§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Speaker
It might be of some help to the House if I were to say a general word about the scope of the discussion on this Bill. The Bill deals almost entirely with British Railways, the railways of London Transport and the Commission's inland waterway under-takings and inland docks. There are no provisions in the Bill regarding the Commission's other docks and harbours, its hotels or omnibus undertakings, except for the mention in the Fourth Schedule of the piece of land it wants to acquire to build a canteen for bus workers. I do not think that small item would support a general debate on its omnibus services. Nor do I think a small amendment in regard to the pension fund for the staff of British Road Services, mentioned in Clause 31, would make relevant a general debate on the Commission's road services.
Fares and freight charges are not the ultimate responsibility of the Commission and could not be discussed on this Bill. However, I think the powers sought would support a general discussion on the administration of British Railways, the London Transport Executive, and the inland waterways and harbours of the Commission. With regard to wages, the House knows that these matters are now being discussed before the Railway Staffs National Tribunal and the Industrial Court. I hope the House will agree with me that it would be better that we should refrain from debating them on this Bill.
§ Major Sir Frank Markham (Buckingham)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, With regard to your recent statement, may I ask whether Clause 31 would cover a general debate on all railway pensions?
§ Mr. Speaker
Unless the hon. and gallant Member can relate it to the specific provisions of the Bill, I think that would be going too wide.
§ Sir F. Markham
My second point is this. Although you have ruled out wages and fares because they are under consideration by tribunals at the moment, would you permit a discussion upon the general question of the rating of railway premises?
§ Mr. Speaker
I do not think there is anything about rating in the Bill. Of course, there is the other point that a discussion of that sort would probably involve an alteration in the general law of rating, and we cannot amend a public Statute by means of a private Bill.
§ 7.14 p.m.
§ Mr. William Whitelaw (Penrith and The Border)
I want to refer to a special case, the proposal for a railway depot and marshalling yard between Carlisle and Gretna, details of which are set out in the Fourth Schedule to the Bill. Although this is a particular case, it raises the general issue of the way in which the British Transport Commission conducts its negotiations for the acquisition of land.
I say at once that neither I nor my constituents affected have any desire to obstruct or impede any plans which the Commission can show to be in the national interest, but I want to ensure that the interests of landowners and farmers concerned are properly safeguarded and that their problems are fully appreciated. I also feel that in the national interest the Commission must prove that good agricultural land is not being needlessly acquired. With these objects in view, I shall put forward certain questions and make some suggestions.
I want to know why a new marshalling yard on the scale proposed is necessary at all. Would not modernisation of existing yards in Carlisle be sufficient? Can the Commission produce traffic figures to prove that these large-scale plans are really necessary? It may be that as evidence of that it will be able to give some estimate of its increased requirements for the future, but I should make it clear that some local opinion considers that the present weight of traffic does not justify these proposals. If such a yard is necessary, must it be sited on good agricultural land? Is not some other land available which has already been lost to agriculture?
282 So much for the more general points. I must now assume that these particular plans are to proceed and turn to the detailed proposals. In considering them, I want to give some examples where certain minor changes could be made which would seem to help the farmers concerned without damaging the main purpose of the British Transport Commission. In one case, a slight change in the proposed boundary would mean the acquisition of War Department land instead of farm land. The War Department land concerned is little used. This change would not only preserve good farm land, but would also save the Commission from having to meet a considerable claim from the farmer concerned. In another case, the proposed route of the railway runs very close to some farm buildings. This obviously increases the danger of fire. If that is necessary, of course it must be accepted, but would not a slight change in the route taking the line further away from the farms be possible?
Now I come to the general problem of severance of farms and loss of access to particular fields. I appreciate that the procedure for settling compensation in such cases is clearly set out in Clause 22. That is satisfactory as far as it goes, but surely it is important to reduce to a minimum this splitting of farms and the isolation of individual fields. Again it would seem that a slight change in the boundaries as proposed could be made to take in some fields which would be isolated from their farms in exchange for others adjacent to farm buildings which are to be acquired. Equally, the present proposals would reduce some small farms to totally uneconomic units. In such cases, it would be much better to take the whole farm.
Of course, I accept that it is not possible to meet all individual cases where small boundary changes would minimise inconvenience and disturbance, but I hope that every effort will be made to meet reasonable proposals of this kind. So much harm is done if the Commission and its officials stand absolutely firm on original plans and make no effort to see the problem from the point of view of the small farmer or small landowner concerned. Yet all too often that is exactly what happens when land is acquired by public authorities. I hope it will not be 283 forgotten at any stage that if these plans must go forward some farmers will lose the basis of their livelihood and, therefore, deserve sympathetic treatment.
That brings me to compensation. Of course, I know that the Commission intends to pay proper compensation. I only want to stress certain cases where the loss likely to be suffered might be overlooked or brushed aside. In some areas, the present railway line passes through valuable woods. A fire break has always been left on either side of the railway. Even so, a serious fire occurs almost every two years.
Under the new plans, the fire breaks will be removed to increase the number of railway lines, and this will greatly increase the danger of fires in these woods. Nor am I impressed by the excuse usually put forward that there will be no danger in future because all trains will be dieselengined. That may be true of the future, but it is certainly not true of the present, or, indeed, even of the years immediately ahead. I therefore hope that this particular aspect will be taken into account when assessing compensation.
In another instance, the efficient working of an estate, and of some farms, requires constant transport over a railway level crossing. Even at present, this crossing is subject to serious delays at some times of the day. I understand that it is not intended to replace this level crossing with a bridge, and in that case the proposed extra line will make present delays even greater. This will cause serious inconvenience and add materially to the running costs of the estate and of the farms in circumstances which should not be disregarded.
I want to return briefly to the problems created by loss of access to particular fields. This can be a most serious matter for a farmer, and must be adequately compensated. I believe that in one case an effort is to be made to extend a cattle "creep," as it is called, to a length of 500 yards. It is certainly right to provide this, but I am very doubtful whether cattle would be prepared to face a dark tunnel like that. I doubt, therefore, whether such an arrangement can be considered adequate.
Lastly, I return to cases where the removal of land from small farmers would make the farms totally uneconomic. I 284 recognise that it may not always be possible to take the whole farm, but, where it is not, surely it must be accepted that the farmer concerned deserves compensation for the total loss of his holding. In such cases, it must not be forgotten that if the owner or tenant wishes to continue his living as a farmer, he must find another farm. The compensation should be sufficient to enable him to do so.
I hope that the Commission and its officials will realise that they are dealing in this case with reasonable and fair-minded people. If they can prove that their plans are in the national interest, they will not meet with obstruction or unreasonable objection. If they are prepared to consider suggestions and to make minor changes in their plans in a spirit of compromise, they will have generous co-operation. If they offer fair terms of compensation, they will not find their negotiations difficult. Therefore, if I can be assured that the Commission and its officials will approach these matters in such a reasonable spirit, I certainly will not further oppose the Bill.
§ 7.26 p.m.
§ Sir Lynn Ungoed-Thomas (Leicester, North-East)
I have a constituency point that will take only a comparatively short time to deal with. It arises on Clause 13 (1, b), which provides that the Commission shall have power, in the City of Leicester, to…"stop up and discontinue the footbridge adjoining the level crossing known as Forest Road crossing between Leicester (Belgrave Road) and Humberstone stations.I am concerned with this provision on behalf of my constituents and, in particular, the 900 or so workpeople who work at seven factories in the immediate neighbourhood of this level crossing. I have also had complaints from owners of factories, and from the Leicestershire Footpath Association, a most admirable body whose job it is, of course, to look after the pedestrian, who may, I think, be compared in civil life with the foot slogger in the Army, and who always has to bear the brunt.
Their particular concern is that when the level crossing is closed it should be possible for people on foot to cross the railway. In the past, of course, there has been this footbridge, but the proposal is to do away with it. The people concerned are not at all unreasonable about it; they 285 are perfectly willing for the footbridge to go, provided, of course, that a pedestrian crossing is put in its place so that pedestrians would be held up for the minimum time when the ordinary gates across the road are closed.
There is no great dispute on the facts. The Commission's own letter admits that there have on occasions been delays of up to five minutes on this crossing. The number of people who use the footbridge is very small indeed. Perhaps that is not unnatural, as I believe that one of the reasons for wishing the footbridge to be closed is that it is not in good repair. And, of course, hope dies very slowly, even in those who are waiting at level crossings, and, naturally, they would rather wait at the crossing in the hope of the gates opening than climb the bridge. One is, therefore, little surprised at the small use made of the bridge.
The Commission, in this Bill, asks Parliament to do away with what is at present its liability to maintain the bridge so that pedestrians may cross the line even when the crossing gates are closed. It is Parliament's duty, and in this case, my duty in particular, to see that, as far as is in our power, the small man's interests are looked after on these occasions.
I have had correspondence with the Transport Commission about this matter, and, in particular, with Sir Brian Robertson. As one would expect from him personally, and, indeed, as one would expect from anybody in the very responsible public position that he holds, I have had from him every kind of courtesy and consideration. We have had a little argument by correspondence, and certainly the Transport Commission did not think that the provision of a pedestrian crossing was at all necessary.
On 10th February, I wrote to Sir Brian Robertson, and perhaps it would be of advantage just to mention this to see exactly where we stand. I wrote:…"I am afraid I simply cannot agree with the conclusion that there is no need to provide a pedestrian crossing.Parliament is being asked to confer on the Commission the advantage of being freed from the obligation of keeping up the bridge. I am informed that in return for this the Commission itself originally proposed to provide a pedestrian level crossing so as to reduce the inconvenience. Clearly, the cost of this would not be substantial. Although the bridge was not extensively used, the road is extensively 286 used by workmen and other pedestrians and they may well have preferred to wait in the hope that there would be no appreciable delay in opening the gates rather than climb over the bridge.I have, in fact, received several complaints in the past about the length of time for which the gates have been closed to the inconvenience and annoyance of pedestrians. It seems to me that gates which are closed normally for two minutes but, on occasion, up to five minutes cannot be regarded as not causing inconvenience or justifying the provision of the pedestrian crossing.I have had complaints of delays of more than twice the five minutes which has, on occasion, admittedly occurred. Sir Brian Robertson was good enough to reply on 20th February that it has been decided to withdraw Clause 13 (1, b) from the Bill in Committee, and, of course, I should like to have the Minister's observations about that.
