HC Deb 15 July 1955 vol 543 cc2273-90

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Godber.]

12.22 p.m.

Mr. Julian Ridsdale (Harwich)

My purpose in talking of transport services in North-East Essex is to bring to the attention of the Government the desperate desire of many who live in that area to see the transport services improved by speed, comfort, and cheaper travel. For too long now they have had to put up with an inadequate and deteriorating transport system. Because the transport facilities there are out of date, criticism is beginning to be bandied about, such as the criticism expressed in the debate which took place in another place last week, when the noble Lord who is the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, who replied to the debate and questions on the tourist industry, said I admit that all is not well at Harwich." —[OFFICIAL RFPORT, House of Lords, 7th July, 1955; Vol. 193, c. 549] Such criticism harms the good name of the very pleasant and attractive holiday resorts, with their privately run and very efficient hotel services, which there are at Harwich and Dovercourt. What is wrong with Harwich is not the town or the hotels but Liverpool Street and the policy adopted by successive railway managements, which have starved the area of adequate transport facilities. They have failed to adopt a progressive policy for the needs of the area.

One cannot blame the local officials for the lack of support from headquarters. Indeed, when I made a journey last week on the local branch lines I could not help being impressed by the efforts the local officials made to make their stations atttractive. It is the denial of capital to the railways, and their starvation for lack of it, which is making the situation desperate. It is because the managements have failed to find the capital that they have been unable to implement a progressive policy.

The Port of Harwich, of which criticism was made in another place, was left by the railway for the Port of Parkes-ton many years ago, and the problem of facilities for Continental tourists is there and not at Harwich. I hope that the Government will press the railway management to improve the facilities for the Continental tourists as quickly as possible at Parkeston. I have received the utmost courtesy from the officials there. It is lack of capital which at present is making the arrival of tourists at Parkes-ton a dreary one indeed.

I am today more concerned, however, with the needs of the area which contains the North-East Essex coast resorts. I know that very welcome proposals are on the way to electrify the railway line between Liverpool Street and the North-East Essex coast. What I should like to hear from my hon. Friend is how long it is to be before that scheme is completed. Is there any way of hurrying on with the scheme of electrification from Liverpool Street to the North-East Essex coast?

How long is Clacton to be given a train service for its inhabitants worse than it was in 1939, and in some cases worse than it was in 1911? Have the inhabitants of Harwich still to be content with a train service which takes almost as long to London as it did a hundred years ago? If it is possible for Ipswich to have through express trains to and from London why cannot the trains from the North-East Essex coast resorts be speeded up? Why have they to suffer the large number of slower stopping-trains to London?

The improvement of the train service to Colchester can be done in a comparatively simple way, as I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Mr. Alport) will agree. Let the railway run express trains to Colchester in the hour or under, and let the branch lines be given diesel trains to meet the expresses at Colchester. I am certain that such a policy of speeding up the service will encourage business men to take advantage of the very beneficial factors which the North-East Essex coast affords. At present, the price of travel and its increasing slowness and discomfort are forcing more and more business people to live nearer to London. It is no wonder that the number of season ticket holders for the journey from Clacton to London has decreased by almost half since 1939.

Obviously, in time, as electrification comes, many of these requirements will be met, but is it not possible for the railway to improve its schedules before electrification takes place? I am certain that if the railways are to compete properly with the roads they must be able to give a cheaper, more comfortable and a quicker service. It is only by that they will relieve the congestion that there is at present on the roads between London and the North-East Essex coast resorts.

I know that much has been done by the railway in running cheap fare excursions in the summer. The railway has helped the resorts by running special excursions from the Midlands. I hope that it will be possible to extend the excursions in collaboration with the local authorities which conduct excellent advertisement schemes in the Midlands and in the North. I am sure that more could be done by those means which would be beneficial to the railways, to the resorts, and, indirectly, also to the roads by relieving road traffic and congestion.

