§ Mr. Raffan
asked the Secretary of State for Wales whether he has considered the responses he has received to the consultation paper, "Local Choice in Public Transport"; and if he will make a statement.
§ Mr. Nicholas Edwards
The consultation paper was issued to stimulate debate and discussion in the principality about local authority involvement in local rail services and the possibility of providing more effective support for important local rail services about which there was concern at the time. There was a very full response from local authorities in Wales as well as from organisations and individuals with an interest in public transport matters. The main suggestion put forward in the paper was that county councils might in future become more directly involved in financing certain local rail services. There was considerable support for the principle of local involvement, but the idea that county councils might in future take over responsibility for providing revenue support for services on a number of local lines was not generally welcomed.
A particular concern of respondents was that the practical difficulties arising from this transfer of responsibilities (difficulties to which the consultation paper itself drew attention) would outweigh the advantages. I have considered all the responses very carefully, including the report prepared by the committee on Welsh affairs. The conclusion I have reached is that, given the views expressed, the idea of making county councils responsible for providing revenue support for certain local rail services should not be pursued. The consultation focused attention on the importance that a wide cross section of people and organisations in Wales attach to the Welsh rail network.
Local authorities already have powers to provide financial and other assistance to British Rail in certain circumstances. I very much welcome the fact that there has been an increase in the scale and number of cases in which Welsh local authorities have co-operated with British Rail to provide improved services or facilities; and more initiatives of this nature are planned. As a result of the cooperative efforts of British Rail, local authorities, Government agencies and the Welsh Office services have been improved and costs reduced on the Shrewsbury to Aberystwyth, Cambrian coast and central Wales lines.
In the light of these developments and the comments I have received on the consultation paper I am satisfied that the development of an increased partnership between local authorities and British Rail using existing powers offers the best way of helping to secure the future of Welsh railways and of achieving the increased local involvement that so many people want. I shall therefore be writing to all local authorities in Wales reminding them of the powers that are available and urging them to consider how they 220W might make use of these in future. I am sure BR will welcome the opportunity to work more closely with Welsh authorities and to build on the successful joint initiatives that are already being taken.