HC Deb 29 July 1964 vol 699 cc1706-25

6.13 a.m.

Mr. John Stonehouse (Wednesbury)

On Friday, 17th July, the Express and Star, a newspaper published in Wolverhampton and widely read in the West Midlands, including the constituency of the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. W. Yates) and my own, carried a headlined report on the front page: He does it—at 403 m.p.h. Campbell triumphs. Scorched tyre drama. There follows the report of Donald Campbell in his Bluebird car hurtling to a new world land speed record on the salt flats in Australia.

Many of my constituents were delighted by this success, because quite a number of them contribute indirectly to the expense of this venture. They work for a firm the proprietor of which contributes very considerable sums to the Campbell attempt, and, therefore, they contribute through their work to the finances of this success story. So they rejoice at this success.

But I ask the House to consider the contrast between the Express and Star of 17th July and the Express and Star of 25th July. There was another headline story: Jam yesterday, jam tomorrow, jam today. Traffic snarl-up may be the worst ever. The story read: Almost continuously since late yesterday afternoon, the main traffic artery between the M5 and M6 motorways, and the towns on that road, principally Wolverhampton and Stourbridge, have probably faced their worst holiday traffic jams ever. Most of the holdups have affected southbound traffic destined for the West country, which now faces one such jam almost every 30 miles on its route, and nose-to-tail driving in between. What a contrast between the two stories! We have one man going at 403 m.p.h. while the people who help to finance his speed attempt often cannot go at 4 m.p.h. and at the best of times cannot travel at even 40 m.p.h.

I submit that we are getting our priorities wrong. Cannot we think of the welfare of motorists at home who want to be able to drive in a little more comfort than they can now? I make no apology for drawing the attention of the House, after a very long debate through most of which I have sat here mute though very anxious indeed to participate in some of the discussions, but restraining myself, to a problem which is of very great importance to my constituents and, indeed, to the whole of the West Midlands.

The fact is that the number of cars, many parts of which are produced in my constituency, being poured on to the roads is creating traffic jams all over the country, but particularly in the West Midlands, and it is about that that I want to speak. First, I should like to refer to some national statistics to get the matter into perspective. The number of cars pre-war in the United Kingdom was 2 million, and it has now increased to 7½ million. The number of goods vehicles pre-war was 500,000, and it has increased to 1½ million. The total number of vehicles on the road has increased from 3 million to 11½ million. But the mileage available to those vehicles has not increased by anything like the same amount. The number of roads has not increased to any great extent. Trunk and Class I roads prewar totalled 27,000 miles, and now the total even including motorways, is only 29,000. Roads in the United Kingdom, including unclassified roads, pre-war totalled 179,000 miles; the figure today is 198,000 miles. That is an increase of 10 per cent. in road mileage for an increase in the number of road vehicles of 300 per cent. The position is that the number of vehicles per road mile in Great Britain in 1962 was 40.9. This is the worst of any country in the world apart from West Germany, which has 42.6 vehicles per road mile.

The difference between West Germany and Britain is that the West Germans are spending so much more on building new roads than we are. We are spending far too little considering the size of our problem. The Minister of Transport has been very skilful at gaining national publicity for some of his "gimmicks" but he has not been able in the last few years seriously to tackle the great problems of providing enough new roads for the increasing number of vehicles in use.

What does he set out to do? I have here a Conservative Party publication which is, strangely, entitled "Movement". That word does not mean very much to drivers in the traffic jams of the West Midlands. They are apt to laugh cynically at it. The pamphlet was published by the Conservative Party on 1st December, 1963. The Minister said: … my job is to reshape and adapt our transport system so that it can play its part in the Conservative policy for modernising Britain… This process falls into three stages. First, the problem itself must be clearly defined and accurately measured. The Minister has failed to do that in relation to the West Midlands. There has been no comprehensive regional survey of the West Midlands transport problems. It has been left to Birmingham City Council and other local authorities to tackle the job. The Minister went on: Secondly, the technical facts and figures must be collected and analysed by scientific methods. This takes time, it is true, but it is just no use taking action on mere 'hunches'—which generally take hardly any time at all. But that is exactly what he is doing in relation to the West Midlands. Instead of waiting for data to be collected as a result of scientific investigation of the problem, he is allowing the railways in the West Midlands to be closed down one after the other before this survey is completed. The Minister wrote about his third stage: … when and only when the solution becomes clear, action must be the order of the day. And we want speed in execution plus value for money spent. What rubbish! Speed in execution with only 10 per cent. more roads provided than before the war? Speed in execution when we have the West Midlands road system held back and delayed?

