§ 3.31 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE EARL OF KINNOULL
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill standing in my name be now read a second time. Before I begin to explain the reasons for it, and its purpose, perhaps I should declare at this stage that a similar Private Member's Bill was introduced in another place by the honourable Member for Scarborough and Whitby. The Bill, I may say, received a friendly First Reading but was then shunted into a siding, due to the natural pressure of Government business, and no time was allowed for a Second Reading. It was subsequently withdrawn, last March. However, I should like to point out that the honourable Member for Scarborough and Whitby, when introducing his Bill, was supported by honourable Members from all sides of the House, including the honourable Member who sits as chairman of the Labour Party's Transport Committee.
965 This short, simple Bill has the sole purpose of equipping the Minister of Transport with the power to reconsider, and if necessary to rescind, consent to close any railway station or railway passenger service. It could well be asked: Why should this power be given to the Minister of Transport? First, we have a Minister of Transport to-day who possibly looks upon rail closures in a different light from his predecessor. Secondly, with the benefit of hindsight one can clearly see that in a certain number of cases where lines have been closed, or where lines are due to be closed, unnecessary hardship will be caused, with little money saved. Lastly, and perhaps most important of all, from the very fact that the new Minister now orders that tracks shall be retained where lines are closed, there is a clear implication that he has it in his mind to reopen these fines at some future date. Why else would he allow this valuable equipment to stand rotting, year after year?
When the present Minister came to power last October he was welcomed by many people with completely opposite political views, for the simple reason that both he and his Party had pledged themselves to halt the main programme of rail closures pending a national transport survey. The Minister was faced with some 38 closure decisions that had been taken by his predecessor less than a month before. None of these lines was physically closed when the Minister took office. On November 4 the Minister made his first policy statement in another place, in which he regretted—and I would emphasise the word "regretted"—that under the Transport Act, 1962, he had no powers to rescind or reverse any decisions made by his predecessors on closing lines. This was a blow to his pledge, my Lords, but he softened it by announcing that where lines had been closed the tracks would be retained. This was widely interpreted, as I have said already, as meaning that he would take such powers in the near future.
On March 31, four months later, the Minister made his second policy statement. He confirmed that under a new procedure which he had introduced for hearing closure proposals the Regional Economic Planning Councils would in future consider proposals before they were published and again after they were 966 published, if there were any objections. There was no mention in that statement of his seeking powers to alter rail closures, and it was only when he was pressed by an honourable Member that he finally said he did not intend to seek powers to halt the closures on lines that had ceased to exist. Your Lordships will recall that by about this time 25 of the 38 services affected by the decisions made by his predecessor had been physically closed, but there were still about 13 services due to be withdrawn, including two lines which I have particularly in mind—the Barnstaple to Taunton line and the Stranraer to Dumfries line—both of which can be claimed to be major closures.
It seems extraordinary that this Minister and his Party, having given such firm pledges before the Election, should now, to use an expression of which the Prime Minister seems to be particularly fond, "not have the guts" to carry through their pledge. I am afraid that, for once, their broken pledge cannot be blamed on the financial crisis which they claim they inherited last October. To show the concern felt by local councils in areas where closures have taken place, I may say that I have to-day received a letter from a council in North Wales. They wrote to inform me that they had approached their local Member of Parliament, who had said that the Minister of Transport was in a difficult position at the present time because he had no power under statutory authority to review closure decisions. This simple Bill has the sole purpose of extracting the Minister from this difficult position.
If one examines the financial savings of the 148 lines that have so far been closed, I understand that the total estimate is something in the region of £6 million per year. This in itself is a substantial figure, but when taken in relation to the total annual trading deficit of the railways, which stands to-day, I believe, at £58 million, this saving looks rather small, especially when compared to the social upheaval which it has caused. Perhaps I should add that with the publication of the 1964 railway accounts the trading loss showed an improvement, which I understand is largely due to increased efficiency. This, I feel, is of credit to Dr. Beeching. But what is happening now is that, instead of the branch lines being subsidised, the Railways Board has to subsidise local bus 967 services, and I understand that in 1963 the total compensation which the Railways Board paid to local bus companies was some £92,600. Perhaps the Minister could later give us the present figure, or last year's figure.
I turn now to the Amendment standing in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Royle. Quite frankly, my Lords, this Amendment astonishes me. It cuts completely across the pledges given, and the views expressed, by the Labour Party before the Election. The noble Lord claims in the Amendment that this Bill would prolong the uncertainty and cause unnecessary anxiety about the future of the railway passenger services. All I can say is that the noble Lord must have failed to grasp the purpose of this Bill, because it does exactly the opposite. The Minister himself implied last November that he only wished he had powers to review the closures. What does cause anxiety, I submit, is the retaining of railway tracks without the powers to reopen the lines; and, even more, the making of a policy statement on halting major closures, without specifying which lines these are.
The noble Lord further claims that the Bill would prohibit progressive modernisation. Perhaps the noble Lord, when he replies, will explain what he means by "progressive modernisation". As I see it, modernising British Railways means, in fact, increasing the efficiency of the service and improving existing services, and has no relation to whether the lines are open or closed. Finally, the noble Lord's Amendment ends up with the statement that we should call upon Her Majesty's Government to ensure a properly co-ordinated transport system. As the Minister of Transport has said this on almost every occasion on which he has spoken since he took office, I hardly feel that this part of the Amendment has much merit in it.
To summarise, this Bill is designed to allow the Minister to have another look at rail closures. It will allow him to review the line closures which have taken place during his period of office, where the tracks have been retained. It will allow him to bring into play his new approach to railway closures. I would expect the Minister to use this power with the greatest restraint, and possibly 968 with the greatest discretion. Nevertheless, I submit that such a power is essential to the Minister, and I trust your Lordships will agree to support this Bill. I beg to move that it be read a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Kinnoull.)
§ 3.41 p.m.
LORD ROYLE moved, as an Amendment, to leave out all the words after "That" and to insert:
this House declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which would, by prolonging uncertainty about the future of rail passenger services after a fully considered decision had been reached, inhibit the progressive modernisation of British Railways, cause unnecessary anxiety to users of the services and delay the establishment of an efficient and economic pattern of transport, but calls upon Her Majesty's Government to ensure that within a properly co-ordinated transport system it is possible to provide any rail passenger service which is required to meet future social and economic needs.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, may I in the first place, from the great heights of an old Parliamentarian in another place, say how deeply I appreciate the reasonable way in which the noble Earl has moved the Second Reading of this Bill? Of course, I could not possibly have hoped that he would refrain from making political points. In fact, I should have been disappointed, and it would have upset some of my arguments, had he not used political points in the course of his speech; but, for all that, I feel that the House will appreciate the reasoned way in which the noble Earl moved his Bill. While I look very closely at his statement that he is astounded at the terms of my Amendment, I hope in the course of what I have to say (perhaps at a little greater length than he himself has indulged in) to deal with the points he has raised and with the points on my Amendment.
