HC Deb 19 March 1970 vol 798 cc709-40

(By Order)

Order for Second Reading read.

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

8.25 p.m.

Mr. Airey Neave (Abingdon)

I beg to move, That the Bill be read a Second time upon this day six months.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)

Mr. Speaker has not selected the Amendment on the Order Paper, but that will in no way restrict the scope of the debate.

Mr. Neave

I do not know who is supposed to be presenting this Bill. British Railways have not made any arrangements for an explanation of its contents but have provided hon. Members with a statement. My hon. Friends on both sides of the House have put down a Motion on this subject, and perhaps I may speak to the statement provided by British Railways.

This is a general purposes Bill. It contains powers to construct level crossings and to stop up portions of road for the purpose of closing level crossings. I want to talk in particular of Stocks Lane crossing in my own constituency. For fear of intervening in the constituencies of other hon. Members I will not refer to other Clauses until I get to Clause 16.

For those who are interested as students of esoteric facts of railway history, the Memorandum on Clause 16 is extremely interesting. It refers to investments held by Somerset County Council and says that for over 100 years the funds at that county council have held £1,200-worth of 2½ per cent. Consols as security in respect of possible damage to drains by the exercise of the powers of the Bristol and Exeter Railways Acts of 1836 and 1852. The council have agreed to accept an indemnity from the board in lieu of the deposited bonds which are to be sold. The proceeds are to be repaid to the board as successors to the Bristol and Exeter Railway Company.

This is nostalgic stuff for those interested in the history of railways but it is not a serious matter. There are other, much more serious, matters with regard to the Bill affecting our constituents. But perhaps I might refer in passing to Clauses 17 and 18. Clause 17 deals with enforcement of bye-laws. The board say that they are concerned to improve the capacity of their police force and to enable any constable to deal with hooliganism on football special trains and the like. It is an offence against the bye-laws for a passenger to behave in riotous, disorderly, indecent or offensive manner. Everybody can welcome this Clause and the powers it gives to constables to arrest a person on a train who is suspected of an offence against railway bye-laws and whose address the constable does not know and cannot ascertain.

I note also from paragraph 13 of the Memorandum that Clause 18 mentions the Amendment of the Railways Act, 1889, apparently because the board of the London Transport Executive is increasingly concerned at the volume of ticket frauds which are costing the board and the executive substantial sums of money. The Home Office concur in the need for higher penalties and the proposal that the maximum penalty for a first offence shall be increased from £10 to £20, and that the maximum fine shall be increased from £25 to £100, with or without imprisonment for up to three months, which may be imposed for a second or subsequent offence.

That is all I have to say in favour of the Bill and those are the only points which I, and I believe my hon. Friends, agree with it. The rest of the Bill is very bad, for both general and particular reasons. I feel that British Railways have behaved with the greatest discourtesy to Parliament and in a manner which surprises me greatly since in their statement they describe the Bill as an annual Bill which they have presented to the House. One would expect, therefore, that they had some experience of Private Bill procedure. It would be out of place to discuss Private Bill procedure, as such, at the present time except to say that it badly needs improvement and that I hope one day to initiate a debate upon it. In so far as Parliament is here to protect the citizens and to protect them, in particular, from people like British Railways in depositing Bills without giving proper notice to individuals, the procedure has signally failed in that task and I hope that we shall find in the next Parliament a proposal to deal with the procedure.

One of my general reasons for opposing the Bill is the staggering assumption of the Railways Board that it is entitled to deposit in Parliament Bills which give it important powers over persons and property without consulting Members of Parliament on either side of the House. Parliament exists to protect people against such an assumption, but the procedure is not adequate. I have in private given the Railways Board a piece of my mind about this. The board appeared to be wounded by what I said, and rather perplexed. It did not seem to realise that the purpose of Parliament is to safeguard the citizen. This theory was quite new to the Railways Board, but I hope that it is not new now and that it will never again do such a thing. After a time the board became more apologetic, but it has got itself into a frightful mess on a Clause to which I shall refer, and I shall want some assurances from the Parliamentary Secretary about it.

