HC Deb 20 March 1967 vol 743 cc1135-75

7.18 p.m.

Mr. Michael Clark Hutchison (Edinburgh, South)

I wish in this debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill to raise the question of transport in Scotland, particularly railway transport. Last week the Minister of Transport made a statement and issued a map concerning our railways, and I wish to comment on the possible effects of that on Scotland.

I am in agreement with the right hon. Lady in trying to stabilise the position so that we have a basic plan on which to work. I am glad that she has issued a White Paper, because that will be of help to the morale of the railwaymen who have suffered grievous uncertainty in recent years about their future. They are a loyal body of people, very efficient and polite, and I wish them well.

I have always accepted that certain lines which may not be economic must be retained for defence or social reasons or because of geography and climate. These lines may require a subsidy and I am prepared to agree to one being paid. Such subsidies may, in the end, be cheaper than our trying to maintain or build all-weather roads. I therefore welcome the right hon. Lady's intention to keep open the line from Inverness to Wick and the line from Aberdeen to Inverness. However, there my congratulations must end.

In general, the Government have made a serious error in considering the railways of Scotland somewhat in isolation and not within the context of a complete transport system. It is not sensible to issue a plan and a map indicating that large sections of railway network are to be cut out completely without saying what is being put in their place. In this connection, we must remember that the Government want to reduce their finances for road building in Scotland from next year by £1 million a year or more. It seems that the Scottish transport system has a somewhat grim future.

I also regret that the Minister's statement did not display any thoughts on how she had reached her conclusions. We are not given any facts or figures about costs on the various routes, and those are essential if we are to make a proper decision on what should take place.

With respect to certain closures—that, for instance, of the stretch between Ding-wall and the Kyle of Lochalsh—climate should be taken into consideration because alternate routes are not very good. That railway also gives a splendid route across the northern part of Scotland. Has consideration been extended to the tourist traffic that might be assisted by the running of sleeper trains for motorists, with their cars as far as the Kyle of Lochalsh?

I also deplore the closing of the triangles Banff, Keith and Elgin and Keith-Dufftown-Elgin. No doubt my hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Mr. Baker) will want to say something about this, but I shall confine myself to saying that these are not areas into which it is very easy to bring new development and industries. It will become even more difficult to do so if we get rid of one set of communications. That proposal should be re-examined.

Roughly the same arguments apply to the possible closure of the Carlisle-Edinburgh route via Galashiels and the Border towns. I travelled this route myself recently, and I am quite certain that it is not expensive either to maintain or to improve. It serves an area having many efficient industries, and provides a quick route to Liverpool and to other ports for the exports of our textiles from that area, and other goods. As the House will know, the Borders are subject to severe winters, when roads are closed by ice and snow, but this railway is very seldom closed. The only bad part is at Riccarton Junction, so it is something of a lifeline. I should like to know how much the line is losing, if it is losing anything at all, and what would be the cost of making and maintaining all-weather roads in the future. We must have these figures before we can make proper decisions.

It seems to me to be very strange that while the Government desire and allegedly intend to get industrial expansion in the Borders—and we on this side agree with that aim—they should at the same time be proposing to extinguish one certain and efficient means of communication. This is Alice-in-Wonder-land planning, and I urge the Secretary of State for Scotland to have the proposal re-examined. Opposition to the closures comes from many quarters; not only from industrialists but from local authorities and individuals. I must also point out that this is a trunk route; not a branch line.

There is also the question of the railways in and around Edinburgh. The Chairman of the Railways Board was recently reported in the Scotsman as saying that the line between Newcastle and Edinburgh would be reduced to single track. Is that report correct? There is plenty of traffic coming from the south of Edinburgh and southbound from the north, and there may well be an increase of rail traffic when all the developments in central Scotland are completed. It would therefore be madness to throw away or reduce the present railway facilities.

We suffer from immense traffic problems in Edinburgh, and they are becoming continually worse. The Corporation has made many suggestions about what to do. It has been promised assistance by the Scottish Office, but we never hear anything. We are not given any information. It is not long since practically all the suburban lines were shut, certainly contrary to our opinion and wishes and efforts, and those of my Unionist colleagues in the House. Now another way, going from Corstorphine to Waverley, is threatened, and that at a time when lorry, motor and tourist traffic is increasing. Yet round the periphery of the city there are excellent stations and lines, and the terminals, being right in the centre of the city, could not be better placed.

It seems very odd to me that when places like Toronto and London and cities in America are bringing back lines, or even building additional lines, we in Edinburgh should be having to get rid of these assets, and I must protest about it. Why is there such lack of imagination? With a little effort, the city could have a first-class suburban system right round it and into the centre. The Minister talked of local lines perhaps being paid for out of the rates. I do not condemn this idea out of hand—I am quite prepared to look at it—but it needs great thought and examination.

I am asking for two things tonight. I ask, first, that no more lines in and around Edinburgh be closed, and that those that are already closed be not destroyed or taken up. We may well need them again. I ask, secondly, that the railways do not act in isolation. Will the Minister, the Edinburgh Corporation, and the Secretary of State for Scotland—whom I am glad to see present—and other interested parties please make a thorough survey? Let us not throw away assets, but avoid mistakes which will be much regretted by future generations. I am quite aware that to bring back closed lines will need amending legislation, but that is a small matter. Such a small piece of amending legislation would certainly not be opposed from this side.

I therefore ask that railway transport in Scotland, and particularly in and around Edinburgh, be re-examined, as a better decision will go a long way to solving the city's traffic problems.

7.30 p.m.

Mr. Archie Manuel (Central Ayrshire)

It is perhaps a good thing that the House should have an opportunity to talk about railway closures and the Scottish position, even though we had a debate on the White Paper on Transport only a short time ago. But it is rather an audacious enterprise for the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Clark Hutchison) and his colleagues to initiate it. All the ills of which they complain emanate directly from the 1962 Transport Act, for which they all voted.

Mr. Clark Hutchison

I abstained.

Mr. Manuel

I am delighted to know that I have a fellow abstainer on the other side of the House. I do not think the Opposition Front Bench could claim that privilege. For many long weeks in Committee on the Bill, with the help of my colleagues, I tried to get Amendments made to it, but we were unsuccessful. Eventually, the Guillotine was used to get the 1962 Act through, with all the brutalities of line closures.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. John Morris)

I am in some difficulty here. I am interested in the point of view expressed by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Clark Hutchison). What did he abstain from? Did he abstain from voting on the 1962 Bill?

Mr. Clark Hutchison

I was not satisfied with the Minister's reply, particularly about Edinburgh suburban railways and my recollection is that I did abstain.

Mr. Manuel

I willingly accept the sincerity of the hon. Member about his abstention on that occasion, but we are not dealing only with the hon. Member. He is the mouthpiece tonight, but his colleagues have to accept the onus of voting for the 1962 Bill which is now the Act and from which the brutalities of the Beeching system emanate.

Much as we may regret that certain lines may be closed, we have the definite assurance of the Minister of Transport and the new transport basic network plan, by which 3,000 more miles of railway are to be kept open than would have been under the Beeching policy. We are grateful for that. Those of us who with some care went into the 1962 Act know that we would have had nothing North of Perth if the Beeching policy had been put into operation. The hon. Member for South Angus (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne) is nodding, but he was not in the House then. I want to give him some education about it. Some of us, by a deputation, caused the Minister at that time to hold things back.

I can understand the complaint by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South about transport users' consultative committees. He asked what the basic costs of operating services were on lines which he mentioned. He wants to know the financial position and the annual loss, but these are the sort of things for which we asked in Committee on the 1962 Bill and we were refused the information.

I have been to several public hearings by transport users' consultative committees and find that one is immediately ruled out of order from the chair when these matters are raised. Some of us have had a little success and have managed to work in odd patterns so as to gel an appreciation of the picture, but the transport users' consultative committees, by virtue of the Act, do not pay any regard to that and the chairman of a committee rules such questions out of order. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have had this experience.

