§ 3.55 p.m.
§ BARONESS ELLIOT OF HARWOOD
rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will issue a directive preventing the impending closure of the "Waverley Line", in view of the considerable hardship this will cause to large numbers of people. The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I rise to put the Un- 582 starred Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. I do so with no apology to the Minister who is going to reply because I think he will feel that, with 13 noble Lords prepared to speak on this subject, it is one of considerable importance and upon which we feel very strongly indeed. In fact, the closing of the Waverley Line, which serves the Border area between Carlisle, in the West, and Edinburgh, in the East, has cast a gloom over the whole Border area which I cannot exaggerate.
This line serves 75,000 people—which is quite a considerable population. If your Lordships study the railway map which I have in my hand, and which is published in the railway timetable, you will see that there are no fewer than 20 villages and towns along the railway which are affected. Five of them are major stopping places. These are Hawick, St. Boswells, Melrose and Galashiels, and, in the South, the small town of Newcastleton, which, though small, is the centre of the largest forestry area in the United Kingdom. The line has one major tunnel which is of great importance to transport through the Border hills, because it is the only way in which it is possible to get into the area without crossing very high hills. The roads that go across Carter Bar, which is getting on for 2,000 feet, and Soutra Hill and Heriot, and all those high places, were, in the stormy winter of 1961–62, blocked for weeks at a time.
The alternative route, which the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, mentioned in reply to a Question that I put down on July 23, goes from Carlisle over the highest point of the Western route, which is Beattock Summit, to Carstairs and then divides and goes over the moorland to Edinburgh. It serves no population of any kind, only black-faced sheep and grouse, neither of which have much use for the railway. The Waverley Line, on the other hand, serves a population of 750,000 people and is used by industry, more particularly the great hosiery and tweed industry of the Borders, which lies mainly in Hawick, Selkirk and Galashiels. I am delighted to know that the noble Lord, Lord Sieff, will speak after me. He will be able to tell the House a great deal about the huge amount of business which his firm, and others, do with these towns in the hosiery, knitwear and tweed industries.
583 I turn now to farming and agriculture. I have a letter from the National Farmers' Union of the Roxburghshire area outlining the arrangements between the British Sugar Corporation and British Railways whereby sugar beet pulp is delivered in block train loads to certain stations for distribution to merchants and farmers. This is a very cheap way of transporting this important ingredient for farming. But it will all have to be carried on the roads if the railway is closed. I have, too, from the National Coal Board, the figures of coal distribution showing that in the Hawick area (which serves quite a wide district around Hawick) there is delivery of coal amounting to 392 tons a week, and in the Galashiels area a delivery of 250 tons a week. All this will have to go by road if the railway is done away with. In addition, I have in my hand a copy of an advertisement which appeared in the Scotsman of September 13, 1968, headed, "We need our lifeline". It is sponsored by no fewer than 43 bodies interested in the Border line—interests like county councils, manufacturers, industrialists and so forth. As I say, 43 different interests sponsored this advertisement in the Scotsman in order to press the vital importance to them of the Border line.
My Lords, that is one aspect of the importance of this matter. The passenger services are also of very great importance. There are two through trains from Edinburgh to London on this route, one by day and one by night. These trains are the only means by which people can get into the great Midlands centres of England. As I think your Lordships know, I travel twice a week on this line, and I know that people get off the train at Leeds, Sheffield, Nottingham, Kettering and Luton nearly always to go to do business in other hosiery centres, particularly Nottingham and Leeds. And the railway is the only link between these centres and Edinburgh. The night sleeper trains, which I know best, are always full, and unless you book your sleeper a week or ten days ahead, it will not be available. Although I know that the Minister of Transport has a habit of saying in letters (I have had a good many from him in the course of this business) that people can travel on other lines, because they are travelling 584 directly from Edinburgh to London, that is not always so. There may be a certain number who do that, but the majority of people travel to intermediate stations, or join the train at intermediate stations.
The day train which runs from Edinburgh right down to the Midlands is also always full, and it serves as a very valuable link with all these Midland towns. If you look only at the passenger services between, say Hawick and Edinburgh via St. Boswell's, Melrose and Galashiels you will find that business people commute in each direction—there are students, for instance, who go to Galashiels and Edinburgh every day—and the existence of the train service avoids the necessity for people to take their cars into Edinburgh. If cars were used, they would convey only one or two people, and the vehicles would fill up the roads and the parking places in Edinburgh to an unnecessary extent. So from the point of view of the commuters and day-to-day travel this railway serves a very important purpose. The number of people who travel to the Borders at the week-end is quite enormous and if the trains were taken off it would be necessary to put a great number of buses on the roads. There would also be an increase in the number of cars. At present the roads are fit for none of this. If—and this is something which the Railways Board have never really exploited to the full—a number of special trains were put on for sporting events, I am sure that they would pay, because in the Borders people are very keen on Rugby football, seven-a-side football, soccer, and so on. There would be a tremendous use for such special trains.
My Lords, the roads are not suitable for an increase in traffic. There is no road in and out of the Borders which does not cross over a range of high hills. At this time of the year, and later, they may become very icy and dangerous. There are enough road accidents anywhere to-day to make people frightened of adding to the amount of traffic on the roads. If you read the local Press and the Scotsman, as I do, you will find reports of far too many people being involved in serious accidents on these very twisty and hilly roads. I, for one, do not want anything done that would add one additional hazard or possibility of accidents 585 on the roads. The railway service is the one form of transport which, in our area, provides a solution to the problems of winter travel. This is due to the foresight of our predecessors who had the good sense to tunnel through one of the great hills.
We are told in letters that we have received from the Ministry that freight trains are likely to continue in operation, but I have also been told that these trains will not be continued beyond a few months into 1969. Many of us who live and work in the area spend some time in places like auction markets where we are engaged in selling our lambs and sheep, and so on. In the summer I spend a lot of time at an auction market, and I am always amazed to see the number of enormous freight trains and liner-trains that pass every hour or so—because the market is right opposite the railway station. The trains carry heavy traffic, and therefore are surely of vital importance. lf, as sometimes happens, there is a breakdown on either the East Coast rail route via Berwick-on-Tweed, or on the West Coast route, via Carlisle, trains are diverted across the Waverley Line, which provides another outlet for the traffic. If the Waverley Line is closed, there will be far more breakdowns and hold-ups because there will be no alternative route for the trains.
There is one great industry in the Borders about which people know far too little. I refer to the timber industry; and the noble Duke, the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry, who is a great expert on this industry, will talk to your Lordships about the potential which there is for freight traffic from what is one of the biggest timber-growing areas and forests in the United Kingdom and which in twenty years' time will probably be larger than any in Europe. The noble Lord, Lord Stratheden and Campbell, will speak on the costs of the railway as given to us by the Minister—costs which none of us is prepared to accept, I may say. We believe that they are based on figures in respect of which economies could be effected were the railway run more efficiently. The noble Lord will also talk about the importance of the railway to the great new Border Development Plan which we hope will, in the 1980's, bring an increase in the population amounting in estimate to something between 20,000 586 and 25,000 people. I live on the Scottish side of the Border, which is linked by the railway to the English side at Carlisle. Those who live in that area use the railway to get to Hawick and Galashiels. My noble friend Lord Inglewood, who lives just over the Border, will speak about that aspect.
When I was travelling North on Friday in the night train I noted that another census was being taken (it was about the fourth or fifth census: I have several times filled in forms) regarding the use of the line. In addition, there was an inspector on the train to whom I spoke. All the railwaymen and all the people who are actively engaged in running the railway are very keen that this line should continue in operation. The inspector said that one of the most important points in favour of retaining it was that it was a feeder line to the main lines. He said, I think with some purpose, that to carry the maximum number of passengers on the main lines on the East Coast and the West Coast there must be feeder trains to bring people to the centres. Buses would not serve this purpose. They would be subjected to the hazards on the roads which I have described.
In any case, my Lords, who is going to travel to Carlisle in the middle of the night, and get there about one o'clock in the morning, to board the train? It is very unlikely that people will do this. Even the bravest people—and I count myself as being fairly brave about travelling in motor cars and trains—are very unlikely to want to travel in the middle of the night in a bus to Carlisle. I am sure that what will happen—it has happened all over the country when trains have been taken out of service—is that because bus services are, on the whole, much slower than trains and not nearly such an agreeable form of transport, people will use their cars to drive to their destination. This increases enormously the number of people with motor cars on the roads. I do not believe that bus services will solve this problem at all.
I am also convinced—and I can vouch for this from my own experience—that ever since the Beeching Report was published the Railways Board have not tried to make this line pay. They have been running it down as hard as they possibly can. They have not tried to cut down the overheads. All the figures which have 587 been given have been based on current methods and not on improved or economic methods. It is not necessary to run an expensive service on this line. All that is required is a service of freight trains and passenger trains that I would describe as buses on rails, which have a conductor. You simply step on the train and buy your ticket. A great many stations could then be unmanned, because passengers could be provided with trolleys, as they are at airports on the Continent, and they could put their bags on the trolleys and push them to their cars or wherever they want to go. This would cut down overheads enormously. But nobody is trying to do this. One or two small diesel trains are run, but not at terribly convenient hours, and nobody is being urged to use the railway rather than the road.
I sometimes think that the only idea the Railways Board have in their heads is inter-city travel. They want everybody to travel as fast as they possibly can from one city to another. But we do not all live in cities. We do not all want to live in cities. What about the people who live in the countryside? If all that is to be provided are fast trains going backwards and forwards between our big cities, how are the railways really going to serve the public?
I have here a number of letters from the Ministry of Transport. They include one written to the Minister by Sir James Farquharson, who is interested in railways, and the answer thereto. I find all these answers highly unsatisfactory. They are written mostly in such complicated language that if I were to put the letters I have had from the Ministry into a computer, I do not think that even that brilliant creature could turn out an answer that anybody would understand.
These are practical matters. I am certain that if we could put a really practical man who understands railways on to running this line, in a short time we should get very different results. After all, if a business is losing money, one must either increase production of the commodity or the use of the service, or reduce the costs. In this case nothing seems to be done, and now we are told that the whole line is going to be closed down. That is a perfectly simple answer, but it is one that does away with the 588 livelihoods of hundreds of people and with a service which the public badly wants.
It is the line of least resistance for the Railways Board to close this line. Thousands of people use it. The Board ignore the huge potential of timber freight and speak with an uncertain voice about what they are going to do in future about freight trains. That alone discourages those people who are bringing industry into these parts from using the railway. The Board propose to put more buses on the road, but inevitably many more people will travel by their own cars because the bus services are too slow. To provide roads of a double carriageway standard, which is the minimum safety standard on through roads in a very hilly area like ours, would mean a capital outlay of millions of pounds. It would be far more expensive than the present railway, if run economically.
