§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
§ 7.1 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. John Hay)
On a point of order. May I ask you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, if you would be good enough to rule on this matter of which I have given you notice.
1162 This is the first Bill to be presented by one of the nationalised transport Boards as successors to the British Transport Commission, and I think that, following precedent, it is customary for the Chair to give a ruling as lo the scope of debate, matters which are in order and matters which are not in order, on the Second Reading of this Bill. May I ask if, for the guidance of this House, you would be good enough to give us that information.
I understand that this is a general purposes Bill. Therefore, anything which is concerned with the administration of the railways can be discussed. In this particular Bill, however, there are certain exceptions which do not fall within its scope, namely, anything to do with hotels, fares in London and certain port charges. Otherwise the debate can go pretty wide.
§ Mr. John Dugdale (West Bromwich)
I beg to move, to leave out "now" and at the end of the Question to add "upon this day six months".
I recognise the need for a Bill. Quite plainly, there must be a Bill, and it would be absurd to say that the Railways Board should have brought in no Bill at all. Much of the Bill is admirable, much of it will be agreed upon without exception, but there are certain parts of it which will not be agreed upon.
If I may, so to speak, declare my interest, I should like to say at the outset that I am speaking basically on behalf of the Association of Municipal Corporations, which has objected to the Bill. The Association has had a number of letters from various people in different parts of the country. I understand that the Members representing constituencies or places such as Brighton, Cambridge, Dagenham, Derby, Fleetwood, Folkestone, Godalming, Hendon, Maidstone, Salford, Shrewsbury and Wembley have all been written to with reference to this Bill. They have all received some kind of protest. Some of them are here today, some are not. One of my hon. Friends representing Salford asked me particularly to say that he took an interest in this. He could not be present but hoped I would raise the question.
1163 Finally, the list includes West Bromwich. In addition, it is right to say that the County Councils Association is also gravely concerned about this Bill, although it has not acted in quite the same way as the Association of Municipal Corporations.
The objection is not to the whole Bill but mainly to Clause 34. That is a very widely drawn, indiscriminate Clause. It is a Clause which cancels a large number of obligations which the railways previously had. If the House will bear with me, I think it might be an advantage if I were to read a portion of the Clause. It deals with contractual obligations and it says:any obligation of the Board under any deed, conveyance, covenant, agreement or other similar instrument to provide or maintain any railway services or facilities (including the provision of stations, sidings or carriages and of any services, facilities or amenities connected therewith), being an obligation which was entered into by any predecessor of the Board as the consideration or part of the consideration for the grant or conveyance, or any agreement for the grant or conveyance, to such predecessor of any land or interest in land for the purposes of, or in connection with, any railway or works connected therewith".I apologise for the length of that quotation, but I think it should be on record. Roughly speaking, it means that in the past the private railway companies wanted to run their lines through certain places, so, I understand, agreement was reached with the owners of those particular properties that they could do so, but on condition that they themselves carried out certain obligations, and it is the obligations that the railways had to carry out which are in question here today. It is these obligations which I understand the railways now do not wish to carry out, and it is these obligations about which the local authorities are disturbed.
May I for a moment consider which agreements are to be set aside. Mr. Speaker, the list is so vague, so long—as hon. Members will have understood from my reading of it—and the time is so short that had there not been this objection to the Bill it would have been impossible to have petitioned against the removal of any of these obligations. In many cases, the local authorities think a certain obligation should still be maintained by the railways. Others they think should not be maintained, but they can get no list of obligations. They can- 1164 not collect the information necessary in time to make petitions in regard to certain obligations. It is in order to see that this matter is cleared up and does not go by default, as it would have done otherwise had this Bill not been objected to, that I took occasion to object to it so that we might discuss it tonight.
As a result, the first thing that has happened is that a letter has been received from the solicitor to the railways, who said that there was no intention of setting aside all these obligations. That is all right as far as it goes, but a letter is not a law, and it is very important that we should get more than just a letter from the solicitor. A letter could, of course, be altered if circumstances changed later on.
What did these agreements deal with, and what are the obligations which were entered into? I will mention a few of them. They deal with level crossings, stations, sidings for refuse disposal or public abbatoirs, embankments, tunnels, fences and all protection works. What it would appear to mean is that if the railways so decide they could say that some particular tunnel or embankment need be kept up no longer. It might fall in, it might even cause an accident as a result of falling in, but nothing need be done about it. The railways would disown all responsibility and that would be the end of it.
Not only that, but there is also the very important question of footpaths. In West Bromwich alone, my own constituency, there are two level crossings and twelve roads or footpaths which could be affected. I imagine they could be closed or done away with altogether if the railways felt so disposed.
§ Mr. Dugdale
The hon. Gentleman shakes his head. I am glad to see it, but that was what appeared to me to be the position, subject to something which I shall mention later, which the Minister knows about.
Even in the case of my own constituency, we had to find out how many roads and footpaths would be affected, and in the case of many other constituencies they have probably not discovered it yet and it would have been too late for them to discover it had not this objection not been raised.
1165 I want to make one thing very clear indeed, and that is that I am only talking here about local authorities. I am not entering into the question of private agreements. There may be others who wish to do so. In particular, I am not entering into the question of the Duke of Beaufort's agreement. I am sure we are all sorry for him. Apparently he is a very distressed man. It is a sad thing; here is this great gentleman who unfortunately finds that there is no railway station between Swindon and South Wales at which a train will stop and he has to go in his motor car to Swindon. It is a great hardship for him, and we are distressed that it could happen to him, but that is not the point I am bringing up at the moment. I am not concerned, for instance, with the question discussed by the Daily Express when it said that apparently the last occasion when the Duke asked an express to halt was just before Christmas for the benefit of a party travelling from Badminton House to London. I am not worried about that, however distinguished the party might have been. However, I am worried about what is being done about the obligations of local authorities. It is a point which should be brought up and which the House should discuss.
Why has the Bill been brought in? I think it is because of the Government's determination to make the railways pay at all costs. The railways are today providing, so far as I can see, increasingly a service for the rich rather than for the poor. I will give an instance. I frequently have occasion when visiting my constituency to go in a train which stops at only one place on the way. It is not a little village where somebody might want to get into a train. It is the suburb of Solihull where all the millionaires of Birmingham live. The train is full of millionaires and the fortunate Members of Parliament who go on it. This shows the kind of policy which is being followed, and it is a very unfortunate one.
There is one luxury which the railways do not want to give up. I speak with considerable diffidence, because many people know far more about it than I do. It is the luxury of dieselisation, which has deprived our coal mines of many chances of disposing of coal. I am not sure that dieselisation has been a successful experiment. The other day when I was on my way back from Birmingham the train 1166 stopped—for more than half an hour. I asked the ticket collector why it had stopped and he said "It is quite simple. It has just run out of fuel." I never heard of that happening in the day of the steam train, but it happened in this case. It was the first occasion I had ever known of a train kept waiting for over half an hour because it had run out of fuel. I suppose someone ran back and fetched some more.
This kind of luxury has to be paid for, and it is a very expensive operation. One of the methods of paying for it is to get rid of these obligations. That is why it is important that we should discuss whether the railways should get rid of these obligations or not.
The Bill is ruthless, vague and dictatorial. I am glad to see, however, that there appears to be some change of heart on the part of the railways, because they find that unexpectedly, apparently Parliament takes some interest in what they do and so they are not able to be dictators in their own house. An open letter has been sent from the Railways Board to the Association of Municipal Corporations suggesting a possible Amendment, in Clause 34, page 24, line 5, after "facilities" insertfor the carriage of passengers or goods by railway".That is definitely an improvement. It limits the amount of obligations which the railways can get out of. But I am not certain that it is enough.
