HL Deb 13 January 1976 vol 367 cc7-10

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the second Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper, and in doing so I must declare an interest in that I live on and use this particular line.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether the increasing importance of the East Coast rail link between Inverness, Inver- ness, Invergordon, Wick and Thurso is appreciated, having regard to North Sea oil developments, and whether an assurance can be given that the closure of this line by British Rail will not be sanctioned without Parliamentary approval.


My Lords, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment fully appreciates the relevance of North Sea oil developments to the future of the Scottish East Coast rail services. All proposals for closing railway lines are subject to the procedures laid down in the Transport Acts of 1962 and 1968.


My Lords, arising out of that reply, would the Minister take this opportunity of killing once and for all the legend published in so many papers and spoken about, that in a few years' time there will be no railways North of Edinburgh and Glasgow, including this particular line?

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord for giving me the opportunity to repeat in this House what was said in answer to a Question by my right honourable friend in another place on 16th December, when he described as "codswallop" the rumours that had been put about about massive cuts in the railway lines. I would say that this is a mass of unscientific fiction. Before anything is done a decision has to be made by Ministers. The transport policy review is currently under very urgent consideration, and we expect that the proposals will be put forward for consultation within a few weeks.


My Lords, following the noble Minister's answer about transport policy being under consideration, may I begin by declaring an interest which is that I am a Scotsman, and then may I ask whether, in the interests of promoting the unity of the United Kingdom, the Government will make sure that the maintenance costs of uneconomic lines in Scotland and elsewhere will be made public and understood so that those who advocate separatism will realise what an expensive capital undertaking they are buying?

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, all the points the noble Earl made will be taken into consideration. The consultations will go very wide and include a whole range of interests, not just road and rail but the whole spectrum of consumers, environment and industry.


My Lords, would my noble friend be a little more explicit when she says that the Government hope to make a statement within a few weeks. Is she aware of the alarm that has been created by the recurrent rumour that lines North of Edinburgh and Glasgow will be cut out, which just confirms action that was attempted in the Beeching/Marples day when the idea of cutting the railway lines down to 4,000 track miles was prominent? Is she aware that her right honourable friend's "codswallop" reply has not convinced anybody who is really interested and in the know in connection with actions that have taken place behind the scenes? Would she take this opportunity of warning her right honourable friend once more that there is serious alarm throughout the country as a whole about the proposals which are being talked about so very much in knowledgeable circles regarding the cutting back of rail facilities?

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, I am sure that my noble friend will not expect me to confirm what he himself called rumours, which is in fact what they are. I repeat again that they are a species of unscientific fiction. The situation is exactly as I have said. The Government are undertaking a transport policy review which will take into account not only the railways but road transport and all matters of transport. This is the point we have to understand and be quite firm about. This is a very wide review. It is a long and complicated proposition. I am sure that my noble friend appreciates that we are in a state of severe economic crisis and that it is not simply a question of road versusrail. What we are also trying to do as a Government, and as a Department, is to get the priorities right between transport, housing, jobs, social services, and all the other demands on the available resources. I can assure my noble friend that when the proposals are put out there will be the fullest and full-ranging consultations before any further document is issued.


My Lords, will the noble Baroness also bear in mind in regard to this review the line North and West from Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh on the West Coast? Its retention has made possible suitable transport for materials in bulk for the building now of the largest oil platform in the world at Kisshorn on Loch Carron, and other such work may continue.

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, certainly that will be taken into account. I am sure that the noble Lord knows that before any action can be taken in Scotland the Secretary of State for Scotland is also involved, and I am quite sure that he is aware of this.


My Lords, while thanking my noble friend for a constructive answer, and anent to that answer, may I ask whether my noble friend is aware that Kipling said that transport is civilisation? Is she aware that if they close down railways much more in Wales, we shall go completely wild? Would my noble friend also agree that the grim reality is that in this world, in which we are socialising losses and privatising profits, the co-ordination of transport is essential, and it needs looking into in depth, without silly questions about. "Why can't we make the railways pay"?

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, I am soglad to see my noble friend back and returned to health. All I can say is that I agree with what he says.