In his letters, the Minister has said that he has consulted the Border Economic Planning Group, the Scottish Council of Development and Industry, the Scottish Office, the Roxburghshire County Council, the Selkirkshire County Council, the South of Scotland Chamber of Commerce, the Manufacturers' Association and the trade unions. This list appears in his letters to me and to others. What the Minister does not say is that every one of these important organisations is against the closure. One has to find that out for oneself.
"We need our lifeline"—that is the slogan we want to stress. If ever there was a decision which rides roughshod over every interest and every person, it is this decision, and I beg the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, and through him the Minister and the Railways Board, to reconsider this disastrous decision before it is too late.
§ LORD ROBERTSON OF OAKRIDGE
My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, I wonder whether she would help me to understand one point? She told us that the men who are doing the practical work on the railways—she spoke of an inspector and of a census that was being taken on a journey she had done recently—are unanimous that the line has rosy prospects in front of it, should certainly be maintained and could be made to pay. How is it, therefore, that 589 the Railways Board are so blind, so determined to run the line down, so incapable of keeping proper accounts or appreciating the value of the freight potential, when the Board are chaired by a man who has been a railwayman all his life and whose assistants are also railwaymen? My experience is that the last thing that railwaymen like to do is to close a railway.
§ BARONESS ELLIOT OF HARWOOD
My Lords, the noble Lord knows much more about the mind of the Railways Board than I do. I can only judge from what happens, and what happens is that they make no attempt to run this railway any differently from the way it has been run for a number of years when it has admittedly been losing money. They do not realise the potential there is of more freight. Frankly, my criticism is that the Railways Board may well not want to close the railway, but they have made no effort at all to change the conditions under which it is operating in order that, if it does not pay, it might at least be made to run at a much smaller loss. When there is a £50 million grant for social and hardship cases, I would ask the Government what proportion of that sum could be allocated to lines such as this so that they could break even or run at a small deficit. The noble Lord, who knows the Railways Board people personally, might well ask them why they do not do these things.
§ 4.19 p.m.
§ LORD REAY
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, has put a comprehensive and forceful case against the closing of the Waverley Line. I should like to declare an interest as, in common with other noble Lords speaking this afternoon, I know this area well. I was born and brought up there and I have used this line for some twenty years or so. However, I do not think it necessary to be moved by cases of personal deprivation, either of myself or even of the noble Lady, to appreciate the damaging consequences of the decision to close this railway line, nor do I think that the case for retaining this line depends entirely on the inconvenience caused to those travelling up to London. To remove direct access from London would certainly have an adverse effect on the margin, in a situation where marginal effects may be quite sufficient to deter 590 businesses from investing in what is to them an unattractive area.
However, this might not be too bad if it was possible to travel up direct to Edinburgh by rail and from there down to the Borders. It is, I think, the, fact that this line also will be closed that is the worst part of the scheme with which that part of the world is threatened. Hawick is the centre of the area, with a population of about 18,000, which is quite a lot, and it is 45 miles from Edinburgh. The train is used by women who go to Edinburgh to do shopping, by employees on clay release schemes, by young people who go to Edinburgh on higher education courses, and by all ages in search of some sort of Scottish version of metropolitan entertainment. Also it is used by executives to travel down to the Borders to assess the possibilities of establishing businesses there, and to return there once they have decided to do so; and this is very much wanted. A bus, which is the only alternative to the train, takes some two and a half hours. A fast train takes about an hour and a quarter and could possibly take less. The young certainly do not have cars. Yet not only is it they whose need is greatest, for education, entertainment and so on, but also it is they whose loyalty to the area is most uncertain.
The background of all this is emigration of the younger generation. The Scottish Economy White Paper, published in 1966, says:If trends continue, the Western area"—that is to say, the whole of this area—would lose some 8,000 people by emigration between 1963 and 1973.The ambition of the Government, however, is not simply to arrest this decline but actually to reverse it, and in the same White Paper they go on to say:The towns in the Western borders are already so seriously threatened that their demographic and industrial recovery calls for the introduction of some 25,000 people by 1980 at the latest.In other words they hope to induce a further 25,000 people to live there by 1980, which is roughly an addition of 10,000 to the working force.
At the moment, some 1,000 houses are being built in the Galashiels scheme, and they are scheduled to be ready by 1970. What is the point, my Lords, in an age in which the larger towns increasingly 591 have advantages over smaller towns in the better and cheaper facilities which they are able to provide in goods, services and entertainment, of increasing the distance between people who live in the country and the towns which provide those services; and this at a time when, generation after generation, people where-ever they live are not prepared to accept anything but the standards of the large towns.
All the Government's advisers and some of their members see the point of these arguments. The Johnson Marshall Report, which was commanded by the Secretary of State for Scotland, said that the decision would have an unfortunate effect on planning targets. Of course it will: it will have a stultifying effect, unless the Government are somehow able to persuade collectively the entire labour force that it is preferable to live in an inactive rural area.
The Scottish Transport Users' Consultative Committee stated in their Press release that severe hardship would be caused to people in the Borders. The Borders Consultative Group, also appointed by the Secretary of State, said in its own statements to the Press that the line should be kept. It is public knowledge that the Scottish Economic Planning Council has not agreed, although this Council is appointed to advise the Secretary of State on matters of this sort. Here I should like to ask the Government to reconcile the fact that the Economic Planning Council have not agreed to this with what I have understood to be their policy of requiring regional economic planning councils to agree to decisions of this sort when they are taken in their areas. Perhaps the noble Lord can say something on this point later.
It is equally common knowledge that the Secretary of State for Scotland himself has fought to have the line kept open. He is Chairman of the Economic Planning Council. The decision for this closure is not in his hands. It is ludicrous, I think, that he should be responsible, as he is, for transport decisions taken in Scotland, with the exception of railway decisions. What sort of sense does that make, when road and rail decisions, as indeed we are repeatedly told, should be taken at the same time?
592 Nor is it only the central advisory bodies who have supported the case for retaining this railway line. The Edinburgh City Labour Party, which is led by an ex-Minister of State for Scotland, Mr. Willie Ross, have said that if this line did not qualify for a social grant under the new Transport Act, they did not see which line would. Moreover, my honourable friend in another place who represents this constituency in Parliament has commissioned a private inquiry, to be paid for entirely out of the funds of eleven local authorities, which is, I think, a remarkable and novel endorsement. The results of this inquiry have not yet been published. I should have preferred to wait until they were published before suggesting the sort of services that the Government might attempt to run in that part of the world. However, I consider that what they should think of approximately, if they are not going to continue the line down to London, is a single track service from Edinburgh to that part of the world, 'served by a driver-conductor, as the noble Lady has said, manning possibly only two other stations on the line, at some simply having a halt sign, and eliminating the smallest stations altogether.
The Government have, I think, come out with a figure of £250,000 as the annual cost of running a railway service from Edinburgh, but what they have not done is to give any sort of specification of the kind of service that they would run, and without that this figure of £250,000 is useless—except that the higher you put the figure the better, if you wish to discourage such a proposal. Certainly the line would not be likely to pay for itself, but what should be done, at least for an experimental period, is that this should be tried, as it is being tried in other cases. At the moment, it is not even known what the revenue from running such a service would be: in the first place because the service could be improved—that is to say, the trains could be faster and could run at more attractive times (at the moment I think there is no train down from Edinburgh between 6 and 10 o'clock in the evening)—and secondly because if the population is to increase, as the Government wish it to, then obviously there is a possibility of much larger traffic on the line. Both of those things could be tested if the 593 Government ran such a railway for an interim period.
The Waverley Line is not just another rural railway section with other faster alternatives available to people in the area. If the noble Lord, Lord Winter-bottom, suggested that the inhabitants of the area could just as well use the line from Carstairs, then he was simply ignorant of his geography. Carstairs is about the same distance from Hawick as from Edinburgh, and even more difficult to get to. The Waverley Line is the only railway service to an entire development area. If the Government wish to save the expense of running a railway line to this area, then they might as well at the same time save themselves the expense of any further planning for development in the area at all.
§ 4.29 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
My Lords, I am sure that all your Lordships are grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, for raising this question. It is a measure of the importance of this matter in people's minds, I think, that no fewer than 14 Members of your Lordships' House have put their names down to speak on the subject; and, I suspect, without many exceptions, if any, to support the noble Baroness. The public have a very high priority in their minds on the subject of railway services, and this does not seem to me to have been acknowledged by the Government or the Railways Board. It is a widespread feeling. It is the public's view, and I think rightly, that the duty of the Railways Board is to provide a service. The public have felt, as the noble Baroness has rightly said, that in a large number of cases services have been deliberately run down and withdrawn without proper consultation in a large number of places.
I have no connection whatever with the North-East quarter of Britain or the Border country. I live in Devonshire and work in London, so I cannot be said to have any personal interest. But the Galashiels-Hawick area is, so far as I am aware, a development area, and if the railway is closed large numbers of people will be isolated in a part of the country that is not always accessible to road vehicles. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, a little while ago, was kind enough to issue a list of bus services which were to be provided in the area before the 594 railway was closed down. I must say that I thought the list he gave was very impressive. But there can be no guarantee of continuity; nor of the ability of the service to cope with the transport needs of the area during conditions of ice and snow up and down the hills, particularly in many winters. As the noble Baroness said, in the winter of 1962–63 that area of the country was completely isolated for weeks, and there is no other method of transport but the railway. If this area is to be a development area, how else is it going to be developed if the only line of communication is withdrawn?
The noble Baroness, and also my noble friend Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, during the recent passage of the Transport Bill in this House, made a plea for (I think I should be right in saying) "teeth" for the Consumer Council in their representations on the question of transport through the consultative committees; and I myself supported that plea. It seems to me that the Railways Board have no real consumer representation, and this may be part of the Board's weakness. I noticed in a morning newspaper last week (I think it was The Times) that a vacancy on the Railways Board had been filled. I was hoping that such a vacancy would have been filled by some outside representative. But, oh no!, it was filled by a civil servant from, of all places, the Ministry of Transport. I have no doubt that he was sufficiently indoctrinated with the dead hand of the closure policy before he ever went on the Board at all.