What the Association of Municipal Corporation would really like—I sincerely suggest to the Minister that he should ascertain whether this can be secured—is that the words "facilities or amenities" in line 7 should be deleted altogether. I understand that this would cover most of the objections. It is true that this is a very complicated Clause, but I think that if those words were deleted it would enable the railways to do much of the work that they want to do and get rid of many of the obligations which are unnecessary but at the same time to retain those obligations which the municipal corporations and the county councils consider desirable.
If this can be done, I believe that the Bill will go through unopposed without any further difficulty. The Bill has many excellent features. I hope that, having heard this plea and having heard other 1167 hon. Members speak, the Minister will eventually be able to say that the railways can consider the possibility of deleting the words I mentioned. If they can do so, I think the Bill will go through with the concurrence of the Association of Municipal Corporations and the County Councils Association as well.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)
The right hon. Member for West Bromwich (Mr. John Dugdale) has very clearly put the case for the objection of the local authorities to the Bill, and in particular to Clause 34. But it is not only the local authorities which object to the Clause. It is not only the landed gentry with the private stations who object to it.
The Clause seems to me to give extensive powers of compulsory purchase, and the House has always been very careful about granting these either to a nationalised body or to local authorities. In granting powers of compulsory purchase, whether compulsory purchase of land, easements or rights such as in Clause 34, the House has always given the person from whom the rights are to be acquired two protective rights. The first is the right to question whether the compulsory acquisition can be justified—whether, even though the power to acquire compulsorily has been given by Statute, it is right to exercise it in the particular case. The second protective right to the person on whom the right is to be acquired is that of having the price properly valued, generally by the Lands Tribunal.
The Clause certainly gives that second right so far as the valuation of the price is concerned, but it gives no right to the person from whom the property or the rights are to be acquired to question whether the acquisition in a certain case is justified. The result is that by the Clause the Board is the complete judge of what right, property or easement it shall take away from anybody, and no one can say it nay. The unfortunate victim can only go to the Lands Tribunal and say, "My property was worth so much. I want compensation for it." As to questioning whether it is the right thing to do, there is no public inquiry and no appeal to the Minister that the victim can have. The Board has com- 1168 plete power under the Clause to destroy contractual rights.
As the right hon. Gentleman indicated, Clause 34 (2) says that:No action or other proceedings shall be instituted or continued against the Board for the purpose of enforcing any contractual obligation or awarded obligation.Subsection (1) describes what is meant by "contractual obligation", saying that itmeans any obligation of the Board under any deed, conveyance, covenant, agreement or other similar instrument to provide or maintain any railway services or facilities".I repeat "any" and "facilities", because these are very wide words. The subsection goes on:(including the provision of stations, sidings or carriages and of any services, facilities or amenities connected therewith)".These are very extensive words, and there is no description in the Bill of exactly what contracts the Board wishes statutorily to break.
Under this Clause the Board could, without any public inquiry, and without any appeal to the Minister, close a level crossing which might split a farm or a village in half. The Board could take away the rights of fencing. There are many instances in which the railways have the responsibility of providing fencing to prevent cattle straying on to the railway line. The Board could destroy these contractual obligations. The Board has a duty to support the land by embankments, to support the land above a tunnel, and so on. These are contractual obligations which could be destroyed willy-nilly by Clause 34. Many factories have extremely valuable rights to have sidings. Clause 34 would enable the Board to escape those obligations.
I do not know of any other case in which the House has given these wide powers without stating exactly the land, or the property, or the right over which they are to be exercised. One need only refer to other Clauses in this Bill to see that that is so. Clause 18 gives the Board power to acquire land. The Board is also given power to close level crossings, but in all those instances there are subsections which provide the right to compensation. Not only that, but the Clauses and the Schedule specify the actual land, or the actual level crossing, which is to be taken away.
1169 The individual who is entitled to the rights of that land, or the rights to go through a particular level crossing, or whatever it may be, will, by this Bill, know exactly what is being taken from him. He has the right to petition this House or the other place. He has a right to be heard, and to have judgment as to whether this is the right way to exercise these rights over his level crossing, but those who will be subject to Clause 34 will not know what they are to lose before this Bill is passed. Clause 34 does not specify the contract which is to be broken, or the property which is to be taken, and the individual will not have a right to petition against this Bill and say, "You do not need my property. You do not need to take away my right". He will not have that right to petition or call for any public inquiry. He will not be able to appeal to anyone. The Board will be able to exercise its rights completely and dictatorially under Clause 34 as it stands.
I heard for the first time from the right hon. Gentleman that there had been an offer to amend this Clause to add after "facilities" the words "for the carriage of passengers and goods by rail". That does not get us out of the difficulty with regard to sidings or level crossings. These are still facilities for the carriage of passengers or goods by rail.
I do not think that any Amendment of that sort would make Clause 34 satisfactory. It would not avoid this serious constitutional point that previously when Parliament has given powers of compulsory acquisition it has given to the individual, the victim of these powers, the right to question in some way or other, either by petition to this House or some appeal to a Minister, the exercise of the power against him. Clause 34, whether it stands as at present drafted, or is amended in the way suggested, deprives the individual of that right, and this is not the sort of power which we should give even to a nationalised industry.
§ 7.25 p.m.
§ Mr. John Hynd (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
I am inclined to agree with the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page). I am not satisfied with the suggested Amendment, because the elimination of the phrase "railway services or facilities" leaves the words 1170including the provision of stations, sidings or carriagesand other services, and the qualification of limiting this to the carriage of passengers and goods does not, in my view, meet the case.
I appreciate that there is a certain amount of reason behind this proposal. The case of the Duke of Beaufort has been referred to, and there are probably hundreds of cases in which, perhaps a hundred years ago, agreements were made by the railway companies to provide certain facilities to individuals, or groups of individuals, in return for land. But these agreements are out of date, and one cannot expect the railways to be bound for ever by them and the case referred to is perhaps the classic one.
Nevertheless, I am disturbed about the scope of the Bill which will enable the Railways Board to do pretty well what it likes with any kind of contract it has ever entered into, without any reference to the convenience or amenities of the people with whom the agreement has been made. It is true that reference is made to compensation, but compensation will not meet the case in every instance, and I am concerned particularly about the position of authorities like the Sheffield authority which may or may not be a special case.
Over the last hundred years Sheffield has entered into a number of special contracts with the different railway authorities which have existed over that period. These agreements have made it possible for Sheffield to develop intricate and complicated local services covering such things as special sidings serving sewage disposal works, cleansing department destructors, facilities provided by the highway department, bridges, under-passes, watercourses, walls, fences, level crossings, easements, wayleaves, and so on. One cannot imagine that the Railways Board intends to cancel these agreements, but nevertheless it is possible, under the terms of this Bill, for it to do so if it wants to, with great damage to the Sheffield authority, and naturally that authority is concerned about the situation.
Although I recognise that there is a basic necessity for some cleansing action of this kind, before I agree to give the Bill a Second Reading I should have to 1171 be satisfied that the wording would be amended to ensure that the kind of situation to which I have referred could not arise, and I should therefore like to hear what the Minister has to say about this.
Incidentally, I notice that Clause 34 (3) says:This section shall not extend to Scotland.Perhaps the Minister will tell us why not. I think that the Scottish railways are in pretty much the same situation as the others. If there is any question of another Bill being introduced, I hope that the Minister will say so, because some of my hon. Friends would like to be warned well in advance.
I hope that the Minister will be able to assure us that the position of Sheffield will be safeguarded, just as the position of the Railways Board will be safeguarded, which is apparently the intention of the Bill.
