HC Deb 26 January 1960 vol 616 cc113-34

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

7.15 p.m.

Sir Wavell Wakefield (St. Marylebone)

The Minister of Transport and his Parliamentary Secretary, as the House well knows, are very much preoccupied with roads and dealing with the congestion of traffic, not only in the City of London, but in the other great cities in the United Kingdom. It may, therefore, seem a little unkind that I should take the opportunity on the Adjournment to raise the subject of the future of Marylebone railway station, a matter for the British Transport Commission and the railways to determine.

However, I point out that this 44-acre site is on the edge of the Pink Zone and proper regard for its future development could play not only an indirect, but perhaps a direct and very important part in trying to help solve the problem of traffic congestion in Central London, particularly some of the traffic problems which plague my constituency of St. Marylebone.

Last year, there was considerable correspondence in the national Press drawing attention to the fact that the railways were short of capital, but had considerable frozen assets in land which was being inadequately used. Among the editorials, letters and articles of one kind and another were suggestions that in certain respects a few take-over bids might not be out of place, so that some of those so-called wasted assets could be made profitable instead of unprofitable.

Arising from that correspondence and publicity, I had considerable representation made to me by my constituents who said that here, right in our midst, indeed, right on the doorstep of the Commission's own head office, the former Great Central Hotel, was a supreme example of the wasted asset, an inadequately used asset, which could be put to far better use.

Particularly during the General Election, when I was touring the streets of my constituency and making numerous short speeches, people raised this matter with me. Indeed, they were very rude about it, asking what I proposed to do about it, what the Government proposed to do about it, and what the Commission proposed to do about this site. At the General Election, I undertook that if I was returned I would communicate with the Commission and take an early opportunity to raise the matter which my constituents had brought before me. I am grateful for now having that opportunity.

My constituents are complaining about the inadequate use of Marylebone Station, one of the great main line termini of London. I have received, not from the Commission but from my constituents, a lot of information which I believe to be reasonably accurate and which I will now give to the House. How many express trains leave Marylebone Station and to what extent does that London terminus provide a suitable and adequate service for long-distance passengers?

Until recently, there were about eight long-distance express trains from that station, going to Rugby, Leicester, Nottingham, Sheffield and Manchester. There were an extra two main-line trains during the electrification at King's Cross and Euston, but only in the last few days the number of main-line trains has been reduced to four. I understand that there are only seven coaches on each of those trains, two of them kitchen and dining cars, and that the total accommodation provided is only about 300 seats, of which only about one-third are used.

The reason for this lack of use of these main-line trains is not hard to see. At King's Cross, St. Pancras and Euston, quite close by, and at Paddington, as well, there are many trains, some 80 or more every day, to the same places as those four main-line trains go. What is more, the journey is done by those trains in half an hour or an hour less. Again, the underground railway connections at King's Cross, St. Pancras and Euston are very much better than those at Marylebone. The result is that the public naturally uses those places where there is the greatest convenience for them. It therefore seems that if Marylebone Station were shut down for the use of long-distance passenger express trains, there would be no inconvenience to the public.

I now turn to the goods and parcels traffic. How much goods and parcels traffic goes from that terminus? I understand that there are about nine trains daily. I am told that two of those are night parcels trains which are handled on the Marylebone passenger platforms but which could be handled on the suburban tracks if those tracks were left, or equally well, as I shall show, elsewhere.

The seven remaining goods trains are short, consisting of only about 20 wagons. Those could be operated at the Neasden yard and the goods dispersed by road. The distance of Marylebone from Neasden is only about five miles and an amount of those goods could well be distributed more conveniently from Neasden than from Marylebone. Alternatively, there is the Finchley Road goods yard which was formerly very much used by the coal traffic which, I am told, has now practically disappeared. By making a suitable crossing there, I understand that that would be very convenient for goods traffic.

Either of those places could also be used for the summer car transportation service going north to Scotland. I can see no difficulty to prevent cars being put on trains from either of those places; and, if the suburban tracks were removed, parcels could also be dispersed from either of those alternative places.

