HC Deb 29 April 1966 vol 727 cc1183-7

Order for Second Reading read.

2.42 p.m.

The Assistant Postmaster-General (Mr. Joseph Slater)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

It is not my intention to take up a great deal of the time of the House, apart from saying that hon. Members will remember that a Bill in similar terms was introduced and read a Second time in the last Parliament. Hon. Members on both sides of the House gave that Bill a very kind welcome.

The object of the Bill is to enable the Post Office to construct a subway under Severn Street in Birmingham to connect New Street Railway Station to a new letter and parcel sorting office to be built in Severn Street. Why do we need a new sorting office? The existing sorting office is housed in two linked buildings in Victoria Square in the centre of Birmingham. One building is nearly seventy years old and the other dates from the end of the First World War. By the start of the last war both buildings were becoming congested and we have been thinking of a new building ever since the war ended. Unfortunately, we have been prevented from doing anything about it until now by shortage of capital and lack of a suitable site, and our situation in Birmingham has long been grim and is steadily becoming worse.

Both the existing letter and parcel offices are connected to New Street Railway Station by a tunnel. This provides direct and quick access via a British Railways subway to all the station platforms. There is no doubt that, but for the existence of this tunnel, the operation of the Birmingham office would have been impracticable long before now.

For the information of the House, let me say that last autumn we bought from British Railways a piece of land in Severn Street adjacent to property which we already own and have been using for a postal garage. We have now demolished this garage and, on the combined site, we plan to build a new letter and parcel sorting office at a total cost of about £4 million. We intend to spend a further £2,250,000 on initial mechanisation and we believe that within ten or twenty years another £1,500,000 for electronic letter coding and sorting machines will be involved.

This new office will be the largest single postal building in the provinces. For the benefit of hon. Members from that part of the country, let me say that we hope to start building work in September and to be able to complete it within a period of two years. A further period of up to two years will then be required for installing the initial mechanisation equipment and the office will not be operational until the early summer of 1970.

The removal of the office from its present site in the centre of the city will in some way help to ease the general peak hour traffic congestion. On the other hand, the change of site will break our present underground tunnel link with New Street Station. The new subway for which the Bill provides is an essential link between the new office and New Street Railway Station. It will enable mails to pass quickly between the new sorting office and the railway subway system which leads to the station platforms. It would be impracticable to carry all the mails to and from the station by van, as the station does not provide adequate access for postal vans, and, after its present reconstruction, will provide even less. The subway is thus essential to the success of the new sorting office.

The subway will run throughout its length under public streets, that is, under Severn Street and the intersections of Severn Street with other streets. It will run under the carriageway of the street and not under the footway, except where it enters the new sorting office site at one end and New Street Station at the other. Its construction should cause no inconvenience to the public. All the work will be done underground except on the Post Office site. The surface of the street will not be broken.

The Bill empowers us to construct the subway and gives us the necessary right to use the subsoil under the public highway. This subsoil is virtually without value to the owners and so we have followed the precedents set by certain Private Bills and provided for use without compensation. The owners of adjoining property will, of course, be entitled under the Bill to compensation on the usual basis for physical damage to their property or for depreciation in its value.

We expect the subway to be clear of all underground sewers, water and gas mains and electricity cables, but we obviously cannot be certain about this and the Bill therefore makes provision in case it should be found necessary to alter the position of such apparatus, or to take protective measures. The Bill also provides, purely by way of precaution, for the underpinning or strengthening of nearby buildings. A provision of this kind is usual in Private Bills authorising the construction of works.

Both the contract for the subway and the contract for the sorting office will be put out to tender. The construction of the subway is expected to cost £200,000, which will be paid by the Post Office Fund set up under the Post Office Act, 1961.

This is a Hybrid Bill and the usual procedure applies. Anyone whose interests are affected and who wishes to object will have the opportunity to petition and have his case heard by the Select Committee. I remind the House that, by virtue of the Standing Order passed on 9th March, petitions deposited against the original Bill in the last Session stood over in the present Session in respect of this Bill.

2.49 p.m.

Mr. Paul Bryan (Howden)

As the Assistant Postmaster-General said, this Bill, or one very like it, came before us just before the last election. On that occasion, it had our support. The Second Reading took 18 minutes. The only reason that it took so long was that the Postmaster-General used the occasion to give us an account of all the workings, problems and future problems of postal arrangements in the Birmingham area. It was very interesting and welcome.

As a general proposition, we clearly welcome this Bill. If there are any local objections, as on a Bill of this sort there may well be, as this is a Hybrid Bill, there will be plenty of opportunity for them to be made. We welcome the Bill and wish it godspeed.

2.50 p.m.

Mr. Julius Silverman (Birmingham, Aston)

May I, as the only Member present representing a Birmingham constituency, also welcome the Bill. We have just discussed the underground of British Guiana. We are now discussing the underground of Birmingham. I am sure that on this matter there will be much more unity in the House. I feel certain that the provisions in the Bill are very necessary to expedite mail deliveries in Birmingham. Speaking on behalf of all Birmingham Members, may I say that we welcome the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Ordered, That the Bill he committed to a Select Committee of Eight Members, Four to be nominated by the House and Four by the Committee of Selection. Ordered. That there shall stand referred to the Select Committee——

  1. (a) any Petition against the Bill (including any Petition standing referred to the Select Committee under any Order of this House in the last Session) presented by being deposited in the Private Bill Office not later than Monday 9th May 1966, or if the House is not sitting on that day on or before the next day on which the House sits, and
  2. (b) any Petition which has been presented by being deposited in the Private Bill Office and in which the Petitioners complain of any amendment as proposed in the filled-up Bill or of any matter which has arisen during the progress of the Bill before the said Committee,
being a Petition in which the Petitioners pray to be heard by themselves, their Counsel or Agents:

Ordered, That if no such Petition as is mentioned in sub-paragraph (a) above has been presented, or if all such Petitions are withdrawn before the meeting of the Committee, the Order for the committal of the Bill to a Select Committee shall be discharged and the Bill shall be committed to a Standing Committee:

Ordered, That any Petitioner whose Petition stands referred to the Select Committee shall, subject to the Rules and Orders of the House and to the Prayer of his Petition, be entitled to be heard by himself, his Counsel or Agents upon his Petition provided that it is prepared and signed in conformity with the Rules and Orders of the House, and the Member in charge of the Bill shall be entitled to be heard by his Counsel or Agents in favour of the Bill against that Petition:

Ordered, That the Committee have power to report from day to day the Minutes of the Evidence taken before them:

Ordered, That Three be the Quorum of the Committee.—[Mr. Slater.]