§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Brigadier-General Clifton Brown
I beg to move, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question, to add the words, "upon this day six months."
My reason for moving this is the great concern that is felt by many people who are affected by the electrification of the live rail, which is inadequately protected. It will run through some of the most rural parts of England. A live rail in an urban district is very different from having it in an agricultural district, where it is much more difficult to prevent it being a danger to animal and human life.
437 There is no question of any illegality on the part of the railway company, but I see that no power is taken in the Bill to recognise the extra danger of the live rail rather than the overhead wire, which we all expected would be used. It is very natural that the people in these districts are very much concerned and are hardly comforted by the way they have been treated so far by the company. It seems to us that, if there is nothing in the Bill to ensure more adequate protection of the live rail, it is up to the Minister to frame regulations. I do not want to quarrel with my hon. Friend, who is a much greater agriculturist than I am, and who is a director of the Southern Railway Company, and I do not in the least want to exaggerate the danger, but my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. M. Beaumont) the other day asked a question and was informed that in 1934 five children were killed by live rails, in 1935, six, and last year 11 were killed and there were two other casualties. That shows a progressive rate of accidents and, as you electrify the live rail more and more over England, you will have that rate doubled, and so on, as you get on. The Electric Lighting Act, 1888, provides that, where an electric line is laid down, even on private land, in such a manner as not to be entirely enclosed, the Board of Trade may require that it shall be used only in accordance with such conditions and subject to such regulations for the protection of public safety as the board may require. We ask that some notice may be taken of that in the case of railway companies.
There have been protest meetings, as the result of which we have represented our case to the Chairman and General Manager of the railway company. They received us with great courtesy and gave us a glass of sherry, but the answer that they sent us, and the Chairman's speech at the meeting last week, mean that our complaints were not listened to. We were nicely answered, but nothing was done. The only excuse they make is to plead expense and their inability to do anything to make the line safe. I am a considerable shareholder, though I was too busy to attend the shareholders' meeting and voice my opinion, but I feel that, if they are going to make money out of electrification, they ought at least to consider the interest of the people through 438 whose property they run. We got no satisfaction out of the company, so we appeal to Caesar and here we are. Since our interview with the Chairman and Manager, the West Sussex County Council have passed a resolution to make representations to the Minister of Transport, drawing his attention to the danger to persons employed in agricultural work and to animals, and urging the Minister to hold an inquiry into alternative and safer methods of electrification, and to insist that all possible steps are taken to protect the live rail in such a way that people and animals will not be liable to come into contact with it. I am entitled to say, therefore, that this is causing a great deal of concern, and we appeal to the Minister to help us if the railway company will not meet us.
There are many little country stations —they might be called slum stations—which are not lit at night. I got out of a train a few months ago at a station where I had to change platforms and I had to cross the line. There was not a single light on the station and I had to get a porter to show me the way. The least that the Southern Railway can do is to build foot bridges over the line, as other companies do, but they say they will only do it in cases where there are a good many children. Farmers through whose property the line runs have been accustomed to drive their cattle across where there are gates. In some cases the electrification of the line has already provided an opportunity for removing public crossings and installing bridges. They say they are always prepared to examine the claims of farmers who want cattle crossings, but will they recognise that all the present cattle crossings should be made permanent? I am afraid we shall get no guarantee and, except where the company think it necessary, the crossings will be shut up. I see no reason why there should not be rabbit netting wire six feet high to stop children and animals and dogs or other things getting on the line and being electrocuted. The Post Office shows some signs of humanity in shooting districts by putting little blobs on their wires for the protection of birds. It is not too much to ask the Southern Railway Company to put up sheep or rabbit netting in the interests of safety. We private owners—and no one knows better than the hon. Baronet—have to fence our forest land plantations, and I 439 do not see why they should not fence their property in like manner.
These points ought to be inquired into, and the Minister should adopt the recommendation of the West Sussex County Council. When we asked the Southern Railway, we were told that we were too late, that these millions of pounds were being spent, and they could not afford to do this kind of work. Why should our country folk suffer because of the Southern Railway's lack of judgment? Two committees sat, one in 1928, and another in 1931, and we were told that they recommended that the overhead system should be used, and not live ground rails. The Southern Railway started with the overhead system. The London and North-Eastern Railway and the London Midland and Scottish Railway say that they are going to use the overhead system. That is another matter which the county council have rightly asked should be inquired into. It really is time that a further inquiry was held. If the Southern Railway cannot adopt both systems at least some protection should be provided against the dangerous lines.
I would draw the attention of the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence to the fact that the Southern Railway are electrified in one way, and that other lines are being electrified in other ways. You must have some steam trains, and I understand the Southern Railway are, on the advice of the War Office, having to keep a certain number of engines in order to draw those trains. We must have some system on the railways as part of defence in case of danger, so that trucks and everything else can be made interchangeable. The chairman of the Southern Railway, in the report which he sent to us and to all the shareholders, said thatThe company would always take ample care to protect proper access to the line, but the public on their part must realise that a railway line, with its vastly increasing service of trains and with the additional danger of the electric current "—They admit that—differs little in negotiability from a fast flowing river, and it should only be crossed where crossings are provided for the public.That is the very threatening answer which we received when we asked them if they could not meet us in some 440 way. I wonder what the public would say if the Minister of Transport issued the same sort of threat—[An HON. MEMBER: "He does"]—and said to pedestrians, "These are the crossings, and if you dc not use them, it is your own fault if you are killed." These are the fears of the country dwellers, many of whom live in cottages beside the lines, and they want protection from the dangers of these live rails. The amenities of the countryside will be very much worsened. I have talked about the amenities quite openly of hunting and shooting, but there are people like tradesmen who live upon the amenities and who may lose their trade if there is serious interference with those amenities. I hope that the Minister will take some notice of the resolution of the Sussex County Council asking for some sort of inquiry such as he has held before, to see whether some of these grievances cannot be easily adjusted and a great and powerful vested interest like the Southern Railway cannot protect the people they serve rather than their own shareholders.
§ 7.52 p.m.
§ Rear-Admiral Beamish
I beg to second the Amendment.
I desire to associate myself with the remarks of the hon. and gallant Member for Newbury (Brigadier-General Brown), but before I make my few remarks on the subject of the live rail and its dangers, I would like to pay a tribute to the Southern Railway for their enterprise and for the progress they have made. Although they stand out as a pattern, in many respects, as a progressive railway, there is no doubt that their methods are becoming more autocratic as time goes on. They are, in fact, using what I would call a giant's strength in the countryside. There has been a steady flow of Bills providing them with more and more power and monopoly during the last few years; there have been something like six or seven Bills in the last 10 years. I am informed that when the live rail question was originally discussed by committees in 1927 and in 1931, the rural interests, whether public authorities or private interests, were not consulted. I refer to the National Farmers' Union and organisations such as the Central Landowners' Association. The hon. Member who preceded me read an extract from the speech of the chairman of 441 the Southern Railway, and I refer particularly to what was said in that speech in regard to taking every and ample care to prevent improper access to its line. I think I can show that the company neither take "every" nor "ample care to keep animals and human beings away.
A considerable number of accidents have happened, and by comparison with the roads, the accidents on the railways are very minor affairs. It is entirely a false analogy for the chairman of the Southern Railway to speak of the vast flowing, unfordable rivers, except in particular spots, and comparing those with an electrified line. Anybody can tell if there is a river there. They can hear it, and they can see it. If one looks at a bare steel rail, one cannot tell that there is death in it, except by touching it. It appears the same to everybody. Why should we, except from the point of view of economy, which I believe is one of the guiding interests, and, in many instances, a very proper one, have a dangerous system in this country when all over the Continent the overhead system is used. I believe I am right in saying that there is hardly a live rail system anywhere on the Continent. The chairman of the company went on to speak of the accidents attributable to shock as having been confined to a few people who had climbed over fences for some purpose of their own. I do not care how long the world continues, but you will never prevent children from trespassing, and it is not fair to describe children as climbing over railway fences as though they knew all about it and understood the danger. It is not so. He went on to say:A certain number of stray dogs and cats have been electrocuted.There are thousands of people living literally within a few yards of the line, and is it fair, when somebody's dog or cat, perhaps let out for a moment or two, wanders on to the line, that all the comfort they should get is to be told that they should keep their animals in? Why should animals such as foxes and badgers and otters die by this live rail or be terribly burned or injured? The animals do not know the crossings as we do, and even at crossings human beings are likely to make mistakes. Parents whom I know who live near are definitely frightened 442 regarding their children. I know farmers who have kept dogs but have now given up doing so because they could not prevent them from being electrocuted. It has been said—not in this House—that when the line was first electrified there were few protests. That is not true. There were a great many protests, and I believe that, if there had been more cooperation, more might have been done. It is now too late to enter a protest. The statement of the Southern Railway, which I have here and which has been sent to every Member of Parliament, says that the company is bound to fence the railway to prevent trespass and cattle from straying, and that on the electrified lines special fencing, with additional wires, is provided, and that in places where trespassing by children has actually occurred unclimbable fencing is even provided. To-day I travelled to Lewes, which is my constituency, and back again. I had not often looked at the railway fences, but I did so to-day, and I maintain that they are entirely inadequate to prevent human beings from climbing, and they certainly are not high enough to prevent an ordinary active animal from trespassing on the line, and certainly not sufficient to prevent any boy from doing so. In some cases the fences are actually broken away. I passed a place this afternoon—I noticed it on the way down, and again on the way up—where a flock of sheep could walk through the fence on to the line.
