HC Deb 09 July 1959 vol 608 cc1637-62

Order for Second Reading read.

Mr. Speaker

I have been considering what course to adopt to meet the convenience of the House. I propose first of all to call the Motion for rejection standing in the name of the hon. Member for Barry (Mr. Gower). On that Motion all the considerations which are mentioned in the subsequent Instructions and reasoned Amendments for rejection can be discussed. If the Bill does receive a Second Reading, I propose to call the proposed Instruction to the Committee in the name of the hon. Member for The Hartlepools (Mr. D. Jones) for the purposes of a Division, should he so desire it.

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

7.8 p.m.

Mr. Raymond Gower (Barry)

I beg to move, to leave out "now" and at the end of the Question to add "upon this day three months".

It was with some reluctance that I tabled this Amendment. I waited for a long time in the hope that some hon. Member with a constituency nearer the locus of the railway would have done the job for me, but in due course correspondence I received from objectors convinced me that it was necessary for their views to be represented and the Bill opposed. I realise that the acceptance of the Amendment would mean the rejection of the Bill; but that would not prevent its promoters from coming forward with a similar Bill in a future Session when they have had the opportunity of considering more fully and adequately the very real objections which are held by many people to this Bill.

This Bill affects what is understood to be the oldest passenger-carrying railway in the whole world. While I readily concede that the age of a railway should not in itself make it qualify for survival, I do respectfully submit to the House that the very fact that it has outlived so many other interesting railways of early nineteenth century vintage would indicate that it has served a definite need for people in the areas of Swansea and South Wales, and, indeed, visitors and holiday-makers.

The promoters of the Bill need the sanction of Parliament before they can kill the Mumbles Railway. In view of the interesting and unusual characteristics of this railway and its age and other circumstances, I do not think we should lightly give the promoters that right at present, unless we are absolutely convinced on the evidence before us that there is no feasible alternative and that every possible attempt has been made to find one.

Thousands of South Walians, and thousands of visitors to South Wales, will have vivid recollections of this railway which runs along the shore of Swansea Bay. It is a railway which has long satisfied a definite need. In the summer months, at holiday time and at weekends particularly, it conveys large numbers of passengers smoothly, efficiently and fairly quickly. It has proved itself an exceedingly safe method of transport and it has helped to relieve traffic congestion on adjoining and adjacent roads. I am advised that the two coupled coaches are capable of carrying 220 passengers and the train is capable of an average speed of 16 to 17 m.p.h. It has been estimated that at busy times four or five double-decker buses would be 3required every twenty minutes to deal with such numbers of passengers.

There is also the consideration of road safety. The railway operates on its own track whereas if its use were abandoned extra buses would have to run on the available roadway, parts of which are not very wide and which in the summer months has to cope with an excessive amount of traffic. According to my instructions, at peak hours at the weekends and during holiday time the road has already to carry 1,800 to 2,000 vehicles per hour. Even if the promoters' case were otherwise unanswerable, I doubt whether they should have power to discontinue the railway until a much wider and much more suitable roadway has been provided.

In another place, the claim was made in a debate on the Bill that the Mumbles Railway has lost money steadily for several years. Yet I am told that in proceedings before the local traffic commissioner earlier this year, counsel appearing for the promoting company admitted that the undertaking broke even in 1957. He admitted that it might be assumed that it might make neither a profit nor a loss. Yet, in the view of many objectors, the company has not brought forward adequate separate accounts showing the financial aspect of running the Mumbles Railway as such. Many of those who are opposed to the Bill are convinced that the possibility of modernising this unique railway has not been fully or adequately investigated

The promoters are asking Parliament for powers to close down a railway which has run for one and a half centuries, which has given pleasure to generations of people and which has given admirable satisfaction to its users. One would have thought that in such circumstances the promoters would have produced elaborate financial evidence to demonstrate by reference to income and expenditure that its future running could not be regarded as an economic possibility by any reasonable person. One would have imagined that the promoters would have been able to demonstrate, by reference to the unchallengeable evidence of experts, that no scheme of modernisation could possibly enable the railway to run on a financially successful basis. The objectors say that the promoters have not done these things and I am instructed—

Mr. W. R. Williams (Manchester, Openshaw)

That is the second time that the hon. Member has used the word "instructed". Would he, for the purposes of the record, like to substitute the expression, "according to my information"?

Mr. Gower

"Instructed" is a term which we often use in the legal profession as synonymous with the phrase which the hon. Member used.

The objectors say also that the promoters do not appear to have tried to do these things. The Mumbles Railway can also be properly described as a tourist attraction. To deprive us of the railway would surely be a loss to Swansea, several of whose citizens have written to me. Its termination would also be a loss to South Wales whose people have always regarded the railway with particular affection. It would also be a loss to those who visit South Wales.

A petition presented by a noble Lord contains the signatures of about 14,000 objectors to the Bill. I am quite satisfied that objections to the Bill would have been more formidable, even more vociferous, had the Bill been more appropriately named. It has been brought forward as a sort of wolf in sheep's clothing. The title, "The South Wales Transport Bill," arouses no emotion, and, indeed, seems designed to lull suspicion. A Bill entitled "The Mumbles Railway Closure Bill" would have aroused instantaneous interest and concern and I believe fervent opposition.