§ The noble Earl referred to the fact—and I am very grateful to him for it—that my right honourable friend in another place has made statements on two occasions, on November 4 and March 31, about his new outlook with regard to this question; and I feel that the reasonable way in which he has approached it since taking office gives room for quite close 969 consideration of the new situation. However, may we, in the first place, get the issues clear? It appears that the Bill as proposed by the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, does not seek in any way to amend the 1962 Act so far as preventing the Minister from consenting to further closures is concerned. It merely seeks to give him power to rescind consents to closure which have already been given. The 1962 Act gives the Minister the power of closure, and apparently the noble Earl has no objection to that power. With deep respect to the noble Earl, it appears to me that there is rather an inconsistency between giving the power to rescind what has already been done and the fact that the noble Earl does not seek to remove the power to consent to further closures. I am claiming a greater consistency for my Amendment, because, while it recognises the power to give consents, whatever one might think of the plan—and remembering also that full consideration has been given to them, very full inquiries having been made under subsections (7), (8) and (9) of Section 56 of the main Act—it refuses to give the Minister power to rescind what has already been done.
§ Having stated what I believe is the true position at this moment of time, may I say that I fully appreciate the noble Earl's reasons for raising the matter, even if I cannot see his logic? Of course, these closures have caused great concern; but, frankly, I do not think that the problem is as great as the noble Earl imagines—or, even, that at this stage it is a real one at all. I agree at once that when rail services are withdrawn there is inconvenience for a time. I remember when we received those heavy documents in another place containing Dr. Beeching's Plan in which he outlined in great detail the suggestions for closing railway lines. Personally, I got very hot under the collar about lines in which I was interested—and I am quite sure that the noble Duke, the Duke of Devonshire, shared my anxiety about the suggested closure of the line from Manchester to Buxton. This was a line which carried thousands of commuters every day from that part of Derbyshire into Manchester, and I was very concerned for them. At one time, I lived on that line and used it a great deal; and I was tremendously relieved when 970 the previous Minister decided that he could not permit its closure.
§ Likewise, because of my constituency interests, I was concerned about the suggested closure of the electric line from Manchester (Victoria) to Bury because, in the same way, many commuters would have been very greatly inconvenienced. But one of the first jobs that my right honourable friend did was to refuse his consent to that suggested closure, and that refusal continues to-day.
§ I feel that these examples show that there are real safeguards, even under existing legislation. But I wonder whether the noble Earl shares my view that the railway services should be regarded as a public service irrespective of the profit motive, and that the making of the railways into a profit-making enterprise should be very much a secondary consideration. The profit motive was the policy of the previous Government: otherwise, Dr. Beeching would never have been appointed and his Plan might never have seen the light of day. That policy was arrived at without any consideration of the aim of a fully coordinated transport system for the whole of this country, as the Labour Party have envisaged for many years. The road hauliers were far too powerful, and they were in so many ways supporting the Tory Party, particularly just prior to the 1951 Election, that their demands had to be attended to.
§ But if the noble Earl does not accept my view, then I suggest that he must accept the fact that railway closures are inevitable. Again, I agree that in some cases inconvenience becomes hardship; but since I have decided to put down this Amendment my inquiries have shown that great efforts are made to reduce that hardship to a minimum. It naturally looks worse to those who are intimately involved, and who cannot see the whole picture. Noble friends of mine on this side of the House are deeply concerned about individual closures. In point of fact, my Lords, I have been expecting a stab in my right side ever since I rose to my feet. My noble friend Lord Addison will express himself in due course; but, in fairness, is it not right to say that we can all get absorbed in our own immediate problems, to the exclusion of the welfare of the country as a whole? I 971 have been at pains to find out the true position; and it is remarkable how the protests die down after the closures take place and people make other arrangements.
§ I can find very little evidence of the hardship, which was so often forecast, or of the ill-effects to local economy. But even if that hardship and those ill-effects do arise, I suggest that there are adequate safeguards in existing legislation. The Minister has the power to vary the conditions on which consent has been given: for example, to require provision of additional bus services. In at least six closures under the Act adjustments have been made; and a complete review of the alternative services which was undertaken by the Transport Users' Consultative Committee at the request of the Minister has resulted in greatly extended provisions in one case in Wales.
§ I think that the noble Earl, if not directly, then indirectly, suggested that there were cases where rail services meet needs which cannot be met by alternative services. In isolated cases that is possibly true; but, with respect, I should doubt if this is so in the main. In any case, it is because of that very possibility that my right honourable friend has introduced two new features into the closure procedure. First, as the noble Earl pointed out, he is ensuring the retention of the track, in any case where a future need for passenger service might, in his view, arise, say in isolated parts of the country. Second, he is being very careful to obtain the views of Regional Planning Councils and Boards on planning, considerations which might give rise to such needs in the future. I have a sneaking feeling that Her Majesty's Government could secure a reopening anywhere, if it proved to be essential, without this Bill.
§ But, in spite of that, I may be asked: "Why not accept this Bill?" I think there are several reasons. From the drafting of the Bill, it would appear—and the noble Earl later will have the opportunity of correcting me if I am wrong—that it might affect only closures to which consent has been given but not implemented. This must be a very limited field. I am told that there are at present six such cases where consent has been given by the previous Minister and thirteen where consent has been 972 given by my right honourable friend. Half of these services will be closed in two weeks from now. If I heard the noble Earl aright, he intends that his Bill should give power not only to prevent such closures from ever taking place but to require the reopening of any service to which consent for closure has been given under the Act. I am told that this would affect 144 rail services and another 18 stations, considered independently of those listed in the Beeching Plan, as well as "pipe-line" cases to which consent was given soon after the Act came into force. So, the noble Earl's Bill can have very far-reaching effects.
§ Has he considered the consequences? I suggest that the effect of the Bill would be that no closure decision could ever be regarded as final. This is a very serious matter. Would any noble Lords welcome the granting of the power for every case to be reopened, whatever the ultimate decision might be in the future, with all the uncertainty that that implies? Surely all would accept that the Minister's decisions are not taken lightly or haphazardly; there is a statutory procedure to ensure minute examination. I hope that my noble friend Lord Lindgren, when he comes to speak later in the debate, will deal with this point; but I feel sure alternative services are closely considered. When a decision is reached I feel certain it is the right answer so far as human effort can make it so. I even believed that of decisions of the last Minister of Transport.
§ But would noble Lords not agree that the power to rescind would put all this elaborate process at very grave risk and would imply the possibility of the reversal of all considered decisions continuing indefinitely? The railways would never know when they might have to reopen a line. Staff dispersal and the running-down of installations are all involved, and there are the difficulties of restoration which would be enormous. Has the noble Earl considered the cost in terms of staff retention, equipment, tracks, and the maintenance of those tracks? Who is going to cut the grass over the years?
§ How can there be plans for the future if this Bill is accepted? Let us not forget for one moment the bus companies (in which noble Lords opposite may have a greater interest than we on this side of the House), who all over the country 973 have made provision to replace closed railway lines. How can councils in general go ahead with redevelopment? Have they to build bridges for new and improved roads all over the country in case one of the railway lines beneath might be reopened at some time in the dim, distant future? So far as the users themselves are concerned, I suggest that by this time they will have made their alternative arrangements; they will have made them when the closure took place or when it was about to take place. Surely they are not all just staying at home because these changes have been made in their transport arrangements. Do not let us burden them with uncertainty again.
