HC Deb 04 July 1956 vol 555 cc1395-457

Order for Second Reading read.

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

7.1 p.m.

Mr. David Logan (Liverpool, Scotland Division)

I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: having regard to the grave national and local interests involved, this House declines to give a Second Reading to the Bill until the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation has convened a conference of his Department, the local authorities and all other interested parties to consider the position. My colleagues and I are interested only in doing the best we can for the city of Liverpool. I do not wish to make a political speech, but to deal with a matter which involves everyone in Liverpool, whether they be representatives of the city council or live in Liverpool.

When a Private Bill of this importance comes to the House of Commons, it is necessary, apart altogether from political partisanship, that hon. Members should do their duty honestly and sincerely for those who live in a great city like Liverpool and in the best interests of the city. In moving the rejection of this Bill, I wish to stress, with my knowledge of Liverpool, that I contend our plea is justified and in the best interests of the city. The Mersey Docks and Harbour Board took over the right to come forward here with a Bill and got sanction when that power was transferred to it to hand over to a company. That company started building in the year 1893 after having received a lease from Mersey Docks and Harbour Board of 999 years. Why it was so short a period, I do not know. Now it comes forward and says, "We are not able to carry on" and this great structure, which was and is one of the amenities of Liverpool, has to be done away with.

I do not know anything about the law of contract. Lawyers in this House would be able to define the legal obligations better than I can. I should imagine that as the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board brought in a Bill and obtained the power of leasing, those who entered on a lease of 999 years must have thought that that would have well covered the lifetime of the directors. Yet, after the short time which has elapsed since then, it is sought to get rid of the obligation. I do not know what the contractual obligation would be. I should imagine that, in taking over an obligation like that, if the premises were pulled down and destroyed, or if the company is unable to leave the buildings it now occupies under the lease in the same condition as when it took them over, that obligation on the whole of the six or seven miles of the Mersey front would have to be made good by the vacating tenants.

I do not want any difficulties to be created for any of my hon. Friends, and it is not in a belligerent attitude that I approach this subject, but I do so with an intensity of feeling because, irrespective of private ownership or public ownership, the people of Liverpool have a right to get what they are justly entitled to. Amenities were given to them years ago because of the pressure of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board by a Bill. The Board stated that it was in such a chaotic state, so congested and with so much traffic, that it was not able to carry on unless it had that Bill. Parliament in its wisdom granted the Bill.

I appeal to the sense of hon. Members, irrespective of party, and ask if what was chaotic and congested in 1893 is not in a worse condition today on the dockside at Liverpool. Let anyone picture the conditions in 1893 and picture the conditions now. The roads are traversed by heavy haulage traffic coming from all the towns in Lancashire and Yorkshire, from the north and the south, day and night, travelling to and from the docks.

During the war Liverpool was the only port in the West which was functioning. The men in the docks did wonderful work night and day while bombs were falling. Am I now to be told that powers should be sought to get rid of this railway? That might be all right if one wanted to get rid of an old wringing machine used in the house. It might be all right to get rid of other things one does not want, but when an authority has appealed to Parliament and got this power, protesting that this was absolutely essential for the people of Liverpool, I maintain that this is the wrong time—1956—to protest that conditions are much easier. The conditions are worse.

I know the line of docks extending from Herculaneum to Seaforth well. I have travelled them and worked in the docks. I have been in and out of ships coming in and out of the Mersey many a time from Herculaneum down to Langton Dock. I know the efficiency of the overhead railway, not only as a benefit for employers but also for employees. I have seen the great benefits derived from that method of transport. I do not know if we are allowed to gamble here, but I dare to say that no other method of travel, unless it were submarine transport, could take the traffic on Merseyside.

We should have to provide a fleet of motor cars and to widen the dock side. We should have to make new roads—seven miles of new roads from Dingle to Litherland. We should have to knock down many houses. These things have never entered into the minds of those who flippantly ask that they may get rid of a responsibility which was a business obligation. They want to get rid of it no matter what the consequences may be for the city. I have no love of jerry-builders in Liverpool. I have seen street after street of houses built there in my lifetime, and I have seen them derelict, not having received proper attention from those who controlled them. But surely when a large business has an obligation to the community to carry on a method of transport, we have a right to protect the people who use that transport.

If the city had to undertake this transport it would mean that the Liverpool ratepayers, nearly every householder, would have to pay 4d. or 6d. a week at least more on their rent and rates. In these hard times of rising prices we do not see how it is possible for the people to carry this burden. I do not know what my colleagues think, but personally I feel that this railway ought not to be closed down without our knowing what those responsible intend to do to replace the service.

As we all know, Liverpool is a very difficult place to run. In Liverpool, the authority has very heavy expenses. The war damage to houses has been very great, and we could do with 20,000 or 30,000 more houses. We want no more liabilities unless our financial position is eased. In justice to the company who want to get rid of this property, we are anxious to do a fair and honest deal, but if I were in the market buying scrap, I should want to buy it not at the scrap price but at a price lower than that in order to make a profit out of it. I have never been in a business where we sold at a loss; I have always been in a business where we made a profit.

In their hearts hon. Members opposite have no doubt said, "Let us appeal to the soft hearts of Members of Parliament, make our bit of money out of this undertaking and then get rid of it." But Liverpool is not run that way; Liverpool has to meet its obligations, and the members of the Liverpool City Council—there are a couple present—know that those obligations lie as hard on me as on them.

I want in no way to be personal in my remarks to any member of the council or to any hon. Member. I am just putting the position as an Irishman to a Jew—

Mr. Kenneth Thompson (Liverpool, Walton)

The hon. Gentleman will not make a profit that way.

Mr. Logan

—that we make a business deal. I want to know which way they intend to approach it and what they intend to do to benefit the city which we all represent. I suggest that the solution which the Trades and Labour Council, the dockers and the City Council of Liverpool have agreed is the best solution to this problem. The people of the city have a right to speak and to ask that those who represent them should do their best on behalf of the people.

I speak now not to individual members of Liverpool City Council but to the House so that the considered judgment of House may be given on the Bill in the context of the facts which we bring forward. When all is said and done, this is the forum through which we may give expression to our opinion. We want an agreement to be reached in conformity with the expressed wish of organised labour.

I ask hon. Members to remember the power of those who can cause strikes and chaos in the city of Liverpool. I ask them to remember the difficulties which will be created if transport is not provided for the thousands of dockers who live in the outer areas, having moved there after the bombing—to places like Speke and Maghull—but who work in the docks. It will cause great discomfort and inconvenience to these people. I ask hon. Members, as a matter of honest judgment, to agree to a solution on the lines which I have set out—following the views expressed by those who represent Liverpool and who have to bear the burden of the management of the city. I ask hon. Members honestly and sincerely, and in no partisan way, to vote against the Bill.

7.17 p.m.

Mrs. E. M. Braddock (Liverpool, Exchange)

I beg to second the Amendment.

The Liverpool City Council, the Trades Council and the Labour Party, representing the trade unions in Liverpool, are very concerned about the possibility that this very important railway may be closed down. Because of the situation in Liverpool, this overhead railway runs the whole length of the line of docks; in certain parts it runs into the docks and in other parts it runs along the side of the Liverpool Dock Road. Liverpool's transport problem is perhaps unique. All the workers for the docks must go down from the various parts of the city, by bus or tram car, to the edge of the Liverpool Dock Road. There the overhead railway picks up the workers who want to go into the docks and to the ships, and it takes them very quickly from one section of the Liverpool docks to another.

It is not necessary for the Liverpool local authority to supply transport to bring the workers from the outskirts, on the south or the north of Liverpool, to a specific dock; it brings them along the nearest route to the nearest station where they can be picked up by the overhead railway. This means that Liverpool has no buses running along the Dock Road; they run from all parts of the city to the Dock Road.

It would be almost impossible to run a bus service along the Dock Road. There are very many railway crossings taking railway tracks across the road into the warehouses, where trucks pick up the goods which have been brought in by road transport and deposited there and then carry them across the Dock Road, to the docks and down to the front where the ships are being loaded.

There are at least nineteen of these railway crossings over the road, and it would, therefore, be quite impossible to run a scheduled bus service along the Dock Road to meet the needs of the workers on that road. At a time like this, when it is vitally necessary that the country's trade, and particularly the country's export and import trade, shall be kept going without any difficulty at all, it is of great concern that the overhead railway should be maintained.

It was the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board which first applied for permission to build an overhead railway. That was in 1882. The Board got permission, but did not immediately begin to construct the railway. It passed to a private company the responsibility of building it and leased the land on which it was built to that private company for 999 years at an annual rental of £1,000. The Mersey Docks and Harbour Board has never claimed that rent. The railway has continued to be used and the Docks Board has not paid a lot of attention to it. The private company has been responsible, and never once throughout its history has that railway run at a loss. It still does not run at a loss.

One section of the relevant Act of Parliament laid down that a repairs and renewals fund should be instituted so that there would always be money available for repairs. During the war, when Liverpool became our most important port, the overhead railway was badly damaged by a bomb. On two occasions and at two different places it was broken and could not be run as a complete line. The Ministry of War Transport was asked to look at this, because it was possible that, if this railway was unable to be used when Liverpool was the No. 1 transport, import and export port in the country, there would be difficulty in regard to war transport facilities.

A special committee was set up and a special inquiry was made and even at that time consideration was given to the question whether, instead of repairing the railway, it would be possible to run buses on the Dock Road. The committee came to the conclusion that it was then impossible for buses to be used on that road. The overhead railway was repaired by the Ministry of War Transport because it was considered to be an absolute essential.

The money in the repairs and renewals fund has not been used. The repairs have not been done. There is nothing at all wrong with the structure of the overhead railway. The only thing is that the platform and the platform sections upon which the railway runs require some repair, but the railway has not been repaired, renewed or attended to for some time.

The Act of Parliament which permits the railway to run says that, at any time, the company can give six months' notice to pay out the debentures. It is very peculiar, Mr. Speaker, that on 1st January, while the request for the closing of the railway was pending, six months' notice was given to use the repairs and renewals fund to pay out the debenture stock. On 1st July—just three days ago—in spite of the fact that this Bill had not been considered in this House and that a Second Reading had not been given to it, I am informed that, the six months' notice having expired, the necessary money has been paid out.

That means that if this House does not give a Second Reading to the Bill and the Amendment is carried—and I am asking the House to carry it, and I shall explain why it is so important in a few moments—and if some arrangement is come to to keep this railway going—and I believe that it is essential for the Port of Liverpool that it should be kept running—there will be little or no money in the repairs and renewals fund to enable any group or organisation in Liverpool that takes on the responsibility of running the overhead railway to do such repairs and renewals as may be necessary.

That is very wrong indeed. I do not know the law in relation to Private Bills sufficiently well to be sure about it, but I do think that when money is paid out in this way before a Bill has been given its Second Reading it is running very near the question of Privilege. That matter will, of course, have to be looked at, but let us look at the position in relation to this Amendment.

A couple of years ago the directors of the railway said that they wanted to close it, and asked the local authority if it had any objection to their doing so. The party that is in power in Liverpool now was not in control at that time, and the then leader of the Liverpool Conservative Party said that he could not care less whether the railway went or whether it did not. He said that he would see about getting transport on the Dock Road, knowing very well that it was completely impossible for that road to be used to any advantage by buses.

In May, 1955, there was a change of political control, and when this matter was given attention, it being in the minutes of preceding council meetings, attempts were made by the Liverpool City Council to see whether arrangements could be made to keep the railway going. It has not been possible to get the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board, which leases to the company the land on which the railway is built, to come to any conference at all. Although we met the Ministers, the Local Trades Council and Labour Party, the directors of the overhead railway and other people concerned, the Docks Board would not attend any meeting.

We know that if the Liverpool Corporation seeks to call a conference the Docks Board will not come, and we believe that the only way to get a full discussion is for the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation to take the responsibility of convening a conference. That is why we are asking for the Second Reading of the Bill to be delayed, in order to see whether it is possible, by agreement with Bootle, Crosby, Liverpool, Birkenhead, the Docks Board and the N.U.R., whose men work on the railway, for the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation to call a conference with the Docks Board to discuss the matter. If such a conference can be arranged, it may be possible to retain this very valuable asset to Liverpool for at least 10 years.

Why is the Liverpool overhead railway so necessary? The Docks Board and those concerned with this organisation move men about not in two's and three's but sometimes 200 and more at a time. If a ship comes in to a dock a long way along Dock Road, or if it is at Birkenhead, and the men are working at the extreme north end or the extreme south end of the docks, buses could not move 200 or 300 men at a time with their equipment and tools to deal with the ship. Yet such a process goes on regularly.

It is not as though the railway had ceased to carry as many people as it used to carry. It is still carrying approximately 10 million people a year. There has been no loss in any year. It is expected that there may be a loss, and it is in anticipation of the loss that the directors are asking for a Second Reading of this Bill in order to close the railway and demolish it.