It is doubtful too whether there are commensurate advantages to compensate for the use of oil in place of electric traction. The hon. Member for Cleveland (Mr. Palmer), I understand, intends to develop that theme. At present, the consumption of electricity at about 20 million units has been calculated as involving the consumption of 11,500 tons of coal. This in itself is no small consideration in these days. It is claimed by supporters of the Bill that the railway does not burn locally-produced coal but uses electricity supplied by the Central Electricity Generating Board, but surely it is quite adequate for my argument that the railway uses electricity supplied by a board which itself uses coal. I trust that I am not exaggerating some of the very real objections to the Bill. I hope that I have presented to the House the considerations which motivate many of the objectors and that in the circumstances the House will hesitate to support the Bill.

7.15 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Palmer (Cleveland)

I beg to second the Amendment.

I support the rejection of the Bill. I do so not because I claim any close local interest in this historic railway, but because my approach to the argument is that it is against the broad national interest that a Bill of this kind should be given a Second Reading.

My principal reason for objecting to the Bill and for tabling the Motion on the Order Paper in my name and the names of my hon. Friends stating

That this House declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill against which there is strong local opposition; which seeks to replace a railway operating on locally-produced coal and on private right-of-way with motor buses operating on imported fuel along congested highways; and for which no valid case has been made out by the Promoters of the Bill.

is that on previous occasions I have objected strongly to Measures which seek to abolish electric traction where it could be made to pay and to substitute for it oil-engined traction. This, in such circumstances, is, I repeat, broadly against the public interest.

Electric traction makes use of electricity generated in power stations which burn coal, and coal burning is still the cheapest method. Oil traction uses an imported fuel, the supply of which in days of national emergency might easily be uncertain Electric traction uses a power source which is very clean, causes no fumes or smoke and is relatively quiet, whilst oil-engined traction uses fuel which is far from clean, which gives off obnoxious fumes and can be noisy in operation.

Electric traction often makes use of a specially reserved track designed for the purpose, and thus helps to lessen the congestion on the roads. Oil-engined public traction tends to employ very cumbersome vehicles on already impossibly overburdened roads to the detriment of the comfort of the public. I suggest that in this particular case all these considerations apply.

I hope that no one tonight will use the argument that the sin, however, is not very great because it is small. I hope that no one will say that the amount of coal in electrical terms involved is very small and that the oil that would be used would also be very small in quantity. The truth is that it is precisely because the use of oil is unavoidable in so many national tasks that we should try to avoid its use where electricity made from indigenous fuels will do the job just as well and as cheaply.

I agree that the coal indirectly consumed by this railway is by itself relatively modest in amount; that is, if we look at the railway in isolation. But where will this business stop? If it were in order, and if there were time, I could give the House a list of the Private Bills to which it has agreed in recent times, all promoted by transport companies endeavouring to switch from electric traction to oil traction. If we add together the individually small amounts, we shall find that in total terms of coal there is a great change.

Therefore, I feel that one has to reach the stage where, in relation to individual Bills, this House should cry "Stop", as the practice is against good public policy. The hon. Member for Barry (Mr. Gower) has already called attention to the lack of sane argument on the part of the promoters when they say that the railway is not operated on locally produced coal but on electricity supplied by the Central Electricity Generating Board. The electricity made in this country is overwhelmingly generated by engines turned by steam, and the steam is provided by boilers and furnaces fired by coal. Whether the coal burnt happens to be local coal at any given moment depends on the inter-connection of the electricity grid lines. To argue that it is not coal but electricity is not in accordance with an elightened technical understanding on the part of the promoters, to say the least.

Now I come to the point of cleanliness. Within the lifetime of the present Parliament the House has agreed to a Clean Air Act. Broadly speaking, the Act lays it down as sound public policy that fuels should not be used in their raw or crude state. This historic railway was started when railway carriages were drawn by horses in the early years of the last century, but as long ago as 1929 the then engineers and managers looked ahead and abolished direct coal burning and changed to electricity. Now we are told that they must set aside that instalment of progress and that local users of transport must put up with diesel buses which add to the pollution of the air and do not assist general atmospheric cleanliness in the slightest.

My last point concerns congestion. I am not an expert on the local roads, though I have been in the district. I am told that in summer particularly they are choked with traffic. If that be the case, why take passengers away from a track made for the special purpose of carrying passengers and vehicles and leave them to scramble for buses on an already crowded highway? This is not very sensible. I know that the promoters spoke of only sixteen extra buses being required. That may be the case, but what about the people waiting for the buses and the general added congestion of the road by everybody? I am told that on occasion in high summer, when the railway is in use, as many as 400 passengers can alight from a single train. Transport operators everywhere know the advantages of electric traction for the transport of large numbers of persons, especially if that electric traction is operated, as in the present case, on a reserve track.

In short, my view is that no solid or valid case can be made out for the Bill. I believe that the company should be made to think again. It should be made to think about the possibility of modernising the railway, and perhaps supplying it with modern electric rolling stock. Let some expert report on this possibility. No information has been supplied by the promoters as to the views of experts on modernising the railway and continuing with electric traction.

