§ 7.58 p.m.
§ LORD STONHAM rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they will take to inform Parliament, local authorities and members of the public concerned with the proposed closures of railway lines:
- (a) of the savings, which it is hoped will arise from individual closures;
- (b) the details of the costs on which these estimates are based.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to ask Her Majesty's Government the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. It will be remembered that on May 14 I asked an ordinary starred Question in your Lordships' House. The purpose of the Question was to ask whether Her Majesty's Government would issue a White Paper in which they would state individually the estimated savings on each of the proposed branch line closures referred to in the Beeching Report and included in the total estimated saving of £18 million. The answer of the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, on that occasion created such general dissatisfaction and concern as to cause no fewer than twelve noble Lords, apart from myself to put supplementary questions which, with the answers, occupied nearly seven columns of Hansard. I think he would agree that that was an indication of the concern which was felt in this matter.
§ In effect, Lord Chesham refused on behalf of the Government to publish the 1467 figures of anticipated net savings; but he said they would be communicated, with details of direct costs, to the transport users' consultative committees, who would pass them on to the objectors. I am only paraphrasing, not quoting exactly. I found this both astounding and useless because the transport users' consultative committees are precisely and rigidly precluded by the 1962 Act from discussing the costs or savings, so that the information is of absolutely no use to them at all. They are indeed the one body to whom it is not necessary to send that particular information. The people who do need it are the local authorities, industry, business, amenity societies, and private persons who, if they are affected by railway closures, need the information but are debarred from receiving it.
§ The noble Lord has said that local authorities and others, even in advance of closure notices, could now be preparing their cases for submission to the T.U.C.C.'s on the grounds of hardship, and, on all other grounds, to the Minister. He has not said that they should immediately start doing that, but there is no reason at all why they should not begin to do it if they are on the prospective closure list.
§ One question which is in everybody's mind is this: "How much does our line lose, and could it be made viable by means of economies or a less regular service, and so on?" Another question which is in people's minds is: "Would it be worth while to approach British Railways to see whether we could take over our line?" None of these vitally important questions can be answered unless the full facts are made available for study. Surely that goes without saying. I put it to the noble Lord, as the prime point of my argument and request, that surely the Government want to be fair to people, want to bend over backwards, if you like, to be just in these matters—and that surely means giving all reasonable access to the necessary information.
§ I would go further than that—and I am sure the noble Lord will agree—and say that the sole justification put forward by the Government, or by Dr. Beeching, for the closure of a railway is that it is losing money. If it can be shown that it does not 1468 lose money or that it can be made viable by various adjustments, then the whole case for closure vanishes. Why then this secrecy? Should not the Government do everything possible to make the cost known and positively encourage the local authorities and others to save their railways if they can? Surely this would be better than providing, and probably eventually subsidising, alternative bus services and thus putting extra traffic on to already overcrowded roads.
§ If the noble Lord will refer to the various answers he gave on May 14—I have no doubt he has already done so—he will agree that he declared there was no secrecy about the figures, but that it was not for the Government to produce them. It sounds pretty contradictory to me. He declared the figures were reliable. The noble Lord nods. It is in Hansard.
§ LORD CHESHAM
My Lords, I am not disputing that. I was merely following the noble Lord's argument in my own mind. I am not disputing what he says.
§ LORD STONHAM
I shall be glad to be interrupted if the noble Lord thinks I say anything which is not correct.
§ LORD CHESHAM
I did not want to interrupt the noble Lord. I was shaking my head to myself because of his argument, not because of what he attributed to me, which was perfectly correct.