§ Rear-Admiral Beamish
It was at Ditchling Common. I want to make one protest about fencing. It ought to be put up before the live rail is put down. On the way to Lewes and Eastbourne there are three or four different kinds of fencing, and in time I believe that it will be improved. I want to raise another point which is of extreme importance to me from the standpoint of being the Member of Parliament for Lewes and district, and in doing so I must refer to several Clauses in the Bill. There are the Clauses, "Power to acquire lands," "Period of compulsory purchase of lands," "Stopping up roads and footpaths without providing substitute, "and" Stopping up footpaths in case of diversion." There are other Clauses to which I could refer.
443 My point is that owing to the autocratic and monopolistic methods of the Southern Railway—naturally I suppose their tendency is to look after their shareholders—they have done a good many things which have caused intense dissatisfaction. To remain within order I would point out that the Sections to which I have referred will or could quite easily produce similar circumstances elsewhere. Therefore, what I am going to say is intended as a warning to other people who may be concerned in the future. The monopolising of road transport does not come in directly, but it does indirectly, and I should like to refer to the question of road transport and the prevention of access to the sea and harbours. There is very real dissatisfaction in one seaport in my constituency which suffers in that respect. As far as I have been able to understand from the correspondence, the railway company scorn utterly all local interests, and have done little or nothing about this dissatisfaction. Their correspondence may be described as evasive and unaccommodating.
We have two ports served by the Southern Railway, and in the Bill another port is to be served. What is happening at the present time is that the port of Newhaven is suffering from serious unemployment, and would suffer even more were it not for a good deal of building that is going on at the present time. No road transport is allowed to approach the river and to load up from the steamers that come in. The result is trade of the port has fallen off tremendously. What they are allowed to do is to go and get whatever cargo there is that has been discharged, but they have to take it from the rail. The cargo is transferred from the steamers to the railway and is carried somewhere about half a mile to a station in the town, where the local road transport may take it away. Hon. Members will readily understand that the net result of this arrangement is that the cost at Newhaven is practically double the cost at Shoreham, only 10 miles away. I have the figures to prove that.
§ Earl Winterton
That is a very interesting point because Shoreham is in my constituency. At Shoreham they refuse to give any facilities for unloading a ship and the result is that the whole of the 444 goods so unloaded are conveyed by road transport.
§ Rear-Admiral Beamish
That is an extremely interesting point and one which could be easily adjusted by a little generosity on the part of the Southern Railway. I have here the discharge rates. At the present time the local authority at the Port of Newhaven, in consequence of the great cost locally, have, in the interests of the ratepayers, to import their material from the Port of Shoreham. The costs at Newhaven are double because of the failure of the railway company to allow access to the steamers by the road transport. In saying that, I am not prepared to say positively that it is all the fault of the Southern Railway, but I do say that no matter how many times they are approached they never send a useful or helpful sort of answer and never have a real investigation in order to try and help. I am delighted at the electrification progress, but I do think that there has been a little too much of the autocratic methods adopted by the board of the Southern Railway, and I would ask them to do their utmost to look into this question and give us some sort of guarantee not only that the question of the live rail will be considered, but also the public and private interests in the country which they serve.
§ 8.5 p.m.
§ Colonel Sir George Courthope
It falls to my lot to answer the criticisms which have been made against the Southern Railway system of electrification or the extension of electrification, by my hon. and gallant Friends. Before I go into the general subject of electrification and its dangers, and the exaggeration which has taken place in the public mind as to those dangers, I should like to answer two or three specific points raised by my hon. and gallant Friends. In the first place, I should like to reassure my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Newbury (Brigadier-General Brown) about the level crossings which scare him so much. There is not a single level crossing over a live rail.
§ Sir G. Courthope
You do not have to cross the live rail. The live rail is interrupted and does not cross it. It stops at 445 least nine feet from the side of the crossing and the current is taken in an insulated cable underneath the road. There is no live rail across any crossing. As far as the question of Faygate Station is concerned, I have looked at the plans for station improvements and I see that in the original plan there is to be an iron footbridge at that particular station.
§ Sir G. Courthope
If my hon. and gallant Friend had asked he could have been informed. I hope that I have made it clear that there is no danger whatever at a level crossing, because there is no level crossing with a live rail.
Can any provision be made to safeguard the driving of cattle across these accommodation crossings? Very often water and meadows are on one side and the cattle have to be driven across twice a day over the railway. If the hon. and gallant Member has ever driven cattle across a crossing, he knows that they do not always go straight but are apt to stray. If it were a question of an ordinary rail it would not matter, but there is danger that they will go on to the live rail.
§ Sir G. Courthope
Where it is intimated to the railway company that cattle have to be driven across a crossing, cattle grids are installed, which we have found completely successful. They are put on both sides of the crossing. I have a plan which the noble Lord may see if he likes. As far as I can ascertain, there is no case of a farm animal bolting up the line over one of these cattle grids. I do not say that they are safeguards for cats and possibly dogs, for I think they can cross them, but farm animals cannot.
One further point was raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Newbury, on which he was mistaken. There is not the slightest intention to remove all the steam locomotives from the Southern Railway. If the electric system is out of action owing to a war or anything of that kind, the steam locomotives will be there but, of course, not in such numbers as in the past. The lines will be available for steam locomotives over the whole system. The hon. and gallant Member also gave an analogy which was not applicable. He referred to a quotation 446 from the speech of the Chairman of the Southern Railway to shareholders at the recent general meeting and made an analogy between danger to pedestrians on the roads and danger on the railways. I would point out that the pedestrian has a right to be on the road but he has no right, without trespass, to be on a railway, except at the crossings. Therefore, there was no analogy. With regard to the speech of the Seconder of the Amendment, I should like to thank him for the pats of butter he handed out, but later he showed a different spirit by using a certain phrase about autocratic methods and death on the rail. I much regret that he should have lent himself to this exaggeration of words as applied to the third-rail system, which is approved by the Standardisation of Electrification Order, 1932. With regard to his specific complaint about Newhaven, I should like to remind him that if it was not for the Southern Railway and its very large expenditure, both capital and current, there, there would be no port facilities at Newhaven. His constituents at Newhaven ought to be extremely grateful to the Southern Railway that there is so much employment and that employment has not fallen off more.
§ Rear-Admiral Beamish
I would point out to my hon. and gallant Friend that the River Ouse was not made by the Southern Railway.
§ Sir G. Courthope
And I would point out to my hon. and gallant Friend that the Port of Newhaven was constructed by the Southern Railway. The extension of electrification into rural districts, which is the cause of the main complaint made against us, is not being carried out under the Bill now before the House, but under powers already granted. The present Bill has no material bearing upon that question. Beyond taking powers to acquire small sites for transforming stations and things of that kind, the Bill is not essential to that particular work and does not seek powers for extending it. As the main burden of the complaint has been that there is danger to farm animals, to landowners and to hunting, it is rather a comic point that I am a landowner, a farmer and a hunting man, and that one of the projected extensions of the Southern Railway, which will be carried out in the next two years, intersects my estate, divides my largest farm in half, and goes 447 through the country of a hunt upon whose committee I serve. I do not want to talk about myself, but I say that deliberately for the reason that if the fears which actuate my hon. and gallant Friends were well founded, I should share them. I should have every personal reason for opposing electrification through my district and across my property, but it is because I know those fears to be unfounded that I welcome that extension.
Let me deal with the general position. The third rail system, the conductor-rail system of electrification, is standardised to this extent, that the order which provides for standardisation lays it down that contact shall be on the top, and it also indicates the exact position of the conductor rail in relation to the running rail. The suggestion has been made that the public would be safer if the Southern Railway adopted other systems of live rail electrification. They cannot be considered because they would be outside our powers; they would be breaches of the standardisation order. It has been suggested that there should be a top cover to the conductor rail such as is found, I believe, on the New York Central Railway. That would not only be a breach of the order but is physically impossible, even if the Minister were to modify the order, because it would require a very much greater loading gauge than the rolling stock of the country has, and if rolling stock with a greater clearance was built it would mean that all the bridges and tunnels would be put out of action. We have to adapt the system of electrification to the conditions which exist on the railways, and to the rolling stock which runs over them.