If this main-line station were shut down, of course there would be redundancy. The men working there would no longer have a job and that might well cause anxiety. However, I hope that the Commission and the Parliamentary Secretary could give every assurance that there would be no need for anxiety by the people employed at Marylebone, because there is a continual wastage elsewhere and it should not be difficult to provide full employment for any skilled man who wished to remain in the railway service, at Paddington, Baker Street, Euston, St. Pancras, King's Cross, or, indeed, Liverpool Street, which are all close by. It is not like shutting down a coal mine in some isolated village where there is no alternative employment. Here there is any amount of suitable alternative employment. If some of the men now employed at Marylebone wished to change their jobs, I feel certain that they would have no difficulty in obtaining suitable employment somewhere in London.

I want now to deal with the suburban passenger traffic. Analysis shows that the volume of traffic at eight of London's principal main-line suburban stations, arriving between seven and ten in the morning, is nearly 300,000 passengers. Of that number, 5,000, or slightly fewer, arrive at Marylebone, about 1.75 per cent. of the total. Of a total of nearly 800 trains at the eight stations in that time, about 22 arrive at Marylebone, about 2.75 per cent. In the corresponding evening rush hours the percentage leaving Marylebone is less. There are about 1,000 fewer passengers and the proportion compared with the other stations is rather less than in the morning, about 1.6 per cent. Some of the other London Transport stations handle some 150,000 passengers a day, so that the number handled at Marylebone is infinitesimal. In the 14 off-peak hours, departures average only about two trains an hour and during those times the system seems almost to have ceased to function.

It is clear that the suburban user ought to be protected. We hope that if the Minister's plans for stopping the long-term parker in Central London are successful, there may well be a greater number of people wishing to come to Central London by suburban lines. Is there any alternative to shutting down this suburban line and making some other use of it? Frankly, I can say that there is.

The suburban line could be kept in operation on the surface and the 44-acre site would then be lessened by about one acre only. It would probably be better to put the suburban line underground and I understand that there is no difficulty about that. It would end at about the Bakerloo level with a deep-level exchange of passengers. Better still, it could be extended to Marble Arch, but that would be a very costly undertaking.

That gives a fairly full analysis of the use being made by the railways of Marylebone Station. It is quite clear that the loss there runs into many thousands of £s a year and the situation is getting worse. My constituents feel very strongly that this loss of the taxpayers' money ought not to continue. This area is one of the finest in London. It is an ideal development site. The railroad is next-door at Baker Street and it is close to the Paddington main-line station and many other main-line stations further to the east.

Close by there has been big development. Lately, some of the big companies have erected offices. Only the other day I was present at the opening of one of those offices and I was told that the increase in convenience was un-believable. The office is within a few yards of the area about which I am speaking. Previously, this firm was in the West End and customers going to it had great difficulty in finding a place to put their cars —and this firm does a great deal of buying for its chain stores all over the country—and there was also great inconvenience for the staff and for buyers. There is room for parking where it is now. The firm is away from the congestion of Central London and in that respect the situation is ideal.

This area is suitable for commercial development. It is a perfect site for housing development. It is close to Regent's Park and other amenities. New schools have been built nearby and other amenities have also been provided. It is close to the shopping areas of the west End of London and, more important, there is easy access to the North.

It would also be an ideal site for a multi-storey garage in which people corning from the North could park their cars instead of having to park them in the centre of London.

This is an ideal site for the kind of development which could bring in a large revenue to the taxpayer or to the British Transport Commission instead of incurring a loss which it does at present.

My constituents cannot understand why there has been delay in developing this area. What is the reason for what has been described as a public scandal? The answer lies in the present set-up of the British Transport Commission, and I blame hon. Members opposite for this. I blame the Socialists for nationalising the railways.

I remember an occasion about twenty years ago when I sat next to the late Lord Stamp, who was then the president of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway Company. He was also a great Civil Service administrator. He told me that the London, Midland and Scottish Railway Company was too big an organisation for satisfactory administration. He thought that when the railway system was split up into four groups at the end of the First World War that was a mistake. It should have been split into five or six groups.

What did the Socialists do? They lumped those four groups together and brought in road transport as well under one administration. What idiocy. What crass stupidity it was to do that. It made it impossible to administer the newly-formed organisation efficiently.

One of the reasons why Marylebone Station has not been developed as it cold have been, and as it ought to have been, is that in the British Transport Commission we have an unwieldy organition which cannot deal with the many things with which it is supposed to deal. It is engaged on a tremendous programme of modernisation. It is also trying to shut down unprofitable branch lines. Sir Brian Robertson has an impossible task.