True, the motorways are being completed bit by bit, but this is making the problems of the West Midlands conurbation more and more serious because the effect of the motorway development is to concentrate into the motorways the traffic that previously filtered through England and Wales by fairly secondary routes. The result is that it comes down these arteries and then is pumped into the veins of the West Midlands—veins which cannot carry the pressure. It is no wonder that some road users are breaking blood vessels as a result of the pressure.

Mr. William Yates (The Wrekin)

The hon. Member must take into account the Gailey crossroads where the M.1 and the M.6 cross the A.5. In another two years all that will be altered by the motorway itself.

Mr. Stonehouse

The hon. Member is proving my point. What lack of planning there has been! I agree that the Gailey position is very serious. The vehicles travel along the M.6 and when they reach the terminal point there are often big jams and sometimes they have to wait hours to get through. When they come to Stourbridge and Wednesbury there are more hours of delay. Is this planning? Has the Minister of Transport given any consideration to this problem at all? He should have developed the motorways through the conurbations before developing the motorways outside in order to avoid this trouble.

The hon. Gentleman has said that the motorway from Gailey is to be extended and that he may not have this trouble in two years' time, but the trouble will then be on my own doorstep, because the terminal point will then be in my constituency. The authorities in my constituency are very concerned about this, because in two years' time the traffic coming from the north on the M.6 will be pushed out at the end of the motorway right into the middle of Darlaston where, if it is to join the M.5, it will have to push its way through Darlaston, Wednesbury, West Bromwich and Tipton. These streets are residential streets, streets with schools, high streets with shopping centres and they are the worst possible streets to carry this through traffic. I agree that the problem will be removed from Gailey, but it is coming to Darlaston.

What my constituents and I are complaining about is that we do not want this tremendous amount of traffic pushed through our internal roads because of the danger, not only to other road users, but to pedestrians and school children going to school and housewives going about their shopping. I accuse the Minister of Transport of giving inadequate thought to this problem and not adhering to the stages which he set himself in this Conservative document.

On page 16 of this document, the Minister described the Government's transport principles—elevating the Minister's approach to this problem to principles. The first is freedom of choice and he says: It is the customer who pays. He must be free to choose which of the available means of transport he will use. The customer is not being given any choice where the railway lines are being closed. He is being told that he must get on a bus, a bus which sometimes takes twice as long as the train, a bus often more expensive than the train and a bus which is inconvenient and uncomfortable. There is no choice there unless he uses his own car, and then he comes up against the traffic jams which I have mentioned.

The second principle is freedom to develop. He says: Conditions must be created in which each form of transport can fully develop its individual often unique, characteristics … This is quite false, because systems of transport are not able to develop in any imaginative way apart, I concede, from main line railway routes. This is a principle which is no longer implemented in practice.

The third principle is that there must be effective co-ordination. There is no co-ordination at all in the West Midlands. What co-ordination has there been between the closures of railways lines and the development of bus services? There has been no co-ordination with the municipalities who have been complaining about these closures and who have initiated their own survey to try to get some of the facts which the Minister should have discovered before approving these closures.

I have raised this problem because the Minister is failing to put into effect either the stages or the principles which he has said in this document he believes in, and this is leading to serious problems in my constituency. I have already mentioned the Express and Star report about the jams which occurred a week ago. In the same newspaper there was the report of a debate of the Staffordshire County Council when many members pressed for road improvements which they regarded as essential if road conditions in Staffordshire were to be improved. Several pertinent points were made during that discussion.