Sir Brian Robertson intimated that, instead of proceeding by this Bill, the procedures laid down in the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act, 1949, would be followed in order to get rid of the liability to keep the footbridge. Then he went on to say:Further consideration has also been given to the question of providing a pedestrian crossing. should the removal of the bridge be authorised. Although the Commission still think that such a crossing is not really essential, they are nevertheless prepared to instal such a crossing subject to the necessary consent of the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation. Accordingly, any order sought by the Commission under the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act, 1949, would be on that basis.As I understand, this is the position now. First, Clause 13 (1, b) will be withdrawn during the Committee stage, so that the Commission will not, in this Bill, ask for removal of the bridge. Secondly, the Commission accepts that, when the bridge is removed, a pedestrian crossing should be provided. Thirdly, the Commission intends to apply for the removal of the bridge under the National Parks Act procedure, but the application will be only on the basis that a pedestrian crossing is provided in place of the bridge.
I need hardly say that this attitude of the Commission will certainly be very much welcomed by my constituents. I should like to thank both the Commission and Sir Brian Robertson for the very considerate attitude which they have adopted to the representations made to them. I 287 should like to hear the Minister's observations on this matter, and, in particular, to know what the attitude of the Minister is likely to be towards the provision of a pedestrian crossing in place of the footbridge when an application is made under the National Parks Act.
§ 7.34 p.m.
§ Mr. W. F. Deedes (Ashford)
The Bill before us, which is in familiar form, seeks approval for a number of major and minor works, one of which is in my own constituency of Ashford.
We accept the fact that these works are certainly useful and important and that all are indispensable; but it is not entirely works of this scale which at the moment are most deeply concerning the men who are employed in the great workshops operated by British Railways. I should like, within the Ruling which you have been good enough to give us, Mr. Speaker, to say a few words on behalf of railway towns, such as my own of Ashford, in relation to the problems now arising from the British Railways reorganisation scheme.
Railway towns such as Ashford have for more than a century been centres of railway activity in this country, and the reorganisation and the works which British Railways are carrying out in connection with the reorganisation plan are casting over them a very long shadow. Indeed, they have cast a shadow for a long time. It is three years, I think, since this reorganisation was first announced by the British Transport Commission. I think I know enough about it at this stage to appreciate the problems of the Commission. Given even going, the kind of reorganisation which the Commission is seeking to undertake, on a much bigger scale than any proposal embodied in this Bill, would be a huge undertaking for the Commission, but it has not had even going. It has been subject, among other things, to the vicissitudes of our investment programme which are beyond the Commission's control.
The current transition involved by the movement from steam to other means is of course revolutionary in its effect on the old traditional railway towns. Steam has lasted us for a century. Now we are coming to the end of that epoch. For very many railway families it is the 288 end of a very long and very proud tradition. I do not think I have to tell my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, who I know is anxious about this matter and makes a special study of it, that some of our railway towns are like very large families. Generation succeeds generation and a very proud tradition of craftsmanship is passed on from one geneation to another. That tradition is not to be lightly disappointed, frustrated or cast away. It is not only a source of power and pride, but a source of wealth to this country, and indeed a source of wealth in any country which exports to any lands where railways are run.
It is accepted in Ashford, as I think in the other towns, that this transition from steam to electric and diesel is quite inevitable. No one is trying to put the clock back, but if it is to be successful, and if we are to retain the best in terms of manpower, skill and so on of the old regime, then it is a most difficult and delicate job, and I am not absolutely sure that that is appreciated as widely as it should be.
I do not know—I hope that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary may be able to enlighten me later on—what will be the terms of the run-down in the Ashford railway works, where we know, at least in broad prospect, that the locomotive side must go within the next few years, but I will issue to my hon. Friend this warning which I think comes not only from my own town. This run-down of the men employed in the skilled work of locomotive construction and so on is not a matter which may much longer remain wholly within the control of the British Transport Commission.
It is very easy to talk about a phased programme, a phased run-down and so on. Who will wait until the last bell rings in the works? A good many, if they can, will seek and secure employment elsewhere, and it is in the nature of probability that the first to succeed will be the ablest and youngest and those whom British Railways can least spare. It will not only be a reduction in skilled manpower that the British Transport Commission will derive from this; it may also be—it could be—a serious dilution in the skill on which it counts.
Therefore, I would stress to my hon. Friend that it is very urgent that the 289 Commission, in the interests of this phase of its programme, and in the interests of the men and their families, should make the position plain as soon as it possibly can.
It is not a problem entirely of redundancy. There is, in most places, a transition to electrified railways. In my area, the Southern Region has in hand a major scheme of this kind. How many of those now making steam locomotives, who may be displaced, can be used in the future, after electrification? Last year, I had the opportunity of visiting some of the railway workshops in France where much of this transition from steam to electricity has already been gone through. One became aware there that, with preparation and anticipation, this transition can be carried out without too deep an effect upon the men and families employed.
It is apparent that, gradually, a large part of some premises of the Commission will become vacant when the steam locomotive side is closed down. What is to be the future of these premises? If the Commission wishes to sell, let, or in some way transfer part of its works to another business, may it do so? If so, when will it be allowed to do so? It is important that the terms of any arrangement which may be made—I believe that such an arrangement has already been made in one or two places—should be widely known so that industries which might be interested can take advantage. I have no doubt that these problems have been considered by the Commission, and I do not suggest that they have not. What I urge upon my hon. Friend is that it is time we heard something about the proposed solution.
There are two possibilities, I think. One can only speculate. One possibility is that the Commission, in the throes of its enormous reorganisation, has genuinely not decided all the local details, which would be quite understandable, and is not ready to announce them. The second possibility is that much has been decided, but there is a natural reluctance to break the news to the many men concerned. This would be a mistaken attitude to adopt. Definite news, even bad news, would be better than the inevitable rumour which runs riot in works among men speculating on their future in the British Railways reorganisation plans.
290 One of the Commission's disabilities in matters of this kind, in dealing with the men and families in the railway towns—I say this not unkindly—is that it tends to be rather inarticulate. It cannot speak aloud, as can some other businesses; often, it can speak only through my hon. Friend. We have found that, in matters affecting the reorganisation, it takes a very long time for local decisions to be settled and promulgated at the summit.
I do not think that it is fair that the Commission should be left to settle these matters alone. The services of the Board of Trade and of the Ministry of Labour, quite apart from the Ministry of Transport, will be needed in any major effort to supply alternative work for these men. I believe that there have been consultations, and it would be most useful if my hon. Friend could say something about any co-ordination, not only in Ashford but elsewhere, which may have been planned along these lines.
In fairness, I should like finally to say that, left to ourselves, we in Ashford could have gone some way, though not all the way, towards solving our own problem. Three years ago, when the Commission first announced that the reorganisation would be taking place, the great engineering firm of Rolls-Royce sought to bring a factory to the town, which would have taken much of the engineering labour which the Commission may now be able to dispense with. Rolls-Royce was not allowed to do what it had in mind, for two principal reasons, I believe. First, it was held that no more heavy industry should be encouraged to come to South-East England—I do not comment on that verdict, but that apparently was, at the time, the view taken—and, secondly, it was held that the importation to this railway town of skilled workers would upset the London County Council overspill scheme, which was to bring Londoners to the area.
§ Mr. James Harrison (Nottingham, North)
The hon. Gentleman is speaking about the disposal of premises owned by the British Transport Commission, and he suggests that Rolls-Royce was prevented or discouraged from coming to the town. Does he put that down to the influence of the Commission in any way?
§ Mr. Deedes
The hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Harrison) has misunderstood me. I was not referring to this within the context of what I said about the disposal of British Railways works premises. It goes without saying that Rolls-Royce proposed to build its own works. The company would have employed a number of engineers who would, in time, have been dispensed with by the Commission. Had Rolls-Royce been allowed to bring that factory to Ashford, the problem I am putting to my hon. Friend would not have arisen in the same way. There was no question of taking over British Railways premises. I think that it is fair to say that we could then have gone some way towards solving our difficulties. Higher authority denied us that particular solution. I consider now that some responsibility rests upon higher authority to deal in its own way with the situation which is arising.
§ 7.46 p.m.
§ Lady Megan Lloyd George (Carmarthen)
I hope that the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) will forgive me if I do not follow him upon the wider issues, for I wish to raise what is purely a constituency point concerning the Glantwelly Crossing in Llanfihangel-ar-Arth. I hope very much that the Minister for Welsh Affairs has briefed the Parliamentary Secretary, among other things, in pronunciation.
This is an operational change proposed in my constituency which is strongly opposed by the local authorities concerned, including the county council. They oppose it on the ground of safety. The proposal is that a crossing which has hitherto been operated by a resident gatekeeper should, in future, be operated by train crews. This is not a matter of automation; far from it. In fact, I understand that the procedure will be that the fireman will be expected to get off the engine and open the gates for the train to go forward clear of the level crossing, and that then the guard will be expected to close the gates after the train has passed through. We really seem to be back in Stephenson's days, and all that is needed now is a man with a red flag.
The county council opposes the change because the gradient of the permanent way at this particular point is very steep, and it is feared that there is a real 292 danger of crashing the gates with a heavily loaded train. The authorities feel that this extra burden ought not to be imposed on the train crews. The British Transport Commission takes a totally different view, and it has come to the conclusion that the fears of the county council are unfounded.
The divisional road engineer of the Ministry of Transport visited the site, together with members of the local authorities concerned. The local authority representatives definitely formed the impression at that time that the divisional road engineer shared their fears. He seems to have changed his mind since, because the local authorities have been informed by the divisional road engineer himself that this method of working is already being operated satisfactorily on many branch lines, on routes which have a much heavier use than that at Glantwelly Crossing. The local authorities would be very interested to have from the Minister a little information about what caused the change of view on the part of the divisional road engineer.