The Berkshire County Council has petitioned against the Bill, but there are certain points on which my constituents in the neighbourhood of Steventon want to be fully assured before the Bill becomes law. Clause 6(1)(b) provides that in the county of Berkshire the board shall stop up the road known as Stocks Lane at the level crossing between Didcot and Swindon in the parish of Steventon, near Abingdon, there being two level crossings near that point, the Causeway and the Stocks Lane crossing.

I first wrote on behalf of my constituents to the Western Region of British Railways four years ago, in 1966, as did other people. The constituent about whom I was concerned was Mr. Deane of Stocks Lane Farm, Steventon, who has a farm adjoining the level crossing which it is proposed to close. It is a 300-acre farm of valuable agricultural land, and the farm buildings are situated on the north side of the level crossing. Mr. Deane has 180 head of cattle which have to use that crossing, and this is, and has been for some years, one of the main points of discussion. What we were discussing in 1966 was not whether the crossing should be stopped up, but whether it should be replaced by an automatic half-barrier crossing, and the Parliamentary Secretary will remember the discussions.

Even as late as 19th March, 1969, the divisional manager of British Railways Western Region was still considering an automatic half-barrier crossing at Stocks Lane. The British Railways Board showed no sense of public relations and no appreciation of democratic principles when it deposited the Bill. The farmer, with whom the board had been in correspondence for four years, was not informed, although the Berkshire County Council which was petitioning was informed. Steventon Parish Council with which the board had been corresponding was not informed and nor was I. As a Member of the Parliament from which the board was proposing to seek powers, the board might, one might think, have had the courtesy to inform me.

Eventually the board decided to close the crossing, as there is another level crossing called the Causeway crossing a short distance away. I did not discover that this was to be done by the Bill until 2nd January when I discovered it by accident. I wrote to the divisional manager asking him what procedure he would follow, and he replied that he intended to follow the Private Bill procedure and to do this through a Bill which was already before the House. This is most unsatisfactory, and I have told him so in no uncertain terms. I said that I would raise this matter in the House because the public was concerned about this sort of procedure. No wonder that people are angry.

I turn to the immediate problem Since we have not before us any plans, I shall try to describe the matter generally. Mr. Deane, a farmer who has 180 cows, needs a crossing point of this railway. If the Stocks Lane crossing is closed, he needs to go to a point where he can get over the railway at the Causeway crossing, which will continue to exist. He also has to get over the railway his farm vehicles and tractors. These are wide pieces of equipment, and I will later give some of their measurements since this is an important matter in the negotiations which have started between Berkshire County Council and the Railways Board.

The Railways Board met the Berkshire County Council at the beginning of this week and offered to amend the Bill. I am afraid that such amendments would not satisfy my constituents so that the matter is by no means yet resolved and this is why I am raising it tonight. One amendment of the Bill would provide that the closing of Stocks Lane crossing shall not take place until a pedestrian footbridge at or near the site of the level crossing has been constructed and opened for public use. This would be an essential part of the undertaking to the Berkshire County Council and also from the point of view of my constituents in Steventon.

The second point is much more difficult and complicated. It still remains unsettled and cannot be taken to be in any way acceptable to me or my constituents. The reason is not that the Railways Board has not shown willingness in trying to meet objections, because it has tried to assist as a result of the considerable row which ensued when the depositing of the Bill was announced. There remains a most unsatisfactory situation for the farmer I have mentioned, Mr. Deane, and another person, a Mr. Jacques, who owns a bakery next to Mr. Deane's farm.

The Railways Board propose to widen a road called Mill Street which runs westward towards the Causeway Crossing. That is proposed to be widened at the cost of the board and to the satisfaction of the Berkshire County Council. The board will also have to make up a road called Cat Street, which runs to the Causeway crossing, and also to widen it. That sounds like a constructive alternative to what hitherto has been the situation, but this will be a long way round for the farmer to take his cattle. It means taking them through an inhabited area where there are what one may call rural amenities, and also new housing. It is a fairly extensive operation involving widening Mill Street by two feet and also Cat Street. The situation is so unsatisfactory to Mr. Deane that I must oppose the proposal on his behalf and put forward an alternative.

The offer by the Railways Board which apparently has been accepted in principle by the officers of the Berkshire County Council has not been ratified by the Highways Committee—and I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to note this fact. I shall ask the county council not to ratify it until the whole matter of an alternative route has been examined.