We all hope to get a new Bill through at the latest by early next year. Then, by the will of the House and common consent, we should get a broader outline of evidence which will be allowable at public hearings by transport users' consultative committees. There is already a wider area which can be considered before the final decision is arrived at and submitted to the Minister. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Tom Fraser) was Minister of Transport he made it clear that regional economic councils had to be consulted and the Secretary of State for Scotland had to be brought into discussions affecting Scotland before a definite decision was come to by the Minister. These contingencies surround the position before the decision is made by the Minister.

The Minister is on record as saying that the social obligations and social content of particular lines will be given very full consideration. In the debate on transport, my right hon. Friend made it clear that although certain lines would not be in the basic network that did not mean that automatically they would be closed. They still have to be considered by the transport users' consultative committees, regional economic councils and the Secretary of State for Scotland before a final decision is taken.

Mr. John Brewis (Galloway)

I am sure that the hon. Member would like to be fair. Will he agree that this is exactly the position under the Beeching plan? The matter had to go through the T.U.C.C.s. Many lines were reprieved long before the right hon. Lady became Minister.

Mr. Manuel

The hon. Member is quite wrong because the basic network is now 3,000 miles more. There is no dubiety about that. When we had discussions and debates about lines in the Highlands, Dr. Beeching publicly said, "This is not for me to decide. If the Government want to carry them all, good and well." But they never took any decision on the social content of any particular line when hon. Members opposite were holding the reins of government.

Mr. Gordon Campbell (Moray and Nairn)rose—

Hon. Members

Give way.

Mr. Manuel

Who is shouting, "Give way"?

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am not certain to whom the hon. Member for South Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) has given way. Mr. Campbell.

Mr. G. Campbell

Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and I thank the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel), who has given way. I was a member of the Government at the time. The hon. Member will remember two very important lines north of Inverness, to Wick and to Kyle of Lochalsh, which the Government decided should stay for social and other reasons. Please do not forget that.

Mr. Manuel

I recognise that, but the hon. Member is the pillar of the 1962 Transport Act which brought the whole thing about. He cannot get away from the vote which he cast in favour of it. If we had some help from him in keeping Highland lines open, let him not claim too much credit for himself, because we were leading the battle at that time.

Mr. G. Campbell

But one of these lines is now to go.

Mr. Speaker

If an hon. Member intervenes, even though he is a Scottish hon. Member, he must do it in a Parliamentary way.

Mr. Manuel

; I am grateful to you for protecting me, Mr. Speaker from the anger opposite. Usually, the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. G. Campbell) is very good-tempered. I am rather surprised that he is showing a little venom.

Mr. G. Campbell

I am grateful to the hon. Member for giving way. Because I thought that he might not wish to give way so soon I made that comment. Sometimes he makes remarks from a sedentary position and I thought that he would understand. One of the reasons why we feel so strongly about this is that the Kyle of Lochalsh line is now on the list of those which are to go. The new document which came out last Wednesday shows that one of these two lines, which we decided should be retained, is now due to go.

Mr. John Morris

May I remind my hon. Friend and the House that the decision in regard to the Kyle of Lochalsh was not a definite one. The right hon. Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples) said when he gave his refusal on 16th April, 1964, that it was an interim decision, but he considered that the ultimate future of the line should be reconsidered when some progress had been made with road improvements.

Mr. Manuel

I am pleased that my hon. Friend has made that point. We remember the decision. We remember the great debate there was about the bad road. It was said that when this had been put right there would be no impediment to the line's being closed. I hope that there will be no impediment. This stretch of line is vitally important and I hope that it will be kept open.

Mr. Ian MacArthur (Perth and East Perthshire)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Manuel

Mr. Speaker, I shall soon have given way to all the Scottish Tory Members.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman must not appeal to me for help. He himself decides whether to give way or not.

Mr. MacArthur

The hon. Gentleman has graciously decided to give way. Is the Kyle of Lochalsh line down for survival or decease in the White Paper?

Mr. Manuel

The White Paper does not mention the Kyle of Lochalsh line. The hon. Gentleman will need to read it again. Mr. Speaker, I was not asking you for your protection. I feel quite capable of taking on any six hon. Members opposite at any one time.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. I must give the hon. Gentleman my protection now.

Mr. Manuel

I have nearly finished.

I base my case on the fact that hon. Members opposite gave strong support and cast votes for the 1962 Act. All our troubles emanate from that. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South is not here. He asked that certain lines in and around Edinburgh and other places be not destroyed—in other words, that they be uplifted. He should know that the Minister of Transport has already said that the basic network will be kept in being in case of industrial development, industrial location or rehousing of municipal tenants, which could alter the situation and there could again be representations from the Regional Economic Council to the effect that a certain railway line should be reopened.

The Opposition are on a very sticky wicket. The Labour Government intend to keep 3,000 more railways miles in being than the Tory Government did. Tory Members have a great deal of cheek in making this criticism of the Government tonight.

7.43 p.m.

Mr. W. H. K. Baker (Banff)

I intervene largely to obtain some elucidation from the Joint Parliamentary Secretary on the statement which the Minister of Transport made last Wednesday on the British Railways Network for Development map and the Press conference given jointly by the Minister of Transport and the Chairman of the British Railways Board. All the things I have mentioned do little to remove the uncertainty from the minds of the general public and amongst local authorities. Indeed, there is even more uncertainty amongst local authorities than there was before. This is due largely to the passages in the Minister's statement and at her Press conference when she was very vague about the part that local authorities would be likely to be play in the keeping open of lines.

I admit that the Minister said that consultations would take place in the future, but it is very difficult for local authorities to have any idea of how to plan their budgeting, their road programmes, and other matters, unless they have pretty good basic material to work on. I would go so far as to say that the whole position is clouded in obscurity.

I wish to refer to two railway lines in my constituency which are under suspended sentence. One line is that in the North, the line from Cairnie Junction via Portsoy, Cullen, Portknockie, Findochty, Buckie, Portgordon and thence to Elgin. The other line is in the South from Keith Junction to Duff town and Craigiellachie and thence to Elgin. According to the British Railways Board, both lines are scheduled for closure.

There have been no fewer than two appeals to the Transport Users' Consultative Committee; there have been two hearings in Elgin, where evidence has been taken. The Committee has reported to the Minister that it sees no grounds of hardship which would justify the lines being kept open.

When the decision was made known by the T.U.C.C, I at once appealed to the Minister. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary was good enough to see me. I put various points to him. Therefore, the position is fairly well documented. These two lines are now under a sort of suspended sentence.

The foreword to the map states: The Board will proceed with this review "— that is the review of the closure of lines— as quickly as possible and when they decide to publish a proposal will not now need to seek the Minister's agreement to publication in each case. Two questions immediately arise. First, is the Minister's sanction against closures completely withdrawn? Do notices of intention of closure already published stand as part of policy? Secondly—I think that this is vitally important as regards Scotland—is it to be understood from these statements that the Secretary of State for Scotland's sanction no longer obtains in any instance?

Paragraph 299 of "The Scottish Economy 1965 to 1970; a Plan for Expansion"—Cmnd. 2864—states: The new arrangements under which all passenger closure proposals are referred to the Scottish Economic Planning Council for their advice before a ministerial decision is taken, and the participation of the Ministry of Transport, along with a Railways Board representative, in all the work of the Scottish Economic Planning Board, will ensure for the future that railway planning and the wider issues of economic planning for Scotland march hand in hand". The statements in this foreword contradict the Scottish plan for economic expansion.

The foreword also says that lines such as those in my constituency which I have mentioned on present evidence are not proposed for inclusion in the basic network. That is understandable.