The Ministry has failed in its job of planning road development and giving approval in time for local authorities to undertake essential road development.

When I say there is concern in my constituency, I can quote from the Wednesbitry and Darlaston Times on Saturday, 11th July, in which there is a report by the president of the Wednesbury and District Liberal Association, Mr. A. J. Griffiths, who said—referring to the development of the M6 Motorway: I am certain that unless the feeder roads in Wednesbury are vastly improved before the motorway arrives at Wood Green, there will be traffic chaos in the town. At the moment, all we know about the new traffic routes through Wednesbury is that they are in the planning stage. He goes on to point out how serious this congestion will be when the motorway is completed in four years' time. He is referring to the problem of the feeder roads coming to the motorway. This is a long-term problem, and I agree that it does raise serious problems because the feeder roads are not being upgraded and improved at a fast enough rate to carry the traffic which will undoubtedly be attracted to the M6 and the M5 when they are completed.

In my opinion, the Wednesbury Borough Council and other authorities in my constituency are alive to this problem and want to do all they can. I have had representations from many of them in the past about road development in my constituency, but I must say that there has been no anxiety on the part of the Ministry to encourage the improvement of these roads. I hope the Minister will do what he can to get these road improvements under way so that we can have better feeder roads before the M6 and the M5 are completed.

The delays in road improvements were brought home to me by one of the officials in one of my authorities, who said that when he joined the authority in 1939 he knew applications had been made for two bridges to be improved before he came on the staff. These applications have only just been approved, years afterwards, and I hope work is now going to start on these dangerous bridges. This is an example of the dilatory way in which the Ministry has reacted to legitimate requests from the authorities for road improvements. Instead they have pushed ahead with motorway improvements which have added to the difficulties of some of these authorities.

I want now to refer in detail to the rail closures in the West Midlands, because this is no less serious than the road problem. Firstly, may I refer to a subject which has been brought to the attention of the House by a Motion in the name of the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Dance) and some other hon. Gentlemen opposite complaining about the possible closure of the Redditch-Birmingham railway. Some of my hon. Friends from this side of the House and myself have put down an Amendment to it, pointing out that the hon. Gentlemen who signed the original Motion in fact voted after the debate on 30th April, 1963, for the Beeching proposals. Therefore they are quite hypocritical to be complaining now about the closure of this particular railway line.

But I entirely agree that it is the height of lunacy to be closing the Redditch-Birmingham line when at the same time plans are announced for the building of a new town for Redditch. As Councillor W. Stranz, chairman of the Redditch Planning Committee, wrote in an article in the Birmingham Post of 21st July, If the Redditch station is closed the new town will have to be planned on entirely different principles. For what it is worth, the fundamental concept on which the new designation was based by the Minister will have been undermined. Is it really too much to hope that someone in Government will have sufficient authority to stop this freak exercise in excessive departmentalisation by two Ministries?". This opinion is confirmed by David Eversley, reader in social history at Birmingham University, who said: If, as a result of the West Midland Regional Plan now being prepared, supposedly by an inter-departmental committee, it is decided that suburban rail lines are essential to keep traffic flowing, the deficit should be borne by the Ministry of Transport out of general taxation". He said that this proposal to close down the Redditch line illustrates the breakdown of regional planning. The three Ministries concerned are, as usual, at loggerheads with each other … The Minister of Transport does not know what the other Ministries are doing. There is a complete lack of regional planning.

This is making it very difficult for authorities such as Redditch and for anyone else who is concerned about these railway closures. I have had many complaints from constituents and from others who are worried about rail closures. At least three stations in the constituency are being closed. What is to be the position of the Snow Hill-Wolverhampton line? Is it proposed that this line will be closed in time? A number of lines are being closed, and gradually the railway network of the West Midlands is being queezed out of existence.