The alternative has been rejected as a result of discussions with the divisional road engineer at Cheltenham and involves the making up of the present track leading eastwards into the trunk road known as the A.34. The divisional road engineer is said to object to the access on to the A.34 as being dangerous in its present position. His advice is likely to be taken by the officers of the county council. I do not blame them for doing that. In its present location, the access is much too dangerous. The road will have to be made up, I think less expensively than making up Mill Street and Cat Street with the result that a new access will have to be formed which conforms to the safety policy of the divisional road engineer. The whole matter must be fully debated by Berkshire County Council, and further consultations must take place with the Railways Board before anything further is done. The petition of the Berkshire County Council will still be before the Committee and no doubt the arguments can be made there.

This matter has not been solved, and there are a good many more points that have to be made. One aspect is that the important A34 trunk road is to be realigned at Abingdon. The Parliamentary Secretary has been involved in this, and I hope that we shall hear something very soon. But we have not yet heard the result of the public inquiry. It is said that, if the bypassing of Abingdon goes west of Abingdon, the part of it which relates to Steventon may not be constructed for eight years. I hope that this is not true. Even when the A34 is "de-trunked", according to the Berkshire County Council, it will still remain just as dangerous and as busy as now.

The position to which the council is referring is not a very optimistic one, and, if that is the advice of the divisional road engineer of the Ministry, I do not like the sound of it. It is an added argument for building the bypass in one piece, instead of two pieces, as I have often argued with the Ministry. This is relevant to whether the alternative route which Mr. Deane would find much shorter and much more convenient, and which I suggest would be less expensive to make up, should be considered.

The Highways Committee may reject its officers' recommendation, and I have no doubt that after this debate I shall be writing to the Berkshire County Council asking it to do so, because I am sure that this matter has gone along much too fast. Despite four years of consideration and correspondence, the negotiations between Berkshire County Council and the Railways Board started only at the beginning of this year although they could have begun a long time ago. I have no doubt that the Railways Board notified the county council that it intended to deposit a Bill before Parliament, but it did not start any negotiations. It would have been very much better if it had begun them several months ago, and then we should have known where we were.

A good example of the problem is that Mr. Deane's cultivating machinery is up to eleven feet wide, and the alterations to Mill Street and Cat Street will have to be considerably greater than proposed. The other track is fairly open, has no hedges and is equally capable of being made up, I think less expensively. Mr. Deane's haymaking machine is up to eight feet wide, and his combine harvester is 13 feet wide, overall. This is the sort of problem which this proposal raises, and it has not been given proper consideration. There has not been enough time, and the Railways Board has not used any imagination. It came as I said to Berkshire County Council only a few weeks ago. As a result, I am here to defend my constituents' position and that of other members of the public who are accustomed to using this level crossing.

There is also the position of delivery lorries carrying seeds, fertilisers and foodstuffs. They are 20-ton lorries and at the moment they go over the crossing to the farm. It will be a big job to make up this road so that these lorries can approach the farm by an alternative route.

Finally, there is the bakery of Mr. Jacques. The flour mill in Gloucester which supplies him has written expressing concern about its lorries. They are eight-wheeler 15–18 ton lorries, and they go to Mr. Jacques's bakery every fortnight.

Those are the problems which arise from one Clause and one subsection of the Bill. These are very good reasons why opportunity should be given to hon. Members to debate it for it has been quite impossible to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion. It is unfortunate that officers of the Berkshire County Council have reached an agreement with the Railways Board which clearly has not been sufficiently thought through to meet the objections of my constituents. That being so, I must pursue them.

While there will not be a Division on this matter, the whole manner and method of operating Private Bill procedure has been thoroughly unfair in this case. An unfortunate farmer has been kept waiting for four years wondering what was to happen to the level crossing. He and the Abingdon branch of the National Farmers' Union have had correspondence with me and other people. While all this has been going on, no one in the Railways Board has had sufficient courtesy, imagination or knowledge of the procedure of this House, although this is their eighth annual Bill, to take the trouble to notify those concerned that the Bill was to be deposited. Had they at heart the interests of those who use this crossing, we might have got round a table long ago to discuss their proposals. One can see the considerable complications that a proposal to close a single level crossing brings.