Let me come to the question whether there is any justification for the fears which have been expressed. I have referred to one sentence used by the hon. and gallant Admiral. I will mention just one more which has appeared in the public Press and is typical of the inadequate knowledge which induces many people to write on the subject of the live rail and the dangers which may attach to it:The live rail on the Southern Railway system kills horribly on touch, and is unprotected.That is only one of many similar statements which have appeared in the public Press. I am not going to attempt an 448 answer from my own experience—I am only an amateur with no technical knowledge whatever—or from statements of high skilled electrical engineers who serve us on the railways, I propose to give an answer from an independent source. I have in my hand a paper which was read some years ago on the subject of electric shocks to the Institution of Electrical Engineers by Mr. A. P. Trotter, who was then chief electrical adviser to the Board of Trade. This paper was read in 1902 in the early days of the live rail, and it was his duty to inspect those railways which employed the live rail system:Irresponsible correspondents have suggested in the newspapers that to fall on the electric rails of the Central London Railway is to be grilled alive; they knew no better. But when during the inspection of the last extension of the City and South London Railway I stood on the rails in wetted boots and sat on the live conductor and slapped the running rails with my bare hands, engineers, electricians, railway employés, and others who ought to know better, were surprised and spoiled the effect of my demonstration by suggesting that I was peculiarly insusceptible to shocks.He gives other examples:To sit on the live rail without touching the running rails was easy, and I cautiously flicked the running rail and then touched it and then laid my hands fiat on it without the slightest sensation. While experience has shown that a person so falling may receive a serious and even fatal shock, this can only occur if he makes contact with both a live rail and a running rail with bare skin or thoroughly wetted clothes, and if he lie there for a time. As to the length of this time we know nothing, but so long as the fall has not injured the person so that he cannot rise it is very improbable that the shock would be maintained. A platelayer in the open yard of the Waterloo and City Railway once accidentally sat on the third rail and made the circuit through his feet on wet ground. He shouted and was pulled off by his mates; the contraction of his muscles prevented him from rising. He could probably have rolled over and so released himself. He was back at work again in a few minutes.There are a number of instances of that kind, and he sums up his conclusions at the end of his paper with this statement:With sound dry boots hardly anybody can feel a shock when standing on the live rail of an electric railway with one foot and on a running rail with the other. With damp or wet boots a shock is felt but neither the sensation nor the degree of wetness of the boots can be measured accurately. It is not possible to receive a shock by sitting or lying on a live rail so long as the clothes are dry and continuous, that is to say so long as the live metal is not touched by the bare skin.449 I only attach importance to these statements because they are those of an independent electrical engineer of great distinction, and they show that although there is undoubtedly a small element of danger in the live rail system it is very much exaggerated.
§ Sir John Mellor
Will the hon. and gallant Member say what is the distance between the live rail and the running rail?
§ Sir G. Courthope
It is laid down in the order, and my recollection is that it is one foot four and a half inches. Let me deal with the point regarding farm animals. Of course a number of farm animals are caught by trains at level crossings and killed by impact, but as far as I can ascertain, and I have taken some trouble to ensure that I have got all the information available, I find that during three years six horses or ponies, two bullocks and one pig are the total number of farm animals electrocuted on the 600 miles of live rail on the Southern system. Not one of these escaped on to the line by a level crossing, they were all cases of animals which were being entrained at the loading clocks, which escaped and bolted on to the open lines, and they were but a very small part of the total number of animals which did in fact bolt. A far larger number of the animals were not electrocuted but were killed by the trains. I am satisfied that there is no danger either to man or beast at our level crossings, and we endeavour—I believe successfully—to make it impossible for farm animals to leave the crossings.
It has been suggested that we ought to fence the whole of the line in such a way as to make it impossible for children to reach it. I wish it were possible to do that, but it is not. It must be remembered that in the length of the railway line there are innumerable sidings coming in from factories, warehouses, goods yards and so on, and there is a large number of crossings which cannot be shut off from the rest of the line. In other words, there are innumerable places from which a child wishing to do so could get access to the open line, even though the fencing were put up. At some time all of us have been boys. Can any hon. Member suggest a fence that we could not have got over if we had wanted to do so? It is idle to suggest that any 450 useful purpose would be served by endeavouring to make it impossible for children to reach the line when we know the determination and ingenuity of young people and when it is impossible to close all the sidings and crossings which would give them access to the line.
It has also been suggested that we might be able to fence the line so that small wild animals could not reach it. As far as we know, those small wild animals reach the line by going up the pipes which carry away the water, and we could not fence them. It is not a matter of fencing, and I think it would be vain to attempt to prevent children and small wild animals from reaching the line. Moreover, experience suggests that in the districts where the line has been electrified, the wild animals are learning the danger. We all know how animals, both wild and domestic, have gradually learned the danger of motor cars on the road. Those who were driving cars 30 or 35 years ago, as I was, remember the constant stupidity of chickens. We rarely went out without running over one.
§ Sir G. Courthope
No, it was a question of their learning road sense, and they learned it. Experience suggests that the wild animals are also learning rail sense, and learning to avoid the places where they get a shock from the live rail. It is certain that very large numbers of them must touch the rail and get something of a shock without suffering the death penalty for so doing. No one wishes to kill wild animals. I am greatly distressed when I hear of an otter or a badger being killed, but we can devise no means of making it impossible—
§ Sir G. Courthope
Not many foxes are killed. Presumably the foxes go over the live rail, whereas the badgers and otters creep under it. One is glad to think that they appear to be learning that the live rail is dangerous, and are avoiding it. The Noble Lord asked why, on the Southern Railway, we adopted the third-rail system instead of the overhead system. Before the formation of the Railway, two of its component parts had electrified suburban lengths of line. The London Brighton and South Coast Rail- 451 way was using the overhead system and the London and South Western Railway was using the third-rail system. Consequently, there were opportunities of judging the usefulness, dangers and practicability of both in competition, and it was as a result of that experience that the third-rail system was adopted. The principal reason is that the third-rail system is adapted to the multiple unit system, which enables the maximum service to be given in rush hours to congested districts, whereas the overhead system is more adapted to use by an electrical locomotive which cannot give the same rapid service in a congested district.
§ Earl Winterton
Why is it that the London Midland and Scottish Railway and the London and North Eastern Railway have adopted this system? Have they not adopted it in densely populated areas?
§ Sir G. Courthope
I cannot tell the Noble Lord, but I can tell him that the experience on the component parts of the Southern Railway was that it was impossible to run as many trains with the overhead system as it was with the multiple unit system. There is no doubt in our minds that, for the dense suburban traffic, the third-rail system is the better in every way. There is another point I would like to make with regard to the dangers. We employ many thousands of platelayers, permanent-way men and others whose daily work is in these electrified districts. We have not had a fatal accident from the live rail—[An HON. MEMBER: "They are supplied with rubber gloves."] Yes, but our experience is that the majority fear the live rail so little that the gloves are not worn.
§ Sir G. Courthope
The permanent-way men do not. There were several fatal accidents within a comparatively short distance of overhead line on the London Brighton and South Coast Railway during the few years that that system was in use. The overhead line requires a very much higher voltage—1,500 is the one laid' down—than that which is necessary in the third conductor line, which averages approximately 600, although we are entitled by the Order to go up to a maximum of 750. If contact is estab- 452 lished with the overhead line there is much graver risk than there is with the live rail. I hope I have said enough to satisfy the House, first, that the danger of the third-rail system has been much exaggerated; second, that it has been constructed and is operated strictly in accordance with the statutory orders; third, that all and more than all the safeguards required by law for the protection of man and beast have been provided; and, fourth, that the danger to persons and to farm animals has not been increased by electrification. In the districts where there has been electrification, increased fencing has been provided which makes access by trespassers and animals more difficult. There is, in addition, the fact that the electric train can be pulled up with much greater rapidity than the steam train. A certain proportion of accidents is avoided by that means. The advantages of these two factors, in our experience, more than compensate for any additional danger which there may be in the third-rail system.
§ Rear-Admiral Beamish
Can my hon. and gallant Friend see his way to bring to the notice of the hoard of directors of the Southern Railway the suggestion that, in all fairness to the port of Newhaven, road transport should be allowed to deal with goods coming into that port? At present it is not allowed.