It is not only the dockers who are concerned. There are also engineers and electricians and others who are necessary on this seven miles stretch of dock road. One never knows at what particular moment 200 or 300 men may have to be moved along the road. It is impossible for buses to do that work, even if they could be put on the road.

Reference has been made to the cost which would arise to the local authority. The local authority has no responsibility for moving people along the Dock Road. The responsibility of the local authority is to bring people to the Dock Road itself. I know that the Liverpool City Council will be very reluctant indeed to be obliged to supply a fleet of buses. I can give the number of buses which will be needed, and I can also give figures relating to the present shortage of drivers and conductors on the Liverpool transport system. It would be physically impossible, with no Government grant, to supply buses which would be of any use on the Dock Road.

We certainly could not operate the service if the railway were closed at the end of this year, for no bus is available. Sixty vehicles would be required, unless the whole conversion programme from tramway cars to buses were postponed. At present, the passenger transport department is short of 550 personnel, and another 150 would be required to operate the extra 60 vehicles which would be needed. It is a complete impossibility. If the railway closes at the end of the year, there will be a national labour crisis in relation to exports and imports, and I am certain that the dock workers themselves will have something caustic to say if they are put to any great difficulty in moving from one place to another in the absence of buses or railway transport. The situation will be very serious indeed.

The engineering report obtained by the Liverpool City Council states that it is possible to repair the railway. I do not know what the financial position will be now that most of the money in the repairs and renewal fund has gone, but it is said that the railway can be put into proper repair and maintained for the next 10 years, during which time the whole question of alternative transport could be considered. But that matter cannot possibly be considered between now and 31st December.

We are always hearing how important it is that the docks and transport should keep working and that exports and imports should be permitted to flow as freely as possible. If a Second Reading is given to the Bill, and the railway closes, within a very short time there will be a national transport crisis in the City of Liverpool. It is wrong, particularly for representatives from Liverpool, to take any action that might force the Liverpool City Corporation to charge its ratepayers an extra 4d. rate in order to meet the financial responsibilities, but that is what it will probably mean. I am putting these things quite bluntly.

I ask this House to be very cautious before consenting to the winding up of the railway. Let the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation call a conference. I can assure the House that if we get that conference, the Liverpool City Council is prepared to take its share of responsibility. The railway does not run only through Liverpool. It goes through Bootle, and to Crosby, whose local authorities are prepared to take some responsibility.

It would be wrong to close and dismantle this railway before all the interested parties have had a conference and discussed the financial and labour implications and seen whether it is possible for the railway to be kept going at least for the next 10 years, during which the whole question of transport on the Merseyside could be fully discussed.

We are asking the House to accept this Amendment, which will require the Minister of Transport to call a conference in order that all the difficulties and facts may be gone into, and that the railway shall continue to be run in the service and to the advantage of the Docks Board and the dockers and workers on the Dock Road until such time as we can find some alternative to it, which cannot be done in six months or even two or three years.

Mr. R. J. Mellish (Bermondsey)

It seems to me that we are facing the problem in which this private company does not want to close the railway, but to keep it. Can my hon. Friend tell me whether any arrangements have been made with the Liverpool Corporation to take it over with some form of subsidy from the Government, or whether that has been considered?

Mrs. Braddock

One of the reasons why we want the conference is to see what is the position. We want to go into all these matters. We have never had the opportunity to go into them, because we have never been able to get a responsible body to make certain that everyone interested in this matter would come together and discuss any arrangements which required to be made.

7.42 p.m.

Mr. John Tilney (Liverpool, Wavertree)

It is with regret that I must ask the House to reject the Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Scotland (Mr. Logan) and seconded by the hon. Lady the Member for Liverpool, Exchange (Mrs. Braddock). I say "with regret" because I regret the passing of a landmark which is well known to those who live around Merseyside, and regret, too, that a service that has been of use in the past year—

Mrs. Braddock

On a point of order. Should not the hon. Member declare his directorship interest in this matter before he speaks?

Mr. Speaker

I do not think the hon. Member has had a chance to declare anything.

Mr. Tilney

I have hardly had time to do that, but I was just coming to it. I declare an interest, which is an odd one, in that I am a director of the board of the Liverpool Overhead Railway and this Bill is endeavouring to do away with the board and with both its directors and their fees. It is certainly a somewhat odd interest to declare, but I was about to declare it in the very next sentence had the hon. Lady given me the opportunity. I have also found out that it is in order for me to speak on this Bill, but I do not intend to vote on it.

Mr. Scholefield Allen (Crewe)

Is the hon. Member a debenture holder who has been paid out?

Mr. Tilney

I am not a debenture holder. I happen to be a small shareholder because I am a director, and I am quite prepared to tell the hon. and learned Gentleman what few shares I have.

I hope to be as brief as possible, but the point of view of the railway company is a substantial one and a certain amount of time is necessary to put it before the House. This point of view was considered not less than two years ago, when it seemed to my colleagues on the board that there were two alternatives. One was to try to keep the services of the railway going, and the second was to close the railway in an orderly manner. We endeavoured to carry out the first, but economic and technical difficulties made that virtually impossible. So we have come to the House to ask for a Second Reading of the Bill.

The views of the railway company are set out in the statement which is available in the Vote Office to any hon. Member who may have left his copy behind. I would remind the House that the main object of this Bill is to wind up the company, thereby giving compensation to many employees who have served it faithfully and well for a very long time. I would also remind the House that no other part of the country has a railway such as this one which runs along the line of docks, The railway was constructed about 60 years ago, and it runs an electric rail service along the line of the Liverpool and Bootle Docks. It is carried, as those who live in Mersey side know, on a steel structure for the most part 16 feet above the ground, and it is on a 999 years' lease from the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board. The company also owns certain freehold property.

With the exception of the tunnel at the south end, in which is Dingle Station, and at the north end, where the railway to Seaforth joins the London Regional Midland, it is virtually a long bridge of about six miles in length. The railway was opened in 1893 and, since then, its traffic has fluctuated to a large extent according to the prosperity of the port. Since the war, its traffic has fallen to some extent owing to the action of the city corporation in taking the traffic away from the railway company to its own buses. Traffic has continued to fall, and it is now estimated that the railway, according to this statement, carries only one-fifth of those working at the docks, but, in point of fact, recent figures show that the traffic is less than one-sixth. Surely, whatever loss there may be, I cannot believe that it can be the case that it would result, as the hon. Lady said, in a national labour crisis.

Mr. Logan

Has the hon. Member read what we are objecting to and what we are asking for? If he has, will he tell me why he declines to support the Second Reading of the Bill until the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation has convened a conference of his Department, the local authorities and all the other interested parties to consider the position? That would mean, if I understand English correctly, until a decision might be arrived at conjointly. What objection can there be to that?

Mr. Tilney

I am grateful for that intervention. My objection is that there is no reason why a conference should not be called after the Second Reading. My reason for asking for the Second Reading is that this railway company has waited for nearly two years for the city corporation to take some action in the matter. We would always have been willing to attend such a conference. I believe that the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board would have accepted an invitation from the lord mayor of a city as great as Liverpool, and I see no reason why such a conference should not be called after the Second Reading of the Bill.

May I return to my point, that at the peak hour only between 5,000 and 6,000 of the 36,000 people working on the dock estate are carried on this railway?

Mr. Ernest Davies (Enfield, East)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I know he wants to be fair over these figures. Is it not a fact that there are still over 9 million passenger journeys a year on this railway, which is practically one-third more than in 1938, and are there not some 30,000 journeys per day? The hon. Member is giving the impression that the traffic is declining very rapidly, whereas, in effect, it is more than in the immediate pre-war period.

Mr. Tilney

It is not correct to say that 36,000 people are carried per day. The number is 28,000 and they are carried both ways generally, which means that the number of people is some 14,000. There are over 36,000 working on the docks.

Mr. Mellish

They have to do the journeys, whichever way they do them.

Mr. Tilney

Over the last few years, the company has been increasingly concerned about the condition of the railway. The railway has been examined by expert engineers, who have advised the company that a complete renewal of the decking would be required within a few years, and at a cost of well over £1½ million. Brigadier Parkman, of Messrs. Ward, Ashcroft and Partners, was asked to make this report as long ago as 31st August, 1954. He took five months to do it, and covered 125 pages of field notes. These figures are really not disputed by the city corporation.

Mrs. Braddock

That is not true.

Mr. Tilney

The corporation's expert who came and looked at the railway—and I have the evidence here—suggested that not £230,000, as was said in the city corporation's statement, but £330,000 would have to be spent within a year or two, and at the end of ten years that money would be wasted and again £1½ million would still have to be spent. It is the advice of the technical experts that, even if it were possible to have that money, it would have to be used between the running of the last train at night and the running of the first one the following morning, and that technically it would be extremely difficult not to close the railway down for some months, which would automatically mean the end of the railway.

I am afraid I cannot follow the remarks of the hon. Lady the Member for Liverpool, Exchange when she says that really nothing at all is wrong with the structure.

Mrs. Braddock

Would the hon. Gentleman explain what he means by "the structure"?

Mr. Tilney

I am no technician, but the decking is obviously in a very bad state of repair, and if the hon. Lady had attended all the Commitee meetings upstairs in another place she would have seen some of the examples produced.

Mrs. Braddock

I asked the hon. Gentleman to say what he meant when he spoke of the structure. I did say that the decking had not to be attended to. The posts and the structure upon which the railway runs are in excellent condition, and the engineers have made a report on that; the hon. Gentleman knows that is true. I referred to the condition of the decking, which comes from the company not having spent money on renewals for so long; that is why it is like that.

Mr. Tilney

I think the hon. Lady will agree that the railway cannot run without the decking or joists—whatever the technical term is—between the pillars. The corporation's expert confirms that a very large sum of money indeed would be required, and that that money, even if it were possible to spend it, would not put the railway into a decent condition for any length of time.

Mr. Mellish

I am expecting to have to vote on this matter later on, and I should like to have one matter clear. The hon. Gentleman said earlier that the corporation would not come to a meeting on this matter. I have been following this discussion, and I understand the corporation has gone into this whole question as to just how much it would cost, as against the figures advanced by the company. Surely, if the corporation went to that length, there was a desire on its part to help in this matter. How does that marry with the hon. Gentleman's earlier statement that the corporation did not attend any meetings?

Mr. Tilney

Perhaps the hon. Member would allow me to get on with my speech because I cannot deal with a great many points all at the same time. I was going to comment upon the efforts which the company has made to try and get the corporation interested. Nearly two years have gone by, and virtually no interest has been shown by either party—I regret to have to say "either party"—in control of the city corporation.

The company has never enjoyed great prosperity. Between 1925 and 1942 no preference dividend at all was paid, except in the years 1928 and 1929, and no ordinary dividend was paid from 1921 to 1945. In fact, the average ordinary dividend over the last 46 years has been just over 1 per cent. The board regret that the company has been so poor that ex gratia payments to past members of the staff have been so small. The net assets of the company now, excluding the structure and any freehold properties, amount to only £90,000. Of that figure, virtually the staff are going to get very nearly the whole, before any other creditor, and before the shareholders receive anything at all. The hon. Member for The Hartlepools (Mr. D. Jones) has a Motion on the Order Paper to amend Clause 8, to which I hope to refer in detail later.

The hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) might like to know that towards the end of 1954, as it was clear that the whole future of the railway was in jeopardy, the company approached the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board, its lessors. That Board indicated that it would not object to the abandonment of the railway. We did not rest at that; we saw the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation and the Liverpool Corporation, in those days under the control of the Conservatives. Neither the Ministry nor the Liverpool Corporation suggested any solution to ensure the continued running of the railway.

It can be shown that the Board has gone out of its way to try and get help. It was not until the second day of the Committee in another place that any financial offer at all came from the City of Liverpool. It was not put in the city's petition in another place; and when it was put it was a fairly vague offer.

All structures have a limited life—

Mr. Mellish

Since the hon. Gentleman is leaving the matter of negotiations now, I should like to ask this further question. The approaches to the city were made when the Conservatives were in power. When the Labour Party was in power, were representations made, and was the response on the same basis?

Mr. Tilney

Representations were made almost immediately. The gentleman who is the husband of the hon. Lady the Member for the Exchange Division did not appear to be interested. The request was made by the chairman, through the town clerk of the city. I personally attended, very much later on, a meeting called, I think, by the Trades Council, in St. George's Hall in September of last year, at which Alderman Braddock was present. I made a suggestion then of a deal to which I wish to refer later, which has been suggested by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Scotland—a deal with which I fully agree. But at that time the leaders of the city appeared to take no interest at all. I regret to have to say that. In those circumstances, the company considered that the right policy was to close down.