This is very foolish, bearing in mind that no comprehensive survey has been made of the transport needs of the West Midlands. The traffic which is being forced off the railways is adding to the congestion on the roads. There can be no argument about that. Many people who were travelling by rail in comparative comfort are finding that having to go by bus is very inconvenient. The Minister should bear in mind customer needs as well as looking at the false profitability aspect. I say "false profitability" because as the Railways Board indicated in its very interesting document—"A study of the relative true costs of rail and road freight transport"—it is not simply a question of adding the costs of rail travel and comparing them with the cost of travelling by. bus, or of comparing the cost with that of sending freight by lorry over existing roads. As this survey rightly shows—and it would also apply to passenger traffic—when the full costs, are taken into account, including the full costs of trunk road development, as well as current costs, rail travel turns out to be cheaper than road travel.

Mr. W. Yates

This is very important. Is the hon. Member saying that these railways are being closed and that the Ministry of Transport has not sufficient money from the Treasury to put roads in their place? For example, in the new town of Dawley we do not know whether the Minister has any money even to improve the access roads.

Mr. Stonehouse

I am saying that there has been a complete lack of planning at the Ministry. They do not know where they are going. Railways are being closed without any proper consideration of alternative transport facilities. Within a few years the railways will have to be re-opened because of the sheer congestion on the roads, unless the roads are improved to a much greater extent than I think even the new Administration, which will come into power at the end of the year, will be able to do.

I return to the question of the relative costs and would quote from this document prepared by British Railways

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

That is evidence of the Geddes Committee and has absolutely nothing to do with railway closures. The hon. Member can refer to it if he wants to, but it is something on which I shall be unable to reply, because, as he knows, the Minister has no powers with regard to freight.

Mr. Stonehouse

I want to put these comparisons on record. If they can be made with regard to freight carriage they can be made for passenger travel as well, because the cost of building roads for passenger bus transport is also extremely considerable. I am suggesting that it would probably be less socially expensive to have the existing railways kept in existence. For 100 miles trunk distance per ton by road in a 10-ton vehicle the cost is 36s. 6d. per ton and by rail it is 23s. 9d. per ton. For 300 miles, it is 74s. by trunk road, 67s. by motorway, and 32s. by rail. I give those figures as examples. They show that when all the costs are taken into account it is cheaper to carry goods by rail than by the roads which are already overcrowded.

Many of the railways will continue to be used for freight transport although they are closed to passengers. If at some time in the future the lines themselves were closed it would be a very great embarrassment to the proper development of freight transport which this survey undoubtedly shows is cheaper by rail transport. So I regret very much that the Minister has given his approval to rail closures, particularly in my constituency, about which I had several questions to ask, and about which I wrote to the Minister some time ago.

I would refer to what I wrote to the Minister on 6th May. I said I did not think it was satisfactory to substitute additional bus services for the rail services now available, and I pointed out to him that the roads were already overcrowded, and that this was likely to be even more accentuated with the extension of the motorway and that as it came into use the roads in the Wednesbury area would largely be used as access roads. I said that bus services were likely to be slow and inadequate as a result of this overcrowding. I asked him to give further consideration to this decision for the discontinuance of the passenger services, and I asked him to consider the use of conductor-driver operated diesel services with perhaps only one or two carriages which would obviate the necessity for station staff, when circumstances did not justify station staff.

When the hon. Gentleman replied to me on 14th May he did not refer to the suggestion that there should be conductor-operated services. I ask him now, has there been no consideration in the Ministry of this suggestion? I do not pretend that this is a new idea. Other countries have rail transport without station staff. People get on a train without let or hindrance and then pay their fares to the conductor-driver. Those railways do not have extra costs of station staff, guards, and so on, because the trains are run like buses. Is it not possible for some of our railways to be run in this way, so that we can have faster transport for people in the West Midlands, and avoiding the expensive overheads of full-scale railway services? I should like the Minister to answer that point.