At the end of September I had occasion to motor between Carlisle and Edinburgh, and I went over the long winding road, through Galashiels and Hawick to Edinburgh. The road, as many of your Lordships will know, curls to and fro over the railway line, with its numerous sharp corners and steep hills. At each bridge one can see the railway line underneath, and from a great many of the bridges one could actually see the colour of the railway lines. They were brown through rust, so I do not think that at the end of September the Railways Board were quite complying with their duty to provide a service. I was rather surprised when the noble Baroness told us of the amount of usage to which the railway is at present being put. It seemed to me that it was one of those 595 cases where the Board had rather let the track go.
I would make a plea to the noble Lord to have another look at this matter; to ask his right honourable friend to consider the various points that have been made—and there will be many more points made from very much more influential sources than my speech. It seems to me that one of the main duties on the Government at this time is to appoint some sort of consumer representation—passenger representation, goods representation, industrial representation, or some other kind of representation—which will save the Railways Board from carrying on with the disastrous policy of closing the only line of communication which exists in remote parts of the country which are very often inaccessible to motor traffic.
§ 4.36 p.m.
§ THE DUKE OF BUCCLEUCH AND QUEENSBERRY
My Lords, I wish to add a few words to what has been so ably said by the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot, and to ask the Minister for his help in our problem. Weaker points concerning deficits and numbers using the line have been expressed by British Railways. But there is also a very good case for people dependent on this line. I would add that seven branch lines have been closed on this route. It is very reasonable, as well as important, to keep the main line, which I would emphasise, as the noble Baroness has already done, will always be a valuable link. It is the only one to serve business, tourists and private travel both ways between this part of Scotland and London or the Midlands.
Some of us have a duty to speak for those who are most adversely affected, as are those in Roxburgh and Selkirk, where I was formerly Member of Parliament and County Convenor. But as the ground has been well covered by the noble Baroness, and as there are other speakers, I want to submit a different and very important long-term argument, to which I have drawn the attention of the Minister. I would emphasise this argument, which concerns the future transport of timber and the national policy to reduce heavy loads on the roads and 596 to get more on to the railways, if and when this can be done. Although we are primarily discussing the closure of the passenger services, the abandonment of the line for freight is to follow later.
Put briefly, the Kielder-Newcastleton Border Forest is much the largest timber-producing region in Britain; and many newer forests near this line are extending rapidly and will produce an enormous volume of timber which can be placed on to the line at Newcastleton, Hawick, Galashiels and other railheads. The volume is already very large, and it is increasing annually. It is reasonable to anticipate that it will reach well over 600,000 tons a year by the year 2000, and one million or more tons a year by the year 2010. I suggest that a calculation is needed which will show the volume of timber which could bring revenue to the railways. My figures may be generous or under-stated, or the dates may not be entirely correct, but each year this forest area is extending, and after the years I have mentioned the annual production will certainly be well over one million tons a year.
The transport of timber is carried out almost entirely by road, this being less expensive and easier. But surely an effort ought to be made to reduce the cost of railway transportation and to get some of this timber on to the railway. I could refer to the costs and to the possibilities of reducing them, but in particular I would refer to the rapid advance in container design and use, and suggest that research and invention should lead to a type suitable for conveyance of timber on lorry or trailer from forest and sawbench to rail. If the lines are removed now in this heavily timbered district, the timber will for all time have to be transported by road, contrary to national policy. I ask the Minister for Government consideration of whether this is to happen both here and wherever there is timber production.
The principal difficulty concerns the comparative costs of transport by rail and by road. I think that rail costs can be improved by research and the organisation of a sufficient volume of timber from one forest region to selected timber consumers. The Scottish Border area is the best example in the whole of Britain. It would be able, before long, to send 597 200,000 tons a year to a selected consumer, such as Bowater's, at Port Ellesmere, and to increase this figure to 300,000 tons a year, and more, as time goes on. I strongly urge that further consultation and research are needed before these railway lines are removed, and that further consideration should be given by the Government to the future transport of timber.
I believe it is correct and relevant to say that the Highland Railway has, fortunately, been retained partly because of the great advantage of taking timber by rail from Crianlarich to the Fort William pulp mill. In this case British Rail have made special arrangements for loading and unloading, including special wagons for the timber, and on terms believed to be not too favourable to themselves. This is a most sensible policy and service, and avoids a very much heavier road expenditure. The precedent is valuable, for it shows that the alternative is possible, and presumably can be applied in other regions. The production and delivery of timber from these and other areas, if skilfully guided, will be very helpful in meeting our balance of payments. It has been an uphill task for those who have been trying to promote forestry, and a combined action now on the subject of transport could be most helpful.
Finally, my Lords, I would add this. I know the roads—narrow and twisting—in this difficult hilly country, and they are not suitable for a continuous stream of heavy loads of timber. This situation is of great concern to local authorities, as the wear and tear will become much worse and a great deal of money will have to come from somewhere to improve them. In other ways, of course, it is much more disturbing to the population in and around Newcastleton: to the women and children who would be deprived of their railway and, in the case of children, unable to get to school in winter, and for those in cars who will he pushed aside. I hope that I have made a case in connection with the transport of timber, and I hope also that the attitude of British Rail will be friendly on this matter. Perhaps I may be allowed to refer back to the time when I was a boy: I remember the pride of my father in being the chairman of this railway which he had helped to develop for the use of the Border country.
§ 4.44 p.m.
LORD STRATHEDEN AND CAMPBELL
My Lords, there are obviously a great many aspects of this problem, and I think I could make a good case on almost all of them. But as there are some 12 or 14 other speakers I will confine myself to, at the most, three of those aspects. First, I will touch on some of the figures that have been given about the closure of this railway. The people in Roxburghshire are not satisfied that the proposed closure is based on sound economic reasons. They are not satisfied because the first figure given of the loss—£256,000—was given to the Transport Users' Consultative Committee. Then another figure—£357,000—was given by the Minister as being the amount that would be directly saved on closing the line; that is to say, the amount of the loss. When this figure was challenged, as it very quickly was, the Ministry immediately agreed that they should have deducted the figure of£125,000annual takings; and this produced yet another figure of loss—£232,000. So we had three different figures of loss.
Then a totally different figure was produced—£700,000—which was stated to be the amount of annual grant that would be needed to keep the railway running. This again, one can only assume, was the assessment of what the railway was really costing; and it was a fourth figure. I am not in a position—indeed, I doubt whether anybody would be: not even a computer would be—to analyse these figures, and I certainly shall not attempt to do so. But this collection of totals, all different and any one of them, apparently, capable of alteration as and when the figures are challenged, does not provide a very convincing basis on which to decide the future of this line.
LORD STRATHEDEN AND CAMPBELL
Your Lordships will be glad to know that I am discarding a great many sheets of my notes in favour of the speakers who are to come, but I should like to follow up—
My Lords, before the noble Lord leaves that topic, can he answer one question? It would be interesting to all of us to know whether, at the public inquiry, any representative of the Railways Board went 599 into the witness box prepared to answer questions about this figure of loss.
LORD STRATHEDEN AND CAMPBELL
No, my Lords. I attended a great deal of that public inquiry, but I am afraid that I cannot answer that question.
I should like to follow up the point made by the noble Duke about the moving of timber from the very large Kielder Forest, both now and in the future. That timber could quite reasonably be loaded on to railway trucks fairly close to the forest where it is cut. Even at the time when I was Convener of the County of Roxburgh we were facing considerable expenditure on the strengthening and straightening of bridges in order to make possible the passage of these large timber lorries. If that timber has to go still further by road, the amount of money required to strengthen not only the bridges but also the roads themselves (because they are all side roads which were never designed to carry this heavy traffic) will be very large indeed; and whether that money comes, as in fact it does, partly from the Forestry Commission and partly from rates, or, as one hopes, partly from Government grants, it still comes originally from the taxpayer. Whether that money is spent on helping the railway or on improving these roads seems to be a matter of indifference to the Government; but if this amount of money has to be spent, for goodness' sake! let us spend it on improving and keeping up this railway, which is so essential.
The importance of this railway was continually stressed by the Border Economic Consultative Group, a subsidiary of the Scottish Economic Council, which has been mentioned already by the noble Lord, Lord Reay. I was a member of that body for a period of two years, and during that time this subject of the railway came up at almost every one of our many meetings. On every occasion we were unanimously of the opinion—that is, all the members of this group, which was drawn by the Secretary of State from a complete cross-section of industry, agriculture and local authority and other interests throughout the area—that this railway must remain, and resolutions to that effect were sent to the Ministry of 600 Transport. That all came up, of course, over the proposed development in Roxburghshire. The County of Roxburgh, in spite of what at one moment might have been thought to the contrary, is determined to carry out this development, and that was shown very clearly two days ago at a meeting of the county council when by a very large majority it was agreed that it must go forward.
I wonder whether the Government have taken into consideration the very considerable increase in traffic, both passenger and freight, which will assuredly arise if the population is increased by another 25,000 people, bearing in mind the industries that will be brought into the county at the same time. Following on from that, how can this development really get off the ground and go ahead; and how can the intentions of the Government and of the county be taken seriously by firms which are considering coming into the area, if they see that this area is considered so unimportant that it is not worthy of having an assured link with the rest of the country? And the only assured link, as has already been explained, and as will no doubt be explained in more detail to your Lordships, is the railway, which must be allowed to remain.
§ 4.53 p.m.
§ LORD SIEFF
My Lords, I am glad that the initiative of the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, has brought the matter of the Waverley Line to the attention of your Lordships. She is a great champion of the consumer, and as a retailer I have always regarded her point of view as one which could deal with a variety of problems from which we are suffering. I am of the opinion that her argument against the closure, which we have had so ably presented this afternoon by her, deserves serious consideration.
My Lords, this is not a Party issue. The closure was already indicated in the British Railways Board's Report, The Reshaping of British Railways, published in 1963, when the Conservative Government was in power. When, on July 15 last, the Minister of Transport said in the other place that he had given consent to the Railways Board's proposals to discontinue passenger service on this line and that certain additional bus services would be provided, he was 601 pursuing this policy. The decision, we are told, was taken on economic grounds. The Minister said that the present exceptionally heavy losses, due to the low and declining passenger use of the line cannot be allowed to continue, especially in the current economic climate. It is true that to maintain the service an annual grant of £700,000 would be needed, and a grant at a level of £250,000 per annum would be necessary to keep a reduced single track service between Edinburgh and Hawick serving only the four main intermediate stations.
Your Lordships will understand that I do not wish to appear to be advocating uneconomic or inefficient operations or telling people how to run their business without going into the details of the case. The costing of the service, taking into account the short-term and the longterm effect of the closure, as well as allowing for joint costs with freight or mainline services at the terminals, are matters of great technical complexity. They also depend on a variety of assumptions which have to be made, none the least about the quality, that is to say, the frequency of the services and the resulting revenue.