Mr. Logan

I thought it was an understood thing that when an hon. Member in this House—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Rhys Hopxin Morris)

Order. I have listened to a number of interjections—

Mr. Logan

But he has made—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order. I have listened to a number of interventions which are really debating points and not proper interventions.

Mr. Tilney

The hon. Member for Liverpool, Exchange said it was impossible for buses to cope with the traffic. But it is interesting to note that, in the two-day strike in 1954, at six hours' notice workers at the docks were carried without any difficulty. So one might have thought that, with notice of very nearly two years, some sort of arrangement could have been made.

If this Bill is passed, it will enable the company to give compensation to its employees. In the past, the shareholders have subscribed £658,000. At the most, they will get no more than less than one-third of that figure. Virtually, all they will be left with is the undertaking and the scrap value of it. No practical suggestion has at any time been put forward to the company to enable the railway to continue to be operated and the effect of refusing a Second Reading to this Bill must be gravely to prejudice the interests of the employees as well as the shareholders. This Bill was discussed for four days in Committee in another place, and the compensation for the employees was amended up—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order. So far as I understand the remarks of the hon. Gentleman, I gather that they are directed to the Instruction which we have not yet reached.

Mr. Tiney

With respect, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, the Bill, as now amended, carries an Amendment from another place to which I should have thought I might refer. Whereas the date was 1st June, 1955, for the level in wages and salaries, the Committee in another place raised it to 1st April, 1956. So already there has been a very substantial improvement in the compensation, and I hope that I shall be able to tell the hon. Member for The Hartlepools—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order. The hon. Member is dealing with the Instruction on the Order Paper and we have not yet reached it.

Mr. Tilney

It has been suggested that there has been a statutory obligation for the company to run this railway. I wish to quote the remarks of counsel in another place: As I pointed out when opening this Bill at the beginning of the week, it is only because we want the authority of Parliament to wind up the company and to compensate the employees that this Bill is required. We do not need a Bill to authorise us to stop running it because, provided the Docks Board agree, we cannot be compelled to go on running it, nor can they. There seems to be some underlying misapprehension about this. Neither Liverpool nor Crosby nor anybody else except the Docks Board have any say as to whether the services should be run, and it is only because we come to your Lordships' House in order to get authority at the later stages, for the winding up and so on, that Liverpool have got any opportunity of appearing here as Petitioners. It is regrettable that the Corporation of Liverpool has not seen fit up to now to call a conference to debate this whole problem. As I explained to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Scotland, we should have been very willing to attend it. Whether the Docks Board would have agreed to any financial commitment, it is not for me to say, but the House might like to know what the chairman of the Docks Board said on 7th June of this year.

Mr. Logan

May I put it to the hon. Gentleman that, if he is so anxious to get rid of it because it is a bad bargain, is he prepared—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The hon. Gentleman must wait for an opportunity to make his own speech.

Hon. Members

He has made it.

Mr. Logan

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Surely, when another hon. Member of this House who is moving a Motion makes an allusion, I have the right to ask a question?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The hon. Gentleman has the right to ask a question to clear up an ambiguity, but, as I understood him, he was putting forward a counter-quotation.

Mr. Tilney

I think that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Scotland, will agree that I have given way a number of times, and I must crave the indulgence of the House for making a long speech. I apologise that it has become so long because of the various interjections which have been made.

I was quoting from the chairman of the Dock Board. I would refer to the statement I made in February, 1955 … I expressed the Board's deep interest in the matter but stressed that they did not possess any statutory power to give financial help to the company and, therefore, did not feel themselves in a position to object to the proposals of the company. It may also be recalled that I cordially welcomed the statement made at that time by the then leader of the city council that if the railway were to he closed arrangements would be made to cope with the diverted passenger traffic. Should this Bill be refused a Second Reading, the company cannot be wound up. But the railway can cease to run, which will mean no compensation for the staff, nor any return to the shareholders, meagre though that may be. Either the hon. Member for Liverpool, Exchange or the hon. Member for Liverpool, Scotland referred to the shareholders "making their bit", but they are not going to make very much if the ordinary shares stand today at about 25s. 6d. per £10 share—

Mrs. Braddock

What did they stand at in September last year?

Mr. Tilney

I do not know off-hand, but if the hon. Lady will wait—they were in 1946, 1948 and 1949 as high as they are today. And the preference shares, which on a winding-up with a very small adjustment, rank equally with the ordinary shares, were very much higher a short time ago. In each of the years 1944, 1946, 1948 and 1949, they were over 80s. I regret to say that when I bought my own—which I had to do in order to become a director—they were very much higher than today.

Mr. Logan

I do not wish to interrupt the hon Gentleman, but I know nothing about any financial arrangement or any question of compensation. Only last week, after being a Member of this House for 27 years, I had the privilege of dealing with the overhead railway.

Mr. Tilney

I was endeavouring to answer a question put by the hon. Lady—

Mrs. Braddock

But the hon. Gentleman did not answer it.

Mr. Tilney

It has been said that the company should not be exercising its option to repay its debentures. But surely, debentures are a first liability. And as the company having the right to close in any event, the board should not have risked not having enough money to pay compensation to its employers; or by continuing to run and making losses the debenture holders might have suffered. Therefore, we did what any sensible company would have done and took action at a reasonably early moment.

I suggest that the House should realise what will be the effect of refusing a Second Reading to this Bill. The staff will not get compensation—

Mr. Scholefield Allen

The hon. Gentleman has said that approaches were made to the previous leaders of the city council. Will he say what kind of approach it was? Was it by Colonel Buckley, one of the directors, and if there was a change last May, that is, May, 1955, can he refer to any—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I must remind the House that the object of an intervention is to clear up an ambiguity or to make a personal explanation. Interventions must not be used for the purpose of debate.

Mr. Scholefield Allen

With great respect, the hon. Member for Wavertree (Mr. Tilney) has been attacking the corporation—both parties—on the ground that no representations were made by them. I am not a Liverpool representative—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

That is a matter of debate. There is no ambiguity about it.

Mr. Scholefield Allen

The hon. Member has made that point. I am merely asking him for information about when that approach was made and whether it was made by invitation in writing and whether it was made to Alderman Braddock.

Mr. Tilney

I thought that I had made that clear. I do not know the actual date, but the town clerk certainly has a record of the date when the chairman, Colonel Buckley, sent a message to Alderman Braddock for a discussion. I am not attacking the corporation; I am merely stating what I believe to be the facts.

We were discussing compensation. The object of compensation is to tide over members of the staff when they have to get other jobs and, if they get jobs which are worse, to help them to keep up their standard of living. Before hon. Members vote against the Second Reading, they must take into consideration the difficulties of the staff which they will force upon them. It may be that certain compensation is unfair to certain grades. I understand that I can refer to that in detail when the second Instruction is called, so I will not comment on it at the moment.

I apologise for taking up so much time of the House. Many years ago I hoped that the British Transport Commission might have taken an interest in the overhead railway. I went to see the Commission. There was a chance of a ring railway around Liverpool, but the Commission was not interested and, quite rightly, pointed out that its rolling stock would not run on the very sharp curves on the overhead railway. I believe that there is something to be said for a Merseyside transport board, but that is a local and not a national problem and I should oppose any nationalisation of this railway.

It is the job of the city corporation, which is the authority responsible for providing public transport, to buy the fixed assets of the railway. That has always been my view, and I have never varied it. I made that suggestion as long ago as September of last year. Although the corporation had the chance to take powers to buy, by bringing in a Private Bill this Session, it took no action. I hope that it is not too late. I hope that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Scotland will note that I see no reason why the business deal to which he referred should not still be offered, after the Bill has had a Second Reading. I am no Jew, but whether it be with an Irishman or anyone else, I am certain that the board of the company would be only too willing to negotiate, if it is the view of the city that we should meet and possibly come to some arrangement.

Mr. Logan

I should like the hon. Member to understand that I have as much authority as any other Member from Liverpool—and no more—in dealing with this subject. What I have said tonight is absolutely what I think about the Bill.

Mr. Tilney

I hope that I have said what I and a great many other people think about it.

Finally, there were two alternatives before the board, to keep the railway going, or to close it in an orderly manner. I do not believe that there is any future for this railway. It has had its useful life, like many of the elevated structures in New York. We must move with the times, and the railway may be more valuable as scrap in our foundries than as a means of transport for only one-sixth of those working on the dock estate.

When the Bill is given a Second Reading, the city can still take powers to buy the railway and, incidentally, make its own transport pay, since the city has been the railway's main competitor. If the Bill is passed, compensation will be paid to the employees—the bulk of it at once, I hope—and all liabilities will be met. Although not prosperous, the company has been well served and, in difficult circumstances, competently managed, and it will go into liquidation in an orderly way.

Mr. Ernest Davies

Can the hon. Member assist the House with Clause 8, which deals with compensation? Is it possible for him to indicate whether what Clause 8 provides is likely to happen, or whether the company will agree that all employees, except the manager and the assistant manager, will receive the same compensation?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

That appears to me to be a matter which can be more adequately discussed when we come to the Instruction—if we do come to it.

Mr. Ernest Davies

Clause 8 deals with compensation. Generally, when we are discussing a Bill on Second Reading, those responsible for the Bill can indicate whether they are likely to agree to amend it or not during further stages of the Bill.

Mr. Tilney

I thought that I had given the assurance for which the hon. Member asked. I endeavoured to give it in detail and certainly will later.

8.17 p.m.

Mr. A. J. Irvine (Liverpool, Edge Hill)

The hon. Member for Wavertree (Mr. Tilney) found himself in the dilemma that at one and the same time he was arguing in favour of entering negotiations with a view to keeping the railway in being, which plainly implied his belief that this was desirable in the public interest, and he was also arguing the case that the railway's usefulness to Liverpool and the country as a whole had diminished and that upon that ground a sufficient argument for the Bill could be based.

On that, I want simply to support the case so ably and, I venture to say, so conclusively presented by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Exchange (Mrs. Braddock). There is no getting away from the fact that about 10 million passenger journeys in a year are made on this railway. There is no getting away from the fact that no bus service on the Dock Road will provide anything like adequate alternative transport, mainly for the reason that large gangs of men will not be able to go on buses when they are carrying their equipment with anything like the speed or convenience with which they can get from one point to another on the railway.

The consequence of that will be of national importance, because the handling of cargoes and the speed of executing repairs will be affected. That is why we say that the Second Reading of the Bill raises matters of much more than local significance. They are matters of national importance. What the hon. Lady said and the case which I am now putting merely confirm the considered view of the meetings of representative bodies during the war and of special committees which were set up to consider the matter. Those committees considered the desirability of closing down the railway and all concluded that it was desirable in the interests of Liverpool and of the country at large that the railway should be maintained.

The citizens of Liverpool are facing the prospect of being deprived of this service at a time when eminent consulting engineers have intimated that the structure of the railway can be put into a condition good enough to last for another 10 years for an expenditure well under £400,000. That is a perfectly manageable proposition. If the cost were overwhelming the weight of the argument might go the other way, but the cost of putting it into a proper state to enable it to remain effective for another 10 years is the manageable figure to which I have referred. That is all I want to say upon the main issue whether the railway should be kept in being.

I now turn to this quite extraordinary story of the debentures of the company. I do not want to make any unfair point about it, but it seems to me that the company has "jumped the gun" and prejudged the decision of the House in a quite reprehensible manner. If there is any explanation of this action I hope that it will be rapidly forthcoming. It may be peculiarly appropriate if it is forthcoming from the hon. Member for Wavertree.

Mr. Tilney

Is the hon. Member suggesting that debentures are not a liability, and that one should borrow money irrespective of whether one intends to pay it back or not?

Mr. Irvine

No. I am suggesting that it is quite intolerable for a company which has made up its mind, for reasons which may appear good to it, to close down this service, and has decided that to do so it is necessary to sponsor a Bill, so to arrange its affairs that the debentures are redeemed before that Bill comes before the House of Commons, especially when the debenture stock redeemed in that fashion constitutes—as we are told that it does in this instance—the repair fund out of which the railway can be maintained. I should have thought that it was beyond all possible question, an intolerable action.

I do not know whether the hon. Member desires to defend that proposition. I should have thought that he might well be ready to admit that it was at least a most unfortunate event. That is the position which has arisen, and which raises questions of a very serious character. It is very important that it should be made very clear to the citizens of Liverpool how their interests as citizens and travellers upon this railway have been regarded by the company, and how it has treated the House.

If the House rejects the Bill the company will surely have put it outside its power to take action which will ensure that its public obligations are maintained. The hon. Member for Wavertree said that there was no statutory obligation to run the railway. In my view, the company has a statutory obligation to maintain the structure, and whatever may be the obligations of the company in that regard, in the Bill which it has sponsored it has thought it right and proper to incorporate a special provision which empowers it to cease running the railway services.