§ Perhaps I should not be unfair if I were to ask the noble Earl why an Amendment of this character to this Bill was not moved in another place or in this House during the passage of the 1962 Bill, when other people were in charge of the arrangements. The noble Earl has kindly drawn attention to the latter part of my Amendment. I feel that those words are very important ones and hit the nail on the head so far as our policy is concerned in the future. Accepting the position, I would say of the 1962 Act (whatever we thought about it; and some of us had very grave doubts indeed) that my Amendment refers to the establishment of an efficient and economic pattern of transport. Noble Lords in various parts of the House will have different views on the methods of achieving this end, but I think all would agree that it is an end well worth achieving. I do not see how it can be achieved unless the transport operators, the people who actually provide the services, are assured of reasonable stability in the framework within which they operate. This Bill, of which the noble Earl has moved the Second Reading, would do much to impair that stability.
§ I do not find the prospect of unlimited appeals attractive. Of course there may be occasional mistakes. I think even my noble friend Lord Lindgren, when he comes to speak for the Government on this issue, will agree that any Government makes one or two mistakes during the course of its lifetime. More important, unforeseen developments may change the whole picture as the days go by. I am sure that if such a situation arises the Board and the Minister can 974 reach a solution by common sense and common consent, and I do not believe this Bill is necessary. Even less do I believe that it is so necessary as to outweigh the very serious difficulties which would arise if, however many appeals had been rejected, no decision was ever final. I beg to move,
Leave out all the words after ("That") and insert ("This House declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which would, by prolonging uncertainty about the future of rail passenger services after a fully considered decision had been reached, inhibit the progressive modernisation of British Railways, cause unnecessary anxiety to users of the services and delay the establishment of an efficient and economic pattern of transport, but calls upon Her Majesty's Government to ensure that within a properly co-ordinated transport system it is possible to provide any rail passenger service which is required to meet future social and economic needs.")—(Lord Royle.)
§ 4.2 p.m.
THE DUKE OF DEVONSHIRE
My Lords, I have very considerable sympathy with my noble friend's Bill, but I must admit at once that I cannot agree that it is necessary. The reasons for this view I will come to in a moment. However, I imagine that Her Majesty's Government will welcome this Bill most warmly, since it gives them the golden opportunity to redeem the Prime Minister's public pledge to the citizens of Whitby and Scarborough. I must say that I have very great sympathy with the citizens of Whitby and Scarborough. After all, when they read in their local newspaper last September a letter from the then Leader of the Opposition stating that should the Labour Party be returned to power the closure of the Whitby, Scarborough and Malton line would be halted while the new regional authorities prepared new transport plans for those areas, they were entitled to believe it.
It is now a matter of history that the Labour Party was returned to power and the Leader of the Opposition then became the Prime Minister. It was then, and only then, that the Prime Minister discovered that under the terms of the Transport Act, 1962, it was not possible to halt a closure which had already been decided. Surely it would have been wiser, and indeed more honest, to check the facts—an easy enough thing to do 975 —before giving such a pledge to the people so closely concerned. Now, however, thanks to my noble friend's Bill there is a perfect opportunity where, by the passing of the Bill, the Prime Minister may redeem his public pledge; and I presume those sitting on the Government side of the House will support the Bill with serried ranks rather than support the Amendment we have just heard moved.
I also feel that the Bill will have the warm support of the noble Lord, Lord Stonham. I have no doubt his governmental duties prevent his being present at a debate in which he must be very closely interested, since the noble Earl whose Bill this is, is Lord Stonham's immediate successor as President of the National Council of Inland Transport. Therefore I feel sure one member of Her Majesty's Government must be wholeheartedly in support of this Bill. I make that point with great sincerity, because I feel this is an opportunity for the Prime Minister of the country to redeem a publicly given pledge, and it is an opportunity that, in the interests of our national life, should not be allowed to escape.
So far as the Bill is concerned I cannot agree with my noble friends that it is necessary, because I am satisfied that the procedure for the raising of objections if any railway service is discontinued, which was set up under the Transport Act, 1962, adequately protects the interests not only of the travelling public but of local authorities, education interests and, not least, industrial interests. I would remind my noble friend of the existence of the Transport Users' Consultative Committees. These are independent bodies brought into being in order to hear objections from all and sundry, whether it be an individual or a local authority.
The very fact that a number of proposals for closures have been refused is proof that objections to a closure are no mere formality to be thrown aside. I was glad the noble Lord, Lord Royle, made reference to the Buxton—Manchester line, the closure of which was refused. This is a perfect example of the fact that it is not a formality and that the machinery does help, and where there is a case either of unnecessary hardship or 976 of its not being in the national interest for a closure to be proceeded with, then that particular closure is discontinued. The whole essence of the question must be, "What is in the national interest?"
The rôle of our transport system must be to meet the needs of the community. We hear constantly, and rightly hear, that we must bring Britain up to date. Surely, the streamlining of the railways of this country must play a leading part in the modernisation of Britain. While some may regret this pruning for sentimental reasons, and others may suffer inconvenience to some extent, or indeed to a considerable extent, we must not delude ourselves into believing that this pruning is not vitally necessary if we are to hold our place among the great industrial countries of the world.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Royle, when he says we must put an end to uncertainty. Above all else, a decision must be decisive, and to hold the door open and say, "It may not be" will lead only to uncertainty and to a weakening of our effort to bring our country up to date. So, although I have sympathy with it, I cannot agree with my noble friend's Bill. I have some sympathy with the first part of Lord Royle's Amendment. This, unfortunately, is not an occasion for a full-scale debate on transport, but I have very grave doubts as to the last three lines of the noble Lord's Amendment, and I should like to go on record as saying that I do not agree with that part of it.
§ 4.8 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl. Lord Kinnoull, for raising this matter, and congratulate him on the moderate speech he made. I thought some of the best advocacy for the Bill actually fell from the lips of my noble friend Lord Royle, when he was moving his Amendment. I think this is a necessary Bill for the reason that without the provisions contained in it I can see no way in which the Government can fulfil the undertakings given to their supporters in the General Election campaign. I can see no reason why the Bill need be amended. It is permissive only, and places no direct duty upon the Government to reopen any particular railway line or railway station that has already been closed. I therefore feel that the Bill should receive support, and 977 I hope your Lordships will give it a Second Reading.
I cannot help feeling that the Minister, when he took over his duties, must have found great resistance in the Department to any sort of policy designed to change the Beeching Plan. I hope he is strong enough to insist on changes where he thinks they are necessary. To my mind, there is a clear duty to the electors to provide a co-ordinated transport system, and financial considerations are not the only ones to be borne in mind. This was made clear by the Minister himself in a speech he made in another place on November 4, 1964, when he said that he felt that too much importance had been placed in financial considerations, and expressed his intentions to take account of the wider, but equally important, social and economical factors.
In the Minister's speech in another place, it was made clear that arrangements had been agreed with the Railways Board, where consent to closures had already been given, that the track should not be removed or disposed of for the time being. I can only say that I have seen with my own eyes, in the last three weeks, the railway tracks being pulled up on the slow lines at Wellington Station, in Somerset, so that in future the trains will be able to use only the fast lines, thus putting the station completely out of use. And I have no reason to think that it is only at Wellington where this kind of action, contrary to undertakings given to the Ministry, is being pursued.