I believe that probably the usual fault has been committed here and that the management of the railway, the traction company, not only operates the railway, which is only one small part of its business, but also operates buses over a wide area in the district. It has not been very much interested in the electric railway in part of its area and it has been largely neglected. There has probably been no proper financial provision made for the replacement of the rolling stock as it wore out. Now the company is arguing that because its equipment has been allowed to fall to pieces through its own neglect, it is too expensive to replace it finally. This House should not encourage such mismanagement.

There are other objections, of course, in addition to the ones that I have been arguing. I understand, for instance, that the local borough council is now no longer in principle opposed to the Bill, but this does not mean that there are not substantial bodies of local opinion against it. I have put forward what I believe to be substantial arguments in the general national interest and some pretty sound arguments, I judge, in the interests of local residents. For those reasons I support the rejection of the Bill.

7.27 p.m.

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

It may be for the convenience of the House if I speak briefly about how this Private Bill touches Government policy. The Government, as such, are neutral because this is a Private Bill. It is simply for the assistance of the House that I add a comment on the point of national policy touched upon by the hon. Member for Cleveland (Mr. Palmer) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Barry (Mr. Gower).

I say straight away that I realise that to close down a railway is a serious matter, but to close down a railway as old as this one, which is reputed to be the oldest in the world, is a particularly serious matter, and there must be good reasons before it can be done. I am entirely in favour of the process the Bill has to go through before it can be approved, and I read with interest the earnest and long debates which took place in another place before the Bill came here.

I do not think I should go into the details of the merits of the case put up by the controlling company, the South Wales Transport Company, which is part of the B.E.T. group. I understand that, broadly, their case is that the company operating the railway is now making a loss and is faced with substantial capital expenditure for modernisation. It is not for me to go into the merits of the case, but if there are doubts as to whether or no the figures are accurate, no doubt they can be probed in Committee, if the House decides to give the Bill a Second Reading, in order to see whether they are sound and stand up to argument.

I will first deal with the substantial points made by the hon. Member for Cleveland about the important matter of the use of indigenous fuel or imported fuel. He has made three arguments here. First, that indigenous fuel should be preferred; secondly, that it has the advantage, when converted into electricity, of cleanliness; and, thirdly, that there is the consideration of congestion on the roads.

On the first point, Government policy has been settled for the last two or three years that we would not interfere with changes that may be made in this way either by private companies or public corporations. We generally think that it is best that they should use their own judgment whether or not they should change over from indigenous fuel, which could be used either directly or indirectly as electricity, to imported fuels. As long ago as 1956, I see that my predecessor in my present office, my right hon. Friend who is now Minister of Works, explained broadly what Government policy was regarding the conversion by London Transport from trolleybuses to diesel buses, when we felt that on balance that was justified.

In the general picture of modernisation of British Railways, we have left the Transport Commission completely free to use its own judgment whether it should use diesel motive power or electric power, and there are examples of both with which we are all familiar. Broadly, we felt that the right principle to follow in these matters is to leave it to the commercial judgment of the particular concern, whether a public corporation or a private company, to decide which it thinks will be the most efficient fuel to use in its own circumstances. Our feeling there is that we cannot safely judge this matter in isolation, although, of course, it is of great importance that we should make full use of our indigenous resources.

Our other indigenous resources, indeed the greatest of our indigenous resources, are our own labour and skill, and, as a rule, the bill for wages and salaries is usually one of the biggest elements in any operation, whether transport or any other. Then, of course, there are the vehicles and the plant employed, and all these come into the commercial consideration of what is the right way of managing a particular transport undertaking.

The management of a concern, using their best commercial judgment, must themselves assess whether they think they will make a profit or a loss if they operate in a particular way. Our belief, and certainly my personal belief, is that the test of profitable operation will usually ensure that the resources of the country are being used in the national interest.

I have been listening to the admonition from the hon. Member for Cleveland that I must not plead that this is only a little one, and I agree with him. It is not a very good argument, but I can give the House the reassurance that there is no danger, in this general policy which the Government have adopted, of the national economy being imperceptibly undermined by a series of Private Bills which progressively increase the import Bill and decrease the use of our indigenous resources of fuel.

Mr. S. O. Davies (Merthyr Tydvil)

Has not the hon. Gentleman admitted to the House only two minutes ago that the Government have no fuel policy at all and that the Government will not interfere with the right of private ownership to transfer from these forms of power to others? Why is he going back on that now?

Mr. Nugent

I am not. I will not repeat what I said, as hon. Members opposite may or may not agree with it, but that is our policy. The point that I wanted to make was that even if electric road traction were changed to diesel it would, in fact, increase the national oil bill by less than 1 per cent., so that the danger which hon. Members fear is a very limited one.

Mr. Palmer

I hope the hon. Gentleman will take into account the other point, that this is an imported fuel. Obviously, we have to import it, and in some conditions of emergency it might be difficult to get it through, quite apart from the question of paying for it.