Your Lordships will appreciate that, with my lifetime business experience—I hope you will forgive me for talking about myself—I am well aware of the importance of the continuity of demand for goods and services. I happen to know something about the countryside affected by the closure. We are dealing with an important textile centre, where a considerable industry is located, producing excellent qualities of wool yarns and fabrics, much of it for export. I understand that the population of Galashiels is to be greatly increased, if possible, while the Government are committed to revitalising the area and stemming the depopulation of the Borders. They are endeavouring to bring in industry and people.
The 1966 White Paper stated that:Commercial viability alone is important but secondary where railway lines serve social needs and are essential to the life of remote areas.Yet the Minister of Transport recognises that passengers travelling from the Border towns to Edinburgh will suffer hardship, as will users of the sleeper service, though the additional bus services will, 602 I must confess, alleviate the hardship a little. I have myself recently visited Scotland and the area in question and can confirm that this is a very controversial issue there. I have found a deep concern about the effect of the closure on the wellbeing of the Scottish people and particularly on industrial development.
The size of the social grant required to maintain the service has to be seen in perspective. During the last year investment grants paid in Scotland amounted to over £40 million; in the development areas grants are at a higher rate to encourage industry. At least one of the suppliers to the business with which I am connected this year completed a £2 million expansion programme, and a considerable number of other firms are likewise prepared to develop their business. Of this sum, £600,000 was spent in Galashiels, the firm's original premises, where, however, labour shortage is a limiting factor.
Transport is an important condition of industrial growth, not merely and not least because workpeople require the links with large population centres, in this case with Edinburgh and the South. It is right that industry in the development areas should be encouraged to invest. The Government are justly proud of the money spent to this end in Scotland. But it seems to me that there is some contradiction in the economic policy in respect of development areas such as the Borders.
The costing arguments on which the size of the grant is based are founded on a negative view of the future tragic. I wonder whether the level of demand for the Waverley Line service is already affected by impending closure. I understand that the service has been systematically run down over the years. I wonder whether adequate trials have been made, taking into account the special needs of the area, or an attempt has been made to match these with the right service at the right price. I wonder whether the case has been pre-judged. The Minister's Statement refers to "current economic climate" when what is at stake is a longterm decision affecting future lives of the people in this area.
It is a modern paradox that while the frontiers of public ownership are being extended into the fields which would 603 be better served by private enterprise, public undertakings are backing out from those areas which are commercially less rewarding. I believe that the basic amenities of the country, the social and economic infra-structure, the strategic resources, including roads and railways should be provided on the basis of national or community needs. Once these needs are so assessed, the job should be done as efficiently as possible, improving the services and reaping cost reduction benefits as revenue increases.
Of course, a public undertaking should adopt in its operations the same criteria of efficiency as a private firm, within the defined scope of its activities. If the job needs to be done it should be done well, and the people concerned should have the incentive to do so. But we must not confuse a reduction in service with cost savings. On the contrary, in my experience, improved service often results in long-term economies. In conclusion I feel—and I say this with deep feeling—that there is strong evidence that the decision to close the line should be re-examined.
§ 5.4 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF KINNOULL
My Lords, I should like to say at once that I feel that the noble Baroness has done a great service to-day in bringing this Question before the House. I should also like to offer my sympathy to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, who, at the end of a long debate, I am sure will not have one single supporter for the Government's case. The decision in regard to this closure, which deals only with 100 miles of railway line, is, I believe, a great tragedy for the central Border area. As the House will know, it is a so-called development area. At the moment, it has a population of approximately 75,000 people and it is hoped, within the scope of the development scheme, to increase this number by a further 25,000 within the next 10 to 15 years. Of course it must attract industry, and yet, with this simple closure, one of the major means of communications is removed.
The social consequences of this closure have already been described in full. We have been told that one of the main reasons for this closure is the low and declining passenger use of the line. I 604 think it would be of use and of information if the Government could give some figures in relation to the low and declining passenger use. Another source of deep anger in the area is, I believe, the date of closure which has been set by the Railways Board. We know that the date is to be January 6, 1969. This is in the midst of winter. It is at a time when the Toads could well be impassable, at a time when they could well be icy and dangerous. I would request the Government to ask the Board to delay the closure date from January 6 until at least the summertime, in order to give the alternative bus service a chance to operate satisfactorily.
I should also like to ask the Government for some information on this alternative bus service. We know that the present line carries approximately 300,000 passenger miles per annum, and we know that if we convert that to the bus alternative this will mean 600,000 miles of bus passenger miles per annum. I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, to say how frequent the bus service is going to be. I should also like to ask him the important question, as I believe it to be, about the extra luggage arrangements on these buses. Will these buses be able to accommodate prams? Will they be able to take trunks? Will they be able to accommodate large shopping baskets? Will they be able to accommodate the household dogs, the household cats and everything that is normally carried on a train service?
Turning briefly to the financial aspect of this line closure, a matter which has been so ably dealt with already, I think it is generally agreed that the figures produced by the Railways Board and those produced by the Ministry of Transport are meaningless to most people. I think I am correct in saying that the final figure of £700,000 per annum decided on by the Ministry was one produced from a somewhat secret formula of the financial consultants whom the Ministry asked to advise them 18 months ago. I should like to ask the Government again to-day whether the Ministry will spell out what is this financial formula that the financial consultants have produced. It has never been published, and I think we are entitled to know what it is.
605 I think that perhaps this might be a good opportunity to question the Government on a somewhat inspired article which appeared in The Times yesterday. This article stated that 11,000 miles of basic railway system was in danger. It went on to say that the Minister intended to announce shortly a further batch of rail closures. I should like to ask the noble Lord this afternoon to confirm whether or not this article has any substance. On how many lines are the British Railways Board applying for social grant?
My final question to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, is one which concerns the power to re-open the Waverley Line. I should like to refer to a letter from the Ministry of Transport. It reads as follows:I must first of all make it clear that the Minister's decision is a final one. He has no power to rescind it.Later, the Ministry went on to say:Finally, I would add that it is the Minister's policy to withhold his agreement to the disposal of the route formation by the Railways Board until he is satisfied, after consulting the appropriate regional economic planning council, that there is no likelihood of the formation being required for the restoration of such services.My Lords, this seemingly conflicting argument appears to beg the question. What is the purpose of keeping this line open for, I believe, another two years when in fact the decision has already been made and when the Ministry have apparently no power to re-open it? Surely, by keeping this formation open, the assets of the track will depreciate.
In conclusion, I should like to repeat that I believe there is a clear case for a review of the decision to close the Waverley Line. Also, there is a clear case for an extension of the closure time being reconsidered, for the Waverley Line is surely socially necessary.
§ 5.12 p.m.
§ LORD NAPIER AND ETTRICK
My Lords, in rising to support my noble friend Lady Elliot, I shall detain your Lordships for only a few minutes, but I make no apology for repeating a few of the points that have already been made since I hope it will demonstrate the strength of feeling on this matter. I fully realise that the Government have 606 found the question of the future of this railway link between Carlisle and Edinburgh a most difficult one to resolve. Indeed, I have the feeling that the right honourable lady, Mrs. Castle, found it such a "hot potato" that she assiduously refrained from reaching any decision on this matter throughout her whole tour of duty at the Ministry of Transport. I raised the matter first with her in February, 1967, and I had nothing but stalling replies, mostly from the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, and the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, for over 18 months. It will not have escaped the notice of noble Lords that this long drawn out delay in itself did much to add to the uncertainty in the Border country—which, let it be remembered, the Government had themselves declared to be a development area in February, 1966.
The Minister has now given his consent to British Rail to close the line. based, as I understand it, upon the sole ground that it is too expensive to justify retention. If we are to succeed in bringing productive industry into the area through which the Waverley Line runs, and thereby arrest the alarming rate of depopulation which is in fact presently gathering momentum—and, after all, this is the Government's avowed intention—I simply do not believe it is possible of achievement without this vital rail link. Have the Government forgotten or deliberately ignored the fact that the Johnston-Marshall Development Plan was based entirely on the retention of this line? I can assure noble Lords on all sides of the House that the local reaction—and after all it is the local people we are interested in—has been wholly unfavourable to this decision.
I should like to give two short examples of what I mean. An ex-Hawick councillor, a life member of the Labour Party, when told of the decision to close the line, said:The closing of the line is a disgrace; I have resigned as a member of the Party.And the Convener of the Selkirkshire County Council is reported to have said:This is a retrograde step. It has taken the Government two years or more to come to the wrong decision. It seems mad to try and develop the Borders and at the same time close the railway line. The £2 million promised for improvements of roads to try to make us swallow our bitter pill without 607 making too much fuss had mostly been earmarked previously, and will not, in any case, go far to straighten out our crooked roads from Carlisle to Edinburgh.Perhaps the noble Lord the Minister, when he comes to reply, will confirm that most of this £2 million had already been earmarked regardless of the outcome of the future of the railway line. Furthermore, as my noble friend Lord Inglewood pointed out in your Lordships' House earlier this year, how can we be so certain that what has happened in West Cumberland, where the railway has disappeared and where the roads have not improved, will not also happen in the Borders?
The Waverley Line is not a branch line. It is a through route, and is a vital part of the general communications system for the whole of the North of England and the Southern Uplands. I believe that something like 27 stations and halts are involved in the proposed closure. I find myself quite unable to follow the logic of the Minister's thinking when he says he is convinced that the economic growth of the Borders will be better served—and these are the words he used—by "a modern transport infrastructure". What on earth does that mean? Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, will also explain this when he comes to reply, because I do not think it means anything at all except perhaps a lot more buses adding to the congestion on what are totally inadequate roads.
I come now to the question of those railway lines which are to be classified as socially desirable, as outlined in Command 3057 and further examined in Command 3439, entitled Railway Policy. The Government, quite rightly in my view, realised early on that there would be some lines which would not make a profit but which for social reasons—and that means to allay hardship—would be given grants in aid to keen them open. Is this not a perfect case in point where a grant should be made? The Minister of Transport has told me—and we have heard it mentioned this afternoon—that in order to retain in operation the section of this line from Hawick to Edinburgh the estimated annual grant required would be of the order of a quarter of a million pounds. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot, I would question 608 that figure; but even if it were accurate it is surely a mere fleabite when compared with many other Government subsidies.
We are aware that a locally commissioned feasibility study is now in progress, and I noticed that in reply to my noble kinsman Lord Dalkeith the Minister recently said:I am afraid that it would be quite unprofitable to speculate on what I might or might not do if this new study were to produce results substantially different from those of my own economic advisers.This, at least, means that his mind cannot be completely closed on the subject.