I feel sure that the problem for British Railways is in no way capable of solution by means of the pulling up and disposal of what may, in the future, be valuable assets. The solution is much more likely to lie in a vision of the problem with a much more outward aspect, with a view to trying to make the service more attractive and to provide many low-cost light railway trains at convenient times upon which the public can rely. Sooner or later, the situation on the roads will reach a stage of congestion, when members of the public will find it more convenient to travel by rail, and it is with a view to obtaining the kind of increased traffic, which I feel sure will in the end be available, that the policy of railway redevelopment should be directed. I can see no particular merit 978 in the Amendment, and particularly in the kind of bumbling phraseology in which it is worded. It would be better, in my view, to carry out any necessary slight amendment in Committee. I support the Bill, and hope that your Lordships will give it a Second Reading.
§ 4.12 p.m.
§ LORD WISE
My Lords, I should like, in a brief speech, to follow my noble friend Lord Addison in what he has just said. At the end of his speech, he gave examples of track removals, and my experience is exactly the same. Tracks are being removed in order that double tracks may become single.
In dealing with this Bill, I think that we should have a further look at subsection (2) of Section 56 of the Transport Act, 1962. This subsection appears to be somewhat ambiguous. It mentions the imposition of conditions in two ways—apparently, in the first instance, before the Minister has given consent to the closure of a line and, in the second, after the line or service has been closed. That is how I read this subsection; but of course I may be wrong. In any case, it does not appear to give the Minister power to rescind a closure order after it has been agreed upon, and this interpretation seems to be in the Minister's mind, as he has stated that he has no power to rescind or amend a decision to close the line which was given by his predecessor. Mistakes which may then have been made cannot be put right by the present Minister, whatever the change of circumstances which may have arisen in the meantime. Also, by this subsection, it is not within the power of the Minister to rescind or amend any action he may have taken during his own term of office in closing a line, station or service.
This Bill seeks to rectify these disadvantages and to increase the power of the Minister accordingly. I have said that mistakes may have been made in the past, and similar mistakes can occur in the future. I do not think that the proposed Amendment, although proposed and supported by my own friend, meets the case. As my noble friend Lord Addison said, the Amendment is wordy and not at all conclusive. It reminds me of a game we all played in our childhood with cherry stones, "This year, 979 next year, some time, never." It does not remove the present restrictions upon the Minister or enable him to reopen a single line which has been closed. It leaves the matter in its present uncertain and unsatisfactory state. Its pious hope that something advantageous may happen in the future may never be realised.
In one instance, I want steps to be taken at once—I stress, at once—to reopen a closed section of line in my own county, certainly for industrial and maybe for passenger services. I refer to the Fakenham to Wells-next-the-Sea portion of the Eastern Region. The Amendment gives no hope whatever that, if it is carried, industrial activities which are in contemplation will be catered for. There is nothing more detrimental to industrial progress than frustration in endeavouring to establish efficient transport services. Production and business enterprise are not going to a district where railway services are non-existent, or, if available at the moment, are likely to be closed down in the immediate future.
I have spoken of the Minister's inability to reopen lines, which may have closed or will close in future, if development in that particular area merits the reopening. Such inability may prejudice the future of many towns in Norfolk and Suffolk. What I consider might be described as a major closure by the railways authority is the recent announcement that the line between King's Lynn and Dereham will be closed in September. I know of no proposal by the Railways Board more disastrous to the welfare of the people living in that part of Norfolk. It would cut off King's Lynn from Norwich, and if the line from King's Lynn to Wisbech is also closed, as I believe is proposed, there will be no rail connection with the Midlands or with the rest of East Anglia. King's Lynn is a flourishing, progressive and expanding town. It has dock facilities, adaptable for the distribution and collection of goods throughout East Anglia, and its industrial developments are growing apace. This proposal of the Railways Board must be stopped. Human needs are of more importance than finance. I wonder whether the Railways Board's proposal has been submitted to the Minister for his approval or rejection. 980 Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to tell me.
The outcome of putting such a proposal into effect would entail, in one instance, a journey by bus and rail from King's Lynn to Norwich of over three hours (the timetables have already been published), or by rail alone, via Ely, of over two hours, and at an additional cost of 9s. over the present single fare for the direct journey by rail, by reason of the extra rail mileage incurred. This is one example of what I believe is described as "co-ordinated transport facilities". The journey between King's Lynn and Norwich by car can be done in about one hour, or a few minutes over; but hundreds of country people in that area cannot go by car. If this closure should be approved by the Minister, his mistake would soon become apparent. Yet as things stand, he would be unable to amend his decision. The Bill before your Lordships would enable him to put right a very grievous error of judgment.
I am anxious that the proposals for closing lines in Norfolk and Suffolk should not be brought into operation. If the Railways Board succeed in persuading the Minister to support them, then these two counties will be devoid of all rail services, except the main lines to London. A dozen or more country and seaside towns will be isolated, and the area and people will not be able to add their share to our economic and prosperity growth. It is also appropriate to say that the country men and women pay their shares in direct and indirect taxes to the upkeep of our social services, which in my view include our national railway services. That being so, they are as much entitled to consideration as those in more densely populated districts. It has been announced that rail fares in the Manchester areas are to be reduced. Why not elsewhere? There is need for such reductions to put passengers back on the railways. I have one final question to the Government: if I had introduced this Bill, or one on similar lines, would it have been acceptable?
§ 4.21 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT STUART OF FINDHORN
My Lords, I intervene in this debate, quite briefly, to say that I wish to support any action which will have the effect of overturning wrong decisions taken by 981 the Minister of Transport or his predecessor, because, as has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Royle—and I am prepared to agree—Governments of all complexions may occasionally slip up and make mistakes. I have a very genuine case, in which I believe that the Minister of Transport, and also Dr. Beeching, did make a mistake. I represented the constituency of Moray and Nairn for a long time, and not a single person up in the North has agreed with the decision to close the old line from Aviemore to Inverness. This is not a straightforward, normal closure, as in many cases, because there are alternative routes from Aviemore to Inverness.
The tragedy, from our point of view, that of the local residents, is that the direct line, by Carrbridge, from Aviemore to Inverness was ever built at all. While I am in favour of competition, I must confess that it was a pity it was ever built. It was built by the old Highland Railway to avoid increasing competition coming in from the East Coast route. If the direct line had not been built, this problem would never have arisen, since the old original line, round by Grantown-on-Spey, Forres and Nairn, would have been retained, because there would have been no alternative for the through-traffic to Inverness and on to the North. But the fact to-day is that the population, as everybody up there knows, lives along the old original line, by Grantown-on-Spey and Forres—and for the very obvious reason that the line was built because the people lived there. Very few people live on the short-cut route, as I might call it, by Carrbridge. There are a certain number of sheep, and sometimes a few grouse, but that is about the lot.
My other objection is this. The Ministry always say, "The buses will be able to handle the traffic". But at present no bus route runs on the road from Grantown-on-Spey to Forres. It is a hilly moorland road, and follows the same line as the railway. In the first place, the road would have to be rebuilt. I think that both county councils concerned agree on this, and both have made representations; all the burghs, too, agree, and have made their representations; and many inquiries have been held. But still the answer remains the same—that the old line, apparently, is to be closed. As I say, it will take time, because in order 982 to establish an effective, usable bus route most of the road will have to be rebuilt. I may add that since it was built something like 100 years ago the railway has only twice been closed over the Dava Moor by snow and weather conditions.