§ 7.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)
I can understand the right hon. Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Dugdale) and my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) being alarmed about Clause 34. It certainly is widely drawn, but I hope they will appreciate the history behind this sort of thing. The obligations to which the railways were liable—and to which in some cases, as far as I know, they are still liable—were themselves very wide and very vague. I remember very clearly a number of years ago when I was still in the legal service of the Great Western Railway my employers being called upon by a landowner in Somerset to rebuild and renew his lodge and lodge gates, which, incidentally, were not close to the railway. The landowner maintained that he had the right to have this done. After a lot of trouble we found a file of correspondence included among which was a letter in longhand written by Brunel himself in a beautiful flowing hand, which read something like this:My dear Sir George. Thank you for your excellent lunch. I shall be delighted to shoot your partridges next Thursday. Yours very faithfully, Isambard Kingdom Brunel.P.S. This is to put on record that in consideration of your allowing us to build our railway through your Long Acre field we will maintain your lodge and lodge gates in perpetuity"—which according to the landowner put an obligation upon the railway to main- 1172 tain the lodge and lodge gates whether or not the railway continued. There were many obligations of that kind. It must be remembered that, in the early days, railways were built in an atmosphere of hysteria and very quickly, within a period of 10 or 15 years, when two parties were opposing each other on grounds of emotion, not on economic grounds. One party was determined to get the railways through anyhow with the determination of a religious revivalist, while the other party was opposing any change with the fanaticism of the Inquisition. Economic considerations did not enter into the matter and many of the obligations which arose within the period were quite ridiculous.
There were instances when the railway line was deliberately put into a tunnel quite unnecessarily in order to avoid disturbing game coveys. I remember one who was an hon. Member of this House for many years and is now in another place telling me that his ancestor had the right to stop the railway operating at a particular point in Devon whenever he chose to have a shoot, because the movement of trains disturbed the birds; therefore, on the day when he was having a shoot no trains passed. I do not know how many obligations of that kind still persist.
There was another, in the South-West which was even more fantastic, where a landowner never accepted any price at all for his land but took a toll on every ton of coal which passed over that section of the line—which for ever afterwards was known as "the golden mile", but not for its beauty. When I left the railway service some 13 years ago, one year after nationalisation, many of those obligations subsisted and I expect some of them still subsist. No doubt some have been got rid of from time to time, but to get rid of them all we should need a wide and comprehensive Clause and I am not sure that the proposed Amendment would do it.
I suppose that the railway authorities know their own business. There may not be many of these fantastic obligations still subsisting, and perhaps the railway authorities will not need to take the opportunity to get rid of them. I agree with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Crosby that this Clause as drafted could mean anything. Under it the railways 1173 could rescind any obligations they have ever undertaken. It is extraordinarily widely drawn. I hope, therefore, that a new form of words will be included in the Bill, but that they will be wide enough to get rid of such fantastic obligations as still continue which certainly do not belong to this day and age.
§ 7.34 p.m.
§ Mr. J. T. Price (Westhoughton)
The House has been very much entertained by the reminiscences of the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Geoffrey Wilson), who has great experience of the administration of railways; but I am more concerned tonight with, perhaps, a more mundane aspect of the matter, because it will be within the recollection of the Parliamentary Secretary and other hon. Gentlemen present that we spent a lot of time last year on the Transport Bill which split up the British Transport Commission into British Railways, the Holding Companies, the Docks Board and various constituent elements. I was one of those hon. Members of that Committee which sat for many weeks, and months I believe, making strenuous objections to the process, but, nevertheless, in the process of democracy the Government had their way and we were ultimately presented with a segmented reconstruction of what was previously the British Transport Commission.
During those debates we were frequently told by the Minister and his Parliamentary Secretary that one of the main objects of the Government in reconstructing the Transport Authority was to give the railways commercial freedom. I believe that that was a quite reasonable objective for which they produced very good reasons; but while they may have been good debating reasons, I am not sure that all of them were very valid reasons. Nevertheless, those reasons were put forward as a very good case for restoring what was called "commercial freedom"—a means of relieving the railways of all kinds of archaic obligations to act as common carriers, and so on, undertakings into which they had entered many years ago as contractual obligations. That is as far as it went, and I believe that the Bill presented to the House tonight is one of the first fruits of that policy in that it seems to me that the newly-constituted British Railways Board is seeking in this Bill to rid itself not only of future obligations but also of many 1174 of the embarrassments which have come down from many years ago when the railways were first instituted.
I remember being taken on a very interesting tour in a remote part of this Palace some years ago. There are times, sometimes even hours, when I am not fully occupied. That occurs occasionally, if not very often, and sometimes I go wandering round this building, always finding interesting places I have not seen before, although I have been here for many years. At one time I went into the Victoria Tower. By permission of the steward or custodian of that part of the building I entered a lift and after ascending several floors I entered a room in which there were thousands of beautifully engrossed Bills which passed through the House during the period when the railways were being constructed in this country. Many of those documents, apart from being aesthetically beautiful in their calligraphy and use of text and good English expression, in the legal sense, were also remarkable documents. Scrutinising them in the time available I noted that many included very onerous obligations which builders of railways were compelled by owners of land to enter into in order to receive wayleaves to proceed with their work.
The brief reference by the hon. Member for Truro to railway lines which entered tunnels for no reason at all interested me very much. There are quite a number of such railways in Britain. For example, speaking off the cuff and from memory, there was a part of the old Midland Railway, one of the most expensive railway lines in this country. There were certain railways before it, but, ultimately, it became the old Midland Railway whose line proceeded through the Peak of Derbyshire. That was necessary because of the natural character of the terrain; but when it entered into the Derwent Valley it had to pass over land belonging to the Dukes of Rutland and Devonshire. As one comes down that line today one comes through a long tunnel near Haddon Hall. There was no need at all for that tunnel except to protect the amenities of the estate.
These are the kind of ancient survivals which anybody would say ought to be swept away, but I take a rather different view of the general consensus of the Bill in the sense that I believe that the right 1175 hon. Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Dugdale) has performed a service to this House in forcing this short debate to take place. Far too many things go through this House on the nod. We have just agreed to the expenditure of £1,600 million on the nod in our last debate, after having talked about quite another matter—but that is something that I should be out of order in developing.
My right hon. Friend has performed a public service, because although I am no medievalist or Conservative—if I were I would not be on this side of the House —I have a proper respect for contractual obligations. I have always accepted it as a rule that if I entered into a contract with anybody, even if I were forced to do so by adverse circumstances and did not like the contract at all, I would keep it until I was able to have it amended honourably, by agreement with the other party concerned.
Reference has been made to Clause 34, and although I do not go so far as the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page)—who is very diligent in these matters—as reading it to mean that it gives the railways compulsory powers to purchase land without the proper process of inquiry, I agree that it relieves the railway authorities of contractual obligations entered into by their predecessors according to the circumstances of the day, and I do not think that this should be done in an arbitrary manner. In this House and elsewhere I have always objected to unilateral disarmament, and I object to the unilateral disarmament proposed in the Bill. If there is to be a variation of contracts it is reasonable for hon. Members to make sure that those contracts are varied only after a consideration of all the elements involved—the obligations, duties and rights conferred by the operation of those contracts.
I speak with great trepidation in the presence of the Parliamentary Secretary, who is a trained lawyer, but I think that he would be the first to agree—and any layman knows—that in any contract there must be a consideration, otherwise the contract is not valid. If these contracts, entered into in order that the railways should come into existence, are to be swept away in this manner, a good deal of injustice may be done to all kinds of people, including local authorities.
