HC Deb 26 January 1966 vol 723 cc211-4
43. Mr. John Hynd

asked the Minister of Transport whether she will now take steps to expedite the completion of the Report on the Co-ordination of the Transport Services; and what steps she proposes to take to suspend further railway closures pending consideration of this Report.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. Stephen Swingler)

My right hon. Friend will publish her proposals on transport policy, including her plans for improving coordination, as soon as possible. The Government policy on rail closures has already been made clear in statements to the House, and I can assure my hon. Friend that the Minister will not consent to any closure which is likely to conflict with regional planning.

Mr. Hynd

Is not my hon. Friend aware that for some time there has been considerable disquiet among Members on this side of the House and throughout other circles concerned with transport at the delay in getting the results of this investigation? May we have a firmer assurance from him that there will be no precipitate closures in the meantime which could prejudice the results of the review?

Mr. Swingler

As my hon. Friend knows, this is a difficult and complex subject on which we have been making considerable progress. My right hon. Friend is meeting the chairmen of the regional planning councils tomorrow to discuss this very matter. As my hon. Friend knows, my right hon. Friend has promised a White Paper in the next few weeks.

Sir M. Redmayne

We are sorry that on this the first occasion on which the right hon. Lady the Minister could have been present she has not seen fit to be present so that we could congratulate her on her appointment. Will the hon. Gentleman bring to the Minister's attention the complaints of the Chairman of the British Railways Board made on 4th January that delays imposed by her predecessor are putting at risk the targets set in his own Government's National Plan? Does the hon. Gentleman expect that under the present Minister there will be more or fewer delays?

Mr. Swingler

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will have plenty of opportunity shortly to congratulate my right hon. Friend. Referring to the issue which he has raised, he has put his finger precisely on the difficulty. Right hon. and hon. Members are constantly asking us to give closer and longer scrutiny to railway closure proposals and then afterwards there is complaint of the cost of the delays in taking decisions. They cannot have it both ways. If there is to be a very serious scrutiny of the planning implications of rail closure proposals, inevitably it will cost money, and we have to be prepared to face that.

Mr. Strauss

Will my hon. Friend ask the new Minister to consider whether it is now possible to publish in broad outline Lord Hinton's general conclusions in his year's review and on which the co-ordination proposals of the Minister must, to some extent, inevitably be based?

Mr. Swingler

As I have said previously, Lord Hinton's Report to my right hon. Friend's predecessor was a confidential Report by a temporary civil servant. But my right hon. Friend the Minister will consider the results of Lord Hinton's studies, together with others, and will embody her conclusions on the subject in the White Paper.

Mr. Bessell

Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that, as it is the avowed policy of his Government that there shall be a co-ordinated transport policy, it is nonsense to suggest that there should be continued rail closures pending the publication of that policy? Will not he reconsider his answer?

Mr. Swingler

The right hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Sir M. Redmayne) complains that we are delaying decisions on closure proposals for a long time and the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Bessell) complains that we are proceeding too fast. Last year my right hon. Friend rejected 20 closure proposals made by the Railways Board, and he devoted a great deal of time and labour to the scrutiny of the proposals. Tomorrow we are to discuss with the chairmen of the regional planning councils how we can improve the machinery for scrutinising these proposals.

Mr. Popplewell

Would my hon. Friend convey to the Minister that we on this side of the House look to her to stop proposed closures pending the establishment of an integrated transport system? We on this side of the House believe That the amount saved by closures compared with the gross revenue of the Railways Board is infinitesimal. In view of the desirability to maintain the general well-being of the country, will my hon. Friend convey these impressions to the Minister?

Mr. Swingler

I will certainly convey my hon. Friend's impressions to my right hon. Friend. As she has already said, she will give very close attention to these matters. However, I hope that all hon. Members will consider not merely the negative side but the question of how we can improve the amount of traffic carried by the railway system.

Mr. G. R. Howard

As one who has had one branch line closed in his constituency and is threatened with the closure of another branch line, may I ask the hon. Gentleman whether he will give a definite assurance that the St. Ives branch line will not be closed without the provision of sufficient alternative transport, which we have been told already will not be available?

Mr. Swingler

The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that this Government were not responsible for the Beeching Report and the closure proposals listed therein, nor for the procedure laid down for considering them. However, I can assure him that the St. Ives branch line proposal will be very carefully scrutinised with the planning council which this Government have set up.

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