This matter has been raised in another place, and it has been raised by all the local councils and burghs, but I felt it my duty to take this opportunity to intervene, because I feel that anything which can be done should be done. If the two noble Lords who spoke against the Amendment are correct in their interpretation of the law, then it is my genuine view that I should take any steps I can to get these mistakes reviewed and put right, if that be possible.
§ 4.25 p.m.
§ LORD STRANGE
My Lords, I have no political views and I have reached the age when I have no ambition, and I look at this matter from a long way off. I feel that we are in an evolutionary age and a difficult age. We have the railways, a species which is going out of date. We have the roads, which are a problem in themselves, and possibly we have the competition from the air, which may be the next species. I feel that if action is taken in smashing up an old species too quickly it may cause a great deal of trouble. I think it has already caused trouble in the closure of the railways.
I feel that Dr. Beeching was briefed, possibly quite correctly, on the lines of economy; but, at the same time, it might have been considered from a distance further back, and we might have thought of what we were putting on the roads. Every time a commuter train stops, other trains stop, or the housewives' shopping trains stop, it puts a good deal more vehicles on the overcrowded roads. It is overcrowding the hospitals with more damaged people to be repaired (and the hospitals themselves need repairs), and it is cluttering up the towns with the parking problem, which it is almost impossible to cure unless violent measures are taken. Every closure on the railway means more parking trouble in the local towns. It means all that, and it means fumes from petrol in local towns. It also means wider roads. It means eating up the agricultural land which is our 983 heritage and which is of great use to us in times of peril.
I have to be rather careful in what I say, because I still have to answer for a word I used previously—perhaps I should not have used the word "crank"—but certain aspects of this problem seem to me to be pure savagery. I cannot forget the great facade at Euston Station. There were erudite and intelligent letters to the papers about it and there was a man who wanted to buy it and take it down at his own expense. But, no! This offer was turned down and the facade was smashed up. Perhaps I should explain why I say "savagery". I say it because in evolutionary law we come to an instinct to tear down and smash up all the old and put up the new. This is an instinct that we succeed to, like any other. A savage man obeys his instincts; he does not argue with them. A civilised man thinks it over. He thinks about what he will put on the roads. A man does not smash a selection of Meissen china and put plastics in his china cabinet. He thinks it over. There is always good in the old, and bad in the new. He tries to make a mixture of the two.
I have led myself to an opportunity of talking about a subject for which I took up this ancient Peerage—the Isle of Man Railway, which is a wonderful example of what civilised man can do. He can make an ancient railway, keep it, maintain it and make it pay. This railway covers 46 miles of track, and it was made in the last century. Not only does it give service to the people living in the island, but, at the same time, hundreds of thousands of tourists derive pleasure from it every year. It is up to date. I should have mentioned earlier that I am a shareholder; I have three preference shares, which give me a vote. I do not have any more, because everybody in the island loves the railway and they all want shares in it, and it would be selfish to take more. We all like our railway, and it runs well. We even have diesel locomotives to spare our old engines, which are our lifeblood and our attraction in the winter. One of our engines, "Fenella", a great favourite of mine, came out in 1908, and is still going very strong. "Fenella" draws the express from Ramsey to Douglas, and there are always people looking at her and admiring her fine 984 polished brasswork and paintwork. She roars down the track with the boat express, and when she gets to a section of the road near to tourists in motor cars they hear "Fenella" and the boat express roaring towards them and pull up to 15 m.p.h. and take her photograph. They all like her.
Also, we have a properly run railway with maintenance staff, and our signal boxes do not fall down. Our children do not pull up the rails. I have seen children with belts round them which at one time may have been something to do with railway carriage window belts, but on the whole they like their railways and they appreciate them. The children in the Isle of Man are extremely intelligent. They go to school in the same carriages, drawn by the same locomotives that their grandfathers went in.
I think the most important thing of all is that not only does this railway give pleasure now, and has given pleasure all these years, but it pays. I get a dividend of 5 per cent. on my shares, and the ordinary shareholders also get a dividend. It pays because it is run by intelligent and civilised people, and I think that is the way the railways should be run in this country. In any case, before closures are made consideration should be given to the question of congestion on the roads, and also what will be the effect of putting this pressure on road traffic.
§ 4.32 p.m.
§ LORD SOMERS
My Lords, I feel very encouraged to know that I have beaten my noble friend Lord Strange by one year. I came out in 1907, and I am still going strong. I should like to support this Bill. As I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Royle, I found it a little difficult to follow the logic in his argument for his Amendment. In fact, there were times when I wondered which side he was on. I agree entirely with him that the railways are a public service and not big business, and that they should be run for the purpose of the public benefit.
§ LORD ROYLE
My Lords, will the noble Lord permit me to intervene? Over the years, this was not the policy of the Party which he supports, when we were bringing in nationalisation measures, to look into questions of transport as a whole.
§ LORD SOMERS
My Lords, I do not want to make this a Party matter at all, because circumstances can change as time goes on and I do not suppose the noble Lord can name any Government in the history of our country which has not made a mistake. That also applies to Ministers of Transport, even the most able of them; they also can make mistakes. I shall only say that if I were a Minister of Transport I should welcome any measure which would enable me to rescind any mistaken decisions that I had made. I think this Bill is logical and right, because there is no doubt that even if a decision is not mistaken when it is first made, it may become so. Conditions change. For instance, the population in a certain area may grow and a certain branch line which was not considered important a few days ago may become very much more important within a few years. Who can tell? Therefore, I think that a measure which enables a Minister of Transport to reverse his decision and to go back on his original intentions is a very logical and wise one.
§ 4.34 p.m.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, I will not detain the House for more than a few moments, but this subject has been argued to a certain extent as if the railways were ancient monuments and ought to be preserved. There is machinery for preserving ancient monuments, but I doubt whether it should be applied to the railway service. After all, the railway service is something which is designed to meet the convenience of people, and the case for closing the railways has always been that there is no longer a demand by reason of changes in population, and so on. It is not the word of the Minister or anybody else which is final. It is only after the fullest possible inquiry and the greatest opportunity given to everyone concerned to state their case that a decision is ultimately arrived at.
I myself have had the opportunity of taking part in a number of these inquiries, and I have found that the greatest possible consideration is given to all the factors in the matter, including the alternatives open to people who are going to be affected, and wherever there is any doubt at all the Minister—and I am referring to the former Minister—has 986 refused to close the line. It so happens that in the two inquiries in which I took part, the closure was not allowed. Therefore I feel that the public are certainly protected under the existing procedure.
The noble Earl and those who support him have put forward a superficially attractive proposition that a Minister should be enabled to put right at some time in the future mistakes that he might make. I think that is a very dangerous doctrine. For one thing, might it not weaken the importance of the Minister's coming to a definite decision on the merits? If one has at the back of one's mind: "It is all right; it is not so important, because I can always put this right later on", is that not really dangerous from the point of view of administration? And would you extend it to other Ministries and other activities?
§ THE EARL OF KINNOULL
My Lords, would the noble Lord answer me one question? Why keep the tracks there? Why does the present Minister of Transport keep the tracks?
