HC Deb 20 June 1988 vol 135 cc828-9
5. Mrs. Golding

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will list the organisations and individuals who expressed interest in buying the Settle to Carlisle railway line prior to 16 May.

Mr. David Mitchell

No, Sir. Such information is commercially confidential. However, British Rail has adopted a positive attitude and has now appointed Mr. Chris Lewin to interface with those in the private sector who are interested.

Mrs. Golding

I thank the Minister for his reply. I am sure he will be aware of how many hon. Members are seriously disturbed about the proposals to privatise that line and the effects not only on the people but on tourism in the area, and the possible knock-on effects on other lines used for tourism. May I remind him that on 26 May my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) asked whether the consultation period on the timetable could be extended for a year? Will he now consider that proposal?

Mr. Mitchell

I wish to make two points to the hon. Lady. First, the period from now until, at the latest, November is for the Secretary of State's further consideration as to whether there is new evidence. After that there will be a further four months, so there is a long period.

Secondly, I went on the line myself last Saturday and was one of the many people who enjoyed the benefits of a trip on it. I do not think that either I or the other people needed it to be subsidised.

Mr. Waller

My hon. Friend should be congratulated on the personal and positive commitment that he showed on Saturday in travelling on that line with me and many other people. Given that that line is very different in its nature and scale from other privately run railways, will he confirm that any private operator who came forward would not be required to conform with the slow running requirements involved in a light rail order?

Mr. Mitchell

My hon. Friend has raised an interesting question. There are three alternative ways in which it will be possible for a private operator to operate. British Rail could set up a subsidiary for disposal to the private sector and the powers to operate the line could he transferred to that subsidiary. It could be transferred by a private Act, by order of the Secretary of State under the Transport Act 1981, or by a light rail order made by the Secretary of State. The 25 mph restriction to which my hon. Friend referred applies to the last of those three.

Mr. Snape

Does the Minister accept that more than 22,000 objectors to the closure were deeply offended by the Minister's original comments when he made the deplorable announcement? They do not want to see a toy-town railway or someone playing with trains to amuse himself. That line forms an integral part of the transportation needs of an isolated part of the country and its closure will mean that many people will be deprived of any method of transportation for much of the year.

Mr. Mitchell

The hon. Gentleman is well aware that that is referred to as a secondary line going north. It is a duplicate line. British Rail does not have duplicate lines for most of the network, and it does not need one here.