My Lords, on behalf of all the people whose lives are to be adversely affected by this decision I ask the Government at least to postpone the closure until the development of the central Borders has properly got under way. Let us wait to see what effect the anticipated influx of population will have on the use of the train services. To coin one of the Government's own advertisements, used in a slightly different context, "You know this makes sense". Should the Government refuse to alter their decision, then I can only say that in my view the development of the Borders, and all the social and economic benefits that will be derived from that development, will be doomed before they even start, and the closure decision will go down in the history of the Border land as quite one of the most astonishing yet taken by this Administration.
§ 5.19 p.m.
§ LORD FERRIER
My Lords, I would begin by apologising to your Lordships for not being in my seat when the noble Baroness asked her Question, and to her for having missed a large portion of her speech; but I was detained at a meeting. There is one factor which has not yet been mentioned in this debate—and I will try to confine my speech to points that have not already been raised. It will not be long before the M.6 is extended to Carlisle, and when this extension is completed it will throw an enormous burden of traffic upon the Border roads. When that happens, the A.7 road, which apparently is intended to replace the railway as the main artery for the area, will have a load placed upon it that is very considerably above what is in people's minds to-day.
609 The noble Duke, the Duke of Buccleuch, referred to the timber traffic which inevitably will be thrown on to the A.7 if this railway line is closed—everybody knows that the timber traffic is a very great burden upon a road. It will mean strengthening bridges and the like, and will cause excessive wear and tear on the road. I have it on very good authority that the estimates for repairing roads in one area of Argyll where the forest had been clear-felled were about equal to the value of the timber taken from Fort William. If that comparison is correct, as I believe it to be, when the timber traffic is thrown on to the A.7, augmented by the massive increase of traffic from the M.6, this financial factor will have to be taken into account when one comes to assess, as the noble Lord, Lord Sieff, pointed out, the financial pros and cons of this proposal in its final form.
There is no question that the railway service has been run down. I have said before in your Lordships' House, and I say again, that the Railways Board have been unimaginative in the use of the diesel-electric railcar. I say this with some knowledge since I have had experience of the operation of this system abroad where it was made to pay. The railbus can be made to revitalise a line which is not profitable when run with ordinary traction trains. I believe that this aspect should be carefully examined before the Government and the Railways Board accept that the passenger traffic cannot pay.
May I ask the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, whether the maintenance and repair problem presented by the long tunnel South of Hawick is a decisive factor in this matter? If it is an important factor to be taken into consideration, I would point out that there is another function of the line to which no reference has yet been made. I live within hearing distance of the main Carlisle to Carstairs line. There has not been a single winter in the last twenty years when, as a result of the weather or of accidents caused by the weather, the line from Carlisle to Edinburgh, via Hawick, has not been an essential alternative route by which traffic can reach Edinburgh. I understand that this also applies when there is trouble on the Newcastle to Edinburgh line, and perhaps noble Lords who know the Eastern 610 side can confirm this. There is talk of closing that line, too. If that happens, then surely this particular link for mainline traffic about which we arc talking to-day is essential.
My noble friend Lord Kilmany has asked me to mention that, had he been able to be present to-day, he would have spoken in the debate, and I know that he would have agreed with everything that has been said. He would certainly have agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Sieff, that the financial considerations introduced by factors such as the cost of the timber traffic, the value of the alternative link, superimposed on the additional traffic placed upon the A.7 by the extension of the M.6, must be kept in perspective. People who know this area regard with amazement the proposed closure of the line. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, will be able in his reply to hold out some hope that the decision will be reviewed. And let us hope that if it is reviewed as thoroughly as we believe it ought to be, it will be reversed.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ LORD POPPLEWELL
My Lords, I hesitate to intervene in what might almost be regarded as a local Scottish question. Who am I, a Sassenach, to intervene in such a debate? But we are considering something more important than just the local approach, and one must not underestimate the importance of this matter. The noble Lord, Lord Sieff, rightly referred to the change in Government policy some time ago, under the Beeching proposals, with the object of concentrating on city-to-city traffic and neglecting sundries. We are now suffering the results of this, and I think that both political Parties are to blame. To my mind, all the trouble arising from closures of branch lines stems from that particular decision, and it has been accentuated by the actions of successive Governments. I am sure that we were all interested to hear from the former Minister of Transport that, instead of following up the Beeching propo5als to reduce railway mileage to 8,000 miles, it would be reduced only to 11,000 miles. One is disturbed by rumours that there will be a further revision from the 11,000 miles to a much lower figure. All this has a great bearing on the problem to which we must address our minds.
611 The Railways Board are able at present to put forward a complete case showing the economic savings which will take place when the line is closed. I wish that they would be much more forthright in giving evidence in support of the figures which they quote. One looks sceptically at the figure of £700,000 per annum given as the cost of keeping the line open. In 1966 it was estimated that the cost of running the line was £357,000, as against receipts of £101,000, leaving a deficit of £256,000. I hope that my noble friend will be able to give a more adequate explanation than I have yet been able to obtain for the large disparity between these figures. One suspects that it may have been caused by a rough-and-ready method of accountancy (though I am sure the accountants would not agree) which was brought into operation last year. At any rate, it is right to say that the method of accountancy which was adopted was rather different from that which existed previously. I know that in certain respects the Railways Board go to a tremendous amount of trouble to break down any figures which they quote in support of their case, but I sincerely hope they will give this information to the public and to bodies such as the Transport Users' Consultative Committee.
During the passage of the Transport Act, an Amendment was moved by the other side which I supported—I did not support my own Party—and which dealt with supplying information to the Transport Users' Consultative Committee. I know how difficult such a move would be, and I know how the Railways Board would react: "Who are the T.U.C.C.? They are not the experts who can correctly deal with these matters." I know those arguments from A to Z. But here is a question not merely of accountability but of communications and public relations. I know there are difficulties, but the sundry traffic cannot be completely neglected just because of the cityto-city traffic, and the public are entitled to more information.
Various figures and estimates have been given, and I am told that this closure will mean that the nearest railway station for 50,000 people will be over 30 miles away. Are we continually going to see the countryside denuded? 612 I know that this has been part of the policy in the past, but it is a retrograde policy and my noble friend should influence our joint honourable friend to have another look at this matter and see whether a continuing subsidy can be granted.
From my own knowledge I endorse many of the statements made this afternoon. I am told that it is estimated that in the area covered by the Waverley branch a load of timber will be travelling by road approximately every seven minutes. I understand that some little time ago a rumour was circulating among railwaymen that there were going to be some experimental trains to try to cater for some of the timber which is travelling by road, and their morale went up tremendously. But nothing further was heard about that suggested experiment, so the morale of the railwaymen has gone down tremendously in consequence. A load of timber every seven minutes on the roads in that area is absolute nonsense and crazy. Some of those roads go up to a height of 1,190 feet and are often closed in winter-time. It just does not make sense.
We have to-day given a Second Reading to a Bill concerned with more reasonable future planning in Scotland. All the planning authorities engaged so intimately in this area are roundly condemning this closure proposal. The noble Baroness referred to these matters and quoted what the Minister said about consultation, but all the people concerned are diametrically opposed to the closure. However, one can understand the railways' saying that it is going to be a very big economic burden for them to carry.
There is another factor which has not been mentioned. In the Hawick-Newcastleton-Longtown-Riccarton area there are inadequate bus services which are liable to cancellation in inclement weather; so where are the people going to shop? The reply of my noble friend will probably be that bus services will be provided to compensate for the closure. But we have heard that story so often, and we know that after a short period of time the buses are cancelled. I am informed by the people in this area who desire to go to the Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle, or to the dentist, or who want to do some shopping, that it means 613 a round trip of over 12 hours a day, leaving at about 7.15 in the morning and returning at about 6.40 in the evening. It does not bear looking at.
Again, let us look at the traffic carried on this branch of the railways. I have the details of the last census, and I understand that in 1964 the average number of passengers carried daily from Monday to Friday was 1,880. During the week ended August 22, 1964, there were 2,742 passengers carried on the Saturday. During the week ended January 29, 1966, 1,232 passengers were carried daily from Monday to Friday, and there was a greatly increased figure on the Saturday. I have a number of other figures but those are the only ones which I have been able to break down. My noble friend should also explain more fully how the figure of £700,000 has been arrived at, in comparison with the figure of £256,000 deficit which was given only two years ago.
The noble Lord, Lord Sieff, rightly referred to the textile factory there. This is part of the development area scheme to attract new industries, but I am told that if this line is closed the manufacturers will have great difficulty in getting lorry drivers to drive the very big loads which are necessary. Is not this a direct incentive for the Railways Board to have another look at their policy? City-tocity traffic is excellent, as are the liner train services; they are doing a wonderful job of work for the railways; but the vast amount of sundry traffic, the feeder traffic, should not be neglected, because it can do such a lot to lessen the yearly deficit. I know that under this new Bill, under the present proposals, the Government are suggesting that some £55 million a year will be given to the Railways Board with a view to subsidising these non-profitable lines. I have heard recently that this figure is likely to be increased to about £62 million to meet the deficit on these non-profitable lines and to meet social needs. Here it would seem to me that there is an overwhelming case of great social need that should qualify for this particular method of subsidy.
I hope sincerely that there is no truth in a rumour that I have heard: that the policy now adopted by the Railways Board is that if the deficit on a particular line works out at more than 6d. per 614 mile, or something like that, that line will be classified as a total economic loss and will not be subsidised If there is truth in that—and I hope there is not—it would, in my opinion, be the wrong policy; for there is a social obligation in addition to an economic one. The Railways Board should not have to carry the whole deficit, even if the alternative would mean further assistance from the National Exchequer. We must be prepared to face this problem, because we, as Parliamentarians and as a whole, have decreed that this is the policy that the Railways Board have had to follow in the past. if they are to continue to follow it, then it is for us, as the custodians of people's rights, to provide the social facilities which will enable our countryside to continue to be populated so as not to bring everyone into the densely-populated conurbation areas.
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LOTHIAN
My Lords, I do not wish at this hour on a Thursday evening to take up much of your Lordships' time, but I should like to support my noble friend Lady Elliot and all her noble associates to-day in her Unstarred Question. I feel that most, if not all, the arguments have already been put forward, but it seems to me that one or two of them will bear re-emphasising. One of the main arguments that have been adduced to-day concerns the future proposed development of the Border region. It seems to me to be quite extraordinary to go ahead with these, in many ways, I think, excellent, proposals for industrial and economic development in the Borders and, at the same time, to announce that you are going to close down the railway and break one of the essential links with the main centres of population to the North and South. How can this be of any encouragement to industrialists who are thinking of moving into the Border area? It seems to me that a few extra buses on the roads is hardly likely to encourage them and so far there is little or no sign of any radical improvement in the road system of the area.