§ 8.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Montague
I do not know that Members on this side of the House are much concerned about the quarrel between the Southern Railway Company and the Kent and Surrey sportsmen. We have heard little about the deal motives behind the Opposition to this Bill, but there seems to be no doubt Mat the concern of those who have so successfully opposed this Bill up to the present and are still opposing it, is more of a sporting character than anything else. Certain figures have been given about the effects of the live rail on human life during a number of years. I think the figures of five fatalities and six fatalities, respectively, in two different years have been mentioned.
§ Mr. Montague
Hon. Members have not told us the extent of live rail covered by the figures or the circumstances accompanying those fatalities, and even the higher figure just mentioned by the hon. and gallant Member is nothing like the number of fatalities which occur upon any one road out of London with motor traffic. When it is argued that people are entitled to the use of the road but not to walk on the railway, that surely is a stronger reason for questioning the enthusiasm of hon. Members opposite about these fatalities, when we do not find the same enthusiasm on the question of safegarding the rights of pedestrians, including women and children, upon our roads. However, I am not so much concerned about that for the moment. I agree with the second part of the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes (Rear-Admiral Beamish) in which he referred to Clauses 13 to 15. I am sorry the last speaker in his defence of the Southern Railway did not deal with the point which was raised in connection with those Clauses. May I remind the House that Clause 15 provides:Where this Act authorises the stopping up of a road or footpath or portion thereof without providing a substitute, such stopping up shall not take place except where the same is situate upon property of the company without the consent of the owners, lessees and occupiers of the houses and land abutting on both sides thereof.The Clause goes on to deal with the question of compensation. That seems a rather dangerous power to give to the Southern Railway Company. It is a point which ought to be watched because there are other interests besides those of the owners, lessees and occupiers of the property abutting on these portions of land. But I think those are Committee points rather than points which affect the general issues covered by the Bill. If the Bill receives a Second Reading and is sent to a Committee, I am sure that my hon. Friends on that Committee will watch carefully what powers are conferred upon the company in that respect. I have not consulted all my hon. Friends on this side about this Bill. It is a Private Bill, and there may be differences of opinion upon it even among my hon. Friends. But I, personally, hope that the opposition to it will not culminate in the defeat of the Measure. This question of the live rail is a comparatively small matter, compared with some of the other 454 questions covered by the Bill. On the question of danger to life we must remember that the Bill abolishes a large number of level crossings and substitutes footbridges, and I imagine that there we have, at least, the prospect of something in the nature of a quid pro quo for the other provisions mentioned. These are matters for earnest consideration by the Committee but are no justification for voting against the Bill.
There is one point of serious importance which arises on Clause 31. That Clause enables the Southern Railway to carry out a project in connection with the extension of the Imperial Airways terminus on the Buckingham Palace Road site of Victoria Station. The intention is to provide facilities for air passengers making use of the railway system, particularly in connection with new developments in regard to Southampton and the Atlantic route. We have our own point of view about Imperial Airways, but whatever we may think about how civil aviation ought to be organised and conducted, the fact remains that that company is more than a private company. It is subsidised, it is supposed to represent an important public service, and there is Government representation on its board. It seems to me that this Bill ought to go to Committee in order that the question of the facilities required by new developments in civil aviation services from London should be considered.
I am not sure whether I have been correctly informed but I understand that there is an objection to cutting the blank wall in Buckingham Palace Road opposite the coaching station, a proposal which is dealt with in this Clause. It refers to a small portion of that not particularly aesthetic wall but the Duke of Westminster, I am told, is opposed to the project and insists upon the Southern Railway providing a quid pro quo, if he agrees with this proposal—apart altogether from this legislation being carried—by erecting an entirely unremunerative garage for public vehicles, taxi-cabs and so forth, at a very great cost. To this the Southern Railway, so I am told, are not prepared to agree, for the one reason more than another that it would not be used on the part of the taxicab drivers and that there is ample accommodation for them at present in reference to the necessities of the passenger service.
§ Earl Winterton
As I am a resident in the neighbourhood, may I say that this is a very old standing dispute, and I am not sure that the hon. Members opposite were not on our side in that matter when they were located in Eccleston Square. It is a dispute, not on the part of the Duke of Westminster, but of residents in the neighbourhood about the disposal of the taxicabs, which, it is contended, are a great nuisance to the inhabitants of Eccleston Square and neighbouring areas, not through any fault of the drivers themselves, but because of the railway company refusing to make accommodation for them on their premises. That is the essence of the dispute.
§ Mr. Montague
I will not argue the matter with the Noble Lord, because, after all, it is quite a minor point. It is a difficulty that ought to be overcome, but I am told, from the taxi drivers themselves, that they would not think of using a garage in that connection. They want to be in the station and alongside the trains. Anyhow, whether that is so or not, it seems to me that points of that kind, where these vested interests come in—whether the Labour party in Eccles-ton Square were on the side of these vested interests or not, I do not know—I think that fact ought not to be camouflaged in this House. If there is any virtue in the points that have been raised, there ought to be opportunity to discuss the question in Committee and to come to an agreement. For these reasons, and particularly in view of the real importance of the new developments in the airways system, I hope that a Division will not be pressed and that the House will let this Bill go to Committee, where these points can be adequately, and, I hope, temperately and fairly dealt with.
§ 8.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Boyce
The speeches to which we have listened from the hon. and gallant Members for Newbury (Brigadier-General Brown) and Lewes (Rear-Admiral Beamish), in moving and seconding the rejection of the Bill, had a ring about them that was very familiar in this House a hundred years ago. The same exaggerated fears and arguments as were advanced against the live rail to-day were then advanced against the steam system, on behalf of the landowners, the huntsmen, and the farmers, in opposition to Bills to authorise the construction of our 456 earliest railways. When the Great Western Railway Bills of 1834 and 1835 were before this House, they were vigorously opposed by the Provost and Headmaster of Eton on the ground that they were dangerous to the scholars and would corrupt the morals and discipline of the school. Several masters gave evidence that that famous school would be ruined owing to the proximity of the railway, and they succeeded through their evidence in having a branch extension to Windsor struck out of the Bill; and it was not authorised until many years later. Subsequently, in a more enlightened age, we find that Eton College on several occasions actually engaged special trains over that system to send their children home for their holidays. I suggest, without wishing to be at all offensive, that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Newbury, who was a distinguished member of that historic institution, represents the attitude of mind of the Eton of 1835 and that the hon. and gallant Member for Rye (Sir G. Courthope), who was also a distinguished member of that school, represents the later and more enlightened attitude of mind which resulted in the running of those special trains. On the other hand, we find that the same fears that were expressed to-clay were firmly rejected from the outset by Harrow, which is so brilliantly represented in this House in the person of the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery). If the opposition that we have heard to-day had prevailed a century ago, the railways which are the product of British genius, enterprise, and perseverance would not have originated in this country. It is because we in this country are the pioneers of the railways that we have been called upon to build and equip railways all over the world, and wherever we have done so British trade has immediately taken root and begun to flourish.
Does the hon. Member realise that it is on account of this opposition to railways in the past from landowners and farmers that the railways in this country are the best provided with bridges and crossings in the world, with the result that they have an exceptionally fine permanent way and can maintain higher average speeds?
§ Mr. Boyce
No, Sir, but I did not know whether you were familiar with the locality of Kemble Tunnel. Unfortunately it was not this country which was the pioneer of electric traction as it was of steam traction. The application of electric transmission of power to the railways was first demonstrated by Dr. Siemens in the Berlin Exposition of 1879, and after that, as hon. Members know, electrification was rapidly developed in America, and the first electric railway worked in this country was, I think, the City and South London Railway, as lately as 1890. But—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
This Bill is solely concerned with the Southern Railway, and we must not wander over the railway systems of the country.
§ Mr. Boyce
I was making the point, but did not get there quickly enough, that while we cannot claim to have been the pioneers of electric traction, the Southern Railway Company, who are the promoters of this Bill, by their progressive policy have given us the largest, the safest, and the most successful electrified suburban system in the world to-day.
As a result of investigations carried out by the Kennedy Committee in 1921, the Pringle Committee in 1927, and the Ministry of Transport Order of 1932, and as we have been told by the hon. and gallant Member for Rye, only two systems of electrification were legally open to the Southern Railway. They tried both systems. As a result of practical experience they decided, in 1930, to abandon the overhead system on the London, Brighton, and South Coast Section and to adopt the third rail system, which had been in operation over other sections of their system since 1915. I suggest to the House that it is reasonable for us to assume that those who are responsible for the direction and management of the Southern Railway know best which of these two systems suits their requirements.
