HC Deb 24 July 1970 vol 804 cc1023-39

11.5 a.m.

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

Mr. Speaker

May I say at the beginning that I have set down certain times on the Order Paper. These times must be adhered to. A debate must end at latest at the time I have set down on the Order Paper. This is always to preserve the rights of Members with later Adjournment topics.

Mr. Cledwyn Hughes (Anglesey)

The Britannia tubular railbridge spans the Menai Straits between Caernarvonshire and Anglesey and it is one of our country's historic bridges, designed by an engineer of genius—Robert Stephenson. It is one of the famous pair of bridges which links Anglesey with the mainland. The other is Telford's Suspension Bridge which was begun in 1818, a quarter of a century before work commenced on the Britannia Bridge. For well over a century these two bridges have been the arteries into Anglesey, carrying people and goods in stage coaches, cars and trains up until recently without interruption.

The proposal for the rail bridge came before the House in 1844. The constructon of the bride was a massive and unique undertaking for that time. The floating and the raising of the great Britannia tubes caused Stephenson a good deal of worry. He said later: It was a most anxious and harassing time with me. Often at night I would lie tossing about seeking sleep in vain. The tubes filled my head. I went to bed with them and got up with them. In the grey of the morning when I looked across the square it seemed an immense distance across to the houses on the opposite side. It was nearly the same length as the span of my tubular bridge! On 5th March, 1850 Stephenson placed the last rivet in the last whole and passed through the finished bridge accompanied by three trainloads of about 1,000 people.

Until the Niagara Railway Suspension Bridge was built five years later, the Britannia Bridge remained the longest span in the world.

It is this famous and historic bridge which was severely damaged by fire on the night of 23rd/24th May last. The people of Anglesey were shocked and stunned by the news, and the sense of shock remains. Our dependence on the bridge was brought home to us in a very real way. The port of Holyhead and the livelihood of its workers depend on this rail link.

The Government of the day were not slow to act, and I should like to pay tribute to the then Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, and my right hon. Friends the Members for Cardiff, West (Mr. George Thomas) and for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) for the prompt action they took. My right hon. Friends, who were then the Secretary of State for Wales and the Minister of Transport, came to see the damage for themselves on 25th May. They were accompanied by Sir Henry Johnson, the Chairman of British Railways Board, and his senior officials.

It was not possible for engineers to assess the damage immediately, but they reported on 5th June, and on the same day British Railways issued a statement. I propose to read this in full because it is a very important statement giving a clear undertaking to restore the rail link.

This is the statement: As a result of the provisional engineering assessments made during thes last 10 days the Railways Board have now informed the Minister of Transport that the Britannia Bridge over the Menai Straits may well take up to one year to reconstruct at a cost of up to £2 million. The Board intend to go ahead with the reconstruction as a matter of urgency subject to a more detailed engineering assessment. Constant readings are being taken to record any change in the movement of the bridge, but while immediate repairs are being made to maintain stability, British Railways have advised the appropriate authorities that vessels should not pass under the bridge until further notice. Although the risk of collapse is considered remote, stability may be affected by extremes of temperature or extremely high winds. When restored, the bridge will be re-opened with a single line only, but additional signalling will enable the traffic requirements to be adequately met. In the meantime, passenger services on the Holyhead—Dunlaoghaire route will continue to operate from Heysham, with connecting boat train services. Car ferry services from Holyhead are not affected and will run as advertised. Detailed provision to handle all freight services, including containers, is still being finalised. Employees are being kept fully informed of the situation as it affects them. They will continue to be informed as the situation develops and, for the time being, no redundancy is contemplated and the Board will try to maintain this for as long as possible. Meanwhile, the normal provisions of the railway guaranteed week agreement will apply. Those words were welcomed by my right hon. Friend who was then Minister of Transport, and I ask the Secretary of State for Wales to confirm them categorically when he replies. It will be helpful if he does so because there are some people—they are few—who will cast doubts about everything and exploit every misfortune.

It is my duty as the Member for Anglesey, and a native of Holyhead, to raise a number of important questions, and I am glad to have opportunity to do so before the rising of the House. It is clear that the bridge must be made operational before life can return to normality in Anglesey. In the interim period, a good many people will suffer varying degrees of inconvenience, and many will suffer financial loss.