The local authorities are supported in this matter by the unions concerned, which, after all, have a very special concern on behalf of their members. The local branch of the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen has made its point of view clear. It says that, even with the present arrangements, the gates have been crashed on two occasions. Further, it points out that if the schedule is to be kept, the train will have to move at a fair speed. Those are two very important points which should be taken into account by the Minister.
The last point I should like to make is that the Ministry of Transport has said that it is satisfied that the enginemen should have no difficulty in controlling a train of twenty-five vehicles. That is only a limited and qualified approval. In view of this, I hope that the Clause will be deleted. If it is to remain, I trust that the qualified approval of the Ministry will be taken into account. I hope that at least there will be an undertaking that the men who will be thrown out of work will be given alternative work and that the railwaymen's service book will be amended before the new system is introduced so that the maximum load is kept at twenty-five 293 vehicles. I assure the Minister that there is concern about this matter among the local authorities in the area.
§ 7.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Rupert Speir (Hexham)
I hope that this British Transport Commission Bill will lead to better administration of British Railways. I think it is true to say that they are over the hump now, at any rate, regarding the main line railways. There has been a great improvement in main line services, and considerable improvement in the inter-city services and on some of the suburban lines. I wish I could say the same about the administration of some of the services in the rural areas. It is almost true to say that here the British Transport Commission has given up hope.
The Commission has given up all effort to improve branch line services; it does not seem to be trying at all. The excuse it gives for adopting this defeatist attitude is that when the railways were nationalised it was laid down by Parliament that, taking one year with another, the Commission should pay its way. Therefore, the Transport Commission appeared to think that it was fully justified in withdrawing services all over the rural areas and making no real attempt to provide public transport facilities in those areas. I readily admit that it is never likely to make those services paying propositions. But I believe that it could make a very much better show in the rural areas if only it had the will.
At present, the Commission is pursuing a relentless and ruthless policy of withdrawing branch line services. There is not the slightest doubt that by pursuing this policy it is causing great injury to the countryside. I think that this policy would meet with less opposition and with greater understanding by the public in the areas concerned if only the Commission could demonstrate that it has made a real attempt to set these services on a sound basis. As far as I can see, it has not carried out any experiments, it has introduced no novel ideas, nor has it shown that there is no possible alternative to withdrawing services on a wholesale basis.
Of course, the Commission did drag its feet in regard to the introduction of twin-diesel units. It has now a number of these units in service, and they 294 are doing extremely well. They are attracting back traffic which had formerly been lost to the roads. But the Commission has been even less willing to consider the introduction of light-weight diesel units. The twin-diesel units are full of plush and chrome and cost about £25,000 a piece. They are expensive cars, suitable for inter-city traffic and suburban services; but for the remote rural areas we want something that is essentially cheap and simple in character —for instance, a light-weight diesel bus.
I have seen a recent report in the Press that the Transport Commission has taken delivery of about twenty of these new light-weight diesel units. I have seen no sign of the light-weight diesel unit operating in north-east England. I should like the Minister to tell us whether we have been allocated any of these new light-weight diesel units in the North. We ought in an area like that, where there are so many lines which would be suitable for employing these lightweight diesel units, to be entitled to experiment with some of them.
I should also like to draw the Minister's attention to one aspect of the administration of branch line railways, namely, whether on lines which have been closed to passenger traffic, but which are still open to goods traffic, it would not be possible to experiment with some of these light-weight diesel units. In my area of Northumberland, scarcely a day passes without a council passing a resolution drawing attention to the damaging effect on rural life that the deterioration in public transport is now causing. I know that the Minister has received many representations on this aspect of the problem in recent years. Northumberland is a sparsely populated area, and it is one of the areas where the problem of rural transport is most acute.
At present, a survey is being undertaken, in co-operation with the Minister, by research workers on behalf of the Northumberland Community Council to see what could be done to improve conditions and to see whether they are likely to deteriorate still further. I believe that the Minister will shortly receive the report of these research workers. I am told that it will be a gloomy document. It cannot be otherwise in view of the fact that continually over the past few years branch lines in that area have been closed 295 down and bus services have been withdrawn.
In particular, I draw the Minister's attention to the line known as the Border Counties line, which operates between Hawick in Roxburghshire and Hexham in Northumberland. The line in question is not a branch line but a through line. It is a useful alternative line between England and Scotland if the main line routes are blocked.
Mr. W. M. F. Vane (Westmorland)
Like they are tonight.
§ Mr. Speir
It is possible that they will all be blocked on a night like this.
It is eighteen months since this line was closed to passenger traffic, but goods traffic still remains. Two main reasons were given by the Commission for withdrawing the passenger service on this line. First, it said that the line was not paying and that economies would result amounting to about £20,000 a year by closing this line to passenger traffic. Secondly, it said that owing to the floods in 1947, and again, I think, in 1955, the bridge across the Tyne near Hexham had been very badly damaged and that it would cost about £20,000 to repair it properly.
What exasperates the residents in the area is that since the line has been closed to passenger traffic they have seen very few economies introduced. The passenger trains have been withdrawn, but there is still a daily goods train. The permanent way is being fully maintained, the track in some instances has been renewed, the fences are being kept up and not one signal box has been closed. I believe that there are very nearly as many railway employees on this stretch of line today as there were before the line was closed to passenger traffic.
Furthermore, the line is still occasionally used for troop trains going to training areas in the neighbourhood. Surely, it is fair to argue that if the bridge, which is alleged to be weak and which undoubtedly is not in perfect condition, is strong enough to take fairly heavy goods and troop trains, it is strong enough to be used for a lightweight passenger diesel car. That is one of the reasons why I am urging that the Commission might well experiment to see whether with a lightweight diesel unit 296 it would not be possible to reintroduce a passenger service on this line.
Unfortunately, the Commission seems to lack the will. It seems to lack any drive or initiative for the rural services. I remind my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, however, that his Ministry is responsible for transport all over Britain, not only in the densely populated urban and suburban areas, but also in the remote areas. I ask him to look again at the North Tyne area, because I suggest that as an experiment we might for two or three months employ a light-weight diesel unit on this branch and keep and publish careful accounts of the incomings and the outgoings and then let the public see exactly what the situation is. If the light-weight diesel service really incurs a heavy additional loss, well and good; the service can then be legitimately withdrawn and we must try something else.
I hope the Commission's attitude to this proposal will not be entirely negative. Until now, its attitude in the rural areas has been far too negative. It is time that it was changed and changed before it is too late.
§ 8.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Ernest Popplewell (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West)
I appreciate the observations of the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Speir) and his deep interest in transport facilities in the rural areas, but the hon. Member does not do his case any good in overpainting before the House or elsewhere the inefficiency or the lack of interest of the Transport Commission in the running of its branch lines and rural services.
The hon. Member knows—we all know —that before a branch line is closed, very careful consideration is given by the area transport users' consultative committee before any action is taken. When lines are closed, it is frequently because the local authorities and the people of whom the hon. Member has spoken did not use the facilities when they were provided. People prefer to travel by car and by bus. That is the difficulty which has arisen with the branch lines.
The hon. Member was, however, on a good case in pressing the Commission to experiment with the light-weight diesel vehicles.
§ Mr. Popplewell
The hon. Member rather suggested that the Commission was showing no initiative in this direction. It is. indeed, showing initiative when, to use the hon. Member's own words, it has carried out research and has now taken about 20 of the light-weight diesel vehicles. This shows that the Commission is anxious to have the traffic.
§ Mr. Popplewell
As hon. Members must appreciate, there is some difficulty in keeping open a branch line for passenger as distinct from goods traffic. To keep a line safe for the public, it has to be maintained to a much better standard than when used only for goods traffic. That is a big factor in the minds of the Commission and of the consultative committee. It is on that point that I wish to make my observations tonight and particularly on the question of safety on the railways.
Sometimes when accidents occur, as in the case of the last two serious ones, which vividly grip the imagination of the people, we are inclined to get the picture out of proportion. I have with me some very interesting figures of rail accidents. If we consider the millions of passengers carried and the millions of engine miles run each year, it is remarkable how safe our railways really are. In 1956, I am told, there were 1,226 accidents on the railways. This is a very gratifying decrease from nine years previously, in 1947, when accidents totalled 1,388. This represents a steady fall in the accident rate, which speaks much for the growing efficiency.
No matter what we do with increased colour light working, with the automatic train control and with all our modern devices on the railways, the human element must arise at some point. It is interesting note that in the accidents which grip the public imagination most, there has been a decrease in the number of accidents attributable to engine drivers passing signals at danger from 89 in 1947 to 37 in 1956.That is a gratifying reduction.
§ Mr. Raymond Gower (Barry)
I do not dissent from what the hon. Member is saying. Lest we be too complacent, however, would he not agree that it is necessary to set those figures against the fantastically good record of, for instance, the Great Western Railway before the war and its virtual freedom from serious accident for a very long period?
§ Mr. Popplewell
I am not comparing one system against another. The Great Western Railway was fairly free from acidents, but even with its safety devices the G.W.R. had some accidents. Do not, therefore, let us praise one railway against another in that way.
It is also interesting to note that the number of accidents consequent upon irregular block working by signalmen was only 14 for the whole of 1956, which is the last complete year for which I have statistics. That speaks very well indeed for the high standard of efficiency of these two most important sections of the railway community, the drivers and signalmen, particularly when we remember the mere pittance they receive as wages.
Other operating staff were responsible for 176 accidents in 1956, compared with 177 in 1947. That figure, therefore, remains fairly static.
It will be seen that the figures generally reveal that the human element was responsible in 1956 for 640 of the 1,226 accidents which took place. In noting these figures it should be remembered that the Transport Commission has faced many difficulties in recruiting staff to man various posts and that even first entrants into the railway service have some responsibility for the safety of operations. It is regrettable that wages in the industry are so low that the industry cannot always attract a better type of individual, though admittedly the staff position has improved recently.
There is, however, one very alarming increase in accidents to which I should like to draw special attention. It is the increase in the number of accidents caused by misconduct on the part of the public. In 1947, there were 157 accidents consequent upon such misconduct, but by last year that figure had gone up to 265, an increase of 108.
