§ 1. Mr. Dalyell
asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he will discuss with the chairman of British Rail the viability of the Carlisle to Settle railway line.
§ The Minister of State, Department of Transport (Mr. David Mitchell)
It would not be appropriate in view of the application for closure.
Is it not a fact that 80 per cent. of the work that needs to be done is in employment and less than 20 per cent. in materials? What are the real costs, in view of the numbers that would then be employed? Does that not put the preservation of the Ribblehead and other viaducts in a different light?
§ Mr. Mitchell
The hon. Gentleman has drawn an interesting point to our attention. However, Ministers will have to consider the proposals for closure in a quasi-judicial capacity. It would be quite wrong today for me to give an indication of my view of the hon. Gentleman's point.
I appreciate my hon. Friend's position, but is he aware that passenger traffic on that line, using the 2 Settle and Skipton stations, has increased by about 400 per cent. in the 18 years since the line was first suggested for closure? Is my hon. Friend at all perplexed about the fact that a line then considered viable should now be considered uneconomic by British Rail, even though it now carries four times as many people?
Of course, that is one of the matters that we will inquire into. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has a statutory duty to consider all relevant issues in reaching his decision.
§ Mr. Straw
Is the Minister aware that an integral part of the closure proposals for the Settle to Carlisle line is the closure of a section of line between Blackburn and Hellifield? Is he further aware that that has been a very popular route for Dalesrail passenger services, and that there is also a connection through to the Settle to Carlisle services? Although we all appreciate the Minister's quasi-judicial position, will he end this farce of an inquiry by saying that he will provide the money to keep those essential services going?
§ Mr. Mitchell
It is for the inquiry to report on hardship. When it has reported on that, Ministers will consider the reports on hardship and the British Rail closure proposals. We shall look searchingly into it to see whether it stands up financially, and will consider all the other aspects as well. The wider issues will be taken into account by Ministers. However, the inquiry is into hardship, and it would certainly be wrong to stop it.
§ Sir Hector Monro
Will my hon. Friend bear in mind the line's importance for tourist potential in north-west England and south-west Scotland, particularly with regard to the steam excursion train? Does not British Rail owe some duty to the nation to maintain such splendid viaducts?
§ Mr. Mitchell
The viaducts involve other matters, such as preservation orders, which are outside the scope of today's question. But of course we understand the tourist potential. I am very enthusiastic about the way in which steam railways can attract a lot of tourist trade. Ministers will have to consider such matters when we have the inquiry's report. However, enthusiastic as I may be about 3 steam locomotion, it is, regretfully, not something that I shall express a view about before receiving the report and before the decision is made.
§ Mr. Stott
If my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Lewis) had been in his place, I am sure that he would have asked the Minister a question, but unfortunately he is not here as he is ill. I fully understand the Secretary of State's quasi-judicial role. In connection with the question of the hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Watson), is the Minister aware that I am advised that the line made a profit of about £1 million last year? We are talking, not about any old railway line, but about one of the most historic, scenic and beautiful lines in the world. I very much hope that the Minister and the Secretary of State will bear those points in mind when they make their decision. The nation is proud of that line and wants to keep it.
§ Mr. Mitchell
One must recognise that there is a difference between making an operating profit and making sufficient money to be able to maintain the structures in a fit and proper condition. The two are different. However, I must agree with the hon. Gentleman about the scenic nature of the route. I have travelled on it and have climbed all over the Ribblehead viaduct. I am keenly aware of the points that the hon. Gentleman makes, and, of course, they are ones, along with many others, that Ministers will take into account when they come to take their decision.