Anglesey is going through a period of change and growth. The prospects for the county, with the establishment of new industries, the expansion of tourism and the construction of houses, roads and other amenities, have never been so good. The damage to the bridge has been a severe setback to the county, but it is a temporary setback and we shall get back on course when the bridge is restored.

British Railways Board is currently investing over £7 million in new installations and ships for Holyhead, and rightly so because of its fine natural harbour and the short sea journey of about three hours to Ireland. It is, therefore, very much in the Board's interests, financially and commercially, to see the bridge back in commission. People's livelihood is involved. Industries are materially affected. The date of completion of the work is, therefore, of vital importance. We have been told that it will take up to 12 months. I hope that the Minister will be good enough to give an up-to-date assessment of the likely date to the House today.

I choose my words deliberately when I say that it is absolutely essential that there be no avoidable delay in securing engineers who will reconstruct the bridge as quickly as is humanly possible. If there is any red tape, or if there are any corners, let them be cut. A disrupted community expects the work to be done speedily.

I am sure that the Anglesey County Council and the Caernarvonshire County Council, as planning authorities, and the Fine Arts Commission which also is interested will expedite their side of the matter.

Secondly, I hope that the freightliner service which is now being rerouted to Caernarvon will continue to operate until things are normal again.

Thirdly, a suggestion has been made by the Holyhead branch of the National Union of Railwaymen that the motor vessels "Cambria" and "Hibernia" should run a winter service between Holyhead and Dunlaoghaire. This may present difficulties, but it would keep men at work, and I shall be grateful if the right hon. and learned Gentleman can comment on this possibility.

Fourthly, the cattle trade between Dublin and Anglesey is of importance both to the Republic of Ireland and to this country as well as to the agricultural industry in Anglesey itself. There are strong grounds for continuing this trade, and I think that facilities can be constructed on the Anglesey side to make it practicable. I hope that the Secretary of State will give me an assurance that there will be no break in the cattle trade during the interim period while the bridge is being reconstructed.

Another crucial matter is the position of established personnel until the port is once more working to full capacity. There are men and women in Holyhead who have worked all their lives in the service of the railway and the port. Through no fault of theirs, their livelihood is put at risk. I wish to say of the British Railways Board that up to 4th July these men and women were treated very fairly. I understand that negotiations are still proceeding between the management and the staff, and I do not wish to prejudice those negotiations by anything I say in this debate. None the less, I hope that work will be found for all, or as many as possible, and that any redundancy arrangements which are arrived at will be generous and that established staff will be re-employed at the earliest possible moment. I see no difficulty in the way of the British Railways Board making a clear statement that all established personnel will be re-engaged when the port is operating to full capacity once again. It is not unreasonable to ask this in all the circumstances of the disaster.

I have asked the British Railways Board to consider providing as much additional repair work at the marine yard and the docks at Holyhead as possible during the coming months. Winter will be bleak in Holyhead this year, and we shall need as much work there as we can have. I am glad to say that the British Railways Board appeared to react favourably to my suggestion and they are looking carefully into it.

I come now to the fire itself. Those who saw it, either at the scene or on television, will recall its intensity along the whole length of the bridge. It is remarkable that it should have gone on fire after more than a century's use by steam engines of various kinds. Will the Secretary of State tell the House what kind of inquiry into the disaster is being held? There was no watchman on the bridge to sound the alarm there. There were no fire hydrants for use by the fire brigades on either of the approaches to the bridge, on the Caernarvonshire or the Anglesey side. The fire was raging before the fire brigades arrived on the scene and had their chance.

I pay a warm tribute to the men of the Anglesey and Caernarvonshire fire brigades for their skill and courage. They did everything that men could possibly do in the circumstances. I hope that we shall be told that there is an inquiry and that its results will be made public, for it is clear that there are lessons to be learned from this disaster. The British Railways Board will recognise this as it has other important bridges, though none more important or more historic than this.

We have had brought home to us that an island of 56,000 people dependent upon two bridges is very vulnerable. These bridges must be safeguarded in every possible way. Indeed, the disaster has pointed to the need for a second road bridge. I put some preliminary work in hand on this when I occupied the right hon. and learned Gentleman's position as Secretary of State for Wales, and I am glad to I know that he is now looking at the matter himself. I take this opportunity to congratulate the right hon. and learned Gentleman on his appointment. I was proud to hold his Ministry and to serve my native country in it, and I am sure that he feels the same. I wish him every success during his tenure of office.