§ LORD STONHAM
I think it is perfectly proper for the noble Lord to admonish himself, but I thought he might be admonishing me. The noble Lord said that there was no secrecy about the figures, but that it was not for the Government to produce them. He declared that the figures were reliable, but refused Parliament a chance to check them. They would be produced when a closure was announced. When asked by my noble friend Lady Summerskill what purpose this silence served, he could only say that the Government considered that production of the figures was "inappropriate". I do not know when, in reason, it would be "appropriate". Then his noble friend Lord Colville of Culross asked [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 249 (No. 83), cols. 1181–1182]:Is the noble Lord aware that when it comes to the point of a closure and a hearing before the transport users' consultative committee, even if the figures are then available 1469 it is impossible for any member of the public to address an argument on them, to cross-examine the Board, or to have anything to do with them? They are simply treated by that time as something between the Board and the transport users' consultative committee themselves".The noble Lord replied:I should riot have thought that that was the position".His noble friend said:It is so".Of course it is so. During the debate last evening his noble friend read out chapter and verse for it, and the noble Lord must know that that is the position. It cannot be discussed; there cannot be cross-examination before the transport users' consultative committee.
I then put forward the view that the answers were disgraceful in a Parliamentary sense, and that they led to the inescapable conclusion that the Government are afraid to submit the figures to close and expert scrutiny; that even if lines are paying or can be made to pay they still want to close them. I do not necessarily say that that is the Government view. I said that that is the conclusion to which this kind of secrecy leads. In my view, it is an utterly indefensible, and indeed an immoral, position.
I propose to show how unreliable are some of the figures in the Beeching Report and to give other examples from the figures of closures now proposed. First, I want to clear up a point of apparent doubt as to whether criticisms of figures and counter-proposals affecting economies should be sent to the Minister or not. At one time last night Lord Chesham appeared to regard this as a management matter not for the Minister. Then later in his speech—and I am sure he will agree with me that it is advisable on both sides that if there is a point of doubt it should be cleared up—in column 1363 of yesterday's Hansard, he said:My right honourable friend the Minister of Transport has also made it quite clear that he will carefully consider all relevant representations that are made to him when the Board give formal notice of a particular closure proposal".I asked:To whom should a local authority send the information, if they are of the opinion that a line which it is proposed to close could be made viable by reducing or modifying 1470 the service? That is a management matter, which the noble Lord said would be excluded. To whom should the representations be made?And the noble Lord replied:The representations mentioned should be sent to the Minister".He will remember that his noble friend Lord Hawke later on also seemed to be in some doubt. I think that it will be extremely valuable if the noble Lord could deal with that important point. If the noble Lord had answered that they should be sent to the Railways Board, I would have regarded that as totally unacceptable because it would mean that they were in a sense the judges of their own cases.
I should like now to examine some of the figures merely as samples, because I find that too many figures are extremely boring. The noble Lord did not yesterday quote me quite accurately, but implied that I always said British Railways were wrong, while other people did not find them wrong. I want to give him an example. Everyone is familiar with the statement in the Beeching Report that, generally speaking, if a line does not carry 10,000 passengers a week it cannot pay its passenger costs, and if that particular line has not contributed to its costs from goods traffic then it will need 17,000 passengers a week in order to pay its costs. Dr. Beeching bases that on a single-track line costing £58 per mile per week for route maintenance and signalling, and with stations every 2½ miles each costing £50 a week. He also bases it on 224 trains a week, 32 every day including Sundays. My Lords, if you know of any small branch line with that sort of service—224 trains a week, 32 every day—I hope you will tell Dr. Beeching: because he does not. But he then solemnly proceeds to work out how much per mile each line would lose with costs and service at that imaginary level—imaginary, that is, for many of the lines with which he deals; and of course, without the slightest difficulty he proves what he set out to do: that they do not pay.
For example (and I am referring to the Report) he starts with a line having less than a total of 1,000 passengers a week on these 224 imaginary trains. That is an average of four passengers per train. What railway and what line manager would continue to run trains every hour, 1471 from 7 in the morning until 10 at night, if each train carried only four people? In fact, my Lords, those figures are quite meaningless below 6,000 passengers a week, for the type of operation taken as a model. The model taken is applied everywhere. The same example has £3,000 a year route-mile costs. But £3,000 a year for route mile costs is for heavy traffic, and it is less than honest to apply that kind of cost as an excuse for closing a lightly used branch line. It is just the same with train costs. The same Report puts diesel unit costs at from 4s. to 6s. a mile—this is in the same section—and 100 pages further on the Report quotes one line with a diesel rail bus costing 2s. 4d. a mile and another one with a multiple diesel unit costing 3s. 1d. a mile.
