned the hon. Gentleman was his own constituency, and I should like to deal with some of the points he raised. As he knows, the line between Gloucester and Hereford is partly in Gloucestershire and partly in Herefordshire, and, as there were objections from both counties, the Midlands T.U.C.C. held a meeting at Ross on 30th July, and on the next day the South-West T.U.C.C. held a meeting at Gloucester. In addition, as a short section of the line near Gloucester is used for services between Cheltenham and South Wales, a further hearing was held by the T.U.C.C. So, altogether, my right hon. Friend had three reports from the T.U.C.C.s about this line.

The conclusions of the T.U.C.C.s were that further services beyond what the railways proposed would be needed to remove hardship, and this shows the value of the transport users' consultative committees, that they often make recommendations or give advice of this sort.

One of the things that they were particularly concerned about was the provision of services to meet the needs of people at the various places which the hon. Gentleman mentioned, namely, Blaisdon, Northwood Green—I do not think he mentioned that place; it is a little village—Grange Court and Oakle Street. They thought that the new services for those places, if they were to be provided, should run close to the existing railway stations. Of course, that brings in the figures, with which I will deal in a moment, about the roads. My right hon. Friend went into this suggestion with special care. He knew that doubts had been expressed about the feasibility of running buses to these places. In fact, the hon. Gentleman drew that matter to my right hon. Friend's attention. But, of course, what routes buses use is a matter for the traffic commissioners to decide.

However, my right hon. Friend made inquiries of his own about the state of the roads and he believes, after these inquiries, that a route can be found for bus services which the T.U.C.C.s thought would be necessary. Such a route would involve little divergence from those already used by bus services. I think that is a very important point. But if the traffic commissioners decide that they cannot grant licences either because the roads are too narrow, or for any other reason, the conditions of my right hon. Friend's consent will not have been fulfilled and, therefore, the lines could not be closed. The matter would have to be looked at again, and I think that that is a very considerable safeguard.

Mr. Loughlin

I want the Minister to get quite clearly in his mind that these are not additional services. There is no bus service of any kind in this area at present. These are new bus services and, as I read the Minister's decision, the decision restricts itself to these services that are proposed. Therefore, whatever the traffic commissioners may say, there is no question of additional services.

Mr. Galbraith

Perhaps I was using the word "additional" in the wrong way. Let us call them new services, if the hon. Member prefers. If the traffic commissioners consider that the roads are not wide enough, or that, for any other reason, the buses should not run on these routes, it means that the railways cannot be closed because my right hon. Friend's conditions will not have been fulfilled.

As to the traffic on the roads—the hon. Gentleman referred to their narrowness—the needs of these communities are very small, and my right hon. Friend does not feel that the few extra or new buses would have any appreciable effect on traffic. He recognises that the bus journey from, for instance, Blaisdon to Gloucester would take about 17 minutes longer than the train journey, but, bearing in mind that so few people use the trains—only 12 or 13 people altogether from Blaisdon, Grange Court and Oakle Street in the two morning trains—he does not consider that this amounts to hardship, particularly when weighed against the substantial savings which the railways expect to achieve from the closure.

I know that it is rather like a red rag to a bull even to begin to mention money, but, in fact, the sum involved is quite large, £90,000 a year. The hon. Gentleman said something about casual fruit pickers. I have the greatest sympathy for casual fruit pickers, but one cannot keep going a railway system which costs £90,000 a year to help casual fruit pickers. It seems to me that losses of this nature are out of all proportion to the volume of passengers on the service, about 220 each day, of whom about 40 are passengers from Blaisdon, Grange Court and Oakle Street into Gloucester.

A simple division sum shows—I do not think that the Opposition ever properly appreciate this point—that each passenger on this line is being subsidised approximately to the extent of £225 per annum. It really is a ridiculous state of affairs.

Mr. Loughlin

I do not accept the figures.

Mr. Galbraith

If the hon. Gentleman does not accept the figures, perhaps we can have a talk afterwards and go into them. Obviously, we cannot do it across the Floor now.

Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)

One cannot do it even at the T.U.C.C.

Mr. Galbraith

One cannot discuss the financial side at the T.U.C.C. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, who has appeared before one T.U.C.C.—

Mr. Ross


Mr. Galbraith

—before two T.U.C.C.s, and who has taken some interest in this matter, will know that Sir William Carrington, the distinguished accountant who was asked to examine the railways' method of reaching these figures, gave it as his opinion that they were fairly reached and were suited to the purpose of the transport users' consultative committees, which, of course, has nothing to do with finance.

The function of the T.U.C.C., as everyone in the House knows, is to deal with hardship. I merely mention these matters to the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West and point out to him that each of these passengers is subsidised to the extent of £225 per annum. My right hon. Friend and I think that this is an excessive amount.