458 The hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague) mentioned that the advent of the live rail in country districts was supposed to interfere with fox hunting and that he, like many others in this House, suspected that that fact carried a good deal of weight with those who were objecting to this Bill. If a fox which was hard pressed by hounds managed to get itself electrocuted, I suggest that it would be lucky rather than otherwise. There have been over 1,000 railways worked in this country as a result of Bills passed in this House, and during the past century the foxhunters have been very busy indeed. If you consult the old sporting books which were published at the time when the railways themselves were first being constructed, you will find there an almost universal prediction that foxhunting would cease finally and irrevocably in those areas in which railways were allowed to run. The expectation of traffic density at that time was infinitesimal as compared with the facts to-day, and yet we find that there is more foxhunting to-day in those very areas where the trains run than there has ever been before. Fears were expressed and opposition raised on behalf of the foxhunting community when the third rail system was being authorised by Parliament more than zo years ago, but experience shows that the danger to foxhunting was no greater under a system of electric traction than it was under a system of steam traction. By law the Southern Railway Company and all the railway companies are obliged to fence their track with an eight-strand fence. The Southern Railway, in fact, within the electrified area uses 10 strands, and if a particular hunt wish to have another type of fence, they can build one at their own expense, as has been done in certain cases.
Because adults trespass upon a railway and receive electric shocks that is not, I suggest, a valid argument that can possibly be used against the railway company. It was interesting to hear from the hon. and gallant Member for Newbury that he had such a hair raising experience after a glass of sherry on a dark and stormy night when he arrived at Faygate and had great difficulty in crossing the line without being electrocuted. It transpires that to this day the electric line does not run through that station at all.
The sherry was provided by the Chairman of the Southern Railway at our interview. The dark and stormy night was another time, and I did not say that the line was electrified. I spoke of the difficulties of getting across the line even when it was not electrified, and of how much more dangerous it would be if it were.
§ Mr. Boyce
I must congratulate the hon. and gallant Gentleman on having so successfully crossed the line without being electrocuted when there was no contactor rail for miles around. The case of children, especially those of tender years, is an entirely different matter, and we take a different view of them in the House from the view we take of adults who wilfully trespass on the railway and get an electric shock. Much has been done and is being done by the Southern Railway in excess of the requirements of the Minister of Transport in order to protect straying children of tender years. On both sides of the House there are several Members who are specially interested in this problem in their capacity of members of county and other councils, and who will agree that the Southern Railway Company has shown a readiness to take reasonable steps whenever representations have been made to them in order to avoid dangers of this sort to small children. A railway track which everyone knows to be electrified is a much safer place than any public road, than any canal, than the cliffs at Dover or anywhere else. I suggest that the railways, which are rendering a great service to the community, are entitled to be treated reasonably when they bring forward a Bill of this kind.
The question of the amenities of the countryside is perhaps relevant to this question. By merely adding a third rail you cannot possibly alter the appearance of a railway. If, on the other hand, the overhead system is adopted, it is a worse eyesore than the pylons which are erected by the Electricity Commission and which have caused so much adverse comment. Moreover, the danger to aviation, especially in times of fog, of having hundreds of miles of trip wire above the ground is far greater than anything that can result from having the third rail. If we reject this Bill we will not only be taking a reactionary and retrograde step, but we will reject a Measure the 460 main purpose of which is to render greater facilities to the public which are urgently wanted and which comply in every respect with the procedure and regulations which this House itself has laid down.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Earl Winterton
My hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Boyce) is well known to be an enthusiastic supporter of the railways. So enthusiastic is he that at two railway company annual meetings recently he got up and paid profuse compliments to the management and directors. We are, therefore, interested to hear his views on the railway question this evening.
§ Earl Winterton
I do not say whether they were justified or not. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman is entitled to put his point of view, but he is not an unbiased party in the matter. He is entitled to put the point of view of the railway stockholder, and those of us who are not railway stockholders, but who are concerned with the interests of the public, and, as in my case, with the views of the local authorities, are entitled to put our view; and I deprecate suggestions that there has been any exaggeration on either side. I rather take the view of the hon. Gentleman on the Front Bench opposite, with whom I do not often find myself in agreement, that this Bill ought to go to a Committee. I think, however, that meanwhile on the Second Reading stage, we who represent the districts through which the railway passes—in my case the only member representing a county which has actually passed a resolution protesting against the Bill—are entitled to make our voices heard. I rather regret the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Rye (Sir G. Courthope), who adopted an almost truculent attitude, and, in the most condemnatory manner, accused my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Newbury (Brigadier-General Brown) and those who oppose the Bill of having been guilty of gross exaggeration. The day may come when he may find the support of hon. Members on this side of the House quite useful, for there are, I understand, members of the House who would like to see the railways taken away from the present owners.
§ Earl Winterton
I will not pursue that subject now, for I would be out of order. I have received a letter officially from the County Council of West Sussex asking me to bring before the House a resolution that they have passed on this subject. It is as follows:That representation be made to the Minister of Transport drawing his attention to the danger to persons employed in agricultural work, to farm stock and other animals likely to arise from the proposed extension of the electrification of the Southern Railway in West Sussex and urging that in approving the electrification the Minister will hold an inquiry into alternative safer methods of electrification; and that if the live-rail system is employed the Minister will insist that all possible steps are taken to protect the live rail in such a way that persons and animals will not be liable to come in contact with it particularly in the neighbourhood of occupation and other level crossings provided for the use of farmers and others whose properties are severed by the present railway line.I understand that that resolution was passed by a very large majority and was based upon resolutions sent to the county council by the local branches of the National Farmers' Union and of the Central Landowners' Association.
I suggest that the question resolves itself into this: The Southern Railway are committed to this particular system of electrification. I was not much impressed by the arguments of my hon. and gallant Friend or with the arguments of the chairman and manager of the railway, which they used when we went to them on a deputation, that it is the best system. It is a curious and interesting fact that other railways are not using that system; they are using the overhead system. We do recognise, however, that, for good or evil, the Southern Railway are committed to this system, and no one suggests that they should abandon it. I, at any rate, do not, and my constituents do not. What we ask is that reasonable precautions should be taken to see that the live rail is safe. The question resolves inself into two parts. Is it possible to board the line? We are told it would cost ego per double track mile.
§ Earl Winterton
The information given to us was that & is the figure. I took a note of it at the time. I regret that my hon. and gallant Friend did not deal with it in his speech, because that is one of the points on which we want informa- 462 tion. Is it or is it not possible to protect the live rail by boarding? We were told by the company that objection was taken to that method by the railway employés, whose interests should be a first consideration from the point of view of safety, but the information which has reached my hon. and gallant Friend and me in private conversations with railway employes is that they would regard it as a source of protection to themselves if the live rail could be boarded. That is the first point we would like to have answered.
If it is not possible to board the live rail we come to the question of providing effective protection for children and wild and tame animals. The railway company has admitted that there is danger by erecting special fences at certain places near schools. It does not seem to be a matter of very great importance whether one child or a dozen children are killed by electrification, it is equally bad. Nor can I follow the argument of the hon. Gentleman opposite when he said, as I understood him, "What is the use of worrying about a few deaths on the railway when you have all these deaths on the roads?"
§ Mr. Montague
That was not my point. My point was that there is an explanation of the sudden enthusiasm for human safety on the part of certain Members of this House when it is a question of fox-hunting and not a question of motoring.
§ Earl Winterton
I should be out of order if I pursued that point, but I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, who is a fair debater, will accept my assurance when I tell him that I would have infinitely more stringent rules for the roads than we have at present. But because there is an appalling toll of deaths on the road—a death roll which ought to be a matter of shame to every Member of this House—is that any reason for making the railways less safe? I cannot see any sense in that argument. Some of the railways say, "Look how few people are killed on our railways compared with the large number who are killed on the roads." But what on earth has that to do with it? Unquestionably some people have been killed by this live rail system, and the question is: Is it or is it not possible—I would put that suggestion through you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to the Committee which will eventually consider the Bill—to abate that danger? We 463 suggest that it is possible to do it by the use of fencing.
An hon. Member referred to foxhunting and other field sports. That consideration does come into the question; it would be disingenuous to deny it, but the opposition of my farmer constituents has nothing to do with foxhunting. Many of them are not even foxhunters, and some of them may be opposed to fox-hunting. In my constituency there are a number of small farmers who are—I hope I shall not get into trouble with my constituents for using the phrase—what I may call peasant farmers, employing their own families to work their farms with, at the most, one labourer. Some of these farms are bisected by the railway, having two fields on one side of the line and two on the other, and those people are really frightened that their stock will be injured unless the railway company will take effective means of fencing the line. Every individual has to fence his property. It is the common law. Every agricultural Member knows that a man is supposed to protect his land with fences, and that should be done by the railway company.