Mr. Nugent

I give way to that, but I still feel that the balance of advantage is in favour of the general policy that I have outlined, and, therefore, in this instance, I would not feel that Government policy is touched or injured by the proposal made here to change over from electricity to imported fuel, that is to say, diesel fuel.

Turning to the hon. Member's second point about cleanliness, I agree that it is most important that we should do everything possible to reduce the pollution of the atmosphere by offensive fumes from diesel vehicles or any others. There is certainly an obligation on all authorities, both local and national, to see that the law is enforced in this respect, so that we do not suffer by an increase of offensive fumes, because there is far too much already.

With regard to the hon. Member's point about congestion on the roads, he made the point fairly that this proposal would involve only an additional sixteen vehicles. My hon. Friend the Member for Barry also made the point about congested roads. I accept that, and, of course, at holiday times, like many other roads leading to holiday resorts, this is a congested road. I accept that sixteen vehicles is an addition, but it is an extremely small addition. Furthermore, in terms of the service that can be given there, it would seem to me that as there is an existing bus service running, the public interest can be well protected, because I understand that one of the conditions in the Bill is that the change from the present train-tram service to road vehicles must satisfy our traffic commissioner. That is one of the conditions of the Bill.

Mr. David Jones (The Hartlepools)

Is it the case that when the Bill was originally presented that provision was not in it but was inserted by another place?

Mr. Nugent

I would not like to speak about that off the cuff, but the hon. Member may well be right. The relevant point is that it is in now, and it is a very important provision. Certainly, that is what I would wish to say in the advice which I give to the House on this matter.

Finally, if I may speak in advance of the hon. Member for The Hartlepools (Mr. David Jones) in reference to the Amendment in his name with regard to the compensation of employees affected by the Bill, my only point in regard to that would be that I quite sympathise with the intention that the compensation should be adequate. I would expect that during the Committee stage the Committee would ensure that it was. I see that the National Union of Railwaymen has presented a petition to be able to give evidence, and I would expect that that would ensure that the terms are reasonable and fair.

My advice to the House on the Motion which has already been moved and the Instruction in the name of the hon. Member and his hon. Friends, is that these are all points of importance. Of course they are; otherwise they would not be on the Order Paper. So far as the Government are concerned, I would not feel that any of these matters are likely to be injurious to Government policy, and therefore my advice to the House is to accept the Bill and give it a Second Reading.

7.40 p.m.

Mr. Percy Morris (Swansea, West)

We are obliged to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary for his interesting statement. He nearly achieved two things, namely, to tell us that the Government would not like to interfere with a Private Bill and at the same time that they favoured it, and he hoped that we would accept his. advice.

The Bill had a troubled passage when it was debated in another place. If I have read the proceedings correctly, the Third Reading was agreed to only on the assumption that it would be examined in greater detail in this House. Attention has been drawn to its misleading Title, which might have prevented interested parties from exercising their right to petition against the Bill or to try to secure desirable Amendments. I must, in honour, absolve the promoters from any ulterior motives. Their intentions are widely known, and the implications of the Measure are fully appreciated. The promoters are a great improvement upon their predecessors, who in 1936 promoted a Bill which, had it been approved, would have deprived the Swansea Corporation of considerable assets without any Compensation. It was due to the vigilance of the council's legal advisers that our interests were safeguarded. I was there and had good cause to remember the occasion.

Although I gather that the South Wales Transport Company is in a reasonable frame of mind, it is incumbent upon me to give expression to the grave misgivings and disappointment felt by many thousands of people who do not relish the prospect of losing the Mumbles Railway, which has been their acceptable mode of transport for many years. Right hon. and hon. Members will know that it is easily recognised as the oldest passenger railway service in the world. It runs along a very beautiful coast. I recall the thrill of my boyhood days when riding in the open-topped carriage and listening to the tolling of the warning bell by the fireman who rode on the front of the engine.

I am not one of those who feel that antiquity is one of the greatest virtues, but before parting with this ancient railway we must be satisfied that it is being replaced by something better. The passengers with the greatest stake in it cannot be persuaded that an extended bus service will give them an equally efficient service. They contend that even if extra vehicles are available road congestion will be so intense that traffic will be brought to a standstill and chaos will prevail at holiday times. It has been suggested that the increase in bus traffic will amount to only 1 per cent.—about twenty additional buses per hour. Such a prospect fills many people with dismay in view of their experience over many years on this very congested road.

In addition to the passengers from the Mumbles, people living in suburban areas have an interest in the matter. Those living in Treboeth, Brynhyfryd, Manselton and Sketty complain that even now they frequently have to wait a very long time before being able to board a bus for the Mumbles. Similar complaints come from Llansamlet, Bonymaen and St. Thomas. A journey to the market and the bays, especially during the holiday season, is quite an adventure. It is not surprising that 14,000 people signed a petition protesting against what they regard as a worsening of the position.

The Ministry of Transport points a metaphorical forefinger at the traffic commissioner and says that the South Wales Transport Company will have to satisfy him that it will provide an adequate alternative before he will agree to the closing of the railway. This is excellent in theory, but many of my constituents are very sceptical of practical results.