I have absolute faith in the future of Anglesey and in the port of Holyhead. With co-operation and understanding, we can overcome our present difficulties, severe though they may be, and go on to a bright future.

11.19 a.m.

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Thomas)

It is sad that the first occasion on which I have to participate in a debate since assuming office should be to consider the aftermath of such a tragic event as the fire on 24th May which closed the Britannia railway bridge. I am, however, grateful to the right hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Cledwyn Hughes) for raising the subject, for it gives me the opportunity not only to pay tribute to him, as I gladly do, for his considerable and steadfast efforts since the fire to stimulate remedial action but also to express my personal interest in the matter and my determination that the difficulties created for Anglesey by the closure of the bridge should be removed as rapidly and as smoothly as possible. The right hon. Gentleman knows that my interest is not academic or remote. This is a part of Wales for which I have considerable and abiding affection.

It is understandable that we should feel concern at the possible economic implications of the closure of the bridge, and it is very sensible that they should be discussed here. I hope that what I have to say will indicate the concern which we share about the situation and at the same time be of some reassurance to the people of Anglesey.

The right hon. Gentleman asked a number of specific questions, and I shall try to answer them during the course of what I have to say. He requested that there should be a public inquiry into the cause of the fire. I have been in touch with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport, and I understand that the circumstances of the fire have been thoroughly investigated by both the Chief Inspecting Officer of Railways and the Railways Board. As a result, it was decided that no public inquiry was necessary. The cause of the fire has also been the subject of police investigation, and I understand that action in the courts is pending. But certainly I will pass the right hon. Gentleman's views on to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport.

As to the implications of the disaster, I should like to say at the outset that the Government have taken the situation resulting from the closure of the bridge very seriously indeed, and we have examined in depth the full implications of the closure. I was briefed on the situation immediately upon assuming office and since that time I have kept in constant touch with all the Government Departments concerned in pursuance of the various aspects of the situation, with British Railways and with the Anglesey County Council and with other local interests.

In addition, a study has been made of the economic implications for Anglesey of the closure of the bridge with detailed investigations of the effects of the closure on manufacturing industry, agriculture, tourism and employment. The pressure of other commitments has prevented me from visiting Anglesey to date, but I have now made arrangements to do so at the beginning of the Recess.

The first implication of the closure of the Britannia Railway Bridge is that there is now only one link for land-borne traffic between Anglesey and the mainland—the Menia suspension road bridge. It is necessary, therefore, to give the highest priority to ensuring that this link is kept open and that there is no interruption to the flow of traffic on the bridge. Immediately following closure of the railway bridge steps were taken to draw to the attention of all road transport organisations using the road bridge to the need to comply strictly with the restrictions on the use of the bridge. These limit both the weight and size of loads crossing the bridge, and in addition specify a procedure for the prior notification to the Chief Constable of the Gwynedd Constabulary of the crossing of the bridge by vehicles of a certain size. Arrangements are then made for them to be escorted across.

However, despite the precautions there was a slight accident on the bridge on 25th June, when a low-loader transporter carrying a railway coach came into contact with the bridge. Following this accident the weight limit on the bridge was reduced as a temporary measure until an engineering report had been received on the bridge. It has subsequently been represented to me by the Anglesey County Council that while the Menai suspension bridge remains the only link between Anglesey and the mainland, it would be prudent, in the interests of safeguarding the flow of traffic over the bridge, if restrictions in respect of weights, loads and speed limits were placed on it. This proposal has been the subject of discussion between officials of my Department and of the County Council, and I have decided to give notice of my intention to make an Order under the Road Traffic Regulation Act, 1967 imposing the appropriate restrictions. This will be done forthwith. The weight limit is 32 tons, the wheel base limit nine feet, and the speed limit 15 m.p.h.

I should like to emphasise that these measures are not panic measures arising out of fear that any great catastrophe will occur to the bridge. They are intended to be sensible and prudent measures having regard to the circumstances, and we should be at fault if we did not undertake them. The road bridge has been examined. It is a very strong structure in excellent condition and quite capable of coping with the full flow of traffic expected. While speaking on this point may I take the opportunity of paying a warm tribute to the Anglesey County Council, which has acted, throughout with commendable good sense and has given us enormous help in our consideration of this difficult situation.