This does not mean that a decision has been taken to close them. If it does not mean that, what on earth does it mean? According to the proposals published in the spring of 1966, which, as far as I know, have never been withdrawn, the Railways Board is to close these lines. Later in the statement we read: When a closure proposal has. been published advice will as now be obtained … from the Transport Users Consultative Committees on hardship "— I repeat that that has already been obtained in the case of the Banff lines which I indicated earlier— and from the Regional Economic Planning Councils on planning implications in the area. My information is that the North-East of Scotland Planning Consultative group has already recommended against closure to the Scottish Economic Planning Council, of which the Secretary of State is Chairman. If that is so, why do the lines on the map appear as what I think are termed grey lines? It seems to me absolute nonsense.

It is true that Professor Gaskin of Aberdeen University has been asked to undertake a further planning study of the north-east of Scotland. It may well be that the reasons for the delay are largely due to the Government waiting for his report. We should be told whether that is so or not. In any event, the House and the people of Banffshire need a great deal more information about the Minister's intention.

One of the main reasons why Scottish nationalists, and probably Welsh nationalists, have been surging forward recently is that they have the feeling that the man, or woman, in Whitehall knows best and that, being on the periphery, their feelings are neglected and are not taken into account. In this context, the operative feeling is one of remoteness in every sense, and no more is that true than in the case of railway closures.

I challenge the Minister of Transport to make a tour of the remoter areas and to see what we have to put up with in very bad winters. It is all very well to sit in London and to read Press reports and see photographs on television. I would give the Minister or the Parliamentary Secretary a hearty welcome to my constituency. Admittedly at this time of year they would have to use a great deal of imagination because the countryside is beginning to perk up. It is not an uncommon occurrence to have a very hard winter in my part of the world.

The line in Upper Banffshire via Duff-town to Craigellachie is literally the lifeline of that part of the world in winter. Although generally the volume of passenger traffic on this line is small, there are days when it is fairly heavy. It is particularly heavy on Mondays and Fridays, because landladies in Aberdeen are not very keen to keep university students over the weekend. They turf them out and they have to get home. In the winter it would be completely impossible for students to reach home and get back to university on Mondays without the railway.

Another matter which I should like to mention concerns stretcher cases. As a result of the socialisation of hospital services and specialist treatment in Aberdeen, it is often necessary to send stretcher cases by road. What happens if the railways are withdrawn? Does the Minister visualise laying on a special helicopter service for these people? There are other matters to be considered, for instance, milk supplies and the production at the right time and in the right place of vital agricultural implements, spares and the like.

If the line to which I refer in Upper Banffshire is closed the area will be completely cut off, because bus services as they exist and as they are proposed are totally inadequate to replace the railways. The roads are not suitable to carry increased bus traffic, and nor are they capable of taking this traffic in bad weather.

There is a move afoot to centralise secondary education in Keith. This is a decision which, quite rightly, is bitterly resented and opposed by the residents in Upper Banffshire. If the railways close, a large fleet of buses will be necessary to transport the children to school. About 200 or 300 children are involved. But the buses would be needed and operated only in the mornings and evenings on four or five days a week. The capital outlay and the maintenance charges would be considerable and out of all proportion, whereas the small number of buses which largely exist already could be used to transport the children. It makes nonsense of an integrated policy if this sort of thing continues.

This is equally true of the coastline. Here the tourist industry will be very adversely affected. This is a growing industry on a very beautiful coastline in Banffshire. It is a already hard hit by the Selective Employment Tax, and we do not want to hit it harder by withdrawing the railways. Many landladies have told me that they are very apprehensive about their trade if the railway line closes. I have had personally not a few contacts with industrialists with a view to getting them to set up their factories in the Banffshire coastal area. The first question which they ask almost invariably when they realise the remoteness of the area is: What is the railway position? All that I can tell them is that the railway is under suspended sentence.

I remind the Government that there is a vast differential in the wage rates between Scotland, particularly the northeast of Scotland, and the rest of the United Kingdom. As a result, far fewer people are able to own motor cars than in other parts of the country. We must have a halt to depoplation, and railway closures will certainly not help to arrest it. They can only accentuate the problems.

We are having difficulty with farm labour. It probably sounds archaic nonsense for me to say that farm labour depends on the retention of railway lines, but in fact it is not nonsense. A great number of people in that part of the world depends on the railways lines to get from place to place, because the bus services are inadequate and the plans that have been published for augmentation if the lines are closed are equally inadequate.

I very much hope that the Government will give careful attention to the problems. I renew my invitation to the hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friend. I should be delighted to show them the area and what we have to put up with.

8.01 p.m.

Mr. John P. Mackintosh (Berwick and East Lothian)

I feel a certain sympathy with the railways and my right hon. Friend the Minister in this type of debate, because there seems to be a certain ritual in that the Government of the day tries to get the railway system into a resonable financial situation and the Opposition of the day complain about the closures more or less willy-nilly. In this situation we should try for a while to leave the railways alone with their new remit to find out how the system will work and how the actual costing is going.

One things that alarms me when I talk to British Railways management is the frequency with which its remit has been changed in recent years, so that it does not really know how to plan. It wonders what the result of the next General Election will be, who will come to power, who will be put in charge of it and under what new scheme. It is difficult to decide what would be the view of hon. Members opposite if they came to power. It is fair to doubt that in view of their record when they were the Government and imposed the Beeching Plan on the railways while now they reverse their position and criticise the reduction in the plan or railway mileages due to be closed.

One must try to be a bit more realistic and use a longer term in which to consider the situation, working out the costings and deciding precisely how the railways will work their new system, what will be the relationship with the roads, with regional planning and so on. I am not clear on what basis the extra 3,000 miles has been reinstated in the recent White Paper, because as far as I can see it has not been done purely on a cost basis; in fact, the lines have not been costed one by one. They seem to have been reinstated on a mixture of grounds—that they might pay, for hardship reasons or for economic planning and development reasons. All three of those arguments seem to me to be perfectly respectable. I should like there to be time for the situation to develop, so that we know which of the three criteria applies in each case, or whether none of the criteria are satisfied.

It is therefore reasonable for the Government and British Railways to state definitely that certain lines will stay, that certain lines will be for freight only and that they have not made up their minds about others. I would make a small plea that they do not make up their minds about those lines in too much of a hurry. Dr. Beeching estimably introduced for the first time the idea of cost accounting into the railways, where I was horrified that it was not done before. But he did not fully appreciate the effect on a necessary railway line or a worthwhile line of closing ancillary feeder services which might by themselves be uneconomic. If one closes sufficient ancillary feeder services one may make the main line uneconomic as well, and thus edge it into the list of lines due to be closed on purely economic grounds.

Mr. Manuel

Would my hon. Friend agree that Dr. Beeching had another weakness, in so far as his cost analysis dealt only with the role of railways and not with other forms of transport, and that that cannot be done in isolation in obtaining a real transport system?

Mr. Mackintosh

I accept my hon. Friend's point, but that was not Dr. Beeching's remit. He was asked simply to consider the railways. It may have been a fault that he was not asked to consider total transport policy by the Government of the day, but I do not lay that particularly at his door.

The "grey" lines in the recent White Paper which are under suspended consideration should not be closed or reviewed too hurriedly. I should particularly like to see the House encourage British Railways not to decide too rapidly on these lines but rather ask the contrary question: "How can we make the lines pay and see them provide a service?" I have been rather disappointed in this matter by the leadership of British Railways in the Scottish Region. It seems to me that it has too often taken its remit to be a quick attempt to close a line which alternative methods of manning and running could make economic.

I had the curious situation of railwaymen in my constituency approaching me with detailed schedules and briefing me on how commuter services into Edinburgh could be run. I had to take their briefs and plans to the headquarters of British Railways and try to convince the management with detailed schedules and maps that in the case of East Linton and East Fortune they had the diesel set doing nothing between "A" and "B" time, the track is maintained as a main line and a two-way service into Edinburgh could work. They could run a small commuter service in the area into Edinburgh which might make only £20 or £30 profit a month but would keep up the Railways' public image, maintain enthusiasm for the railway and show that the management is concerned to make money, even if it was at a small or low level.

