§ 2.50 p.m.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.
§ [The Question was as follows:
§ To ask Her Majesty's Government whether, in view of the unqualified assurance given by the Prime Minister on 12th November, 1963, they will confirm that it is their policy that no railway line in the United Kingdom will be closed to passengers until there is adequate alternative transport available to the public; if they will state the considerations which must be satisfied before the alternative can be considered adequate; and, in particular, if these include the provision of accommodation for bulky luggage.]
My Lords, the words used by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister on November 12 reaffirmed the pledge given on March 27 last by my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport in these terms [OFFICIAL REPORT (Commons) Vol. 674, col. 1320] and repeated in this HouseI shall see that, where necessary, adequate alternative means of transport are available before a railway passenger closure takes place.This remains the policy of Her Majesty's Government.
The adequacy of an alternative cannot be assessed except in relation to the facts of each particular case. In general, my right honourable friend tries to ensure that the alternative services provided are those required to meet the essential needs of the present rail travellers. If it appears from the Transport Users' Consultative Committee's report or the Minister's own study of the case that the alternative services will need to have special accommodation for luggage, then he will see that the nature of the requirements is brought to the attention of the bus operator.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that on November 12 the Prime Minister, referring to transport in the Highlands and the long distances and difficulties said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 684 (No. 1) col. 41]:then adequate alternative transport must be provided.477 There is no qualification whatsoever. Is he further aware that later my right honourable friend Mr. George Brown asked the Prime Minister whether the principle he had just adumbrated for Scotland applied to England and Wales, and the Prime Minister said: "Certainly"? Is that not in direct contradiction to what the noble Earl has now said? The Prime Minister gave the assurance without any qualification; and is he suggesting that his right honourable friend the Minister of Transport is now seeing to repudiate an undertaking given by the Prime Minister?
My Lords, I think the noble Lord conveniently finished his quotation of the Prime Minister's remark before the word "certainly". What he said was [col. 42]:Certainly if railways are closed somehow alternative transport must be found".I think the noble Lord is, if I may say so, trying to drive a coach-and-four between the remarks of my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport and those of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, because the inference which the noble Lord places on the words "where necessary" is that, if those words are left out, the Government should provide alternative services even if they are not necessary; and that is not the policy of Her Majesty's Government.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that I quoted the exact words of the Prime Minister, without any qualification, and it is he who is trying to drive a coach-and-horses through them? Is he further aware that there is no question of services being provided in any circumstances? But can he not say what was in the Prime Minister's mind in using the word "adequate"? What did it mean? Or was anything in the Prime Minister's mind?
My Lords, I find it rather easier to say what was in the Prime Minister's mind than what is in the noble Lord's mind. In fact, what is in the Prime Minister's mind is exactly the same as was in the mind of the Minister of Transport: adequate services will be provided where necessary. Clearly, if they are not necessary they should not be provided.
§ EARL ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that among those of us who live in districts where rail services have been taken away in the absence of adequate services in their place there is profound discontent?
My Lords, if there is profound discontent, as the noble Earl suggests—and I accept his view if he feels there is discontent—then the users of the railways have recourse through the Transport Users' Consultative Committee. That is what they are there for.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, the noble Earl himself just used the word "adequate". Can he not say whether, in the considerations of what is adequacy, such things as speed, frequency, comfort of the services, and whether they should carry luggage, should be taken into account? Can he not give any guidance whatever to local authorities, bus companies and members of the public who are anxious to know what the Prime Minister's use of the word "adequate" meant?
My Lords, it is impossible to state exactly what adequate is, because what might be adequate in one instance might not be in another. All these difficulties and points are taken into account when a rail closure is about to take place, and the frequency of the service is one of the things which the Transport Users' Consultative Committee take into account and pass on to my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport. It is impossible to say that what would be adequate in one set of circumstances would necessarily be adequate in all.