I am very much opposed to this Clause, and I hope that the Minister is in a position to give me a satisfactory undertaking about it.

8.48 p.m.

Dame Irene Ward (Tynemouth)

It is only recently that I have become interested in Private Bill procedure on the Floor of this House. I did so when I had to oppose the Port of Tyne Bill. Once I became involved in the procedure, I soon found to my pleasure that this Bill dealing with British Railways was down for Second Reading. There and then I made up my mind that, whatever the Bill was about and whatever future Bills British Railways intended to introduce, I would oppose them. I think that British Railways have acquired far too many powers without the general public being aware of them and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) has said, if British Railways can avoid Parliament and hon. Members, they are only too delighted to do so.

When I first looked at the Bill, it seemed to concern itself with very little except level crossings, cows, and a few other matters. I did my homework, and suddenly I discovered two very important Clauses dealing with the destruction of trains by football supporters after matches and with people who try to travel without tickets.

I am always interested in international football matches, but I am not in the habit of going from match to match. However, I have been a member of a bench of magistrates for many years, and we have often had people brought before us charged with travelling without tickets. It has long been my view that the powers of magistrates to impose fines or imprisonment in such cases have been very restricted. I was excited and interested to find these two Clauses in the Bill. How wise I was to decide to oppose every British Railways Bill. One never knows what one will be faced with, and what opportunities there will be to say something about the kind of procedures that occur on property belonging to British Railways.

Following on what my hon. Friend was saying about the lack of knowledge about Private Bills, it is extraordinary that this Clause should deal with the damage on football trains, the penalties and what can be done to bring these people to book. As far as I know, the public, who are desperately interested in this matter, did not know that penalties were to be imposed in a Clause in a little Bill of this kind, mostly dealing with level crossings and the problems of cows. Most hon. Members are followers of football matches. With the great fights that take place—north, south, east, west, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, all over—and the anxieties that have been caused to people who are really interested in how to deal with vandalism and the enforcement of law and order, if real publicity had been given by British Railways to the problems and the relevant provisions of this Bill, I think we should have had a full House tonight. Vandalism deserves a full House; it deserves the advice and knowledge of the many hon. Members who are seriously concerned about this ever-increasing development of vandalism, and what flows from it.

However, when I came to look at this Clause, it suddenly occurred to me that there is a lot of other vandalism on the railways apart from what occurs on the football supporters' trains. Until tonight, I have never really been involved in a British Railways Bill, so I have no idea what has gone before with regard to vandalism.

For instance, in my part of the world, quite a large number of the "loo" facilities for women, which include the disabled, the elderly and the travellers with lots of children, have had to close because of vandalism. When one asks the stationmaster why they have had to close the toilet facilities, he says, "Because of vandals".

I do not know whether there are any penalties in some of those other Bills that have been promoted by British Railways, but if there are, they cannot be very good penalties, and they cannot be followed up. The result is that many of these facilities have had to be closed because they are so seriously damaged by vandals.

I hope that the Select Committee will find out why British Railways has decided to deal only with vandalism on football trains, when there is all this other vandalism. There is great public outcry against vandalism in telephone kiosks. Telephones are there for the use of the public and are put out of operation when people want to get through to the authorities and doctors and the like. These kiosks have been destroyed by vandals. Some kiosks are on stations. One only has to see how many one has to try before getting through to know the effects of this vandalism. If British Railways are seriously trying to deal with vandalism on football trains, why do they not widen the Clause to deal with all vandalism.

The penalties are hardly adequate. In Clause 1, a penalty of up to £25 is prescribed. An offender may be arrested, and this is sensible, but that maximum is not enough. British Rail should impose a fine which will bite. The only way to deal with hooliganism—we cannot put masses of people into jail, of course—is to make the fines bite. As a magistrate, I prefer to give a great big fine and time to pay. We do not want to deprive people of their living circumstances, but we should impose a fine which has to be paid in instalments. This impresses on the offender every week that he has gone against society and must pay for his stupid behaviour.

When British Railways have at last got down to obtaining power to arrest, a fine of only £25 leaves me startled. When the constable has made an arrest, presumably the person is kept in custody until the charge is preferred. That is a very timid Clause. The general public, who are very alarmed about vandalism, would have appreciated a statement by British Railways, in a public relations exercise, that they were determined to stamp vandalism out.