The noble Lord will also be aware that the Report refers to a steam-train unit costing 15s. a mile. I have just had the actual official railway figures for a branch line still using steam, and the figure is 6s. 4d. a mile. I am not arguing that Dr. Beeching does not know that there is this variation in the figures. What I am saying is that this example has been applied to all these lines, irrespective of their actual costs. But, unfortunately, that does not stop Dr. Beeching in his Report: he just ploughs happily on, using these imaginary figures for a non-existent branch line, to prove that a bus costing 2s. 6d. a mile is so much cheaper. He even has another column showing that, if a bus ran only every two hours, compared with a branch line with a train that is running every one hour, of course the bus would save a lot more money still. That is the kind of thing we are up against in considering these things, and that is why it is imperative for these actual figures to be made known so that they can be properly examined.
My Lords, let me take the actual figures supplied by British Railways for the costs on the Taunton-Barnstaple line. That is the one which they advertised on June 1 as proposed to be closed on September 8—a proposal which, of course, will be objected to. Unhappily, earnings have been falling, and in the opinion of the local inhabitants, as in so many other areas, earnings have indeed been actively discouraged. But the position at the moment is that the total cost 1472 of running passenger services on the Taunton-Barnstaple line is £81,800, against earnings of £8,610—a deficit of over £73,000. Judged merely by those cold figures, you would say that there is a very strong case for closure; and so should I. But that is only a small part of the story, and it therefore paints a very distorted picture. That is why it is imperative for these figures to be produced and examined. First of all, there has been no attempt whatsoever by British Railways to effect the enormous economies which could be made, and still provide all the service to passengers which is necessary. On this line at the present time (this was in May; not in the busy summer period) there is an average of 600 passenger journeys a day or about 4,000 pasengers a week. That is with 12 trains a day, 6 each way. But far more than half the total number of passengers travel on one train in the morning and one train at night. It would be perfectly feasible to carry practically all the passengers on just three trains each way.
Then there are some 12 stations, all of which are still manned, that still have signal boxes in use, although at some of the intermediate stations only from 1 to a maximum of 10 passengers will get on or off a train all day long. There is no question whatever that at least 6 of these stations could be unstaffed halts. Then, again, the line is still being served by steam locomotives which, according to British Railways, are running at the very low cost, for steam, of 6s. 4d. a mile. But that is very much higher, as they admitted themselves, than the cost of a diesel unit. Anyway, my Lords, it is estimated that with a diesel unit using just 6 trains a day, 3 each way—that is, 90,000 train-miles a year—and also having halts instead of manned stations at certain places, there would he a total saving, out of that deficit of £73,000, of some £65,000.
My Lords, this is the kind of examination which should have been made long ago by British Railways. It has not been made, and therefore it must be made now by interested parties. The local authorities could also make relevant suggestions, not only for economies, but for increasing railway earnings. For example, they could suggest that the railways should publish timetables. I 1473 know that this sounds fantastic, but I have in my hand a letter and some timetables produced by one of the bodies affiliated to my council which, because there are no timetables in these areas for circulation to the customers, are producing railway timetables for circulation to private individuals, in order that they shall know that the trains are actually running and when they are running.
My Lords, this is a very serious matter. It is not the kind of thing which, if it is submitted to British Railways, they are going to advertise. It is the kind of thing which ought to be ventilated to the Minister—and, indeed, in Parliament. I could quote many more, but I do not want to go on at too great a length. However, I have them here, and I can show them to the Minister. I could quote the case of the railway excursion at Whitsun to Middleton, which, of course, is on a line scheduled for closure. Although there was a Whitsun excursion there, British Railways did not even include it in their timetables. People had to go to the station to find out.