§ LORD SILKIN
My noble friend will deal with why we keep the tracks, but I would suggest that that would not be a change of decision. He would not be reversing his decision. The tracks were there, and they could be used hereafter for some purpose which might commend itself to the Minister. But it would not be necessarily for the purpose of changing his mind and having a new inquiry, which would be necessary, and going through the whole performance again.
§ LORD BLYTON
My Lords, is it not a fact that when you close lines because there is no passenger demand, you must, in the long-term view, keep them for strategic purposes?
§ LORD SILKIN
That is another good answer, and I am obliged to my noble friend for helping me. This reminds me of the spirit in which, unfortunately, a number of young people embark on matrimony to-day: "It is all right; we hope it will work; we hope we are right, but if we are wrong there is always the divorce court." I do not think that is a spirit we ought to encourage, and certainly not in Ministers of the Crown. I hope that, by not giving this power to change their minds, we may induce in them the need for taking the greatest care in 987 arriving at decisions. I am bound to say that, from my own experience, which is limited, although I have attended some of these inquiries, I have found that great care is taken before a line is finally closed. Therefore I suggest not only that it is unnecessary to have this Bill, but that it would be against the public interest to give the Minister this second chance.
§ 4.39 p.m.
THE EARL OF MANSFIELD
My Lords, I should like to support this Bill, which I hope no Member of your Lordships' House will regard as being a Party matter. I speak from the point of view of the people in the isolated districts of Scotland, where the railways are their lifeline in regard to supplies. The roads are often blocked for many days, sometimes weeks at a time, but it is very rare indeed for the railways to be so blocked for more than, at the most, a day and a night, and usually for a less time than that. If it is found, as I think it undoubtedly will be, that some of these closures mean that considerable hardship is inflicted on the population of these very remote areas, with great difficulties in getting food and other supplies during unexpected storms in the winter, surely it is common sense, as well as fairness to the inhabitants of these far-off places, that some opportunity should be given to rescind a decision which, in many cases, will prove to have been sadly mistaken, and which, doing a little economic good to the railways, will do a very great deal of harm to people far away.
§ 4.40 p.m.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF TRANSPORT (LORD LINDGREN)
My Lords, may I first of all join with my noble friend Lord Royle, in congratulating the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, and appreciating the manner in which he introduced this Bill this afternoon. I will deal with some of his points a little later. Equally, may I welcome the noble Duke in his venture into transport? I look forward to a long period of time in which he and I will be in the positions we are in now in dealing with transport. As a good politician, he opened his case with a little bit of political knockabout. But this Bill stems from the honourable Member for Scarborough in another place, and he voted for the 988 1962 Act. He never made any appeals, except to his own Minister, or put this Bill in during the lifetime of the previous Government; and even then when he went to the electorate at the last Election, much to my disgust they re-elected him. So the people in the area supported the policy of the previous Government. Therefore, there is not a great deal in that political knockabout. I was glad that the noble Duke expressed what I think must be the point of view of any noble Lord who sits on the other side and who supported the 1962 Act, that this Bill is unnecessary.
To continue the congratulations, may I congratulate my noble friend Lord Royle? He has made my job this afternoon much easier. He made the general case against the passing of this Bill, and all that I am going to do now is to emphasise some of the points he has made and try to put the present procedure in its correct perspective. I have been a little surprised by the rather sentimental attitude that some noble Lords have taken this afternoon, and also by the new and welcome approach of some noble Lords opposite that railways are a public service. But I was a railwayman. They never came to my aid on wages or salaries when we were having to subsidise uneconomic lines by low wages on railways. And of course the attitude now adopted, that we ought to subsidise certain lines so far as the railways are concerned, is, I think, a wrong one to adopt.
I have just mentioned to your Lordships—I have never hidden from your Lordships—that I am a railwayman, and that I have been a railway trade unionist for 47 years. When I lost my seat in the other place in 1959 I went back to work on the railway before I was asked to come to this House. May I say with all sincerity that when you have given 47 years of your life to an industry, when it has provided you with your bread and butter, you have more than a passing affection for it? Therefore, I quite readily admit that any bias I may have is towards the place and function of the railway system of this country in a co-ordinated transport system. Therefore, no one should accuse me of being in any way prejudiced against railways.
989 I want to emphasise what has been said by some noble Lords this afternoon, and some of the points which are sometimes lost sight of. The railways of this country developed in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and many of them, as the noble Viscount, Lord Stuart of Findhorn, said, were in competition with each other; there was duplication of lines, of services and of capital, and many of them were quickly redundant when the monopoly ceased to exist. For seventy years railways virtually had a monopoly of movement of both passenger and freight. But with the invention and the development of the internal combustion engine, that monopoly of movement of goods and passengers of course ceased to exist.
Let me say this. Some noble Lords speaking this afternoon seemed to have the idea that railway closures started with the 1962 Act and with Dr. Beeching. That is completely wrong. The Railways Act, 1921, brought together 111 separate railway companies into the four mainline groups, the Southern, the Western, the London Midland and Scottish and the London and North Eastern. Ever since the 1920s, because of the redundancy of many of those lines, because of the development of the lorry, the bus and the motor car, railway closures have been taking place. Of course, since the 1950s there has been a much quicker development and a much greater use of the lorry, the bus, the private motor car, the motor cycle and the scooter. And the greater the development of those forms of transport, the greater is the amount of traffic which is drawn away from the railways. Therefore, they become uneconomic.
All noble Lords, except the noble Lord, Lord Strange, who objected to the taking of land for the making of roads, supported the previous Government and support this Government in the provision of better roads. Many roads have been provided. And when the opportunity for quick movement on roads is greater we have to face the fact that the personal choice of the individual for both goods and passenger movement will mean that more and more the traffic will tend to be in a certain direction, for short hauls to move from railways to road. It is a question of personal choice and convenience. Unless noble Lords who 990 support this Bill are going to say that we should adopt a dictatorial attitude and tell the trader or the passenger that he must go by rail, that he cannot go by private car, or use road haulage, then we have to make arrangements in order that they should be more effectively dealt with.
May I say to my noble friend Lord Wise—he has made a reference this afternoon to the rural areas, and I will deal with them a little later—that it is his friends in the rural areas who have destroyed the railways in rural areas? As a railwayman in the old days I know we used to carry cattle and everything else on the railways. Now, of course, the farmer, his wife, his son, his daughter, all have motor cars; they have their lorries and tractors. They take their cattle to market by road. They carry their feeding stuffs and their produce by road. And it is equally true, particularly among the younger members—and I am glad of it—that the agricultural worker now has his motor bicycle or scooter. But you cannot really keep a railway in a rural area for sentimental reasons, or because the farmer, on an odd occasion when his own lorries are in full use or the road hauler who generally serves him has all his fleet engaged, wants to take an odd wagon once a year from the railway. You cannot run a railway economically on that basis.
I think I ought to emphasise the basis on which this Bill should be rejected and the Amendment carried. The functions and economics of all forms of transport are fundamentally the same. The function is to move goods and people from place to place in safety, with speed, in comfort and with regularity. When you come to economics, the same applies again to all forms of transport. The nearer you can get to a 24-hour utilisation of your invested capital, the nearer you are to making the undertaking viable. It is the same in all forms of transport. If you have an aircraft standing on the tarmac it is not earning its keep. A ship in dock is not earning its keep. A bus or a lorry standing either in the garage or on the road and not running, again is not earning its keep.