Over the last few months I have had considerable correspondence with Sir Brian Robertson about the disposal of railway properties which are either inadequately used or not used at all and which could be put to more profitable use. I should like to pay warm tribute to the way in which Sir Brian Robertson with great care and consideration has tried to answer the various points that I have made and to deal with the whole problem as best he can. In the correspondence he draws attention to the fact that about £10 million of capital has already been realised from properties which are no longer required by the commission, and that the Commission's revenue has been increased by £5 million a year net.

That is an infinitesimal amount when one thinks of the tremendous assets that the commission has in the centres of towns and villages all over the country which are used only slightly, or perhaps not at all, and which could be made into valuable revenue-earning properties. It is wrong that Sir Brian Robertson should have had to deal with me in this way and that we should have had this long correspondence about the future of Marylebone station. It shows that the whole set-up is wrong. The Minister should now look at the set-up of the British Transport Commission because only in that way will the future of Marylebone station, and many other similar properties, be dealt with in the way that I think it should be dealt with.

The Commission ought to divest itself of its functional duties. It ought to be a holding company, and its chief job ought to be to appoint perhaps the chairman and directors—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I cannot help thinking that the hon. Member is in some difficulty. On this Motion he is not entitled to ask for legislation. Perhaps he would bear that in mind.

Sir W. Wakefield

I realise that I am not entitled to put forward anything which would entail legislation, but I was trying to point out that some action could be taken. I was under the impression that some of the things that I was about to suggest could be done without legislation. Perhaps the holding company which I suggested would require legislation, but an effort should be made to decentralise the activities of the British Transport Commission and to bring private enterprise into partnership in the same way as there is at present an association between the Commission and Ribble Motors. If at some future date, shares were sold so that the public could have an equity, great progress would be made. If the Commission could be organised on more commercial lines than it is at present that would be a good thing.

How can one do that? It should be possible for the Commission ruthlessly to shut down all branch lines which are not profit-making. If it is necessary to maintain a service in a particular place or area it could be done by way of a subsidy. After all, we see on today's Order Paper that provision is made for helping the Highlands and Islands shipping services. The same procedure could be adopted after decentralising the activities of the British Transport Commission.

After forming separate companies, with the Commission as a holding company—and I hope that this might be done without legislation—the Commission should be split into groups with hotels, ships, and docks; and private enterprise should be brought into partnership for the development of those activities. We should then see a big change for the better in the whole set-up.

I should like to see road interests hived off, again in partnership with private enterprise. It might be a good thing to separate the London Transport Executive from the British Transport Commission, hiving off the underground activities and the surface activities into two separate organisations. I should have thought that the most important step of all, in order to achieve an adequate development of these frozen assets, would be for the Commission, in partnership with private enterprise, to form a number of property development companies. Why cannot the Commission form such companies for Marylebone, for the Midlands, for the North, and so on? Experts would be eager to develop such properties, and the operational side of British Railways would have to give good reasons why land which was not being used adequately should not be put to some more profitable use. It would be a great advantage if something of that sort could be done.

Shareholders can bring great pressure to bear on company directors. There is no doubt that shareholders attending an annual general meeting of a company can bring pressure to bear on the directors in a way which is much more effective than anything which we in this House can do. I call on the Government to act immediately, no only in connection with the future development of the site at Marylebone, but also in the other various ways which I have summarised. I beg the Minister and the Government to adopt a policy of decentralisation and to bring private enterprise into partnership in these various ways. Then we should see a great move forward which would be to the advantage of the community as a whole. Do not let us blame Sir Brian Robertson and his colleagues, who are doing their best to carry out a task which it is physically impossible for them to do.

7.42 p.m.

Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth (Hendon, South)

I wish to thank my hon. Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Sir W. Wakefield) for raising this subject and to congratulate him on choosing an evening when there is time for other hon. Members to take part in the debate. The proper use of an area of about 44 acres nearly in the centre of the Metropolis is not purely a constituency point, but a matter of great interest and of national moment.

Great interest has been taken in the M.1 motorway, but there is no point in having a motorway which may save half an hour in the time which it takes for a motorist to travel from Birmingham to London if it takes more than an additional half an hour to come from the outskirts to the centre of London. The more the motorway proves effective in bringing traffic quickly from the Midlands to London the more difficult it will become to get to the centre of the Metropolis.