I have no doubt myself—this point has been raised and I hope the Minister will be able to give an answer to it—that the closure to passenger traffic is going to be followed eventually by closure to goods traffic as well. This point bas been 615 touched on, particularly by the noble Duke in his references to the increasing movement of timber. I hope the noble Lord will be able to give some sort of answer to this question and also to its corollary: if goods traffic is going to be taken away, are the lines going to be removed? If that is the case, there will be, as it were, no emergency link available should any of the other main lines (and particularly the line between Berwick-on-Tweed and Edinburgh) become broken. This has been known to happen not infrequently in the past.
I think we all accept to some extent that the Border line has been uneconomic; but I share the views of my noble friend that there has been very little attempt on the part of British Rail in the last few years to improve the services and to try to increase the traffic. Several noble Lords have given examples of how this could be done. I feel that throughout this business a defeatist attitude has been taken and that this has naturally contributed to the rundown of the railway and the lowering of morale. Certainly, we know that maintenance costs on this line are high and we have had reference to the tunnel South of Hawick, which I believe is one of the bones of contention in this matter; but I do not think that even the economic case that has been put for British Railways against retaining the line from Hawick to Edinburgh has been at all convincingly made out, because it is on this stretch that the main centres of industry are situated at the moment. This is where all the development is going to take place and where the hardship factor will be by far the most positive.
My Lords, as we all realise, it is a question of balance, a question of deciding between the economic viability of the railway and the social and economic viability of the Border area. This is a very strange moment—indeed, just the wrong moment—to take this decision, and I hope that the Government will reconsider it. The date of closure has been announced; but even now I would urge upon the Minister to issue, as it were, a stay of execution pending further inquiries. I know the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, realises that those of us who have come here to speak to-day have done so because we are firmly convinced 616 that a wrong decision has been taken and not because some of us happen to use this railway line. Therefore I hope he will give a very positive and helpful answer to the noble Baroness.
§ 5.48 p.m.
My Lords, I rise principally to underline a point made by my noble friend Lady Elliot, that this is not just a Scottish issue although it might at first hearing appear to be one. Nor is it just a local line that we are considering, although one must admit that it has been made weaker through the withdrawal of the link with Berwick-on-Tweed. We are concerned this evening with a section of one of the main lines in this country, a main line which starts at St. Pancras. Furthermore, we must not forget that there are other sections of that line, in particular the stretch immediately to the South of Carlisle, from which it would surprise nobody to hear that British Railways were proposing to withdraw passenger services. I think it is important to say that at the beginning, in order to ensure that we really treat this question in a wider perspective than a purely local one.
I should like also to underline the point that my noble friend made about this line carrying many passengers who travel to the Midlands of England, to Lancashire, to the West Riding and further; because this is one that has troubled me. If any noble Lord looks at the London-Midland Region timetable he will find no single page which covers the services of this line South of Carlisle showing passengers the connections that they can hope to find in Sheffield, Nottingham and so on, whereas the line from Euston and all the facilities it offers are set out in very great detail. I must admit that there is a better table in the Scottish book, but even that is weak enough. I put this forward as evidence in support of what has been said: that British Rail has not only not developed this line but has in fact, over the years, tended to let it run down. I have drawn this point to the attention of our Transport Users' Consultative Committee and they are trying to do their best, but I doubt whether they will ever get very far against British Rail.
There is, of course, strength in the argument that this line ought to have been used much more. I am sure it ought to have 617 been used by many of the people, councillors and others, who will have passed resolutions. I hope that I am offending nobody by saying that, but from experience in other parts of England I think it ought to be said. At the same time, it can be said that the traffic on this line ought to increase greatly from the development we hear spoken about in the Ha-wick and Galashiels neighbourhood, and there ought to be great scope, too, for an increase of traffic from the tourist trade. I have had experience of the tourist industry on the South side of the Border. The suggestion that we are two regions from the point of view of tourism is quite false; from the point of view of holiday traffic. Both sides of the Border really constitute one region. There is no doubt at all that an ever-increasing number of people will be coming to this area, and a railway running through part of the most beautiful country in that district must be a very great asset.
My Lords, it has been said that the alternative is the road, a very slow road as we all know, and one—it cannot be argued against—which would be very expensive to improve. Further, whatever extra bus services may be put on, whether temporary or more permanent, the withdrawal of a railway as important as this is bound to affect the development and life of the district. I say this, my Lords, not just from guesswork. I base it on the experience we have had in the North of England after the closure of the East and West railway line, sometimes known as the Eden Valley line, running from Darlington to Barnard Castle, Kirkby Stephen, Appleby and Penrith. The experience which we have had there is not happy. In some ways that district compares with the country North of the Border—I say "Border"; Scotsmen say "The Borders"—through which this railway runs.
I hope that noble Lords who are more intimately connected with this line than I am will insist on a full explanation of the accounts which have been presented to them. I hope that their experience will not be anything like our experience regarding the Eden Valley line. We were left mystified to the very end, because if my memory is correct—I do not wish to do anyone an injustice—no senior representative of the railways was prepared to go into the box at the T.U.C.C. hear- 618 ing and be cross-examined on the facts and assumptions on which the accounts were based.
Furthermore, I wonder whether those who prepared these present accounts have based them on the old-fashioned 3taffing of local stations or whether they are based on what is now, I believe, an acceptable practice in country districts where many of the stations are converted into unattended halts. I would say to noble Lords that they can now go to a town as big as Keswick and find there no staff on the station at all; yet trains are still running into Keswick Station. It is therefore nonsense to pretend that every small station must have a half-platoon of men for safe operation.
When we were concerned with our railway we argued that the staffing of local stations was absurdly high. We were told that it was impossible to change and that six or seven men at the smallest station was the minimum which was acceptable; and, further, that to think of converting such stations into unmanned halts was just a dream. It has since happened in many parts of England including Keswick. We asked for the experimental running of single or two-coach diesel trains, run more on a system of buses on rails rather than a classical railway working. We were told that that was impossible, but I understand that such experiments have taken place in other parts of England.
We approached them with regard to a special study of the loading and carriage of timber such as has happened in every other country in Europe and all over North America. We were told it was impossible. Although our forests are not as large as those in the Kidder area, none the less we thought that there was untapped traffic. We remembered how the old North Eastern Railway based its strong finances on the carriage of coal and other minerals. I have since seen the special arrangements made, as the noble Duke has mentioned, between Crianlarich and Fort William. There still are a number of very important questions to which no answers have been given.
My final point is this. If the arguments we have heard with regard to this railway are applied generally, there must be very few sections of railway in this 619 country where a sufficiently convincing case for closure could not be made out.
There is little enough co-operation already across the Border between local and other authorities. To deprive us of this rail link must be short-sighted, and it would give to much of the talk of regional development on both sides of the Border a flavour of humbug.
§ 5.56 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF LINDSEY AND ABINGDON
My Lords. I should begin by explaining that I am not intervening in this debate at the last moment. I put my name down to speak last week, but it was left off the list. I have been assured that this was purely an error, and not for any other reason. I shall be very brief. I use the Waverley Line at the most only once a year, and therefore my experience of its merits are limited. However, I should like to support my noble friend Lady Elliot of Harwood, who put down the Question, as there is much more involved here than personal convenience, as has already been explained by other speakers.
I will limit my remarks to the area that I know; that is to say, the area around Jedburgh, which at present is served by Hawick or St. Boswells. If the Waverley Line is closed the nearest mainline station will be approximately 50 miles away. Passengers and business concerns will have the choice of Edinburgh, Berwick-on-Tweed, Carlisle or Newcastle—a round trip of approximately 100 miles, a distance unheard of in the South of England. On top of this, my Lords, the alternatives are grim; inadequate roads, with congestion in summer and snow in winter.
To give an example, the A.68 trunk road from Newcastle is served by an infrequent bus service which crosses Carter Bar from England into Scotland at a height of over 1,300 ft. I contacted the A.A. to-day to ask whether they could give me some information of how often the Carter Bar was blocked by snow during the last year. They were not able to give me this information at such short notice, but I was assured that it was one of their trouble spots. I know this because I have been caught on one side or the other in the past. Finally, my Lords, if the Waverley Line is un- 620 economic, surely an alternative to complete closure must be found, such as, possibly, single-line working between Edinburgh and Carlisle. I do not know the answer, but surely there is a duty on the Ministry of Transport to try again.
§ 5.59 p.m.
§ LORD HURCOMB
My Lords, I may as well confess at once that I have long been convinced of the necessity for closing a great deal of the old railway network. In the first of the five years of the British Transport Commission we closed 1,000 miles of passenger line, and saved £1 million a year, and we had no fuss. Perhaps that was because I naturally took the easy ones first.
Nevertheless, I listened with a great deal of sympathy to what was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood. Some four or five years ago I discussed this matter with the noble Lord, Lord Beeching, who is often regarded, I think rather unfairly, as the "villain of these pieces". He was, in fact, acting under an unduly restrictive reference. I said to him, "I quite agree that if your surgeon tells you that you do not want your little toe, or even two or three of your toes. or your little finger, that is all right—cut them off. He might even say, in extreme cases, that you must lose an arm or a leg; but if he tells you that he is going to chop off both arms and legs, and that your trunk will go on functioning as happily and as efficiently, I should not believe him". Lord Beeching said that this was not an exact analogy. I replied, "No analogy is exact, but I think that is a fairly good one". If I had been in his position, I should have asked much more quickly for what had to be done, but for very much less in total. In other words, I should not have asked to chop off what might fairly be regarded as limbs. And I think that this particular line amounts to much more than the cutting off of a finger or a toe.
I feel that it is unfair to attack the Railways Board. They are competent people and nothing is more distasteful to a railwayman than to have to contract his network. In the old days, the commercial railway people were obsessed by the idea that it would pay to get the traffic almost whatever the cost, and they used to justify that doctrine by saying that every little line, however unremunerative, had a contributive value to 621 the whole system. There was some force in that argument, but it was vastly exaggerated. Now the railways are very cost conscious. They have gone into the costing system very carefully, and have found that in many surprising directions they are losing money where they thought they were making it. It is possible that they have gone to the other extreme and are taking too narrow a commercial view of the advantages of keeping certain lines open. I feel, after all the arguments which have been advanced this afternoon, by the noble Lord, Lord Sieff, and others, there is a strong case for looking at this particular line again. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, that this is not merely a local or Scottish problem. I should have felt the same about the proposed closure of the line from Ipswich to Lowestoft, which again seemed to me not only socially but also commercially wrong, and I am glad that the former Minister, Mrs. Barbara Castle, dropped that idea.