I hope, too, that the Government will adopt a progressive policy for the road between London and North-East Essex. The road between Harwich and Colchester, for the tourists arriving from the Continent, must be one of the best examples of a genuine English antique that there is in the country. It is time the Government improved this road. Nearer to London, at Gallow's Corner, at the junction of the Southend, North-East Essex and London road, is the worst traffic bottle-neck in Essex. I have the support of my hon. Friends the Members for Essex, South-East (Mr. Braine), for Hornchurch (Mr. Lagden) and for Billericay (Mr. Body) in pressing the Government to take action quickly to deal with the serious situation on this corner on the road between London and the North-East Essex coast resorts. I advise the Government to be bold in their planning. The alteration that would meet the need on this dangerous corner is a fly-over and not the plan which the Government have put forward.

Last Sunday morning I saw a two-mile traffic block on the double-track road and in the evening there was a two-mile traffic block on the Brentwood Road, the other way. I know that the Government have plans to do something about this corner, but let us have a modern progressive plan and not something which will be a patching-up process for a few months or even a few years. Further, the widening of the road between Colchester and Chelmsford cannot be long delayed, and I press for an extension of the by-pass between Colchester and Chelmsford at Marks Tey so that the bottle-neck into Colchester can be avoided.

There are many other improvements that are vital. I know the Government's difficulty in finding the capital, but I suggest that minor improvements that can be made on the road are the extension of the bus lay-bys and the closing of the gaps in the double roadways, to mention only two. I advise the Government to press these transport reforms forward without delay. They are essential and by no means luxury requirements. The inhabitants of North-East Essex and the many hundreds of thousands of visitors to the resorts there have had to endure bad transport facilities for far too long. It is high time that something was done to help the patient inhabitants of North-East Essex and their visitors.

12.33 p.m.

Mr. Elwyn Jones (West Ham, South)

I should like to support the eloquent representations which have just been made by the hon. Member for Harwich (Mr. Ridsdale). He has painted a picture of season-ticket holders from Clacton suffering misery which, I am sure, will find a sympathetic chord in the normally sympathetic breast of the Joint Parliamentary Secretary. The contemplation of two miles of traffic being held up at Gallows' Corner fills me with considerable alarm and despondency, and I trust that that will be considered when the Minister replies.

I differ, however, from the hon. Member for Harwich in that he has centred his attention wholly on the North-East corner of Essex. He might have cast his interest over a wider field, because my particular interest is in the South-West corner of Essex. I hope that in the reply to the debate the whole of Essex may come under the benign attention of the Joint Parliamentary Secretary.

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

Why draw the line at the whole of Essex?

Mr. Jones

I speak as a representative of an Essex constituency which has had to suffer from the severe limitations of the railway facilities in Essex.

I do not know why it is, but Essex seems to be a Cinderella of the railway services. When one travels towards the South of England, towards Kent or Sussex, the comparison between the facilities there and those in Essex is greatly to the disadvantage of Essex. It may be that there are far more first-class ticket holders in Bournemouth, Brighton and the watering places of the South Coast than there are in Harwich or West Ham. Whether that is a factor which has caused in the past the gross disparity in facilities and services, I know not, but there is room for immediate improvement in services in Essex.

I agree with the hon. Member for Harwich that it is not enough to say, "Wait until electrification is on the way." There seems to be room for improvement in the present services. I hope that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will assure me that his Department does not intend to wait for major capital developments but is in a position now to make immediate improvements.

12.36 p.m.

Mr. C. J. M. Alport (Colchester)

I rise to support my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Mr. Ridsdale) and the hon. and learned Member for West Ham, South (Mr. Elwyn Jones) in pressing upon the Joint Parliamentary Secretary the claims which we have in Essex as a whole, and more particularly in North-East Essex, for the improvement of transport facilities.

I have been told that there was a "Society for the Denigration of North-East Essex" before the war. Its object was to prevent people coming into Essex in large numbers from London and elsewhere and spoiling our very lovely countryside, and at the same time, raising the local cost of living. I understand that the members worked in conjunction with an honorary member who was the architect of Liverpool Street Station. The result has been a general impression that the difficulties of reaching North-East Essex are very great indeed. It is true that there are great difficulties, both in rail and road communications. I would only say, living in that part of the world, that the advantages and pleasure secured by anybody who overcomes those difficulties when he eventually reaches our part of the country make the effort and the visit well worth while.

