§ 2.41 p.m.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.
§ [The Question was as follows:
§ To ask Her Majesty's Government what reply has been made to the letter sent by the County Councils Association to the Minister of Transport on April 23, 1963, with reference to the Report The Reshaping of British Railways, in which the Association stated they were "gravely concerned about the Board's intention, expressed in the report and apparently supported by the Minister, to carry out proposals for line and station closures and withdrawals of services as quickly as the Statutory procedures permit", and asking the Minister to "give an assurance that he will not give his consent to any closure proposal until he has given due consideration not only to the representations of the appropriate Transport Users Consultative Committee, but to those other issues to which reference is made in this letter"; and what reply has been made to similar representations made by the Rural District 1032 Councils Association on April 18, the National Association of Parish Councils on May 22, and the All Wales National Conference on May 24.]
§ LORD CHESHAM
My Lords, the letters from the County Councils Association and the Rural District Councils Association to which the noble Lord refers were in response to my right honourable friend's invitation to submit comments on the Railways Board's proposals. They did not in general call for reply, other than by the assurances given in the debates at the end of April and the beginning of May. Account has been, and is being, taken of the Associations' comments, together with those of many other bodies, including the National Association of Parish Councils, in the Government's continuing consideration of the Railways' proposals. The noble Lord will no doubt have observed the Answer given by my right honourable friend to a Question on May 15 in which he stated that local authorities or other responsible bodies are free, once the Railways Board have given formal notice, to make representations about aspects of a closure proposal other than hardship. He added that he would himself consult them if he felt they could help over some aspect of a proposal before him. A reply on certain detailed points raised by the County Councils Association will be sent shortly.
Following the Third National Conference on May 24, the All Wales Committee and the Welsh Parliamentary Party asked the Prime Minister to receive a deputation to present in person the views expressed in resolutions passed by the Conference. The Prime Minister, together with my right honourable friends the Minister of Transport and the Minister of Housing and Local Government, will be seeing this deputation later this week.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, while thanking the noble Lord for what was, at least in part—the latter part—a very helpful and hopeful reply, may I remind him that the letter from the National Association of Parish Councils and from the All Wales Committee came after the Minister's assurance to which he referred? Can I also ask him whether he is aware, as the Question makes clear, that the County Councils Association, a most important body, specifically asked the Minister for an assurance on the 1033 points to which he has referred. The absence of a reply over a period of three months has added to their anxiety in this matter, particularly in view of the Press reports of a speedy axe campaign of railway closures. Will the noble Lord pay particular regard to that, and inform his right honourable friend that these bodies hope for and expect a reply from him?
§ LORD CHESHAM
My Lords, I should have thought, particularly in view of what the noble Lord says, that these letters came after the assurances had been given that I need go no further, because the assurances have been given many times in this House and elsewhere. The answer is then awaited after the original answer has been given. But I do not know quite whether I go all the way with the noble Lord in his claim that a letter in response to an invitation for comment requires further specific comment when the answer has already been given. It may be helpful to the noble Lord to know that, on this subject, with particular reference to the County Councils Association that he mentioned, I myself wrote to my noble friend Lord Gage very fully and he, with my full accord, passed the letter on to the County Councils Association. I have the letter here, and I can tell the noble Lord its date, which was May 7. So, with other correspondence in reply to that, I do not think the County Councils Association can have been under any misapprehension in the matter.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, with all respect, the County Councils Association, one of the most important local authority associations in this country, sent a letter to the Secretary of the Ministry of Transport; and however important the noble Lord's letter to his noble friend is, it cannot take the place of a reply from the Secretary to the Ministry, from the Minister himself. I would submit to the noble Lord that this is an extremely well-reasoned and vitally important letter to which it is necessary that the Minister of Transport should give a considered reply, which, subject to his approval and that of the County Councils Association, should then be published for the information of the whole country. I hope the noble Lord will make representations to that effect to his right honourable friend.
VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS
My Lords, before the noble Lord replies may I say that the letter from the Parish Councils Association was not written at the invitation of my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport, and was not one of the letters to which my noble friend Lord Chesham said that any answer had been given. To the best of my knowledge, no answer has been given. Would my noble friend see whether some answer could be written before the Summer Recess?
§ LORD CHESHAM
My Lords, I had not anticipated replying to the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, because I was unaware of what question he had asked. There was a question at the end of my noble friend's supplementary, and I had thought that in the acknowledgements of these letters—or so I am informed—the writers were told that the views expressed would be taken into account by the Government in the consideration they were giving to these proposals.
§ EARL ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, I do not want to press this particular matter, but I wonder whether the House would permit me to say that the Minister has a very difficult task in this House. Although he does not always satisfy us, he has great patience and courtesy, and while I hope he will be able to do something further for my noble friend we are grateful to him for both those things.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, I would support my noble Leader in thanking the noble Lord for his patience and courtesy. But this is a matter of national importance. It is an Association of very important local authorities which has written to his right honourable friend. I am asking only that they should receive a considered reply.