Even if it were solely a question of field sports I would not hesitate, because I have always tried to be frank with this House, to press for fencing. We are not here discussing the value or otherwise of field sports, but as long as they go on, and they have gone on for hundreds of years, there is no reason why innocent animals like hounds or retrievers should be subject to death by electrocution. It is not only a question of sporting dogs. An enormous number of cats are killed in the London area. Some hon. Members appear to regard that as humorous, but I am not sure that the owners of those cats would take the same view. Judging by the number of letters we have had lately on other aspects of cruelty to animals the public feel very strongly on the subject. The railway company have put out a memorandum—incidentally, I do not think it was particularly well-worded or impressive—in which they have suggested that the only damage caused by the third rail has been to a few cats in the London area. I understand that a large number have been killed, and certainly a number of dogs have been killed.
There is one other aspect of the case which ought to appeal to the House. 464 There is no question that without effective protection much wild life is destroyed by this third rail. I am not referring to game animals like foxes or pheasants, but to animals like badgers, with which no one but ruthless people would interfere, because they are an interesting survival, and a number of birds, including some rare birds. It is interesting to note that in an area of Sussex where, as far as I know, the badgers are quite undisturbed, no fewer than 22 badgers were killed on the railway within six months. My hon. and gallant Friend says they will soon learn by expuience not to get killed. In other words, the Southern Railway want to run this third rail system through a purely rural district and say, "Well, if we do kill a few animals at first, they will soon learn not to be killed; they will learn not to go near the Southern Railway." All that those who are opposing this Bill in the interests of the countryside ask is, that reasonable precautions should be taken to see that the third rail does as little damage as possible. There ought to be more effective protection at certain spots. We wish all accommodation crossings to be maintained, because real hardship is done to a small farmer if his accommodation crossing is taken away. The ideal which we should like to see would be a form of fencing which would make it difficult, if not impossible, for young children, would-be suicides, any human being who wants to stray on the railway for any reason, or wild animals, to get on to the line. We ask all these things, and if we do not go to a Division we hope that will not mean that the Committee will not take them into consideration.
§ 9.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Walkden
We on this side of the House would not wish to support a railway Bill if there were any evidence of real injustice, carelessness, culpable negligence or anything else that was reprehensible in the action of the railway company promoting the Measure, but so far, I suggest, no such evidence has come before the House. The petition against the Bill from a local authority, to which the Noble Lord referred, can surely be dealt with in the normal course if and when the Bill goes to Committee upstairs. I have risen to suggest that we ought to do nothing to prevent the Bill from going forward. We here are as much interested in the wild life of our 465 own country as hon. Members opposite, though we do not hunt wild creatures, and feel that the greatest suffering can be caused to an animal by hunting it. For animals to fight one another does not cause them as much suffering as hunting. I know nothing more horrible than the cry of a hare which is being hunted by hounds. But it is a little unfortunate that hunting considerations have intruded themselves into this Debate when we have just been considering the fate of hundreds of thousands of our fellow creatures who are unemployed and suffering acutely.
To come back to the Bill, I have heard nothing in the statements about it so far which could not properly be dealt with in Committee or, if they are out of order in Committee, which would not be dealt with the Company's directors and managers if they were approached. As one having to deal with railway companies on questions affecting railway labour, I have pleasure in saying that the Southern Railway Company are certainly not the least reasonable of the railway companies. They are always ready to receive us and we always get a very fair hearing. Everybody's case is met. My hon. Friends on these benches know how true that statement is. I am not saying that the other railways have not the same disposition to-day. They have changed very much from the nineteenth century attitude of mind described by an hon. Gentleman who spoke from below the Gangway opposite. I am confident that anything which has been complained of can be dealt with in the proper way.
The large consideration which the House should keep in mind is that electrical transport can be carried through much more rapidly and safely, because of the quicker pull-up which was so ably described by the hon. and gallant Gentleman who represents the railway companies. You can get pretty well three trains running with electricity as against two with steam. There is the tremendous public advantage that the people in the South of England can be transported much more rapidly by rail than by road. I use Waterloo Station every day, and I shudder to think what would be the state of the roads if only one-tenth of the passengers who now use that station had to go by road. The Southern Railway are performing a great public service in 466 accelerating their transport and enabling the enormous numbers of people who travel between the Metropolis and the South Coast to do so quickly by train in-8 stead of by road. That is the overwhelming consideration which we should take into account, and we should give to this railway company, in their enterprise in electrifying their railway, every encouragement to go ahead.
§ 9.17 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Captain Austin Hudson)
I am not going to intervene in this Debate for any length of time. Hon. Members have, I think quite rightly, taken the opportunity offered by the Bill to debate the subject of railway electrification. I welcome the Debate, and so do other hon. Members, as helping to clear away certain misconceptions and bringing to the notice of the railway companies the fears which are held by certain Members of this House. I need not remind hon. Members, because that has been done by the hon. and gallant Member for Rye (Sir G. Courthope) that the Bill does not deal with the powers to electrify the lines in West Sussex. Those powers are conferred by previous Acts. Such matters of electrification as are dealt with in the Bill are to implement an agreement come to with the Treasury in 1935, and scheduled in the Southern Railway Act of last year, those agreements being part of the big scheme of railway work which was sanctioned by this House in 1935. I hope, as hon. Members on all sides and taking every view have said, that after the Debate is concluded the Bill may be allowed to proceed to Committee.
As regards the controversy about the live-rail system, this, as the hon. and gallant Member for Rye has said, is one of the two systems of railway electrification approved by the Minister of Transport under the Railways (Standardisation of Electrification) Order, 1932, and has been adopted by the Southern Railway in regard to suburban lines and extensions of those lines where certain technical and traffic considerations exist, and the Minister has not thought it necessary to take objection to this system on the grounds of safety. It must not be assumed that this system would be regarded by the Minister as the most suitable or economical for new or further extensions of electrification, where different technical and traffic considerations exist 467 For instance, I would remind the House that the overhead system is now being adopted by the two northern companies —for example, the electrification of the Liverpool Street-Shenfield and the Sheffield-Manchester lines. Very careful attention has been given by my Department to this question of safety, and it is on the aspect of safety that practically all the Debate has taken place. Certain obligations are laid down as regards fencing under Section 68 of the Railway Clauses (Consolidation) Act, 1845. In practice, the railways go further than their obligations. The hon. and gallant Member for Rye gave certain illustrations of what they are trying to do.
I can say that special attention is paid both by the railways and by the inspecting officers of my Department to places where trespass may be expected. Our inspectors are continually examining this aspect of the matter and trying to see that as few accidents as possible take place. Special precautions which my Department consider adequate are also taken at all the level crossings—and by level crossing I mean the public level crossing, the occupational crossing, the footpath crossing and stations—so that wherever persons and animals are allowed on the line the line is fully protected. There again, our inspecting officers do their best to see that proper protection is afforded. On any railway, whether it is electrified or not, there must be some element of danger, in spite of the precautions which are taken, if people make their way on to portions of the line where they have no right to be.
The total number of fatalities due to contact with the live rail on the Southern Railway, during the five years 1932–36, was 21, of which 19 were trespassers. I would say in conclusion that we shall consider very carefully the suggestions which have been made to-night and the resolution to which the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) and the hon. and gallant Member for Newbury (Brigadier-General Clifton Brown) referred, in order to see whether any further safeguards are both necessary and practical.
§ 9.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Amery
After listening to this Debate, I rather wonder whether we might not be guilty of gross irrelevancy, 468 when I remind the House that the primary object of the Measure before us is not electrification but the no less vital matter of aviation. The Bill aims at improving matters in aviation. It makes provision for adequate headquarters of that great national institution, Imperial Airways. The hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague) pointed out that whatever criticism some Members of the House may wish to direct at this or that feature of Imperial Airways, as a national institution, it is important that it should be as efficient as possible. The other provision of the Bill is to afford railways access to an aerodrome which we believe to be the most valuable aerodrome in the neighbourhood of London and, more particularly, the safest aerodrome, lying as it does outside the fog area. When we are discussing the question of safety we should remember that the passing of this Measure and the opening up of that aerodrome may help to avoid a good many of the accidents which arise in aviation. Incidentally, too, that aerodrome may be of considerable national importance.
§ Mr. Amery
Lullingstone. The hon. and gallant Member for Lewes (Rear-Admiral Beamish), after a little preliminary praise, made a general attack on the Southern Railway for its autocratic behaviour and instanced that in the last few years it had introduced six or seven Bills. Those Bills made provision for Southampton Docks, the construction of a train ferry, the building of an extra tunnel for safety at Dover, and things of that kind None of those matters is evidence of an autocratic tendency. Those Bills, like the present, contained a number of Clauses with regard to sites which are common form. To come to the main case of the argument against the electrified system of the Southern Railway, I cannot help feeling that the main weight of the attack comes not from those who have had experience of electrification but from those who fear the unknown dangers which electrification may bring.