I wish to draw the attention of the Joint Parliamentary Secretary particularly to the probem of those who do not want to come from London to Essex so much as to go from Essex to London daily to earn a living. Before the war, many of them bought houses in North-East Essex knowing that the train services which existed at that time were sufficiently convenient to enable them to attend their offices and places of business at a proper time in the morning and to leave at a reasonable hour in the evening.

But the timing of the railway schedules has progressively declined since the war. They have been gravely affected in recent years, perhaps inevitably in some degree, by the work done to improve the permanent way and the scheme to carry out electrification, first towards Shenfield and now further on towards Chelmsford.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and I, since October last, have been pressing on the management of the Eastern Region of British Railways some very modest proposals for altering the schedules, to enable the group of travellers concerned to travel with greater convenience and attend their offices with greater regularity. We have seen representatives of the Eastern Region management personally and have communicated with them by letter and telephone at intervals during the last eight months.

I must tell my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary that the outcome of this approach to the railway authorities has been completely negative. I may be doing them an injustice but they seem to take the attitude that this particular group of residents are really rather a nuisance, that it is their fault that they live so far away from their places of business, and that if they wish to attend business regularly they should live nearer London. I have always thought it one of the most important things that as far as possible those who work in London should be able to live outside it.

I would say, further, that this particular group of passengers provide the railways with a continuous and secure revenue. They are an important group to us in Colchester and North-East Essex because their presence is an economic advantage to us. Yet I must tell my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary that everything has been done as far as we can see by the railway management to discourage their continued residence in our part of the county, and, what is more, to discourage any further similar residents coming to North-East Essex.

I cannot imagine that any Government Department or any private enterprise transport organisation would take such a stubborn attitude almost to the point of contempt to the legitimate interests of an important section of their clients. I can only use this occasion, which I do reluctantly, to say that I believe that unless we get a different attitude on the part of the railway management to their passengers whom it is the duty of the railways to carry and who are a source of profit to them, we will never see British Railways compete economically with other forms of transport.

I can tell my hon. Friend that my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and I are absolutely at our wits' end in this matter. I should have thought any management which was determined to conciliate and which had a proper public relations sense would have made some effort to meet what is a continuing and, I believe, a legitimate complaint against the services which are now offered.

Major H. Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)

Can my hon. Friend tell the House whether those who have these complaints have ever used the transport users' consultative machinery?

Mr. Alport

It has been taken up with it, so I understand. I have had some experience of the Transport Users' Consultative Committee, during the last three years. I do not believe that the present method of representing the grievances of the user of nationalised transport is effective. We had considerable negotiations about the maintenance of Brightlingsea branch railway and, it is true, we were supported and received a fair hearing from the transport users' consultative committee, but it took not only a local authority, with all its financial resources which enabled it to pay for legal advice and representation at the meeting, but the presence of the then hon. Member for Maldon, Mr. Tom Driberg, and myself to argue the case.

I would say that any small group of passengers who have not got those facilities and cannot be expected to engage legal representatives has a relatively small chance of getting their views put across properly against the great weight of technical mysticism which British Railways are able to deploy to meet a case of that sort.

I hope that my hon. Friend will take this matter seriously, because, although it is a local problem, it is at the same time one which I think affects very many issues about the future of British Railways. Until British Railways regard themselves as not being a separate "mystery," but as something which can be adjusted and made flexible to meet changing demands, we will never get a satisfactory passenger service in this country, despite all the money that we spend on diesel engines and on electrification.

Perhaps I may now turn from the railways to the roads. My hon. Friend the Member for Harwich has been absolutely right in his description of the very difficult conditions which exist on our roads, particularly during the summer months. During the early part of my residence in the Colchester area, I had a cottage on the main road, and during certain periods of the year it took me twenty minutes, and usually with the assistance of the police, to get out of my front gate on to the road.