Things like that, although they are management items, should also be submitted to the Minister, as I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, will agree. I would also ask him (he probably will not be able to say this to-night, but perhaps he will write to me about it; or I will put a Question down) whether, if lines are not to be closed on the dates proposed by British Railways, he will guarantee that the trains, which will still be running, of course, will continue to be shown in the timetables. He probably cannot answer that point now, but I am sure he realises it is an important matter and is not just a silly question, in view of the kind of examples that I have quoted.
Finally, my Lords, I will, with the permission of the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, quote to the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, just a small extract from a letter on this subject which he sent to Lord Gladwyn this month, in which he said:…the figures of costs and revenues for lines proposed for closure are not regarded as secret. The Railways Board agreed some months ago to provide them, as well as detailed figures of passenger carryings and, of course, the statutorily required information on alternative services to the transport users' consultative committees for the information of 1474 the committees and of objectors at the time a closure proposal is formally put forward".Then he went on:Nevertheless, the Board have agreed to let M.P.'s for affected constituencies and local authorities have any such figures at present available and I am sure they will extend the same courtesy to Members of our House. I would therefore suggest that you approach the General Manager, Eastern Region, Liverpool Street Station, E.C.2.My Lords, I submit that if it is open to any Member of this House—and, indeed, I insist that it should be open to all of us—to apply for information of this kind, surely it would be the sensible and proper thing to accede to the request that I made on May 4, that since this important information is available, it should be published, either by the Railways Board or by the Government as a White Paper in book form, so that it can be studied everywhere and so that people should not have to go to their Member of Parliament and press him to write to a particular general manager to get particulars, as if they were secret. These things are of importance to the greater part of the people of this country. The information is essential to them: all the local authorities want it; and it should be made available.
I hope that the Government mean to use the 1962 Act and all the safeguards that are in it to see that railways are made efficient. At the same time, if those lines which are at present losing money can be shown to have a possibility of being made viable, then the necessary steps should be taken. We should not senselessly allow railways which can be made profitable to be torn up; and every possible assistance should be given to people and to local authorities who are trying to make them profitable. I hope that the noble Lord, when he comes to reply, will be able to say that the Government agree that this information should be made available to the public at large, either by the Railways Board or by Her Majesty's Government.
§ 8.24 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF CROMARTIE
My Lords, I shall not detain the House for long. As my noble friend Lord Chesham knows quite well, I have just come down from one of the affected areas—that is, North of Inverness. I know that this subject is very near to people up there, and I have talked to a great many of 1475 those who are interested. I have talked to provosts (and, for the information of those who do not know what provosts are, I may say that they are the equivalent of mayors in England), and to many people who are concerned. I have found that they do not quite understand: they rather think that these railways are going to be closed in a matter of months, and rather behind their backs. I have read very carefully the last debate and the remarks made by my noble friend Lord Chesham, and personally I do not think that for a moment. We have been given to understand, at one time by the Leader of our House, that it will be some years before some of these areas have their railways taken away. In fact, it will not be until adequate alternative transport is provided. People naturally ask, "Who is going to decide that?" However, I believe—and I hope that my noble friend Lord Chesham will agree with me—that people in my remote part of the world, which is a vast area, should be told quite definitely that they are not going to have things done behind their backs. At present, I assure you, my Lords, they are very worried.
Apart from that, we have got two things coming on which may be jeopardised by railway closures. We have been told by the Government and by everybody else, quite rightly, that we must do things for ourselves. In Invergordon—and I have no doubt your Lordships know where that is; it was at one time a famous naval base—there has been started a distillery which at the moment employs 200 men, and which will soon employ 400, and more. It is not going to help them if that railway is closed. Then, in the county town of Dingwall there is every prospect of a factory being opened to make component parts for cars. This is a very important project, and it would be a terrible blow if we suddenly discovered that we were not to have any rail transport and no satisfactory road and other transport. That is all I have to say, my Lords, but I hope that it will be borne in mind so far as the North of Scotland is concerned.