There is one point that I would make to your Lordships. If the public expect this sort of marginal line to be kept open, they must give it their traffic. It is no good their saying that they will travel by rail to go to the dentist, or if there are icy roads, or fog, while they continue to use their cars for 300 or 350 days a year. That is what people tend to do. Even with reasonable subsidies, a vast network of railway lines cannot be maintained on that basis.
It is just the same with freight trains. I do not deny the importance of all these manufacturing towns, but it is no good manufacturers saying that if they are busy they will send some of their stuff by rail, or that if it is difficult and nasty stuff to handle they will use the railways, or that they will bring in their chief raw materials by rail when the rates are low, but will send out all their finished goods, which bear a high rate, by lorry. It is no good saying that and expecting either the Railways Board or the Minister to keep open these lines. Though I join in the general request that this case should be looked at again on its merits, I think that the Railways Board and the Minister are entitled to say to the people of the locality, "If you want this line kept open, you must use it".
§ 6.5 p.m
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
My Lords, we are coming towards the end of this debate initiated by my noble friend Lady Elliot with her customary vigour. I am afraid that I only heard the end of her speech, but I am certain she has been as persuasive as ever. The noble. Lord opposite will be well aware that in this debate not only Scottish Members have participated but also noble Lords from other parts of the country and noble Lords with the great experience, for instance, of the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, who has intervened most helpfully and sympathetically in the debate. On behalf of my noble friend, I should like to express thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, for a particularly helpful speech and thanks to my noble friend Lord Lindsey and Abingdon, who has come well to the top of the list even if he was left off at the start.
No one would disagree that this is a difficult problem, but what the House has been asking the noble Lord to do is to look at it again and to look at it sympathetically. I hope he will not say that this cannot be done, because it really would be absurd to pretend that a Minister's decision could not be changed simply because at the present time the law says that it cannot be changed. If this House can be abolished by Act of Parliament, surely the Hawick line can be re-opened by Act of Parliament.
We have to look at this matter in a much wider context than it has been looked at before. We have had many considerations put before us. There is the whole problem of access to the countryside, and I am glad that this aspect has been stressed. I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, that if the railways had set out to get more traffic then we would not be in our present position. It is not enough for the railways to say, "Here is a railway; please use it". It is no good having the traffic transferred to them. They have to go out and win the traffic.
What is the situation with regard to this line? Here is an area of great scenic beauty and of considerable industrial potential. The noble Lord, Lord Sieff, referred to the famous textile industry in the area, which is a great contributor to our exports. It is a great stock-rearing area, and I have no doubt that a great 623 deal of the meat that comes to Smithfield still comes from the Borders. It is an area that, because it is subject to depopulation, the Government have now decided must be developed. The shortage of jobs which has led to the area being somewhat under-populated has also led to the declining use of the railway.
If the Government take the decision to develop this area, to bring new industries to it to increase the population, surely there is a sporting chance that in due course the railway can be made to pay. But, of course, as so many of my noble friends have stressed, the area will be very much less attractive to industry if it is deprived of its railway. It will also receive less tourist traffic. If our railways, like those of some foreign countries, gave cheap rates for the young, I believe this is the kind of area that would have a great drawing capacity for youth, because it is a wonderful area for recreation. Reference has been made to the forestry potential. I prefer not to refer to dates like the year 2,000, but my noble friend the Duke of Buccleuch said that in 30 years' time there will be 600,000 tons of timber to shift from year to year, and another 400,000 tons in a further 10 years after that. This is a tremendous potential for the use of this railway.
Then, my Lords, there are its uses as a relief line. There must have been many occasions when the railways have been glad to make use of this line in the past, whether as a result of accidents, weather conditions, or whatever it may be. One thing that has not been mentioned is the war-time use of the railway in the Borders. It is a wonderful area for training, and I do not think we should have been able to make use of that area at that time if the railway had not been there.
There are all these considerations, and I would urge the noble Lord to tackle this problem again. Surely, the thing to do is to have a real market survey to decide what is the traffic that is originating at the present time; what traffic is likely to originate in 10, 20 or 30 years' time; and what proportion of that traffic could be for the railway. On that basis it should be decided whether the railway could be made to pay. And if it cannot be made to pay then consideration should be given 624 to whether the social considerations are sufficiently great to warrant this area sharing in the subsidies that are to be made available for development areas? Surely this is the right way to look at this problem. I hope the noble Lord will not say that we must regard this chapter as closed. I think it would be a terrible thing if the railway for this area were to be regarded as finished entirely.
These are the problems that I think ought to be considered, together with the questions that have been mentioned of what is the right form of railway passenger transport that should be provided here. I remember over twenty years ago in another place raising the question of diesel passenger coaches. I was then told that the chances of these ever being introduced were extremely faint, because we were a country based on coal, and coal would always be used for the railways. If we had developed the diesel services in those days we should not be in the present situation on this line. This problem goes back a long way. What we want is a forward-looking attitude to the problems of this area and if we are to have a modern transport system surely a modernised railway should play its part in that system.
§ 6.13 p.m.
§ THE MINISTER OF STATE, FOREIGN AND COMMONWEALTH OFFICE (LORD SHEPHERD)
My Lords, I have some sympathy for the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood. I thought that her speech had a familiar ring, and certainly I recall the speeches that my noble friend Lord Stonham made repeatedly from the Benches opposite, to which the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, was then called upon to reply. The noble Lady has had a great deal of support this afternoon. My private secretary, when he saw the list of speakers and then had to go out and re-arrange my diary, commented that if his own line at Crowborough was ever at stake, he hoped that I could rustle up the same number of Members of your Lordships' House to protest. Surely, this is an indication that in dealing with our railway problem as a whole, local interests obviously dominate our particular thoughts. It is how we, as individuals, see the situation.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
My Lords, if my noble friend will fargive me for 625 interrupting, may I say that I made the point, when I spoke early in the debate, that I live in Devonshire, I work in London, and I have no interest in the North-Eastern part of the country.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
I wish my noble friend would at least let me get into a swing: I have only had an opportunity really to clear my throat. I am in a rather similar position to my noble friend. I live in the South, but I happen to know this area quite well because I did a great deal of business with a well-known name of knitwear manufacturers in Hawick. I had the pleasure of going there on a number of occasions, and I understood the difficulties of developing industry in that area.
My Lords, I feel that my reply to the debate may be slightly disjointed, in the sense that I should like to answer a series of questions that have been put to me; and I am sure the noble Baroness will agree that they have been fairly wide-ranging. The first question she asks is whether Her Majesty's Governmentwill issue a directive preventing the impending closure of the 'Waverley Line'.That is the specific question that I am required to answer this evening. The noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, knows the answer as well as I do, because I believe that he was a Minister of the Government which passed the 1962 Act.
The Minister, once he has given his direction, having complied with all that is required of him, has no power to rescind his consent or to issue a directive of the kind envisaged by the noble Baroness. That is the situation under the 1962 Act, introduced by the Government of noble Lords opposite. That Act was passed for a very good reason. If the Minister, having given his decision, having given the matter careful thought, were to have the power to rescind the decision, then clearly the Railways Board, who are the managers, would be in an impossible position because they would never know whether that decision was the end of the matter. Therefore I must say to the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, that I fear that must be the bold answer to the question that has been put to me by the noble Baroness.
My Lords, it is a question for the Railways Board to decide. As the noble 626 Baroness will know, local authorities may themselves, in consultation with the Railways Board, put forward proposals for the continuation of a line. But the responsibility now lies with the Railways Board, exercising their commercial judgment. This is what Parliament has laid upon the Railways Board in the most recent Act. That Act, if my memory is right, fulfilled all that noble Lords opposite have been saying for years: that we must allow the Railways Board to use their commercial judgment and give them the power to carry out their judgment.
My right honourable friend carried out all that was required of him in this matter. The T.U.C.Cs considered the matter; my right honourable friend had an inquiry with the Economic Council; he had further talks with the Border Consultative Group, and took note of their views; he consulted the Secretary of State for Scotland and other interested colleagues. I think that the Government must be given credit for the fact—and we were criticised for this—that we took over two years to consider all the points of view placed before us before we came to a decision.
The House will know that the recent Act empowers the Minister to make certain grants to keep lines in operation. It is for this reason that the Minister asked the Board to provide him with the estimates of the size of the grant which would be needed to retain the passenger service in its present form, and also the size of grant which would be needed to maintain a drastically reduced service between Edinburgh and Hawick, the section of the line most heavily used. These figures were supplied, in addition to the financial information which has normally been provided by the Board in closure cases to show the immediate short-term financial effect of discontinuing a passenger service.
The grant estimates, calculated on a basis described in Section 3 of the Report of the Joint Steering Group, which was annexed to the White Paper, Railway Policy, indicated that a grant of the order of £700,000 would be needed if the present service was to be retained, and a grant of the order of £400,000 for the continuation of the present service between Edinburgh and Hawick. This would be a subvention at the rate of 627 over Is. 4d. per passenger mile. Even if the Board were to provide the substantial sums to single the track, a radically modified service between Edinburgh and Hawick would still cost about £250,000 a year, or 11d. per passenger mile, as opposed to what the passenger pays—3d. a mile.
I think it was the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, who asked me what type of service would be provided.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
My Lords, while the noble Lord is looking for that information, may I ask him this, because I think it is important? The impression I have—and this may be quite wrong—is that what has been calculated as the cost per passenger mile is the cost per passenger mile on that section of the line. Of course, that is only part of the question. The question is: how much further revenue is generated because that line is open? It may well be that that is only a third or a quarter of the total amount of revenue that accrues to the railways through that line's being open.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for his intervention. It gave me a chance to find the note that I had. If I can, I will answer the noble Lord's point in the course of my speech. This is a very involved subject. There are figures, and I do not wish to mislead the House in regard to those figures.
I was asked what type of service would be provided if the grant was to be £250,000 for the year. It would he a basic service, a single track, and calling at four main intermediate stations only; namely, Galashiels, St. Boswells, Melrose and Hawick; four trains each way per day. That is the type of service that this £250,000 grant could provide. I must impress upon the House that these are necessarily approximate figures. For example, the suggested service between Edinburgh and Hawick does not exist, and any estimate of the costs and revenue must involve a substantial element of judgment. Regard will also have to be held to these very large figures, and, as I say, they are based on calculations. For example, the total track and signalling costs—I think I was asked for some detailed figures—for a 628 radically reduced service between Edinburgh and Hawick is estimated at about £160,000 to £220,000 per year. A lot has to do with terrain and the climate, the number of bridges, the cuttings and the embankments, et cetera. For that line the revenue would not exceed, or would not be expected to exceed, some £50,000; and this is the minimum estimate for movement costs. We also have to take into account, apart from movement costs, questions of administration, depreciation, and the like.
