HL Deb 20 March 1968 vol 290 cc585-7

2.39 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 have taken note of paragraphs 15 to 19 and 32 of the Annual Report of the Central Transport Consultative Committee for 1967 (in which the Committee express themselves in favour of wider terms of reference) and whether they propose to give effect, by legislation, to this expressed wish, in the interest both of transport users and of the committees.]


My Lords, paragraph 19 of the Report makes it clear that the suggestions of the Committee were considered and discussed well before the Transport Bill was tabled in another place. The provisions of the Bill reflect the careful investigation that was made of these matters at the time of drafting.


My Lords, while thanking the noble Lord for his reply, may I ask whether he recalls that on June 5, 1962, he supported an Amendment to the Transport Bill of that year? Can he inform the House whether he has now changed his mind on this matter? Secondly, in view of the fact that both the users and the Committee are not satisfied with the present procedures, is there not a case for looking at this matter again?


My Lords, the points which arise in the various paragraphs referred to in the main Question cover a wide range of subjects, including railway closures and buses. Obviously the noble Lord has done his homework, as is evident by the fact that he has referred to an Amendment that I appear to have supported in 1962. My memory is not as fresh as the noble Earl's, and therefore I cannot even say whether I have changed my mind. However, I would say to the noble Earl that we believe that the consultative committees, which were set up under the 1947 Act and revised in the 1962 Act, provide, so far as railway closures are concerned, a wide-ranging area of advice to the Minister, and we have gone even further in our methods of discussion on the use of the Economic Development Committees and other committees that are in being. So the Minister is well advised as to the wide-ranging applications and considerations that have to be taken into account before there is a railway closure.


My Lords, I should like to associate myself with the Question asked by the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull. At the same time, may I ask Her Majesty's Government whether they have noted the similar recommendations for widening the terms of reference of the transport consultative committees made by the Consumer Council in its study on Consumer Consultative Machinery in the Nationalised Industries, which was published a short time ago by Her Majesty's Stationery Office?

I should also like to ask whether it is the intention of the Government to restore at least some of the pre-1962 powers of the committees, as recommended both by the Central Transport Consultative Committee and by the Consumer Council, so as to equip them better to uphold the interests of transport users, which otherwise seem likely to suffer by default if the substantial structural changes proposed for the industry under the new Bill are introduced?


My Lords, that is a very well prepared supplementary question and I should be very foolish if I were to endeavour in any way to answer it in particular detail. There will be an opportunity of discussing this very important subject, which I well recognise, when the Transport Bill comes to your Lordships' House, and I gather there will be ample time for its consideration. But, apart from the T.U.C.Cs that we are discussing, I think the noble Baroness will agree that there are the traffic commissioners and many other bodies in being which provide a wide-ranging form of advice and assistance to the Minister to help her make up her mind in the decisions that she has to make.


My Lords, may I ask Her Majesty's Government one question which has not been previously prepared, and that is whether in considering this Bill they will specially care for those parts of Scotland which have lost practically all their rail facilities and which are wholly dependent upon the roads? Will they bear in mind the fact that an increase in the expenditure of road haulage businesses in the North of Scotland will not only do a great deal of damage but act as a preference in favour of the English?


My Lords, the noble Lord, as one of the great guardians of the rules of the House, I am sure will on reflection agree that he has gone a good deal wider than the original Question.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether he can give a hint as to when the Transport Bill will come before your Lordships' House?


My Lords, the noble Lord has had long experience in another place, and he well knows that we have no control and are not in any way masters of another place.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether he thinks it is satisfactory that the area consultative committees no longer publish reports and that, in consequence, people in the different areas have no idea what these wide-ranging discussions are to which the noble Lord referred?


My Lords, I should not expect that those who take a close interest in this matter have no knowledge. This again is a matter which, I fully understand, is of considerable importance. We shall have an opportunity on the Transport Bill to discuss it in its full application, and I am sure it would be more useful to do it then, rather than by question and answer in your Lordships' House.