There has been steady increase in the number from this cause in the last three 299 years. I do not know what section of the public is responsible for it. In view of news of recent acts of hooliganism on their part, I suspect that hooligan students from the universities may be responsible for some of them. I also suspect that some were caused by teddy-boys coming back from football matches, or other sporting events, after consuming more "John Barleycorn" than they could carry.
§ Mr. D. Jones
My hon. Friend will remember that a Question was asked in the House recently about "debs" and "debs' delights" at Knightsbridge.
§ Mr. Popplewell
I suppose that the incident in which they were so difficult was included in the figure which I have quoted. It is necessary to emphasise this factor of public misconduct, because when the 108 accidents caused by that factor are deducted from the total number of 1,226 accidents in 1956, there is a remarkably improved figure compared with the 1,388 accidents in 1947.
One suspects that the Transport Commission has become a little too complacent and too satisfied with this wonderful accident-free record and has not shown sufficient energy in developing automatic train control. I do not apologise for raising the subject again. As the House knows, it is a pet subject of mine, to which I have referred on numerous occasions. It was gratifying to have a public statement from the Commission, about a fortnight ago, that at long last it had agreed to and had actually let a contract to go ahead with installing automatic change control between Kings Cross and York.
This is just one step in the right direction. The Great Western Railway had a similar system for a long time, but even automatic train control does not do away with the human element in the last analysis. Therefore, we should not place too much reliance on it. The Commission should devote more energy and drive to providing anything that will assist drivers to remain accident-free.
I wonder, however, whether the Commission is entirely to blame for the delay. It would be interesting to know how long after the Commission was fairly well satisfied with automatic train control, following experiments with the device 300 over a number of years, the Minister gave his assent and allowed the Commission to go ahead with it. I may be wrong, but I am told that the decision was kept in the archives of the Ministry of Transport for nearly two years before the Minister finally approved it. I hope that, tonight, the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will tell us what is the exact position, because this is a very important matter.
I want to pay a compliment to the railway staff as a whole. Railwaymen are often "kicked around", but there is remarkable co-operation among the staff in their efforts to prevent accidents. There is a general desire within the trade unions to increase even still further the very high standard of efficiency on the railways. One would only wish that the co-operation within the Commission and the trade unions in discussing productivity and all measures to increase efficiency was always apparent on the departmental committee level and in the yard and on the shop floor. There is still need for considerable drive by the Commission in this respect in the lower levels of management, so as to secure an instant reaction from the management side when round-table discussions are held on these matters.
The men expect a positive and not a negative point of view from the management. I could quote a number of cases where decisions have not been taken at the local department committee level until after the lapse of many weeks. There is good will on the part of the Commission and the trade unions, but there is this difficulty at the lower level of managements. I hope that the Commission will make its presence felt at that level.
I should like to have an assurance from the Minister that in any credit restrictions or revision of investment there will be no interference with the all-clear for the modernisation programme. We know that the Minister has already stated that development will be spread over a longer period. I hope that that will be the last statement of that kind. The Commission itself is well ahead of schedule, and I hope that there will be no further directive from the Minister to slow down the modernisation proposals.
In terms of output and productivity, the railways have achieved wonderful 301 results. Many brick-bats are thrown in the House at railway people and at the Transport Commission, but a study of the increased productivity, measured in loaded engine miles per hour, wagon tons per hour, and wagon loads per hour shows that a good job of work is being done by British Railways. If, therefore, I have taken this opportunity to criticise some of the features of the Transport Commission's activities, it is only to let the Commission know that we in the House are fully alive to these matters. At the same time, I have been happy to take the opportunity to pay compliments to the Commission and to all the personnel who are engaged within the railway industry.
§ 8.20 p.m.
Mr. W. M. F. Vane (Westmorland)
First, I want to give my support to the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) in what he said about the proposed works near Carlisle. I do not doubt that substantial improvements are necessary there, and I would not deny either that when a problem of that kind arises the plans of any authority, public or private, will arouse a great deal of uncertainty in the minds of those affected.
All the same, I feel that the public relations of the railways are not as good in that regard as they should be, and I am sure it is still possible to allay some of the local fears, and probably to reduce the area of land which it is sought to acquire. There is a feeling, for which I think there is some justification—as there often is where public authorities are concerned—that it is easier when making a public acquisition of land which will stir up trouble to get enough land so that it will not be necessary to experience the same trouble later if it is wished to expand. That is understandable, but where good agricultural land is concerned I am not sure that it is always justifiable.
It would also allay some of the misgivings if it were apparent that where land previously acquired is no longer needed British Railways were readier to give it up. There is much derelict land once used for railway purposes all over the country, and it would add to the confidence of rural communities if that land could be relinquished by the railways.
302 My next point hangs on the first, insofar as it has its origin in the public relations people centred in Barrow-in-Furness. I want to speak about the Lake District and not only for my own constituency but for the whole area. We have there one of the most important tourist areas in the British Isles, served by both main and branch lines. Although I agree with the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West (Mr. Popplewell) that there are many people who never use branch railway lines when these are running and yet are amongst the loudest objectors when there is any suggestion that those lines should be closed, which happens frequently, I wish that the railway authorities appeared to be more co-operative over branch lines in the Lake District.
It seems that they are considering these branch lines one at a time. Frequently, they put forward a good case to show not only that the lines are running at a loss but that it would be difficult to run them in any other way because traffic is decreasing. They put a convincing case to the Transport Users' Consultative Committee. What I would like to see, and it is not yet too late, is a conference between British Railways and representatives of the three county councils concerned on the future planning of public transport in the Lake District, which is perhaps the most important dollar-earner among the tourist areas in these Islands.
It is not easy because, as I have said, three county councils are concerned, and some powers are delegated to a Lake District Planning Board. So it is a complicated pattern, but where there is a will there is a way. In this country, we have not the kind of organisation which includes tourist boards as found in other countries, so I feel that the industry most affected by local transport ought to be brought into such a discussion, too. It seems to me to be the commonsense way of dealing with traffic in that area, instead of considering these branch lines one at a time.
It is true, as the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West said, that more and more people in rural areas prefer to travel by road. Lake District roads are narrow enough, and the opportunities for widening them are not very 303 good. At the same time we have there a number of branch services which could carry a great deal more traffic than they are doing at present. The question of advertising for traffic should be considered. There never seems to me to be the initiative in advertising for extra traffic, particularly Sunday traffic, from the Middlesbrough area, where one would expect to find a source of additional revenue, to the Lake District. This hardly appears to have been tapped, and so I ask the Minister to consider this question and to make representations to the British Transport Commission to see whether something cannot be done.
I have been told that where branch lines are running in competition with railway-owned bus companies it is not the policy of British Railways to try to attract additional traffic to the trains, but rather to leave it to those bus companies. If that is true, it is utterly unacceptable, and I would like the Minister when he replies to the debate to say that this is not the case.
My last point is on the question of the track. Would the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West, from his great knowledge of railway matters, agree with me that one of the peculiarities of our railway construction, as compared with that of other countries of Western Europe, is that our track is laid as to 99 per cent. on softwood sleepers, whereas the railways of France, Belgium, Holland, Denmark, Switzerland and Italy are laid to a large extent on hardwood sleepers, and this is also the case with a large proportion of the railway tracks in America. I have always understood that their specifications are a great deal less than ours. In this country, we have hardly any resources of softwood, and nearly all our requirements for sleepers are imported, a large proportion coming from dollar countries.
In days gone by, our railway engineers were perfectionists, and softwood sleepers may have been thought, or proved, by them to be the best for their purpose. Those were the days before timber preservation. May I ask the Minister whether he considers that at this time we can afford to spend so much foreign and dollar currency on buying softwood timber for a specification which is higher than any other in the world, 304 and when we have an opportunity of laying 20 per cent. of our track with hardwood sleepers which could be found from sources within this country?
France, for example, still sells us its softwood and uses its hardwood on French lines. I am not suggesting that all our main lines should be laid with a material different from that used at present, but the timber trade says that we have 20 per cent. of British Railways' timber needs.
Some experiments were carried out at the Forest Products Research Laboratory about twenty years ago, but railways took very little interest. The last section of hardwood sleepers—in Kent—was lifted only a few weeks ago. If the preservation is carried out in a slightly different way, I think that second grade oak, elm or beech would be just as serviceable as the average imported softwood and would also save us a greal of foreign currency.
Under pressure, British Railways are now carrying out another experiment, and if that shows signs of being as successful as is hoped, will my hon. Friend see whether we cannot find a proportion of our sleepers from the resources in this country thus saving a substantial amount of foreign currency which we could so gladly spend on other things which we cannot possibly replace by substitutes found within these shores?
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Horace E. Holmes (Hemsworth)
I want briefly to refer to a constituency matter affecting consultations or negotiations when proposals of this character are put forward. I refer to Work No. 18 and Work No. 19. I have no objection to either of those works, but reluctantly I have to raise an issue concerning them.
I am reluctant to do so because in my many contacts with the British Transport Commission I have always received courteous and prompt attention and I would be the last man in the world to want to make any complaint about the Commission. However, from correspondence with one of my constituents, it appears that the interested parties have been abruptly and arbitrarily treated by the local representatives of the Commission. It also appears that there have been no proper negotiations with the B.T.C.
305 These two works interfere with what is a partly-developed building site. I was led to believe, after having written to the Commission, that there would be consultation with the interested parties, but as recently as 23rd November I received a letter from one of my constituents which said:We enclose herewith a document received today by registered post from the British Transport Commission from which it is observed that they are describing the land in question as rough land whereas this is building land.That fact was pointed out from the beginning, and it can be seen easily from the plan that the land in question is building land.
The person concerned has been treated discourteously. Neither the person concerned nor I would for one moment want to stop or interefere with the two schemes, but at the same time we ought to be assured that in proposals of this nature there will he proper consultation so that the interested parties feel that they are getting something like justice and something like value. We are not asking for anything more than that. I hope that the Minister can assure me that, when proposals of this character are suggested, proper negotiations will take place with the people concerned.
§ 8.34 p.m.
§ Mr. James Dance (Bromsgrove)
I wish to start by paying a tribute to the Western Region, formerly known as the Great Western Railway. It is extremely efficient, and there is no question but that its excellent record of safety is second to none. However, there is much to be done to make our railways more efficient.
