HC Deb 24 January 1973 vol 849 cc434-8
4. Sir G. Nabarro

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what mileage of railway routes he has shut down in each of the 10 years 1963 to 1972 inclusive; and what is his planned amount of closure in 1973.

The Minister for Transport Industries (Mr. John Peyton)

With permission I will publish in the OFFICIAL REPORT the figures. The Glasgow—Kirkcaldy service has already been withdrawn. There are no firm plans at present for other closures except for Alton—Winchester.

Sir G. Nabarro

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that since the inspired leak a few months ago, when it was suggested that the railway system would be brought down to 7,000 miles, there has been widespread speculation and as yet we have had no definitive Government statement about what will be the pattern and scope of railway services overall? Can my hon. Friend assume some of his responsibilities in this context?

Mr. Peyton

While the leak was undoubted, I am afraid that the inspiration behind the leak was notable by its absence. I accept what my hon. Friend said about the need for clarification of this problem. I only remind him that no Government since the war have got the problem of our railways right. It is a very complicated problem which is being thoroughly looked at and I would not wish to delay bringing it to the House

Mr. Robert C. Brown

When the Minister decided on the closure of Alston branch line, did he consider not only the £300,000 required for road improvements but also the amount of money the Northumberland County Council will have to pay to maintain a bus service at Alston?

Mr. Peyton

Nobody knows better than the hon. Gentleman that all relevant considerations are taken into account.

Sir R. Thompson

May I take it from my right hon. Friend's reply that the reprieve extends to the West Croydon—Wimbledon line? If so, may I ask that when these closure matters are considered representations made by transport users' consultative committees will be given more weight and consideration than seems to have been the case in the past? There is a feeling that this is something of a window-dressing exercise. Does my right hon. Friend agree that such an impression should not be allowed to get about?

Mr. Peyton

I can assure my hon. Friend that representations made by those committees are taken very seriously indeed. I would prefer to write to my hon. Friend about the line he has mentioned.

Mr. Mulley

The Minister has referred on a number of occasions to the leak and subsequent publication of an unauthorised document. In view of the growing concern in the country about the future of the railways and the need for further investment in them, will be give a date when we may have the authorised version of the Government's policy?

Mr. Peyton

I should prefer not to do that for the moment. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will understand that these matters are very complicated. We have had long discussions with the railways, which have been very instructive. I assure the right hon Gentleman that both from my own point of view as well as from his I do not wish to impose unnecessary delay.

Following is the information:

The route mileage closed to passenger traffic as a result of the withdrawal of passenger services with my or my predecessors' consent, for each of the years 1954–72 inclusive, is listed below. A figure for 1963 is not readily available:

1964 930 miles
1965 859 miles
1966 573 miles
1967 251 miles
1968 332 miles
1969 264 miles
1970 250 miles
1971 23 miles
1972 71 miles

6. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he will now state the extent by which the Scottish railway system is to be reduced over the next three years.

Mr. Peyton

I have nothing to add to my reply to the hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. Walter Johnson) on 8th November 1972.—[Vol. 845, c. 999.]

Mr. Hamilton

Is the Minister aware that the map produced by the Sunday Times on 8th October indicated that there would be no passenger lines either north or west of Inverness? Will he give an assurance today that this will not happen? Since he has stated that there were at least four alternatives before him, would it not be better for the Government to produce a Green Paper to enable the public to be aware of the alternatives? Would not this be a gesture towards implementation of the doctrine of open government on which the present Government were elected?

Mr. Peyton

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his helpful suggestion, which had occurred to me. The Government intend in due course to present to Parliament some alternative proposals, but I am anxious that these should not be half-baked, as so many other proposals governing railways have been in the past.

Mr. Edward Taylor

In considering future plans will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that discoveries of oil off Scotland have transformed the whole scene in the North, having regard to the fact that existing roads between Perth, Inverness and the north of Scotland are deplorable and congested? Will he have firmly in mind the importance of keeping these rail links open since they can provide a service to industry in the North?

Mr. Peyton

My hon. Friend has raised a most intelligent point which I have very much in mind.

Mr. Russell Johnston

Will the Minister give an assurance that he will postpone closure of the Kyle line and certainly not allow closure to proceed until the fullest and most thorough examination has been carried out of all new factors, including that raised by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward Taylor)?

Mr. Peyton

This matter has been considered on a number of occasions and I know that the hon. Gentleman is concerned about it. If there are any new factors—and I must say that none has yet appeared—which could make a case for the extension of the line, they will be considered.

Mrs. Castle

Will the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that he is not planning any reduction in the grants that the Labour Government introduced for socially necessary railway lines?

Mr. Peyton

Certainly at the moment I am not planning any reduction in overall Government support. The shape and form in which it comes is a matter that any Government would wish to consider.

17. Mr. McBride

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if, as part of his review of the future railway network, he will now give an estimate of railway mileage in Wales in 1973, 1974 and 1975.

Mr. Peyton

I have nothing to add to my answer to the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Gwynoro Jones) on 15th November 1972.—[Vol. 846, c. 131.]

Mr. McBride

Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that the campaign now mounted in Wales will oppose any pruning of the railway network in the Principality? Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that, in view of the gross unemployment situation in Wales, it is necessary to retain the existing passenger services as well as refraining from diminishing the existing level of freight services from which we are suffering in Swansea? Surely it is the right hon. Gentleman's right to give these assurances to Wales which has suffered so much under his Government.

Mr. Peyton

The hon. Gentleman has told me what I know already. There is, of course, concern in Wales about the future of the railways; I acknowledge that. The future of freight lines is entirely for British Rail. So far as passenger services are concerned, before any changes are made all relevant considerations will be carefully borne in mind.

Mr. Stokes

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is also considerable discontent in the West Midlands about the state of public transport, both rail and road? In particular, can he give an assurance that the Birmingham-Stourbridge railway to the West will be kept open?

Mr. Peyton

I think that hardly arises on this Question, but I think I am right in saying that they are in no immediate jeopardy.

Mr. George Thomas

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the decision to renew the grant for all the railways in Wales for one year has been welcomed, but will he say why he does not use his powers under Section 39 of the Act to extend the grant for a period of three years as this annual anxiety does nobody any good?

Mr. Peyton

As the right hon. Gentleman will be aware, we are in the course of a general examination of the whole railway system, and I thought it wise to prolong the grant for one year rather than any further.

29. Mr. Whitehead

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what plans he has for rail closures during 1973; and if he will name any such routes and give further details.

Mr. Peyton

The Glasgow-Kirkcaldy service has already been withdrawn. There are no firm plans at present for other closures except for Alton-Winchester.

Mr. Whitehead

I am glad to hear that, since the right hon. Gentleman was somewhat coy earlier today about his forward plans. While he is about it, will he now take the opportunity to disown the master plan of the mad axeman who appears to be loose in his Department, which came to us by courtesy of the Railway Gazette, and, at the same time, will he disown the plan, leaked to the Press this morning, which was an asinine attempt to show that the railways can be converted to high-speed motorways?

Mr. Peyton

As for the mad axeman, I assure the hon. Gentleman that there are no ghosts from the previous Administration left in my Department.

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