§ 4. Mr. Anderson
asked the Secretary of State for Wales whether, in the light of the recommendations of the Serpell report, he will take the initiative in convening a conference of management, unions, local authorities and transport users to discuss the future transport needs of Wales.
§ Mr. Anderson
The Secretary of State will know of proposals by the Welsh counties and the Wales Consumer Council for a move towards a Welsh transport administration. What is his reaction to those proposals? In view of anxieties about the future of the central Wales line, will the right hon. Gentleman assure us that if, by some mischance, his party is returned at a general election the future of that line will be guaranteed?
§ Mr. Edwards
No proposals have been made in the Serpell report or elsewhere for closing any lines. The Government's position has been made plain. We have no proposals at the present time for any such changes, so there is no need to refer to a hypothetical situation. As for future changes in the organisation, these are matters that we keep continually under review. There is to be a conference of local authorities and others, to which I shall send observers, and we shall listen to any suggestions made during the debates that will undoubtedly take place over a considerable period on the information contained in the Serpell report.
§ Mr. Wigley
Does the Secretary of State not appreciate that the people of Wales will be alarmed to hear him say that there are no proposals "at the present time" for any railway closures in Wales? Is he aware of the report in The Guardian, following publication of the Serpell report, that the Treasury is waiting until after the general election before bringing forward closure proposals? The right hon. Gentleman is shaking his head, but will he give a categoric assurance that the Government do not intend, either before or after an election, to close any of the railway lines in Wales marked for closure in the Serpell report?
§ Mr. Edwards
I do not think that any Government of any party at any time can guarantee that for the future and for ever there will be no change in the services provided. The Serpell report has provided much useful information which will be invaluable in the continuing debate about the sort of transport services that we require, and it should be part of our consideration of those issues to look again at the organisation within Wales and outside and consider the priorities and needs. I shall be doing that.
§ Sir Anthony Meyer
Does my right hon. Friend agree that open government becomes impossible if the Government cannot publish their alternative options for discussion without it immediately being assumed that the worst option represents the Government's intention?
§ Mr. Edwards
That is clear. One conclusion to which one might come when reading the Serpell report is that it is impossible to maintain a railway service in this country on any scale without a continuing subsidy. Therefore, the debate can centre rationally and sensibly on the sort of railway service that we want and the extent of the subsidy.
§ Mr. Alec Jones
The right hon. Gentleman said that the Government had no proposals to close railway lines at 549 the present moment and that he regarded the Serpell report as useful. Would it not be of considerable benefit to the right hon. Gentleman, as the Minister responsible for transport in Wales, to initiate the sort of conference called for by my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson), so that if the right hon. Gentleman has plans for improving transport facilities in Wales he can have the benefit of the advice of all those who know far more about the matter than he is likely to know?
§ Mr. Edwards
It is a continuing debate. I have responsibility for some aspects of transport, but not others, and it would be sensible for a number of proposals and ideas to be clarified before we have the sort of all-embracing conference that has been suggested. I certainly do not close my mind to the idea of a conference, and I shall be maintaining the closest possible contact with all interested parties in the coming months. I met the chairman of British Rail, Sir Peter Parker, to discuss some of the issues as recently as last month.
§ Mr. John Morris
Will the Secretary of State at least reject the railway zero-option for Wales, which many of the Serpell proposals would mean? That would at least release some parts of Wales from the misery and fear that I have witnessed at many of the public inquiries that I have attended.