From the point of view of danger, nobody was more relieved than my wife and myself, with our small children, to get away from that road. We never knew when an accident was about to take place, involving the children living in the vicinity, and I would ask my hon. Friend to regard this matter not only from the point of view of the convenience of the travelling public, but also to bear in mind the interests of those who live in the neighbourhood of a great trunk road of this sort.

I would again raise with him the problem about which I have been in communication with him, namely, that of Gun Hill. We realise that that presents the Ministry with a big problem, and I think his right hon. Friend the Minister told the House the other day that the cost of providing a by-pass road at Stratford St. Mary would be 000,000, and that the Ministry only intended to spend a lesser sum of £7,000 on making certain alterations in the camber of the road. We are grateful for this expenditure, and grateful for the effort which the Ministry has made, but I do not think that this is a stitch in time saving nine. The county council believes that the expenditure of £300,000 now would save greater future expenditure and would, in fact, provide the only reasonable and practical solution to the problem of the danger on that particular part of the London-Ipswich road.

I should like to deal with the question of the by-pass from Marks Tey to Lexden. I would join with my hon. Friends in pressing upon the Minister the urgency of proceeding with that particular improvement. There is a stretch of road from Marks Tey to Lexden, part of the old road, which is extremely dangerous, narrow, unsatisfactory and passes through what is almost in a sense ribbon development. During the whole period of the season for Clacton and the North-East Essex seaside resorts very heavy traffic comes along that stretch, and a new bypass will not only speed up access to the North-East resorts, but would also make a tremendous improvement for motorists passing along that road who are constantly faced with the anxiety of driving through a fairly heavily populated part of the countryside.

We are anxious to see North-East Essex used as a resort for those who wish to come from this great metropolis in order to take advantage of the amenities which exist at the various points along our coast. I have in my own constituency only one small resort, which is really a yachting centre, West Mersea, but there are many people not only there but in Clacton and elsewhere who depend for their livelihood upon the continued arrival of visitors from the rest of the country.

We therefore feel that it is in the interests not only of our own people but of the population in the great urban areas that access to our part of Essex should be made as easy and as convenient as possible. This morning we have put forward some suggestions in a constructive spirit, and I hope that my hon. Friend, more especially when he has time to consider our representations, will find himself able to advise British Railways on their future policy for our part of the country, and will himself be sympathetic towards the improvement of road communications between the rest of the country and North-East Essex.

12.50 p.m.

Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)

I wish to intervene only for a few moments because, whatever steps the Minister may intend taking in Essex to improve the flow of traffic there, they might well have tragic results upon the flow of traffic in the Medway towns area, in which I am particularly interested. I must raise this point because we are already in extreme difficulties and these will no doubt be increased greatly when the Dartford tunnel project is completed. I speak with some feeling because I had an unfortunate experience recently when I went to my constituency hoping to see Kent play Essex. I spent most of the morning sweating and fuming on one mile of road, taking an hour and 20 minutes to cover it.

When the Dartford tunnel operates, although I agree that there are some charming areas of Essex, I have no doubt that many people from that county will use the tunnel to get to the much more desirable County of Kent. The cherry orchards and the vast expanse of Kentish coastal resorts which will be open to them will draw them like a magnet on to that mile of road which was so difficult to cover only a short time ago.

I hope, therefore, that when the Minister considers this question, he will also consider the claims of Kent. Also I hope he will realise that, if he looks into the question of the Rochester bypass urgently, he will not only please the people of the Medway towns, but will make it possible for the constituents of my hon. Friends who represent Essex to enjoy their weekends much more pleasantly in the County of Kent.

12.52 p.m.

Mr. Brian Harrison (Maldon)

I rise to draw the attention of the Minister particularly to those parts of A.12 which serve the North-East Essex coastal area, and to ask my hon. Friend if he could not do something soon in the interests of the safety of the people who live in the towns of Hatfield Peverel and Witham. Both of those towns on Saturdays and Sundays suffer from a continuous roar of traffic—at least they suffer the roar of the engines, the traffic is not always moving quite so fast. I disagree strongly with my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden), though I can appreciate that in Essex we shall be inundated with visitors from south of the river coming up to enjoy our sunshine.

