HC Deb 23 February 1954 vol 524 cc282-330

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

7.1 p.m.

Mr. Ernest Davies (Enfield, East)

On a point of order. I do not know if you could give us a little guidance about how the debate should be conducted, Mr. Speaker. There are on the Order Paper a number of Motions about instructing the Committee. I understand that they must be moved before a certain hour so that they can be discussed. I do not know whether the House would agree that the Second Reading debate should end in time for those Instructions to be moved. Perhaps you could give guidance about the best way to conduct the debate.

Mr. Speaker

In response to the hon. Member's request, I would say a few words about the scope of the Bill in relation to the relevance of debate upon it. It is a general powers Bill which contains provisions relating to the railways and canals. It is true that there are two small references to the London Transport Executive. One of the Works—Work No. 5—is a tunnel at the Monument for the underground railway, and there is a mention in Clause 16 of the acquisition of land for a bus site at Hatfield; but I do not think that either of those two matters would support debate upon the general question of the London Transport Executive. They are minor matters.

The Bill does not deal with freights and passenger fares, with hotels or with the Commission's road service undertakings. The Ruling I give on the scope of the Bill is that it would be in order to have a general fairly wide discussion on the administration of the railways and the inland waterways. Also, of course, any specific provisions in the Bill may be discussed on Second Reading.

About the Instructions which have been put down, I should make two comments. First, no Instruction can be moved until the Bill has been read a Second time. Secondly, I would draw the attention of hon. Members who have these Instructions on the Order Paper to the fact that by Standing Order No. 7 no fresh opposed Private Business can be entered upon after nine o'clock. Therefore, if they are not reached and proposed from the Chair by that time they cannot thereafter be proceeded with if they are opposed.

Beyond that, I am entirely in the hands of the House. It is for the House to say how, within the limits of the Ruling I have given, the debate should be conducted.

Mr. Ernest Davies

Thank you for your Ruling, Mr. Speaker. I do not think that my hon. Friends on this side of the House propose to extend the debate very widely. There will be other opportunities for us to discuss the wider aspects of the British Transport Commission.

The mere fact that the Bill is so limited gives us cause for concern. We feel that it is indicative of the restriction which still prevails on modernisation and development. British Railways in particular have been starved of capital investment for a long period. The fact that at this stage, when a Private Bill is brought to the House, there are only a large number of minor matters in it indicates that the Commission is not in a position, or has not been encouraged by Government, to embark upon considerable schemes of extension and development.

I fully appreciate that the Commission has a large number of powers in regard to works which have not yet been exercised. I wish to discuss the question of level crossings. Clause 28 gives the Commission power to substitute lifting barriers for gates at public road crossings. These lifting barriers are of the type frequently seen on the Continent. They are lowered horizontally across the road when trains are passing and they are raised into a vertical position when the line is clear.

An experiment has been conducted in Yorkshire with this type of Continental barrier. I understand that it has proved reasonably satisfactory. I do not know whether or not the Commission proposes to introduce a large number of these barriers, but some of us feel that there should be a protection for the local authorities in the areas concerned. They should have the right to be consulted, and their consent should be obtained before this type of barrier is introduced.

The local authorities are responsible for road safety. It is only right that they should be consulted before there is any change. Many people fear that the lifting type of barrier is not so safe as the gate type. Level crossings of the gate variety on public roads are operated with wheel-worked gates. There are block indicators and repeater block bells to warn the gatekeeper of approaching trains. I am not certain that the new type is as safe.

Representations have been made to the effect that where the lines are electrified—and unfortunately that is not in a great many areas served by British Railways—there is the possibility that it might be easier for children and irresponsible people to get under the lifting barriers on to the live rail. The Clause provides that these barriers will not be substituted without the consent of the Minister, which is as it should be. I ask the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to give an assurance that in no circumstances would the Minister give his consent unless he was fully satisfied that the new form of barrier gave equal protection to the public to that (provided by the gate type. I also ask that he should consider suggesting to the Commission that it should so amend the Bill as to make it necessary to obtain the consent of the local authority. If the Commission is satisfied that the new type is as safe as the old one, they would not hesitate to agree.

I ask the House to bear with me while I raise a constituency point. The Liverpool Street—Cambridge line runs through the eastern part of my constituency, and there is a series of level crossings. One known as Brimsdown has a long history of dispute. Before the war authority was given for a bridge to be substituted but, unfortunately, the war prevented that being done. Although representations have been made to successive Governments since then, authority to construct a bridge in place of the level crossings has been refused. In the interests of production, in the interests of the export trade and in the general interest of the district, it is important that authority should be given for the building of a bridge at Brimsdown.

The very important factories in Eastern Enfield have no other entry or exit except that at Brimsdown. During peak periods the level crossing gates are sometimes closed for 30 minutes in an hour and sometimes on 15 occasions within an hour. Roughly half the working population of Enfield have to cross this narrow level crossing—it is only 30 feet—to get to and from their place of work. Also, there is ever-increasing traffic in the area.

I urge the Parliamentary Secretary to ask his Department to look into the matter again. Recently a deputation went to the Ministry from the Enfield and District Manufacturers Association and the Enfield Chamber of Commerce. I regret to say that it received no satisfaction and no indication of when there was any possibility of the work being done. The failure to meet local needs by providing a bridge in place of a level crossing at this spot demonstrates the inadequacy of the £50 million road programme which was recently announced. In this area there are three level crossings within a very short distance.

I regret that there is no indication in the Bill of any further measures for the electrification of the North London suburban lines. This is a matter which has been discussed whenever we have debated a Transport Commission Bill and on many other occasions. The antiquated lines from Liverpool Street and King's Cross which today serve Enfield defy description. On many occasions I have attempted to describe them in various terms. I have said that they remind one of the "Fanny by Gaslight" era, that they are museum pieces and the like. All I can say today is that they are suffering from senile decay. The time has really come when something must be done about the North London suburban lines from Liverpool Street to Enfield.

We are gratified that at long last plans are being drawn up and costs estimated for the building of the new tube from Victoria to Walthamstow and that there is to be a connection with the North London lines at Seven Sisters, Tottenham, which will bring about the electrification of these lines. In spite of that, my constituents fear that it will be many years before that electrification takes place, because not only will the cost of building the overdue tube line be great, but its construction will take a long time.

I urge the Ministry once again to consider whether electrification of the North London lines might not take place prior to the construction of the tube. My constituents have been palmed off with the promise of the tube line, but as electrification is to take place after, or at the same time as, the tube is built, why cannot electrification take place now so that some relief can be afforded to the people who travel on these lines?

As I said earlier, my hon. Friends and I do not propose to embark upon a general debate about the position of the Transport Commission. I merely wish to repeat what I said earlier. The smallness of the works included in the Bill shows the need for greater capital investment in the railways, which, unfortunately for this country, are today lagging far behind those of many other countries. Many hon. Members will have read of the French locomotive which last week pulled a train at 151 m.p.h.

Because of the inheritance which our nationalised concern got from private enterprise—the inheritance of an un-modernised system, one starved of development—it is a tremendous task for us to catch up with the work which should have been carried out in the past. However, some progress is being made. During recent years, there has been considerable mechanisation of goods depots and other components of our railway system. We are delighted that diesel sets have been ordered and will shortly be in operation, and that diesel locomotives are being used in the shunting yards in increasing numbers. But there is still a great deal which needs to be done.

I wonder whether the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to tell us something of the position about the railway reorganisation plan. The 1953 Act required the Commission to present to the Minister within a year of the passing of the Act a plan for the reorganisation of the railways. That period expires next May. It would be interesting if the Parliamentary Secretary could tell us what progress has been made in drawing up the plan and when we can expect the White Paper which the House was promised. Hon. Members will be interested if he can indicate the lines which the reorganisation scheme is following.

I have some grave misgivings about the reorganisation plan. It is true that, because of the greater power which has been given to the chief regional managers, there is now a greater degree of autonomy in the regions, and I have no doubt that to some extent that results in benefits; but if the reorganisation is to follow the lines which were suggested by hon. Members opposite—they were discussed during the passage of the 1953 Act —and area boards are to be established for the regions, I have grave doubts whether that will bring benefits to the British Railways organisation.

As I have said, the chief regional managers have greater autonomy today and deal direct with the members of the Commission. But if, as was suggested from the benches opposite, area boards are to be interposed between the chief regional managers and the Commission, then there will be greater confusion and more difficulty in the operation of the British railway system.

Although British Railways today are lagging behind the modern development in many other countries, it is certainly not their fault, because they have been deprived of the advantage of increasing their capital expenditure. If they are to continue to compete with the increasing internal air travel, and, of course, with the increasing traffic on the roads, it will be necessary for them to show initiative and enterprise in their operation.

While, of course, abiding by your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, that the question of charges and fares does not enter into this matter, I think I am in order in saying that the railways should have regard to that matter in considering what steps they must take to attract traffic. We have seen the success of the "Starlight Special" from Scotland to London which has been carrying passengers at fares comparable to those charged by road passenger services, and, of course, to those charged by the air services.

The success of the "Starlight Special" has been due to the reduced fares and the consequent full loading of the train. The possibility of attracting more traffic to the railways does not lie in increasing fares in order to meet rising costs, but in reducing fares in order to attract traffic and to run to greater capacity than is frequently the case. The free booking on trains at reduced fares would ensure their full capacity loading, and that means that they could be operated profitably.