We all realise that, for various reasons, trains sometimes have to run late. I refer now to the main Birmingham line of the Western Region and to the Aynho Viaduct, which has had to be rebuilt, thus causing trains to run late. I have tried many times to get the stationmasters at Banbury and Leamington to give notice that trains will run late. People may have important business dates to keep. If they were told beforehand that trains would regularly run twenty or forty minutes late for a certain period—I am not speaking of occasions when trains run late because of fog or frost—they could then make arrangements accordingly. Notice beforehand should be given, 306 but that is not the practice at present. It is almost impossible to find out the position. If a person rings up a station he usually cannot get any information. He may be told that a train left Wolver-hampton five minutes late, but he cannot find out at what time it left Birmingham.
We all want to see some of the traffic taken back from the roads to the railways. That process is being discouraged because of the fantastic rail charges. I ought to declare an interest here. I was sent 1 cwt. of daffodil and narcissi bulbs to plant in my orchard. They were sent by passenger train by mistake and the charge was—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Gordon Touche)
The hon. Member cannot discuss fares and freight charges under the Bill.
§ Mr. Dance
I was merely going to say that the fare was more than the ordinary first-class passenger fare.
We agree that the railways must be given the extra powers allowed them by the Bill, but we want to see that they are run efficiently. Some time ago my constituents and I welcomed the idea of an increased salary for the top executives of nationalised industries, because we hoped that more efficient business people would be attracted into these industries. Unfortunately, we have not yet seen any change. I should like to see an immediate change in the executive of the British Transport Commission.
§ 8.38 p.m.
§ Mr. James Harrison (Nottingham, North)
The hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane) was concerned about the lack of facilities for local passenger services. He might be interested to know that in my locality we have carried out a very successful experiment, between Nottingham and Derby. During the last three months, with only a very slight improvement of services and an adjustment of fares it has been possible for British Railways to attract considerable numbers of local passengers, to such an extent that the local bus services are up in arms and are appealing for powers to run still better bus services. That example could be followed successfully in many other rural areas.
307 I mention that as a word of comfort to people living in rural districts, and as something that might be followed up on other occasions, when we are not confined within the limits of the Bill.
§ Mr. Harrison
No; it was without diesel services. Because of the initial success, however, a diesel service is to be introduced, so increasing the regularity of the service almost threefold during the 24 hours. Our successes to date warranted the Midland Region putting on diesels running almost every hour through the local towns and villages on the route between Nottingham and Derby. What we can do at present can, we believe, be done doubly efficiently with the additional facilities provided by the diesel service. I give that information as being useful and informative to people interested in these local services.
I am convinced that one of the most reasonable and achievable suggestions for decreasing the chaos on the roads is to do something about our waterways. The development of waterways is an economic proposition which could at very little cost relieve our roads immediately. My example of that is, of course, the conditions that have prevailed in recent years on the canalised portion of the River Trent.
I come now to that part of the Bill which refers to the closing of Haddiscoe Cut, which is being transferred to the river board. We are told in the Bill that the reason for the transfer to the river board of responsibility for the navigable cut is the absence of sufficient commercial traffic. I feel sure that I am completely in order, because I am now referring to a very important proposition in the Bill,
I wonder whether the British Transport Commission is really convinced that many of these navigable waterways are commercial propositions, when properly developed. I would draw the attention of the Commission to one of the best waterways in the country which has recently been developed and which, up to now, has proved commercially a going concern. In recent years, with the improvement of the type of power boat 308 on the canalised portion of the River Trent—a type of boat capable of pulling five or six barges, sometimes in face of a tide—traffic on that waterway has increased substantially. The waterway has been developed as a direct outlet to the sea and to the harbours.
The heavy traffic on the river could be multiplied many times if we utilised other waterways in a similar fashion. But we have here something that discourages us. We have here the disbandment of a navigable waterway and the throwing over of any possibility of future development of this cut as a navigable commercial waterway.
I hope that the Minister, even if he does not oppose this Clause of the Bill, will take the opportunity to give the Transport Commission a really good push and to tell it that a good many people feel that something more can be done to develop our navigable rivers and waterways.
§ 8.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Raymond Gower (Barry)
I wish to comment on what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Speir) about the closure of branch lines. I do not dissent from a great deal of what my hon. Friend said, but I think that this is a subject on which we need to keep a very fair balance. We cannot expect the British Transport Commission to keep in being a whole set of branch lines based on the requirements of fifty or sixty years ago, before the advent of road haulage, private motor cars, and so on.
I think it is inevitable that in the course of time many of these lines will have to be closed. In our villages more and more people have motor cars, motor cycles and cycles, and the need for using branch lines has decreased. But the Transport Commission should make sure, at an early date, that proposals for the closure of branch lines are brought to the notice of the public clearly and forcibly so that people will be more easily satisfied that everything has been done to establish whether a line can or cannot be worked economically.
Recently, a line which runs through my constituency was closed. It runs through a place which the hon. Member for The Hartlepools (Mr. D. Jones) will know very well—Rudry, near Caerphilly. 309 It runs from Newport to Pontypridd. That was closed to passenger traffic. Whether rightly or wrongly, a mass of people wrote to me under the impression that that line had been closed with undue haste and that a proper effort had not been made to establish whether it could be used effectively and economically.
Any proposal of this kind should involve every effort to keep a particular branch line in use, either with a light diesel car, or with reduced services, or reduced overheads or a smaller staff. All those methods should be tried, and when the proposal is eventually made there should be shown the comparative accounts for the period when the line was used with the full apparatus of an ordinary train service, and for the period when a restricted service or a diesel service was run. Such accounts should be given the utmost publicity, so that the public in the area would be convinced that everything possible had been done.
The next point on which I want to comment is the feeling in South Wales—again, possibly misinformed, but, nevertheless, it is a conviction—that South Wales is not getting a fair share of the modernisation which has been embarked upon. We have evidence of a need for such modernisation in some parts of South Wales, and I wonder whether my hon. Friend will be able to include some reference to this in his remarks.
There are several favourite grounds of complaint. One which has been brought forcefully to my notice recently is the very poor passenger service between South Wales and Manchester. I have received innumerable complaints from persons who use this service, and I have used it myself. I know that it is intolerably slow. There is not one really fast train on that route. In the winter-time it is often very cold, and no reasonable preparations are made to provide refreshments for passengers. We do not ask for a restaurant car service on all trains, but we do expect that on such a service over such a distance there should at least be a buffet car to meet passengers' needs.
The hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West (Mr. Popplewell) rightly drew attention to the excellent safety record of British Railways. I think he will agree that if there is any particular public anxiety it is about the number of accidents which have occurred in fog condi- 310 tions. I should like, over and above the assurances which have been given already, an assurance that no effort will be spared in inquiring into the circumstances of these accidents which have taken place in fog.
I know that there has been a Ruling tonight about what can be discussed in this debate, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I should like to call attention—and I think this is a matter of major administration and not of a detailed freight charge—to the feeling in South Wales that there has been undue delay following the promise of the Chairman of the British Transport Commission to equalise the position of the South Wales ports vis-a-vis the Merseyside and London.
An unequivocal assurance was given a considerable time ago that the South Wales ports, which are a branch of the Transport Commission's activities, and the railways leading to them should enjoy fair competition; that people should use them on equal terms with the shipowners who operate on Merseyside and in London.
§ Mr. J. Harrison
Would the hon. Member add to his recommendation to the Minister to make inquiries about the cause of accidents during fogs a request that the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary take a ride on a locomotive footplate during a fog?
§ Mr. Gower
It would be unfair for me to make such a condition, or prescribe what the Minister should do. I am anxious to discover the reasons for the accidents.
The Commission has promised to spend some money on the ports of Barry and Newport, but we are told that the work cannot be completed until July, 1959, at the earliest. The impression in Barry is that that date is far too remote, and that a much more determined effort should be made to complete the necessary port installations earlier. I do not expect an answer tonight, but I hope that my hon. Friend will examine this matter and use his influence to expedite the completion of this work.
§ 8.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Moyle (Oldbury and Halesowen)
I agree with the observations of my hon. Friend the Member for 311 Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West (Mr. Popplewell) and I approve of his commendations of British Railways. Having travelled this country extensively for many years, I can confirm that there is a marked improvement in conditions. There are fires in the waiting rooms of the stations along the regular routes. This reveals a welcome return to humanism on the part of the Commission. There is an improved standard in the refreshment rooms and dining cars, and the courtesy of the staff of British Railways is as good as ever it was.
I know something of those responsible for the direction of British Railways. I know that were more capital available there would be a higher standard of wages. There will be no real improvement in the recruitment of the right men with a sense of mission regarding the running of our railways until we make the job worth while.
The Commission must not forget the importance of public relations. It is not enough for the legal department to send letters expressing a point of view about transactions over the purchase of property and such matters. Regard must be had for the imponderables of public relations. I have received complaints about the arbitrary attitude adopted in some correspondence from the legal department. The Commission is in the unique position of operating a service which covers the whole country, and it is vital that it should be on good neighbour terms with every locality. It is very wrong to lose the good will of the people with whom the Commission is in relationship when negotiating or consulting in respect of property, and so forth.
Clause 24 of the Bill provides for the extinction of certain private rights of way. Subsection (2) says that any person who suffers loss by the extinguishment of any right shall be compensated. That is all right, but it does not go the whole way. The question of closing private rights of way will come up from time to time. It is not enough for the Bill merely to say that anyone who suffers will receive compensation. These private rights of way were formerly under the control of farmers or landowners, and the control has been loosely exercised so that they have become very useful short 312 cuts for the people who live in the areas concerned.
I therefore ask the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to keep that point in mind. Closing of private rights of way may be technically or legally correct but they may, by practice, be very useful short cuts for the people. I hope that the Commission will see its way clear not merely to provide compensation but to provide local people with alternative short cuts. That is very important and should not be lost sight of.
§ 8.57 p.m.