The second and main point which I ask the Minister to consider seriously is that he should be quick in defining the areas which are to be by-passed and the routes which these additional roads will take. I do so because there are numbers of people living in the vicinity of A.12 who do not know whether their houses will be moved, whether their gardens will be taken, or whether the land on which they are planning to build factories will be bisected by a dual carriage-way or a by-pass. So I draw the attention of the Minister to the problems of people living on A.12, both from the point of view of safety and also of the uncertainty which surrounds the future plans of his Ministry.

12.55 p.m.

Major H. Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)

This is essentially an Essex affair, so I did not try to catch your eye before, Sir, because I was anxious that all the Essex Members should have a chance to speak first. I do not propose to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) in the line he pursued for his constituents, although the Isle of Ely has many road needs which I hope can be dealt with on some other occasion.

The reason I sought to catch your eye, Sir, was because this debate has some relevance to a Bill which some other hon. Members and myself have been considering at great length in a Committee upstairs, which has now reported to the House. I do not propose to go into the details of the British Transport Commission Bill and I shall not suggest legislation, either directly or by roundabout means. However, in the course of the proceedings on that Bill we were given information about the plans of the British Transport Commission which have considerable relevance to this matter.

For instance, we were shown the plans for electrification and we were made very much aware of the enormous proportion it represents. My hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Mr. Ridsdale), who introduced this debate so ably, drew attention to the fact that his constituents in North-East Essex are looking forward to increased electrification. However, when the British Transport Commission Bill came before the Committee of which I had the honour to be chairman, their representative made it clear that certain developments had been definitely held up as the result of a Government decision in 1950 about capital. That decision restricted the Commission from doing some of the things that it wanted to do, and I want to dwell on that point for a few moments.

Throughout his speech my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich said that capital was the difficulty. No one would dispute that but, be the industry nationalised or under private enterprise, it is not fair to blame the lack of capital for failure to carry out much-needed improvements if the real reason is a Government decision about capital.

From what I have seen of the attempts at modernisation of British Railways, I believe they have improved the service rendered to the public—that is, with the exception of signboards on Ely station, which I thought unnecessary and which I have mentioned previously.

I was particularly interested in what my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Mr. Alport) replied when I interrupted him earlier about the use of the Transport Users' Consultative Committee. I have always understood that this machinery was provided to enable the user to complain about anything in the existing service with which he was dissatisfied. It may be a narrow point as to whether or not that committee is entitled to consider improvements ab initio, but it was the impression of the House when various nationalisation Bills were passed that this machinery was set up to ensure that the voice of the user was properly heard. It was felt that whether the users were small groups of individuals or vast corporations, public companies, local authorities or any others, all should have equal rights before that committee to ensure that their voices were properly heard.

The hon. Member for Colchester disclosed the rather startling fact that people in his constituency who have grievances have found that this consultative machinery is not practical. If that be so, no legislation is required to alter the situation. The consultative committee is there, and the important thing is to ensure that it operates in such a way that the individual is given as much chance as the collective body or the local authority. This machinery is working fairly well in the electricity industry. People who have not got a service are able to come before their consultative committee and say that they want one. The same thing should apply in the case of transport. The consultative machinery should be so geared as to enable individuals or groups of individuals to make their complaints known without being put to prohibitive costs.

In its capacity as manager of our railways the British Transport Commission ought not to be blamed if the restrictions imposed upon it are caused solely by a Government decision about capital. A very important decision was taken in 1950 in connection with the use of capital for the improvement of the London area transport facilities, both underground and above ground. I understand that the Commission has not been back to the Minister of Transport to raise the matter again since that clamp-down took place in 1950. One of the recommendations of the Committee of which I was chairman was that the Minister should confer with the Commission upon that matter straight away.

I feel that this matter should be kept under continuous review and, where really urgent needs are shown—whether they be in Essex, London or anywhere else—the Government should keep in such close touch with the Commission that they should not feel bound by a decision given five years ago. I do not know whether that decision has any effect in North-East Essex. Perhaps the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will tell us that.