I imagine that it is the intention of the Government eventually to construct motorways which come into the centre of London. That presents not only engineering problems and legal difficulties but also raises a social problem. My own constituency lies just to the north of that of my hon. Friend the Member for St. Marylebone at a point between the area about which he spoke and where the M.1 motorway will come to an end when the present plans are completed.

I can assure my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary that being situated in such a position is a matter of intense interest to my constituents. At the recent General Election we thought we were doing well to get 100 people to attend a public meeting, but there was no difficulty in attracting 500 people to a meeting to protest against plans which it is possible may be in the mind of my hon. Friend. This matter is one of immense interest, anxiety and importance in my constituency and other constituencies around London.

The question which everyone asks is, how are we to bring this traffic into London, what route will be used, what methods will be used to solve the various legal, social and engineering problems which arise? I suggest that we should use those parts of our railway system which are moribund, as has been indicated by my hon. Friend. Lines exist which are inadequately used. There are some stations and goods yards which do not play a full part in our transport system. I imagine that there are a considerable number of lines coming into Marylebone Station from just outside London and it should not be beyond the wit of man to devise a motorway in place of those lines.

Generally speaking, railway tracks are not satisfactory for conversion into roads because there are embankments and tunnels which are too narrow. But here we are dealing with something which will involve the expenditure of hundreds of millions of pounds, and surely it must be possible to follow the course of railway lines where already geographical divisions exist. Such roads could be constructed in a way which would not harm existing communities.

If it is impossible to put a large double track motorway on the present railway tracks, surely it would be possible to build on the over-and-under principle, and I hope that suggestion is being considered by the Government. It may be that the Minister will reply that railway lines should be used more. I imagine that Government policy is to try to discourage additional motor traffic in the centre of London and to encourage a greater use of the railway. If that be so, I think there is some contradiction in such a policy. If one owns a motor car, and uses it to travel to London on business, the probability is that the petrol consumed is paid for by the business and is, therefore, tax-free. But if one travels on the railway, one has to pay for a ticket out of taxed income. I suggest to my hon. Friend that that is a matter which the Ministry might take up seriously with the Treasury. At the moment, we are definitely putting our taxpayers in favour of doing the very things which everyone admits ought not to be done.

Apart from the question of the lines, there is in this great area an opportunity which ought to be seized. The great need of the traffic coming in from the outside of London to the centre is for some sort of terminal, a place where it can stop, can be spread out into the various other channels into which it has to go, or, maybe, can simply turn round and go back again. We have in northwest London what I can only describe as an atrocious bus service.

We all get letters complaining about this, that and the other, but I get letters almost daily from my constituents complaining of the irregularity of the buses running in North-West London. The answer which is given to me, and it is a perfectly fair answer, is that it looks quite easy to run buses to the outer areas, but, if they are to be of any use at all, they have to come into the inner areas, and that is where we get the traffic congestion which is the cause of the irregularity.

I agree with that, and I think it is a perfectly fair thing to say about it, but, surely, the answer is not to try to run the buses right through the most densely trafficked areas, but to bring them to the edge, turn the buses round and send them back again. In that way, the buses coming from Cricklewood, Hendon, Finchley and so on would come into Marylebone, where they would turn round, and people would change into the forms of transport more convenient to them in order to reach the central area. It may be that in some cases they would not even need to change, because they would be within walking distance of some of the best shopping areas.

If serious consideration were given to the better use of this area as a turning ground, it could make a most valuable contribution to the solution of the traffic problem in the north of London. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry will not be able to give final answers to all these questions this evening, but I put them to him, and I hope that he will give them very serious consideration.

7.53 p.m.

Mr. Ronald Russell (Wembley, South)

I should also like to thank my hon. Friend the Member for St. Marylelone (Sir W. Wakefield) for raising this question about the future of Marylebone Station, and I entirely agree with him. I think it is appalling that there should be all this space of 44 acres, or even more, on a spot like this which is not fully used.

It is a difficult problem in one respect. My hon. Friend has mentioned that the main-line trains from Marylebone have been reduced—I think he said from eight to four—in recent weeks. I can endorse that, because I went there a fortnight ago to catch a train to Nottingham, and found that although the train had not been taken off it had been put back, made slower, and, what is worse, had no buffet car which earlier it had. Therefore, I went to St. Pancras, where I caught a much more comfortable train.