I suggest to the Commission that in order to attract the holiday traffic to the railways, it should extend this system of cheap tickets for the holiday period, provided that bookings are made in advance so that the trains can be assured of full loading capacity. By some form of family tickets or holiday specials, and so on, some of the traffic which goes to the roads today could be attracted to the railways. The majority of people who travel do not prefer to go by coach. They do so only because it is cheaper. If the railways were able to offer cheaper rates the traffic would return to them.

This Bill will, of course, receive the support of hon. Members on this side of the House. All we regret is its narrow scope inasmuch as it reflects the position in which the Commission finds itself today, a position of inability to embark upon vastly increased capital expenditure in order to bring the system more up to date.

7.24 p.m.

Mr. Hugh Eraser (Stafford and Stone)

This is an omnibus and an amphibious Bill, and it is with the amphibious side of it that I wish to deal this evening. Apart from dealing with roads, bridges, the dissolution of a bus company and the reform of the 1949 Act, it deals with the question of canals. There are four Clauses dealing with that subject, two of them, possibly, being objectionable and two salutary.

Clause 12 affects some of my constituents in so far as it proposes the partial dehydration of the Shropshire Union Canal. Clause 13 deals with the partial liquidation—if such a word can be applied—of the same canal. Clauses 14 and 15 deal with general regulations for all canals. On that point, I want to ask what the intentions of the Transport Commission, or those representing it, and of the Inland Waterways Executive, are regarding the whole question of canal transport.

It is extremely difficult to obtain reliable figures on canals, because the last report on them was that of a Royal Commission which was set up in 1906 and which reported four years later, in 1910. But, even on the figures available, it would seem that during the last few years an average annual sum of £1,250,000 has been spent on the general maintenance of canals and £570,000 on arrears of maintenance, while the amount spent on advertising the canals has been only £1,300 compared with the £900,000 spent by the railways in advertising their own form of transport.

I do not know whether the gondoliers, or whoever they may be who run the Inland Waterways Executive, bear this point in mind, but, at the moment, it seems that that Executive is destroying with one hand what it is trying to build up with the other. I hope that before the evening is out we shall be told the general intentions of the Transport Commission towards the use of canals in this country.

Clause 12 affects the interests of my constituents in Stafford and Stone in so far as they have a fleet of pleasure craft which are employed to the great enjoyment of the persons travelling on them. They travel over one of the most beautiful stretches of water in the country, which is the Shropshire Union Canal. Hon. Members who have studied the question of the canals will realise that this canal, which runs between what was once the Port of Chester and Wolverhampton, is no longer of great use for commercial purposes.

This Bill proposes to allow the Transport Commission to sell the waters of this canal to those who will buy them. The 1944 Act, which this Bill proposes to continue in operation, gave permission to the railways, who then owned the canal, to dispose of the water for up to 10 years provided that such disposal did not prevent normal navigation. If hon. Members refer to that Act, they will see there a definition of what surplus water means in this connection: In this section 'surplus water' means any water not required for maintaining a supply of water for the purposes of navigation. There is a danger of this canal being emptied by those attempting to sell the water to the detriment of those travelling along the canal or sending goods by it. There is a danger to their pleasure and comfort. I hope that the Committee on the Bill will consider that carefully.

I hope it will consider also what was said by Lord Chesham, who was in charge of that Measure in another pjace in 1944. He said that all those concerned must see, in the interests of persons using the canal, that there was no diminution of the water. We must not have this canal emptied. I am sure the House will agree with me when I say that. We may also say, especially as a caution to the would-be emptiers in this case, "Caveat emptor." I do hope that the Select Committee will see that the rights of my constituents, and of others who use the canal for pleasure or for the carriage of goods, are protected, and that there is no dehydration carried out by the ruthless barons who run the Inland Waterways Executive.

Another Clause I consider to be unfortunate, too. We all understand that certain branches of the canals have to be closed. It is unfortunate that sections of canals should be closed without proper explanation to the House, and I hope that in Committee there will be consideration of this matter and proper discussion of it.

I turn now to the two Clauses involving general principles, which apply not only to the Shropshire Union Canal and affect not only my constituents, but which apply to the 4,000 miles of inland waterways controlled by the Commission. Clauses 14 and 15 deal with the prevention of nuisance and the purification of the canals, totally unobjectionable objectives. The byelaws are delightfully diverse and vary greatly. There is little objection to be taken to them, except possibly in two instances.

It seems a bit harsh that the Commission should have power to regulate the markings of all vessels using the canals. I see in my mind's eye a horrible picture of figureheads cast in the likeness of my right hon. Friend and of the Parliamentary Secretary, placed at the bows of some of the craft, with Pleasure at the helm, and all coloured in solid beige and maroon. I hope that the provisions do not mean interference with the gay colours of the barges that still ply about on their lawful occasions on our inland waterways. I think, also, that the Commission should not have power to prevent or regulate bathing in the canals. That is a matter that should be left to the local authorities, not to a central organisation in London.

I am amazed at some of the regulations that have been enforced by the Commission, or that have been allowed to be enforced, on the canals. It is to be hoped there will be some improvement in some of these. I refer to an admirable document circulated to most Members by the National Association of Parish Councils. That Association cites some extraordinary things that have been allowed to happen.

The National Coal Board, at one moment in 1945, imposed a special levy of 2s. a ton on coal carried by canal. As a result the mines in the Cannock district closed down their wharves for the shipment of coal. The most extraordinary things have happened. In no less a place than the Diglis Basin, at Worcester, for some mysterious reason the fee for mooring, in 1949, was overnight increased from £3 to £20. There are some extraordinary anomalies, and I hope that the Commission will see that in the execution of their duties its officers do not impose or allow to be imposed regulations which will restrict the use of the canal system.

I do not want to weary the House by entering upon the argument that can be developed that more use could be made of our canals. Figures can be produced to show that movement by canal is at times more expeditious than movement by rail. Figures can also be produced to show that it is cheap. The reconstruction of some of the grand trunk canals and the construction of the ordinary 30-ton barge, as distinct from the 100-ton or 200-ton barge, may well be advantageous.

In the short time I have had the honour to be a Member of the House I have advocated more hill farming, of which I know something. Possibly that would have been considered economic nonsense 25 years ago. It would have been economic nonsense to talk about increasing tin production in Cornwall 25 years ago. So, now, with the canals. It may be anything but economic nonsense to suggest their reconstruction and preservation. We have to do a good deal of new thinking about our available assets.

We have 4,000 miles of canals. Many people may say it is a waste of time to do anything about them, but I believe the time has come, not for another Royal Commission such as that great one of 1906, which produced a report eminent for its learning in these matters, but for a new examination of the canal system by the British Transport Commission, to see whether more use could be made of our canals system than is made of it now.

I hope that there may be consideration by the Government of these matters during the passage of the Bill, and that the intentions of the Commission for use of these many miles of waterways may be explained to us.

7.38 p.m.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. H. Fraser) on re-introducing into our debates the practice of making classical allusions, although his was somewhat dubious in its immediate application. Although, in the past, some hon. Members gloried in them it was always possible that not everyone exactly followed the meaning of their classical allusions. At any rate, we knew what the hon. Gentleman meant.

I support his plea for some further thought being given to the Clause dealing with the canals. In order not to weary the House unduly I would refer hon. Members to the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolver-hampton, North-East (Mr. Baird) the other night in the debate on the roads, when he dealt very fully with the general aspect of this matter. I sincerely hope that what he then said has not been forgotten by the Minister of Transport or the British Transport Commission.

There is no doubt that the invention of the internal combustion engine, and its application to boating, has made the use for pleasure of these waterways a great deal more easy than it was at the time when the Commission of 1906 reported. I happen to be the owner of a small motor boat and I have tried to ascertain the possibilities of using some of these canals. I require a width of only 7 feet and a draught of under 3 feet, but when I have applied and asked for a guarantee that I shall be able to travel along a canal with my boat, the warnings I have received about the perils of the return journey, owing to a lowering of the water or to some other obstruction, have made me dubious about entering upon it.

I sincerely hope that the Transport Commission will consider how far it can preserve the existing waterways, at any rate, and make them useful not merely for commercial traffic—although I think that that is an important matter, for I share the views of the hon. Member for Stafford and Stone that there are many loads of heavy materials which are today conveyed by road that could be conveyed more expeditiously, and certainly more cheaply, by the canals if these were available. I therefore trust that the Shropshire Union Canal may not be dehydrated, as the hon. Gentleman said, because, as I understand it, dehydration may well be a first step towards what he next described as liquidation—although that does not mean putting more liquid into the canal.

I also welcome the powers that are taken in the Bill for the establishment of general byelaws, but I hope that the regulation and marking of vessels will not go beyond insisting that the name of every vessel shall be prominently displayed on it so that, in the event of causing difficulties with other craft, the vessel that caused the difficulty may be easily identified.

For instance, the regulation of the Thames Conservancy on the matter is that the name of the vessel shall be displayed prominently both on the bows and on the stern, if it is a dark coloured vessel with light lettering, and if it is a light coloured vessel, with dark lettering. That is desirable, hut I hope that there will be no effort made to restrict the colouring, which is traditional on canal boats.

I am rather alarmed at Clause 15 (5). I cannot think that anyone other than the Transport Commission would have dared to submit such a subsection to the House as this: So much of any existing enactment as may be inconsistent with the provisions of this section is hereby repealed… There is no indication in which Act they are to be found.

When one turns over to the Second Schedule, where the waterways to be dis- continued are mentioned, one sees that these are very old Acts of Parliament in which powers may have been created and which may possibly, although not certainly, cease to have effect with the new byelaws. There would appear to be in the future possibly grave uncertainty as to what the law on any phase of this matter may be, and the extent to which it will be altered or repealed by this Measure. I suggest that something more specific should be done.