Mr. Molson

Would my hon. and gallant Friend please explain exactly what this decision in 1950 was?

Major Legge-Bourke

It was a decision, taken in consultation with the London Transport Executive, about the development of transport facilities in London. My hon. Friend will doubtless receive the special report of the Committee of which I was chairman in due course. It was printed yesterday and is now available in the Vote Office.

This debate has served a useful purpose in that it has brought to a head two points first, that we cannot blame any industry, be it nationalised or otherwise, if it is doing its best with the capital which it is allowed by the Government to use, and, secondly, that we cannot expect a nationalised industry to have good public relations unless the consultative machinery is working properly in the consumers' interests. I do not think that this machinery is working properly in the case of transport, although it is working quite well in certain other industries. I hope that my hon. Friend will consider that aspect of the matter, because it is one of the most important.

1.4 p.m.

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

As not infrequently happens, when a certain matter is raised upon the Adjournment and there is plenty of time for the discussion to run, the scope of the speeches tends to extend beyond the subject originally announced. My hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Mr. Ridsdale), with great courtesy, gave me notice of certain matters he intended to raise, and I have furnished myself with the information necessary for giving him a somewhat detailed reply.

After the problems of North-East Essex had been referred to, however, those of other parts of Essex were mentioned by the hon. and learned Member for West Ham, South (Mr. Elwyn Jones), and then, in his speech, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) pointed out what was familiar to those who are students of geography, namely, that the Isle of Ely is outside the County of Essex. Nevertheless, I shall try to give a brief general answer to the points which have been raised before dealing in more detail with those of which I have been given notice.

I stand here not as a representative of the British Transport Commission, but in order to inform the House, as far as possible, of the policy which the Commission is following, subject to the very general directions which are provided for in the Transport Acts and which my right hon. Friend is empowered to give. Generally speaking, the purpose of Parliament in 1947—and it is one which has not changed with the change of Government—was that the Commission should be left responsible for the administration of the railways and the other transport services which come within its responsibilities.

It is obviously unreasonable for Parliament to ask the Commission to balance its accounts, taking one year with another if, at the same time, Parliament is going to seek to impose upon it the obligation to maintain uneconomic services. Therefore, we consider that where it is manifestly impossible for a certain service to be profitable the Commission is justified in putting to the Transport Users' Consultative Committees the proposal that that branch line or railway should be closed down.

It is necessary, and inevitable, that hon. Members representing parts of the country where these uneconomical services are being cut down should, as the spokesmen of their constituents, protest; but it is the duty of the Minister of Transport to take a broad view of these matters and not normally to interfere with a decision which has been approved by a consultative committee.

I was sorry to hear the criticisms which were made of those committees. Our view is that, faced with extremely difficult tasks, they have on the whole worked satisfactorily. Indeed, I was surprised to hear the complaint coming from Essex, because it was in the case of the Brightlingsea branch line that the consultative committee asked the Commission to change its original intention, which was not to rebuild the branch railway after it had been seriously damaged in the floods. As a result, that part of the country has had its railway services restored, at any rate for a time, in spite of its being uneconomical.

Mr. Alport

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind that no conclusive proof was given by British Railways at the time of that case—in which I took some part and which I followed with very great attention—that that branch line was uneconomical or, at any rate, could not be made economical if proper steps were taken by British Railways and local people in combination? It is a little mis- leading to give the impression that British Railways made a concession in keeping in existence an uneconomical line which could in no circumstances ever be made economical.

Mr. Molson

The point I was trying to make was that the consultative committee was effective in that instance. If it is the case—and I do not doubt that it is, although it is an expression of opinion—that my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Mr. Alport), together with other people, was able to convince the consultative committee that the Commission had not made out its case, it goes to show how satisfactory is the machinery which is provided.

I will now say a word in reply to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely. He referred to a decision in 1950, limiting the capital expenditure which the British Transport Commission might undertake in London. It is not necessary for us to go back to 1950 and to recall the economic conditions of that time, because since then the present Government have announced that they were prepared to facilitate the provision of the £1,200 million needed for the modernisation of British Railways. Any decision taken at that time has no general bearing now upon the provision of capital for the modernisation and improvement of the railways.