1176 I apologise for continuing to speak, but I now want to spend a few moments informing the House of a parallel set of circumstances that has often been brought to my notice in my constituency in Lancashire. Long before any nationalisation legislation was put on to the Statute Book, after the private enterprise mine owners had carried out their operations and littered the countryside with the dross and rubbish which those operations inevitably involved, in too many 9ases they disappeared, leaving the local authorities with all the obligations to maintain bridges and footpaths and all kinds of rights of access to land which had been impeded by the mining industry. The effects of those operations are still with us, on quite a large scale. In many cases it is impossible to find who is really responsible for maintaining certain previously existing rights of way.
I make no apology for referring to other Clauses besides Clause 34. Clause 24, which concerns the extinction of private rights of way, says:All private rights of way over any land that may be acquired compulsorily under this Act shall, as from the acquisition of the land, whether compulsorily or by agreement, be extinguished".As an old member of the Footpaths Preservation Society—in which I took a great interest at one time—I strongly object to a body being given the power to extinguish rights of way without proper inquiry and a proper examination of all the factors involved, whether that body be a nationalised industry or a private undertaking.
The hon. Member for Crosby made some play about the extraordinary power granted to the Board under Clause 34. That is retrospective, and not in the future. Clause 27, however, says:The powers of the Board for the compulsory purchase of the lands and easements which they are authorised to acquire by this part of this Act shall cease on the thirty-first day of December, nineteen hundred and sixty-six".In other words, at the end of the day the Board will be in a weaker position than it is now when it wants to acquire land. That is the other side of the coin. That factor also requires consideration.
In Clause 29 all the awkward things that the Board is empowered to do are excused the Crown. The Clause provides:Nothing in this Act affects prejudicially any estate, right, power, privilege or exemption 1177 of the Crown and in particular, and without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing, nothing in this Act authorises the Board to take, use or in any manner interfere with any land, hereditaments, subjects or rights of whatsoever description belonging to Her Majesty in right of her Crown …That is Crown privilege with a vengeance.
§ Mr. Price
If I am wrong the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to put me on the rails again. I hesitate to go on further, but I must point out that the Bill is teeming with controversial items. It may be a short Bill, and it may be desirable to give the Board many of these powers. I am not one to deny a nationalised industry the reasonable powers which it requires to conduct its business. But the Bill is much too far-reaching. It is evidence of the fact that the Government want to make it easier for British Railways to divest themselves of some of their properly and put it on to the property market—as was indicated in the debates on the Transport Bill last year.
Therefore, I am sceptical. I do not wish to be unkind and say that I am critical, but I am extremely sceptical about a comprehensive Bill of this kind which gives far-reaching powers to a public authority to annul contracts arbitrarily and without proper inquiry. The matter should receive the closest scrutiny by an examining committee. At the moment, I am persuaded by the speeches that have been made that I ought to support the Amendment of my right hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich.
§ 7.47 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. John Hay)
I hope that hon. Members will allow me to intervene now. It will not prevent other hon. Members speaking later, on other matters, and I think it will be helpful, in order to avoid too many false points being taken, if I now address a few remarks to the House on Clause 34. I have listened to one or two speeches, and I believe that there is a risk of false points being taken.
The representations made to the Ministry, to the Railways Board and, tonight, to the House, in relation to Clause 34, are nearly all on the same 1178 point. Most of them are based on a misunderstanding of the intention of the Clause. Its object is to render unenforceable against the Board contractual obligations to provide railway services and facilities which were entered into by the Board's predecessors —the former railway companies—as the consideration, or part of the consideration, for the sale of land for the construction of the railways.
With all respect to the right hon. Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Dug-dale), we must look very closely at the text of the Clause before we can be sure that it goes as wide as he says. The typical obligation towards which the Clause is directed—and there are many variations of it—is a covenant, either contained in or contemporaneous with a conveyance of land to a railway company requiring that company to provide and to maintain a station for the use of the vendor of the land—and it may be of interest to the House to know that I have been informed by the Railways Board that in the Western Region alone there are over 100 cases of this kind—or, alternatively, to stop some or even all the trains which pass through that station.
May I give briefly one or two contemporary examples? I was interested to hear what my hon. Friend the Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) had to say about the history of this matter, in view of his great deal of experience and love for railway history which he exhibits when he addresses the House on these matters. But I wish to give a few examples——
§ Mr. G. Wilson
Can my hon. Friend say whether the Clause, as it is proposed to amend it, would cover other obligations than railway services which some of us say should not survive?
§ Mr. Hay
I will come to that in due course. I wish to give two or three examples of the sort of mischief at which the Clause is aimed.
Mention has been made of the case of the Duke of Beaufort and Badminton Station. The House will forgive me if I do not go into this case at any length because it is the subject of a petition. The Duke of Beaufort and others have petitioned in connection with this Bill, and I think that the House would not 1179 wish me to say anything which might bring down the balance on one side or the other. But I can state the facts as they exist. As long ago as 7th December, 1899, the Great Western Railway covenanted with the predecessor in title to the present Duke, first, to provide and maintain a station, now know as Badminton, and, secondly, to stop four passenger trains in each direction on every weekday. Since 1961 the local trains between Bristol and Swindon have been taken off. But five main line passenger trains continue to call at Badminton on weekdays. That is one example which has been mentioned a good deal in the Press. I have another two examples which are interesting.
There is the case of the station called Hinton Admiral. An agreement was made in 1882 between the London and South-Western Railway Co. and Sir George Meyrick, Bt., whereby one up and one down train each day may be required to call and to set down or pick up Sir George Meyrick or members of his household. This facility has been used from time to time even in modern times and it always involves a delay to the Bournemouth Express of about five minutes. I am told that about three years ago an arrangement under this agreement had to be made for a train known as the "Royal Wessex" to stop on its downward journey on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays to enable a passenger to alight, a passenger who at the time was attending a course of lectures in London.
There is the case of the station at Stoke Edith on the line between Hereford and Worcester. Under a deed of 5th June, 1853, with a Lady Foley, all passenger trains, except special trains or express trains are to stop at the station, and express trains are to be stopped on notice being given by Lady Foley, her appointees, heirs and assigns or other persons authorised by "her, him or them"—to quote the covenant. This provision is occasionally exercised. These are some of the examples of the sort of thing at which the Clause is aimed.
§ Mr. Dugdale
I did not wish to interrupt the hon. Gentleman during his most interesting recital. But he will be aware that that is not the point I was pressing 1180 or which was being pressed by other hon. Members. The point in which we are interested is quite different. We are not concerned with these private rights at private stations. We are concerned much more with the question of the rights of local authorities.
§ Mr. Hay
That I fully understand and the rest of my speech will be directed to that point. All I was saying was that there has been a misunderstanding about the width of this Clause and the matters with which it is concerned. I hope to demonstrate for the benefit of the right hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members that, in fact, they are under a misapprehension about the purpose of the Clause and the things with which it deals.
Covenants of the kind I have mentioned were not infrequently entered into with landowners when the railways were being constructed. But I hope that I carry the House with me when I say that today we must regard them as something of an anachronism. I would go further and say that I regard them as potential obstacles to the carrying out of the policy of the railways in modern times. If we are to make any impression on the vast deficits of the railways this policy may involve the closing down of uneconomic lines or stations and the withdrawal of unremunerative services. Where a covenant of this kind is enforced, the Board is prevented from closing a line or station concerned unless it can negotiate a release from its obligations from the person entitled to enforce them or by seeking powers from Parliament for a statutory release.