One cannot read the Second Schedule without a feeling of great disappointment. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to reassure me on this point, because I gather that the parts of the canals proposed to be discontinued by the Second Schedule are, in the main, small sidings—I suppose we could call them were they railways—running down to certain wharves that were the subject of special construction in the old days when these canals were constructed.

When one looks at the dates of the authorising Acts, it is obvious that we are dealing now with something that has been a part of the topography of the neighbourhood for nearly a couple of centuries. I hope that none of these are connecting links between one canal and another because it is important, if we are to preserve canals, that they should be preserved as a system so that it may be possible, both for the conveyance of goods and for pleasure traffic, that round trips can be made which will ensure efficiency in both respects.

I do not wish to detain the House any longer, but I repeat to the Parliamentary Secretary that I hope he will listen to the remarks from the hon. Member for Stafford and Stone and myself in the light of the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, Norrh-East, which I think the hon. Gentleman heard when we discussed the matter a few days ago. I sincerely hope that this discussion may have good effects in preserving and extending the use of the canal system both for the conveyance of goods and for pleasure traffic.

7.47 p.m.

Mr. David Renton (Huntingdon)

The debate on the annual British Transport Commission Bill tends to be a contentious one about railways, but tonight, by way of contrast, we seem to be having a most agreeable debate about the canals. I support the pleas made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. H. Fraser), and I want to add a word about the towpaths on the canals. It is a fact that although for the most part these are now obsolete from the point of view of canal use, because the barges are so rarely drawn by horses, nevertheless they are frequently appreciated by the public for recreation and exercise.

This has been recognised by some local authorities over the years, who have persuaded the canal companies in the past, and more rarely the British Transport Commission in recent years, to enter into agreements permitting the public to use the towpaths. Unfortunately, those agreements did not place any obligation upon the Inland Waterways Executive or on the Transport Commission, or on the companies, let it be fairly said, to maintain these towpaths in a safe condition. We are all familiar with the fact that children especially, when using them for play or exercise, have had bad accidents.

There are many cases, of course, in which there are no agreements, but public rights of way have been established by prescription or mere permission; but, if the legal position is doubtful, the Commission have nevertheless allowed the public to use the towpaths. Whatever their legal status is, I would make a plea to the Commission on this occasion that they would not use their byelaw-making powers given in Clause 15 (2) to prohibit the passage of the public, when it is reasonably safe for the public to continue to use the towpaths.

I do not think, however, that we can reasonably expect the Commission, bearing in mind that it is a commercial undertaking and receives no subsidy whatever for the purposes of maintaining public recreation, to undertake at great expense to maintain towpaths which, from its point of view, are obsolete, however desirable they may be to the public. Nevertheless, it would frequently not cost very much to ensure that an occasional dangerous place, where the bank may be falling in or something like that, is given some attention and just a few pounds spent on it. The Commission certainly would not suffer, if it adopted a reasonable attitude on this matter but if the Commission is going to be ruthless about the exercise of its right to make byelaws to close towpaths the public will suffer a great deal.

The noble Lady, the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Viscountess Davidson) and I have put down an Instruction to the Committee to leave out Clause 15 (2, k). That paragraph gives power to prohibit the passage without the consent of the Commission of any person animal or vehicle over any tow-path of the canal. Even if the opportunity arises tonight, we certainly would not wish to divide the House on that matter, because the Commission must have that power. We put down our Instruction only in the hope that it would be a means of drawing the attention of the Commission to what we consider to be at any rate its moral duty in this matter.

I should like to follow up the remarks of the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) about level crossings. Before doing so, I should like to say what an unusual pleasure it was to find myself in agreement with about three-quarters of what the hon. Member said about transport.

Mr. David Jones (The Hartlepools)

The hon. Member is improving.

Mr. Renton

The hon. Member for Enfield, East is improving.

Clause 9 (5) of this Bill directly affects a level crossing in my constituency, with which I am familiar. It is the level crossing between the village of Conington and a part of the Fen called Monk's Lode, on what is still sometimes called the Great Northern Railway. It is the main line between York and King's Cross, over which so many hon. Members must have travelled. It is a very dangerous crossing indeed. It is a typical example of an old accommodation level crossing across a main line. It so happens that the people who work on the Fen East of that main line mostly live in the villages to the West of the line and they have to cross it each way each day. There have been some most unpleasant and some very tragic accidents there since the war, though, I am glad to say, none quite recently. I know that these accidents gave the Commission great concern, and this is a place about which we should always be very wary.

I am surprised, therefore, to find what the Commission proposes to do now. If I have read the Clause correctly, it seems that instead of maintaining properly manned gates across the railway line to regulate the non-pedestrian traffic, the use of the properly manned gates is to be discontinued and there will merely be cattle-grids across them. In any event, I do not think that cattle-grids will be any use, because there is a certain amount of traffic over the railway by farm horses. I know of one farm, at least, which uses horses for carting purposes, especially at harvest time. I should have thought, therefore, that it was doubtful whether cattle-grids would be suitable. But quite apart from that, I should think that it would be a dangerous thing not to have gates opened and shut for non-pedestrian traffic and manned by railway employees, as they always have been in the past.

Moving from that particular instance to the general question of level crossings, I note that there are about 20,000 accommodation level crossings in this country. Some of them, of course, were merely intended as farm crossings when they were constructed, but since then there has been town development round them and some of them are now very much busier than it was ever contemplated they would be, when they were originally built. Yet the legal position about the upkeep of these crossings and the liability for accidents upon them remains as it was originally.

Some five years ago I asked questions of the predecessor of the present Minister of Transport. I asked if he would get the Commission to look into this matter and put forward proposals for bringing the law up to date with regard to the use of these crossings. I have raised the matter about once a year since then; but, so far as I am aware, the Commission has come to no conclusion. We as a Parliament have certainly had no proposals put before us. It is time that this matter was properly tidied up.

I am very surprised to find Clause 29 in this Bill. The Clause says: On the passing of this Act the Norwich Omnibus Company shall by virtue of this Act be dissolved and their property and assets transferred to and vested in the Commission. Last year Parliament passed a Bill, under which the Minister was given power to compel the Commission to divest itself of its majority holding in bus companies. It is strange, therefore, to find the Commission now putting forward a Bill to do just the opposite. It is going to acquire a bus company. There are many obscure things of this kind in the Bill and one would expect to find explanations of them somewhere, perhaps in the Preamble. But the Preamble does not help us very much with regard to this Company. It merely states that the Norwich Omnibus Company was incorporated by an Act of 1897 and under that Act the Norwich Electric Tramways Company was authorised to construct a tramway. Some further explanation is required. It is a matter about which the Committee, which is to deal with this Bill, should concern itself.

A Bill of this kind deals with a tremendous variety of things. Some of its provisions are very far-reaching and some are very obscure. In order that Parliament may understand and improve a Private Bill of this kind—but I do not say that it should apply to every Bill—we should be given a little more explanation. The Preamble is not really good enough as an explanatory memorandum. If some kind of memorandum were produced with a Bill of this kind, it would not add greatly to the cost. But there are some little things which should be done to help us, even if a memorandum is not forthcoming. For example, in the Second Schedule, which deals with the closing of canals, there is a tremendous amount of necessary detailed description, but that description does not tell us what lengths of canals are being closed. The first column, for example, should state "one mile," "three furlongs," "50 yards" or whatever it may be. Then we should be able to understand better the dimensions of the problem and to deal more precisely with it.

The hon. Member for Enfield, East asked the Parliamentary Secretary—-at least I assume that his question was directed to my hon. Friend—when the scheme for the reorganisation of the railways was to be put before the House. It is obvious that we on this side of the House are keener to see that scheme presented than perhaps are hon. Members opposite, but all hon. Members must wish to see the railways become more efficient. They cannot carry these wage increases, increased charges and so on, unless they become more efficient—and that very soon. I attach great importance to the House being able to see the re-organisation scheme and passing it at a very early date.

8.2 p.m.

Mr. David Jones (The Hartlepools)

One wonder follows on another in this debate tonight, because I find myself in agreement with almost all the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton) has said, which is more remarkable than his agreeing with my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies). I regret that I cannot go with my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) in his boat in his delightful but slow progress along the canals. I have to go by rail tonight because I have a much longer journey.

This Bill, like its predecessors, and I presume its successors, deals with a variety of matters relating to the British Transport Commission. Like all preceding speakers, I propose to confine myself to provisions of the Bill rather than the general problems of railway administration, except that I would remind the hon. Member for Huntingdon that, although Parliament last year took power to divest the Commission of its very large interest in omnibus companies, the Minister of Transport rightly said that he would not exercise those powers until the Thesiger Committee reported. If the hon. Member will read the Report of that Committee he will find that, except for political reasons, there is no object at all in using these powers to divest the Commission of its interest in omnibus companies.

Mr. Renton

That is not what the Report said; read it again.

Mr. Jones

I have read it. I wish to deal with some of the Clauses on which I have some criticism to make. Like the hon. Member for Huntingdon, I want to call attention to Clause 9. I think that the provisions of that Clause, in which it is proposed that As from the passing of this Act all rights of way over"— 16 level crossings specified in Part I of the First Schedule to this Act other than a right of way for all persons to use those level crossings on foot shall subject to the provisions of this section be extinguished; and the relevant provisions of the existing Public Acts relating to these level crossings are to cease to have effect in relation thereto. The Commission has an obligation to maintain "wicket gates or styles" for persons passing on foot on the existing crossings, which are generally to be deemed accommodation crossings for the use of owners and occupiers of land adjoining the railway. If hon. Members will look at the First Schedule they will see that these crossings range over the whole country. Some are on main lines where passenger trains travel at very high speed. It is true that some are on lesser used railways where, perhaps, the need for economy might call for the provision of an accommodation crossing.