Have the alternatives been fully examined? My hon. Friend the Member for Cleveland (Mr. Palmer) asked that Clause 12 should be amended so as to provide that the railways shall not cease operation until after the practicability of retaining and modernising them has been investigated and reported upon by an independent person with expert knowledge of both electric light railway and motor bus operation. What is the objection to such a reasonable request? The inquiry need not be of a prolonged character, and it would place everybody in a better position to assess the merit of the company's proposals.

The figure of £300,000 has been mentioned as the sum needed to modernise the railway. If it means all that, I wonder why the South Wales Transport Company made the take-over bid. I suppose a 999-year lease might have been an inducement. It affords time and scope for development. But I hope it will not be done solely at public expense. If the railway is in such a decrepit state, why did the company acquire what it would have us believe is akin to a sack of worn out sleepers, broken chairs, bending rails and rusty bolts? There must be more in this than meets the eye.

The Swansea Council has lodged a Petition, and it will not be withdrawn until its objections are met. According to the Petition: Any proposals relating to the future of the Railways raise issues of great importance. Reference is made to the sea wall, the extinguishment of rights of way, the disposal of land, and so on. Paragraph 14 points out: The Railways form an essential part of the public transport of Swansea. No provision is made in the Bill for providing alternative transport facilities and the Transport Company have not put forward any proposals regarding this matter. The Petitioners are not, therefore, satisfied that adequate alternative transport facilities will be provided and in their submission the provision of such facilities to their satisfaction should be a condition precedent to the closure of the Railways. I will not delay the House by reading lengthy extracts from the Petition, but very important issues are raised in Clauses 16, 17 and 18 relating to extensive road improvements and highways developments which would involve the Swansea Corporation in the expenditure of a very large sum of money.

If the Bill is to become an Act of Parliament it will have to be amended in several important respects, and it is for the transport company to satisfy the House that it is prepared to meet the reasonable objections of the Swansea Corporation and satisfy my constituents that, if change is inevitable, it will be effected in the public, as well as the private, interest.

The human aspect must not be overlooked. My hon. Friend the Member for The Hartlepools (Mr. D. Jones) will emphasise this point when he deals with his Instruction to the Committee, which he suggests is of great importance. Men who have spent the whole of their working lives in this service must be given adequate compensation. The company prides itself upon its labour relations and condition of service. It must not fail on this occasion. The House is not likely to make the Bill an Act until it is satisfied that right and proper treatment is meted out to redundant staff.

I gather from meagre Press reports that two trains were in collision between Swansea and Mumbles yesterday. Fortunately, very few people were hurt. But the incident will invest the Bill with a greater element of urgency. The main objective is adequate and efficient transport. It remains for the company to meet the reasonable objections of the Corporation and other interested parties and to provide proper compensation for redundant staff. It should be possible to reach a satisfactory conclusion without further delay.

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Barry (Mr. Gower) is not in his place. I listened to his speech with interest, but I could only assume that his interest is of an academic character. I am reluctant to believe that he thinks the matter should be given a political slant. Mumbles is a rival superior in every way to Barry. I should not like the hon. Member's intervention to get him into trouble with his constituents, who expect him to be concerned with imports and exports at Barry Docks rather than with the claims of a holiday resort far beyond the confines of his constituency.

If common sense is observed, this problem should be solved without further delay.

7.50 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)

I wish to support the Second Reading of the Bill now. As hon. Members will know, for nineteen years I was employed as a solicitor by the Great Western Railway and for one year by the British Transport Commission before I resigned for political reasons. During that time I had many contacts with the Mumbles Railway. I know the site very well, and I have known of its history for many years. No one who takes an interest in the history of transport could fail to be interested in the Mumbles Railway for reasons which have already been indicated. Contrary to popular belief, the Stockton and Darlington Railway was not the first passenger line in this country. The Mumbles Railway preceded it by many years. As has already been said, it has been running for 150 years. The remarkable thing is that all that time it has been under private enterprise. First there was horse traction, then steam, and finally electric traction.

Sentiment is not enough in matters of transport. The pattern of transport is changing all the time and has always done so ever since man first invented the wheel and taught the horse or the ox to pull a cart. Nowadays, the pattern changes much more quickly than it used to do. It is a fatal mistake to try to freeze a pattern of transport into the particular form which it now takes. If some wiseacre, or some gentleman in Whitehall who knows best, or some hon. Member tries to do that, he will always get into difficulties, because the only possible test of whether the public needs a certain form of transport is whether the public is prepared to pay for it.

Once one gets away from that principle, one gets into difficulties which involve the taxpayer or ratepayer, or some other transport undertaking, in unnecessarily heavy losses. That must always be the case, because choice of transport, just like choice of wife, is an extremely individual matter for each person. No amount of legislation or refusal of legislation by this honourable House will force the people of Swansea and neighbourhood to use the Mumbles Railway unless they want to do so.

We are told by the promoters of the Bill that the Mumbles Railway lost £8,000 last year and that it would cost £300,000 to repair and replace the worn-out stock and permanent way and to put it into a good condition. In its present form, it has speed restrictions of only 10 m.p.h. at certain points. We are also told that by abandoning the railway and replacing 13 electric cars by 16 diesel buses, at a cost, one would suppose, of £80,000, and by spending a further £6,000 on making parts of the railway into a road, it would be possible to provide a better alternative transport system.