The problem of the suburban traffic is a little more difficult, and here I have a constituency interest, because one branch, or perhaps both branches, of the line which diverge on leaving Marylebone go through my constituency. One of them has two stations on it—Wembley Hill and Sudbury, while the other line has no station at all on it until it reaches Harrow. There is a certain amount of traffic coming through from High Wycombe and Beaconsfield, which, presumably, would have to be catered for in some other way.

There is another point, that Marylebone is still used on certain Saturday afternoons in the year, for instance, on Cup Final day and when there are other football matches. I am referring to a code of football different from the one which my hon. Friend at one time used to play, but which is seen at Wembley Stadium. On such days Marylebone is fairly busy. What I am wondering is whether the tracks can be maintained and, possibly, as my hon. Friend has suggested, might be taken underground and connected up with the Bakerloo Tube. I think that is something that might be considered. There is tremendous pressure during the rush hour on both the Bakerloo Tube and the Metropolitan Line which runs alongside the old Great Central line going northwards. I imagine that a relief tube line would be of great benefit to London Transport, at least in the peak hours. Presumably. it might help London Transport to carry the persons who will be displaced from Marylebone on the other line which joins the Great Western.

Apart from the railway aspect, I suggest that even if the station is not removed there is surely space upon which could be built either multi-storey garages or flats, or probably both, or something of that nature, in order to make the railway station more economic if the station itself is not demolished. I think it is London's youngest railway terminal. If the railway history which I read in my youth is correct, 1897 was the year in which the Great Central Railway came into London to Marylebone.

There is one other point concerning the route of the line after leaving Marylebone. It goes into a tunnel under the nursery end of Lord's Cricket Ground, which I do not think anyone would wish to see destroyed or removed. It then goes on through a good residential district—St. John's Wood—which again nobody would want to see ruined. I think there is consolation in that respect, because the borough council is widening Wellington Road, I imagine with the idea of making it more suitable for taking traffic leading to M.1 and the Great North Road. I gather that there are also proposals for widening the Finchley Road further north. I think the tracks could be used for other purposes, and certainly a great area of the station ought to be able to be used for multi-storeyed garages or blocks of flats or something of that kind.

I hope that in the next few months there will be a tremendous drive towards solving the parking problem. From what we have heard of the activities of my right hon. Friend over Christmas, I think we can say that he is not only clearing the streets of parked cars and continuing the Pink Zone, but that he should provide multi-storeyed garages which will be complementary to parking meters. If he can do that, I suggest that he might start at Marylebone, which is a very little way outside the actual centre of London, where he might be able to prevent some of the traffic now coming into the centre from doing so. I hope that a great deal of notice will be taken of what my hon. Friend has said so that we may put this station to a very much better use.

7.59 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. John Hay)

I am now getting quite used to having to stand at this Dispatch Box in an Adjournment debate and tell the House, with regret, that the matter raised is one of day-to-day management for the British Transport Commission, and that, therefore, there is not a great deal that I can say. But although the subject of tonight's debate is partly a matter of day-to-day management for the Commission, my hon. Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Sir W. Wakefield) has raised a number of wider issues that do not, I think, fall strictly within that definition, and I should like to deal with them.

I want first, however, to say something about the position of Marylebone Station itself—and about its future, which is the issue raised by my hon. Friend. I am informed by the Commission that it has plans for the continued use of this area of ground that it occupies and owns at Marylebone. Its usefulness falls into two parts: the goods yard, and the passenger station and its approaches.

I understand that the goods yard is not completely disused, although the Commission believes that it could be put to better use in future. Its wish is to redevelop the whole of the goods yard, principally to provide a main parcels concentration depôt. The project to do this is being worked out by the London Midland Region, which is responsible, but the present situation is that the scheme has not yet been submitted to the Commission itself for approval, nor has it been put into the Commission's programme of works. However, I understand that it is intended that the goods yard project should go forward as quickly as possible—

Sir W. Wakefield

Would it not be desiderable at this stage—because of the importance of this area for redevelopment for road use, parking, and so on —to consider the use of Neasden or Finchley, as I have suggested, for parcels and their distribution? Would not my hon. Friend make representations on that point to the Commission?