When the company was admitting so much as that by putting it into its Bill, it was unthinkable that it should have issued its notices to the debenture holders six months before the Bill came before the House of Commons. It reduces Parliamentary consideration of the matter to a farce. It is the kind of conduct which the House of Commons does not like and which, if the House ever does come to like it, will be a bad day for the House. If there is an answer to my argument I should like to be informed, but the circumstances seem clear enough.

Mr. Tilney

I thought that I had given the answer, which is that the company has power to close down the railway but not to wind it up. To wind it up and give compensation to a very loyal band of employees it was essential to use some of the assets which balanced the debenture liability to pay off the first charge.

Mr. Irvine

I am much obliged to the hon. Member for giving me that explanation. Does he agree that two things are proved: first, that there was a statutory obligation to maintain the structure of the railway and, secondly, that that obligation was being implemented out of a repairs fund which is now depleted by the redemption of the debentures?

Mr. Tilney

I should not like to get into a legal argument with the hon. Member about the statutory obligations, but I disagree that the repairs fund was involved. The repairs fund had been added to in the past by the railway out of occasional profits, and could have been put to any use.

Mr. Irvine

I have made my point—and I have done so only because I regard it as a serious one for the House to consider.

Mr. K. Thompson

It is quite relevant to the case that the hon. Member is making to point out that the promoters of a Bill have no knowledge whatsoever when the Bill is likely to come before the House of Commons. It is also fair to say that the Bill will have been before Parliament for a very long time, taking the two Houses as a unity.

Mr. Irvine

I do not think that there is any substance in that point. I am saying that the only correct course for a company to pursue in a situation like this is to refrain from serving notices upon the debenture holders before the Bill has been considered by the House. That is the propriety of the matter.

We have to consider the point as fairly as we can. As is mentioned in the Preamble to the Bill—though I do not know how we can deal with that in view of the fact that the whole thing is a fait accompli—under the special Act the company has the power to give six months' notice to debenture holders that their debentures will be redeemed. It is stated in the Preamble that that notice has been given. In the ordinary way, where notice to debenture holders is given in such a fashion and the company is aware of its sustained obligation to maintain the railway, the proper and natural course to pursue when the notice expired would be to invite investments from new investors, and get new funds. In the ordinary way they would be forthcoming.

What this company does, however, is to cry out from the housetops that it is a poor, struggling, unhappy concern. If ever there was a context in which less encouragement was given for new investment, I should be glad to have it pointed out to me.

Mr. John Hall (Wycombe)

I am interested in this argument. As I understand the hon. Member, it would have been possible for the company to have raised additional funds had it so desired, and had it not in fact—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order. I must once more remind the House, to try to keep the debate in order, that interventions should not be used for the purposes of debate.

Mr. Irvine

It appears to me that when this situation is stripped of its technicalities it is found that the practical consequence of the notice to the debenture holders and of the redemption of the debentures, at a moment in time when there is no prospect of getting new investment money from any other source, and when every discouragement is given to such new investment, is that the decision of this House is prejudged and the company shrugs itself free of all responsibility for a public service which it has been carrying on for years and which was imposed upon it by Parliament. That is what has occurred.

Mr. Hall


Mr. Irvine

I cannot give way. I have given way a good deal already, as the hon. Member will appreciate.

That is what I object to. That is what the House of Commons should object to. This occasion has the one advantage, if no other, of providing to the House and to the country a classical instance of how a private company can not only ignore, as we often say private companies are inclined to do, the public interest, but can even ignore Parliament and Parliament's power of effectual determination in a matter of this kind.

I do not know why the corporation was not advised to institute proceedings for an injunction to restrain the notice and the redemption of debentures. I will not make any comment on that, but I believe that there would have been a strong argument for it. The objection seems to me to be a valid one. A company which has this power granted to it by Parliament, when its career is approaching its end in rather special circumstances, should not, in my view, serve a notice that it will pay back its available repair funds to stockholders until Parliament has determined the matter.

What the company has done has been really to pay lip service to constitutional form in a fashion which I do not like. The company has sponsored a Bill, an impressive, lengthy document, but it is all lip service to constitutional and Parliamentary form.

The company has put it out of its power already to maintain the structure of this railway. All the facts of the matter are determined and this Second Reading debate is taking place not so much round a table as round a corpse. The company has jumped the gun in this matter, and as the representative of a great Liverpool constituency I record my protest about it. I do not think that the House of Commons has been fairly or well treated in the matter.

In respect of the merits of the railway, I echo all that my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool Exchange has said, but I add my serious protest upon the constitutional aspect. Let it be at the very least a warning. Let companies, before they shrug themselves free of these public obligations under private and special Acts, make sure that they commence the mechanism of doing so only after Parliament has made clear its decision on the matter.

8.35 p.m.

Mr. Kenneth Thompson (Liverpool, Walton)

Two things, at any rate, have emerged so far in the course of this debate. The first is the considerable esteem which the Liverpool overhead railway enjoys in the minds of people in the City of Liverpool and of their representatives on both sides of this honourable House. The railway is an historic structure, helping the work of a great city. Something else has emerged, too, and not for the first time, since it appears in the statement by the promoters of the Bill and also in the statement in opposition by the Liverpool City Corporation.

It is that the railway cannot carry on providing its services for very much longer unless, in the short-term, there is an investment of £200,000 to £250,000, and, for the long-term, an investment of about £1½ million or £1¾ million. I think that these facts are fairly common ground between both sides of the House and between the promoters of the Bill and those who are opposing it on behalf of the City Corporation.

The company has been operating for a very long time—for 60 years or more—and today operates, as we all agree, about 10 million passenger journeys every year. About one-sixth of those who work in the Liverpool Docks and in the ship repairing yards are affected, because they make some use of the Liverpool overhead railway at some time in the course of the year. If the railway had been a viable and self-supporting institution, capable of renewing itself out of its earnings, we should not be discussing this Bill at all today.

The company would have been enjoying the experience of running a profitable venture which earned enough to maintain itself, or, failing that, the Liverpool Corporation would have been promoting a Bill in this House to take it over. The whole of the problem that arises today, however much we may romanticise the position about this "dockers' umbrella," is due to the simple fact that not enough people make use of it to enable it to pay its way. There is the problem.

Mrs. Braddock

It has never made a loss yet.

Mr. Thompson

The hon. Lady has made one speech, and if she will allow me to make my own I will deal with the point she makes.

That is the simple position, which is agreed by all those who are engaged in this present discussion on what is to be the future of the Liverpool overhead railway. If the railway, in its lush years, whenever they were—it has averaged 1 per cent. dividends, which gives the House an idea when they were—had earned enough money to encourage and enable those who were its proprietors to maintain the physical structure and the staging in a proper condition, and to have the rolling stock continually renewed to bring it into line with modern ideas of what an overhead railway ought to be—if that had happened, we should not be here discussing it today.

The simple fact is that the company has never been able to set aside enough money to maintain the staging of the overhead railway in a proper condition or to renew the rolling stock in use upon that railway. That is clear, and if there are any hon. Members in this House who have not recently travelled on the Liverpool overhead railway, or have not recently had an opportunity of going to a museum to see early Victorian rolling stock, they should come to Liverpool and have a look at the overhead railway.

In my opinion, the Liverpool overhead railway performs a very important function in the City of Liverpool, and its removal will create difficulties in transporting the dockers along the line of docks on the eastern bank of the River Mersey. There is no doubt about that at all. I do not agree with the contention in the statement issued by the Liverpool Corporation in opposition to this Bill that the difficulties are insuperable. I certainly do not agree with the hon. Lady the Member for Liverpool, Exchange (Mrs. Braddock) that a national crisis is likely to arise if this railway ceases to operate.

Mrs. Braddock

Wait and see.

Mr. Thompson

I will give the hon. Lady some advice on what can be arranged, which she can take back to the leaders of the city council. The difficulties will be there, nevertheless. We ought to examine what they are before we decide for or against the Amendment.

The first difficulty is: what is to take this passenger traffic, this one-fifth or one-sixth of the dockers, from point to point? Is it to be the overhead railway or some alternative means of transport? The question is not whether the Liverpool overhead railway company shall be compelled to carry the dockers, but how the dockers are to be enabled to go to work. If the Bill is given a Second Reading in its present form it does not mean that there will never be any overhead railway service in Liverpool.

What appals me about the behaviour of the city council in this matter is that it has taken a point of view beginning and ending with the idea that it must oppose the Bill. The hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) wanted to know when it was and why it was that the Liverpool Corporation made this close examination of the structure and estimated the cost of reconditioning it. I will tell him when; not when the corporation first began to consider whether it should co-operate with the Liverpool Overhead Railway Company in maintaining the service, but when it decided that it would oppose the Bill and try to force the company to continue the service. That was when it went into action, wrong action.

We are led to believe by the hon. Lady the Member for Liverpool, Exchange and the hon. Member for Liverpool, Scotland (Mr. Logan) that the Liverpool City Council, under the leadership of the Liverpool Labour Party, had pure and objective motives in tackling this matter.

Mrs. Braddock

It was a unanimous decision of the city council, with the hon. Member's party voting for it as well. His leader told him that he should not vote against it.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I hope that the hon. Lady will observe the rules of the House.

Mr. Thompson

That novelty ought to be recorded. I have not yet got to the date that is rumbling in the hon. Lady, the date of the motion to which she is referring.

Mr. Charles A. Howell (Birmingham, Perry Barr)

On a point of order. Is it within the rules of the House for the hon. Member to refer to any rumblings in the hon. Lady the Member for Liverpool, Exchange (Mrs. Braddock)?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

It will he much better if all remarks are addressed to the Chair.

Mr. Thompson

I am dealing now with a much earlier date. I will come to the unanimous resolution of the city council in a few minutes. The first time that the Liverpool Corporation, or the party responsible for running the affairs of the Corporation, geared itself into action was not to try to help the Liverpool Overhead Railway Company out of its difficulties. Not a bit of it. It was not to persuade the Minister to call a conference and get the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board, and Bootle and Crosby boroughs and other people into the conference. Not a bit of it. That was in September last.

It was in July that the Labour Party began to invite us to come to a conference which was held on 29th September, 1955—

Mr. Mellish

Who called the conference?

Mr. Thompson

The Liverpool Trades and Labour Council. It passed a resolution in connection with the Liverpool overhead railway and its future in very strong terms, as follows: That this conference calls upon the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation to bring the railway under the 1947 Transport Nationalisation Act.

Mr. S. O. Davies (Merthyr Tydvil)

What is wrong with that?

Mr. Thompson

I am not complaining about that. I am complaining that the Liverpool Corporation, under the leadership of the Liverpool Trades and Labour Council did not come into action on the ground that we are now being asked to believe that it did. It went into action in the hope of being able to persuade someone to nationalise the railway; whether rightly or wrongly I do not know. When, a short time later, in December, another branch of the Liverpool Labour organisation got itself worked up about this question, on 6th December, there was no question then about getting all these people together to see how the railway could be saved for the City of Liverpool. The National Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers passed a resolution in which it pledges the fullest support to the efforts of the local Trades Council and Labour Movement to maintain the railway as a State responsibility —not as a trading asset, but as a State responsibility.

As the hon. Member for Edge Hill (Mr. A. J. Irvine) said, this House is entitled to be treated with respect. We believe that this railway is serving and, in the past, has served a useful purpose. What we are considering now is whether without a considerable sum of money it can continue to serve that useful purpose. The company cannot find sums of money of the size which would be required to do what is necessary. Neither the House nor the hon. Lady the Member for Liverpool, Exchange should treat this matter lightly. It is not a question of painting over a rotting staging. We are not dealing here either with party ideas or the interests of a railway company, but with the lives and physical well-being of everyone who travels in those trains.

Let there be one accident, one fatality, one failure to look after the safety of the men on that staging 16 ft. above the ground, and it will be the responsibility of hon. Members of this House, who fail to recognise that the time has come for the railway to pass into other hands, if it is not wound up.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Thompson

If hon. Members will settle between themselves who is to interrupt, I will give way.

Mr. Mellish

The hon. Member is not worth interrupting.

Mr. Logan

I want to ask the hon. Member for Walton what he objects to in our Amendment. We ask for all parties interested in this matter to meet together and see what can be done. Why should there be objection to that?

Mr. Thompson

I am grateful to the hon. Member, but that is not what the Amendment says. If the Amendment had said that there ought to be a conference at which people would discuss this matter there would be a lot to be said for that, but this Amendment requires my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation to call a conference. The whole of my objection to this Amendment, and the reason I feel that the opposition to the Bill is mistaken and misplaced, is that the responsibility for carrying passenger transport in Liverpool rests on the City of Liverpool. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Oh, yes, it rests on the City of Liverpool. Liverpool Corporation, naturally, has not had to discharge this small area of that responsibility because the railway company was doing it. The moment the railway company can no longer do it it devolves on the city council to do it.