That is a matter for the Committee to which, I hope, the Bill will be referred. That is where to test the accuracy of these statements. It is not for us merely with our imaginations to judge whether those statements are true. When the Bill goes to Committee, witnesses can be produced to prove the matter one way or the other. If, on the one hand, to get a service where there are speed restrictions of 10 m.p.h. in some places it is necessary to spend £300,000, while, on the other hand, to provide an alternative service one needs to spend a total of only £86,000, prima facie it is obvious that we should allow that alternative to be considered.

I have inquired from the promoters of the Bill who have told me that about one-quarter of the railway would be suitable for inclusion in the roadway alongside of it to improve its width, while about one-half could be used for improvements to the sea front. I do not know whether that is so. It is some years since I last saw the site, but that, too, is a matter for the Committee.

The hon. Member for Cleveland (Mr. Palmer) said that the Bill would involve the substitution of derv for electric power. That is true, but I am told that only about three-quarters of a million units of electricity are consumed in a year. I cannot believe that the Central Electricity Generating Board cannot find a use for those three-quarters of a million units. In the West Country, one of our difficulties is not merely providing additional electric lines for new users, but getting the additional power required.

Mr. Palmer

Surely the hon. Member does not deny that the Central Electricity Generating Board, or the South Wales Electricity Board, would prefer to keep its customers if it could. Has any attention been given to the possibility of modernising the railway on the basis of continued electrification?

Mr. Wilson

I suggest that the Central Electricity Generating Board might be very well pleased to sell that amount of electricity to some other customer who is waiting and willing to pay for it. Whether the electricity was taken by the Mumbles Railway or some other customer, the probability is that no less coal would be burned by the Central Electricity Generating Board.

I gather that the amount of derv which would be used would be about 24,000 gallons a year. In view of the vast numbers of vehicles on our roads which are using derv and which will use it more and more, the consumption of 24,000 gallons of derv is not a matter to which we need pay much attention.

The argument about pollution of the atmosphere is false. It is common knowledge—and it should be agreed as such—that if a diesel engine is properly maintained and kept in proper order it does not produce smoke. [HON. MEMBERS: "They never are."] It is not true that diesel engines are never properly maintained. Bus companies maintain them very well as a rule, but some lorry drivers are under the delusion that if they fiddle with the intake they can get more power. I am told that that is a delusion and that what sometimes happens is that a lorry driver fiddles with the engine of his lorry in the belief that he will get more power, thus causing smoke. It does not happen with buses, because a bus driver would never dare to touch his engine. That is maintained entirely by the engineers' department.

However, all these are matters which can be tested in the Committee. I understand that the ultimate owners of the railway are British Electric Traction, an organisation which started as a tramway company and then went over to buses. If anybody knows the comparative costs of running an electric tramway and running an electric railway, it would be this company. It seems to me prima facie that such an experienced private concern would not suggest the alternative of buses unless it was sure of its figures and that the railway was not paying. That is a very good reason for us at least to send the Bill to Committee where these matters can be tested.

We have often urged the British Transport Commission to close down uneconomic branch lines. We have agreed to London Transport abandoning trolleybuses and substituting diesel buses. It would be quite illogical for us to refuse to allow a private company to rationalise itself in the manner suggested.

The hon. Member for The Hartlepools (Mr. D. Jones) will be dealing with the case of the individuals who will be displaced under these proposals. I understand that only about ten men will be unemployed. I have no doubt that the Committee could look after these ten men and put the appropriate Clause into the Bill when it is dealt with upstairs. The National Union of Railwaymen will be represented, so presumably the union will be able to make what suggestions it likes about the proposed Clause, and, if it is not satisfactory, get it amended.

For those reasons, I think we ought to give the Bill a Second Reading.

8.0 p.m.

Mr. David Jones (The Hartlepools)

The solicitude being shown by the other side to the National Union of Railway-men is remarkable, but I never thought that I would remain in the House long enough to hear an ex-solicitor of the Great Western Railway advocate the closing down of a railway. Still, perhaps, it is not surprising. Wonders never cease.

It will be noticed that both the Motion on Second Reading, and the Instruction in my name and that of my hon. Friends, seek to deal with the specific point of protection for the people who will be dispossessed of their jobs if and when this railway closes.

My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. P. Morris) approached this problem in a reasonable manner. He argued, and I think quite rightly, that there is no great virtue in antiquity. This railway lost £8,000 last year, and, if the hon. Member for Barry (Mr. Gower) is to be believed, it broke even in 1957. This is one of those financial jungles which do not mean a thing, because this railway does not belong to the South Wales Transport Company. It belongs to the Swansea and Mumbles Railway Limited and was leased by the South Wales Transport Company on 17th September, 1929, for a term of 999 years, as was the Mumbles Pier. The leases on those two properties do not expire until 1st July, 2928. That was confirmed by the Swansea and District Transport Act, 1936.