I was impressed recently to read of a "bus stop" diesel service in East Anglia making money stopping at unmanned halts, with the driver taking the fares. That is the type of service which we could use on the Drem to North Berwick line and for a stopping service on the main line to Dunbar. These services would perform a useful function, because it will be difficult to get a dual carriageway Al road till there is a bypass at Musselburgh and at Tranent and the former cannot be built until we get a ring road established for Edinburgh.

I spent a very valuable two hours last Friday talking this over with an executive of British Railways, who has agreed to look at the East Linton service and try out my proposals because he had to admit at the end of two hours discussion that it could not see how money could be lost on it. It was amazing that I should have to explain that to them as a result of information from railwaymen in my constituency and I am grateful to British Railways for considering it.

Mr. T. G. D. Galbraith (Glasgow, Hillhead)

I am very interested in what the hon. Member says about trying to make the railways profitable. Does he think that the fact that it is a nationalised industry may have something to do with it?

Mr. Mackintosh

Nothing whatever. It may have something to do with the way that the railways political remit has been altered too frequently in recent years to let them settle on a proper commercial policy. Also the historic problems of the railways go far back in management attitudes and behaviour. It is very bad luck on the railways in a sense that their management and approach is in many ways still rather Victorian.

I see no reason why it should be left to the airlines to have attractive lounges and air hostesses, while British Railways waiting rooms are draughty horrors and one's ticket is clipped time and again and never by a rail hostess! There is no reason why the railways should not compete with their fast inter-city trains, their liner trains and, I believe, with commuter facilities, provided they adopt modern methods and a proper level of service and comfort.

The Government and Opposition should not chivvy the railways too much in the next two or three years. The management should have time to stabilise the present system, to see how it works, to apply new techniques in commuter, inter-city and liner trains. The less we push British Rail about in the next year or two the better.

8.9 p.m.

Mr. J. Bruce-Gardyne (South Angus)

I find myself in certain sympathy with the views of the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) when he talked about the need not to chivvy the railways around. That is a valid point.

All the remarks made until now have concentrated on rail transport, but we are also discussing transport generally in the debate, which we are grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Clark Hutchison) for having initiated.

I want to say a word first about the road position. It may be recalled that in the Scottish Plan of honoured memory it was stated that the Government had decided to increase the programme of road expenditure for Scotland from £120 million over the five year period 1965-70 to £137 million. This sounded better than it was, because the Government had to explain that it was merely to allow for increased costs.

However, it is interesting to see what has happened more recently. One sees from the latest batch of Civil Estimates that expenditure on roads in England goes up by more than £23 million but expenditure on roads in Scotland goes down by more than £1 million. One wonders what the Secretary of State for Scotland was doing when that was arranged—with the famous voice that is supposed to speak up for Scotland—though I understand that he prefers to be called "office boy". What was he doing when this example of Government priorities was being laid down?

Mr. MacArthur

Turning down N.A.L.G.O.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

I have no doubt that, as my hon. Friend suggests, the right hon. Gentleman was busy turning down N.A.L.G.O. However, that perhaps goes rather wide of the subject that we are discussing.

We should like information from the Joint Parliamentary Secretary about the way in which that change in the Estimates occurred. How is it that Scotland is once more being discriminated against in the road programme?

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. William Ross)

If the hon. Gentleman is comparing the Estimates for last year with the Estimates for this year, he is not comparing like with like.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

We ought to have a clear explanation. The Secretary of State may have noticed the comment of the A.A. Regional Controller for Scotland last weekend. He said that the cut-back in spending on Scottish roads was nothing short of a scandal. I hope that before we conclude the debate we shall be given some explanation of these figures.

Mr. Ross

It is a great pity that hon. Members who pride themselves on following what is happening should not be able to notice that the Estimates for this year are not the same in form as those for last year. If hon. Gentlemen opposite had been following the legislation that has been passing through the Scottish Committee and the House they would have appreciated that a considerable part of last year's Estimate has now been transferred to the rate support grant. The hon. Gentleman ought not to jump to conclusions and mislead people like those of the A.A. and the rest in that respect. We are not spending less on roads; we shall be spending more on them.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

In that case we ought to have the figures. I recognise that the new system of rate support grant has introduced a different method of financing expenditure on roads, but if the Secretary of State is saying that this accounts for the whole of the change, then it ought to be explained to the people in Scotland, to whom it has not so far been explained.

I turn to a matter of much more direct concern to my constituency—rail transport. My hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Mr. Baker) is apparently still in the fortunate position of awaiting a decision about the lines in his constituency. For us in Angus the axe has already fallen. We have heard a certain amount tonight about the new procedures which the Government have introduced. The hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) said that there was now a procedure for consulting the regional economic planning councils. I should like to tell him just how that occurred in the case of the Strathmore line in my constituency. The decision to close it and withdraw the passenger service was announced a week before the regional economic planning council met for the first time. That was how it was consulted about this closure proposal.

I want to follow the question through a little. We have heard a great deal about the new techniques that the Government have introduced and the way in which, unlike their predecessors, they have safeguarded social interests in the areas served by the railways. I sometimes wonder where people have been living when they talk like that; it is certainly not in the area around Angus which is served by the Strathmore line.

This case is an interesting textbook example of how the new procedures work. In January last year the transport users consultative committee considered the proposal for the withdrawal of the passenger service across the Valley of Strathmore through Forfar to the main centre that it serves in my constituency. The consultative committee eventually decided and recommended that the closure should not be proceeded with because it would create cumulatively severe hardship. So there was a pause. No doubt the new techniques of consultation, though not with the regional economic planning committee, were taking place, and, finally in November last year the Minister decided that, notwithstanding the advice of the consultative committee, the closure should go ahead.

Mr. Manuel

I do not want the hon. Gentleman to misquote me. While I indicated clearly that the regional economic planning councils would be consulted by my right hon. Friend, I hope I did not indicate that that was the major improvement that we put forward in the White Paper. The major improvement is the new Transport Act that is necessary in order to remodel the whole transport users consultative committee procedure in order to get a clear picture why a line is being closed.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

I do not think I was misquoting the hon. Gentleman. I did not suggest that he had said that the consultation with the regional economic planning councils was the major improvement, but he suggested that as an improvement. I am merely saying how in an instance which is particularly and inevitably well known to me the procedure has worked out in practice.

However, the decision was taken, and the regional economic planning council was not there to be consulted because its first meeting was not until a week later. It may be that this was a convenient coincidence, but that was how it was.

What has happened since? This is so much water under the bridge, though that is perhaps a somewhat unfortunate metaphor to use in the circumstances. At any rate, the decision was taken by the Minister. I recognise, and my constituents recognise, that such are the ways of Ministers—I do not suggest that this is unique to the present Government—that once a decision of this kind has been taken it is unlikely to be reversed.

But under the provisions of the much-maligned 1962 Act a clear obligation is placed upon the Minister to satisfy himself or herself that adequate alternative public service transport is available before a rail service is withdrawn. An hon. Member opposite complained about some of my hon. Friends voting for the Transport Act, 1962. I was not in the House then as he was quick to point out. If I had been in the House, I should have voted for it. I believe that it is essential that a sense of commercial values should be reintroduced into the railways where they are so lacking precisely for the sort of reason to which the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian was referring—the decay in the state of the services that the railways are providing because they are divorced from commercial considerations. But the 1962 Act also provided that in every case of closure the decision should rest with the Minister, in consultation with the Secretary of State for Scotland.

Mr. Manuel

As a railwayman I know the general picture. Is the hon. Member saying that purely commercial economic values should be the deciding factor in whether the Highland lines are closed? If he is, then they will all be closed.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

No. I am saying precisely the opposite. I am saying that it was necessary that the commercial principle should be reintroduced but that it was essential, as the Act provided, that the Minister should retain the ultimate power of decision in order to protect those lines where overriding social considerations made it essential that closure should not take place.