Nor are a railway engine and its carriages or wagons when they are standing in sidings or in carriage or engine sheds. If they are not earning money, they are 991 costing money. Therefore, you must try to get as much of your capital as you can utilised for 24 hours a day. Of course, the ideal to work to, although noble Lords opposite may not easily accept this, is to use the right vehicles for either the people or the goods to be carried and the journey to be made, keeping those vehicles which are used in each form of transport, and which ought to be complementary one to the other, utilised to the highest possible degree.
As I have already suggested, more and more the function of the railways will tend to become the speedy, long haul of goods and passengers from areas of dense population, and the lorry and the bus will collect from, and deliver to, the railhead, goods and passengers in the more sparsely populated areas. If the railways are going to be viable at any time, that is bound to be their future function. That is my view. It is not only my view. The noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, referred to a railway trade unionist in another place having sponsored the Bill that is now before this House. But Mr. Tom Bradley, M.P., the President of the Transport Salaried Staffs Association, speaking at the annual conference of that union last Monday, said:Let it be made clear that at no time has the Labour Party, or this trade union, gone on record in support of a policy of petrifying the present railway structure. What we have said is that we want an adequate transport system taken as a whole, based on the principle of integration. The Labour Party Election Manifesto stated specifically that there would be no further major line closures pending a national survey of transport resources and requirements—and that is the present position.Therefore the leaders of the trade union movement within the railway industry—at least the better ones among them—accept the fact that the railway system of this country is part of the transport system of the country, and that to require that it should be maintained for uneconomic workings, or just for the purpose of running trains that are hardly ever used, is not the correct way of running the railways of this country.
THE DUKE OF DEVONSHIRE
My Lords, I wonder whether I may ask the noble Lord when we can expect the results of this review?
THE DUKE OF DEVONSHIRE
It has been said that railway closures would be halted until there was a comprehensive review of the problem.
§ LORD LINDGREN
May I again emphasise—I thought I had made it quite clear—that what the Labour Party Manifesto said, and what my right honourable friend the Minister said, was "major closures".
§ LORD LINDGREN
My Lords, the review is going on now. As the proposals come up to the Minister they are considered by him. They are considered by the Regional Development Councils and, as they come up, they will be dealt with. But not every closure is a major closure. The closure of a branch line running round the Highlands of Scotland cannot exactly be termed a major closure, except for the ghillie who is trying to catch a salmon.
THE DUKE OF DEVONSHIRE
My Lords, the noble Lord misunderstood me. I was not asking an awkward question or one dealing with major closures. I was merely asking, when we could expect to see published the results of the review.
§ LORD LINDGREN
My Lords, there is no actual review, because these cases are coming up from the Railways Board one by one. There is, for instance, one under consideration at the moment. The railways have suggested that the old Great Central Line, which again was a line which was set up in competition with the London Midland and, to an extent, with the Great Northern, might be closed because its area is served by other means. That is in fact under consideration, and there will not be a policy statement until they are all through.
May I again emphasise what my noble friends Lord Royle and Lord Silkin, together with others, said on the protection of the travelling public and the national economy in regard to this question of railway closures? First of all, the proposals of the Board are submitted to the Minister for consideration. If, in fact, they are obviously "non-starters" because in the Minister's opinion they directly affect the national economy of 993 the country, he returns them to the Railways Board immediately. Thus we avoid this tedious procedure that has to be gone through, and quite rightly, for the protection of the public, of calling in the Transport Users' Consultative Committees and the rest. If the Minister does not reject the proposals at first sight, they go to the Transport Users' Consultative Committees who consider them on the basis of hardship to the traveller. They also go to the Regional Development Councils, in order that they can look at them on the basis of the present and the future intentions of economic development of the region.
In the light of the information which is supplied to the Minister by the Transport Users' Consultative Committees and by the Regional Councils, the Minister makes his decision: a refusal or a consent. If there is a refusal, everybody is happy. When there is a consent, the Minister, on the basis of public protection and in the light of the information that is available to him, makes a condition that in fact there should be an alternative service. That alternative service is required by the Minister to be provided by the Railways Board in conjunction with the bus companies. When the Minister is satisfied that his conditions are met then the Railways Board may implement the closure of the line. That is not the end, because, as was pointed out by my noble friend Lord Royle, even after there has been a closure and the alternative conditions which have been set down by the Minister have been met by the Railways Board, if they are found to be inadequate the Minister has the right to vary those conditions. He can revise the conditions, and has already done so in a number of cases. As has already been said, the track is maintained, and I shall say something about this in a moment,
The noble Earl asked me about the subsidy which the railway companies had to pay in 1964 to the bus companies for the services which they put on. It is interesting to note that where, in fact, the railway branch line does not pay in relation to the passengers of the area, neither does a bus service. It either has to be carried on on the basis of cross-subsidisation within the undertaking itself or by a subsidy from the Railways Board. 994 Last year the Railways Board had to pay £80,000 in subsidies to bus companies. The closures which were supplanted by the bus services, on which they had to pay the £80,000, saved the Railways Board £6 million, so there is a great deal of difference between the provision of a rail service, involving capital, wages and salaries and the rest, and the provision of a bus service.
This applies equally to the maintenance of the track. I am afraid, my Lords, that, as I am an enthusiast in these matters, I am carrying on longer than I intended. The track is maintained, and the Minister, in conjunction with the Board, can still require the reintroduction of a service. Let me make clear that the track is maintained in case it should become necessary to use it. In fairness to the Minister, as well as in fairness to Dr. Beeching, I should say that what has happened up to the present time is that the most obvious closures have taken place first. Many closures would have taken place had there never been a Dr. Beeching, or, for that matter, had there never been the 1962 Act. Many of the other closures may be more difficult. The track is being retained so that, if it is proved necessary, a service can be reinstated. Equally, if any of these lines was closed before the Regional Development Councils were set up and it was shown that there was the possibility that developments in the area would require a railway service, then, because the railway track is there, it would be possible for the service to be reinstituted. But one ought to be clear that, if a service is to be reinstituted, the Railways Board have every right to expect that the capital which they put into the service will be justified by the traffic and the revenue which they obtain from it.
In regard to revenue, the Railways Board deficit last year was £120 million—£13 million less than the year before. The actual working deficit was £67½ million. Even a Labour Government cannot use £120 million twice. If we spend it on subsidised railways, then we cannot spend it on housing, hospitals, and in developing social services, education and the rest. It may be said by some that the railways should be a public service subsidised by the Treasury. One would then have to decide whether in fact they were going to be used.
§ THE EARL OF KINNOULL
My Lords, before the noble Lord leaves the matter of the track, would he inform the House whether the Minister has the power to reopen lines which have been closed but where the tracks have been retained? That is what we wish to know.
§ LORD LINDGREN
The power is not there by Act of Parliament, but not everything is done by Act of Parliament. My right honourable friend is fully satisfied that, if it became necessary to reopen a line, where in fact a consent had already been given, he could negotiate with the Railways Board for it to be reopened—always provided that the Railways Board were satisfied that they would get their return on it.
§ LORD LINDGREN
No, it has not happened in any case, because it has not been proved in any case.