It may well be that the South Wales Transport Company lost £8,000 on the Mumbles Electric Railway last year, but the House will recognise that the company runs its own buses in connection with its own tramcars over the same route and that the fare charge for travelling on the tramcars is considerably less than it is for travelling on the same company's buses.

At the end of the year the South Wales Transport Company pays £13,000 to the two companies from whom it leases these railways. My information is that some 85 per cent. to 90 per cent. of the shares in the two companies from which it leases the railways are held by the South Wales Transport Company, so that in fact what it does is to pay a rent of £13,000 to two companies in which it owns more than three-quarters of the stock, and the other company that operates the buses loses £8,000 as a consequence. If that is not the finance of the jungle, will somebody tell what it is?

In the document circulated by the promoters of the Bill, we are told in paragraph 8: In connection with the Motions … concerning compensation for displaced railway employees, you may like to know that the Promoters always intended to safeguard the position of employees who are under retiring age when the railways close … I do not know on what date that decision was reached, nor do I know the date on which the Bill was presented in another place. What I do know is that on 17th March, 1959, in reply to a query from the National Union of Railwaymen about the position of the railwaymen employed on the Mumbles Railway, the secretary of the company gave this reply: In submitting the Bill the opportunity was taken of seeking compensation on the abandonment of the railway at some future date should this be thought desirable. It is suggested that you make representations to the company if and when a decision is taken to abandon the railway. If it was the intention of the company to pay compensation to adequately protect the employees, surely it would not have been asking too much to have embodied some provision in the Bill.

The hon. Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) mentioned a figure of ten men becoming unemployed. I do not know, nor does the National Union of Railway-men, how many men will be unemployed if and when the railway closes. That information has never been made public.

Mr. G. Wilson

I got the figure of ten because I had a conversation with the promoters of the Bill. I asked how many men would be affected and that was the figure I was given. I do not know on what grounds. I think it appears in the statement by the promoters.

Mr. Jones

If the figure is ten, all well and good. It has never been the practice on the Oystermouth and Mumbles Railway for the retiring age of 65 to apply. The customary practice is that men who are physically and mentally capable of doing their job are allowed to remain as long as they can do the job effectively. There are a number of employees on the railways who are already over the retiring age of 65. In almost all the grades, drivers, cleaners, conductors, shed staff and permanent way staff, there are men over 65 who, as far as I know, are doing an effective job.

Paragraph 8 of the statement rather infers that there has been an agreement with the National Union of Railwaymen. Until 10 o'clock this morning there had never been a satisfactory offer to the union by the promoters of the Bill. It is true that a suggestion was made that the age of 65 years should somewhere figure in the calculation for compensation.

Mr. G. Wilson

I can answer the question that the hon. Member asked me earlier. Paragraph 9 of the statement starts by saying: Between thirty and forty men are employed in connection with the railways of whom some ten under 65 years of age are likely to lose their employment as a result of the closure of the railway.

Mr. Jones

But where is the figure that there are to be only ten?

Mr. Wilson

The paragraph says: … of whom some ten under 65 years of age are likely to lose their employment …

Mr. Jones

Nobody can be certain, and there is no definite figure at the moment. I want to know whether the men over 65 who are doing their job on the electric railway are included in that calculation or whether they are additional to the ten who are not to be employed.

The proposed Clause suggests that any compensation should be limited to men under 65 years of age. That is very unfair. I challenge anyone to deny that at this moment men of over 65 years of age are driving trams between Swansea and Mumbles, and are doing their job effectively. Is it fair to argue that if and when this railway closes they should not be compensated, merely because they are 65 years of age or over? This question ought to be looked at favourably from their point of view.

There is a very good precedent. About three years ago this House had before it a Private Bill promoted by the Liverpool Overhead Electric Railway Company. That Bill ultimately became law and it authorised the Liverpool Overhead Railway to close down. The Preamble says that the Liverpool Overhead Electric Railway Company was authorised to work an overhead electric railway, the greater part of which was on the estate of the Merseyside Docks and Harbour Board. It stated that the company held and worked its undertaking under an agreement for lease from the Board

I suggest that that is on all fours with the present case. Here we have an electric railway, or a glorified tramway. The Liverpool overhead railway proposed to close down altogether and inserted in the Bill a provision that all men employed on a relevant date who had served for fifteen years or more, or who were over 55 years of age on that relevant date, should be compensated by the payment of two weeks' wages for each year of service Those with less than fifteen years' service were to be compensated with one week's pay for each year of service, with a minimum of four weeks' pay.

That is on all fours with this case, with one exception. Whereas in the Liverpool overhead railway case the railway was closing down altogether and all the people employed on the relevant day were to be compensated, in this case a substantial proportion of the staff now-employed on the railway will presumably be transferred to the sixteen extra buses which are to be run in place of the railway.

In those circumstances it is not unreasonable to argue that these people should be compensated. I agree with the Parliamentary Secretary that it is one of the British Electric Traction group, but the South Wales Transport Company is not concerned merely with running its railway. The railway is a subsidiary service. It has 340 buses operating in and around Swansea, and in some cases has a virtual monopoly of services. Some of the staff who will be transferred are young enough to be retrained, but we cannot expect a man of 60, 63, 68 or even 70 years of age, who has been driving a tramcar all his life, to be trained to drive a bus on a busy road. Therefore, it is reasonable to argue for compensation.