Mr. Hay

I think that my hon. Friend is asking me to do a little more than I dare do tonight. I would not like to make representations, but I shall certainly bring his views and observations to the notice of the Commission. It is not the job of the Minister of Transport, still less is it mine, to run the railways. That is the Commission's job, and any question of the redevelopment of part of its undertaking, or the closing or expansion of any parts of it, is the responsibility of the Commission, placed on it by Parliament.

I should now like to say something about the passenger station. It is not the case that it is becoming disused, or that it will eventually be hardly used at all. A much fuller reconstruction is planned by the Commission for the passenger station although, in this case, the proposals have not yet gone so far ahead as have those for the goods yard. What is envisaged at this stage is that an office block for the Commission should be built there, and that there should also be accommodation for its electrical engineering staff. As I have said, this project is not very far advanced, though the Commission definitely has it in mind.

Next, a word about the traffic position at Marylebone. It is true to say that whereas this has been a very busy station in the past it is less busy at the moment, but the Commission does not envisage that it will continue to be a less busy station. In fact, it thinks that, if all goes well, the amount of traffic will increase considerably as the years go by.

As the House has already been told, Marylebone was originally the terminal for the Great Central Line, and the Great Central Line into Marylebone was originally developed in competition with the routes into Euston and St. Pancras. With the integration of the railway system, the need for this alternative, and slower. route for passenger services between London, the Midlands and the North Country has very largely disappeared. In any case, faced as it is with the need to streamline its services and to concentrate and improve those that it is best fitted to provide, the Commission could not afford to continue the uneconomic competition between all these lines.

Therefore, as part of its modernisation plan, the London Midland Region is planning to increase its main-line services from Euston and St. Pancras. Because of the work connected with the electrification of the Euston-Crewe-Liverpool line, it will not for some time be possible for the region to carry as much freight traffic as before and, as a consequence, some will be diverted on to the old Great Central Line into St. Marylebone.

Traffic on this line is restricted by the length of double track north of Harrow-on-the-Hill. As hon. Members know, it has to be shared with the Metropolitan Line, run by the London Transport Executive from Baker Street. The effect of this present restriction will be reduced when the quadrupling of the track as far as Moor Park has been completed, but it will still be necessary to restrict long-distance passenger services so as to allow for the increase in the daily commuter traffic and the freight traffic which, as I have already said, is being diverted from the Euston line.

Even when the electrification of the Euston line is completed and it is able to handle the additional freight, the Commission assures me that the Marylebone line will still be used to capacity. It will deal with freight traffic, and with the increased commuter traffic arising from the development around Aylesbury and Amersham—I see my hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) is present—and the steadily increasing parcels traffic of the whole region, for which, as I have already said, the goods yard at Marylebone is intended to be specially adapted.

As hon. Members have remarked, there are not many long-distance services from Marylebone at the moment. There are four services a day between Leicester, Loughborough and Nottingham—the long-distance passenger services that formerly ran between Marylebone, Sheffield, Manchester and Bradford were withdrawn on 4th January last.

I hope that what I have said about the prospects both far the redevelopment of the land that at present appears unused and for the traffic at the passenger station, makes it clear that it is by no means a simple or easy thing to say that Marylebone Station as a whole has come to an end of its useful life, that it should be pulled down, and that the line should be used for other purposes. I hope that what I have said about the probabilities of passenger traffic for the future makes it clear to my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth) that we would have to look very carefully indeed at his suggestion for using the railway track for a motorway. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport is full of bright ideas and would certainly examine the possibility of building motorways or other fast motor roads over railways, but this is obviously a very long-term matter. It is certainly not something that we could do overnight. It would need a good deal of examination. Every route would Present a dozen problems, such as tunnels and cuttings, and, of course, it would be a highly-expensive operation. However, I think that I can say that this is by no means completely ruled out, and we are continuing to examine it as care fully as we can.

A good deal of the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for St. Marylebone was concerned with the reorganisation of the Transport Commission. I do not think that anyone would deny that, as at present constituted, the Commission is going through a difficult period. Some of my hon. Friend's suggestions as to the hiving off of some of the Commission's activities, would, as your predecessor, in he Chair. Mr. Deputy-Speaker, pointed out, require legislation, so I cannot comment on those suggestions tonight.

Similarly, we shall think very carefully of his suggestion that there might be a great deal of decentralisation of the Commission's activities, and I am grateful to him for making it. Nevertheless, to be fair, the Commission has represented to my right hon. Friend that there is very little scope left here, as there is already a fairly wide measure of decentralisation.