I turn to the longer-term problems of transport in the West Midlands. So far I have been referring to the comparatively short-term problems. I have spoken of the immediate problem which will arise when the motorway is extended to my constituency and the congestion which will occur as a result with the whole of the traffic from the West and the North trying to push its way through the conurbations. I hope that the Minister will be able to deal with this problem by three motorways so that instead of having to wait for four years we may look forward to it being dealt with in two. Then there is the problem of the possible use of railways which are now being closed. I hope that he will intervene to prevent that and will look at other ways of saving overhead expenses and at least wait until the survey is completed.

Looking ahead 10 or 15 years, what will be the problems for the West Midlands conurbation? It is a very imporant industrial area right in the heart of Britain with a population of 5 million or more. It is a very prosperous area contributing a considerable amount to the income of the United Kingdom. The people in this area are entitled as of right to a decent transport system. While we are helping Donald Campbell to achieve 400 miles an hour, we should try to achieve more than 40 miles an hour, which is at present the maximum possible in the West Midlands area across the conurbation.

I suggest that we should have a survey not limited to immediate transport problems, but looking to the longer-term problems of the 1980s. We should work out the cost and value of developing a transport system related to the needs of those areas. We should consider either an underground system or a monorail system for the West Midlands so that we could have quick, easy and comfortable transport for the people who live in this industrial area. It now takes several hours to travel from the north of Walsall to the other side of Birmingham. It takes a long time to travel from one side of Wolverhampton to the other side of Birmingham or Solihull. It takes far too long for people in my constituency—and, I am sure, the constituency of the hon. Member for the Wrekin—to get to shopping centres in the middle of Birmingham or to places of entertainment. This is ridiculous in this day and age.

Mr. W. Yates

Surely, if the hon. Member is looking 10 or 20 years ahead, he should ask the Minister to consider the whole question of "hovering" a way down from the Midlands into the Common Market countries?

Mr. Stonehouse

I am concerned at the moment with traffic within the conurbation. I do not think we can deal with that transport problem, involving, as it would, hundreds of thousands of passengers by hovercraft. I am suggesting a monorail system to deal with the problem in those areas.

I refer the Minister to an article written by C. D. Foster, research fellow in the economics of transport at Oxford, in The Times. It was about the Victoria Line. He examined some interesting statistices in terms of the balance-sheet of social returns from developments and made a plea for the calculations of the kind he had made about the Victoria line to be more widespread.

He concludes that it should be natural for a public enterprise or responsible Government or local authority Department to make such as estimate—that is, of social returns—when deciding how to invest large sums of money. He showed, for example, that the return on the capital cost in the Victoria line of £48 million would be about 11.2 per cent. complete social return. After 50 years the return would be as much as 15 per cent. This shows that when all the factors are taken into account of even large capital sums—such as those involved in the development of underground railways at today's costs—the return in terms of social value is considerable.

This sort of survey should be carried out for the West Midlands so that we have before us the value, in social terms, of new developments in transport systems. I say this because he points out that social return estimates must be based not solely on considerations of profitability. We should take his advice. In this connection, I hope that in the provision of new transport developments for the West Midlands, we shall be thinking in terms of providing the facilities which the people of the area really deserve. They need fast transport to their employment and places of entertainment. We hope that gradually they will have more leisure time, so they must be able to get out into the countryside to enjoy that leisure. We must also remember the changes that are taking place in industrial techniques, automation and so on and realise that men are having to travel further to work.

All these developments mean that efficient transport facilities are the key to industrial success, social benefit and convenience. I urge the experts in the Ministry to pay attention to these problems and not to get bogged down by the short-term problems, although I agree that those, too, must be solved. They should raise their sights high, but, above all, they must remember that the consumer, our constituent, is all-important, far more important than mere profitability and economics. They must think of the social value of transport systems. Only by public transport are so many people able to go to and from their work, go on holiday, attend school and so on. Investment in good transport service is investment in terms of real social welfare.

6.54 a.m.