I do not propose to talk about the merits or demerits of retaining the railway as against buses, but I remember some years ago that the Tir John Power Station was built at Swansea and was boilered with special boilers designed to burn anthracite duff—the residue of the anthracite coal produced in that area—which at that time was a drug on the export market. If the production of electricity at the Tir John Power Station is to be diminished by this or any other method, in the not too distant future the anthracite duff now being consumed by the station may again become a drug on the market. That point must be remembered.

I return to my opening remarks. I understand that the South Wales Transport Company, which proposes to acquire the other two companies under the terms of the Bill, already possesses the bulk of those companies' shares. Lest anybody should question why it is necessary to come to Parliament, I would point out that one of the two companies is a statutory company, which makes it necessary for Parliamentary sanction to be obtained for its acquisition. I presume that in the ordinary course of events the other company could have been acquired by a take-over bid.

This House should be satisfied, before it consents to the Second Reading, that attention will be paid to the fact that a large number of workpeople are to be displaced as a consequence of this action. We ought to repeat in this case what we did in the case of the Liverpool Overhead Railway Bill. We should make provision for reasonable compensation to be paid to those people who will be displaced as a consequence of the change.

8.18 p.m.

Mr. A. J. Champion (Derbyshire, South-East)

I shall always look askance at anybody who seeks to drive people from the railways on to the roads. I noted what the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) said about the choice of transport. He said it was like the choice of a wife—a very individual one. I remember an Arab proverb which says that in choosing a wife or buying a horse one should shut one's eyes and commend oneself to God. I can only say that if I venture on to the road, upon which traffic will now be increased as a result of the Bill, I shall certainly shut my eyes and commend myself to God.

I have no desire to prevent the South Wales Transport Company from closing this unprofitable undertaking. I have argued that it is unfair to attempt to force British Railways to maintain and run insufficiently used branch lines at the expense of the rest of British Railways' employees and other rail users. My argument in connection with those branch lines applies equally to the railway which we are here considering. In my opinion it would not be fair to expect bus workers or other bus users to enable this transport company to meet an annual loss, which we are told is £8,000, or to meet charges on the £300,000 necessary to re-equip the undertaking. It would not be right that the other employees of this company should be expected to subsidise the continued running or cost of maintaining that track and equipment. But in giving sanction to close such an undertaking regard must be had to the future of the employees. This has been rightly stressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. P. Morris) and my hon. Friend the Member for The Hartlepools (Mr. D. Jones).

It is the case that Parliament has for a long time, and rightly so, been interested in employees affected by its Acts. My hon. Friend the Member for The Hartlepools quoted a comparatively recent case, but there is a very much older case or precedent. I am referring particularly to those men who at the present time are over the age of 65. I read in the statement by the promoters that they are prepared to see included in the Bill a Clause to deal with all the employees provided that they are less than 65 years of age at the time of the closure of the undertaking.

The principle of compensation for employees, even though they are past what is agreed by some as being the normal retiring age, is accepted. I can remember the Railway Act of 1921 and the events which followed it. That Act, as hon. Members well know, provided for the grouping of the railways into the four groups which we came to know so well during the years between the wars. In the Third Schedule of that Act provision was made to ensure that no employee was by reason of the grouping put in any worse position in comparison with the conditions of service under which he had previously operated. The Schedule states: No existing officer or servant so transferred shall, without his consent, be by reason of such transfer in any worse position in respect to the conditions of his service as a whole … as compared with the conditions of service formerly obtaining with respect to him. The next paragraph made provision for arbitration in cases that were disputed. Under the provisions in the Schedule, cases were brought by the trade unions concerned. Certainly my own union brought a case in that connection, and, as some of my hon. Friends who are railway trade unionists will remember, the employees concerned were able to obtain considerable sums in compensation because of the practice of some of the South Wales railways, which were then grouped under the 1921 Act, to retain the services of employees beyond the age which other railways regarded as the normal retiring age.

Like the Mumbles railway, some of the railways concerned employed men until they were physically incapable of pursuing their normal employment. It is clear to me on looking at the Third Schedule in the 1921 Act that the arbitrator said. "This is the will of Parliament". If it were the case that men were employed beyond 65, or what was the normal retiring age for other railway employees, clearly their position would be worsened if they were sacked at 65 years of age. Because of that the arbitrator said, "They shall receive considerable sums in compensation".

I understand that seven men employed by the Mumbles railway could, but for the closure, have expected to continue in their employment until they were physically or mentally incapable of doing their job. This suggested provision relates only to men up to the age of 65. I am asking that the principle, which was so clearly embodied in the Act of 1921, shall also be embodied with equal clarity in the legislation of 1959. Surely, if it were regarded as a suitable provision as far back as 1921, it should be so regarded in 1959. I believe that it is the will of Parliament that men who are displaced, whose position is worsened, should have their case carefully considered, and that provision should be made to ensure that their position is not worsened by the desire of the South Wales Transport Company to close this railway.

Question, That "now" stand part of the Question, put and agreed to.

Bill read a Second time and committed.