The major question with which my hon. Friend was concerned was the more profitable use of land owned by the Commission, and he instanced, of course, the land at Marylebone Station. He asked whether it would be possible for the Commission to develop more profitably land that it does not need for operational purposes. It is not easy, within the bounds of order, to go into that matter in all the detail I should like, but perhaps I may begin by telling the House what the statutory position is.

The foundation of the Commission's powers in Section 2 of the Transport Act, 1947. To that Section there is a proviso that the Commission shall not … construct, manufacture or otherwise produce anything which is not required … for use for purposes of their under taking… That prohibition means that the development of land on the normal commercial basis on which a private individual or private company would develop it, is restricted.

What the Commission is able to do under this Act is to sell any land that it does not need, to let to outside developers land that it does not need—in which case it can receive only the ground rent and not a rack rent—and to develop for its own operational purposes what land it has. What it cannot do is to develop land by building upon it, for example, offices or shops and then letting the buildings out at rack rents. This doctrine is not our fault; it is in the Act which was passed some years ago.

Mr. E. G. Willis (Edinburgh, East)

It was passed by Parliament.

Mr. Hay

As the hon. Member says, it was passed by Parliament. So far does this doctrine go that I am informed that the Commission cannot even build and let shops on station concourses or on the approach roads to station buildings. It is prohibited from doing that by the Act.

Secondly, it cannot carry out what is sometimes called hybrid development, which means development partly for letting to some other organisation or firm and partly for retention for its own operational purposes. There is a general prohibition under the Act preventing the Commission from doing that. In certain specific individual cases, however, it has been done because it has been specially authorised by Parliament by the annual British Transport Commission Act. For example, I understand that proposals for the hybrid development of Euston Station are contained in the British Transport Commission Bill which will shortly come before the House.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

Will my hon. Friend clear up one point? Are the developments of the kind which he is mentioning matters of day-to-day management on which he is answering only as a matter of courtesy or are they matters on which the Minister must be consulted and on which we can, therefore, question him in the House?

Mr. Hay

That is a rather difficult question to answer, because one is never quite certain where the boundaries of this doctrine of day-to-day management are drawn. For example, if the Transport Commission wishes to carry out a large redevelopment project for one of its stations, as is the case, strictly speaking it would be a matter of day-to-day management for it to decide what it wanted to do. But that is only part of the story. The Commission's capital investment, the money which it would need to carry out that redevelopment plan, has to be provided, under existing legislation, by the Exchequer. For that purpose—I hope that I am stating this correctly—the Commission would have to come to my right hon. Friend, the Minister of Transport. I hope that my hon. Friend sees that there is a difficulty in drawing a hard-and-fast line.

That is the general statutory position, and I have no doubt that if the Transport Commission were, in general terms, given liberty to do these two things, which I have mentioned and which it is at present unable to do—the development of land and letting it at rack rents and the carrying out of hybrid develpments—it would be of benefit to the Commission in a number of ways. It would be of financial benefit. One can gauge the extent by saying that on its present powers, on straight lettings at ground rents, the Commission's income is £5 million a year. This has risen by £3 million a year since 1948. If I may say so with respect, my hon. Friend the Member for St. Marylebone made a slight error when he said earlier that the income had risen by £5 million. The current level of the Commission's income from the lettings of its properties is £5 million. It was £2 million in 1948 and it has risen by £3 million since then. If the Commission could develop on the hybrid basis which I mentioned, it estimates that it could increase its income from some of its sites by between twice and five times what it is getting form ground rent at the moment. That would obviously be a financial benefit.

Economically, too, there would be a benefit. It would certainly improve the Commission's capital position, because the book value of the land which it holds but does not need for its operational requirements would come more into line with the real value.

Thirdly, I think that there would be some planning advantages. If the commission were in a position to arrange its own development, to let out that part which it wished to develop and to retain other parts for its operational purposes, it would be much easier to marry the two. The Commission itself thinks that if it had these general powers it would obtain planning permission from the local authorities much more easily than the a private developer would be able to do.

