HL Deb 13 April 1965 vol 265 cc279-81

2.49 p.m.


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 what arrangements will be made to ensure that Regional Boards, when considering railway closure proposals, are fully representative of all interests;

Whether there will be opportunities for interested parties concerned to state their case;

Whether the Regional Boards will be able to take into account technical considerations and alternative proposals such as light railway operation;

And where there is no Regional Board, as in the South-East, whether consultation between Government Departments concerned will allow for representations to be considered as if by a Regional Board.]


My Lords, the Regional Economic Planning Boards are composed of officials drawn from Departments concerned with all aspects of regional planning. The members of the Regional Councils are drawn from various quarters, notably local government, industry, trade unions and universities. As has already been announced, they are appointed as individuals and not as representatives of particular interests, but they are widely representative of different types of experience within the region.

On rail passenger closures, the Councils will be advising on planning implications generally in the light of their special knowledge of their regions. The Government's machinery for considering closure proposals already provides an opportunity for representations from interested parties, and it is not expected that the Councils will themselves receive representations. I cannot forecast what considerations they will decide to take into account, but I should not expect these to include matters bearing on the management functions of the Railways Board. The Government's consideration of planning issues in the South-East already takes into account any representations made to them.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord for his reply. If I understood him aright, an association that would possibly be interested in considering the feasibility of operating a line to be closed down could not send a representative, could not appoint a representative, to these boards. Am I right in assuming that? I should also like to ask the noble Lord whether Regional Boards or Councils would be empowered to express a view on a method of operation, in the light of any representations which might be made to them. Further, I would ask the noble Lord whether the hearings of the Regional Boards or Councils will be taken in public, and whether their findings will be given a certain amount of publicity.


My Lords, an outside body could not be represented on a Regional Council. The Regional Boards are made up of Government officials, who service the Regional Councils. They provide material at the request of the Regional Council, and the Council then make recommendations to the various Ministers, after taking account of economic and social planning considerations within the region. I should say that the method of operation of a particular railway line would be entirely outside the function of a Regional Council. They could quite rightly advise the Minister that it was necessary for a certain line to be kept open, but the method of operation surely must be for the Railways Board. So far as I am aware (I speak here subject to correction, and I will establish it definitely and let the noble Lord know), their meetings will not be public and their findings will not be published.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord one further question? Would the Regional Boards have power, if they deemed it necessary, to co-opt someone who would have a knowledge of light railway operation, for instance within the whole question of planning implications for the area concerned?


My Lords, perhaps "co-opt" is not the right word. They are to find out all the information they can and make it available to the Minister. They will be empowered to take advice from any quarter which they think will be of advantage to them in coming to their decisions.


My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether there will be consultation with the associations which have been formed locally regarding these closures? I have in mind particularly the very representative association formed at Westerham, which has been formed because of the closure of the line between Dunton Green and Westerham. Will there be consultations with such associations?


My Lords, provision for consultation has been in existence for a considerable time under the old procedure. The transport users' consultative committees remain in existence, and they can receive representations from any interested source and consider them on a basis of hardship, so far as the community in the area is concerned.


My Lords, will the noble Lord also bear in mind the need for a review of the formula used by British Railways for calculating estimates of losses which are prepared for submission to the transport users' consultative committees?


My Lords, that, I would suggest, is an entirely different question; and, of course, the method of presentation of facts is a matter for the Railways Board and the consultative committee which considers them.