In case anyone does not understand that term, an "accommodation crossing" is a pair of gates fixed on each side of the railway and not controlled by signals or lights at which the owner of land on either side of the railway is given possession of a key with which he may open the gates and pass with his cattle, sheep, or horses, across the railway without any protection whatever from approaching trains. That seems a very dangerous procedure, particularly on those sections of the railway where a large number of trains pass during 16 hours at high speeds.

I suggest that the Commission would be well advised to make quite sure that all the people who require to use these crossings—mainly farmers—are thoroughly acquainted with what is proposed. Those people should be consulted before a crossing is converted into an accommodation crossing. I am advised that there is one crossing where a farmer has to cross the line with his cattle four times a day in the summer for milking purposes and where, between 6 o'clock in the morning and midnight, some 70 or 80 trains pass in one direction or the other. In those circumstances, it ought to be necessary for the Commission to consult individual farmers who use these crossings to make quite certain that they understand all the complications involved before proceeding to deal with them as accommodation crossings.

Clause 23 seeks to give the Commission power after the passing of the Act, where any road or street is made up under the Private Streets Works Act, providing the Commission has no exit to that road, not to be obliged to pay their share of frontage costs. As an ex-member of a local authority, I am aware of hundreds of houses situated at the side of a cross-section of a road where they have no exit to the road but where, because the side of the house faces on to the road, the owner is called upon to pay his proportion of the cost of making up. I see no reason why the British Transport Commission should be treated differently from the ordinary householder in this matter. The Commission provides that if at some future date it seeks to create an exit on to the road it shall then be called upon to pay its share. It is true that it is undertaking to contribute to the cost of existing roads, but I hope that the Committee upstairs will examine this matter very carefully. Although I am a great admirer of the way in which the Commission has performed its tasks, I do not think that in these circumstances it should have any preferential treatment.

Clause 27 is a very innocuous looking Clause and only comprises two lines. It seeks to repeal subsection (3) of Section 54—(Powers of police as to search and arrest)—of the Act of 1949. Section 54 of the 1949 Act has three subsections. Subsection (1) re-enacts Section 66 of the Metropolitan Police Act, 1839; subsection (2) re-enacts Section 24 of the Metropolitan Police Courts Act, 1839; and subsection (3), inserted I understand by the direction of the Committee upstairs, provides that the special powers of the Metropolitan Police Act shall cease to have effect as and from 1st August, 1954.

In effect, that means that, if this Clause is permitted to remain in the Bill, it will give these special powers to the British Transport Commission's police in perpetuity without Parliament having any further say in the matter. I regard that as being far too important a matter to be dealt with in that way, and it is for that reason that I and my hon. Friend have put down an Instruction to the Committee, which I hoped would have been called later on, seeking to leave out Clause 27.

This is merely following on the Great Western Railway Act, 1923, the London, Midland and Scottish Railway Act, 1924, the Southern Railway Act, 1924, and the London and North Eastern Railway Act, 1927, and, for the benefit of the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson), I would say that the London and North Eastern Railway Act, 1947, had a five-year Clause in it which the other three Railway Acts which I have mentioned did not have.

This gives the British Transport Commission police power to arrest on suspicion any person on or about railway premises, and to bring them before the courts, when it is the responsibility of the arrested person to prove his or her innocence rather than for the police to prove his or her guilt. In my judgment, that is a complete reversal of what I understand as British justice, and, therefore, though there may be an argument advanced for suggesting that in the special circumstances of the railways some exceptional powers ought to be given, I do not think that we ought to give these powers to the British Transport Commission in perpetuity without Parliament having anything to say about them.

Parliament has been very jealous of its powers. Since the termination of the war, five or six counties and county boroughs have inserted similar provisions in Private Bills that have been introduced into this House, but, in each case, the offending Clause has been removed. Never since 1938 has Parliament given that power to any single provincial police authority in this country, and, if Parliament in its wisdom therefore deems it inexpedient to give these exceptional powers to provincial police forces that are controlled by the elected representatives of the public, it seems to me to be quite wrong to give these powers in perpetuity to what, in effect, is a semi-private police force.

There are, I understand, something like 55 county councils in England and Wales with 50 separate police authorities, and of those county police authorities only one has these exceptional powers. There are some 83 county boroughs in this country with 77 or 78 separate police forces, and less than a dozen of them have these special powers. Therefore, I was very glad to learn earlier in the day that the British Transport Commission have had second thoughts about this Clause and have intimated to my hon. Friends and myself that they will be prepared to insert in the Bill in Committee upstairs a provision that it shall not last more than five years after the passing of this Bill before again coming to Parliament, if necessary, for a renewal of the powers.

Finally, may I turn to Clause 28, which I think is important? Here again, I understand, the primary reason actuating the British Transport Commission in seeking to make this alteration to raised bars from the traditional gates at level crossings is that the maintenance costs of the horizontal bars will be considerably less. Here, I think a case may be made out for an examination of separate crossings.

One of my hon. Friends who has seen this experimental bar in operation between York and Hull informs me that it has all the elements of safety except one, and that is that the bar itself has protruding, right-angled bars which prevent anyone like a child or an animal getting on to the crossing when the bar is closed against road traffic. It is floodlit, there are good indications by means of lights and bells to indicate that a crossing is there, and, as far as entrance to the railway while the bar is across the road is concerned, it is perfectly safe.

When the bar is raised to permit road traffic across the railway, the only method of preventing anyone from getting off the crossing onto the railway is a type of cattle-grid. I am quite sure that the boys of today would be just as adept at getting across the cattle-grid as I would have been 35 or 40 years ago. I have tried to climb a crossing gate more than once, and there is no difficulty at all about it. All you have to do is to step gingerly over the cattle-grid, and you have the whole of the railway from York to King's Cross at your mercy.

Sir Frederick Messer (Tottenham)

Or the railway has got you.

Mr. Jones

In these circumstances, before the Minister of Transport makes an order, as provided in the Bill, he ought to seek consultation with and the approval of the local authority for the area in which the level crossing is situated. They are the people who know the amount of traffic, who know the local circumstances and who know the dangers as well, and, therefore, while I agree that there is a case for reducing the maintenance costs of these crossings, I suggest to the Parliamentary Secretary that, in addition to the provision in the Bill that the British Transport Commission shall seek the authority of the Minister and the Minister shall make an order, we should insist upon this provision for consultation being written into the Bill. I do not think that a verbal promise from the Parliamentary Secretary tonight will be good enough, because he and his right hon. Friend may not always be there; indeed, they may not be there very much longer. Before the Minister makes an order changing the character of a level crossing he should seek the approval of the local authorities. In that way he would give the British Transport Commission the alleviation in costs that it requires, whilst at the same time he can make quite sure that the interests of all the local authorities are protected.

As I indicated earlier, in view of the assurances that I have received this afternoon, it is not my intention to move the Instruction.

8.21 p.m.

Mr. Cyril W. Black (Wimbledon)

I make no apology for rising to address the House quite briefly on three matters which arise out of the Bill, and which are of particular concern to my constituents, as well as being of more general application. I want to begin where the hon. Member for The Hartlepools (Mr. D. Jones) ended, by saying a little about Clause 28.

I want to emphasise the importance of not losing sight of the road safety factor in substituting lifting barriers for the more conventional type of gates at level crossings. In my constituency are two level crossings, and in both cases they are over electrified railway lines. It is obvious that the safety factor has to be even more carefully considered and scrutinised in the case of electrified lines than in the case of the ordinary railways carrying steam trains.

The people in my constituency, whose attention has been drawn to the proposal in Clause 28, are filled with the greatest possible apprehension and concern at the possibilities of accidents arising, particularly to children, who may find it easier to get on to the electrified lines by way of the lifting barrier apparatus than by the gates which exist there at the moment. It is essential that at a later stage in the consideration of the Bill safeguarding provisions should be written in to deal in clear and specific terms with this very real danger.

The second point in connection with Clause 28 relates to the position of road authorities and local authorities. It is intolerable that on a matter which is of very proper concern to local authorities and to the people in the neighbourhood there should be no provision in the Clause for consultation with the local authorities or with the road authorities, or indeed with any local interest whatsoever. As the Clause exists, it would be perfectly possible for the Commission to obtain the approval of the Minister to the substitution of lifting barriers for the conventional type of level crossing gates, and for the work to be put in hand, and indeed completed, before anyone in the district had any idea of what was about to happen, or had any effective opportunity of making representations or objections to the Minister.

That is a most intolerable disregard of the people concerned and of the interests of the local and the road authorities. I emphasise, with all the emphasis at my command, that there must be provision for consultation with those authorities before any such work is carried out. There should further be provision for appeal to some appropriate tribunal in the event of the local interests not being satisfied with the decision of the Minister in the matter.

I now refer to Clause 32, to which no reference has yet been made, and which is somewhat innocently described in the following terms: Repeals of time limits for completion of certain works. The Clause is by no' means so innocent as it appears -to be. Here again, I have a specific case from my own constituency which I should like to bring to the attention of the House, and which illustrates the injustice of repealing time limits in the manner suggested, in connection with such works as the extension of certain lines.

There is in my constituency an uncompleted railway line from Maiden to Leatherhead, which at present ends at Chessington. I am sure it will be fully within the knowledge of the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede). In the original proposal for the extension of the line to Leatherhead, a time limit was put upon the work, and it was to expire on 1st October, 1935, very nearly 20 years ago. The work was not undertaken by 1935, and the date for the completion of the work has been extended from time to time and is now 31st December, 1955.