§ 8.28 p.m.
§ LORD FERRIER
My Lords, I have listened with the greatest interest to what the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, has said, and I look forward with interest to what 1476 the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, is going to say in reply. Having had some experience in railway operation, including a diesel-electric railcar service, and coming, as the noble Earl, Lord Cromartie, does, from North of the Border, I must say that I feel, with him and with the noble Lord opposite, that no harm can be done in putting the full facts in the hands of the people who are concerned and who are likely to be concerned. But the point I would make is a specific one, and it is this. I think the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, touched on it, if obliquely. It should be remembered that a number of the services on British Railways to-day, and for some years past, have not been in any way adequate, for reasons which we well know, and that traffic figures taken from existing services must, as a result, inevitably be false. I appeal to the authorities concerned that when they assess the potential traffic of a branch line in terms of passengers, they apply to that a factor which would adduce a figure which is the potential traffic if the service were adequate.
Having said that, having made that point, as I said at the beginning I look forward to hearing what the Minister will say in reply; and, speaking for the Southern part of Scotland, I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Cromartie, that the anxiety is very real. I can see no harm can stem from the fullest information being placed in the hands of the people who are chiefly concerned.
§ 8.31 p.m.
§ LORD CHESHAM
My Lords, I must say I have admired the facility with which the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, switched his mind from pre-packed sausages to unpacked trains, and though I know the noble Lord has had a long afternoon on other subjects I must ask him to forgive me if I speak in some detail on the matters which he has raised, because, as he says, they are of importance. He has raised a number of issues and I feel I must reply to what he said fairly fully. I think he will perhaps understand if I do not follow him entirely through all the detail of what he said. In particular he will understand if I say I shall not attempt to delve into the question of figures in the detail that he has done, because I should probably need the period of preparation 1477 which he has no doubt had to consider them so that I could put up a proper counter argument. He will not think I am trying to be offensive when I say that I believe that, here and there, there were some flaws in some of his figuring arguments; but I will not pursue that just now. The point is that I think he underestimates the amount of trouble and thought that the railways put into the consideration of questions of the ways of producing and increasing revenue. He does not think that they have adequately considered them at all.
What I should like to do would be to get straight on to the procedure by which information about passenger closure proposals becomes available. As the noble Lord told us, I referred to it in answer to a Question on May 14, and I am wondering whether the procedure may not have been fully appreciated. I do not say the noble Lord did not appreciate it, but I am anxious that the whole House should be under no possible misapprehension on these matters.
Under the Transport Act of last year the Railways Board have to give formal notice of any proposal to discontinue all passenger services from any line or station. The notice has to be published in two successive weeks in two local papers, and the Board have agreed to put copies on stations and to notify the local authorities so that there should be no question of users or local authorities being unaware of when the Board want to go ahead with a closure proposal. That notice will explain that users and bodies representing them can lodge objections with the area transport users consultative committee. As soon as an objection is lodged with those committees, then the Board cannot proceed with the closure until the committee have reported to the Minister on the hardship and he has given his consent.
I am apprehensive that there will not be many proposed closures which are not opposed, and therefore the majority of closures are unlikely to occur on the dates proposed. The noble Lord asked whether on and after those dates I could guarantee that the trains would be on the timetable. Well, my Lords, of course I can personally guarantee absolutely nothing of the sort; but what I am sure will be done is that the Railways 1478 Board will take notice of what the noble Lord has said on the subject when they come to read the OFFICIAL REPORT; and this I have absolutely no doubt they will do.