Moreover, under the Act the Minister was required to satisfy himself that adequate alternative public service transport was provided. This is the crux of my concern tonight. The right hon. Lady decided in the case of the Strathmore line that adequate alternative public service transport would be provided by the addition of a few express bus services between Forfar and Perth, because in her wisdom she concluded that the good citizens of Forfar would use Perth and not Dundee as their railhead. I immediately suggested to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary that for many travellers from Forfar, Dundee would be a better railhead than Perth, and I pointed out that when the transport users' consultative committee met very strong evidence was produced to the committee that an adequate bus service between Forfar and Dundee must take passengers direct to Tay Bridge station instead of depositing them, as at the moment, more than a quarter-of-a-mile from the station. The T.U.C.C.

Report has not been published, but it is my understanding that the T.U.C.C. emphasised this point very strongly in its Report.

When the Minister had reached her decision and had laid it down that all that was required was a bus service between Forfar and Perth, I immediately pointed out that it was essential that a bus service should be provided between Forfar and Dundee. There has been a chain of correspondence between myself and the Joint Parliamentary Secretary about this and other related matters in the last few months. Today I received what I can only take to be his ultimate reply, in which he said: As you know, in giving her consent to the closure the Minister was satisfied that the introduction of revised bus services, including fast limited-stop buses, providing rail connections at Perth would substantially alleviate any hardship arising from closure and that any remaining hardship was not sufficient to justify the retention of the line ". But hope is not totally abandoned, for he added, If experience over a reasonable period of time should indicate that the alternative services need further strengthening in any direction, then the Minister would, of course, be willing to look into it again on the basis of factual evidence of need". Thus, my constituents will have to trail through mud, rain and snow, day in and day out, through the streets of Dundee to Tay Bridge Station in order to satisfy the right hon. Lady that additional services are required. This is not good enough. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary may regard this as a laughing matter, but I assure him that my constituents do not.

Mr. John Morris

I do not know whether the hon. Member is failing in eyesight or hearing, but I was in no sense regarding this as a laughing matter. I gave my correspondence with him a great deal of consideration. If he were fair minded he would tell the House that he had from me an interim reply stating that I was not in a position to give a full reply but hoping that he would accept it from me, in all sincerity, that I wanted to give the matter further consideration. In order that he might raise the matter in this debate, I ensured that he received that reply before today.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

I in no sense complained about the length of time which the Joint Parliamentary Secretary took to answer my letters on the point. If he studies HANSARD he will find that that is so. I am complaining about the nature of the reply. If he says that he was not smiling, I withdraw my remarks, but it was certainly my impression that he was smiling and I can assure him that my constituents do not regard this as a laughing matter.

I believe that in handling this closure proposal the Government have shown scant regard for the principles embodied in the 1962 Act, quite apart from the additional procedures which they claim to have introduced. They have laid down conditions for alternative public service transport which I can only regard as scandalously inadequate. It may be that in other parts of the country people are prepared to take the diktat of the Minister of Transport as to which railhead they should regard as suitable when a rail service is withdrawn, but I can assure the hon. Member that the people in my constituency are not prepared to accept that diktat. It is clear to anybody with a rudimentary knowledge of the area that Dundee is for many intents and purposes a more satisfactory railhead than Perth, though both are essential.

We must insist that the Government look at this again and that they do not fob us off with the statement that they cannot help to overcome the Dundee Corporation's objections to the re-routing of the bus service via Tay Bridge station. That is an abdication of the Government's responsibilities under the 1962 Act. We want better than this, and we want it before the rail service is withdrawn.

8.27 p.m.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)

I have been following the speech of the hon. Member for South Angus (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne). As usual, he tries to have the best of both worlds. He starts by a favourable recognition of the importance of cost-effectiveness in planning and then proceeds to derogate from that principle throughout the rest of his speech.

If I try, during the course of this debate, to focus attention, temporarily at least, on the problems of Highland transport, it is because in the Highlands transportation is the skeleton on which the framework of industrial development must be built. The timeliness of this debate is clear, and we are indebted to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Clark Hutchison) for raising it.

We are awaiting publication by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland of the Highland Transport Board's report. I hope that it will be possible to debate it, because its recommendations will be of considerable importance. To focus attention on the railways is both timely and welcome. The fact that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport has now clearly recommended that 3,000 more miles of railway will be preserved than would have been preserved under the Beeching plan is an indication of the Government's concern for the development of the Highlands; and I must express my complete satisfaction that the future of the Inverness-Wick line has been put beyond doubt.

A valuable point was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) about the modernisation of the railways and its efforts to attract business. During the last couple of years, there have been a number of disquieting indications of a readiness to abandon business by the railways, at least in the Highlands. I think, in particular, of the ending of the transport facilities for livestock for points north of Inverness. This is something that Scottish railways should look at again.

But, by and large, as transportation exists at present, the main arteries are, of course, the roads. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland for clearing up the point, which has been too widely broadcast, which suggests that we are spending less in the coming year on roads in Scotland. It was a timely and much-needed intervention and I hope that it will be given the publicity it deserves.

There are, however, some problems arising from the new methods of financing roads, particularly in the Highlands. One to which I would draw attention is the number of very important roads hitherto classified as second-class roads which will not be eligible under the new rate support grant for subsidisation as principal roads. I hope that there will be some other method of taking over commitments which have existed under the local authority rolling programmes for subsidisation of these roads.

There is one such road in my constituency, which I give as an example. It is the Kinlochbervie-Rhiconich road. It is receiving £10,000 per annum under the rolling programme and it is vital to the fishing industry of Kinlochbervie, although it is classified as a second-class road. It seems that its grant may be threatened by the new system. If it is, I hope that the problem can be ironed out.

But the transportation of the future in the Highlands must be air transport. I welcome the indications of development in these services, for example, the increased services being offered by B.E.A. from the northern airports to the South, particularly from Inverness to London. It is becoming increasingly ludicrous to talk about the difficulties of communications as an obstacle to development when it is now possible to get from London to the north coast of Scotland in less than four hours.

Mr. Brewis

Does the hon. Gentleman see any future for internal communications in the Highlands by light aircraft?

Mr. Maclennan

I was coming to that.

In particular, I welcome the development in the northern islands of Orkney, where, this summer, Logan Air is, I believe, opening up a new internal service. This must be the line of ready communication in the future. But I suggest that it would be appropriate to initiate studies of the possible use to be made of such internal transportation without waiting for commercial initiative.

I understand that Logan Air, very properly and with considerable enterprise, showed initiative in the case of the northern Orkney Islands, but we shall wait for some time before the more remote parts of my constituency are likely to be so served if purely commercial considerations are to operate. The importance of connecting such places as the north-west of Sutherland with the main population centres cannot be underestimated.

I am not concerned wholly with social hardship, the difficulties of getting children to school on the East Coast and problems engendered by sickness and emergencies. To some extent, medical emergencies can be dealt with by means of helicopter services. I am particularly concerned about possible industrial and other economic developments in those areas, because it is on transport that these depend.

During the last few weeks, our thoughts have been focused on this matter by the prospects of development in the Invergordon area. Whatever may be the outcome of the plans for its development, there is no doubt that it was the presence of a possible deep-water port at Invergordon which made it such an attractive prospect and a natural one for the Highland Development Board to look at seriously.

The possibility of establishing a petrochemical complex or, for that matter, any industry in that area would be enormously enhanced by the development of a deep-water port, and the same can be said of other parts of the Highlands. I would draw attention to the possibilities at Scrabster, on the north coast of Caithness, which, in some ways, in an even more attractive prospect than that of Invergordon and where deep water is reached much more quickly than at Invergordon.