Many people might feel that the former railway company and the present Commission have had in 20 years more than adequate time in which to make up their minds whether they intended to extend this railway line or not, and that it is unreasonable for them to come to the House and expect to get any extension. I would not take such an extreme view of the situation as that, because allowance must be made for the fact that there have been six years of war, in which the execution of such works was impossible, and that in the nine years which have followed since the end of the war there have been all the difficulties of the postwar period, that may be put forward as a reasonable excuse for the non-completion of the railway line.

Let us see what the position will be if Clause 32 is approved in the form in which it now stands. The position will be left open for a completely indefinite period, which will involve the sterilisation of considerable areas of useful and valuable land until the Transport Commission decide whether or not it intends to extend the line. It is ridiculous and unreasonable that the House should agree to an arrangement whereby land required for other purposes should be sterilised for 25, 50 or possibly 100 years just because the Transport Commission cannot make up its mind.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. Hugh Molson)

May I point out that the time limit expires on 31st December, 1957?

Mr. Black

I am much obliged to the Parliamentary Secretary. I was misinformed, and I am sorry to have given a wrong date. It is reasonable to give some extension of time, but it would not be reasonable to give more than a further limited extension, since more than 20 years have already passed.

My last point arises from no specific Clause in the Bill but concerns the deplorable condition of many of the railway stations. This should receive the attention of the Commission at a time when it is so important to improve the efficiency of the railways and attract additional passengers. The particular instance which I shall give has also a general application.

In my division, Wimbledon railway station suffered a good deal of damage during the war. People were prepared to toe patient then, and for a few years afterwards, but the conditions of the station today can only be described as disgraceful. Public indignation is growing to such a pitch that the travelling public will not be content to wait much longer for the carrying out of modest though urgently necessary repairs.

What is true of Wimbledon station is true also of many others controlled by the Commission. It is all very well for the Commission to seek additional traffics, and to balance its budget by causing more and more people to use the railways in preference to other means of transport, but it will not achieve that purpose unless some attention is paid to the convenience of the travelling public. One way to do it is to give attention to the really deplorable condition of many railway stations.

8.34 p.m.

Mr. S. O. Davies (Merthyr Tydvil)

I shall confine myself simply to Clause 31 of the Bill. As it wholly affects my constituency, the House will know that this is a constituency speech. Through this Clause the Transport Commission is seeking powers to close down the branch line still known as the Rhymney Railway, on the west side of the Merthyr Valley. When I have put the case for my constituents, I hope that the House will agree to omit Clause 31.

This railway has been in operation for about 70 years. In that time it has transported tens of millions of tons of coal, and has served the needs of at least 6,000 people who have lived alongside it on the west side of my valley. Before giving my own and my constituents' reasons for opposing the Clause, I profoundly regret that I must strongly protest against the way in which the Transport Commission has treated my constituency in this matter. It is no exaggeration to say that the Commission, wittingly, wantonly and with supreme arrogance, has ignored the needs of my constituents.

In seeking powers to destroy this railway the Commission specifically asks that two railway stations—Aberfan and Abercanaid—shall be permanently closed. I protest vigorously against this. But without waiting for the Parliamentary sanction which it is now seeking, the Commission has already demolished almost the whole of the station of Aberfan. That is an utterly illegal procedure. At that station what was once a very fine building has been razed to the ground, and a piece of land within the station precincts has already been rented or leased to a constituent of mine in order to keep pigs and poultry, and those pigs and poultry are on that station today, before the Commission has received Parliamentary sanction to close it down.

Under the Transport Act, what are known as transport users' consultative committees have been established, the purpose of which is to inquire into any grievance that a community may have in regard to a proposal of the Transport Commission to do something which may be deemed to be against the interests of that community. Before the transport users' committee for South Wales had become aware of what was taking place in my constituency, this Bill was in the Vote Office. I cannot understand who gave authority for the Commission to do that and to outrage the sensibilities of this old industrial community.

I do not want to raise the political implications of this, but the Commission treated this transport users' committee with the same contemptuous disregard as that with which it treated my constituents. The attitude of the Commission appears to be "Why wait for Parliamentary sanction? We are a corporate body. The transport of this country is vested in us. We are a law unto ourselves. We are the bosses." That is the very spirit which has offended my constituents in relation to the closing of this railway.

I have a shrewd suspicion that I am not the only hon. Member who has reason to fear that, because of this vast amount of delegated legislation, delegated parliamentary power, there may arise amongst us a Frankenstein which will destroy our parliamentary democracy. I shall perhaps have something to say about that on another occasion.

When I and others pointed out to the representatives of the Transport Commission that the closing of this railway would sterilise for all time 30 million to 35 million tons of coal, we were told by the Transport Commission that the National Coal Board had agreed to the closing of this line. May I quote exactly what they said: The question of coal mining developments in the area has received careful consideration in conjunction with the National Coal Board, who have agreed with the Commission's proposal to close the High Level line between Quaker's Yard and Abercanaid. That is the line in dispute.

Needless to say, I was astounded when that statement was made to me and to others. If I may say so with all humility, I am credited with being a practical coal miner and a mining engineer and with knowing both the coal measures in that part of the coalfield and the geological disturbances which may and, in fact, often do determine the manner in which the seams of coal should be approached and worked.

Having been given this information by the Transport Commission, I wrote to the Chairman of the South-Western Regional Coal Board and asked him whether the statement of the Transport Commission that the Coal Board had agreed to the closing down of this railway was correct. I have his reply here. He said that the Board had not agreed to the closing down of the branch line under notice. He went further and said: With regard to the development of these resources,"— that is, the coal— they are well known to us, and there is every possibility that they will be worked in the near future…

Mr. Molson

The hon. Gentleman has stopped in the middle of a sentence. Would he be good enough to complete the sentence?

Mr. Davies

I shall have to re-read it. I have the letter here, and the hon. Member can see it if he desires, so that we need not waste the time of the House. I will quote from it: With regard to the development of these resources, they are well known to us, and there is every possibility that they will be worked in the near future… I think that, grammatically, that is a complete sentence.

Mr. Molson

Would the hon. Gentleman be good enough to complete reading that sentence?

Mr. Davies

Certainly. May I disabuse the hon. Gentleman's mind if he has any suspicion that I am straining to make a case? I happen to know that district. The sentence concludes: …but I am assured by my production director that the projected closure would not prejudice the working of the resources. In addition to these reserves of coal, there are other very substantial coal resources in that area, which could most easily and economically be conveyed by the railway in question. I refer to the millions of tons of coal accessible in what is well-known to us in Merthyr Tydvil as the Cwmdu Drift, and to the very substantial quantities of bituminous coal unworked in the bottom half of the valley on the west side adjacent and accessible only to this railway.

I have personally approached the representatives of the Transport Commission, and I want the Parliamentary Secretary to appreciate that. I am not reading from a brief that has been handed to me; I have been in this from the very beginning. I, personally, have pressed the representatives of the Transport Commission to tell me how, if this line is destroyed—and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will listen to this —it proposes to transport the coal away from that side of the valley. With the modem technique and equipment known to us, an output of at least 500,000 tons of coal a year is possible from that part in my constituency.

But neither I nor anybody else who has been interested in this at Merthyr Tydvil has yet had a reply as to how the Transport Commission, in the event of these coal resources being worked in the future, and if this railway is closed, can transport the coal away from the valley.

I am sorry if I have to be a little technical in explaining how geological forces have determined beforehand that these reserves of coal to which I have referred can only be transported away by means of this railway. Running along the bed of the valley in what is known to us in South Wales as the Church fault. It runs roughly, as the valley does, north—south.

This fault has a downthrow east of between 90 and 95 yards, which meant the whole strata, including the coal seams, to the east. This railway is on the west side where the coal reserves are 90 to 95 yards nearer the surface than on the other side of the valley. I have asked the Transport Commission if it is aware of the geological disturbance. It is no exaggeration to say that our case, the details of our case and the facts that we have presented have been treated with contempt by the Commission.

I have done everything in my power to get these facts into the heads of the Transport Commission. The Parliamentary Secretary is smiling. We in that part of the country are a coalmining people. We know the distresses and the tragedies that the working of coal mean, but we are not afraid. On the physical facts of my case, I have not been contradicted in a single respect.

I have urged the Commission, for example, to consult a competent mining engineer who knows the district, but I have not been listened to. All that the Commission, apparently, has done is to consult a map of the Merthyr Valley and ask for figures, and rush to the conclusion that a few petty economies could be made. But ordinary maps reveal neither the treasures of the earth nor the effects of vast geological convulsions in the ages gone by, nor the communities where a strong mining tradition still exists.

Let me add, in case this may be used against me by someone who does not know the facts of the case, that there is another railway in the Merthyr Valley, which is known to us as the Taff Vale railway. But this railway is on the east side of the valley and is wholly inaccessible to the coal reserves to which I have drawn attention. The railways on the west and on the east of the valley meet at their common terminus, the Merthyr Tydfil station.

That station is a notorious bottleneck. This is recognised by every railwayman who knows it and also by the Commission, and much time has been spent by railway engineers seeking a solution to the apparently as yet insoluble problem of the removal of the bottleneck. I am credibly informed by those who work in and around the station that the adjoining sidings are most painfully congested and can assimilate no more freight traffic. Furthermore, we have reason to fear that if the disputed railway on the west side is closed and abandoned, we of Merthyr Tydfil and the communities in the valley may be cut off almost completely by rail from the rest of the country.