§ Mr. David Jones (The Hartlepools)
I listened with interest to the hon. Member for Barry (Mr. Gower). I do not propose to come between him and the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Speir) on the subject of whether or not the British Transport Commission ought to run unremunerative branch lines. When the hon. Member referred to the Pontypridd, Caerphilly, Newport Railway, I was surprised to learn that the local people considered it was sufficiently needed. I have not lived in South Wales for nearly four years, but I knew what was proposed months before the railway was closed down.
§ Mr. Jones
For my sins or virtues, I worked for a long time in close contact with the Pontypridd, Caerphilly and Newport Railway. Attempts were made for many years before it was closed to devise all sorts of schemes to make the railway pay. Finally, the Commission was forced, as it was in many other parts of the country, to close that branch line. It is no use hon. Members saying that the Commission ought to keep it open or to renew making branch lines if the cost of that is that the lowest paid railwaymen in the service have to work for seven guineas a week to do it. If the services cannot be made remunerative, that is not the responsibility of the Commission; it lies fairly and squarely on the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation, who should provide the necessary finance to run services that are regarded as necessary.
I rose mainly to speak about the extraordinary story I heard from my noble 313 Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Lady Megan Lloyd George). This seems to be an entirely new feature of branch line work. Here is a branch line falling at a gradient of 1 in 105 from the main line junction to the crossing. The class of engine which works the train can haul up to 35 10-ton wagons of coal. It is no use the British Transport Commission telling us that the average length of the train is only 19 wagons, because the timetable provides that the class of engine used in the service can carry up to 35 10-ton loaded wagons of coal on a gradient of 1 in 100. The only brakes available for that train are the steam and hand brake on the engine and the hand brake on the brake van. When we have continuous braking on British Railways it might be perfectly easy for such a train to stop, but I do not know whether hon. Members appreciate exactly what is proposed in this case.
On this branch line, which has a gradient of 1 in 105, the gates are to be fixed across the railway leaving uninterrupted access to the road except when trains are approaching. The normal scheduled service on the branch line is two trains per day. They are goods trains; there are no passenger trains. Those gates are to be fixed across the railway, giving free access to vehicles and persons going over the crossing. The engine has to stop short of the crossing to enable the fireman to alight, walk forward and put the gates across the road. The train then moves across and again stops on the gradient of 1 in 105 in order that the guard may leave the brake van, walk back to the crossing, put the gates back, rejoin the van and proceed.
As my noble Friend pointed out, even under existing arrangements there have been two occasions when trains have overrun the mark and run into the crossing. What is to happen in foggy weather? Is that system still to be applied? How is road traffic to be warned that within a few minutes the gates are to be locked across the road? All this seems rather strange. The men who work the railway point out that the maximum load on this branch line is 35 vehicles. In the absence of an amendment to the working timetable and regulations, 35 wagons will remain the normal loading for these trains, if they are available. Let us not forget in this connection that there was a 314 celebrated case many years ago of Guard Richardson, of Chesterfield, who caused a strike on the railways because he insisted on carrying out regulations in defiance of an inspector's instructions. What is to happen if the Ministry of Transport says this train ought not to carry more than 25 vehicles and the working timetable remains at 35? Will the Ministry of Transport stand behind any guard who refuses to load at Carmarthen Junction with more than 25 vehicles, although he is asked by the inspector to load up to the maximum of his engine?
Those are some of the questions to which I suggest the Minister should reply before we agree to this kind of thing. How far is this to be carried? It is true that there are only four scheduled trains to pass over this branch line, but, if traffic should revive, it might be necessary to run six, seven, eight, or eleven trains.
In any case, if the Commission is permitted to get away with this when there are two trains each way each day, does the Ministry of Transport propose to impose any maximum on the number of trains that can pass over a branch line in these conditions? What efforts are to be made to make quite certain that road vehicles are not approaching this crossing at a fairly high speed when the fireman arrives to shift the gates from across the railway to across the road? What is to be the position in the event of an accident? I suggest that all those questions ought to be answered before the House allows this Clause to be incorporated in the Bill. It is a very serious matter.
§ 9.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Ernest Davies (Enfield, East)
This annual Bill of the British Transport Commission gives the House the opportunity to raise a very large number of matters, mainly constituency ones, and serves the very useful purpose of calling to the Commission's attention subjects that cannot normally be aired in this House.
This evening, canals have hardly been mentioned at all, but I want to pay tribute to the Commission for the agreement reached with those hon. Members who, on previous occasions, had had reason to object to the Commission's proposals about the Haddiscoe New Cut. It was gratifying to learn that since this matter was first raised, in 1955, negotiations 315 have continued, and that a satisfactory arrangement has now been made whereby this section of the waterway from Norfolk to Lowestoft is to be kept open for amenity purposes. We ought to put on record our gratitude to the Commission for having made that arrangement.
I want to raise one or two issues larger than those so far mentioned—except in the excellent speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West (Mr. Popplewell). My hon. Friend referred to the danger of a retardation of the modernisation system. I, too, am fearful that the restrictions imposed on the Commission's capital investment are endangering that scheme, and making it well-nigh impossible for the Commission to fulfil the estimate published in the White Paper, "Proposals for the Railways," which indicated the Commission's hope of balancing its accounts by 1961 or, at latest, by 1962.
When the former Chancellor of the Exchequer announced to the House, last November, the restrictions on capital investment, he stated that there would be some slowing down, but on the following day the Minister of Transport said that while the acceleration which the Commission had been able to bring about would not continue, the level of investment would not fall below the forecast in the Command Paper, and that no delay in the fulfilment of the programme as a whole would take place.
Then he stated, in reply to a Parliamentary Question, that the slowing down would apply to the provision of main line diesel locomotives, to some diesel rail cars and, even more importance, to the fitting of continuous brakes to freight wagons. All these are essential to the fulfilment of the modernisation plan. Its success depends entirely upon their speedy provision. Unless this modern equipment is delivered, the Commission will not be in a position to hold its traffics, let alone to increase them—and in a moment or two I want to refer to the disastrous fall now taking place in some of British Railways traffics. Although, at first, the Minister denied that there would be any slowing down, he later had to admit that there would, and the Chairman of the Commission himself, in a public speech towards the end of last year, admitted that the 316 restrictions would seriously affect the programme of the Commission.
This is clear from figures which the Minister has given to me in reply to Parliamentary Questions. He has stated that the Commission is limited to a capital expenditure in each of the years, this year and next, of £170 million, or which £145 is on capital investment for British Railways. He has also given figures, provided by the Commission, showing that its planned expenditure on the accelerated programmme for 1958 was £151 million and, for 1959, £148 million. The £145 million permitted is, therefore, a decrease of £6 million this year and £3 million next year.
That may not appear to be very serious, but the Commission's modernisation plan, it has now been stated, is not to cost the £1,200 million which was originally estimated, but £1,500 million, an increase of 25 per cent. So, if the Commission's organal plans were to be fulfilled, and if the original estimated expenditure was to be undertaken today, it would cost overall an additional 25 per cent. On my reckoning, that means that if the original estimate of an expenditure of £135 million in 1958 and £140 million in 1959—that was before the acceleration —on the work which that money would have done was now to be fulfilled, it would require an expenditure of about £170 million in 1958 and £175 million in 1959.
This is very serious for the Commission, because it means that there will be a shortfall in capital investment to fulfil the plan today equivalent to the work represented by £25 million this year and £30 million next year. I suggest to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary that this inability on the part of the Commission, owing to capital restrictions, to fulfil this modernisation programme as speedily as intended will have very serious effects on it. Of course, what it means, in effect, is that, even if it continues at the present rate, two, three or more years in addition to the original estimate of fifteen years will pass before the plan is carried out. That prolongation of the plan puts off the date when the Commission will balance its accounts, and that is a very shortsighted policy on the part of the Government.
The Government themselves have now to find the money to meet the deficits 317 which British Railways are incurring and it means that they will have to go on finding the money to meet these deficits over a longer period, two or three years at least. The Commission, in the meantime, will not be able to gain the traffics which it is essential it should gain if it is to break even, and, of course, if the traffics are not gained now, they will be permanently lost. Further, as one of my hon. Friends points out, there is not only the accumulated deficit over a longer period, but the interest on it will have to be paid. Of course, in the long run, it will be quite impossible for the Commission to pay back these huge amounts.
What is so serious to the Commission is that this plan was considered as a whole, and if some of the Commission's orders have to be cut down, such as for diesel locomotives or electric locomotives, while the overhead electrification scheme continues, the whole programme is thrown out of phase. This is very serious. The time at the Commission's disposal is really short, if it is to save itself from bankruptcy, and I am afraid that that time is running out.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West referred to the need for automatic train control and expressed the hope that its introduction would not in any way be held up as a result of capital restrictions. I endorse that hope. It is urgent that automatic train control be proceeded with as speedily as possible, and that it be given absolute priority within the modernisation plan. I say that not because the railways have not an extremely fine record of safety.
As my hon. Friend pointed out, British Railways stand very high indeed in that respect; they have a very fine record. The fact remains, however, that, because of the recent tragic accidents, two in very rapid succession, which occurred in dense fog, there has, understandably, been some public apprehension about safety on the railways. People have wondered whether everything possible is being done to ensure safety when running in unusual circumstances, that is to say, in extremely had weather, particularly during dense fog, when the signals are obscured.
After the second accident had occurred, I asked the Minister whether he would set up an inquiry into the operation of 318 the railways during dense fog. I asked that not because I considered that British Railways were not doing all that they thought necessary, but because I thought that an inquiry might allay public fears about safety on the railways. I quite understand why the Minister decided not to take any action until the inquiry into the particular accidents had taken place, but I hope that he has not ruled it out completely.
I have received a considerable amount of correspondence from present and former railwaymen in connection with railway operations during foggy weather, and I should like to quote from a letter from a retired signalman who worked in the Southern Region. He suggests that, under the new colour light signalling system, while working is absolutely safe in good weather, during foggy weather train drivers experience considerable difficulty. He says:Any train driver is lost as soon as he leaves a station in dense fog. With signals, automatic or manual, he must creep along on observing a caution signal, distant or amber, until he finds a bridge, hut or other familiar object. It is useless for him to look out at the track, for all sleepers are alike. Whether Aspect or A.T.C. signalling is installed, the official decision is that no fog signal men are employed, but neither signalmen nor train men like this non-employment of fog signal men. I claim that the most important part of the fog signal man's duty is that he, the fog man, does know where he is and can readily reply to the driver's anxious query when the train has been stopped by the explosion of detonators.He goes on further in that vein.
