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British Rail: Scottish Services

Volume 416: debated on Thursday 22 January 1981

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3.27 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will ensure that the main line railways to Dundee, Aberdeen and Inverness and on the West Coast to Oban and Mallaig will not be closed.

My Lords, I am not aware that the British Railways Board have any intention of proposing the closure of these lines. But if they do propose closure, and there are objections from users, then the final decision will rest with my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport. My right honourable friend has made it clear on many occasions that he is not prepared to see substantial cuts in the passenger railway network.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord very much for his reply, which has reassured me considerably. I tabled the Question because I saw an article in the Sunday Times about three weeks ago predicting that this might happen. As I think it would be absolutely disastrous for Scotland and for anybody who travels in Scotland, I was determined to put down the Question in order to make quite sure that the noble Earl was going to say what in fact he has said, and I am very pleased.

My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl whether we can take it from his reply that Her Majesty's Government realise that the closure of any one of these lines would do irreparable damage to the economy of Scotland as a whole?

My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord's remarks will be taken into account in any decision.

My Lords, while joining in the welcome for the reassuring nature of my noble friend's reply, may I question him in particular about the West Coast lines, which are my local lines? I should like to ask him whether he is aware that there has been considerable rumour and public speculation lately that the Oban line may be scheduled for closure, and even the Mallaig. Would he not agree that it is vital that an early decision should be reached by British Rail, and if the Government are to intervene, will he take that point on board?

Secondly, may I ask the noble Earl this question: if there is an approach from British Rail signalling that they wish to close this particular line, will Her Majesty's Government have particular regard to the inadequacy of the A.82 and the A.85 main roads to cope with the extra road traffic generated? Finally, if the closure is proposed, would my noble friend ensure that particular regard is had to the effect upon tourist revenue in the area, bearing in mind that British Rail's Golden Rail holidaymakers alone probably accounted for something like the occupation of 10,000 bed nights in the Oban area in 1980?

My Lords, I think I cannot but repeat the first sentence of my original Answer; that the Government are not aware that the British Railways Board have any intention of proposing the closure of these lines. I do not think I can be asked to comment further on a newspaper report. I should like just to say that in the excellent transport debate that we had in this House yesterday my noble friend Lord Bellwin said in the course of his speech that it is the Government's policy that a passenger network will, for the foreseeable future, remain broadly the same size as at present, with no substantial closures.