HL Deb 25 July 1963 vol 252 cc831-4

3.22 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the first Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are aware that British Railways have discontinued the issue of free timetable booklets and broadsheets for many branch line services, and, in some areas, are running excursions without announcing the fact; and if they will state whether this departure from the normal commercial practice of informing the public of the services available is part of the promised 20th century railway service or if it applies only to branch lines which the Railways Board wishes to close.]


My Lords, the way in which railway services are advertised or otherwise made known to the public is a matter of management in which my right honourable friend does not intervene. I would add that my information does not bear out either the allegations contained in the first part of the noble Lord's Question, or the implications of the latter part.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that, so far as the first part of my Question is concerned, I have a letter from a Western Region passenger superintendent saying that the practice of issuing timetables, booklets and broadsheets has been discontinued and, because of that, in many parts of the country a voluntary organisation has had to issue timetables free?

Is this not a violation of the essential commercial practice that, if you want to sell something you must tell people what you are selling? With regard to the second point of my Question, I have another letter, from the passenger superintendent at Newcastle, saying that excursions were not advertised in posters on the station? Therefore, is not the noble Lord's ignorance on these two subjects as great as that of the general public?


My Lords, while I would certainly agree that the sale of services, so to speak, should be properly advertised, I was certainly not aware of what the noble Lord has just said, because my information was to the contrary. I was aware that broadsheets—which have never been issued free to the public but are pasted on boards at the stations—were no longer pasted up in the Western and North-Eastern Regions. I am informed that that was a matter of policy because it was found that there was constant difficulty in reprinting them so often and this made them economically unjustifiable in view of the functions they were fulfilling. I am told that timetables and local timetable booklets have always been on sale, and that what are given away are leaflets and cards which regular travellers can keep in their diaries. I am informed that there has been no change of practice in this matter, apart from the broadsheets that I have already mentioned.


My Lords, does not the noble Lord agree that, since the earnings of these lines are being affected and they are clearly in danger of closure thereby, this is something which the Government should interest themselves in and that they should make representations to British Railways about it? Does the noble Lord not think that it is extraordinary that in these stations you cannot find broadsheets or timetables while in the waiting rooms there are glossy booklets showing how to get to every country from the Balkans to Sweden but not how to get to Chorlton-cum-Hardy? Is this not utterly ridiculous and absolutely reprehensible in view of the fact that these lines are threatened with closure and that people's lives in that area are likely to be affected? And does the noble Lord not agree that this should not be a matter of indifference on the part of the Government?


My Lords, there is no question of indifference. But the information I have been able to gain does not indicate that that was the case, and I am also informed that there is no question of discrimination against lines that may be proposed for closure in the future.


My Lords, would the noble Lord be willing to investigate the two specific instances which the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, mentioned?


My Lords, I started my reply by saying that this was purely a matter for railway management; and on that basis I am not prepared to undertake an investigation. But if it would help the noble Lord and the House, and if he would accept it from me on a purely personal basis, I personally am prepared to make further inquiries, although certainly without committing myself on the question of Government interference in the matter.


My Lords, to refer to the earlier part of the Parliamentary Secretary's original reply, is he aware that we heard with considerable surprise and amazement that there is something with which the Minister of Transport cannot interfere or does not wish to interfere or make a public announcement about? If it were not for the substance of my noble friend's Question, I should almost welcome this departure in the field of modesty on the part of his chief.


My Lords, would it not be more realistic to appreciate the fact that the railway management have for several years been trying to kill traffic on many of these small lines? Is it not time that we got that into our heads?


My Lords, does not most of our experience point to the fact that the railway administration are gradually transferring to the individual the high cost of telephone calls to obtain information which previously they could get quite easily?


My Lords, I must admit that I have difficulty in reconciling the noble Earl's question with what I have stated and what I believe to be the case. But when I see it written down I will certainly look at the matter again and consider it at greater leisure.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for what he says was a personal offer; but however well-meant, I must, with equal good will, say that I cannot accept it; because it is a contradiction for the noble Lord to say, first of all, that he cannot interfere in the management of the railways and, secondly, that the particulars he has obtained do not bear out these allegations. There is also the implication that these allegations are untrue. I will send the papers to the noble Lord, but I would ask him to investigate them and, in view of what he has said this afternoon, to take steps to announce that these allegations are accurate.


My Lords, I do not think I can add to what I have said. If the noble Lord sends me the papers personally, I will look into the matter. That I have already told him, and I meant it. But I cannot commit myself about what I may then do.


My Lords, will the noble Lord also look into the matter of having some form of simplified announcement of train times? There is a difficulty about publishing large sheets and giving every train time and regularly altering them; but there is no difficulty in making simplified announcements on stations. One can see the point that the railway management wants some stations to be closed down; yet they have a duty to the public to say what trains are running.


My Lords, the noble Lord may like to know that in the only two regions in which broadsheets are not displayed blank forms are issued to the station masters, which they can fill in in order to do what the noble Lord suggested.


What a way to run a railway!