The close connection between development and transport has been brought home forcibly to me by my exchanges with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Technology about the development of mineral resources in the north-west of Sutherland, where there are important magnesium and phosphate deposits. The question of their viable economic development appears at present to turn on a nice calculation of the costs of transportation. Here again, there is a possibility of a deep-water port being developed at Loch Eriboll on the North Coast. I hope that those discussions will be continued and that the Government will assist the development of these parts of my constituency.

I wish to draw attention to one further matter to do with air transport, and that is whether or not the present helicopter services for emergency medical cases are adequate. I have had exchanges with Ministers on the point, and there is no doubt that the procedures for obtaining the services of a helicopter are extremely cumbersome. It appears that helicopters can be obtained only when they are not required by the Services. It is clear that fixed-wing aircraft are much more suitable for air transportation in the North.

I hope that the Government are giving consideration to the possibility of extending the airstrip facilities, not major airport facilities along the lines of Wick and Dalcross, but more along the lines of those which have been successfully developed in some of the remoter parts of New England in the United States, where there are airstrips manned by a minimal number of staff and aeroplanes can readily touch down, pick up the sick patient, and fly off again without the full apparatus of a modern airport.

For this purpose, it will be necessary to have quite different aeroplanes in service from those which are at present on the Highland routes. We should be giving serious consideration to the possibility of using aircraft such as the Grumman Goose, which can land on water. There are examples of this aircraft being used in the Highlands by private aircraft operators.

Moreover, British European Airways would do well to consider whether or not the corporation is altogether wise in laying so much emphasis upon the extension of facilities which already exist at airports to enable their aircraft to land at them. There is much to be said for extending the number of airfields and reducing the size of the aircraft operating from them.

The Highland Transport Board, in its report, may well have referred to many of these points. We await its publication with interest, and I hope that we shall have the opportunity of a further debate on this matter.

I welcome the opportunity to reiterate the vital importance of transportation in the Highlands. I hope that some of the points that I have made will be considered by my hon. Friend.

8.42 p.m.

Mr. T. G. D. Galbraith (Glasgow, Hillhead)

I know that there are a great many other subjects which hon. Members want to raise, but before we come to them I should like to intervene to say a few words before the Minister replies. We are grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Dewar)—

Mr. Manuel

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Clark Hutchison)—

Mr. Galbraith

The Member for Edinburgh, South—we soon will have another hon. Member on this side of the House for Aberdeen, South—for having initiated this debate, because it has given many hon. Members the opportunity to raise the case of separate lines, such as did my hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Mr. Baker) in a splendid fighting speech. I hope the Minister will be able to deal with these cases satisfactorily. I should like to ask one or two more general questions—

Mr. Manuel

The hon. Gentleman is on a bad wicket.

Mr. Galbraith

The hon. Gentleman says that I am on a bad wicket, but I think that I am on rather a good wicket. We will see how the Minister returns the balls which I shall bowl to him.

First, the railways in Scotland have been divided into two sorts. There are the black ones on the map and the grey ones. I think that hon. Members who have grey ones in their constituency will be very interested to know how the goats have been separated from the sheep; how, in fact, one line becomes black on the map and is privileged to stay open, and another one becomes grey, is underprivileged, and is a candidate for closure.

How was this network decided? That question was asked by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh). We should like to know the basis on which it was decided, or whether it was just a hunch. I should like to hear from the Minister how this was decided. This is quite an important question. The Minister rightly said on Wednesday, when making her statement: … this country cannot afford to throw money about just for the fun of it …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th March, 1967; Vol. 743, c. 408] I think that we would all agree with that, and I expect that it is for this reason that the grey lines are to be subjected to the careful scrutiny organised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples) when he was Minister of Transport, so as to decide what is right in the national interest, and whether the cost to the taxpayer of keeping open a non-paying line is justified.

I am glad that the Minister has seen the wisdom of my right hon. Friend's procedure—this may come as a surprise to the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel)—and has decided to abandon the preliminary screening by the Ministry of Transport, instituted by the right hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Tom Fraser), as an altogether unnecessary face saving operation, and has gone back to the very fair procedure instituted by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey.

Mr. John Morris

I can give the hon. Gentleman some consolation. The publication of the map is the preliminary screening.

Mr. Galbraith

I do not see how it is the preliminary screening, because the grey lines have to go through the procedure laid down by my right hon. Friend. I think this a good thing, because if we cannot afford to throw money about, as the Minister said, why should the non-paying black lines not also be subject to the same procedure as the non-paying grey lines? This would be fair vis-à-vis the grey lines. The nation wants value for money, and it wants to do what is right, and it is only by the most careful scrutiny of each line in every aspect—financial as well as social—that it is possible to say what is the right thing to do.

In her statement the Minister spoke of the stability of the industry, and various hon. Members have referred to this, but no industry can have stability. It must fend off competitors. It must seek new markets. It should perhaps even try to make profits. None of these may have the same compelling force for a nationalised industry, which is subsidised, as they have for a private business, which is not, but they are nevertheless important. So, too, is technological change. This is something out of which the railways cannot contract, not unless they want to become Victorian transport museums, as the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian said.

My second question to the Minister is about the future of the black lines. We know how the grey lines are to be treated. They are to be treated in the same way as they were by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey. If the British Railways Board want to close some of the black lines, will it be prevented from doing so, or can it proceed under section 56 in the same way as it can with the grey? I shall be very interested to hear the Minister's answer to this, because if the railways can proceed under section 56 for the black lines as well as for the grey, there is really no difference between the two. If, on the other hand, the railways cannot proceed under section 56, how can the Board streamline itself to changing demand for example, or to a decline in traffic?

Mr. Manuel

The hon. Gentleman should read the Minister's speech.

Mr. Galbraith

I have read it, and as a result of doing so, and because I failed on that occasion to catch the eye of the Chair, I felt it necessary to go a little further into the matter.

A slightly different question concerns lines which have been closed, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South referred. Has the Minister any plans for dealing with these as a result of what I would call the Norfolk, or East Anglian, experiment, perhaps by opening stations as unmanned halts where the line is still used? I have a personal interest in this, because my station is closed, but, as the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire never tires of pointing out to me, the line is not closed, and I wonder whether the Minister has any intention of trying out the East Anglian experiment in other parts of the country.

Mr. Manuel

This is very interesting, and there is a lot of loose talk about it. When the hon. Gentleman talks about unmanned halts, is he suggesting that they should operate during the hours of darkness, in winter, when cripples, or invalids, or aged people might need to use them?

Mr. Galbraith

I do not want to prejudice the matter in any way, or to take up too much time, but I understand that this operates in East Anglia. I do not know to what extent a train is more dangerous than a bus on a road. I merely want to know whether the Minister is thinking of trying the experiment in other parts of the country where, although stations have been closed, the lines serving them have not, and also, whether he is examining the possibilities, where lines have been closed, of the institution of light railways, which, I understand, also operate in East Anglia.

If there is to be a national subsidy, areas which have lost their railways will be particularly anxious to see that they gain as much from it as do areas served by the black non-paying lines. If the subsidy is to be paid on a local basis—and we should like to know about that—the same argument will not necessarily apply, but the Minister must be careful that commuter subsidies do not make the towns more attractive at a time when planning authorities are trying to encourage the dispersal of industry away from highly populated areas.

My hon. Friends are worried because they do not understand what the Government are trying to do. I am not sure whether the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire understands. The country is bewildered by the Government's double talk. It is clear that they intend to close more lines than did the Conservative Government. In that case, why talk about burying Beeching? They are using the machinery and the procedure of the Conservative Government to distinguish between the lines which should be kept and those which should be closed. Why does the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire talk about brutalities? It is proper that this inquiry should be carried out. I hope that the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire will accept that my hon. Friends and I like the railways.

Mr. Manuel

I hope that you like the railwaymen, too.