I am sorry, I am taking far too much time. If hon. Members were enjoying it they would be encouraging me. So long as they are not, I am happy. [Interruption.] There is no need for the hon. Member for Bermondsey to get angry. It is my belief that the city council can and should undertake this responsibility, if necessary alone. It is within the ordinary capacity of any great city to call a conference and invite to that conference all those who may be interested in what is going on. The Borough Council of Bootle is interested in this matter, as is the Borough Council of Crosby. Altogether, 1 million to 1½ million people are interested in this matter.

Why should not the leaders of the Liverpool City Council accept their responsibility, call such a conference and thrash out a policy which would enable them to carry on providing this overhead railway service as long as it is necessary for it to be provided? That may be three, five or ten years.

Mr. Logan

As a member of the Liverpool City Council, the hon. Member knows that we have no right to involve the City of Liverpool in this responsibility, which would involve a tremendous cost to the whole of the city, if it can be avoided.

Mr. Thompson

That will not do. The hon. Member, who is also an alderman of the City of Liverpool, in which I have the honour to be a councillor, knows that we cannot, in common justice, wish that responsibility on to the railway company. The simple fact is that it rests on the city council, and if the present leaders of the city council have neither the courage nor the imagination to deal with the problem themselves then the sooner they get out of the way and make room for those who have the better.

8.51 p.m.

Mr. Simon Mahon (Bootle)

I want to get back to the Amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Scotland (Mr. Logan) and seconded by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Exchange (Mrs. Braddock). I think that the House has drifted somewhat from the Amendment, which states: having regard to the grave national and local interests involved, this House declines to give a Second Reading to the Bill until the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation has convened a conference of his Department, the local authorities and all other interested parties to consider the position. The interested parties, I presume, would be the Minister, the Liverpool Corporation, the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board, probably the Dock Labour Board, the trade unions concerned on Merseyside and the employers' associations. There can be nothing wrong with such a proposal.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

Are not the borough of Bootle, which the hon. Member represents, and the borough of Crosby, which I represent, also deeply interested?

Mr. Mahon

I agree, and I apologise to the hon. Member for that most regrettable omission.

Those, I think, would be the appropriate bodies and people, and in my view the partisanship which has been displayed on one side of the House this afternoon is unnecessary. This is not a matter for the interests of the railway employees alone, nor is it a matter for the interests of the shareholders of the Liverpool Overhead Railway alone—nor, for that matter, for the interests of the Liverpool Corporation alone. The hon. Member for Walton (Mr. K. Thompson) said that he was advancing modern ideas. I ask him whether it is a modern idea that, when private enterprise fails, it is the duty of the corporation or the nation to take over that responsibility?

If I were advocating not the nationalisation of the overhead railway, which has failed, but the nationalisation of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board, there would be a different attitude on the other side of the House. It is not incompatible with my way of thinking that I would advocate the nationalisation of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board. If it were about to fail, it would then be said, "This is failing. We can no longer carry out our responsibility; let the State do it." That is exactly what has been said this afternoon.

If I am knowledgeable about anything it is about the Liverpool dockside. I want to get away from the interests and personalities which have been displayed today, for it is the interests of the city of Liverpool and the port of Liverpool that count. We cannot divorce the interests of Liverpool from the national interests. I well remember very great personages visiting the City of Liverpool in darker days; I remember Admiral Evans of the "Broke", Ernest Bevin and other important people saying this when visiting Liverpool in the dark days when the Western Approaches were the only approaches open to the nation. Similar days can come. Do not let us imagine that they cannot. Difficulties can come to this nation when we are least expecting them. It is, therefore, absolutely essential that Liverpool's efficiency should be maintained and improved, as, I think, all right hon. and hon. Members will agree.

I have travelled on the overhead railway many times since I was a child. I have seen the deterioration that has occurred, as have all those of us who are near to it. I have never lived more than a mile from the dock front all my life, so I should know something about the condition of the railway. I also know something about the condition of the docks, and the dockers' conditions, and working-class life. These little private companies cannot be divorced from the interests of the people as a whole. Let us get away from that idea—it is old-fashioned.

Since 1893, which is a long time ago, this railway has given great service and has been an acquisition in the growth of the great Port of Liverpool. It was probably built by Irishmen, just as the Liverpool Docks were built by Irishmen, and I might have a little more affection for it because of that. Some of the figures in relation to it are impressive. In the First World War it carried millions of essential workers, and in 1919—in 12 months—it carried 18 million passengers. In the Second World War it carried 14 million passengers in a year—that was in 1945.

There is another point. I want to compliment the railway on the fact that the accident rate has been almost nil. Even at this moment this railway is carrying 30,000 people a day and not one accident has been registered. Surely that is a factor worth considering. In the last three years work has become stabilised in the port of Liverpool, and there is no reason to believe that it will not continue so. This railway is a barometer of the condition and prosperity of Liverpool. It has carried 9½ million people per year, which is approximately 30,000 per day. The figures are quite impressive.

It has been suggested—and I think that there is some confusion as to what sort of railway this actually is—that the decking is the most important part. This decking is a sort of half pipe laid across the steel structure. It is about 24 ft. wide and is one of the most important parts of the railway. When people on Merseyside speak of decking they usually refer to timber, and I thought that there might be some confusion about that.

I agree with the hon. Member for Walton that we cannot lightly dismiss the condition of the railway, and I considered it very gravely when I was making my assessment as to which way I would vote. The condition is very important. If there was an accident it would be a terrible one. The trains travel quickly and, as the hon. Member for Walton has said, they are not modern. They should be lighter and stronger; they should travel more quickly and should be extended.

Those things would have been possible if the money had been forthcoming or if there had been a different sort of approach, but I am now arguing the usefulness of this railway. I do not want it to go. In one way or another I want it to be maintained in the City of Liverpool. I am not interested in the method. Whether we should all get together, or how we should get together, I do not care. The thing is that if private enterprise can no longer deal with this everyone interested should get together to preserve the railway. That is what the Amendment is asking for.

I do not want to weary the House with description, but if we are to put buses on the dock road the condition of that road is important. Under the overhead railway we already have two lines of goods traffic. There are, therefore, two passenger lines running north and south above, and below there are two goods lines also running north and south. There are four railway lines top and bottom. These are intercepted by main docks—not small docks, but docks with names such as Gladstone which is known all over the world as one of the greatest docks in existence. There are others—Alexandra, Langton, Hornby, Brocklebank, Sandon and Huskisson docks.

Parts of the road are wide, and other parts are narrow. There are timber yards and warehouses, and then at Stanley Dock there is a bottleneck. The Stanley warehouse is the largest in the world—a massive warehouse if ever there was one. On the inside of the warehouse is Stanley Dock itself. In my days when I pushed a hand cart along that road, too frequently for my liking, I experienced the narrowness of that bottleneck. It would be impossible to run a proper schedule of buses with reasonable timing along Liverpool docks. Any honest man who has ever tried to get a private car along the Liverpool docks at the peak hours will admit how difficult it is to do so. Let it be remembered that it is at peak hours that this labour travels.

These are the ordinary difficulties with which we have to contend. There is a congestion on the docks which exists for seven miles right through my town in the county borough of Bootle, where all the important docks are. This congestion runs through part of Liverpool, and then after the Stanley Docks one comes right into one of the main entrances of the Mersey Tunnel. The Mersey Tunnel outlet—one of two in Liverpool—runs on to the dock road, at which point the traffic is growing.

A social change is taking place on Mersey-side. At one time our fathers lived north and south. Our houses and railways ran north and south. Most of us lived near the docks. But there has been a change. Housing and slum clearance are going on apace. The people have gone out of Kirkby, Netherton and Huyton. They are travelling east and west. There is already an extra financial and physical strain on them. An hour spent in travelling in the morning and in the evening is an extra hour out of a man's day. These things are very important.

People have to travel east and west, and then they have to travel north and south. For instance, a man who comes from Kirkby has first to travel east and west down to or from the Dock road. If he is coming from Kirkby to the Gladstone Dock he travels about 14 miles, and he wants to travel in the quickest possible way. It is not possible to travel along the Dock Road in a bus at any great speed. These are important social and industrial factors which we have to consider. What is the distance between Sandon Dock Station and the west side of Sandon Quay? Even when he gets off the overhead railway, a man has to walk three quarters of a mile on many a morning before he gets to his ship and his place of work.

It is important that all these things should be considered, and not the financial interest of the Liverpool Overhead Company, or the interest of Liverpool Corporation alone. I am appealing to the Members of this House to consider this in the way that I consider it. We want to save this overhead railway in Liverpool, which is a good railway, because of its usefulness, and all the other interests must go on one side.

The Dock Labour Board in Liverpool has 16,000 workers, but that is only a small number when we consider the number of ships' workmen, sailors, and coal heavers who travel on the railway, and this bears out the point which was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Exchange and my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Scotland. How big is a coal heaver's shovel? Will he get it on a bus? When twenty coal heavers are sent from one place to another, can they very easily get on board a Liverpool Corporation bus? The coal heavers have used the overhead railway with great facility. May I inform the unenlightened that dockers do not carry tools; they have a hook; but joiners, sailmakers, carpenters, fitters and others are constantly travelling with tool kits, and the Dock Labour Board has to transport these men at all hours along that one road. They cannot very easily get away from that road to take a bus. The traffic must be on the dock road.

I know that it would be illuminating if the National Dock Labour Board, employers and trade unions were brought into discussion. I want to deal with the point which was made by the hon. Member for Wavertree (Mr. Tilney). He said that to repair this railway adequately—I do not want to put words into his mouth—would cost £1,600,000.

Mr. Tilney

indicated assent.

Mr. Mahon

There is an estimate by an engineer commissioned by the Liverpool Corporation that to put the railway into reasonable running order, not the sort of order and condition envisaged by the company, would cost £230,000.

Mr. Tilney

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Actually the amount, with the rolling stock required, was £330,000, and that would have lasted only ten years, when £1½ million or more would have to be spent.

Mr. Mahon

I am glad that the hon. Member has intervened, and I accept his statement. The other figure given by the Liverpool Corporation for annual maintenance was £15,000.

My father, if I may introduce a personal note, was and is knowledgeable of the conditions on Merseyside. He has spent a lifetime in the trade union movement, and he is accepted as an authority by everyone who knows Merseyside. He was at one time a member of a very important committee called the Merseyside Dock Access Committee, which dealt with the congestion which existed on Merseyside from the point of view of moving traffic and the loading and unloading of ships. The House will remember the national outcry about the position at Birkenhead, where the congestion was just impossible. This Committee sat to consider the conditions obtaining at the Liverpool Docks at that time.

The overhead railway was bombed in two places, and a decision had to be taken whether it was to carry on. It was imperative that the railway should be repaired, and it was repaired. The point which I am making is that in those days it was felt essential to the life of the nation and to the good commercial running of the port of Liverpool. The Merseyside Dock Access Committee continued to sit after all this and consider the whole of the long-term policy for the best operation of the port of Liverpool for a number of years after the interim report was submitted to the Minister. In fact it was not until November, 1945, that its final report was made.

The Committee went very thoroughly into all aspects of the operation of the port, however, calling before it representatives of the various bodies interested in the working of the docks and the flow of cargoes passing through the Mersey. The Committee called before it representatives of the company concerned here today. I have the names, and they should be given. The chairman of the company was Mr. Brownbill, Mr. Rostron was the general manager, and Mr. Prescott was the assistant manager. I think it will be accepted that they are the names. Those gentlemen attended a meeting on 31st March, 1944. At that meeting Mr. Brownbill, the representative of the company, said: In my opinion the overhead railway today is doing a wonderful work and you could not possibly handle dock labour in this port without it. We carried last year about 13 million passengers. I am not saying that; none of us is saying that. That is said by a representative of the company; when the company was relieved of financial strain, that was a true exposition of the position. He further said that this passenger traffic is peculiar in that the bulk of it, of course, is dock labour. It has to be carried in the two peak periods, one in the morning and one in the evening. I submit that statement to the House for its consideration. Mr. Brownbill further said: Another thing is this, What is the alternative to the overhead railway? Some people seem to think that you could do it by means of buses. In my opinion that is an absolutely impossible position. You have to remember that you not only have to carry the workmen, but you also have to carry a certain quantity of the workmen's equipment"— and he goes on to describe it. That is what is said by the people working for the company at that time.

I appeal to hon. Members of this House who have not made up their minds to get rid of any ideas of partisanship. We are dealing with working class people of all shades of political opinion. They must get to work in the best possible way, and it is our duty to allow them to do that. We must get them decent homes, with adequate transport and right working conditions. In my submission, the Liverpool Overhead Railway is part and parcel of these essentials to the life-blood of Liverpool.

9.13 p.m.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

I am happy to have an opportunity of following the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Mahon), because, until he rose to speak, practically all the speeches in this debate had referred to the citizens of Liverpool. In fact, this railway serves more of his constituents in Bootle and my constituents in Crosby than those who actually reside in Liverpool. Therefore, both he and I are deeply concerned with the fate of the overhead railway.