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

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. Stonehouse) felt it necessary to begin his speech with an attack on my right hon. Friend. The Opposition frequently do that and I have no doubt that the reason is that my right hon. Friend is so extremely successful in running the transport system of the country. I also thought that the hon. Member spoke rather too slowly and for too long, bearing in mind the hour. However, he covered a great deal—railways, roads, motorways, buses and one thing and another—and I will try to deal with as many of the matters as I can.

The hon. Gentleman made one criticism of my right hon. Friend, by saying that we were not spending enough money on roads. Perhaps he will have a word with his hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), who said that it was impossible to spend more than the present Government are spending on roads, schools, housing, and one thing and another. The hon. Gentleman must make up his mind therefore what he is to cut—or perhaps he is to get rid of the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East; I do not know.

I should like to place his problem in its proper perspective. As he says, the West Midlands does occupy a key place in the national transport system. This has certain advantages in that there is always a great deal of work going on, but there are disadvantages, too, in that vast volumes of traffic are generated in the place. In our plans, we try to deal with this by making in the West Midlands conurbation the key junction of three major motorways. Those motorways are the M.1 to London, the M.5 to South Wales and the M.6 to industrial Lancashire. The hon. Member's constituency will be linked by a new trunk road direct to the M.6 and thence to the M.5 and the M.1—

Mr. Stonehouse

But will the Minister concede that that will not be completed for another four years and, in the meantime, there will be considerable growth in my constituency and elsewhere?

Mr. Galbraith

The hon. Gentleman must not do that. He must let me make my speech. This is one of his main points, and I am trying to deal with it.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the need for transport surveys. The need for these was emphasised in the Buchanan Report, and now, only a very short time after the Buchanan Report, the major local authorities in this area and my right hon. Friends' Department are together—together—getting a comprehensive survey under way. The hon. Gentleman seemed to suggest that the local authorities were doing this work on their own. They are, naturally, responsible locally, because the solution to the problem is local, but they are doing it in conjunction with my right hon. Friend. Consultants have been appointed, and detailed work on the survey will start in the autumn. The whole process is expected to take about two years.

I will not refer to the amounts of money being spent on roads in the hon. Member's constituency—but they are very considerable, amounting to about £9 million worth of new road works over the next 5-year period up to 1968–69—but I shall concentrate on the problem of the feeder roads in which he and my hon. Friend the Member for the Wrekin (Mr. W. Yates) were interested.

There are two aspects to this problem of feeder roads. First of all, there is the problem of access to the temporary terminals of a motorway which is still under construction, and, secondly, the ultimate trunk roads that will serve the completed motorway. Ideally, I suppose, what we should do is to build all motorways and all feeder roads at the same time so that all traffic can move easily on all journeys whether inside or outside of towns. That is what the hon. Gentleman was suggesting, and it shows how thoroughly and hopelessly impracticable he is, because that just cannot be done.

We have to go forward a step at a time. That is what planning means—going forward a step at a time. After all, the hon. Member's area, important though it is, is only one of many important areas in Britain. This involves two things. The first is that during the construction of lengths of motorway there will be difficulties at temporary terminals. Secondly, the phasing of the costly, and inevitably slower, re-organisation of our towns must for a time create some problems on the routes which feed the motorways. Buchanan envisages the new organisation being spread over 40 years—that is the period of which he is thinking.

I should like to give some examples of what we are doing. The junction at Walsall on the M6 will be fed by the Willenhall bypass, the Bilston bypass and the Bilston link on the west. The northern and southern relief roads at West Bromwich will link with the motorway on a junction at A.41. These are all in the existing programme, and work has already started. Also work has already been or is being carried out on other roads like the A.4123 to the Oldbury junction, the A.4097 to the Gravelley Hill junction, the A.34 to the Perry Barr junction and the A.456 to the Quinton junction.