There are precedents for this Clause. In its two Acts of 1959 and 1961 the British Transport Commission did precisely that. It obtained a statutory release from onerous covenants. But whatever procedure has to be adopted, delay and uncertainty inevitably is involved. Were the Board to close a line or a station in ignorance of such a covenant or in the belief—it might be a mistaken belief—that the covenant was now ended or otherwise unenforceable, it is feared that the Board would be potentially liable to legal proceedings to restrain it from so acting or oblige it to restore a service which it had withdrawn. Even if, in the event, the court declined to grant the specific purpose under the covenant and 1181 awarded damages in lieu, inevitably there would still be delay and expense from the existence of covenants of this kind. in the view of the Board it is in any case wrong in principle—bearing in mind the background of Government policy for the railways and the duties imposed on the Board by the Transport Act of 1962 —that private individuals should still retain legal rights, which go far beyond the safeguards of the Act, over railway services or facilities. The Clause, therefore, proposes that contractual obligations to provide railway services and facilities —I stress those words—should not be specifically enforceable in the event of their non-observance by the Board. But, as hon. Members have already said, provision is made for possible compensation to those who would have been entitled to enforce the obligation in the covenant.
May I remind the House, as did the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. J. T. Price), that this Clause is in some ways a logical extension of Section 43 of the Transport Act, 1952. The hon. Gentleman referred to the debate we had on that legislation. That Section relieves the Board from all legal obligations to provide a railway service and facilities for the public as a whole, so far as it is feasible to do so under Public Bill procedure. This Clause relieves the railways of such obligations in respect of individuals. That is something which the transport legislation of last Session could not do—it being a public Measure—without a very serious risk of it being turned into a hybrid.
§ Mr. J. T. Price
If these new powers are sought in this Private Bill, would they divest railway authorities of any obligation to maintain bridges and rights of way on properties which the railways had obtained and leave the matter to the local authorities? It is the local authorities with whom I am concerned and not private individuals.
§ Mr. Hay
I am saying so. The hon. Gentleman will realise that I have to put on record on behalf of the Board—since I am the spokesman of the Board in this House for this purpose—exactly what is the true position. This Clause has caused a great deal of anxiety and I hope the House will bear with me while I try to explain exactly what the position is.
§ Mr. Manuel
Would not the Parliamentary Secretary agree that if legal proceedings arose from this it would not be a matter of what he says that would count but what is in the actual Clause? It is to avoid that type of thing arising in the case of a disused branch line with bridges over it or wayleaves carrying public services. If that is not meant by this provision, why not say so and avoid the fears of town clerks and chairmen of councils up and down the country?
§ Mr. Hay
If the hon. Member will allow me to continue with my speech, I am sure that by the time I sit down illumination will dawn on him and on all interested in this matter. The Clause refers to the same sort of things as are in Section 43 of the Transport Act. If one looks, for example, at Section 43 (5, c) one finds that the very words used in the Clause in this Bill are there. The words in that subsection are:any other railway services or facilities (including the provision of stations, sidings or carriages and of any services, facilities or amenities in connection therewith)".There is the precedent on which the draftsmen of British Railways have drawn. Those words have precisely the same meaning as in Section 43 and from their context in that Section they clearly relate to services or facilities in connection with the carriage of passengers or of goods.
I should have thought in any case that this was the actual meaning, but, as the right hon. Member for West Bromwich said, the Association of Municipal Corporations and various local authorities who have been writing, to hon. Members about the Clause have all expressed the fear that it might relieve the Board from obligations to maintain accommodation works, bridges and other works of that kind.
In the Board's opinion these would not be obligations to provide railway services or facilities, but the Clause is 1183 evidently capable of some misconstruction. As a consequence, the Board has told the Association that it proposes to include in the filled-up Bill to he laid before the Committee to which the Bill is committed an Amendment to insert after the word "facilities" in line 5 on page 24 the words:for the carriage of passengers or goods by railway".The opening words of that subsection would then read:'contractual obligation' means any obligation of the Board under any deed, conveyance, covenant, agreement or other similar instrument to provide or maintain any railway services or facilities for the carriage of passengers or goods by railway"—and, in brackets—(including the provision of stations. sidings or carriages and of any services, facilities or amenities in connection therewith)".There is no doubt in my mind that this is what the Board wants to do. It wants to strike at the type of thing of which I have given three examples and the obligations I have mentioned to maintain stations, being obligations, most of them, as a consequence of a deal done many years ago for the purchase of land. It is not concerned with, and does not intend to disturb, the rights that local authorities, or indeed private individuals, may have for support of bridges, embankments, culverts and things of that sort.
§ Mr. Dugdale
I entirely appreciate that, but what I want made clear is that the local authorities do not think that the words will have that effect. The Railways Board thinks that they will. Can there be consultation between them so that an agreed set of words may be produced to satisfy both of them?
§ Mr. Hay
Yes. We are concerned here only with the Second Reading of the Bill and whether it should be referred to a Committee. When it gets to Committee, obviously consultation will take place between the promoters and those who petition and others concerned. I am told that there is no reason at all why the Amendment offered by the Railways Board should not be considered with the Association of Municipal Corporations, the County Councils Association and anyone else who is interested.
§ Mr. G. Wilson
I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend again, but I am on 1184 a different point. I am saying that certain private rights, unconnected with the carriage of passengers and goods by rail, are absurd and ought to be abolished. I do not know how we can meet both objects, not abolish the rights of municipalities yet at the same time abolish the absurd contractual obligations which go back for many years. Before the Bill reaches Committee, could my hon. Friend look at that, if there is a substantial number? If there is not a substantial number, it does not matter.
§ Mr. Hay
I shall draw what my hon. Friend has said to the attention of the Railways Board. I imagine the reaction will be in the time honoured phrase:I do not ask to seeThe distant scene; one step enough for me.I must emphasise for the benefit of anyone who is anxious about this point that the Bill does not of itself enable any passenger services to be withdrawn because, quite apart from any covenant which may exist, the Board is precluded from doing so without complying with the Transport Users Consultative Committee procedure provided for under Section 56 of the Transport Act, 1962, and it must also obtain the consent of the Minister under subsection (8) of that Section. Even if it followed that procedure and obtained the consent to withdrawal, it would still be unable to proceed until the covenant had been released or discharged by Act of Parliament.
The hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. J. Hynd) raised the question of railway sidings which he feared might be involved in this Clause. I must tell the House that relatively few sidings agreements can have been entered into as the consideration or part of the consideration for the conveyance of land for the construction of railways. The great majority of sidings agreements will have been entered into as commercial transactions quite unconnected with questions of land ownership.
§ Mr. Graham Page
I am really amazed at what my hon. Friend says because there must be hundreds of places within his knowledge up and down the country where factory developers have surrendered land to the railway when building factories in order to have sidings 1185 on that land. This is just the kind of case which would not be covered by the words of the Amendment but which is taken away by Clause 34.
§ Mr. Hay
I am told by the Railways Board that there are probably none. There may be some; the Board is not certain. In any case the Board knows that there are a great many commercial agreements on private sidings. If there are any of the sidings to which my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby has referred they would be caught by this Clause. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe mentioned the fears of Sheffield Corporation about railway sidings serving markets, sewage disposal works, cleansing departments destructors and the highways depot of Sheffield. I can assure him that the Clause will not apply to obligations of the Board in relation to such sidings unless those sidings happen to have been created under the very special circumstances referred to in the Clause. On the face of it, I do not think it very likely, but if there should be any unusual cases of that kind, the Board I understand would be very willing to consider them and to negotiate with those who might be affected.
There is another point with which I should deal here. That is the reference made by my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby to this being a species of compulsory purchase. I have as much dislike of compulsory purchase as he has, but I suggest to him that there is at least some doubt whether rights to services which have been of an almost personal character, as these are, could properly be said to be property and therefore susceptible of compulsory purchase procedure. I do not think that the courts would find that facilities which a person may enjoy are a species of property to which compulsory purchase applies.