It seems that the elimination of fog-men and detonators now, where there is automatic signalling, is something which might be reconsidered, not because they are essential but because they can be regarded as an extra precaution. After all, the human element comes into train operation, and an extra precaution may well make the difference between accident or no accident.
I suggest that it might be as well. following the reports of the other inquiry on the last accident and in view of the findings following the accident at Lewisham—where it is suggested that the human element was concerned—to have another look at train operations during the periods of dense fog, to help the railwaymen themselves to show that they are doing all they can and to allay the fears of the public.
319 I referred earlier to the disappointing traffic which British Railways are experiencing at present, particularly freight. Traffic has been extremely poor, particularly in recent weeks, but there has been a downward trend for some time. The last four-weekly period in 1956 would be a time when there was still petrol rationing and the railways received, as it were, a bonus, albeit a small bonus. If one takes a longer period and compares it with a few years ago, one is appalled at the decline in freight traffic.
If the four-week period to December last is compared with the same period in 1953—during which period there has been an increase in production—it is found that the carriage of merchandise alone has fallen by 1 million tons, which is a fall of no less than 25 per cent., and that the carrying of coal has fallen by 1,150,000 tons, which is a fall of 8 per cent. The production of coal since 1953 has increased. Therefore, one would not have expected this heavy traffic to decline, but that British Railways would have been able to hold this traffic and that it would not have been diverted to the road or other means of transport. If one takes an even longer period of 16 weeks to the end of December last, again there is an appalling decline when compared with previous years. There was a decline of 4 million tons in traffic originating in this period compared with 1953.
This is a most disappointing picture and one which cannot but give very considerable concern to all responsible for operating the railways and to the community in view of the fact that they are now bearing the deficits which result. One cause of this is the acute competition from road transport. A reason for that competition and the success it is enjoying in attracting traffic from the railways is because the rules of the road are not kept by a great number of road hauliers. It is most unfortunate that these small operators are ignoring the statutory requirements and are operating their vehicles and employing their workmen for longer hours than is permitted under the statutes, and, consequently, being able to cut their charges and take traffic from the railways.
I have frequently raised in the House the question of the enforcement of statutory requirements for road haulage, and 320 the Minister is appointing more officers. In the transport commercial Press, any week, cases are reported of the infringement of the law regarding the keeping of records and working hours, and convictions obtained. For the number of convictions, any driver on the road knows full well that there are far many more where prosecutions have not been brought.
Equally difficult for the railways is the competition as a result of the steady increase in C licensed road vehicles. I shall not go into the question whether they should be controlled or not, but, with a decline in general traffic, the C licensee is known to be abusing his licence and to be carrying goods for hire or reward, thereby taking traffic from the railways. I do not know how the railways will hold their own or increase their traffic to enable them to break even unless they are permitted to go ahead far more quickly with their modernisation plan.
One final point which I should like to draw to the attention of the Parliamentary Secretary is the question of pilfering on the railways. Allegations were brought to me by someone formerly employed in the police department of the Transport Commission concerning the pilfering which was taking place and the failure of the Commission to institute a system to reduce it or to bring it to an end. I have looked into this matter. While I do not think that the allegations as they were made to me can be fully substantiated, there is here a case for the Parliamentary Secretary to make inquiries of the Commission to see whether it has carried out as speedily as it could the plan that was suggested and which the Commission accepted.
When it was decided that Marylebone goods station was to be opened for the concentration of transit parcels traffic across London, it was proposed that there should be a London cross-town cartage scheme. All goods in transit were to be moved from one terminus or receiving station to another in special vans, which would be specially marked so that they could be easily identified by the police. If they were seen being unloaded anywhere in London except at the railway termini or receiving stations, it would be known that they were being illegally 321 used. It was considered that the marking of the vans to make them easily identifiable would facilitate police checks upon them and that the considerable amount of pilfering which was taking place would be reduced.
The scheme was evolved in 1951 at the time when it was proposed to reopen the Marylebone goods station and concentrate traffic there. Unfortunately, however, I understand that the scheme has not yet been fully implemented. It involved the construction of 200 special trailers marked with a zebra pattern for identification and the acquisition of 100 mechanical horse units to haul them. More than half of these vehicles, however, are not generally in use and they are stored at the Marylebone goods yard.
It seems most unfortunate that if pilfering is on such a large scale, and the scheme was suggested and accepted as far back as 1951, it has not been put fully into force and the money which has been expended on the vehicles and the special equipment associated with them has been tied up and, in a sense, wasted.
I do not know whether the facts are entirely correct. It is only because they have been put to me that I feel they should be looked into. I understand that in the event, pilfering has declined considerably during recent years. After the war, the extent of pilfering on the railways was over £1 million a year.
§ Mr. Davies
And everywhere else, too.
From the figures I have seen, it is not the railwaymen who are mainly responsible for the pilfering. I do not for one moment suggest that they are responsible for it. The large numbers of prosecutions and the convictions which have been obtained show that only a percentage is due to railwaymen, and that the vast majority of pilfering is the responsibility of the public. The public is the guilty party. It is true that this pilfering has declined very substantially, but if this scheme, which is considered to be foolproof, were put fully into effect it would decline still further.
I end as did my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West, by paying tribute to the Commission on the progress it has made and the efficiency 322 with which it operates its various undertakings. Figures published in its monthly and three monthly statistics show that that efficiency steadily increases. This is clue to the staff, from those at the top to those in the lowest grades.
There is a loyal staff working in difficult circumstances and sometimes in the face of provocation by the Government in the matter of decisions on wages and other things. The staff is trying to make a success of the Commission and, judging by the efficiency figures, it is succeeding. The Commission continues to be handicapped by the slowness of modernisation plans, due to capital restrictions, but the Commission has a great future if it is given the opportunity.
§ 9.32 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. G. R. H. Nugent)
As is customary with a Private Bill for the British Transport Commission, containing thirty or forty Clauses, the debate has ranged far and wide and has covered many points, with most of which I hope to be able to deal even if I have some difficulty in coping with all of the geography.
My hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) spoke about the Carlisle-Gretna marshalling yard. That yard is one of first-class importance. Hon. Members who know about railways know that new marshalling yards are one of the foundations of a better freight service, and we just cannot have them too soon. I am certain that the Commission will do its best to acquire the necessary land there in a sympathetic way. It will have to proceed under the normal procedure of the Land Clauses Consolidation Acts, but there is not a tremendous amount of flexibility in deciding where to put a marshalling yard of that kind. I am sure, however, that the Commission will do all it can to meet local opposition.
My hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane) posed a number of questions about the operation of the Commission in that area, and he suggested that the Commission should have a joint conference together with the three county councils concerned with the Lake District. I am sure that the Commission will take note of that suggestion, and that 323 if it feels that any progress would be made by having such a conference it will hold one. I am sure that the Commission will also take note of my hon. Friend's comments about the value of home-grown hardwood. I know how keen my hon. Friend is on that subject and I hope that use will be found for it. The Commission has been thinking increasingly of prestressed concrete sleepers, more particularly for its continuous-welded lines, and I should think that they are probably the right answer.
Turning to the question posed by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Leicester, North-East (Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas), I find that we have already been able to examine this proposal for a crossing, so that, if and when the Commission proceeds by the National Parks Act procedure and an application for a pedestrian crossing is made to us, I can safely say that we shall raise no objection.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) expressed eloquently his anxiety about the future of the railway shops in Ashford. Having visited one or two of our railway shops I can sympathise with his feelings for the men who enter the shops in a family tradition and are naturally anxious about their. future there. I find that the intention of the Commission there is not to close the whole of the shops. These shops deal with wagon and coach works as well as with locomotives, and the proposal of the Commission is to close only the part which deals with locomotives. At present 1,300 men are employed there, and the Commission has worked out a plan to operate over the next four years which will reduce that total, by stages, to 1,000 in 1961. The Commission thinks that over four years the redundant 300 men should be taken up without much difficulty by normal wastage, and it can certainly ensure that all apprentices will be able to finish their training over the period.
I am also glad to be able to say that the Commission has consulted the Ministry of Labour and the Board of Trade with a view to bringing in a new heavy engineering industry which could take the place of the locomotive industry either when it finally finishes, or indeed earlier if such a thing is possible. So, 324 as far as it is practicable to deal with the effects of such a change, I can assure the House that the Commission is doing so.
It is right to put this change in perspective by pointing out that it is the direct consequence of the modernisation which we all want to see. The old steam engine, which we have all enjoyed seeing from childhood upwards, is not a very efficient form of motive power compared with electric and diesel engines. The average hours of work which the steam engine can do are about ten out of the twenty-four, whereas the electric or diesel engine will do about twenty. This obviously means that in due course we shall want about half the number of motive power units for our railway system, and therefore inevitably it will be necessary to close down a certain number of the railway shops. As far as it is humanly possible, however, the Commission is doing this in a reasonable way. I hope that will reassure my hon. Friend.
Turning to the difficult problem of the level crossing on the Newcastle-Emlyn branch—[Interruption.]—I regret that it is not within my competence to pronounce the name properly, and so I must leave it to the hon. Lady the Member for Carmarthen (Lady Megan Lloyd George) with her charming voice. I cannot explain how it was that the divisional road engineer, when he inspected it, took a view different from the official view of the Ministry. I can only suppose that the hon. Lady must have been there at the time, when naturally he was only too glad to agree with whatever she suggested.
I find, in fact, that our railway inspectorate, which is regarded as completely reliable in all matters of safety, has been able to say that this is a sound arrangement despite the gradient. I concede that to a layman it does not seem that keeping the gates shut is the most up-to-date arrangement with the engine driver having to get out of the train to open and shut them. Nevertheless, it may be the right way where traffic is extremely small. As hon. Members have already pointed out, there are only two trains daily in each direction. I understand that the 25-wagon locals, about which the hon. Gentleman the Member for The Hartlepools (Mr. D. Jones) was anxious, 325 will be carefully kept to and that no inspector is likely to go along and give any ruling to the contrary.