People who lodge objections will wish to know more about the proposals and the alternative services. Therefore the Board will send to the consultative committee, when an objection is lodged to a closure, details of the services which are being withdrawn, the number of users and the existing alternative services. They will send details of proposed alternative services (as apart from existing ones) if the proposed alternative services have been worked out at that stage. They will also supply a statement of the direct costs and receipts attributable to the service that is proposed for closure; and, where this is applicable, they will supply an estimate of the expenditure due to be incurred over the next five years or so on renewals. All that information—the various details of the services, the users, the alternative services and the financial information—will be sent to each objector by the T.U.C.C. The Board's notice will in effect allow a period of seven weeks from the first date of publication for the lodging of objections.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, will it not be eight weeks—two weeks for advertising and six weeks thereafter, making a total of eight weeks?
§ LORD CHESHAM
Yes, my Lords, it could be a total of eight weeks, assuming that the objector sees the first notice and not the notice in the second week; but it could be eight weeks. I thought it safer to say seven weeks. In any case, the T.U.C.C. will allow objectors a reasonable time beyond that in which to complete the preparation of their cases. It is obvious that the late objector when given the information is at a disadvantage and must be allowed a reasonable time. Therefore there is no question of local authorities and other objectors getting that detailed information too late to take into account in preparing their objections. It will in fact be available in plenty of time and will be as up-to-date as, possible.
The noble Lord said clearly in his speech that some local authorities will want to begin the preparation of cases 1479 for submission to the T.U.C.C. He said that I had said that, which is true. Therefore I am sure that the House will like to know of the arrangements which I understand have been made by the Railways Board with their regional general managers for the provision of information, on request, about particular closure proposals. General managers will supply such information as is available at the time when they receive the inquiry—information of the same general nature and scope as that which will in due course go to the T.U.C.C.—to Members of either House of Parliament, local authorities or other responsible bodies, who are directly concerned with a particular closure proposal. The information which will be supplied will be related, so far as traffic is concerned, to the number and timing of trains and the number of passengers joining and alighting at particular stations.
On the financial side, it will cover the receipts and direct costs attributable to the service or station concerned, together with the capital expenditure I mentioned before. The appropriate T.U.C.C. will be informed when such information is given under these arrangements. I must confess that I was a fraction surprised to find that the noble Lord was quoting a letter I had written in the normal course of private correspondence to the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn. I do not make much complaint about that, but I was a little surprised that he was in possession of it.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, I was in possession of it because my noble friend Lord Gladwyn sent it to me in view of this debate and said I could make what use I liked of it. I quoted an extract from the same letter yesterday, and when I saw my noble friend to-day and he told me that he hoped to take part in this debate. He gave the letter to me because he thought I ought to know what it contained.
§ LORD CHESHAM
My Lords, I merely take the point personally. I endeavour to write to noble Lords in all good faith when they write to me. I know that the noble Lord mentioned the letter yesterday, but I had not a convenient opportunity to refer to it. I did not know that the letter would be 1480 used by the noble Lord in his support. I do not blame him.
§ LORD STONHAM
It is certainly not my noble friend's fault, either. He pointed out to me that the letter was not confidential. It would be quite open to him to publish part of it in the Press.
§ LORD CHESHAM
Then I must make a mental resolution to mark all my letters "Confidential" from now on, on whatever subject to whichever recipient. All that is left for me to say is that I hope that the arrangements I have just described which the Railways Board have made will go a considerable distance to meet the views which the noble Lord and the other noble Lords who have spoken have put forward.
I know that the financial figures to be provided do not correspond precisely with the terms of the noble Lord's Question, but I understand the Board's intention in this respect to be that the figures which they provide of receipts and costs shall so far as possible be factual and so avoid any large element of estimation. The information which the railways intend to give to inquirers will be that which the T.U.C.C.s themselves agreed last year would be appropriate for them to have for their purposes. As your Lordships are aware, the understanding on which these figures are made available to the T.U.C.C.s is that they are provided for information and, in the same way, those who get figures in advance should treat them for information purposes.
