HC Deb 12 January 1987 vol 108 cc9-11
8. Mr. Waller

asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he expects to announce his decision concerning the application by British Rail for the closure of the Settle to Carlisle line.

Mr. David Mitchell

I have only recently received the joint report of the transport users consultative committees for north-eastern and north-western England and British Rail's financial case. I cannot say how long it will take to consider these reports carefully, together with other relevant factors.

Mr. Waller

I know that my hon. Friend takes a close interest in the future of this line and has visited it. As the TUCCs came out unanimously in favour of the retention of the line and thousands of people wrote in support of that approach, does my hon. Friend agree that it could be seen as perverse to take a decision which did not involve the retention of the line? At the same time, does he agree that it would be unreasonable to make such a decision without allowing for the provision of funds which are particularly necessary for repairs, and that such funds could come from the Government's tourism budget?

Mr. Mitchell

As I have only just received the report I cannot possibly pre-empt a decision at this stage. I take note of my hon. Friend's point about the availability of funds from alternative sources, including tourism.

Mr. Wallace

If the Minister has had a chance to read some of the report, does he accept that it shows that British Rail has not made a detailed case for closure? Apart from the hardship caused to local people by closure, there appears to be considerable potential for further marketing and promotion of this line to make it even more profitable than it has been until now. Should not the Government take that approach, rather than entertain any possibility of closure?

Mr. Mitchell

It may be helpful to say that it is not part of the TUCCs' role to consider British Rail's case for closure. Its job is to consider what hardship would be caused if the line were closed and to report to Ministers on that. That is why British Rail's case was not deployed before them. We now have British Rail's financial case and we are considering it together with the report of the TUCCs.

Mr. Watson

I appreciate that my hon. Friend cannot pre-empt his decision, but is he aware of strong rumours circulating locally and in British Rail that this line will be kept open? In those circumstances, will he confirm that any decision on his part to close the line would be greeted with some surprise and dismay?

Mr. Mitchell

I can report to my hon. Friend that there are rumours in British Rail and among the public that the line is to be kept open and that there are also rumours that it is to be closed.

Mr. Robert Hughes

Is the Minister aware that a great deal of pleasure has been expressed at the TUCCs' recommendation that the Settle-Carlisle line should remain open?

Although one understands the pure technicalities of that decision, will the Minister take clearly into account the potential economic benefits to British Rail of keeping it open? In making his decision about finance, which I hope he will announce at the same time, will he avail himself of that escape hatch offered to him by his hon. Friend and try to raise the money from somewhere else and simply square up to the fact that the Government must provide the money for British Rail to do the essential repairs to keep the line open?

Mr. Mitchell

Of course we will consider carefully the points which the hon. Gentleman has properly made. I accept entirely that the economic factors, and particularly the effect on Appleby as the largest town to be isolated if the railway line is closed, must be taken into account and that they are separate from the questions of hardship which the TUCCs considered.

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