§ Mr. Hay
They are not exactly easements over land. I do not propose to give the House the advantage of hearing two solicitors arguing in public. Even if they were easements over land, it is for the Committee to which the Bill is committed to decide such issues. We are concerned tonight with Second Reading. Our job is to say whether the Bill as a whole aid as it now stands should be committed to a Committee. I suggest 1186 that the numerous things in the Bill which will benefit the railways, quite apart from Clause 34, require in the public interest that the Bill should be so committed, and it is that that I would urge the House to do.
§ Major Sir Frank Markham (Buckingham)
Will my hon. Friend deal with places like Trafford Park and other trading estates up and down the country which have a vast railway networking of sidings but no passenger traffic at all? Under the Clause the Railways Board could close down all those sidings and sell what is very good commercial land at very high prices.
§ Mr. Hay
I hope that my hon. and gallant Friend will forgive me. It all depends on the two limbs of the Clause being covered. The first is that the provision of the siding could clearly be said to be a railway service or facility for the carriage of passengers or goods. It may be that the sidings at Trafford Park would comply with that test. The second test is, in the closing words of subsection 1(a), that that interest was created as a direct result of the purchase of land for the railway in the first place. Unless the siding was placed there as part of the deal when the land was originally bought for the railway, it would not come within the ambit of the Clause. It would be an entirely separate transaction. One has to look at both those things.
§ 8.12 p.m.
§ Mr. R. J. Mellish (Bermondsey)
I make just a short intervention to say that I think that the Parliamentary Secretary was right to intervene when he did. Understandably, because of the way the Clause was worded it led a number of us to believe that, in the words of the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page), there was a question here that individual rights could be swept away by the powers taken under the Clause. I think that the Parliamentary Secretary has removed that doubt. He has made it very clear that the wording is concerned only with the relief from contractual obligations to provide railway services where in fact land was sold in the first place. It can, therefore, be said that this is concerned in the main with the removal of the sort of anomalies the Parliamentary Secretary mentioned. No hon. Member would disagree with him that these ought to be removed.
1187 We must recognise the logical consequence. In a few months time we shall get from the Minister of Transport a statement following plans that he will have put before him by Dr. Beeching. It is not an over-statement to say that we shall hear from the Minister of Transport that certain lines and services will have to be curtailed. We can be sure of that. It would be a little odd if the House were to discuss those proposals, which will almost certainly come before us, when at the same time there were certain obligations upon the railways to provide certain services because of agreements made many years ago on the sale of land. If that is what the Clause is about, none of us can quarrel with it.
We owe a debt of gratitude to my right hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Dugdale). He was right to oppose the Second Reading. The Parliamentary Secretary was right to spell out in detail as he saw it from the Front Bench exactly what the Clause means. I am sure that his speech will be quoted many times in future by those interested in this matter. The other thing which is all-important is the assurance that there is a desire on the part of the Railways Board to have discussions with all those parties who are interested. With respect to all hon. Members who have spoken in the debate, we cannot ask for more than that. I very much hope that the Bill receives a Second Reading.
§ Mr. Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)
The Town Clerk and Council of the Borough of Beckenham have also been worried about Clause 34. In a letter to me the Town Clerk says this:As drawn, it seems that the Clause would give the British Railways Board the right to be relieved of its obligations under agreements with local authorities, for example, for the maintenance of accommodation bridges.The words of the Parliamentary Secretary this evening will be very welcome.
I look at any attempt on the part of British Railways to be relieved of its contractual obligations with a particularly jaundiced eye at this moment because of the sweeping cuts that have just been announced in the late night service for the people of my constituency. There may be no written contractual agreement between my constituents and British Railways, but for many years—indeed, for 1188 many decades—there has been a tradition of ample and generous late night services for sections of metropolitan Kent. This has encouraged many people who have to work late at night, particularly those employed in the newspaper industry, to move to my constituency and neighbouring constituencies and buy or rent properties there.
The cost of this service is considerable. It has been estimated by British Railways at about £19,000 a year. The number of people who use the service is not particularly large, although the number of people who use it on any one evening is no necessary reflection of the number of people who may use it over a period of time because of the practice in the printing trade and newspaper offices to rotate the members of their staff who have to stay very late. I know from letters I have already received since this cut was announced a few days ago that this will be a very grave hardship to a number of people.
§ Mr. Goodhart
I am anxious that British Railways, if it is adopting this high-handed attitude, should not be given any relaxation of its contractual obligations which are written down. Although we may be perfectly willing to see the rights of the Duke of Beaufort swept aside, I am not anxious to see the comfort and convenience of the printers and sub-editors living in the constituency of Beckenham also swept aside because of this hard-hearted attitude on the part of British Railways. If the matter is pressed to a Division tonight, I shall not be able to vote for the Bill.
§ 8.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Percy Collick (Birkenhead)
I am sure that the House would have been wrong to have given the Bill a Second Reading but for the assurances which we have had from the Parliamentary Secretary. Even with those assurances, I have a few doubts which I think it would be desirable to put on record. A political philosopher would find this debate interesting, because a Conservative Administration is endorsing proposals which give authority for the abrogation of contracts properly entered into. Although I could argue a case quite well for doing 1189 just that, I found it extremely interesting that the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson), who I am sorry is not in his place now, took an attitude tonight critical of these old aristocratic agreements entered into by private landowners and private railway companies for the protection of private property rights. Had the hon. Member for Truro been in his place at that time he would have been the first person to have defended the sacred rights of private property for all these things.
There are not many of my hon. Friends who would say that these are completely justified. However, I have some sympathy with those who find themselves in the position of having entered a contract and then being told by the Government, "We are going to give statutory authority for the ending of this contract without the right of appeal to anyone". This is a new brand of Tory philosophy, if I may call it such. It is merely a question of a Tory spokesman coming to the House to endorse a proposal of the Transport Commission to abrogate the sacred rights of private property.
The Parliamentary Secretary, with his usual kind of courteous demeanour—in striking contrast to that of the Minister—told us that one of these contracts dates back to 1891. That is really not all that long ago; about seventy years. How many more times will the Conservative Administration tell us that they are willing to abrogate agreements because they are seventy years old? There are plenty of instances of agreements more than 700 years old which they have defended.
§ Mr. Collick
Yes, and I can assure the Parliamentary Secretary that I could give him another side to the Badminton story. I can assure him that several practical railway and engine men could give instances where trains have had to stop at a particular station for a particular reason, that reason often having been tied up with certain interests. The Parliamentary Secretary mentioned some of these on the old Great Western line. In those days there were over 100 instances of this sort of thing happening.
1190 However, the Government support the Transport Commission's proposal to abrogate properly entered contractual obligations and agreements and that is the important principle to bear in mind. I know from my experience in the House, which is not all that short, that Clause 34 is as sweeping as anything could be, with the proviso about which the Parliamentary Secretary spoke regarding an Amendment being drafted to meet the position. I am a little doubtful whether that can be done. I do not doubt that the Parliamentary Secretary has satisfied his own mind that it can, but I can only speak from experience.
In this connection, I must cite the example of the County Borough of Birkenhead. The town clerk has-written to me to explain the position. Birkenhead, just a month or so ago, negotiated an agreement with the Transport Commission. I do not wish to relate all the details, for they concerned the maintenance of roads, and so on. As the agreement between the Birkenhead Borough Council and the Transport Commission stands, the Commission is committed to a maintenance arrangement agreeable both to the Commission and the Birkenhead Corporation. Nevertheless, the town clerk has written to me saying in effect, "The Transport Commission are proposing, if this Private Bill goes through as drafted, to be in a position to abrogate this agreement; and they intend so to do."