Whatever the hon. Member says, this is not too bad a record, but I agree that the heavy loads which these roads carry while the motorways are being built, though temporary, may seem to call for major work on existing roads. The A.5 is a good example where at present it is carrying the load between the M.1 and the M.6. The solution of this difficulty is to press on as best we can, as my right hon. Friend is doing, with the relieving motorway and not spend money on the old road which will become quieter once the motorway is built.

The hon. Member referred to two railway bridges which he said had taken too long to be dealt with. This may be a case of people in glass houses not being wise to throw stones, because these were programmed in 1962–63 but grant applications were not made until later. We agreed that work on these two bridges should start quickly, because they were related to the Midland Region electrification programme, and I do not think that the hon. Member would criticise us for that, but in the circumstances it was possible and desirable to base the grant on the contract and not on the estimate. This was obviously sensible and the grant will be issued in a matter of days. I suggest that the hon. Member is in a glass house because he pressed a small scheme on the Department in 1958 for which grant was issued in 1959 but was cancelled in May, 1962, because the scheme had never been started. Therefore we can call ourselves quits over that.

The hon. Member drew attention to bus services and the need to reorganise them. I am sure that he appreciates that the licensing of bus services is in the hands of the traffic commissioners. They are an independent body and my right hon. Friend cannot intervene. He also referred to the need for co-ordination between bus services. I understand that there is a great deal of co-operation and common running arrangements between municipalised services like those of Birmingham and West Bromwich and between private and municipal operators like the Midland Red and Birmingham. But one cannot be dogmatic on whether there is or is not enough co-ordination now. Facts are a first essential for rational argument and the transport survey now under way will provide them. Until we know more it would not be wise to say that this or that bit of reorganisation needs to be done.

The hon. Member referred to new forms of transport and to Mr. Foster's examination of the Victoria line. He called it the social aspect, but that term is rather out of date now. It has nothing to do with the social aspect, it is a question of the total economic cost. The Minister is well aware of the value of these studies and we have commissioned a number of them with the universities, as I am sure the hon. Member will be glad to hear. Unorthodox forms of transport have been mentioned in the debate, among them the monorail. We shall have to wait for what comes out of the survey to see whether or not that will be a useful or possible form of transport in the area.

Perhaps the most important matter that the hon. Member raised was that of railway closures. He worried about his constituency. The one line which has been closed so far is the Walsall-Dudley line. In this case my right hon. Friend concluded after careful consideration that the right course was to agree to the closure. The average daily user on the line was about 140 people in each direction and only 20 of them used Wednesbury town station. The Transport Users Consultative Committee had concluded that in general there were adequate alternative services—and that is an important matter—and it made no proposals of additional bus services. My right hon. Friend came to the conclusion that the existing bus services were ade- quate for journeys over the whole length of the line and to and from intermediate stations, but nevertheless he recognised that there would be hardship for people travelling on the 4½ miles between Walsall and Dudley Port, because of the number of times that they would have had to change buses on the existing services and the consequent increase in journey time. To meet this difficulty my right hon. Friend imposed a condition in his consent, that a through bus should be provided in the morning and evening peak for these travellers. My right hon. Friend rather went out of his way to do so, because this is not something which the T.U.C.C. had recommended.

In all this my right hon. Friend had to take some account of the cost, and the loss at which each service was running. I know that this is something of which hon. Members opposite do not like to be reminded. It was running at a loss of £17,000 per annum, which means that each person who used the railway was being subsidised to the extent of approximately 30s. a week, and, in the light of the T.U.C.C. report, my right hon. Friend did not think that this was a legitimate way to spend public money.

Mr. Stonehouse

Surely the hon. Gentleman appreciates that any road development costs an immense amount of money. If, for instance, the Buchanan proposals were put into effect in full, they would cost every family in the country £200 a year, or £4 a week. Transport has got to be paid for in some way or other. Road expenditure is paid for by taxation. It is ridiculous of the Minister to give the impression that rail transport can be dealt with in this very special way. It cannot.

Mr. Galbraith

I can understand the hon. Gentleman getting impatient at this time of the morning. This is the second time that he has tried to get me to deal with a point which I am just about to come to. He wants all the roads to be built at once. He obviously wants me to make my speech in one second, which is not possible.

