HC Deb 27 January 1971 vol 810 cc529-30
12. Mr. Barnett

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he is now ready to make a considered statement on his policy relating to the closure of passenger rail services.

Mr. Peyton

No, Sir. The general policy on unremunerative rail passenger services is still under review.

Mr. Barnett

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the general impression that he leaves in an area like mine, where he is proposing to close the Oldham-Rochdale line, is that he is putting financial considerations—some of them rather dubious—before social and environmental considerations? Is not that a reasonable impression for people to gain from what the right hon. Gentleman is doing?

Mr. Peyton

I think that that is a pretty unreasonable question. To begin with, I am surprised to hear the hon. Gentleman refer to financial considerations with what almost amounts to contempt. As he is aware, they are of great importance. As regards the possible closure of the branch line to which he has referred, he will be aware that this proposal was made by the railways in August of last year, at a time when I had not had much chance to get my fingers on the problem.

Mr. Deedes

In my right hon. Friend's review, will he take a close and critical look at the Cooper formula?

Mr. Peyton

Yes, Sir. Certainly I am prepared to accede to my right hon. Friend's request. However, I should tell him that the Cooper Brothers formula has now been fairly well enshrined in folk lore. I think that it is likely to stay there.

Mr. Bradley

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that, on taking office, he said that he expected to see a much smaller rail network but that he first wished to inform himself on the subject? After seven months' consideration, does he still hold to that general judgment?

Mr. Peyton

I am exceedingly flattered by the attention which the hon. Gentleman gives to my earlier remarks. I believe that the tendency for the railway system to shrink, as it has over the last 10 years and more, is likely to be continued. If right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite had any brisk ideas of how to stem this tide, they should have done so when they had the opportunity.