The hon. and gallant Member for Newbury (Brigadier-General Brown) gave what I suggest was rather a typical illustration of these fears. He described the perils in pre-electricity days of crossing on a dark and windy night the level crossing at his station and indicated how 469 much greater these dangers might be when electricity came. He was evidently under the impression that the live rail would go through the level crossing. My hon. Friend the Member for Rye (Sir G. Courthope) has pointed out that at every level crossing the live rail is discontinued for some distance on each side and that the electricity is carried underneath the level crossing in a cable, and that for the risks which the hon. and gallant Member for Newbury outlined to be real the hon. Member would have to get down on his knees, tear up the heavy creosoted beams, dig down to the cables, strip the cables of their insulation and, making sure that his hands were wet, and that his boots also were wet, would have to press his hands against the electric wires. The risk is of an infinitesimal character. But it does illustrate that in these cases 'there is a very human tendency to exaggerate the dangers of any new system. In our own lifetime the most extravagant fears were expressed of the disaster which would follow if motor vehicles were allowed to move at a speed of more than four miles an hour without a man with a red flag proceeding in front of them.
§ Mr. Amery
That also is very desirable. The danger to adults of electrification is infinitesimal unless they are deliberately aiming at suicide. The danger to cattle also is infinitesimal. In six years six horses, two bullocks and one pig have been killed, not one of these as a result of straying on to a level crossing, but in loading or unloading from a train. The real danger is the danger to children who cannot read notices and make deliberate attempts to get over fences. I have looked at some of these cases where children have been killed, and the astonishing thing is the effort they have made in order to get on to the line. They have climbed six-feet fences. Two children have helped a third child of four over a five-feet fence. It is difficult to remove completely the element of danger to children, but I am certain that where it can the company will do its utmost to 470 remove such dangers. I do not think that the danger will go on increasing, but that children will learn that a railway is a dangerous thing. Even as wild animals have learned something, so accidents to children will be reduced.
The Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) admitted that it would be difficult for the Southern Railway to change the system which it has adopted. It is perfectly true that other companies have adopted another system, but when that system was adopted the Southern Railway had experience of both systems. It came to the conclusion from the experience it had that the third rail, enabling trains to be run on the multiple system, with power in each coach, gave much greater flexibility and much greater power in handling the unprecedented problem of suburban traffic in London, and any contribution in handling that problem by reducing pressure on the roads is a real contribution to the safety of the public. From the point of view of actual safety it is worth while remembering that the third rail is conducted on a comparatively low voltage, 660 volts, which is fatal only in particular circumstances. The overhead wire is conducted at the much more dangerous voltage of 1,500, and when by any chance, as in a snowstorm, a break occurs and the wire is down, the real danger is much greater. As a matter of fact, the fatal casualties on the overhead section of the Southern Railway before it was changed—I do not say that this is conclusive—were actually greater than the fatal casualties on the other section.
§ Earl Winterton
There is considerable fear in some parts that with the new system, if we get a heavy snowstorm the railway will be put out of action for a considerable time. I understand that that is not likely to happen where there is an overhead wire.
§ Mr. Amery
I was just coming to that point. Experience on the Continent and elsewhere has been, that the danger to overhead wires from snowstorms is considerable. There are other objections. There is the objection of the effect on the amenities of the countryside. There is the possibility of risk to aeroplanes, as well as the greater vulnerability of an overhead system to damage in war-time from projectiles and so on. My Noble Friend really admitted that it was im- 471 possible to ask the railway company, which has established with so much enterprise and at such vast cost its existing system, radically to change that system, but he asked for specific safeguards, and in particular he mentioned the safeguard of boarding the live rail, as is done at certain small sections immediately next to level crossings.
The expense of that, I understand, is something in the nature of £430 per mile for each track, and not £90, as my Noble Friend mentioned. At the same time the main objection is not on the ground of expense, but because, first of all, it adds greatly to the difficulties of the work of platelaying and inspection; and, further, there is always some danger of paper and straw and other things getting under the boards and increasing the risk of fire from sparks; while, lastly, there is the point that my Noble Friend has just raised. One of the strongest objections to boarding is the danger, in case of a heavy snowstorm, of snow packing between the board and the rail and putting the line out of action. Otherwise, snow by itself is not a very serious difficulty in the way of the use of the third rail. These objections have been felt by the Southern Railway Company, after careful examination, to be really conclusive.
It comes down to the fact that adequate and reasonable precautions should be taken wherever possible in order to avoid the risk of danger. Some element of danger, as the Minister has pointed out, must inevitably exist. The company have already done a great deal more than they are legally obliged to do in order to mitigate that danger, but they are ready to go further, and, wherever representations are made in a specific locality to the effect that danger exists, to look into the question and make an attempt to meet it. I do not think it is possible to go further than that and suggest a wholesale rearrangement or reconstruction of a great railway system, not on the ground of proved heavy losses, but mainly on the strength of fears which, I believe, experience will show are not realised. For these reasons I trust that a Measure so important in itself will be allowed to secure a Second Reading, so that any points that may be presented by the Measure itself can be dealt with in Committee.
§ 9.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede
I regret very much that the right hon. Gentleman did not find time in the course of his speech to reply to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague), who raised one point which is causing very grave concern to those of us who have to do with the administration of rural highways in the neighbourhood of this railway. He has pointed out that for quite legitimate reasons, owing to the nature of the area served by the railway, and, may I also say, very largely through the enterprise of the railway company, the company have come to this House several times in recent years with Bills providing for the diversion or stopping up of footpaths. It is very desirable that as far as possible these footpaths should be continued along the existing line, and the railway company themselves have done a great deal, by their series of Sunday rambles, to persuade the people of London and its suburbs to use those footpaths. There are in the present Bill two instances of the kind alluded to by my hon. Friend, where, in or the case a bridle path, and in the other case a footpath, will, to my certain knowledge, be completely spoiled by the proposals in the Bill. One of these is near Godalming Station. I sometimes take lunch at the Winterton Arms at Chiddingfold—
§ Mr. Ede
I have never sampled the beer yet, but the port and lemon is excellent. I then proceed by footpath to Godalming Station—a very beautiful walk. There is a proposal in Clause Do that:The Company may stop up and discontinue the bridle way and road crossing the Portsmouth direct railway on the level at the southern end of Godalming station and may substitute therefor a bridle way and road on the Western side of that railway extending from Westbrook Road to a point in New Way 290 yards south-west of Westbrook Road.I want to point out to the right hon. Gentleman what that means to people who, like myself, use these bridle-paths for the purpose of walking. We can get down into Godalming town, on such a journey as I have mentioned, direct across the railway at this point, but the effect of the diversion will be that we shall have 473 to travel along the side of the railway for 290 yards, cross over it, and then come back another 290 yards to reach a point which is now only the width of the railway away; and may I say that 580 yards of the Southern Railway near Godalming Station is a very poor termination to an enjoyable ramble? I can only hope that in cases like that the right hon. Gentleman will realise that the pedestrian public, who have been brought to the district, in most cases, by his own railway, have some right to consideration when these diversions are proposed. There is a similar one in connection with another footpath in the parish of Rusper in the rural district of Horsham, where it is proposed to divert the footpath so as to carry it away from the point where it now crosses the railway to an accommodation level crossing. This may quite possibly lead to the stopping up and failure to use one end or the other of the existing footpath, to the great detriment, I believe, of the comfort of people who desire to keep as far away as they can on Sundays and during the week-ends from the great roads on which motors are to be found.
§ Earl Winterton
The local ramblers' society, of which I am chairman, have protested very strongly against this particular diversion, and I am in communication with the railway company on the subject.
§ Mr. Ede
When the right hon. Gentleman takes from i,000 to 1,200 people into this district on a Sunday, it must be assumed that he does not do it at a loss, and it is surely in his own interest to see that these footpaths are preserved, when necessity requires them to be dealt with, so that the people's access to the countryside shall not be seriously disturbed. During recent years there have been several of these cases, and I hope that the railway company, when they promote other Bills, will see that as far as possible the line of the footpath is preserved—that it is carried if possible across the railway on some light bridge that will be no eye- 474 sore, but will enable people who want to follow the existing line of the path to do so. I am sure that in that way they will be serving their own interests as well as ours. I could have wished that the Surrey County Council had been as successful as apparently the West Sussex County Council have been in persuading the railway company to give us stronger fences when they bring their electrification to the side of a school playground. I think that when they do that they should take such steps as will prevent small children attending the infants' department of the school from crawling through these wire strands. I am sure it would not be a very expensive matter for it to be done. There may not have been many accidents but, with the number of accidents on the road and the fear of electrification on the railway, a good many mothers are seriously concerned about their children all the time they are absent from home. If some rabbit wire of fairly wide mesh could be placed along the fence very small children, who cannot be expected always to realise the danger, and who will try to get through to get a flower or something that they see on the bank, would be protected.