I should like to deal with the suggestion that the Government ought to publish this information. This is a view which I am afraid I cannot accept. It is the Railways Board who are charged with the duty of running the railways and running them on commercial lines, and they have been freed to do so. It is the Railways Board which have published the Report setting out the list of passenger closures which they want to effect. It is the Board which will decide when they want to go ahead with the proposals. It is the Board which will give notice of individual proposals as they come along.
The Government have the task of deciding whether or not proposals which are opposed in accordance with the 1481 Act should go ahead. They have in fact to decide between the interest of users in the locality and the wider public interest in the form of the railway system. I should have thought it was generally recognised that the Government should not take this kind of action about individual proposals until they have been examined, because I think it would be most unfortunate, in view of what my noble friends behind me have said, and would give the implication that the Government were accepting in advance that these closures were all going to take place and therefore there would be some grounds for the fear, which my noble friends have mentioned, that things were going to happen willy-nilly behind their backs. Time and again I have been at pains to point out that there is a procedure for consideration and any proposals may or may not be carried out for a variety of reasons, some of which I will touch on in a minute or two.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, before the noble Lord leaves this point, he said that the general managers of British Railways would supply Members of Parliament of either House with the particulars he has been describing, if they are concerned with a particular proposal. Would a Member of the House of Lords, having no constituency, be provided with these particulars about any line about which he asks?
§ LORD CHESHAM
My Lords, I should have thought, generally, no. Members of Parliament may perhaps not use a line, but if it is in their constituency they will get the information. But even Members of your Lordships' House live somewhere and I should think that a residential qualification, if somewhat tenuous, would be regarded as something akin to a constituency interest in the area in which a noble Lord resides.
§ LORD CHESHAM
I said Members of both Houses. I want to turn to another point—that is, that there should be opportunities for users and their representatives to cross-examine the Board's representatives on their figures. Here I should 1482 like to take the opportunity to correct something which I said yesterday in reply to an intervention by the noble Lord, Lord Stonham. I was speaking at the time about the channels through which local authorities should make representations on matters other than hardship, matters which are in general the direct responsibility of the Minister and the appropriate Government Department. The noble Lord's intervention also related to representations by local authorities, but he referred in fact to representations about management matters, such as modifications to the railway service. I regret that at that moment, in thinking of my argument, I was unfortunately slow in appreciating exactly what it was that the noble Lord had put forward. Consequently, due to a personal lapse, or inefficiency, if your Lordships insist, I inadvertently said something which was not correct. I must apologise to the noble Lord, and make it clear that in fact the Minister cannot undertake to entertain representations about matters of management. My noble friend Lord Hawke picked up the point at once.
I spent some time yesterday explaining the reasons why these were matters which have been left within the discretion of the Board, and therefore any representations about them should be made to the Board. The noble Lord said in advance that that would be unacceptable to him, because they would be judge in their own case. But the situation would be so if I were to accede to his suggestion that the Government should publish these figures. For the reasons I mentioned earlier, that would be merely repeating that particular situation in another form. It really is the fact that with representations of that kind the Board are the appropriate quarter and at the risk of boring your Lordships, I think I must emphasise again the statutory position that Parliament has put them in to be responsible for the management of the undertaking. In that it has put on them specifically the duty of so conducting—and I quote from Section 22 of the Act—their business as to place themselves at the earliest possible date in such a position that their revenue will be, and continue to be, not less than sufficient for making provision for the meeting of charges properly chargeable to revenue, taking one year with another".That is the Board's financial duty. Parliament has put that duty upon them 1483 and, having done so, I suggest to your Lordships that it is wrong to think that users, local authorities and others can subject the Board to cross-examination about the financial justification for all their proposals, especially proposals which are designed to reduce the burden which falls on the taxpayer.
It is one thing that Parliament should be satisfied that the Government are examining those proposals of the Board involving extensive capital investment, a large part of the burden of which will fall on the taxpayer. But it is, I suggest, another thing that every time the Board want to rid themselves of an unremunerative service every user, and a lot of people who have virtually ceased to use it, should have the right to ask how they arrive at their figures. The reason for this is clear. The committees' job is first to assess hardship to users, and to make proposals for alleviating that hardship.