Before reaching his decision, my right hon. Friend took fully into account the effect of the closure on road traffic congestion, but he decided, after having technical advice, that traffic conditions were unlikely to be affected appreciably. There are only a couple of extra buses being put on; 140 people are not many and they can be carried in three buses.

With regard to the future—and this is a point in which the hon. Gentleman was interested—my right hon. Friend took steps to ensure that the ultimate transport pattern which would emerge from the conurbation transport survey would not be prejudiced by the closure. He asked the Board to notify him if at any time it decided to dispose of any of the land occupied by the Walsall—Dudley line or if it wanted to enter into any arrangement which would permit it to be used for any other purpose. It is reserving its position as far as the future is concerned. If the traffic survey shows that some of the ideas that the hon. Gentleman suggested are the right answer, the link is available, but at the moment it is not being properly used. People have shown that they do not want to use it.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the Snow Hill—Wednesbury line. The position is that the Railways Board has given advance notice—that is all—under section 54 of the Transport Act, of the intention to close a number of services from Birmingham, Snow Hill, and these would involve the closure of Wednesbury Central station. But this is only advance notice. It is not a Section 56 notice, which is a definite proposal, and until there is a definite proposal my right hon. Friend is not involved in the matter.

The hon. Gentleman also referred to the Redditch new town and to an article in the Birmingham Post. This article contained a number of suggestions about the procedure for the consideration of closure proposals, but as this has been dealt with on many occasions in the House I do not think I should waste any time on it now. There is a proper procedure for examining all aspects of closure proposals to which objections are made. There is full consultation between my right hon. Friend's Department and other Departments before any decision is reached, and, where a new town is involved, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government is brought in. This is a point which was touched on at an earlier stage by the hon. Member for Lichfield and Tam-worth (Mr. Snow), who, to some extent, anticipated points made now by the hon. Member for Wednesbury. Representa- tions from local authorities and other bodies are, of course, fully weighed.

In the past year, there have been approximately 12 Adjournment debates on railway closures, and only three weeks ago we had a full day's debate mainly on railway closures. I do not want to repeat what I said then.

The hon. Gentleman referred to freight costs and suggested that they had some relationship to the cost of passenger transport and buses. I think that we had better wait and see what comes out of the Geddes Committee, because the figures which the hon. Gentleman quoted are the railways' figures, and we do not know whether they are right or wrong.

I have tried to deal as fully as I can with the matters which the hon. Gentleman has raised, and I trust that I have not been speaking too quickly. I hope that I have been able to set his constituents' minds at rest at least on what we are doing as regards the feeder roads and the very great care we take before we decide to give the Railways Board consent to close a railway line. The main point is that the transport problems of the Wednesbury constituency are intimately and inextricably bound up with those of the West Midlands conurbation as a whole, and their solution can be achieved only as part of an overall plan. What may be difficult to understand in local terms must be judged as part of the wider complex. Although the hon. Gentleman may be able to appreciate that, it will be more difficult for his constituents to do so, but he will be able to educate them and explain it from the local angle.

To deal with the conurbation's problems, we and the local authorities are bringing to bear a powerful new weapon in the armoury of transport planning, that is, the conurbation transport survey. It will be some time before this can be completed. Meanwhile, we are pressing on with the steps which can be justified in their own right, that is, some rationalisation of rail services after a careful study of the consequences, development of the essential motorway links, and a massive expenditure, within orderly priorities, on modernising the main conurbation road structure. The hon. Gentleman, as a devotee of planning, will appreciate the need for priorities, even if his constituents may not. There must be some such appraisal, and it may be that someone else has a better case than oneself.

Although I do not expect the hon. Gentleman to concur, I think that any impartial observer would agree that my right hon. Friend's period of stewardship at the Ministry of Transport has been very fruitful indeed, not least in the hon. Gentleman's constituency and the West Midlands region.