I join in what has been said by several Members in regard to the enterprise of the railway company and their magnificent achievement in re-arranging the entrance and exit from Waterloo Station, whereby the suburban traffic to the South West of London has been improved by their new electrification. I hope that, as they carry it through, they will realise that, if their power is that of a giant, they will occasionally persuade us that even modern giants, which have neither a body to be kicked nor a soul to be saved, can exercise their powers kindly.
§ 9.46 p.m.
As a very young Member, I rise with considerable diffidence, knowing that I shall be accused by some of my hon. Friends on this side of the House of being an Etonian of 1836, and I have to confess to hon. Members opposite that I am a fox hunter. At the same time, I am very fond of animals, wild and tame, and it is largely on their account that I am speaking. I am not opposing the Bill but I should like to express my deep hope that some of the suggestions that have been made for strengthening the fences alongside the 475 electrified line will be carried out, and not only along the line described in the Bill but also on that part of it that was electrified previously. I can quite see that a change in the system of transmission would not be possible or economic to-day, but I feel that something should be done in the matter of fencing. I live 2½ miles from the main London-Brighton line, which has been electrified for a good many years. During the last two years I have had the misfortune to be concerned in accidents in which four hounds and one other dog have been killed and a number of others injured. I am not going to suggest that those accidents are comparable with the human tragedies that we have been told of, but, all the same, they are very painful. It is quite wrong, too, to say that death caused in this way is instantaneous. In many cases it is not. I also noticed, when I was helping to pull some of these animals off the line, that the platelayers were extremely careful, and made me very careful, in touching them. They certainly appreciated that there was some danger there.
In the summer of 1936 a branch line which goes within half a mile of my house and crosses my property was also electrified. This gave me a good deal of anxiety. I realised that, when a line which has not had a great deal of traffic on it is electrified, it takes some time for humans and animals to appreciate the danger. I realised that children would have to be watched because, apart from schools, there are isolated farms and cottages, the farmers' dogs would have to be kept tied up, hunting would be curtailed, sporting dogs kept on the lead, and practically every badger and otter would be killed. We once actually picked up seven badgers in a distance of about two miles. I therefore approached the railway company and asked if I might put up some extra fencing which would keep larger animals and small children off the line. I was met with the utmost courtesy and every facility was given me to put the wire up. It is about five feet high, turned outwards at the top, so that any animal that jumps against it is thrown back, and it is turned up a little at the bottom, too. It extends for about one and three-quarter miles on either side of the line and the cost was not excessive—I believe under £350. I, of course, used local materials and employed my 476 own workmen as far as possible, and the railway fence formed the basis and is an integral part of it. I am not prepared to say that it is perfect—in many ways it is a makeshift—but it is about as much as a private individual can do, and it has achieved its main purpose. The live rail is no longer a threat to hounds, small children and other wild animals.
There is practically no fence that a good boy cannot get over and I feel that, before any permanent fence was made, it would be quite a good thing to consult authorities from Whipsnade or the Zoological Gardens, who are used to fencing in practically every sort of animal. One could get some good ideas from them as to methods of fencing, not very expensive, which could be put all along the line and which would keep children and grown-up people and animals off entirely. There are difficulties about sidings, but there are many miles in rural areas where there are no sidings, and access for platelayers and gangers could be provided by padlocked gates put into the fence. It would cost a certain amount of money but I imagine that the people who use the Southern Railway are mostly season ticket holders who go to London every day on business. I believe that, in order to preserve their amenities, they would be prepared to spend a fraction more on their season tickets if they knew that safety would be ensured to their neighbours both human and animal.
I, and I expect most other Members, have received a good many letters in the last week or two about the Export of Horses Bill which comes on on Friday. That seems to indicate clearly the state of the public conscience in regard to animals being maltreated. It supports, too, what I say, that people would be prepared to spend perhaps a very small fraction more on their tickets to get safety for them. In conclusion may I say this: We in the South of England appreciate what the Southern Railway has done for us. We realise that we owe them a great debt. Is it too much to ask one more favour, that they will give us the most complete protection possible for man and beast from the electric line?
§ 9.55 p.m.
§ Lord Apsley
There are three matters, two of which have not been raised at all and one which has been touched upon by my right hon. Friend the Member for 477 Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery), to which I want to refer. The question of the actual wisdom, from the railway companies' point of view, of electrifying railways in rural districts has not been mentioned in any way. In the normal case this would be for the directors and shareholders to settle among themselves, but in this particular case the Southern Railway is spending money on electrification of rural areas which has been loane4 .10 it by Parliament. If it had not that money loaned by Parliament, it is extremely doubtful whether the Southern Railway would have thought of these various extensions. Therefore, it is right that Parliament should go into this question since these are public moneys loaned by the tax payer. Other railways are spending money received from Parliament upon improving the rolling stock, permanent way, and improving stations and on ordinary maintenance, which they would not have been able to do otherwise, but the Southern Railway has decided to commit itself to this adventure of electrifying rural lines. It is arguable that in an outer belt of a suburban area, which is likely to be built over, electrification can be justified, though even this is a "forward" or speculative policy; but when it comes to electrifying rural lines—and it is well known that there must be a certain density of population present before the capital expenditure for electrifying railways can be met out of future profits—it is extremely doubtful whether the Southern Railway should not take a more cautious view of the case before proceeding with the matter.
I confess, like most other hon. Members, that I was not very much impressed by the arguments brought forward by hon. Members who represent the Southern Railway in this Debate. First of all they tried to make out that there was not very much danger, and that you could sit on a rail and it was very doubtful whether you got a shock at all. I do not think that hon. Members themselves would like to try it. I should hesitate very much before I would ask them to give us a demonstration. The figures go to prove that that cannot be the case. The figures of five children in 1934, six in 1935, and II in 1936 are not very large, it is true, yet they are frightening figures. If only one child were killed it is a matter that Parliament should consider.
478 There is another question which has not been dealt with at all. When a live rail on an electric line runs through rural districts it means that none of the farmers adjacent to the railway can run either pigs, poultry or ducks in any of the fields adjoining the railway. It means that all idea of this branch of farming must be definitely abandoned over a very large area, just because an electric railway happens to run through it. Of course their must be safeguards. I would ask my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Rye (Sir G. Courthope) to put it before his Board that they must take precautions, and I suggest that if they cannot, as in America, safeguard the live rail or, as in the North of England, adopt the overhead line, they should consider the question of fencing. It is easy to obtain fencing which no child can get over at all. Near my home the Great Western Railway have several very dangerous cuttings between tunnels which are death traps to children or animals. They have put up ordinary wire fencing reinforced with rabbit wire and the top hooped outwards so that no animal can possibly get over, I suggest that the advice of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for East Grinstead (Lieut.-Colonel Clarke) should be taken to consult the Country Gentleman's Association or, as he suggested, Whipsnade on the cheapest form of fencing which would make the line completely safe for the rural population.
Turning now to a matter mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook—and he was the only Member who spoke of it—that Clause 31 is adapted for the production of a new aerodrome for London, let me say I am very glad to hear that the Southern Railway are taking this step. At last it appears that we shall have an aerodrome which can be reached from the heart of London in a very short time by rail. That is the only possible way by which an air line to London can prosper. Every year the streets of London become more congested, every year traffic conditions become worse, and the railways are the only way by which you can get into the heart of London from an aerodrome. I hope that there will be a 20-minute or even faster service from central London to the aerodrome. I hope that the railway company will make that aerodrome free to all users including operators providing they 479 do not compete, and I also hope that private owners are given facilities at the cheapest possible cost and that they will not be driven away by high charges and red tape, as has been the case at Croydon.
Lastly, let me mention another example of lack of co-operation. When the railway companies entered the aviation industry existing operators were very glad to see them come in. They saw the advantage of big concerns coming in with plenty of capital behind them, but when railway air services started operating, the existing operators found to their dismay that they were very severely handicapped by one unfortunate coincidence. The booking agents are used considerably by railway companies, and the railway services immediately made an application to the booking agencies that they must not book for any operating line except those run by the railways or by Imperial Airways. This has had the effect that no other companies except those particular groups can use the booking agencies in any way. Any individual wanting to travel from any air port in England to the Continent or to use an internal service in England, by any company other than Railway Air Services or Imperial Airways is unable to get any information from any booking office in the country. He has no means of knowing what the services are. I hope that in the interest of aviation this matter may be dealt with in a friendly way. All companies, where they do not actually compete on the same line, which would be foolishness, should be offered full facilities through the recognised booking offices, so that there should not be that attempt by one group to eliminate information about others.
§ Question, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time, and referred to the Examiners of Petitions for Private Bills.