I have spoken of the precautionary steps we have taken to safeguard the flow of traffic through the road bridge. It is of course the existince of this bridge which has ameliorated the effect of the closure of the railway bridge on day-to-day life in Anglesey. The idea of a second road crossing of the Menai Straits, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, has of course been mooted for some time. As the right hon. Gentleman said, he himself when Secretary of State started looking into the matter. A detailed traffic survey has been set in train to determine the case for a second road crossing, but this is something which cannot deal with the immediate situation in Anglesey. Even the existence of the one bridge has enabled a number of businesses which formerly used rail transport to make alternative arrangements, at least for the time being.

It might be of interest to refer to the three major industrial plants on the island. The chemical plant, Associated Octel Ltd., normally imports raw materials and exports the finished product by special rail tank wagons. These have now been converted to road transport. Both the conversion and the operation of the new system do, however, involve extra costs to the firm, but these are not expected to give rise to any redundancies.

The second major industrial plant on the Island is the aluminium smelter—R.T.Z./Anglesey Aluminium Metals—which is in course of construction. Steel and some other constructional materials which would have been brought in by rail will now come in by road, which could give rise to some problems, but the construction is unlikely to be affected by the closure of the bridge. Similarly, the inward movement of raw materials for stock-piling which will become an increasing feature of the build-up of the plant over the next six months will be possible. Liquid petroleum gas will be brought in by road tanker from tanker trains at Bangor, and petroleum coke will probably be brought by sea through Holyhead. I understand that the company hopes to despatch the first of its output in February of next year, and subsequently there will be a progressive build-up of output to peak production in about June 1971. It had been originally intended to transport output by rail but road transport will have to be used by the firm until the bridge is again operational. By June this will involve about 20 lorries per day to transport the output.

Third, it will be possible to bring in the remainder of the material needed to complete the Wylfa nuclear power station—and this is, I understand, mainly light steel—by the road bridge and there should not therefore, for this reason, be any delay in commissioning the station beyond December of this year. The station when in operation will be dependent upon a regular supply of carbon dioxide. I gather that this is for the heat transfer system in the station's boilers. It has always been envisaged that this would be brought in by road tanker but with railway tanker as a contingency standby; the closure of the railway bridge means of course that, apart from sea transport, which would be much more costly, there is temporarily no contingency standby. It had also been proposed to transport irradiated uranium, which will become available from Wylfa nuclear power station about mid-1971, to Winscale in 50-ton railway containers.

The weight restrictions on the bridge preclude road transport. Whilst it is possible to use sea transport, I am told that there are practical difficulties about it. But as I have indicated, this is not a problem which will arise for nearly a year hence. But it is another indication of the need to get the railway bridge into operation as quickly as possible.

Quite apart from the way in which in the short term the major industrial plants in the Island seem to be able to adapt their supply and despatch of imports and outputs away from rail to road transport, I also understand that the smaller firms on the Island already tend to use road as opposed to rail transport and with few exceptions will not be embarrassed by the closure of the railway bridge.

Tourism is an important element in Anglesey's economy and for all practical purposes should not be affected by the Britannia Bridge closure. This is because the proportion of Anglesey's holiday traffic which uses the railway is small—most holiday makers tend to come there by car or by rail to Bangor and then on by road to the East and North East coasts of the Island. There is absolutely no reason whatsoever why anyone, whether travelling by road or rail should in any way be deterred from spending a holiday on the island. Thousands of people have done so since the Britannia Bridge fire and they will, I am certain, confirm that the accident has not spoilt their holiday in the slightest degree.

I am therefore extremely grateful for the prompt action which the Wales Tourist Board has taken to make all this clear. Among a number of general measures it has undertaken to promote tourism in Anglesey, it has sent literature to some 400 tourist offices, holiday booking offices and the like in the United Kingdom stressing that continued access to the Island on the road bridge presents no difficulty.

In addition, a tour of the Island by leading British travel writers has been arranged and an exhibition is being arranged for Euston Station. As regard the need to avoid traffic congestion on the bridge, the Gwynedd Police Force is fully appraised of the situation and as far as is possible will try to arrange the spacing of heavy vehicles so that they use the bridge at off peak periods. I am pleased to say that to my knowledge there is no evidence to date that the holiday trade in Anglesey has suffered as a result of the fire.