§ BARONESS ELLIOT OF HARWOOD
My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord just one question? I do not want to interrupt him, but the fact is that I have had all these figures from the Ministry; we have all had them. They are all based on the existing situation as it is to-day. What we are trying to show everybody is that there is a potential here of an enormous kind, beginning in the South with timber and ending in the fairly far distant North—that is to say, Galashiels—with new factories, and you are simply killing the thing now.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, I do not think that the noble Baroness and other noble Lords are being particularly fair. I know that they are in a wonderful position of chasing the hare because of their numbers.
So far I have dealt only with what are the costs of operation. I have given one figure of the estimated revenue. That is one estimate. But I am going to deal with some of the figures that the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, referred to, which I think will put a different picture to the rather rosy optimism that has been expressed on traffic development in this area. Perhaps I may give those figures; I think it may bring this debate to a degree of realism. If we take the daily service from Edinburgh to Hawick, Monday to Friday, the number of passengers who joined at Edinburgh in 1964 was 777 per day; in August, 1967, the number was down to 604. Arriving at Hawick—in other words doing the complete journey, or an appreciable part of the journey—formerly the figure was 461, and in 1967 it was down to 327. That is the service from Edinburgh to Hawick. If you were to look at any of these figures you would see a continual decrease, year by year.
629 However, perhaps the noble Baroness may Lind this of particular interest as to what we might call the regular users of the line, because in the end that is what a railway depends upon for its revenue. In 1955 the number of season tickets issued in these towns in the Border was 6,100. In 1965 the number of regular users had dropped to 2,600. In the case of Galashiels there were 18 season-ticket holders—this is, for each day—two to Hawick and 16 to Edinburgh. In Melrose there are 3 regular daily travellers to Edinburgh St. Boswells, 8 season-ticket holders, all to Edinburgh; Hawick, 12 daily travellers, 3 to St. Boswells, 3 to Edinburgh, and 6 to Galashiels. These are the regular passengers on these lines. When you look at these figures I do not think you can realty say that the Railways Board could have a great deal of optimism as to a developing passenger business on this line.
I think the noble Baroness should also take into account, if only to have regard to the change in travel, the number of motor cars now in this area. The figure I recently got of the number of registered cars in the Border area in 1955 was 8,700; in 1963 it was 16,000—in other words, double—and in 1965 the car registrations numbered 18,600. So it is quite clear that the people in the Borders have moved, and have deliberately moved, from the use of the railway service to other means of transport.
The question, surely, is this. For this relatively small number of people—I recognise, however, that they will face considerable hardship by this closure—would it be right for these large sums of money to be paid out annually, when one takes into account all the other things for which we need public finance? It is true—and I think I was asked this question about the freight side; and I will answer the noble Duke in regard to timber in a moment—that it is the intention to close the freight service shortly. Here again there will be a substantial saving on this track of some £350,000 a year. So the question is this. Should the Government find these sums of money for this purpose, or could this money not be better spent in other directions or for giving social grants for the maintenance of other tracks? I am advised that this particular line is the one on which there 630 is the highest loss per passenger mile in this country. We all know that there are many other lines which, if they were closed, would create social hardship, and that there is a limit to the amount of public money which can be provided for this purpose. Therefore, my right honourable friend has to decide for which of these lines the social grant has to he given.
I will not answer the question raised by the noble Duke with regard to forestry. We recognise that there is a growing industry there, and I am sure the noble Duke will agree that the national policy for the transport of freight is to encourage transport by rail of traffic now moving by road which can, without detriment to the consignor, be carried by rail and particularly by the new freight liner services. We argued (did we not?) when the Transport Bill was going through your Lordships' House, that we should put on to rail what is best carried by rail, and that we should carry by road what is best carried by road. I believe that the haul of timber in this particular area is of relatively short mileage. I stand to be corrected, but my understanding of the position is that one of the highest costs involved in the transport of timber is the handling and loading and off-loading, and I understand that it would he questionable whether consignors would wish to send their timber by rail when road transport is available. They may wish to send it by rail when the weather and the roads are not good, but if the noble Duke can correct me in that I shall be pleased for him to do so.
§ THE DUKE OF BUCCLEUCH AND QUEENSBERRY
My Lords, I think the noble Lord is quite correct, but I am looking to the future and not to the past. When account is taken of the work studies which have been carried out by the various bodies I believe it will be possible to find ways of sending timber more economically by rail. This traffic is expanding rapidly, and I ask for a further careful look into this matter by the Government and their advisers.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, I will certainly ask my right honourable friend to look at this point, but I hope I shall have the assurance of the noble Duke that if another Transport Bill is drafted by this Government and in it we want to 631 put timber on to the railways, he will support us in that endveavour.
§ THE DUKE OF BUCCLEUCH AND QUEENSBERRY
My Lords, I am not asking for any compulsion, but for the matter to be looked into again.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, I can see that the noble Duke does not wish to have compulsory powers to do it, but he is asking the Railways Board to keep open an expensive line in the hope that the consignors will think it right to change their method of transport.
The noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, spoke about the T.U.C.C.s and financial matters. The noble Lord knows as well as I do, because we have sparred across the Floor of the House at Question Time, that the T.U.C.C.s hold public hearings dealing only with hardship. Financial matters have never been the concern of the T.U.C.C.s. May I explain to the House—because there may be some who do not know quite so much about it as the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood—that the figures produced by the Railways Board are not just accepted as they stand they are closely examined by an economic department in the Ministry of Transport, and each figure is carefully examined as to its validity and accuracy.
In regard to the Economic Planning Councils, clearly the Minister does not have to agree with the recommendations of those Councils. He takes account of them, of course, but, as the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, will know, the reports of the Economic Planning Councils are confidential, and therefore I must not be led astray from this strict rule into answering the question raised by the noble Earl.
I have given the noble Earl the figures with regard to passengers, but he also asked me about the vehicles. Clearly this is a matter that will need to be looked into. I do not suppose we shall be able to have buses that will take prams, unless they are the type of prams that concertina. Certainly these buses will need to be vehicles which can take all the articles that the normal provincial country person might be expected to take with him. However, I will see that this point is raised. It may be that attachments such as one now sees on the buses running between London Airport and the Air Terminal could be provided.
632 The noble Earl also spoke about the railway formation, and about the fact that it would remain in being for at least two years (I believe) to begin with. This is to permit, should the Railways Board so decide, of a continuation or a bringing back of railway services. Therefore this is an opportunity for the local authorities and other interested organisations. If they think they can stimulate passenger transport, and the Railways Board are satisfied that this is a viable proposition, then the railway traffic will be in being.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
My Lords, before the noble Lord leaves that point, may I ask whether this period of two years is an absolute fixture, or could closure be deferred and a line be kept open for a little longer if the circumstances warranted it?
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, if my memory is right, in ordering closures the Minister can make conditions, and I presume that this is one of the conditions. As the House will know, in the case of buses the provision of adequate bus services as an alternative to the railways is an indefinite condition. Therefore I presume (though I will confirm this to the noble Lord) that the railway formation remaining could be for an indefinite period, although account would of course have to be taken of the cost of maintenance, and so on.
Returning to the question of roads, I agree it is important that we should see proper road development in this area, particularly into Edinburgh, taking into account increased road use. Of course, the Secretary of State has already announced that some £2 million will be spent in this particular area in the next few years. But, if my memory is right, the roads are not all that bad. I have travelled on many worse roads than those between Hawick and Edinburgh.
§ LORD SOMERS
My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Lord, I do not think he has referred to the roads which go over the high passes. These are often blocked by snow in the winter. Would the Government be prepared to build snowsheds over those, similar to the ones used to protect mountain railways in Switzerland, so that they would not become blocked?
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, I could not give the noble Lord that undertaking 633 to-night. I will take note of it and see that it is passed to my right honourable friend, although I suppose that the cheapest way would be to have heated surfaces on those particular roads.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ BARONESS ELLIOT OF HARWOOD
My Lords. I do not know whether the noble Lord has seen this quotation from the local Press, which says that the Scottish Bus Group—that is the group that is going to run the buses—now admits after a "dummy" run, that its buses between Carlisle, Newcastleton and Hawick are quite unable to run on the roads because the roads are quite unsuitable. This is a quotation from the local Press. The roads are guile inadequate. If the Government wish to spend millions on the roads. that is fine; let them go ahead. But I understand that the Government do not wish to spend capital on the roads. Without it, however, the roads are inadequate.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, the Government would infinitely prefer capital expenditure to deficit financing, and this is one of the reasons why my right honourable friend is taking the view that we should close this line and stop deficits arising from it, and should spend the sums available for capital development on the roads. This, I am sure, makes the greatest sense. If my memory is correct—perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn can confirm this—I believe this was the view of the Regional Development Council. At any rate, some organisation which considered the development came out firmly in support of the view that it would be far better to spend money on roads than on financing these deficits on the railways.
In answer to the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull with regard to yesterday's Times article, I understand that the Minister may be making a Statement in the next few clays about the services to which he intends to give grant aid and those which he does not regard as representing value for money. If such a Statement is made, clearly it should be made also in your Lordships' House.
634 I know that there were a great many other questions, particularly dealing with facts and figures. I am sure the House will understand that the answers are not easy to give across the Floor of the House. Perhaps noble Lords opposite would be more bemused by them than I would—or it may be the other way around. What I should like to do is to write to those noble Lords who have raised questions on facts and figures, to see whether I can give them some information; not a letter which, as the noble Baroness said, no one could really understand. I will see that I can understand the letter, and then perhaps the noble Baroness may also understand it.
My Lords, I hope I have been able to answer some of the questions. The direct answer to the noble Baroness's Question is that the Minister has no statutory power to intervene. Responsibility as laid down by the 1962 Act lies now with the Railways Board.
§ LORD FERRIER
My Lords, perhaps I may, with your Lordships' permission, put this further question to the noble Lord—and I have some sympathy with him in regard to interruptions. He gave some figures with regard to passengers on the Hawick line, for 1953, 1963 and so on. I do not suggest that he should reply now, but would he look further into the matter to see whether those figures are concerned with identical services; whether there was the same number of trains in those years, and whether the timing of the trains was the sort of timing that suits people? In our locality the train service collapsed because the trains ran al times which did not suit people.