I rise to oppose the Second Reading of the Bill and to support the Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Scotland (Mr. Logan). I do so perhaps for different reasons and with objects different from those put forward by him and by his seconder, the hon. Lady the Member for Liverpool, Exchange (Mrs. Braddock). I would say at once, of course, that I realise that if the Bill is not given a Second Reading the company has power to close down the railway at once; legally, it could do so tonight, if it wished. But I am quite sure it would not take such irresponsible action, bearing in mind the public service which the railway is undertaking. I cannot conceive that the company would take that immediate action.

There is really no panic about this. The railway is safe for several years, for 10 years, to come. There is no panic about dwindling revenue or about the passenger traffic dropping. In fact, this is not a public service which is becoming disused. It is a going concern. Every year 9½ million passengers are carried over 6½ miles of railway which is a good figure for such a short railway. I know that 35 years ago double the number of passengers were carried, and 20 years ago the railway carried only half that number.

In the 60 years of the railway's existence there have been those sort of fluctuations. But for the past three years the figure of passengers carried has kept steady at about 9½ million, so that it would appear possible to budget for the future with reasonable certainty about what the traffic will be.

Mr. Tilney

I think my hon. Friend should know that this year traffic has fallen at the rate of over 400,000.

Mr. Page

Yet last year the traffic rose. As I say, there are these fluctuations, but the figure keeps at about 9 million or 10 million. That is in passenger journeys, which means that about 15,000 people use the railway every day, most of them twice a day and some on more occasions than that.

The revenue is not dwindling. It is about £168,000 which is a little more than the expenditure. It does not leave much for profit, but the fares have been raised only 75 per cent. since before the war. Those of us who have to travel about in London know that here the fares have gone up much more than 75 per cent. I should have thought that an increase of fares could have been borne by the people using this railway. The fares were increased in 1954, and resulted in a substantial increase in revenue. It did not cause a recession in passenger traffic.

Mr. David Jones (The Hartlepools)

Is it not the fact that this overhead railway has to compete with corporation transport in Liverpool and that if the fares were raised it would drive people to use the buses?

Mr. Page

I was coming to that point.

The increase in fares, made only a couple of years or 18 months ago, did not result in a drop in the number of passengers carried. It shows that there is a public need and a desire for this railway and that passengers will not be driven on to the buses if there is a slight rise in the fares.

I said that the railway was safe. At the moment, there is no real danger from the structure, nor will there be for several years. If the railway is to be continued indefinitely, however, it would be wise to start replacement soon. As I understand, the only reason for closing the railway is that the company cannot find the money for replacement, the £1¾ million expenditure starting in about five years time. If the House refused a Second Reading to the Bill, in effect we should be saying to those interested, "Go away and confer, and see whether you can work out a proper scheme to keep this railway going." But were the House to give a Second Reading to this Measure surely we should be fixing a definite date for the closure of this railway.

Sir Victor Raikes (Liverpool, Garston)


Mr. Page

To my mind, that would be a major disaster for the efficiency of the port of Liverpool. It would add considerably to road dangers and traffic congestion not only in Liverpool but at Bootle and Crosby, and many of my constituents would suffer hardship. Most of those who live in the very densely populated area of Seaforth and Litherland are dockers who use the railway to get to and from their work. Of course, only about one-tenth of the line runs through my constituency, but that one-tenth is the end of the line on which there are two stations which probably supply more passengers than any other part of the line.

It would be a very serious hardship to my constituents if the railway ceased to run. If the dock workers have to he conveyed by bus to their work, the congestion, the delays and the traffic dangers will be really terrifying. Crosby, Seaforth and Litherland, the areas which I have the honour to represent, are dormitory areas for Liverpool. Only two roads give access to that constituency from Liverpool, and if buses are put on those roads the bottlenecks there will be extremely dangerous.

The loss of productive time in the docks has also been mentioned. That, of course, will be caused by the inability to move the dock workers so conveniently by bus transport as they are now moved on the overhead railway. Dock Road itself is quite inadequate because of its lay-out and surface, and because it is already fully utilised for dock transport, to cope with an extra service of some 60 buses. There is already serious delay in getting goods to and from the docks by road.

I believe that the solution to the problem lies not in the closure of the railway, but in its extension. If marshalling yards were built for road transport outside Liverpool, and if the railway were extended and used for the carriage of freight at times when it was not dealing with peak passenger traffic, it could, I think, be made to pay. But that, perhaps, is looking too far ahead.

Up to now, I may have carried hon. Members opposite with me in my arguments, but now I must join issue with them. I believe that the conduct of the Liverpool Corporation in this matter, not only during the past 12 months or so, but for very many years, has been disgraceful. I say that irrespective of whether Liverpool had a Conservative or a Socialist council at the time. The corporation comes here today through the representatives of Liverpool constituencies championing the cause of the overhead railway, whereas for years it has tried to cut its throat by increasing the number of buses on new routes on the road and skimming off the cream of the traffic. Cutting the throat of the railway is, perhaps, too humane an expression, because that would be quick and sharp. It might be more appropriate to say that the corporation has been razor-slashing the railway by putting subsidised buses on the road in order to take away its traffic. If anything has made it impossible for the company to save the money with which to replace the structure of the railway, it has been the competition introduced by the Liverpool Corporation.

Neither do I think that the conduct of the Docks Board has been any less reprehensible. Originally, the Docks Board took power to build and run the railway, but now it is only too happy to scuttle away from its responsibilities under the enabling Act. In documents issued to hon. Members, the Docks Board has graciously said that it will help anybody who wants to supply a transport system to replace the railway by telling them how to do it. Apparently, it will give no other help.

The Docks Board and the Liverpool Corporation wring their hands in a sort of mock sorrow and alarm and say, "This company must not die." I grant that hon. Members who sit for Liverpool divisions are not quite so hypocritical. They say, "Let it die" hoping to resurrect it as a nationalised railway. If it is to be resurrected, Liverpool Corporation has a great responsibility for having it under its wing, not the sole responsibility, because other authorities, Crosby, Bootle, and particularly the Docks Board, are concerned.

Those authorities should get together and work out a constitution and finances for a joint board and then come to the House to seek statutory powers to maintain the railway. My own authority, Crosby, suggested that a long time ago. It was told that its big brothers, Liverpool Corporation and the Docks Board, would do something about it. Nothing has been done. I suggested to a number of people who have authority in this matter that if the local authorities would not call a meeting, I should do so. The suggestion that a back bench Member of Parliament could do more than the high and mighty members of the Liverpool Corporation was treated with scorn.

If those authorities cannot get together on their own, I ask the House to reject the Bill, leaving the Minister free to call them together. There is nothing new in the Minister intervening in the affairs of this railway. During the war, in 1941, the Minister of War Transport had to decide whether the railway should continue, and again in 1945 the Minister had a report on it and decided that it was absolutely essential to the dock. Because the local authorities have not been able to get together, I hope that the Minister will intervene to get them together so that some scheme will result which will keep this essential public service running.

9.29 p.m.

Mr. G. Lindgren (Wellingborough)

I want to speak from a point of view different from that of hon. Members who have spoken earlier. I am a member and a voluntary officer of the Transport Salaried Staffs Association which represents a number of the people employed on the Liverpool Overhead Railway. Whatever may have been the basis of consultation between the company and Liverpool Corporation, my union is dissatisfied with the compensation provisions of Clause 8. My union has been anxious to negotiate for a long time, a fact which has been known to the company, but so far we have heard nothing.

I hope that we shall have a breathing space so that we can have consultations. It is unfair that Clause 8 should make discriminations between sections of the staff and I shall vote for the Amendment in order that we may have an opportunity further to press the claim which we have been prepared to put forward.

9.30 p.m.

Sir Victor Raikes (Liverpool, Garston)

In supporting the Second Reading of the Bill, I am in agreement with the hon. Member for Edge Hill (Mr. A. J. Irvine) to the extent that neither of us has ever been a member of the Liverpool City Council or a director of the railway in question. We must first consider what advantage or disadvantage will result from giving the Bill a Second Reading or rejecting it.

It has been made quite plain throughout the debate—and it has not been challenged—that if the Second Reading is rejected the overhead railway will be legally entitled to stop running on 31st December of this year. If the railway were closed down on that date, I agree that, for a time, at any rate, there would be a considerable degree of chaos among transport in Liverpool, but I do not agree that the rejection of the Second Reading will have quite the effect that certain hon. Members on both sides fear. If it is rejected, the railway can be closed down, and one thing is quite certain, namely, that no staff compensation can be paid, because the main object of the Bill is to enable compensation to be paid and the whole concern wound up. It cannot be wound up without the will of Parliament, but it can be shut down.

The hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren) made a very fair point. His view was that no real consultation had taken place in regard to the compensation payable under Clause 8. The difficulty which arises is that it is not possible for the House to discuss the Instruction which will be moved after the Second Reading, if it is agreed to. I think that I am just in order in saying, on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Wavertree (Mr. Tilney), that, if the Second Reading is carried, the company is prepared to agree to the Instruction which will be moved afterwards. I thought that I should take the opportunity of saying that, and I know that my hon. Friend's assurance, though me, will be acceptable to hon. Members on both sides of the House.

Mr. Logan

Does the hon. Member mean to say that if the Bill is rejected the railway will be closed and there will be no compensation? In ordinary English language, does it not mean, "Until we meet and there is an opportunity for the interested parties to discuss the pros and cons no compensation will be paid"? If so, does not that meet all that is required?

Sir V. Raikes

I will deal with the hon. Member's point shortly. I know that he and I may differ about various matters, but we are both in agreement that the best solution to this problem must be found. All I am maintaining now is that, if the Bill is rejected, it prevents the payment of compensation.

Mr. Mellish

indicated dissent.

Sir V. Raikes

It is all very well for the hon. Member to shake his head at me. I am quite prepared to give way. I am not trying to make an unfair point. I have made it clear that the Instruction will be accepted if the Bill is given a Second Reading. It is necessary for a Parliamentary Bill to go before the House of Commons before the railway can cease to run. If the railway ceased to run, quite apart from compensation, certain overhead charges would still fall to be paid. I am not denying that, and I am not speaking as a spokesman for the railway.

I now come to the next point, which is a very important one. It is the point raised by the hon. Member for the Liverpool, Scotland (Mr. Logan) of whether it is better to reject the Bill on Second Reading and not allow it to go to Committee for a settlement, or whether it would be wiser, as in my view, that it should be given a Second Reading, and then we might effectively have the consultations which both the hon. Member and I wish to take place. I repeat that it would be a great disadvantage to the City of Liverpool if the railway were closed down on 31st December and no other steps were taken to keep it open, at any rate for a time. My first point is that if the Bill is rejected now and the railway decides to close down, compensation will be held up indefinitely.

I come now to the further points raised by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Scotland, whose views I always respect. It is true that the Liverpool Overhead Railway has comparatively few assets and is agreed under present circumstances to be incapable of paying for considerable repairs; it could not run the railway for any length of time. I think we are all agreed also that for a period, in one way or another, the railway should continue.

From the point of view of the railway, however, I would say this. My hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) to some extent attacked the corporation because the railway had been facing subsidised competition from it. I am not criticising the corporation one way or the other. All I say is that one cannot have it both ways. Since the war, seven applications for additional buses, which compete with the railway, have been granted and the licensing authority has rejected the opposition of the railway. I am not complaining of that, nor do I particularly complain, although I think it was tactless, that even at this stage, when the matter was being discussed, on 22nd June yet another bus service was started by the corporation to take people to Gladstone Dock, an area otherwise dealt with by the Liverpool Overhead Railway. The corporation may be quite right in doing that, but, if so, it is an additional reason for the overhead railway to say, "We cannot wait on indefinitely. We cannot carry on against subsidised competition indefinitely. We have warned the corporation over a period that the railway would have to close down."

The corporation, whether the former Conservative-controlled body or the present corporation, has been very tardy over discussions to tie up this matter.

Mr. Mellish

The hon. Member for Walton (Mr. K. Thompson) is a member of the corporation. It is rather impertinent for the hon. Member to criticise the corporation of which his hon. Friend is a member.

Sir V. Raikes

If the hon. Member is telling me that it is impertinent of me to criticise any corporation of which an hon. Friend of mine is a member, his idea of the working of Parliament is extremely different to mine. My hon. Friend has made his point of view perfectly clear. My view is that had the leaders of both parties on the corporation during the past few years acted more rapidly, they could have avoided the difficulty which has arisen. I am perfectly entitled to say that, and, incidentally, it is entirely correct.