The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, said that the figures in the shape in which I said they would be provided were no use at all to the committees. That, in my view, is not right. The committees need to know those figures so that basically they can assess whether the alternative service which they may be putting forward to alleviate hardship makes sense or does not. What they want from the users is evidence of hardship. After all, the hardship to the user caused by a line closure does not vary whether the saving is £500, £50,000 or £500,000. The financial issues are not a matter for the consultative committee, who do not recommend whether a closure shall take place: these are matters of which the Minister will take account when he is deciding whether or not the closure shall take place.
Having said that, I want nevertheless to make the point that the Government recognise the concern that decisions about closures should not be taken solely on the strength of the losses which the Board are incurring. They are fully aware of the need to take account of any expenditure that will have to be incurred on alternative services, on roads and so on, and also all the matters that we discussed yesterday. But it is the Government's job to go into such 1484 matters. The Government accept the responsibility. They will be accountable to Parliament for the decisions which they take in particular cases. Therefore, I hope all your Lordships (I nearly said both of your Lordships) will agree that this is the right allocation of responsibility, and that, in the light of what I have said to-day, the arrangements that have been made for giving information about the costs and receipts relevant to individual closure proposals are satisfactory and appropriate in the circumstances.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask him this question? He has explained why the T.U.C.C. should have these figures, but is it not the right and duty of the local authority concerned in the area to tell the transport users committee if they believe that the alleged losses are not being incurred or could be avoided? Surely the local authority should have the right to submit such information to the Minister. The noble Lord gave the impression, even if he did not mean to, that it does not matter what the local authority may say about the losses on a line, or what alternatives could do; the railways are still going to stick to their figures. I think the local authorities must have a voice in these matters, and they must have the confidence that, if they make reasonable proposals, or challenge these figures, they will be properly considered and not ignored.
§ LORD CHESHAM
My Lords, I do not think I said that at all. What I was trying to say was that in such a case as the noble Lord has in mind the Railways Board direct was the correct avenue of approach for a local authority who wished to bring up these matters.
§ THE EARL OF LUCAN
My Lords, arising out of one of the last sentences used by the noble Lord, that the Government were accountable to Parliament for each individual decision on a closure, may I ask how Parliament can exercise responsibility if the Government do not publish the figures in each individual case? That surely, is the point of my noble friend's question. The noble Lord seems to have admitted the duty of the Government to give those figures, but said they were not prepared to give them.
§ LORD CHESHAM
No, I do not think I did that either, with respect. I take it 1485 that I am in order to answer this question.
§ LORD CHESHAM
I do not consider that what the noble Earl thinks should be read into that answer, either. When it is a question of Ministerial decision, surely every Minister is accountable to Parliament for the decision he has made. That still does not provide grounds, as I see it, for acceding to what the noble Lord wants—namely, that the Government should publish all the detail of this matter.
§ LORD CROOK
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, is it not inherent in what my noble friend has put that the information should be made available before the Minister reaches his decision? If Members of Parliament are to exercise any judgment at all, they should be given the figures on which to exercise it.
§ LORD CHESHAM
I thought I had made it clear that Members of Parliament who had reason to have them could obtain the figures.
§ LORD FERRIER
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I think I should like to say, on a cricketing day, that he bowled a ball which came off the pitch rather fast when he referred to users who virtually do not use the services. I like to travel by train, and I am going to Scotland by train to-night. The fact is that I should like to travel to my daily work by train and come back by train but the service is not there. I should like to play that ball straight back to the bowler. It is not always the case that users are not using the service, but often, certainly during the last few years, that the service is not there for the users to use.
§ LORD CHESHAM
No, my Lords; but before I finally sit down I would just point out that I think it is an almost undeniable fact—and I will not go into the whole statistics and details of the argument—that a large part of the reason for the predicament of the railways at the moment is that people have ceased to use them.