The other railway that is left to us on the east side runs over land from under which for several generations coal has been mined on a very large scale. One part of the railway winds for hundreds of yards along a narrow shelf with a sheer drop of from 50 to 150 ft. to a river below. Subsidence is very well known to us in South Wales as an almost common occurrence. Subsidence here even on a modest scale would start what is known in mining as a creep in that mountain side, rising steeply above this precariously poised railway and out of commission will go for a long time the last railway left to us. That will mean the closing, inevitably, of coalmines and a number of other industries in the valley.

These facts have been made clear to the Commission. Indeed any competent mining engineer could have put the Transport Commission wise on this. But as I say, apparently the Commission does not like any kind of information when related to coalmining. It has ridden roughshod over the representations that have been made, including those by myself, which I put in detail in what I hoped was a conciliatory and most helpful spirit.

When I pressed for the justification, if any, by the Commission for closing down this line, its only case was that it would save about £3,600 a year in care and maintenance on this stretch of railway and an expenditure—this is its own figure, not mine—ofbetween £15.000 and £25.000 for the repair of the viaduct which has richly served not only our valley but the rest of the country for 70 years. These are all the economies that would result.

That is the case of the Commission. No other reason or justification has been given by them. The effect of these miserable, petty economies will, as I have said, mean the sterilising of these millions of tons of coal and prevent the development of coalmining in a community that has strong mining tradition.

I have here the Commission's case in writing, and as I have said, I met the representatives of the Commission. I have pressed almost ad nauseam for a reply to the question that I have repeatedly put. It is, if this railway is destroyed, by what means, if any, does it propose to transport coal, estimated at half a million tons a year, worked on that side of our valley? I have had no answer to this question for the simple reason that there is no other practical way of dealing with this coal.

The Commission, apparently only too conscious of its power, is fully satisfied to ride roughshod—and that contemptuously—over the interests of my constituents and of the mining industry. To add insult to injury, I have been urged not to raise this matter on the Floor of the House, but to let it proceed to the Private Bill Committee upstairs, where counsel could be employed to argue our case. Merthyr Tydvil is almost entirely a working-class constituency. It is a small, and certainly not a rich, county borough. Our rates at the moment are 31s. 6d. in the £. Much of the properties in the district were built from 100 to 175 years ago in the hurly burly planless days of the Industrial Revolution.

This Leviathan, the Transport Commission, in its arrogance and with, of course, its unlimited financial resources, is asking my constituents through their borough council, to come here and to spend possibly, if not probably, some thousands of pounds which they can ill afford. They ought never to be asked, or placed in a position, to come here.

May I say how deeply disappointed are the people of Merthyr Tydvil with this body controlling one of our big nationalised industries. I need not enlarge, either here or elsewhere, upon the political history of Merthyr Tydvil and upon its splendid contribution to the growth of the Labour movement and to the spreading of the idea that collective ownership is the right thing. But this—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris)

I thought the hon. Member stated that he was not going to pursue that. I hope he will not.

Mr. Davies

I apologise, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, though I must say that I have not pursued it nearly as far as I should like to have done.

My constituents are very concerned about the future, particularly as it affects those thousands of our local miners, who travel long distances every day to their collieries far outside my constituency. Coal is there in our valley near their homes waiting for them to apply their skill, but this body is doing its utmost to prevent these men from exercising their skill and earn their livelihood near their homes. I hope that the House will insist on deleting Clause 31 from the Bill.

9.4 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)

I do not propose to follow the hon. Gentleman the Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. S. O. Davies) into a dissertation about Merthyr Tydvil. The Bill seems to me quite a good one, and I have no criticism to make of any of the Clauses. I would support the hon. Gentleman the Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) in his plea to the British Transport Commission to consider extending services of the type of the Starlight Special. We in the West Country have been asking for something of that sort for a very long time. Three years ago when we suggested it we were told that such a special cheap service had been tried on the run to Scotland and had failed, and that we could not have it. Now that it has been tried on the run to Scotland and proved successful, we hope that our suggestion may be considered anew.

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman the Member for The Hartlepools (Mr. D. Jones) has come back, because I want to refer to several things he said. I protest most vigorously against his describing the railway police as a private police force. It is nothing of the sort. It is one of the biggest police forces in the country, and is on exactly the same footing as any other police force.

Mr. D. Jones

I described it as a semiprivate force. As the day-to-day management of the British Transport Commission's affairs is not the responsibility of the Minister but of the Commission, obviously its police force is a semi-private police force.

Mr. Wilson

There is no legal difference between the railway police force and any other police force in the country. The railway police force has the same form of oath as any other, and the same form of training. Its members go to police colleges just as do any other policemen.

The hon. Gentleman seemed very concerned about Clause 27, which, as he pointed out, repeals Section 54 (3) of the Transport Act, 1949. He seemed to think that it was very dangerous. He referred to the fact that the powers under that Act do not apply to most police forces. The reason, of course, is that the railway police are in a very special position and have to deal with very special circumstances. At first sight it does look rather drastic that a man can be arrested on suspicion and have to prove that he is innocent. When I first had to prosecute a man under that Section it was a bit of a shock, I must say, but after many years' experience of prosecuting under Section 53 of the Great Western Railway (Additional Powers) Act, 1923, I can say that I have not had any doubt that justice was being done.

Mr. Jones

Would the hon. Gentleman be surprised to learn that in 1952 the British Transport Commission police arrested 5,498 people and got less than 700 convictions?

Mr. Wilson

The point of using that Section is that in railway premises the odds are on the thief.

Mr. Jones

Perhaps there were not more convictions because the hon. Gentleman was not the solicitor in all the cases. I do not know.

Mr. Wilson

I cannot answer that, I am afraid, for I was not there at the time. However, I have had no doubt whatever about that Section working fairly. The railway police have a very difficult job to do. The premises they have to watch are scattered and, very often, are badly lit. There are all sorts of things about, such as stationary trucks, that help a thief to conceal himself. This power is a very useful one. I do not think that any great hardship would be caused if it were to be kept permanently. I understand that the Commission has agreed that it shall be of only temporary duration, but even if that were not so I do not think there would be any great hardship.

I am very glad to see Clause 28, which deals with the level crossings. For a long time I have been wondering whether we tend to spend too much money on protection at level crossings. There is a multitude of level crossings. Many are on lines not very much used, and are pretty elaborate and cost a great deal of money. Railway authorities, faced with these costs, and because they are losing an excessive amount on the maintenance of level crossings on lines not much used, are inclined to think the branch lines redundant. This provision seems to provide an alternative. It has worked for years in Switzerland apparently satisfactorily, and I congratulate the British Transport Commission on making this provision in the Bill.

I do not propose to prolong the debate. A variety of topics have been discussed ranging from canals to level crossings. It is a good Bill and I congratulate the British Transport Commission on it.

9.11 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey de Freitas (Lincoln)

I am sure that all hon. Members on this side of the House will be glad if, after the next election, the hon. Gentleman the Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) has an opportunity of returning to his work of prosecuting on behalf of the British Railways, because the score will rise immediately. I was interested in his comment on the level crossings, because in my constituency it is the most frequent question put to me at public meetings. People are interested in the European Defence Community, they are interested in the balance of payments, they are interested in the Housing Repairs and Rents Bill, but above all they are interested in the level crossings of Lincoln.

The problem in Lincoln is that geography and history have combined to cut the city into two. There is uphill, and there is downhill where the factories are. About 100 years ago when the railways came to Lincoln, through bad planning the main railways, not only to the city but through into North Lincolnshire, were rammed across the principal streets of the city. At that time the blame was laid, as it is today for many problems, by some on the town clerk and by some on the Member of Parliament.

The town clerk was blamed for it because he was alleged, after having visited London and having been told by the promoters that there would be only the odd train or two a day and so there would be no difficulty, to have advised the council accordingly. The Member of Parliament was blamed because he was the man who refused to meet any railway people, regarding them as most devilish people who were desecrating the countryside. Colonel Sibthorpe was a diehard of the old type, a very famous figure. He hated the railways and it is written in his biography that in the last year of his life he compounded with the devil and took a return ticket to Newark.

Whatever the reason historically, the railways were built right across the main street, they are still there, and still for hours each day Lincoln is cut in half by the closing of the level crossing gates.

Mr. Osborne

indicated assent.

Mr. de Freitas

I see my hon. Friend —not my friend politically, but in other ways—the Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) nodding his head. He is a neighbour of mine and knows well that it is impossible to cross Lincoln without waiting and viewing the oldest rolling stock on British Railways as it passes and repasses the level crossing.

What is to be done about this? In my opinion it is one of the first charges on the capital expenditure of British Railways. Nothing can be more important, because Lincoln is today an engineering city and it is with engineering that our future as a manufacturing and trading country lies. There must be considerable economic waste each day in Lincoln. So I put in my plea for more capital expenditure on the railways, particularly on the elimination of level crossings in the heart of our important cities.

At the beginning of this debate hon. Members referred to canals; in fact, the beginning of the debate was almost entirely waterborne. The hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. H. Fraser) attacked the gondoliers of Pentonville Road or Marylebone Road who destroyed the canals he liked. There is a canal in Lincoln, and I want to know why it is not used more. Lincoln is connected by canals with the Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire and South Yorkshire coalfields, and we have right next to the canal nearly all our heavy industry and our electricity generating stations. Yet I receive complaints each time I go to my constituency that the canals are empty of traffic. Surely there is certainly a prima facie case for more use being made of the canals.

