HC Deb 20 July 1977 vol 935 cc1590-1
15. Mrs. Wise

asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he will begin consultations on the proposed new arrangements for deciding on the retention or closure of local railway services.

Mr. William Rodgers

As soon as convenient to all concerned.

Mrs. Wise

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his proposals seek to put more financial responsibility on to local authorities while at the same time they are still being pressed to cut expenditure, and that this is likely to lead to more rail closures and suffering for those dependent on the railways?

Mr. Rodgers

My hon. Friend will know from the proposals in the White Paper that we recognise that in the event of the local authorities accepting such responsibility some arrangements will have to be made with them to bear at least some proportion of the cost. But these are all matters which, as my hon. Friend rightly implies, will be the subject of discussion before our final proposals are formulated.

Mr. Norman Fowler

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is now a deep suspicion, particularly after the letter of his political adviser—which we will want to take further—that, for all his words, the purpose is to pass the buck from the Government to local councils? If that is his intention, I emphasise one point above ail—the need for proper accounts showing the costs of the separate rail services in question. What plans has the right hon. Gentleman to do that?

Mr. Rodgers

The hon. Gentleman must make up his mind. The idea of local option is important and worth while, and we should proceed with it. Talk of passing the buck is nonsense. It is a question not of passing the buck but of ensuring that local people can make local decisions about their local needs. The sort of decision envisaged by the White Paper cannot be made until the Board has made its own proposals. As the hon. Gentleman well knows, I am in favour of maximum disclosure to the House at that time, as at others.

Mr. Ronald Atkins

What safeguards does my richt hon. Friend envisage for preventing the new arrangements from becoming a back-door renewal of the Beeching cuts, bearing in mind that the shire counties are not favourable to public expenditure on public transport?

Mr. Rodgers

I have made it clear that there will never be another Beeching. The important thing is to look at lines which serve local needs and which are cost-ineffective. As my hon. Friend knows, there are a number of safeguards in the White Paper, including the powers that I shall retain to decide which lines should be considered for local option. These matters will be discussed further, and I note my hon. Friend's anxiety.

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