As my noble friend Lord Royle said, there has been quite a stir in some cases when there has been a suggestion that a line should be closed. Very often the promoters of a petition to keep the line open never, in fact, use the railway; and when the line is closed and the alternative is there, they are all happy. They are all happy in many of the areas in which the noble Lord is interested. In fact in some of the complaints in the area in which the noble Lord is interested, they said, "We want the railway only because it is a quicker service than the bus". Therefore, we said, "We will have express buses right the way through". Then, when we had the express buses, what did they say? They said, "We can go through quickly, but if a person happens to live in between two stops and sees the bus go by, it is not much help". So we had to institute the stopping buses to serve the villages in between.
§ THE EARL OF KINNOULL
My Lords, in regard to retaining the tracks, can the noble Lord explain why the Minister of Transport said on November 4 that he regretted he had not the power under the 1962 Act to reopen lines?
§ LORD LINDGREN
He has not the power to reopen lines. Why he said that 996 he regretted it, I do not know. Perhaps he did say "regret". I do not know. I have not his words before me. I am not the Minister, I am the Parliamentary Secretary, and I have to answer for the policy of the Minister on this matter.
§ LORD LINDGREN
I am being pressed by two sides, one telling me to wind up quickly, the other to carry on.
§ LORD MERRIVALE
I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, as I have not taken part in the debate. The noble Lord referred to the question of tracks retained for further use and mentioned, too, that railways were mainly used for long hauls between railheads. In certain cases would there not be strong grounds for using a light railway service as a feeder service to the railheads, rather than to use bus services? If the railways are to provide alternative services, why could they not, in certain cases, provide alternative light railway services rather than bus services?
§ LORD LINDGREN
They could if they wanted to; it is within the competence of the Board; but questions of the capital to be invested are involved, as are the cost of maintenance, the cost of operation of the service, and so on. If any organisation wants to operate a light railway service in place of a railway branch line which has been closed, then, provided that the land is not wanted by the local authority for road widening or for social or other purposes, and also provided that the organisation can satisfy the Minister and his inspectors of its ability on grounds of public safety to run the light railway, it can get an Order under the Light Railways Act.
§ LORD MERRIVALE
My Lords, I am not talking about other organisations. I am asking the Minister whether he is satisfied that the Railways Board, in considering alternative uses, go thoroughly into the question of whether or not light railway operation could be entered into.
§ LORD LINDGREN
Yes, I have said so. The reason why they are not doing so is the capital costs and costs of operation involved.
There were complaints in regard to the withdrawal of stopping trains between 997 main stations, and my noble friend Lord Addison referred to this matter. One visualises that the function of the railways is to move in bulk passengers from centres of population, and that the intermediate services in the sparsely populated areas in between should he country bus services which should be able to go on to the railheads. The other point is that the railway service faces the difficult operation of making a timetable. If one is going to have speedy trains between two points, particularly when there are only two tracks, up and down, then the stopping trains in between impede the flow.
Perhaps I may now make a statement that I have been authorised to make by my right honourable friend. It is that the Minister of Transport has decided to carry out a sample survey to test the effect on travellers of rail passenger closures. The survey, which begins on Saturday, consists of an interview of passengers using trains on three services, which are scheduled for closure on June 14, Eridge—Hailsham, Bradford—Huddersfield and Stranraer—Dumfries. It will be carried out by Marplan Limited, a market research firm engaged by the Central Office of Information, on behalf of the Minister. During the week beginning May 29 passengers will be invited to give their names and addresses to interviewers. A month or two after the closures have taken place they will be interviewed a second time to find out what alternative transport they are then using and how their journeys compare with those they were making by train before the closures took place.
The object of the survey is to establish how far the fears expressed by objectors to the closures are borne out in practice, and how successful are the arrangements made by the Minister for alternative travel as a condition of consent to the closures. The analysis of the results, which will be carried out by the Ministry of Transport, is not expected to be available until the beginning of next year. My Lords, I am sure that this survey will commend itself to your Lordships as a
§ sensible and practical way of testing the quality of users' objections to closures and of my right honourable friend's arrangements for providing them with adequate alternative means of travel in those cases where he decides that consent is the right course.
§ My Lords, in conclusion, I hope that the House will support the Amendment which has been moved by my noble friend. It gives us the opportunity to put the operation of the railways in their correct [Lord Lindgren.] perspective within a co-ordinated system of transport, and I hope that the House will carry it.
§ THE EARL OF KINNOULL
Thank you, my Lords. I am very grateful to all those who have spoken to-day. It is very noticeable that, on the Amendment, seven speakers have spoken in favour and only four against, two of them from the Front Bench and both obviously committed to their policies. I do not think that the eloquent speech of the noble Lord, Lord Royle, added any real bones to his arguments in favour of the Amendment, and in consequence I would advise the House to resist the Amendment to this Bill
§ LORD ROYLE
My Lords, in view of the innings which I had earlier this afternoon, I do not intend to take advantage of the right to reply that I now have, particularly in the light of the middle part of my noble friend's speech and the statement which he made at the end of it. There is only one thing I would do, and that is to appeal to the noble Duke to re-read the last three lines of the Amendment and, if he does believe in the co-ordination of transport in this country, to support the Amendment.
§ 5.14 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said Amendment shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 52; Not-Contents, 20.999
|Abinger, L.||Beswick, L.||Burton of Coventry, Bs.|
|Amulree, L.||Blyton, L.||Champion, L.|
|Archibald, L.||Boston, L.||Douglas of Barloch, L.|
|Attlee, E.||Bowles, L.||Gaitskell, Bs.|
|Belhaven and Stenton, L.||Brockway, L.||Gardiner, L. (L. Chancellor.)|
|Haire of Whiteabbey, L. [Teller.]||Molson, L.||Simey, L.|
|Morris of Kenwood, L.||Sinha, L.|
|Henderson, L.||Peddie, L.||Snow, L.|
|Henley, L.||Phillips, Bs.||Sorensen, L.|
|Hilton of Upton, L.||Rea, L.||Strang, L.|
|Hobson, L.||Royle, L. [Teller.]||Taylor, L.|
|Latham, L.||Sainsbury, L.||Wakefield of Kendal, L|
|Leatherland, L.||St. Davids, V.||Waleran, L.|
|Lindgren, L.||Samuel, V.||Walston, L.|
|Listowel, E.||Segal, L.||Williams, L.|
|Longford, E. (L. Privy Seal.)||Shepherd, L.||Williamson, L.|
|Merthyr, L.||Sherfield, L.||Willis, L.|
|Mitchison, L.||Silkin, L.|
|Addison, V.||Elliot of Harwood, Bs.||Mansfield, E. [Teller.]|
|Auckland, L.||Emmet of Amberley, Bs.||Monsell, V.|
|Baden-Powell, L.||Fraser of North Cape, L.||Strange, L.|
|Bossom, L.||Horsbrugh, Bs.||Strange of Knokin, Bs.|
|Brooke of Ystradfellte, Bs.||Kemsley, V.||Stuart of Findhorn, V.|
|Colville of Culross, V.||Kinnoull, E. [Teller.]||Tenby, V.|
|Darwen, L.||McCorquodale of Newton, L.|
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and Amendment agreed to accordingly.