HL Deb 15 December 1966 vol 278 cc1751-3

3.6 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 whether they are aware that in September, 1962, the National Council on Inland Transport submitted proposals to the Prime Minister for improving our transport system which included—

  1. (a) An impartial assessment of the true costs of each form of transport;
  2. (b) The application by the British Railways Board of the Light Railways Act, 1896, to lightly used lines;
and whether the Government have any progress to report especially on (b) in relation to the Central Wales line where the Board, according to a statement made in July, 1964, hoped to reduce the losses from £176,000 to £30,000 by light railway methods.]


My Lords, the Government have indeed seen the proposals put forward by the National Council on Inland Transport to the previous Administration. The Government are, as the noble Earl knows, undertaking studies into the relative total costs of road and rail transport over trunk routes and hope to publish a report on the first part of this work early next year. The position on the Central Wales line is that the Railways Board is making every effort to bring about operating economies; in particular, my right honourable friend is considering proposals by the Board to modify its statutory obligations in relation to the level crossings on the line.


my Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his reply. Is he aware that the Bulletin of Transport Statistics, published by the United Nations, shows that all countries increased their freight ton miles by railway and waterway except Great Britain? Could he say whether the Government intend to correct this trend, and, if so, would he outline by what means they propose to do so?


My Lords, it would be a big undertaking to answer that supplementary question, and I shall not attempt it. But, of course, the Government are aware of some of the trends on the Continent and elsewhere, and, having regard to all the needs of the economy, we shall try to adjust the amount carried by road and rail in the best interests of the economy.


My Lords, could my noble friend not be a little more specific about the phrase "early next year" in regard to the publication of the report which he mentioned? Is it not a fact that during the time when the noble Lord, Lord Beeching, was chairman of British Railways the undertaking issued an assessment of road costs which was strongly disputed by the transport holding companies? Is it not correct that since that time the Ministry of Transport has been working on this endeavour to get a true assessment of costs? Therefore, can my noble friend be a little more specific as to a date?


No, my Lords, I should not care to commit myself to a date. This is indeed a difficult study and it would be wrong to rush into an announcement of its results without the most careful consideration. I am bound to say that, having looked at it myself to some extent, I can see the difficulties involved.


My Lords, arising out of the noble Lord's Answer to part two of the Question, would the noble Lord explain how it is that the results of the Government's closure policy on railways in both 1964 and 1965 have, instead of reducing the Railway Board's deficit, in fact greatly increased it at the taxpayers' expense?


My Lords, I do not think the one is the cause of the other. These are not exactly related. The Board has, of course, as a result of certain of the closures, saved a considerable amount of money; but, as I say, the one is not necessarily caused by the other.

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