Mr. Galbraith

We like the railwaymen, too; what we do not like are taxes. Retaining uneconomic railway services means extra taxation. The Government are right to examine each case carefully, but we are concerned why this careful examination should be limited to the grey lines. Why not make the non-paying black lines go through the hoop, too? If there is to be a hoop—and the Government have said there is to be—and the Section 56 procedure is to be followed, all lines should go through the hoop.

Mr. Maclennan

Does the hon. Gentleman include the line from Inverness to Wick?

Mr. Galbraith

No. The line from Inverness to Wick has already been through the hoop. It was probably before the hon. Member came into Parliament.

Having put it through the procedure, the Conservative Government decided, taking all the social and economic factors into account, that the line should stay open. This procedure should apply to all lines—grey and black. The country can then be assured that the non-paying lines which are maintained and paid for by the taxpayer have been properly examined and found to be fundamental to the national interest.

This is what my right hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey did, and I believe that it is what the Government are trying to do. If so, why do not they say so? Why not come out from behind their smokescreen and take the nation into their confidence? Are they afraid of the unions? I hope that the Minister will tell us what is in his mind and explain why a distinction should be made between two types of non-paying lines.

8.55 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. John Morris)

I hope that my intervention now will not be taken as meaning that I seek to foreclose the debate, because this is only subject No. 2 and I have to stay to deal with subject No. 16 in the early hours of the morning.

We are grateful to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Clark Hutchison) for raising this subject. I take his point that he did not vote for the Third Reading of the Transport Act, 1962, but he did, of course, vote for the Second Reading. The division lists of hon. Members who voted for that Act on 21st November, 1961, show that 12 Scottish Members voted, of whom 11 were Conservatives and one a Liberal, the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond). Of the 323 who were in the House on that night and voted for the Second Reading, for many reasons, some of them well known to us, only 162 remain. This is perhaps the danger of voting for Bills of that kind.

Some of the remarks made by hon. Members opposite show the political schizophrenia from which they suffer, particularly the most interesting remarks of the hon. Member for South Angus (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne). He said quite blithely, although not having faced the situation which the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South had faced, that he would certainly have voted for the 1962 Act. He wanted the application of commercial criteria and sacrificed everything on that altar.

But, when it comes to a particular closure in his constituency, or in that of any other hon. Member opposite, they are most vociferous in their demands to see the Minister or myself, or to put Questions in the House or to have Adjournment debates. A few months ago, I counted up the vast correspondence which I had had since coming to the Ministry from hon. Members who had blithely voted for the 1962 Transport Act and the Beeching Report a year later—

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

This is a most extraordinary suggestion. What the hon. Gentleman is saying is that because we believe—those of us who do—in the operation of the 1962 Transport Act, with all its provision for Ministerial decision on the basis of social need, where that can be shown, we should be inhibited from helping our constituents to examine whether there is such a need before a decision is reached. This is most improper of the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Morris

The hon. Member is not inhibited, and nor is any other hon. Member. What I am saying is that he and his hon. Friends who think like him are suffering from political schizophrenia, in that they are saying that British Railways must carry out the commercial obligations of the 1962 Act and, when a Minister of the Crown, following her responsibility over the social obligations, as did the right hon. Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples), decides that a particular line should not close and thereby impose a social burden contrary to the commercial philosophy outlined by the hon. Member, that British Railways must carry both these responsibilities. They are quite contradictory.

We cannot ruthlessly pursue a commercial policy such as the hon. Member wants and at the same time impose social obligations on British Railways. This is why, in the autumn, we shall be bringing in a Bill which will, for the first time since 1962, give British Railways a realistic financial structure. If there is a decision that a particular line should be kept open in the social interest, the community must find a way of paying for it.

It is wrong, on any commercial principle, to give this ambiguous remit to British Railways that it should have the strict commercial responsibility of paying its way and also that, whenever it puts up a particular closure proposal which is obnoxious to a Minister, it must carry the responsibility for that. This is the dichotomy, the split mind, of hon. Gentlemen opposite. It is a vitally important business matter that we should ensure that the remit of this great industry is absolutely clear, and that is what we shall do in the Bill which will be introduced in the autumn.

Hon. Members have asked me a number of detailed questions about the principle of the map which my right hon. Friend published. They have also asked a number of constituency questions. I want to make it clear that hon. Members are entitled—and on every occasion they do so I will be as courteous as possible when replying—to raise matters such as these and it is only right that they should want to go into them in detail. It is because a number of detailed matters were involved that I delayed my reply to the hon. Member for South Angus. I did so because I wanted to go into the matter anew and ensure that no mistakes had been made. That is why I sent him a letter last Friday, after having gone into the matter personally in great detail.

Since I came to the Ministry of Transport a year last January, I have lived, so to speak, with rail closures. I have gone into each application—as the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith) no doubt did when he was in office—and have given each proposal an enormous amount of time and consideration. I am not saying that all our decisions are the right ones. One would need to be superhuman always to he right. However, I give the hon. Member for South Angus every assurance that we go through these matters personally with enormous care; and that is why I wanted to ensure that the decision imposed for his rail closure was the right one.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

I intervene again merely to make it quite clear, lest there be doubt in anybody's mind, that I am not suggesting that the Minister has not gone into this particular closure proposal with the greatest possible care. I know that he has.

Mr. Morris

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I will not weary the House by going into the matter further, except once again to make it abundantly clear where we stand on this matter. I spelt out in my letter to the hon. Gentleman the issues involved, the aspect concerning Dundee and the reason why conditions were imposed regarding the express services to Perth. I understand that a great number of people who use the railway which will be closed go to Glasgow, that the Perth connections are better and that an express bus service to Dundee would save, because of the road, only three or four minutes. We have considered this to be the right decision.

I say with the utmost sincerity that if it should transpire over a period of time—that experience over a reasonable period indicates—that the alternative services need further strengthening in any direction, the Minister would be willing to look at the matter again on the basis of factual evidence of need. Indeed, this is an obligation on the Minister under the 1962 Act. I repeat that if the present services are found to be unsatisfactory and if people cannot have the kind of alternative service they want—alternative to the rail service which is closing; I say this because it is an obligation on the Minister—the Minister will look with care into the needs of a particular area.

Questions were asked about the grey and black lines and the procedures which are followed. The main aim of the Minister has been to ensure that for this industry, which has been reported upon time and again and which has been organised and reorganised, it was high time that at the earliest possible opportunity we introduced as much stability as possible into the railway system. Thus, after a great deal of consultation between the Chairman of the Railways Board and the Minister, it was decided that the basic railway network for development should be a little over 11,000 miles. We looked at the commercial and social aspects. All the matters that could be taken into consideration in this period of time were taken into consideration, and this was the basic network that we decided was essen- tial in the interests of the nation as a whole.

We have been asked about the black areas on the map. These are areas whose foreseeable future is as certain as possible, as the Minister set out in her statement—

Mr. Galbraith

Does that mean that if the Railways Board wishes to close one of the black lines it can act under the Section 56 procedure, or must the Board have special permission from the Minister?

Mr. Morris

The situation as we see it is that we can give an assurance that no closures of thick black lines are planned for the foreseeable future. As the hon. Gentleman knows, it is for the Board to bring forward proposals at any time to the Minister to close any particular railway line, but it is not the intention of either the Chairman of the Board or the Minister in the foreseeable future to put black areas in danger.

Mr. Galbraith

That means that the railways decide which of the grey lines and which of the black lines, if any, they wish to close, and then proceed under Section 56 with regard to both. I appreciate that at the moment the Board has no intention to close any black lines, but if it wanted to the Board could proceed with such closures as with the grey?

Mr. Morris

As the hon. Gentleman knows full well, the Board operates under the law of the land. The law of the land is the Act of 1962 and, until it is changed, the Railways Board has an obligation. We hope very much that a new Bill will be brought before the House in the autumn. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will then give it his full support. That is what we expect of him, but perhaps we expect too much.