At this stage, it is my view that we could quite easily have a conference called, whether we give the Bill a Second Reading or not. I think I have a right to make this point, because I am not tied up with the corporation or with the railway. I think the overhead railway company would probably be considering closing down anyhow, but, if there is to be a meeting of the interested bodies, we are merely, in my view, going to bang our heads against the ground if we are to have the meeting called by the Minister with the idea that, somehow or other—and that has been the trouble over the whole thing, both with the former corporation of Liverpool and the present one—if they could keep the thing hanging about, the Minister of Transport would come along and the British Transport Commission would take the whole show over. It would avoid a great deal of trouble.

The Minister is going to reply, but I think I am right in saying that in fact if the Minister of Transport wished to take over this overhead railway he would have no power to do so. To all intents and purposes, the British Transport Commission is an independent body. I should be surprised if my hon. Friend when he replies will be able to say that the Ministry of Transport could order the British Transport Commission to take over a declining asset, particularly under present conditions.

If I am right about that, and if the Ministry cannot do it, what is the effect of the sort of meeting which my hon. Friend very honestly wishes to be called—a meeting called and presided over by the Ministry of Transport? The Ministry cannot take the whole thing over, because it has not the power to do it. The only result would be further delay, in which nothing whatever would be done.

If, within the next month or two months, we could have a meeting of all interested parties, after the Second Reading of this Bill, I have very little doubt that an arrangement could be come to and that this overhead railway could be purchased at scrap value. If it were purchased at scrap value, perhaps the cor- poration, with the help of other bodies, as my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby said, could take it over for a limited period of time. I may be told by hon. Members opposite that that is too late, and that we could not get the powers for the corporation to do that between now and 31st December, and I do not think we could. At least, I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House have noted that Clause 2 of the Bill says that— the appointed day" means the thirtieth day of December nineteen hundred and fifty-six or such other date as the Company may with the approval of the Minister determine; If we are to have a conference of the interested bodies, by all means let us have a representative of the Ministry in the chair, but do not let us put this thing on to the Ministry. It is really no good trying to do that. I am quite certain that the appointed day could be advanced from 30th December, if necessary, to 31st July, provided that reasonable guarantees were made. The corporation would cover the situation as far as the expenses of the overhead railway company were concerned; they would have to do that. On the other hand, if we turn this Bill down and have the sort of conference which my hon. Friend has in mind, we shall be beating back on the question of nationalisation and everything else, and holding the matter up for another year. It has been held up too long already, and it is not the fault of one party or the other or of the corporation of Liverpool. If we meet in a sensible way and tackle this as a local problem in which local interests are concerned, the appointed day could be put off for three months or six months and we could get what all of us are aiming at, with compensation in a proper time rather than everything being held up indefinitely. I support the Second Reading. If the Bill passes it will be of advantage to everybody.

Mr. Logan

rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put, but Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER withheld his assent and declined then to put that Question.

9.47 p.m.

Mr. Ernest Davies (Enfield, East)

We are discussing a Private Bill and, therefore, a non-party matter and no official view is being put from the Front Opposition Bench. The issue is whether we shall give a Second Reading to the Bill which, in spite of what has just been said by the hon. Member for Garston (Sir V. Raikes) would lead to the closure of the railway, or whether there should be a delay during which the Minister could call together the interested parties with a view to finding a way to save this railway from closure.

The House has a responsibility, in making up its mind, to examine the position of the railway and see whether this public service, which has served the docks of Liverpool for so long, should be closed or whether there is some way in which it could continue to operate. We are not considering the closing of a branch line in the ordinary sense. There is nothing comparable between this overhead railway and the branch lines of the British Transport Commission which we have frequently discussed and against the closing of which hon. Members have strongly protested.

This is not a small branch line carrying a mere handful of people day in and day out, operating at a loss and drawing upon the funds of the Transport Commission. It is a privately-owned railway which is still carrying 9 million passengers a year; that is to say, there have been more than 9 million passenger journeys every year during the last three years. The number carried by the railway works out at about 30,000 journeys a day.

What is more, this railway has not been losing money. It has succeeded in paying interest on its debenture stock of 4 per cent. and has not had to call upon the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board to meet its guarantee of that interest. Dividends have been paid, although small, but even so it has been operating without losing money. The difficulty is that the railway has now reached a point at which, as is agreed on both sides, a certain amount of money would have to be spent in order to maintain the safety of the railway in the future by an immediate expenditure of either £230,000 or £330,000. That would be necessary immediately, which means in the next two or three years. Over a longer period, if the railway were kept in being, there would have to be considerable capital expenditure.

It seems to those who have put forward this Amendment, and wish to delay the Second Reading, that in those circum- stances it is reasonable for the parties interested, the Docks and Harbour Board, Liverpool Corporation, the trade unions and the Overhead Railway Company, with the Minister of Transport, to get together to consider whether during this interim period of the next year or two money can be found in some way and the railway kept open. Then they could decide whether to spend a far larger sum on the railway over the next 10 years, or when it becomes necessary.

Among other reasons why further consideration should be given before a Second Reading is agreed to, in my personal view is the difficulties of Liverpool Corporation in providing alternative transport. My hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Mr. Hahon) made a very convincing speech concerning this railway, with which, as it were, he has lived since his youth. I went to Liverpool last week to have a look at the railway. I rode along it from end to end and made inquiries about it.

I was shocked at the thought of that railway being closed and the Dock Road there being the sole means of bringing thousands of workers to the docks daily. Anyone who has travelled along the Dock Road and seen the 20 level crossings used by railway wagons coming from warehouses to the docks and being held up by those wagons which are continually crossing the streets, cannot help but realise that there will be considerable delay in getting workers to the docks if the overhead railway is closed and buses have to be provided on that road.

Not only will there be considerable delay but the cost to Liverpool Corporation will be considerable. There will have to be a capital investment by the Corporation in 60 new buses and it will also have to spend considerable sums on resurfacing the Dock Road and endeavouring to make it more suitable for use by those heavy vehicles. It may well be that it would be better to make an existing asset worth-while by prolonging its life and spending the same amount of money on that existing asset, the overhead railway, rather than having to put new capital investment at this time into the transport undertaking of Liverpool Corporation. I think that that is a relevant factor which must be considered by this House before it decides about giving the Bill a Second Reading.

My hon. Friend the Member for Edge Hill (Mr. A. J. Irvine) made a good point when he raised the question of how the matter had been handled in this House. I think it is regrettable that when coming to this House to seek these powers in connection with the closing of the railway the company should, in effect, have prejudiced the position by deciding to pay off its debenture stock. There is no question that the company had made up its mind a year or two ago that it was going into liquidation and that it was far better for its shareholders—who, apparaently, were the only people with which it was concerned—if it ceased to spend adequate sums on maintenance and distributed what it could by repaying debentures and increasing dividends, as it did last year, by using those funds which had been set aside for renewals and maintenance to pay off debenture stock. In other words, it has dissipated what money it had available and thereby prejudiced the position over the closing of the railway. I consider that behaviour shocking on the part of the company.

Equally regrettable is that the Docks and Harbour Board does not appear to have risen to its responsibilities either. The Docks and Harbour Board is a public authority with public responsibility. It guaranteed the debenture stock and had to give its consent to the repayment of the debenture stock. The Board gave that consent and, unfortunately, stated that it viewed with equanimity the closing down of the overhead railway. In other words, the Board does not seem to have given sufficient consideration to the difficulties of transporting labour to the docks for which it is responsible.

It is because the Docks and Harbour Board has not been brought sufficiently into these discussions, because no initiative appears to have been taken by the Ministry, because the Liverpool Corporation is concerned about its ability to provide adequate facilities and because of the existence of this asset that I feel that there is justification for asking the Minister to take the initiative now, to bring the parties together and to have consultations. It can then be decided whether or not the Bill should proceed at a later stage.

It seems to me that those of my hon. Friends who have pressed for a delay have a very strong case, and I ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether he cannot give the House some guidance on the matter. Surely the Ministry cannot view without alarm the disappearance of this railway, which carries so many people daily, particularly when its disappearance will lead to considerably increased congestion on the roads in the area and will affect road safety.

A wider national issue is involved, since the closing of the railway may well reduce the efficiency of the docks. That being the case, surely the Minister of Transport should consult the Minister of Labour, who is responsible for the National Dock Labour Board, which is the statutory authority having the great responsibility of regulating labour at the docks.

I ask the Parliamentary Secretary seriously to consider advising the House not to proceed with the Bill at this stage, but to reject the Motion for Second Reading, thereby enabling discussions to take place so that we do not dissipate a national asset which could be kept in being with the expenditure of a small sum in the immediate future and which could continue to serve as a public service. We need to keep this public service alive.

The present position indicates to us the strength of the transport policy advanced by those who advocate that transport should be operated by public authorities with public responsibility and not left in the hands of private enterprise. This situation could not have arisen in the case of a publicly-owned transport undertaking. Consultative machinery exists which prevents branch lines from being closed without adequate consideration, up to the Minister himself if necessary. In this case no such consultation has taken place. The House is, nevertheless, being asked to give authority for the line to be closed. I ask the House to reject the Bill, for the reasons which I have given.

9.59 p.m.

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

It has several times been my duty to speak in the House on Private Bills dealing with transport introduced by the British Transport Commission or some other body, and I have always found it a somewhat delicate task to undertake, because the Government do not accept responsibility for Bills of that kind. On this occasion, the Motion for rejection, which has been moved by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Scotland (Mr. Logan), brings my right hon. Friend very definitely into the controversy, since it asks the House to decline to give the Bill a Second Reading until the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation has convened a conference to discuss the matter.

When first this Bill was introduced, it was the duty of my right hon. Friend to present a Report upon it. That Report was prepared after careful consideration of the provisions of the Bill and of the conditions in Liverpool. The Minister, having considered the provisions of the Bill, concluded that the issues raised for the decision of Parliament were essentially local ones which should be determined in the light of the evidence adduced and on which it would be in-appropriate for him to express an opinion. It was not the function of the Minister to prescribe what alternative services could or should be provided in circumstances such as those.

In taking this view, my right hon. Friend was not merely seeking to avoid accepting a responsibility which it was possible for him to accept. There was, of course, no statutory obligation upon him, but he did also carefully consider whether, in these particular circumstances, he ought to express a view to the Committee in another place which was considering the Bill in detail.

The effect of the discontinuance of this railway would be that some alternative system of transport would have to be provided. As has been made plain in a number of speeches tonight, the Liverpool Corporation is, in fact, the principal local transport operator. But the corporation, like any other operator, has to seek from the licensing authority a licence to start new services. If for any reason there was dissatisfaction with the decision of the licensing authority, the matter would come to my right hon. Friend on appeal. As he has, in the last resort, an appellate jurisdiction, it clearly would be most improper for him to have expressed any views on this matter at an earlier stage.

There would also be another consideration. As a result of the discontinuance of this overhead railway, there might very well be—and many hon. Members to- night have said that there certainly will be—a considerable increase in traffic congestion upon the roads. The local authority would have to take the initiative in considering the framing of any regulations to deal with those traffic problems, but, again, when those regulations had been prepared they would have to be submitted to my right hon. Friend for his confirmation. There, again, because of that duty that he might have to exercise at a later time, my right hon. Friend thought that it clearly would be improper for him to express any views upon the Bill.

In the course of this debate, one or two things have clearly emerged. Almost every hon. Member who has spoken has expressed regret at the prospect of this overhead railway ceasing to operate. There was complete agreement that, from the point of view of providing an efficient service for moving the dockers and other people along the docks and at the same time relieving congestion upon the Docks Road and avoiding the problem of level crossings, it was desirable that this railway should continue. I am bound to say, however, that listening to the debate as one with no very great knowledge of Liverpool, I was very much surprised that, apparently, practically no negotiations had taken place between the parties likely to be affected and, indeed, that there seemed to be no clear understanding why these negotiations had not taken place.

The House was told that the company had always been most willing to meet the corporation and anyone else in order to consider what steps should be taken to deal with its financial difficulties. We were told, especially by the hon. Lady the Member for Liverpool, Exchange (Mrs. Braddock), that what she had specially in mind in asking that the Minister of Transport should intervene was to ensure that all responsible and representative bodies should come together in order to consider the future of the railway. I cannot see anything to prevent them from meeting together. There is absolutely no need for my right hon. Friend to convene the meeting, and certainly I must tell the House very definitely that he has no intention of doing so. There is no reason at all why the corporation and the company should not meet.

The hon. Lady thought that the Docks and Harbour Board might be helped by the initiative of the Minister. I hope that the Board would be willing to attend any meeting held to discuss this problem. If they have shown a certain unwillingness to come, it is because, I gather from the published speeches of the chairman, they do not consider that they have any statutory power to make a financial contribution towards solving the problem; I gather also that they have no intention of doing so. But I understand that this would be a meeting of all those likely to be affected in any way, and would not commit them in any way. I hope very much that they would be willing to attend.