§ Mr. Hay
The essential point to understand is what I said earlier; that it would be perfectly open to the Railways Board to abrogate that agreement under the Clause if the second test was also applicable, namely, that the obligation was so entered into if the land or an interest in the land was granted or conveyed by the instrument creating the obligation. If, as part of the deal between Birkenhead Corporation and the Board, this particular obligation was entered into, the Clause might possibly bite on the second leg, to mix metaphors On the first one, however, it would not bite because the support of the provision of roads would not be an obligation to provide or maintain any railway services or facilities.
§ Mr. Collick
It was because of my fear that it would bite on that second 1191 leg that I raised this matter. That is why I am not at all sure that we should allow the Bill to proceed without it being carried to a Division. If the Parliamentary Secretary were able to say, "It is all right. You may have no fears about this prospect in Birkenhead" that would be a different matter.
§ Mr. Collick
All right then. I will think again. That point gave me the most concern, although there is another one of considerable importance. One is used to the bargaining that goes on in this matter and anyone who has sat on Committees concerned with this topic knows that. I would have thought, so simple am I, that it would have been perfectly easy for the legal authorities to have told Birkenhead Borough Council, "You have a complete misapprehension about this. We do not intend doing anything of the kind. You are completely misinformed." Had that been said Birkenhead Council would not have written to me in the terms I have quoted.
§ Mr. Collick
Yes. At least, I have no reason to doubt that it did not, but, like the Parliamentary Secretary—both of us having sat on that bench—we are sometimes adequately briefed and on other occasions we are not. I would not like to say categorically that the Corporation did, but since it raised the matter with me, I feel certain that it would have raised it with the Board first.
If the Parliamentary Secretary is going to tell me, as he has already indicated from the Box, that this is not going to apply to Birkenhead, I will do an unusual thing. I will readily accept what he says and hold him to his word, not that I have ever found that undesirable. I will tell Birkenhead Council that all its fears are thoroughly unfounded, that the Board has no such intention, that it is most unfortunate that the misunderstanding ever arose, and that the Board is exceedingly sorry about it and will see that when the Bill goes into Committee appropriate Amendments are made.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
I am sure that we must all agree that my right hon. 1192 Friend the Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Dugdale) has rendered a service to the House by raising this matter and thus enabling us to have such an interesting and informative discussion. We are also greatly indebted to the Parliamentary Secretary. I sometimes wonder what the Ministry of Transport would be like if he were not there and what would happen if his undoubted merits were ever to lead to his promotion. I cannot imagine how we should ever have such guidance and lucidity as we have from the hon. Gentleman.
If we give the Bill a Second Reading tonight we do not part with it. It is quite evident that there are some quite complicated legal points to be dealt with, and I have no doubt that the Association of Municipal Corporations, on whose behalf my right hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich moved to reject the Bill, will be watching it. The Association certainly has a reservoir of legal talent which is quite formidable and perfectly capable of dealing even with such complicated matters as arise here. If when the Bill emerges from Committee the Association is not satisfied, it can communicate with my right hon. Friend and we can have a discussion on Third Reading in which I have no doubt we shall have plenty of legal advice on both sides. The House will then have to make up its mind whether to allow the Bill to pass through on Third Reading.
I should have thought that that is sufficient safeguard for us to give the Bill a Second Reading tonight and that it should be clearly on the understanding that negotiations will be conducted by the Railways Board with the persons who are interested. And it should be clearly understood by then that the House will examine what emerges from the Committee with the utmost care to make quite sure that all the fears expressed tonight have been dealt with, so that those who have expressed the fears can vote for the Third Reading with a clear conscience.
There is no doubt that there are a good many of these private agreements in the country. I know the great annoyance that was caused to many of my fellow townsmen in the old days when the owner of Albury Park at Mickleham had the right to cause any train passing through Box Hill Station to be stopped there so that he could come down from it. I remember the way people used to risk getting 1193 into some of these trains at Victoria when they saw him on the platform and imagined that this would cause the train to be stopped at Box Hill whereas on occasion he went on to Dorking with the rest of them.
Undoubtedly difficulties of this kind arise throughout the country, and it would be a good thing if we could get through the Bill an understanding about what is to be done about them. I hope that the Committee which examines the Bill will consider the points raised by my hon. and right hon. Friends and see that they are adequately and clearly dealt within the Bill by the time it emerges from the Committee.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Archie Manuel (Central Ayrshire)
I, too, am delighted that my right hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Dugdale) has by his courage in objecting to the Bill, although he stood the chance of being misunderstood in sonic quarters, enabled us to have this debate. I have been rather diffident about taking part, because by subsection (3), we are told that Clause 34 "shall not extend to Scotland". However, in addition to being a Member for a Scottish constituency and being a very proud Scot, I am a railwayman. The repercussions which Clause 34 could have are cause for concern to anyone who has ever had any attachment to or been employed by British Railways. They should be examined very carefully.
Curiously enough, in spite of what has been said on both sides, I have mixed feelings about the various interpretations of Clause 34. I am rather worried that the Clause does not extend to Scotland. In Scotland still, medieval privilege continues to affect the operation of the railways. It ought to be scrubbed out. There are antediluvian practices and agreements which are most expensive in their effect and very irritating to modern railwaymen. I want the Parliamentary Secretary to explain why the Clause does not apply to Scotland. It is all one railway system.
§ Mr. Hay
I confess that when the point was first raised it occurred to me that the problem had not arisen in Scotland, perhaps, because in that country in years gone by landowners preferred to have the cash rather than the privilege. However, I have been advised since the debate 1194 began that this is an entirely erroneous view.
The reason why the Clause does not extend to Scotland is simply that the Railways Board came into existence and was vested with its assets only on 1st January last, and the time between then and now has not been sufficient for the various legal and technical formalities under the Private Legislation Procedure (Scotland) Act, 1936, to be complied with. This is why the Clause does not apply to Scotland.
§ Mr. Manuel
I appreciate that, but the hon. Gentleman was quite wrong in thinking that private landowning interests in Scotland took the cash and did not bother about privileges. In fact, they took both, and very large sums were involved. One can read about it in the history of some of our railways. A line would cross a great stretch of sparsely populated country, part of one of the Highland estates, and there would be a private platform adjacent to the big house. The line itself would be diverted to come as near as possible, not coming so near as to cause discomfort from belching smoke or escaping steam. This is a source of irritation in the working of trains on various lines, and I can assure the hon. Gentleman that privilege was exacted to a very great extent. Perhaps, when the hon. Gentleman widens the scope of his investigation to include Scotland, he will find worse examples than anything in England, because there was never anyone so rapacious as a Highland laird or a south of Scotland one either.
I am still not quite certain in my mind what the position is, despite the lucid exposition of the Parliamentary Secretary so far as it went. I have in mind now the other side of the coin, and this does affect Scotland. We are concerned about repercussions on local authority interests in cases where, instead of a private interest being at stake, it is the common interest. Certain rights of way will be interfered with, but compensation under Clause I1 may not meet the point if it means barring access to some place merely to give greater convenience to the Railways Board.
Branch lines are being closed because they are not profitable, and there are no trains running. Possibly the rails have been lifted but the ground is still in the 1195 ownership of the Railways Board. If it is still in ownership, will the further upkeep on-cost of connecting bridges in a township pass from the Railways Board despite any old contractual arrangement which there may have been? This is very important in every township which was intersected by the railway at one time. I know that the matter is different if ownership passes from the Railways Board, but if it is still in ownership then it cannot avoid the responsibility for it. Where a railway intersects an inhabited place it does not matter, but usually a wayleave which is used for a bridge is used for the conveyance of other services, such as water, gas and electricity.