I want to say a little more to explain to the House how wide this matter goes. It is important to bear in mind that at the moment the Commission owns land for which it has no immediate operational requirements, valued in its books at £28 million. The most recent figure is given on page 55 of the Annual Accounts of the Transport Commission, which show that land and buildings not in operational use are valued at £28,335,767 as at 31st December, 1958. This is a pretty sizeable chunk of land which we are discussing.

As the modernisation plan proceeds and uneconomic branch lines, un economic stations and uneconomic marshalling yards are closed, so the amount of land which the Commission will have coming back to it, and for which it will have no immediate operational requirements, will rise. I mention this to show the extent and size of the problem.

Since 1948 the Commission has been disposing of a good deal of its land. It has sold land worth £10 million. Currently, sales are going on wherever it is possible to make them. Two recent examples will come to mind. The first is the projected sale of what is called the Bluebell line, in Sussex, where railway enthusiasts are so angry at the closure of their favourite line that they have been banding together to raise the money to buy the line and run it them-selves. The other more recent example is the sale of some of the railways in Norfolk to the local authorities to be turned into roads. These are examples of the way in which the Commission tries to get rid of surplus land by sale, but it makes it perfectly clear that it would feel much happier if it had the opportunity of developing the property on a commercial basis instead of selling it.

The exact position at the moment is that the Commission has asked my right hon. Friend whether he would be willing to introduce legislation to enable it to have these two general powers. At the moment that is under consideration. I think that there is a lot to be said for the policy of giving greater freedom to the Commission to develop its land and to let it on a commercial basis, but we should not disguise the fact that there are certain arguments against it. I mention them not to say that I support them, but simply to show that my right hon. Friend has a difficult decision to make. I will mention only two of the big arguments which are sometimes put against it. The first is this: to what extent is it right that a nationalised industry should be permitted to compete in a field which is normally reserved for private enterprise?

Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)

We have heard that before.

Mr. Hay

I said specifically that I do not support it. I am putting the argument and saying that these are some of the considerations which have to be taken into account.

Mr. Ross

It is a dogma.

Mr. Hay

It may be a dogma, but Presumably it was a dogma raised when the Transport Act was going through Parliament, otherwise what reason would there be for including the words in the Act which I read to the House, in these very clear and definite terms limiting the Commission in carrying out this type of activity? Presumably they were put there for a reason, and I can only think that at that time—we were not in office in those days—views were held that this was a thing which ought not to be allowed to the Commission. Whether the situation has changed in the intervening years is a matter for consideration and discussion. I mention it merely because it is one of the things which my right hon. Friend has to bear in mind.

The second argument against this is rather more serious in some ways. It is clear that if any policy of redevelopment of its surplus land were carried out by the Commission, a good deal more capital would be needed to do the job. As I have said, the position about capital is that the Commission goes to the Treasury for all its borrowings for capital purposes and since 1956, when this was instituted by the Finance Act, £326 million has already been advanced by the Treasury to meet the capital borrowings of the Transport Commission.

This money has been earmarked principally for modernisation. Any Minister and any Government would have to think very carefully before being prepared to give the Commission by legislation carte blanche to go ahead and spend a great deal more capital in developing properties on something of a speculative basis, because it must inevitably be of a speculative character.

Sir W. Wakefield

Does my hon. Friend not agree that it is desirable, where the Transport Commission has property which could be developed, that private interests, capable of developing that property and with money available, should be allowed to do it in partnership with the Commission? If that could be done, it might well be a fruitful partnership between the taxpayers' money and private interests which might be of great advantage to the community as a whole.

Mr. Hay

I do not necessarily dissent from that, but I should like to have the opportunity of looking at the legal position. It might well be that the Transport Act, 1947, prohibits something of that kind being done; on the other hand, it might not. I would hesitate before giving a categorical reply to my hon. Friend and saying "Yes, by all means it should be done", or, "No, it cannot be done".

In the time available to me—I am in a happier position tonight than on some previous occasions—I have tried to cover the ground which my hon. Friends have already covered in their speeches. I can only tell the House, in conclusion, that my right hon. Friend is giving the utmost thought to whether it is possible to introduce legislation to assist the Commission in the way it has asked. I cannot announce a decision tonight or forecast when that decision will be taken, but I can say that there is every indication that there is still a need for Marylebone Station. My right hon. Friend will certainly consider the observations made by hon. Members, and I hope that they, in turn, will realise that it is not so simple a matter as they might have thought.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-three minutes past Eight o'clock.