On behalf of my constituents, but also on behalf of the people of this country who are dependent for their whole standard of living on the best use of our resources of transport, I plead for greater capital resources for the railways so that they can eliminate some of the worst features of the urban level crossings. I also want more capital development and more use made of our canals.

9.17 p.m.

Mr. Garner Evans (Denbigh)

I should like very much to emulate the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. S. O. Davies) in so far as I want to confine my remarks to one Clause of this Bill. If I do not blow quite as much steam as the hon. Member did it is because I want to talk about canals and not railways. I refer to Clause 12 of the Bill, which enables the Shropshire Union Canal to sell the water for certain industrial purposes. That is a most dishonourable Clause.

No doubt the hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. H. Fraser) will disagree with me about this, but I must disagree with him on one point too. I should have thought that every Scotsman would have known that the Shropshire Union Canal is the most beautiful canal in Wales. Its waters come from the Severn and the Dee, and I cannot understand why it is described as an English canal. It is certainly the most beautiful canal in the country and it would be an act of terrible vandalism if it were ever abandoned.

The right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) spoke of the pleasures of boating on the canals as a result of the adaptation of boats by the use of the internal combustion engine. We do not even need an engine on parts of the Shropshire Union Canal. At least one pleasure boat is drawn by horses between Llangollen and Llandyssul. I agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton) said about towpaths. It would be shocking if in abandoning these canals, and the Shropshire Union Canal in particular, the Commission should allow the towpaths to fall into such decay as to become unusable, not only for boating but also for walks. These stretches of canal in North Wales are quite unsurpassed in their beauty. This Bill refers to only one Act of 1944. In 1944 we had a second Act dealing with the Shropshire Union Canal. Under that Act the L.M.S., as it then was, and the Transport Commission now, had power to abandon the canal completely. The canal company was prevented from selling water from the canal for 10 years, but it was given power to close the cut altogether. It would be shocking if that were to be allowed to happen.

Looking up the HANSARD reports, I find that those two Bills were discussed in a very short time on Second Reading and that 98 per cent, of the time taken in the debate was devoted not to the canals, Which was the real subject matter of the legislation, but to a quarrel between the Railway Clerks Association and the railway companies. It could almost be said that the Bills went through on the nod. I hate to think what would happen if the Commission were to abandon this stretch of water. It would become an ugly streak of slime down that beautiful Llangollen Valley. Tens of thousands of people would be deprived of most delightful pleasures which they now enjoy. I make a most urgent plea to the Commission not only to keep this canal open but to keep it as a navigable waterway for pleasure craft. More and more pleasure craft are coming up the canal, particularly from Stoke, and great pleasure is had by those who own the boats.

I also make a plea to the Commission to look to the towpaths and the hedges along the towpaths in order to keep those pleasure walks open. Finally, I ask them to make a more positive approach to the problem of the canals. I am sure that in 20 years' time, boating, canoeing and the like will be almost as popular in this country as cycling has become in the last 30 years. If only the Commission could see the enormous potentiality for pleasure of these inland waterways, I believe a great step forward would be taken.

9.23 p.m.

Mr. James Harrison (Nottingham, East)

I should like to suggest to the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) —who is not in his place at present but has been here for most of the debate —that what my hon. Friend the Member for The Hartlepools (Mr. D. Jones) and myself put down as an Instruction to the Committee on this Bill was not drafted to prevent the railway police from retaining their present special powers. What we had in mind was not to limit the time that those powers could be enjoyed by the railway police, but to make sure that the powers came up for reconsideration by this House in five years' time.

I should like to call the attention of the Minister particularly to the question of local rates, which have quite a lot to do with one of the Clauses of this Bill. I shall speak of the closing of canals and the sequel to this almost continual list which comes forward in nearly every Bill presented by the Commission. Each Bill usually includes the closing of a number of canals. The hon. Member for Denbigh (Mr. Garner Evans) mentioned that we had a wonderful scenic canal through beautiful countryside which he hopes the Commission will keep in good repair, otherwise, this particularly beautiful canal will sink into a slimy sewer, or something of that nature.

The point to which I want to draw attention is that, in the industrial areas, where these canals, or stretches of them, are continually being closed, almost inevitably in a very short space of time they degenerate into open sewers. The next stage of the problem is that we have complaints from residents around the canal about nuisances and the danger to children from drowning, and then the local ratepayers have to find considerable sums of moneys in order to do away with the nuisance of a closed canal.

In Nottingham, we have a particularly bad example of that process. A canal, which has been very much in use until recent times, was suddenly deserted by traffic, and I am quite sure that the British Transport Commission could not sustain the cost of the repairs to that canal simply by letting it out to pleasure boats. There would not be a sufficient income from that source to enable them to keep the canal in decent repair. Within a very short space of time, this canal degenerated into a stinking sewer, and now we are faced with the problem of having to pay, in the main from local resources, terrific sums of money to obviate that particular nuisance.

Therefore, I should like to draw the attention of the Parliamentary Secretary to Clause 14 of the Bill, which deals with the prevention of nuisances when certain waters are enclosed. I earnestly beg for an examination of this position carefully and closely, because many evils arise when a canal is closed, and particularly is this the case where we have vast conglomerations of population in the big industrial areas of this country.

9.27 p.m.

Mr. John Baldock (Harborough)

I want to revert from the question of canals to make a few observations about diesel rail cars. Although I am myself a great lover of steam engines in all forms, and from personal inclination greatly regret the displacement of the incomparably fascinating steam locomotives by electrical and diesel engines, I have been interested for a considerable time in small rail cars on less busy stretches of our railway system.

The reduction of traffic on a branch line in my own constituency—from Market Harborough to Melton Mowbray —to workmen's trains only, one in the morning and one in the evening, together with the threat that even these will be suspended in the near future, so that that line will be entirely closed to passenger traffic, has made me even more particularly interested in this subject.

But this is a general problem, and not one confined by any means to my own constituency, for branch lines have been and are being closed—and it is predicted that they will be closed in increasing numbers—all over the country. The alternative arrangements are frequently by no means satisfactory. Often, no buses are provided as alternatives, although I know it is difficult to get bus companies to operate buses in remote rural areas, because it is difficult to do so at anything but a loss.

The fact remains that by the shutting down of passenger services on these small branch lines rural transport facilities are actually deteriorating, at a time when one expects all kinds of services in the country to be brought more and more up to the level of those enjoyed in the larger towns and the built-up areas. The deterioration of transport facilities in the countryside is not only an impediment to agricultural development and makes it increasingly difficult to attract people to the country, but it gives rise to personal hardship.

I saw a case only recently of an old-age pensioner who himself is none too fit, and who wishes to travel to the Market Harborough Hospital every week to see his wife. That should be only a very short journey if the railway were working as it used to do, but it now entails an 80mile journey. He has to go to Leicester, then to Market Harborough, and then back to Leicester and back to where he started from. That must be one of a great number of cases of personal hardship brought about by not having satisfactory rail travelling.

These circumstances make a very strong case for running light diesel cars on lines of this kind, which are still open to goods traffic. Why should they not be kept open for passenger traffic as well? It would entail very little capital expenditure, no additional maintenance costs and very few extra staff. The track is already kept up for goods trains, so there would be no additional expense there at all. No station buildings are required, other than a platform for people to board and leave the trains, and in every case they are there already.

In many cases the station buildings are there, and could be dismantled if required. The only expenditure involved would be in the provision of one or two light rail cars for each of these stretches of line. Few extra staff would be wanted. But some alterations would have to be made. I do not see why we should not strike the fetters of anachronistic regulations off the railways. One man is permitted to drive a passenger bus and issue tickets and collect tickets. He is not equipped with a dead man's handle, alternative braking system, whistles, flags or any of the things which seem always to be required on railways, however small the train. These one-man vehicles do not appear to be involved in any accident other than those in which other vehicles are implicated.

Why should not the same arrangement be applied to the railways, at this stage of the 20th Century? Why should not one man drive a train and issue and collect tickets in the same way as with buses? It may be said that the trade unions would not like that, but the choice is not between fully-manned trains and stations and diesel rail cars with a self-contained driver. It is a choice between diesel rail cars and no trains at all on passenger services.

In the circumstances, I should have thought it would have been in the interests of everyone concerned to run trains of that kind. It would provide employment for one or two men where there is no passenger service employment at all. I hope that my hon. Friend and the Minister will examine the proposals again with a view to retaining, restoring and improving passenger services on small branch lines, which have been or are to be dosed, and so benefit rural communities which are in danger of losing the passenger services to which they have been accustomed.

9.35 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. Hugh Molson)

The responsibility of my right hon. Friend as regards this Bill is confined to the fact that he has given his consent to its being introduced under Section 9 of the Transport Act, 1947, but it is customary and conventional—and, I think, convenient—that the Minister or his representative should say something in general terms about the policy which is implicit in the British Transport Commission's annual Bill.

Tonight's debate is certainly unique in one respect. There has not been in any of the previous years—and I have looked up the debates of previous years—such a series of speeches directing attention to the importance to the country, from every point of view of our inland water system. When I went to this Department a short time ago my right hon. Friend told me to get hold of the file dealing with the canals and inland waterways and to study it for myself. I am very glad indeed, that sc many hon. Gentlemen from different parts of the country have today all referred to the great importance, even in the 20th century, of the canals.

Those of us who are interested in history remember that the canals were a feature of the early industrial system. They came before the railways, and it was only possible for this country to develop its coal and iron resources in the way it did because of the enterprise of rich men and the skill of engineers in providing what was then the finest canal system in the world for the service of the industries which were springing up. I think it is natural that we should consider with some concern how little use is being made of our canals at present. Hon. Gentlemen have emphasised that the canals would still be useful for transport purposes.