§ Mr. Wilson
Is not the effect of the hon. Gentleman's argument that the Scottish burghs are asking British taxpayers, including the English, should pay for the maintenance of a bridge in Scotland from which they are getting no benefit? Is not that rather rapacious?
§ Mr. Manuel
Those of us who own certain things often have to pay because of certain repercussions arising from that ownership. If the hon. Gentleman disowns that theory, he is marching rather near to this side of the House. Perhaps he thinks that the public interest should be impeded by something which is privately owned. There are many protections in law, especially about bridges across railways—hundreds of them—even with regard to getting permission to paint them, and so on.
Possibly more branch lines or more sections of main railway line will be kept in being in Scotland because of social reasons, and I hope that the contractual arrangements which have been entered into by local authorities will still apply. I think that they will in the case to which I have referred. I am concerned with the other case where railways are not conveying passengers or goods but are still in the ownership of the Railways Board.
Clause 34 says:no action or other proceeding shall be instituted or continued against the Board for 1196 the purpose of enforcing any contractual obligation or awarded obligation".It is completely wrong, particularly when local authority interests are involved, to write into a Bill a provision to the effect that there can be no appeal against whatever action might be taken in this regard and that no proceedings can be instituted by the local authority against it. All we are given, on the other hand, is that the compensation is to be determined by the tribunal in case of dispute. I am against the way that this is worded. There should be opportunity for appeal to and examination by an independent body, not on the question of compensation, but on the rights of the contract, if so desired.
There are fears that, not the local authorities, but the landowning interests, may get too much compensation. Instead of compensation being determined by the tribunal in case of dispute, I would prefer all compensation to be determined by the tribunal. This might be a better way to look at the whole question and to take it off the shoulders of the Railways Board and to allow disputed questions, when compensation is to be paid, to be decided by an independent tribunal.
I hope that what I have said has been of interest and that these things which should come to Scotland will come fairly soon, so that we can get away from the excesses of private ownership which have existed for so many years in Scotland as well as in England.
§ 8.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Jeger
—yes, a notorious title—dealing with works which are to be carried out. Four items of work will be undertaken if authority is given under the Clause. I am sure that my constituency will be delighted to learn that half of the work is to be done in my constituency, Work No. 1 being the railway at Ferrybridge and Work No. 2 being the railway at Hensall.
What my constituency would be interested to learn, however, is the order of priority by which the Railways Board decides which work is to be undertaken first 1197 and which will be undertaken last. We accept that these two works will be done. As no objection has been lodged with me by the local authorities or by any individuals in my constituency, I am prepared to accept that they are necessary works and I shall not object to them.
I should, however, like to know why the case of Goole Station and the trains which overhang the level crossing, which impedes traffic along the main road in the town of Goole, is not given first priority and why these two works as set out in Clause 4 take priority over the lengthening of the platforms at Goole Station or the removal of the crossing in such a way that traffic is allowed to flow along the main road in Goole. I do not know whether the Parliamentary Secretary is in a position to answer this point tonight. If not, perhaps he will note my question and reply later.
Clause 10 refers to certain level crossings. It may be within the hon. Gentleman's recollection that I kept him up late the other night discussing safety precautions at level crossings in my constituency at which a number of people have unfortunately lost their lives in recent years. I should like to know about the extinguishing of the rights of way over the level crossings referred to in the Bill. Are any safety precautions to be installed for the benefit of the pedestrians or persons on horseback or leading horses who will be using these pedestrian crossings after the Bill becomes an Act?
I see that normal rights of way for all other persons or animals will be extinguished. It seems to me that there should be some safety precautions in the light of the revelations which I made about the safety precautions that are missing from many of the 19,000 level crossings in Britain, and that in all cases where work is undertaken, improvements are made, rights are extinguished or any action whatever is taken in connection with a level crossing, it should be laid down that there must be adequate safety precautions for those who are allowed to continue to use them. That is an elementary step which should be taken and it is one which should be written into the Bill before it finally becomes law. If the Parliamentary Secretary will give undertakings in this matter, I and those of my constitu- 1198 ents who are keenly interested will feel reassured.
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Denys Bullard (King's Lynn)
I wish to take up a point rather similar to that made by the hon. Member for Goole (Mr. Jeger) regarding level crossings. I did not give much prior study to the Bill until this evening, but I see that there is mention in Clause 9 of a crossing in King's Lynn which I know very well. I am surprised to see that this crossing is to be completely closed.
I know that a great number of people take walks along this road, known as Salters Road. What kind of safeguards are there to be for these people to be able to continue to walk along it? Children also use the crossing and in summertime there is a large amount of rail holiday traffic. It seems a pity that the authorities should be able to close it without protest, and I should be grateful for information about the position.
§ 8.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Hay
By leave of the House, perhaps I may reply to some of the points raised. I will not traverse a lot of ground covered by speeches about Clause 34, because many of them are more relevant to discussion in Committee. I hope that the right hon. Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Dugdale) will agree before long to take a certain course which will avoid the House having to divide on this. I hope to be able to satisfy the requests of the hon. Member for Goole (Mr. Jeger) and my hon. Friend the Member for King's Lynn (Mr. Bullard).
So far as Works No. 1 and No. 2 in Clause 4 are concerned, my information is that they are necessary to cater for two new coal-burning power stations which the Central Electricity Generating Board is to build at Ferrybridge and at Egg-borough. Each power station will ultimately consume about 5 millions tons of coal a year and the resulting works necessary to serve them include the construction of a short loop connecting the Wakefield and Goole line to the Swinton and Knottingley line south of Ferrybridge Station.
Work No. 2 begins by a junction with the Hull and Barnsley Railway northeast of the bridge spanning that railway 1199 over Broach Road and finishes by a junction with the Wakefield, Pontefract and Goole Railway.
I understand that the works do not interfere with the highways but that the Railways Board requires the powers so that it can acquire land for the work. It expects that the Ferrybridge work will begin in 1965 and will be operating by 1967. I also understand that these works will be carried out very quickly. I will gladly give the hon. Member for Goole further information if I can get it.
My hon. Friend the Member for King's Lynn asked about the closure of a level crossing. He will remember that in an Adjournment debate the other night I said that there were two types of private crossings—an occupation crossing, which is a level crossing over the road to which the public may or may not have access, and an accommodation crossing, which is a connection between two pieces of land under the same ownership. I am told that the level crossings concerned here are all private accommodation crossings for the use of owners and occupiers of adjoining lands.
The use by the public of the crossings referred to in Clause 9 is either nil or extremely small, and the cost of providing staff is not justified. I have no details of any particularly safety precautions that will be taken if and when the rights given by this Clause are exercised by the Board, but if there is any information I can give my hon. Friend later I shall gladly do so.
I would only add that particulars have been supplied to my right hon. Friend's Chief Inspecting Officer of Railways in all these cases and he is satisfied with what is proposed.
§ Mr. Jeger
Before the hon. Gentleman concludes, may I make another point about level crossings? In these days of more mechanisation on farms, these accommodation crossings may need to be available to vehicles, tractors and so on, even going from one part of the farm land to another. Horses, either led or ridden, might have been adequate in days gone by, but they have now been replaced by vehicles. Has any account been taken of that in the proposal to extinguish rights of way to all but pedestrians and horses?
§ Mr. Dugdale
In view of the assurance that further discussions will take place between the A.M.C. and the Railways Board with a view to getting an Amendment suitable to both, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Robert Grimston)
The right hon. Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Dugdale) cannot withdraw the Amendment if there is an objection.
Question, That "now" stand part of the Question, put and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time and committed.