My hon. and gallant Friend said that this referred to the underground services in London. I informed the House some time ago that, while under its Private Bill the British Transport Commission seeks power to explore the possibility of extending the underground services of London, the Government will decide only after careful survey has been made whether or not money can or should be provided for that purpose. That matter will be decided after the survey has been made, and when we know more precisely than we do at the present time what the cost will be.

Major Legge-Bourke

I thought that my hon. Friend would say something like this. The particular matter I had in mind was a smaller expenditure than that, for which powers were first acquired in 1921. The power has been renewed every six years. The Abercrombie Report for London recommended that this plan should be put forward as a matter of high priority. As a matter of fact, as a result of the decision in 1950 by the Government at that time, the money was considered to be unavailable for spending on this project.

Mr. Molson

I will examine that matter carefully and also the report of the Select Committee over which my hon. and gallant Friend has been presiding.

I come to the more detailed points that were raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich. As was suggested by a representative of the Government in another place recently, we are not entirely satisfied with the facilities that exist in the Port of Harwich. I am glad to inform my hon. Friend that we are examining the whole of this question with the British Transport Commission. Moreover the modernisation plan includes provision for the reconstruction of the main Marine Station, including the enlargement of the reception facilities.

My hon. Friend asked about general facilities between North-East Essex and the North. I am glad that he and his friends in that part of the country have been in discussion with the local regional officers. I understand that a new intensive interval service between London and Clacton was introduced some four years ago but that the public response did not suggest that there was further scope for providing much better facilities. I understand that there is an excellent train service to Clacton, and that in addition to through trains there is a connection at Colchester off every main express.

With regard to electrification, it is expected that the extension of the present electrified line between Liverpool Street and Shenfield to Chelmsford will be completed by 1956. Experiments with diesels are going ahead, and I hope that in due course the introduction of diesels will result in a considerable improvement in railway services all over the country, an improvement in which North-East Essex will participate.

On railways, I am only able to give the House the information which I have obtained from the British Transport Commission. Hon. Members have, however, been asking questions about a number of roads, and I would like to say something about those for which my hon. Friend has direct responsibility. For trunk roads he has financial responsibility and he pays large grants in respect of classified roads.

Trunk road schemes we have already announced are the dual carriage-ways on the East Ham—Barking bypass, the Newbury Park Station Bridge widening and reconstruction, the Potter Street diversion, the Harlow by-pass and the Tilbury Docks approach road. These are large schemes which should have an extremely beneficial effect. For classified roads, the grants to be made to the Essex County Council out of the present allocation for major improvements to classified roads estimated to cost less than £500,000, total £152,000.

When I am asked to deal with the help which has been given to Essex, I think I am justified in referring to the Dartford—Purfleet Tunnel. Although my hon. Friend said that this will in some way add to the burdens of the Medway Towns, it will greatly facilitate communication between Essex and other parts of the country. This is one of the largest schemes that we are undertaking at the present time, and it will cost about £9,450,000.

I have tried to give my hon. Friend an answer to most of the points that he raised. I cannot be expected to deal in detail with the other matters which have been raised, but I can give an assurance to every hon. Member who has taken part that we shall carefully examine in the Department what has been said. It is our anxious desire to do everything that can reasonably be done to ensure the provision of better facilities.

Mr. Burden

May we take it that urgent consideration will be given to the question of the Medway by-pass? There is the gravest concern about the effect that the Dartford—Purfleet tunnel can have on the already terrible traffic conditions in Rochester, Chatham and Gillingham. It is felt that it will impose greater hardship.

Mr. Molson

I know a certain amount about the problems of the Medway towns, and they are always present to our minds. We are trying to give some measure of priority to industrial roads, which are of great importance, and I am not quite sure whether the Medway towns are specially concerned with such traffic. I will certainly look into the point and will send my hon. Friend an answer on the subject.

Back to