Before I come on to the more serious effects of the Britannia Bridge closure, there is one other aspect to which I should like to refer. This relates to the effects on shipping using the Menai Straits and passing underneath the bridge structure, in particular small oil tankers going into Caernarvon from Stanlow. On 18th June, the Hydrographer of the Navy on the advice of the Board of Trade issued a notice to mariners warning them of possible danger to navigation from steel debris which might have fallen from the bridge into the Straits and advising that shipping should not pass under the bridge until further notice because the stability of the bridge structure might be affected by extremes of temperature or high winds.

During the reconstruction of the bridge, there will in all probability have to be some restriction on the use of the Straits, and arrangements have been made for British Railways to keep the Board of Trade fully informed so that notices to mariners may be issued by the Hydrographer of the Navy at the appropriate time.

I should not like to give the impression from what I have said so far that the closure of the Britannia Railway Bridge is other than a serious event. I have, I think, already given a pretty fair indication that even in the industrial sector where the use of the road bridge can ameliorate matters, there will be some problems. But the main difficulties, of course, arise at Holyhead.

It is not often appreciated that Holyhead is the fourth largest passenger port in the country. About three-quarters of a million passengers a year are normally carried between Holyhead and Dun Laoghaire and nearly all of them arrive at Holyhead by rail over the Britannia Railway Bridge. The closure of the bridge has involved the transfer of the cross-Irish Sea passenger services and the supporting boat trains from Holyhead to Heysham and, in addition, the mail traffic, which runs at an annual total of 800,000 bags and which is normally carried across the Irish Sea by the passenger ships, has been diverted, some of it to air freight. Fortunately the Holyhead-Dun Laoghaire car ferry service, which operates between April and October and at Christmas and which carries upwards of 80,000 cars a year, is unaffected by the closure of the railway bridge and continues to operate.

In addition to passenger traffic, Holyhead is an important freight port. On 1969 figures, the annual trade amounted to 41,000 containers of roughly 143,000 tons of cargo, 32,000 tons of general cargo and 170,000 head of cattle. This trade is carried on by four cargo and container-carrying vessels, two of which also carry livestock.

The Irish cattle traffic makes a very significant contribution to the viability of the Port of Holyhead and to the agriculture of the Island. The capacity to handle live animals at Holyhead is also a very important part of the United Kingdom's total import capacity in this respect. Normally, about 90 per cent. of the cattle imported from Ireland through Holyhead are for markets in England and are sent on from Holyhead by rail. The immediate effect of the closure of the bridge has been a diversion of some of this trade to other ports, including Birkenhead, Silloth and Heysham. Once the bridge is restored, however, it is reasonable to expect that this traffic will return to Holyhead. Indeed, there had been a marked increase in throughput of cattle through the port—the port enjoys the very significant advantage of being within a short sea journey of Ireland, which is of great importance in the cattle trade.

As far as farming on the Island is concerned, of the 30,000 or so fat cattle produced annually on Anglesey farms, 15,000 are imported via Holyhead as store animals from Ireland and distributed throughout the county by road. This traffic is unlikely to be affected by the bridge closure but the diversion of the passenger services to Heysham will inconvenience some Anglesey farmers travelling to Ireland to buy store cattle.

The right hon. Gentleman asked whether the freightliner service to Caernarvon would continue until the Britannia Bridge was once more operational. As he will know, British Railways established the present temporary container terminal at Caernarvon, from which the containers are taken by road to Holyhead, on 15th June. I am given to understand that it is the firm intention of British Railways to continue its present freightliner operation at Caernarvon until the Britannia Bridge is once more operational.

The right hon. Gentleman has inquired about the possibility that the passenger ships "Cambria" and "Hibernia" could revert from Heysham to Holyhead during the winter months. I think it is generally accepted that during the coming summer months it would not be possible to cope with the usual large volume of passengers through Holyhead by way of coach to Bangor without causing the passengers a great deal of inconvenience. However, I take it that what the right hon. Gentleman has in mind is that it would be possible to cope with this operation with the much smaller volume of passengers in the winter months.

This was a view which was put to my officials by the Anglesey County Council and British Railways reactions have been sought. They have pointed out that there would be considerable organisational difficulties involved, including the problem of dealing with peak passenger flows at Christmas and Easter. In particular, as many of the passenger ships arrive at night, they do not feel that passengers would look favourably upon the idea of transferring from train to coach at night, in wintry conditions and under makeshift conditions. Nevertheless, I will take careful note of what the right hon. Gentleman has said about this matter and will ensure that his views are brought once again to the attention of the British Rail authorities.