§ Mr. D. Jones
The hon. Gentleman has missed the point. They have to insist that the working timetable is altered to make the maximum 25 instead of 35 as at present.
§ Mr. Nugent
I am told that the working timetable will be altered to make it 25 when this arrangement is introduced.
The crossing keeper will be cared for under the normal redundancy arrangements and dealt with according to the usual arrangement with the trade unions. In answer to the hon. Member for The Hartlepools I can say that no maximum is to be put on the number of trains, but the Commission will carefully watch the working of this arrangement, as will our own inspectorate. I can assure the House that this matter has been carefully considered and, although it may not seem the most modern arrangement. I am assured that it is the best solution in the circumstances. I hope that the House will accept that explanation.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hex-ham (Mr. Speir) expressed anxiety about the rural transport difficulties in his constituency and, of course, I know well his deep interest in the matter. I felt that he was being a little hard on the British Transport Commission in his strictures. The rural transport problem is common throughout the country and all of us who live in rural areas experience it in one way or another. It is a problem which goes far deeper than simply having the Commission modernise its affairs in dealing with branch lines.
We are in an age when the mechanical vehicle on the road—motor car, "moped" or motor bicycle—is increasingly being used and all the time subtracting from the use of public transport. It is a problem to which none of us knows the answer. All we can do is to make such provision as we can to provide for those who have no transport of their own so that they can continue to get about. We are continually considering one means or another by which to do that.
I can say quite flatly that it is the Commission's policy to keep branch lines open wherever it can. One need only look at the picture of the branch lines the 326 Commission is keeping open—many at very heavy loss—to appreciate this. I agree that sometimes the Commission does not present its case with all the merit it might, but there is no doubt that it is keeping branch lines open as long as it can.
I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham is not to have one of the diesel buses in his area. However, progress with diesels in the North-Eastern Region has been extremely good. Some 578 multiple diesel units have been sent there out of a total in the country of 2,800, so that on average the North-Eastern Region is well ahead of any other region. It is probably for that reason that it has not yet got diesel buses. Although diesel buses are excellent and are undoubtedly a step in the right direction—
§ Mr. Nugent
As far as I know, they are British, they are fairly expensive, although only single coach.
Any wagon which travels on the railways has to be far stronger and far heavier-built than the ordinary road vehicle. It costs about four times as much as a road vehicle of the same capacity. One immediately appreciates the heavier capital costs with which the railways have to deal in providing their rolling stock. The Commission will closely watch the progress with these coaches. If they are able to help us in some of these difficult rural areas, I do not doubt that the Commission will be only too glad to provide more of them.
In passing, I want to say that the experience with the light diesel sets, such as we have had on the Banbury—Bletchley line, has not been very encouraging. The sets are somewhat expensive to run and, although they attract more traffic, it does not appear that it will be sufficient to make them a paying proposition. Although we are optimistic about what diesel buses may do we must not expect miracles. They can bring in some extra traffic but they cannot in all circumstances make lines pay which do not pay now.
According to the 1955 census the Hexham-Hawick branch line carried fifteen passengers per day, with only two per train. The passenger traffic had 327 almost petered out. I am not sure whether that figure included the guard or the engine driver, but I assume that the two were in addition to them. When the Transport Users' Consultative Committee considered the matter it felt that it had no alternative but to allow the line to be closed down. To the Commission's credit, however, when the Consultative Committee made a proviso that a bus service should be laid on to Bellingham that was done, and the service is still running.
§ Mr. Nugent
I hope that it is with more than two passengers. At any rate, something was done to meet the needs of the local people. I hope that their convenience has not suffered too much by reason of the passenger service being discontinued There are five freight trains per week, which again is a rather light service. In addition, I am told that troop trains travel on that line very seldom. It is obvious that the line was scarcely being used. It would be very hard if, in our concern for the rural areas, we screwed down the Commission and made it continue to run services at such a heavy loss. We must have a sense of proportion.
The hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West (Mr. Popplewell) made some valuable comments about rail safety, and just to fill in the picture I obtained figures of passenger casualties over the five years from 1952 to 1956. During that period 308 people were seriously injured on the railways, as compared with 287,635 on the roads. The number of people killed on the railways was 173, against the road figures of between 25,000 and 30,000. When the matter is put in perspective, therefore, one sees what an admirable record the railways have. We are all horrified when we hear of a serious rail accident, but it is a pity that we are not more horrified at the road accident figures. However, these are the facts of life. We live in an age of movement and of rapid transport, and this danger is with us all the time, but there is no doubt that if railway transport is compared with any other form of transport it stands up extremely well.
The hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Holmes) complained about Work No. 18, 328 and I am sure that the Commission will take note of what he said. It will also no doubt bear in mind that this is a Private Bill. Any promoter knows what weight an individual Member carries. He can object to the Bill and make a very great nuisance of himself. A Private Bill promoter is therefore always concerned to see that he does everything possible to conciliate the opposition of any Member of Parliament. I do not think that the hon. Member for Hems-worth need feel anxious on that score.
§ Mr. Nugent
Quite a number of advertisements of that kind are used. It may be that notice will be taken of what my hon. Friend says.
The hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. J. Harrison) had an encouraging word to say about the Notts-Derby service and went on to talk about the B.T.C. and its waterways. The Commission is spending large sums of money on the remunerative part of its waterways, particularly the estuarial waterways. The hon. Member referred to the Trent which is one of the best. But the Commission hesitates to spend money on narrow canals, which, one, can take only narrow boats; two, need a good deal of upkeep; and, three, where it is a question of balance whether they can pay their way at all. Naturally we await the Bowes Report with interest. It would be a mistake to leave the impression that the Commission is not active on this score. It spends several million £ each year renovating and improving the remunerative part of its waterways.
§ Mr. Nugent
It is coming rather slowly like canal traffic usually does. I am 329 assured that it will be with us soon, I hope in the next few weeks or at any rate within a month or two. The Committee has had a tremendous volume of evidence to deal with and it is in the process of composing its final report.
I join with the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) in welcoming the agreement over the Haddiscoe Cut. Efforts to try to find a way to keep it open for the benefit of local yatchsmen and boatmen have added grey hairs to the heads of most of us. It has no commercial value at all, but it has a great recreational value for local people and we can be grateful that we have come to a useful agreement.
§ Mr. J. E. B. Hill (Norfolk, South)
It is not only of value to people in the neighbourhood. There is scarcely an hon. Member who has not a constituent who has used the Cut, and therefore it is of interest to the whole of the yachting fraternity.
§ Mr. Nugent
That we have been made well aware of.
To my hon. Friend the Member for Barry (Mr. Gower) I would say that South West Wales is getting a good share of the modernisation plan. The big works at Margam are being carried out at a cost of over £1 million and there are new marshalling yards costing over £2 million. The new diesel service to the Midlands is already working.
The hon. Member for Enfield, East dealt with the question of capital investment and modernisation and I wish to reply to the important points which he made. I will concede that the position is rather confusing. The amount we have authorised, as announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer last September, is £170 million for 1958 and £175 million for 1959. That leaves British Railways with £.145 million for 1958 and £145 million to £150 million for 1959, against its original programme of £151 million for 1958 and £148 million for 1959. It is true that on those figures the cuts that we made are relatively small, and on the face of it they do not present a serious problem.
In the meantime, however, the Commission was in process of accelerating its modernisation plan. The final picture from the regions made clear that the 330 effect of the capital investment ceiling we have had to impose for these two years has removed this element of acceleration that the Commission was trying to promote. No doubt the capital cuts that we made, in the context of the Government's general financial and economic policy were right, and have saved issues that mattered to us even more than this; they saved the value of the £ sterling. Nevertheless, this has been a serious disappointment. Combined with the rest of the picture of the Commission's activities it has, I agree, given rise to anxiety.
I confirm that the effect of the cuts has been distributed as carefully as possible, in order to avoid interfering with electrification. It remains effective to some extent on the installation of the continuous brake, on the rollingstock programme, on the diesel mainline loco, and the station improvements. Automatic train control has not been cut and in fact the Commission now hopes, in response to the general anxiety on the matter, to accelerate the A.T.C. programme in the coming year. Although A.T.C. is not a money earner it is an additional safety device and naturally we wish to proceed with it as quickly as we can. On the question of traffics—
§ Mr. Nugent
The matter was with us for some time because there were considerable technical problems to be satisfied before we could be sure that we had something which was completely safe to use in the various circumstances of electrified lines. Our time was not spent in sitting and looking at it. Important work was going on all the time.
The passenger picture has been fairly good in 1957. Despite all the difficulties of passenger journeys the receipts are up on 1956. Evidently there has been a valuable response to the new diesel trains. I concede that the freight picture, especially in the second half of last year, shows a downward trend and it is a matter for anxiety. We are certainly worrying about it in the Ministry of Transport as indeed is the Commission. Inevitably in the first year of modernisation most of the work will be groundwork and not fresh revenue earning. We are now considering the 331 matter with the Chairman of the Commission and reviewing the progress of the modernisation programme in the light of the trend of freight. We are certainly considering the requirements of capital expenditure in the years that lie ahead.
I most certainly roundly assert that the Government are fully behind the modernisation plan. After all, we are the originators of it, and we have had the privilege of finding the extra finance to modernise our railway system. We are not proposing to see it fail for any lack of anything that we can do. We fully realise the importance of maintaining the momentum and we shall do all we possibly can in that direction.
Our objective continues to be that the Commission shall be solvent by 1961–62. In the meantime a very great deal of work is going on throughout the country. It would be wrong to leave the impression that it is not. I have travelled over all the regions now and I can say that modernisation is going on in many ways in freight and passenger services. A spirit of enthusiasm and interest has been shown by railway officials whom I have met, because they see a new chance and a new hope to bring back the British railway system as the leading railway system in the world, as it was three generations ago.
I assure the House that it is our intention that everything we can do to provide means to complete this job which the Commission has so well started shall be fully accorded. I hope after this interesting and varied debate that the House will now be ready to give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time and committed.