In the course of two speeches, hon. Gentlemen referred to the possibility, which I think was pressed at the meeting of the Trades Council last summer, that the British Transport Commission should take over this railway. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Sir V. Raikes) is perfectly correct in his reading of the Act of 1947. My right hon. Friend the Minister has no power at all to direct the British Transport Commission to take over the railway. I think I ought, however, to add—because I want there to be no misunderstanding of this matter—that at the present time we are anxious to help the British Transport Commission to fulfil its obligation to make its income and expenditure balance taking one year with another. [Interruption.] I am rather surprised at the jeers coming from hon. Members opposite, because it is completely inconsistent with what has been said today that my hon. Friends are only anxious to nationalise unprofitable concerns. We are most anxious that that should not happen, and we are most anxious also that the British Transport Commission should not take over anything which is not likely to be profitable.

Mr. Ernest Popplewell (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West)

The reason for such an intervention was the action of the Government in preventing the British Transport Commission from meeting its obligations by increasing its charges to meet the heavy increased costs it had to face. That was the reason for the jeer at such a nonsensical observation by the Parliamentary Secretary.

Mr. Molson

I am sorry if my observation was nonsensical. The intervention of the hon. Gentleman is really on something which has no bearing upon this Bill. One very obvious reason why the Government are anxious that there should not be such a large increase in the charges by the British Transport Commission is that at the present time, as a result of the present existing charges, there has unfortunately been a decline in the traffic. It looks as though it has reached the point at which further increases might result in a reduction in their revenue.

That brings me to my last sentences. I have been asked what advice I would give to the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Garston has pointed out that, by giving a Second Reading to this Bill, the House would not in any way be prejudicing any further discussions and negotiations of the kind that I have indicated. Indeed, it would have exactly the opposite effect. If the advice of some hon. Members opposite and of my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) were accepted, the only result that I can foresee is that it would then be impossible for any effective negotiation to take place. It would be impossible for compensation to be paid—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"]—to the employees, and the final result would be that the company would cease to run the railway without, in fact, being wound up.

Mr. A. J. Irvine

Will the right hon. Gentleman indicate what is the Government's view, if they have formed a view, about the action of the company in redeeming the debenture stock in the circumstances, having regard to the considerations which I mentioned?

Mr. Molson

No. I am dealing with the Amendment that has been moved. I listened to what the hon. Gentleman had to say. I do not associate myself with his criticisms, but it is a matter that could very well be considered by a Select Committee, and it is not one upon which it is necessary for the Government to express any views.

Mr. Logan

Is it not possible and part of the Parliamentary Secretary's duty, in view of the chaos which now exists in Liverpool with regard to transport and what is likely to happen, that there should be an attempt at conciliation? I want a conciliatory body to deal with this matter. I want him to tell the House what happened at the meeting. It is all right for the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to laugh—

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member is now trying to make a second speech; that will not do.

Mr. Logan

May I ask the Minister whether at the conference which we had he declared to me that at that moment he could not intervene, but that when the Bill was brought forward he would then see what could be done? I want to know what he is going to do.

Mr. Molson

I will respond to the hon. Gentleman's question in this way. If a conference were called by the Liverpool Corporation and it were generally thought that it would be of value to have a neutral chairman, an official from my Department nominated by my right hon. Friend to sit as a neutral chairman and

to bring his experience of transport to bear in order to help to bring the parties together, my right hon. Friend would be very willing to agree to that; but it would have to be on the clear understanding that the chairman was acting as an entirely independent chairman and as an "honest broker" between the various parties and that he would not have the authority to commit my right hon. Friend in any way.

I therefore conclude by saying that it seems to me quite clear that the House would be wise to give a Second Reading to this Bill. That would not in any way prejudice the future and it would enable the whole matter to be further considered in Committee.

Question put, That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 168, Noes 100.

Division No. 252.] AYES [10.15 p.m.
Aitken, W. T. Fort, R. Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh
Amery, Julian (Preston, N.) Fraser, Sir Ian (M'cmbe & Lonsdale) Macdonald, Sir Peter
Amory, Rt. Hn. Heathcoat (Tiverton) Freeth, D. K. Mackie, J. H. (Galloway)
Anstruther-Gray, Major Sir William Garner-Evans, E. H. McLaughlin, Mrs. P.
Arbuthnot, John George, J. C. (Pollok) Maclay, Rt. Hon. John
Armstrong, C. W. Glover, D. Maclean, Fitzroy (Lancaster)
Ashton, H. Godber, J. B. Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries)
Baldwin, A. E. Gower, H. R. Maddan, Martin
Balniel, Lord Grant, W. (Woodside) Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hn. Sir R.
Barber, Anthony Green, A. Markham, Major Sir Frank
Barlow, Sir John Grimston, Hon. John (St. Albans) Marples, A. E.
Barter, John Grosvenor, Lt.-Col. R. G. Marshall, Douglas
Beamish, Maj. Tufton Gurden, Harold Mathew, R.
Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.) Hall, John (Wycombe) Maude, Angus
Bennett, F. M. (Torquay) Harris, Reader (Heston) Mawby, R. L.
Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth) Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye) Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S. L. C.
Bidgood, J. C. Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel Molson, Rt. Hon. Hugh
Biggs-Davison, J. A. Heath, Rt. Hon. E. R. G. Morrison, John (Salisbury)
Bishop, F. P. Henderson, John (Cathcart) Nairn, D. L. S.
Body, R. F. Hicks-Beach, Maj. W. W. Nicolson, N. (B'n'm'th, E. & Chr'ch)
Bossom, Sir Alfred Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe) Nield, Basil (Chester)
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. J. A. Hinchingbrooke, Viscount Nugent, G. R. H.
Brooke, Rt. Hon. Henry Holland-Martin, C. J. Oakshott, H. D.
Bryan, P. Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P. O'Neill, Hn. Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.)
Buchan-Hepburn, Rt. Hon. P. G. T. Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Dame Florence Orr-Ewing, Sir Ian (Weston-S-Mare)
Bullus, Wing Commander E. E. Howard, Hon. Greville (St. Ives) Partridge, E.
Channon, H. Hudson, Sir Austin (Lewisham, N.) Pilkington, Capt. R. A.
Chichester-Clark, R. Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral J. Pitt, Miss E. M.
Conant, Maj. Sir Roger Hughes-Young, M. H. C. Powell, J. Enoch
Cooper, Sqn. Ldr. Albert Iremonger, T. L. Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)
Cooper-Key, E. M. Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Profumo, J. D.
Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K. Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich) Redmayne, M.
Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne) Jennings, J. C. (Burton) Renton, D. L. M.
Crowder, Sir John (Finchley) Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle) Ridsdale, J. E.
Cunningham, Knox Johnson, Eric (Blackley) Robinson, Sir Roland (Blackpool, S.)
Currie, G. B. H. Jones, David (The Hartlepools) Roper, Sir Harold
Dance, J. C. G. Joseph, Sir Keith Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard
Davidson, Viscountess Keegan, D. Russell, R. S.
Digby, Simon Wingfield Kershaw, J. A. Schofield, Lt.-Col. W.
Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA. Kirk, P. M. Scott-Miller, Cmdr. R.
Doughty, C. J. A. Lagden, G. W. Shepherd, William
Drayson, G. B. Leather, E. H. C. Smithers, Peter (Winchester)
du Cann, E. D. L. Leavey, J. A. Stanley, Capt. Hon. Richard
Duncan, Capt. J. A. L. Leburn, W. G. Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.)
Duthie, W. S. Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H. Steward, Sir William (Woolwich, W.)
Errington, Sir Eric Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield) Stewart, Henderson (Fife, E.)
Fisher, Nigel Linstead, Sir H. N. Studholme, Sir Henry
Fleetwood-Hesketh, R. F. Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.) Summers, Sir Spencer
Fletcher-Cooke, C. Longden, Gilbert Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)
Taylor, William (Bradford, N.) Vosper, D. F. Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)
Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury) Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.) Wills, G. (Bridgwater)
Thompson, Kenneth (Walton) Wakefield, Sir Wavell (St. M'lebone) Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Tiley, A. (Bradford, W.) Ward, Dame Irene (Tynemouth) Woollam, John Victor
Touche, Sir Gordon Waterhouse, Capt. Rt. Hon. C. Yates, William (The Wrekin)
Vane, W. M. F. Watkinson, Rt. Hon. Harold
Vaughan-Morgan, J. K. Whitelaw, W. S. I. (Perth & Border) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Vickers, Miss J. H. Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.) Mr. Norman Pannell and
Sir Victor Raikes.
Ainsley, J. W. Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvill (Colne Valley) Mellish, R. J.
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Hannan, W. Mikardo, Ian
Allen, Scholefield (Crewe) Hastings, S. Mitchison, G. R.
Awbery, S. S. Hayman, F. H. Monslow, W.
Bacon, Miss Alice Herbison, Miss M. Neal, Harold (Bolsover)
Bence, C. R. (Dunbartonshire, E.) Holman, P. Page, R. G.
Blackburn, F. Holmes, Horace Paget, R. T.
Blenkinsop, A. Howell, Charles (Perry Barr) Parker, J.
Boardman, H. Hoy, J. H. Pearson, A.
Bowden, H. W. (Leicester, S. W.) Hubbard, T. F. Popplewell, E.
Bowles, F. G. Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire) Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)
Brown, Thomas (Ince) Hunter, A. E. Proctor, W. T.
Burke, W. A. Hynd, H. (Accrington) Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green) Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill) Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)
Callaghan, L. J. Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A. Royle, C.
Castle, Mrs. B. A. Jenkins, Roy (Stechford) Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill)
Coldrick, W. Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham) Skeffington, A. M.
Collick, P. H. (Birkenhead) Jones, T. W. (Merioneth) Slater, J. (Sedgefield)
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) Kenyon, C. Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)
Dalton, Rt. Hon. H. King, Dr. H. M. Steele, T.
Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.) Lawson, G. M. Stewart, Michael (Fulham)
Davies, Stephen (Merthyr) Lee, Frederick (Newton) Thomas, George (Cardiff)
Deer, G. Lever, Leslie (Ardwick) Thornton, E.
Delargy, H. J. Lewis, Arthur Viant, S. P.
Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly) Lindgren, G. S. Wade, D. W.
Edwards, W. J. (Stepney) Logan, D. G. Wheeldon, W. E.
Evans, Albert (Islington, S. W.) Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson Wilkins, W. A.
Fernyhough, E. MacColl, J. E. Williams, Rev. Llywelyn (Ab'tillery)
Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton) McInnes, J. Willis, Eustace (Edinburgh, E.)
Greenwood, Anthony McKay, John (Wallsend) Winterbottom, Richard
Grenfell, Rt. Hon. D. R. McLeavy, Frank Yates, V. (Ladywood)
Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly) Mahon, Simon Zilliacus, K.
Griffiths, William (Exchange) Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)
Hale, Leslie Mann, Mrs. Jean TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Mrs. Braddock and
Mr. Denis Howell.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time and committed.

10.20 p.m.

Mr. David Jones (The Hartlepools)

I beg to move, That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the Bill to amend Clause 8 of the Bill, so as to provide a better basis of compensation. There are about 190 members of the staff of the Liverpool overhead railway who will be affected when it is closed. We take the view that whether they be employed in the general manager's department, the clerical department, the operating department, the permanent way, or the shops department, they should be treated alike for the purposes of compensation. We think that the position which they occupy ought not to be the determining factor, but rather that the basis should be length of service which they have given to the company. From what was said on Second Reading, I have reason to believe that the promoters of the Bill will not look unfavourably on our proposition.

10.25 p.m.

Mr. H. Hynd (Accrington)

I beg to second the Motion.

In supporting this Instruction, I declare my interest as a member of the Railway Transport Salaried Staffs Association, some of whose members will be affected by the closing of the railway. The position at the moment is that the clerical staff and supervisors in the general manager's department are going to have one scale of compensation and the rest of the clerical staff another. The simple proposition is that the same scale of compensation should apply to all the staff. I hope, and have some reason to believe, that the spokesman for the company will be able to give an assurance on that point, and it is to try to get such an assurance that I support the Motion.

Mr. Tilney

On behalf of the company I am deputed to accept this Instruction, but there is a slight amendment to what was said by the hon. Member for Accrington (Mr. H. Hynd). I will not go into the details, nor do I want to put it in legal language, but the House will appreciate that in a matter of this kind it is very difficult to make a hard and fast dividing line.

The board hopes to give two weeks' salary or two weeks' wages to all conciliation grades who have been with the railway for 15 years on 1st April this year, or who are 55 years of age or more. That is approximately the suggestion. The actual details can be worked out upstairs in Committee, though I think that I must put in one rider. It is that if the Committee insists on the company paying out large sums of money for any other purpose of which we have no knowldege at the present time, it may be extremely difficult, and, also, that it may be necessary to pay only 75 per cent. immediately to all grades and 25 per cent. as soon as the money is available, but before the ordinary or preference shareholders are paid.

Mr. Hynd

Can the hon. Gentleman give an assurance that the company will consult the unions concerned and perhaps try to arrange details with them without troubling the Committee upstairs?

Mr. Tilney