The right hon. Gentleman also asked whether the cattle boats would continue to run to Holyhead. Once the bridge is restored, of course, one would expect, as I have indicated, the status quo to be restored. In the meantime, the possibility of an increase in the movement of cattle by road is being discussed by British Rail, the Ministry of Agriculture and the firms concerned.

British Railways have recently had discussions with representatives of the Irish cattle exporters' trade about this. The scheme would involve the importation of cattle through Holyhead and subsequent transportation by road to a rail head on the mainland. I understand that a number of difficulties have to be resolved, the main one being the inadequate facilities for loading road vehicles at the Holyhead lairage. I hope, however, that it will be possible to resolve any difficulties so that further importation of cattle can take place.

But the Railways Board is of the opinion that there is no real risk that the traffic diverted from Holyhead because of the closure will be lost permanently. I entirely share this view. The port of Holyhead has much to commend it—a sea journey to Ireland which reduces the demand for vessels by half and which enables livestock in particular to make the crossing with little or no stress. However, in the short term it is inescapable that there will be temporary redundancies. I understand that some British Rail staff have been transferred to the passenger ships or the freight distribution centres at Bangor and Caernarvon, and it was no doubt to explore the possibility of further transfer to save redundancies that the right hon. Member asked whether British Railways would consider giving Holyhead additional ship repair work to tide it over this coming difficult period. British Railways will, I am sure, give this suggestion very careful consideration, although I understand from them that physically the Marine Repair Shop at Holyhead is working near full capacity and that if it proved possible to transfer additional repair work there it would require men with different skills from those made redundant.

British Rail in conjunction with representatives of the staff at Holyhead are engaged in working out the details of the redundancy which will be involved because of the closure of the bridge. It has not been necessary to date actually to declare anyone redundant, but some 30 men have voluntarily accepted the redundancy and resettlement arrangements which have been made. As it is seen at present, the total number who will be made redundant will be about 160 and the redundancies will be staged between August and November.

The right hon. Member has asked whether an assurance can be given by British Railways that they will re-engage those made redundant when the bridge is reopened. British Railways have indicated that they can give an assurance only that they will re-engage the number of men who are necessary to deal with the traffic levels when the bridge reopens. Arrangements are being made for the men who are made redundant to be kept fully informed of developments at two-monthly intervals. The normal redundancy arrangements which are based on length of service will apply. These provide for a period of notice as well as a lump sum and resettlement payments.

It is, of course, possible that some of those declared redundant will get jobs in some of the expanding firms on the Island but in view of the already high rate of unemployment in Anglesey the immediate effect on the Island's economy and particularly on Holyhead will be significant. This I consider to be the most serious implication of the closure of the Britannia Bridge and it adds very great weight to every effort being made to complete the rebuilding operation as soon as possible.

I am sorry to have been so long but I think it was right that I should go into this matter in some detail because, as the right hon. Gentleman said, people on the Island are extremely concerned.

The right hon. Member asked whether British Railways would give a fairly firm date when the Britannia Bridge will again become operational. As the right hon. Member knows, work has already commenced to support the existing structure of the bridge prior to reconstruction work proper commencing and in this connection I should like to pay tribute to the Royal Engineers engaged upon this very hazardous work in particularly exposed conditions. We cannot disguise the fact that the rebuilding operation is not without its difficulties British Railways very much hope, however, that the work to make the bridge operational can be completed by June of next year. They have indicated that they will do everything possible to expedite the reconstruction work and I can assure the House that they will be given all the encouragement possible by Her Majesty's Government.

The right hon. Gentleman asked me to say that so far as I was concerned there would be no avoidable delay, and I gladly and unequivocally give him that assurance.

Mr. Cledwyn Hughes

Before the right hon. Gentleman sits down, may I thank him for a most comprehensive reply and put one point to him. He has said that the British Railways Board consider that within a short time of the bridge being repaired the traffic, both of passengers and goods, will return to normal and the expansion of the port will go on. In that event, would he not regard it as reasonable that British Railways should give careful consideration to the point I have made, namely that established personnel who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own should be re-engaged at the end of this period?

Mr. Thomas

I am sure that British Rail will consider this carefully. I know that they are anxious that there should be so sufferers among their staff as a result of the closure of the Bridge.