These are two other points which I wish to stress. First, the alternative services which my right hon. Friend required must, as I have explained, be available before the closure takes place. This, therefore, brings into operation the safeguard which I mentioned. Secondly, if, in the light of experience, it seems that the alternative services need some adjustment, the terms of my right hon. Friend's consent are such that he can see that the necessary alterations are made afterwards.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned two other stations. One was Churchdown. Proposals with regard to that station are still under consideration. My right hon. Friend will announce his decision as soon as he can, and the hon. Gentleman's remarks will, of course, be taken into account. The other station to which he referred was Badminton. I was rather surprised at this because, when he asked a Question about it not long ago, I thought that I had cleared his mind on the point.

The board has not proposed the closure of this line, so nobody has had to oppose it. I think that the hon. Gentleman was, again, slightly ungenerous in his remarks, because, until recently, the railways had no legal power to propose the closure of this line. I do not know whether they will or not, but, until recently, they had no power to do so.

Mr. Loughlin

I want to be quite clear about this. My information is that there was a proposal by the Railways Board to close this station and that the Duke of Beaufort petitioned against it. There was no formal notice of closure in the sense that there was the possibility of a hearing to consider the matter, but there was a proposal to close it.

Mr. Galbraith

The hon. Gentleman must know a great deal more about these things than either my right hon. Friend or I, because we know only when there is a public proposal, and there has been no public proposal in this case. All sorts of rumours circulate about various railway stations and lines, but until there is a public proposal my right hon. Friend is not aware of the matter. I think that hon. Members would be well advised not to pay attention to rumours, but to wait for official notice.

Many hon. Members have raised constituency points of one kind and another. I should like to be able to answer them, but I cannot carry in my head all the facts about all the various railway lines which have been closed.

The hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Snow), who made an interesting speech, was worried about overspill and the effect on it of possible railway closures. He said that Dr. Beeching did not take that into account. He may not; I do not know. He decides these things on his commercial judgment, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Minister takes that sort of thing very much into account. Therefore, if what the hon. Gentleman says is true—and I do not deny that it is—this is a matter which certainly will be taken into account when the railway line in which the hon. Gentleman is interested comes before my right hon. Friend for decision. This is just the sort of matter which is outside the normal consideration of a railway manager, but which is dealt with by my right hon. Friend. A good example of this was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey).

Mr. Snow

I told the House that Dr. Beeching had told me that he did not take it into account because it was not within his brief so to do. The hon. Gentleman referred to what would happen about Rugeley when the case came before the Minister. It is before the Minister. The trouble is that the Minister seems unable to understand that when Dr. Beeching puts forward a proposal for a closure the responsibility for proving the need to keep it open, rather like in the French legal system, remains with the people who are affected by such a closure.

Mr. Galbraith

Dr. Beeching has been given statutory duties, one of which is to run the railways in a commercial manner. He may consider that the right thing to do is to close a particular line, but there are all sorts of other considerations to be taken into account, and that is what the Minister is there for. He takes account of such things as extra building, overspill, or a new town, which the hon. Gentleman mentioned.

The hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Dr. King) raised many matters which, I am sure he realises, are of a managerial nature. I cannot comment on them, but I have no doubt that Dr. Beeching will see them in HANSARD, not tomorrow, but perhaps the day after.

The hon. Gentleman also referred to the Romsey-Andover line. I recollect one fact about this line. I know that this will not be agreeable to the hon. Gentleman. Each passenger on that line was being subsidised to the extent of £250 per annum. In the circumstances, we felt that there was no justification for keeping the line open, but the railways have agreed not to remove the track without informing my right hon. Friend. I think that that preserves the position for the future, and that is the important thing.

The hon. and learned Member for Cardigan (Mr. Bowen) raised a matter which he realises is also a matter of management—freight. My right hon. Friend has no powers in that respect, but I am equally certain that Dr. Beeching will take note of what the hon. and learned Member said about maintaining the freight services while the future of the passenger services between Carmarthen and Aberystwyth is under consideration.

During the past year I have answered 12 Adjournment debates on railway closures, and three weeks ago tonight I concluded a debate on transport which dealt mainly with railway problems. I do not think that it would be agreeable to the House if I repeated at this hour what I then said, for there are many hon. Members who wish to raise other subjects. Some of the issues raised by the hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth will be dealt with later today, when one of his hon. Friends speaks about a similar subject.

Mr. Loughlin

Will the hon. Member allow me to correct something that I said. I said that the Duke of Beaufort had told him something. That is not true. The circumstance in which the remark was made was private. The remark was not made by the Duke of Beaufort.

Mr. Galbraith

I appreciate how easy it is to make that sort of slip of the tongue.