I have also seen the memorandum about the canals which has been circulated to all hon. Members. I was most interested—and very much surprised—to find that in a large number of cases canal transport is still more rapid than rail. Certainly, when one considers how heavy the charges now are for the transportation of coal and of other bulky and heavy things I myself feel that there should be great scope for the continued use and development of canals. Other countries certainly seem to find them very useful in the 20th Century. I well remember the attention given by Bomber Command to the canals of Germany during the war. I understand that large sums of money have been spent in Germany in reconstructing, developing and improving their canal system.

Other hon. Gentlemen have referred to the great charm of the canals in the English countryside. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) referred to the pleasure which he, like so many others, derives from going on the canals. The hon. Member for Nottingham, East (Mr. Harrison) referred to what happened to them when they go out of use. What has been one of the charms and beauties of the English countryside can then become a noisome drain. Corruptio optimi pessima.

I am glad that so many hon. Members should have referred to the importance of the canals and I can give the House an assurance that the sense of the House will be strongly represented to the Transport Commission. I have no reason to suppose that it is not interested in the matter, and I understand that now appointments have recently been made on the advertising side, but it relies not so much on the kind of advertisement used by the railways as in trying to keep in close touch with large commercial and industrial users, and to promote the use of the canals in that direction.

The hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) asked what was the position with regard to railway reorganisation. He will probably remember that it is only very recently that the present Chairman of the Transport Commission took office. The Commission is required to produce a scheme for railway reorganisation by 6th May of this year. We know that it has long been studying the matter, and that since the present Chairman took over he has been pressing on with it, in a keen desire to make certain that the scheme can be prepared by the date provided for in the Act. At present, we have no detailed information on the subject, and it is only constitutionally right that both the Department and Parliament should await the production of the scheme.

Several hon. Members have referred to the proposal to introduce lifting barriers experimentally, and some doubt has been expressed as to whether they will not result in a diminution of safety. There was also an Instruction which would have made it obligatory upon the Minister to obtain the consent of local authorities to their introduction. We should find very considerable difficulty in accepting that directive as it stands, in view of the Minister's statutory responsibility for safety in these matters. At the same time, I can give the House a complete assurance that before my right hon. Friend agrees to the introduction of these lifting barriers there will be the fullest consultation with the highway authority, and the local authority where it is not the highway authority.

The views expressed by these authorities will be given the most sympathetic consideration before the Minister's consent is given to any application, but the responsibility for investigating these applications rests finally upon the inspecting officers of railways, who can be relied upon to ensure that a high standard of public safety is preserved and that in places where lifting barriers are not suitable—as, for example, in cases where the line has been electrified —permission will not be given.

Mr. Roderic Bowen (Cardigan)

While the final responsibility must be that of the Minister, it is desirable that the duty to consult with local authorities is provided for in the Bill. It should also contain a requirement that any change of this kind should be advertised locally, so that anyone who wants to make a complaint to the local authority or the Minister may be able to do so.

Mr. Molson

We will gladly consider that matter, and it is a matter of detail which can properly be considered when the Bill goes to Committee upstairs. I certainly give an unqualified assurance that the Minister would not give permission without consulting the local authority and the highway authority who are locally concerned, but the final responsibility would have to rest with the Minister of Transport.

In just the same way, some doubt was expressed, particularly by my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton) in the case of a level crossing in his constituency, about whether the provisions of the Bill relieving the Transport Commission of some of its obligations for keeping watch and ward over level crossings could properly be accepted and those obligations lifted. I hope that the House will realise how important it is that we should enable the Commission to carry through reforms which will reduce the very heavy overhead expenses which they have to bear at present. The vast number of these level crossings where at present the Transport Commission is obliged to keep a watchman on duty in total adds immensely to costs. I hope, therefore, that in principle the House will be willing to accept the general lines of the Bill.

Mr. D. Jones


Mr. Molson

I will come to the point which the hon. Member for The Hartlepools (Mr. D. Jones) raised. The matters which he raised today will be fully considered by the Committee upstairs. We do not want to go from one extreme to the other, although I am bound to say that in the case of the crossings to which he referred, I think those who live and have lived for many years beside the railways will be aware of the dangers which are involved where the line is a busy one.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Baldock) referred to the closing of a number of branch lines and raised again tonight a matter which he raised when I had to seek to justify the closing of a branch line in his constituency—The use of diesels. The Transport Commission is at present exploring the increased use of diesel engines for many purposes, especially for shunting, and in the case of reasonably busy lines, where it is possible to keep the engine running for a great many hours of the day, there is no doubt at all that the diesel engine has very considerable advantages over the steam engine.

For example, the Commission has given authority for an expenditure of some £2 million on the construction of light-weight diesel trains, and these multiple-unit trains will be introduced in the West Riding of Yorkshire, West Cumberland, on the Edinburgh to Glasgow line, Lincolnshire, East Anglia and from Newcastle to Middlesbrough. But the special advantages of the diesel—its quick acceleration, its greater cleanliness and lower cost per unit-mile—are advantages which do not show themselves to the greatest extent in the case of branch lines ir. rural districts.

The competition there is between the diesel engine on the lines and the local motor buses, and an increasing proportion of the omnibuses are now propelled by diesel engines. The costs of maintaining the stations, the signalling and the lines tend in nearly all cases to make it more costly to keep the branch lines open and to run diesels upon them than to use road transport.

I think that I have dealt with most of the points that have been raised of general interest. I come now to the speech of the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. S. O. Davies). He told us that he was a miner and a mining engineer and that the effect of the closing of the branch line, or shall I say, the failure of the Transport Commission to reopen this branch line, which has been closed since 1951 when a viaduct collapsed⁁

Mr. S. O. Davies


Mr. Molson

I cannot give way. I have listened to the hon. Gentleman for a long time and I am going to give him his answer now.

Mr. Davies

I gave way to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Molson

The hon. Gentleman told the House at considerable length that the Commission had ridden roughshod over local opinion, and he said that as an ex-miner and a mining engineer he could assure the House that this would result in the sterilisation of several million tons of coal. All I can say about that is that the Coal Board is of the contrary opinion. They have made it quite plain that they have no objection to this line being closed, as the hon. Gentleman very well knows.

He quoted from a letter written to him by Mr. D. M. Rees, of the National Coal Board, in which it was explained that what his representative said was, that they could not object to the closure. That was the particular view of the National Coal Board who are definitely not in the hands of the Commission.

Mr. Davies

But did they agree to the closure?

Mr. Molson

The hon. Gentleman then read part of the last sentence of that letter—

Mr. Davies

Has the hon. Gentleman read it?

Mr. Molson

It read: With regard to the development of these resources they are well known to us and there is every possibility that they will be worked in the near future— It was on that point, although there is no comma there, that the hon. Gentleman made a special effort to mislead the House as to the rest of the sentence. The rest of the sentence says: But I am assured by my production director that the projected closure would not prejudice the working of the resources.

Mr. Davies

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. When an hon. Member is either charged directly or by implication with having deliberately lied to the House, has he any protection from the Chair?

Mr. Speaker

I did not hear mention of the word "lie." I understand that the hon. Gentleman who had the Floor of the House was replying to the debate. He is entitled to do so without interruption.

Mr. Davies

I suppose it is useless to ask him to read the fourth paragraph of that letter. Read it out boy, come on.

Mr. Molson

Mr. Lyn Jones—I say this for your information, Mr. Speaker—outlined his personal position as a member of the Transport Users' Consultative Committee, but as also deputy-chairman of the National Coal Board, he categorically assured the members of the deputation that his Board had not "agreed" to the closing of the branch line under notice. What they had said was that they could not object to the closure, and that was the particular view 'of the National Coal Board who are definitely not in the hands of the Transport Commission. So much for the argument of the hon. Gentleman that the closure of this line would, in fact, sterilise the coal to which he was referring. It is not the view of the Coal Board, who, I venture to think, are probably better informed upon this subject than is the hon. Member.

As regards the general convenience of the public and the charge that the Transport Commission rode roughshod over public opinion, the matter was referred by them to the Transport Users' Consultative Committee for Wales and Mon-mouth. They referred the matter to a sub-committee, which sat in Cardiff and consisted largely of Welshmen from the neighbourhood. The sub-committee unanimously agreed to report to the consultative committee that no grounds could be found for supporting the objections, and on 15th January, 1954, the consultative committee unanimously adopted the sub-committee's report.

Mr. S. O. Davies

Is the hon. Gentleman not aware that the Bill was in the Vote Office some days before the consultative committee had an opportunity even of inquiring, and that the members of the committee were not from my district? I say that in case the hon. Gentleman intended to imply that they were from my district.

Mr. Molson

I should have thought that they were not only from the hon. Member's district, but almost from his parish.

As regards the point about the Bill, this matter was considered by the consultative committee. The chairman expressed the view that as the Bill, if passed, would be permissive, it would in no way affect the committee's consideration of the case; and furthermore, that as there was a definite assurance that there was no intention of anticipating the committee's findings, no action was called for by them.

I hope that the House will now be prepared to give the Bill a Second Reading and that the many important matters of detail which have been raised by hon. Members will, I am sure, be fully considered by the Committee upstairs.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the Bill to leave out Clause 31."— [Mr. S. O. Davies.]

Hon. Members


Mr. Molson

On a point of order. I was under the impression, Mr. Speaker, that these Instructions had to be moved before 9 o'clock if consideration was to be given to them.

Mr. Speaker

If they are opposed, they cannot be taken after 9 o'clock; but if they are unopposed they may be taken.