We give the assurance that it is the aim of both the Minister and the Chairman not to plan any closures of thick black lines. That is to ensure stability in the industry, and we hope to achieve that aim. The plan has been received encouragingly by those people who use the railways in all parts of the land, and by railwaymen. I think that it will give a big morale boost to all who work in the industry to know that for this part of the system we have stability.

By no stretch of imagination should it be thought that the Minister has taken a decision to close that which is marked in grey. There, it will be up to the Board, as now, to come forward with any proposals it wishes to make. Those proposals will then be examined by the transport users' consultative committees and, as I think my right hon. Friend has told the House, she intends to enlarge and extend the membership of the T.U.C.C. to ensure that there is better representation of what she regards as the man in the street. We seek wider representation on these important boards, which have done very useful work.

There will also be the advice of the Economic Planning Council. The hon. Member for South Angus may well have been mistaken in the case he mentioned, because I am advised that the Economic Council was consulted.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

Then could the Parliamentary Secretary explain why it was that the Secretary of State for Scotland told me that it could not be consulted because it had not been established?

Mr. Morris

It may well be that the hon. Gentleman, speaking off the cuff, is thinking of another body. I am advised that the Economic Planning Council was consulted. Of course, if I am in error, I shall write and inform the hon. Gentleman, but that is the information I have received while preparing this speech.

Mr. MacArthur

Clearly in my recollection the Secretary of State for Scotland assured us at Question Time one day that it was impossible to consult the Council because it had not been established. By that time the decision had already been made and announced.

Mr. Morris

I think I have been absolutely fair to the House. I have told the House the advice I have received was that the Economic Planning Council was consulted. I say in fairness to the hon. Member for South Angus that if I am wrong I shall write to him, but this is the advice I have received.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

I hesitate to interrupt the hon. Gentleman again—

Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)

On a point of order. Mr. Deputy Speaker told us at the beginning of the debate that there were a large number of subjects and a great many hon. Members had given him notice of their desire to catch his eye at some time. While I recognise that this is exempted business of an important kind, there should be some limit to the number of interventions which hon. Members may make when a debate is over.

Mr. MacArthur

Further to that point of order. It would surely be reasonable to make an intervention briefly and courteously when an hon. Member has been misinformed and wishes to correct what an hon. Member said, so that he could make an apology at some later stage.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Eric Fletcher)

Obviously there has to be a certain amount of give and take. I agree with the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman) that there should be a limit to the number of interventions in Ministerial statements when we conclude a debate. Mr. Morris.

Mr. Morris

I was in no way suggesting that I had been misinformed, but I make abundantly clear that if I have been misinformed I will correct it. I said that the Economic Planning Council was consulted. It may be that the hon. Member is confusing this with a another planning group.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne rose

Mr. Morris

I do not think we can pursue this matter further. This is the advice I have received and, if I am wrong and have been unfair to the House and the hon. Member, I will correct the matter. In fairness to other hon. Members who want to take part in the debate, I must proceed. The hon. Member has had his chance and I think that what I have said is right.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

The hon. Gentleman is talking about a regional planning council.

Mr. Deputy Speaker


Mr. Morris

There are a number of other problems I want to deal with. For example, on the Dingwall and Kyle of Lochalsh line, which is shown on the map in grey, we had in interim decision, not a final decision, by the right hon. Member for Wallasey on 16th April, 1964. It was considered that the ultimate future of the line should be reconsidered when some progress had been made with road improvements. This in no way suggests that any lines marked in grey have had a final decision made.

The Minister will give her decision with this background of the T.U.C.C.s and Economic Planning Council's views. In addition, she has set up a special unit in the Ministry's economic planning directorate to ensure that wider considerations of financial and economic aspects of closures are taken fully into account before a decision is made one way or the other. The task of this unit will be to see that she has all the economic and financial information on each case and to cross-check where necessary. This unit will take account of the recommendations of the joint steering group of which I am chairman.

There will be this very detailed machinery for examination to ensure that not only present need but also future need is taken into account. The publication of the basic railway network map is a major step forward. Some of the lines in Scotland which very likely would have gone if the philosophy of the 1962 Act had been pursued and we found ourselves ultimately with a mileage of 8,000 miles, are the Perth-Aviemore-Inverness line, the Aberdeen-Inverness, Helensburgh-Oban, and Ayr-Stranraer lines. These lines would have been in danger if the philosophy of the 1962 Act had been carried to its ultimate conclusions.

Some of the other lines marked in grey are so shown for the very reason that they are now in the pipeline. This must be made abundantly clear to all those who are anxious and concerned. Under the Act, the Minister could not prejudice her decision as to any line for which the procedures had been initiated. If they were at any stage in the pipeline, be it a proposal by British Railways, be it before the T.U.C.C., or be it before her for consideration, she marked such lines in grey, because the procedures under the Statute had been initiated and she had not taken a final decision.

I hope that we shall be able to expedite all those now in the pipeline. This is not always possible, because we have to have a fairly wide study and there are other implications. I hope that as soon as possible we shall be able to expedite all those which are in grey and which are now going through the machinery. There are difficulties. I do not want to suggest that we can proceed at too rapid a pace where other studies are going on which have to be borne in mind before any final decision is taken.

The Aberdeen-Keith-Elgin line was mentioned. This is another line which is with the Minister for decision at the moment. This is why it is so marked on the map. The Edinburgh-Hawick-Carlisle line is also in the pipeline. This was mentioned by an hon. Member on the Liberal bench. Here the Minister is awaiting the outcome of some of the studies which will be necessary before she can take an ultimate decision.

Mr. Clark Hutchison

It was myself who raised the question of this line. There was no Liberal on the benches at the time.

Mr. James Davidson (Aberdeenshire, West)

That is not true. I was here.

Mr. Morris

I know, in fairness to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South that a number of hon. Members have raised this matter from time to time. I do not want in any way to allocate glory for having raised this issue. Perhaps there was no Liberal Member for that part of the world here at the time.

Mr. Davidson

There was. I was here.

Mr. Morris

If there was not, the position has been remedied. In fairness, these are some of the very instances which have been mentioned in the debate and which are now going through the pipeline.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, South also asked about singling on the Newcastle-Edinburgh line. The question of singling is not a matter for the Minister. It is for the Railways Board. The hon. Member will know that enormous strides have been made—I now speak generally—in signalling. The effect of singling does not of necessity mean that less traffic is able to be passed along a particular length of line if it has had the advantage of the quite substantial expenditure which takes place on signalling. This is a matter for the Board and I cannot comment any further on that.

The hon. Gentleman also raised a number of issues concerning local railways lines in Edinburgh itself. The proposal in regard to the Edinburgh-Corstophine line was published in December, 1966, by the Railways Board. This matter has not so far come before the Minister and the T.U.C.C. hearing will be held on 5th April. The other closures in Edinburgh—for instance, Edinburgh-Dunbar, some stations on the Edinburgh-Berwick-on-Tweed line, Edinburgh-Kingsrowe—took place under the Conservative Administration. I cannot help him any further on those four. I think that I have dealt—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Many hon. Members still have subjects to raise on the Consolidated Fund Bill.

Mr. Morris

I am very grateful, Mr. Speaker. I was trying to deal with the large number of local issues concerning hon. Members on both sides of the House. I think that I have dealt with most in some detail. Having regard to your suggestion, Mr. Speaker, I hope that I do no disservice to any hon. Member if, having dealt with most of the detailed points, I write to the hon. Member concerned if I have omitted any.

I hope that the basic network map which we have published will bring comfort to people in all parts of the country. We have introduced stability to a large portion of our railway system and on that which is still in doubt we want to ensure that anxiety is removed at the earliest opportunity. The new basic network map has been welcomed by railwaymen from one end of the land to the other. Hon. Members opposite must fairly soon make up their minds whether their major complaint is that we are doing too much or too little.