HC Deb 14 January 1976 vol 903 cc361-4
3. Mr. Ioan Evans

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what further discussions he has had with the Chairman of British Railways regarding proposed cuts in rail services and if he will make a statement.

10. Mr. Adley

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment when he expects to make a statement on the railways.

The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Anthony Crosland)

I would refer my hon. Friend and the hon. Member to the statement that I made on 16th December 1975 in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Spring-burn (Mr. Buchanan). I shall make a further statement at the conclusion of the Transport Policy Review.—[Vol. 902 c. 620–1.]

Mr. Evans

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. I am aware of his statement. Does he realise that there is a great feeling of anxiety in Wales about the report that a plan is being considered by British Railways to reduce the railway system in Wales to a southern line to Swansea and a northern line to Holyhead as part of the plan which has been considered for a major reduction of the railway system throughout Britain? Does he also realise that there are deep anxieties among the railway unions—the NUR, the TSSA and ASLEF? Should not the Government look back at what the Labour Government did in 1945 with the national transport plan with an integrated road and rail system?

Mr. Crosland

I am aware that there are acute anxieties, which, I regret, have been fanned by extravagant statements bearing no relation of any kind to reality. The anxieties in Wales were further strengthened by the publication of a map showing the situation described by my hon. Friend. That map has no foundation for what is going on in the Department. I can give my hon. Friend that complete assurance.

Mr. Adley

Is there not a danger that the railway system will price itself out of the transport market and become a service for the better off subsidised by taxpayers, including taxpayers who cannot afford to travel by rail? Is the Secretary of State aware that the consumer appears to be the last person whose interests are taken into account not only by the railways but also by other nationalised industries? Will he give an assurance that in some way the consumer will be brought into any discussions on future railway policy?

Mr. Crosland

Many discussions will take place on future railway policy and, indeed, on future transport policy as well, because no systematic Government statement on transport policy has been made since 1968 and it is time that we had one. I shall consider what the hon. Gentleman said about consulting consumer interests. That is an important and legitimate point.

Mr. Bagier

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, even though there may not be plans within his Department for the massive cuts described by the three railway unions, which he described as "codswallop", it is a fair assumption from the present investment figures allowed to British Rail that the natural follow-on in the absence of a directive from the Government will be either a massive increase in fares or a cutback in the present service? When will the Government put the minds of the public at rest by putting the working of British Railways on a long-term base as a matter of Government policy?

Mr. Crosland

I cannot accept what my hon. Friend said about the relationship between the level of investment and the size of the rail network. On future procedure and setting the minds of the public at rest, I should point out that I now have a mass of papers on transport policy surrounding me. I hope shortly to consult my colleagues about this matter. It is my intention in the next few weeks, after consultation with them, to issue a consultation paper, which will form the basis of consultation with rail management and unions, bus management and unions, and other interests, including local authorities concerned with transport problems.

Mr. Raison

Did the extravagant statements to which the right hon. Gentleman referred include the speech by Sir Richard Marsh last week when he spoke about the size of the basic railway?

Mr. Crosland

No, they did not include that speech. This morning I had time for a quick glance at Sir Richard Marsh's speech and his concept of the basic railway. That concept has influenced both Conservative and Labour Governments. I do not challenge the general manner in which he set forth that concept. The extravagant statements to which I referred before Christmas included the publishing of a map showing the end of all rail services to Grimsby. That certainly would not be acceptable.

Mr. Dalyell

In those extravagant statements there is the suggestion that railway lines north of Edinburgh and Glasgow might be closed. Granted the oil-related needs of the north-east of Scotland, is not that codswallop?

Mr. Crosland

Yes. It is utter codswallop.

Mr. Monro

Is there not grave concern among railwaymen, particularly north of the border, that there will be substantial cuts? I appreciate that the right hon. Gentleman is to make a statement soon, but does he realise that, if possible, it must be made this month to allay those fears?

Mr. Crosland

I want to allay those fears as soon as I possibly can, because they cause anxiety. I hold strong feelings about those who have chosen to conduct a public campaign on the basis of proposals utterly without foundation. I shall seek to make a statement that will allay such fears as soon as I possibly can. I cannot guarantee that it will be by the end of this month, but it will certainly be in the next few weeks.