We pay large salaries to people engaged in public relations, and I am sure that many of them are employed by British Railways. It would have been a good thing for British Railways to announce to the public the intention to deal with this matter, instead of slipping a Clause into a Bill and not telling Parliament anything about' it. Even British Railways must know that hon. Members are deeply interested in this matter. We might have had a good debate to decide whether we thought that British Railways understood the problem, and I sometimes wonder whether they do. We might have got much further and had the support of the public in doing so, for every member of the public would have supported British Railways in a serious attempt to deal with vandalism.

The next provision in which I am interested is Clause 18, which gives powers to London Transport Executive. This is important in view of what the public has had to put up with as a result of the breakdown of the escalators in the Underground. Clause 18 permits the maximum penalties under Section 84 of the Transport Act, 1962, to be increased. It is thought that a further increase of fines may help to curb the offence of travelling without paying fares.

During many years on the Bench I have dealt with people charged with this offence. British Railways seem to know nothing about the new term "with it" If they did they would know that it was important to speed up dealing with offences. I am delighted that the Home Secretary agrees with me about this. All Home Secretaries, including Conservative Home Secretaries, take many years before deciding to increase a fine, but here at last we have a decision.

But I wonder whether hon. Members know that people convicted of travelling without paying a fare, even though they have travelled from John o'Groats to Land's End, cannot be made to pay the fare. This is absolutely crackers. There is no mention of exactly how much has been lost because of this offence, and we are not told how widespread the practice is, other than in general terms, and I like to have proper facts and figures. What is the estimate of losses resulting from the non-payment of fares since nationalisation of the railways?

British Railways are so busy trying to economise that they are getting rid of staff. At Kings Cross, there are ticket collectors up to a certain time of night, but later they are withdrawn, so that people can walk on and off trains without being required to show their tickets. I do not think that British Railways have any modern ideas of how to protect their own interests. As I have pointed out, when a person is charged and convicted in a magistrates' court for not having paid his fare, he is not required to pay the fare of which he has bilked the railways, and that is really nonsense. It is ridiculous that the Clause should not include provision for making the person pay the fare. Instead, it is really just a small matter of increasing the maximum fine.

Admittedly, if a person is caught doing it more than once, he can be fined up to £100 and, indeed, can be sent to prison. I would start with a much bigger first fine. If one catches a person doing this and imposes a heavy fine on him straight away, he is much more likely not to repeat the offence than if one imposes only a small initial fine. Since the railways were nationalised, we have had various Acts of Parliament brought forward by Ministers of Transport of both political persuasions. The fact that we have had to wait until 1970 to have this sort of Clause in a railways Bill makes one wonder how on earth British Railways conduct their affairs.

I once went to a meeting of the central Transport Users' Consultative Committee because I thought it might be interested in my views. I can tell the House that it was not. It was really only interested in getting through whatever I had to say as quickly as possible. On everything I raised, the chairman said, "We have heard that one before". One wonders how many people go to these committees. This committee wanted me to go to the local committee for the Northern Region, but no one in Newcastle really knows where the Northern Transport Users' Consultative Committee sits. In fact, it sits in York, so it is not easy to get at by people in the North of England.

It seems that everything is being transferred by British Railways to York. Naturally, Newcastle used to be a great railway centre, but not now. I asked the other day why York Station looks so much cleaner than Newcastle's, and how much more is spent on swilling platforms in York compared with Newcastle. I was told that it was the same amount of money in each case. I do not believe it, however, because I never really believe anything the railways tell me. The fact remains that, by transferring from Newcastle so many things to York, including the Consultative Committee, British Railways have relieved themselves of a great deal of trouble from my part of the country, where people are active and outspoken.

Railway men are awfully nice. I am always delighted to see them. A most charming man came to see me the other day—I shall not give his name—to find out whether we would divide against the Bill. He had a large pile of letters, which were, he said, all mine. He could not have been nicer. He said that he was very grateful for all my letters, and that was exciting, because I had never before heard anybody in British Railways say that he was pleased with me. British Railways do not generally like what I do. This charming man said that all that I had written would help him. As far as can make out, all the suggestions which I have made will be implemented. I think that I shall be dead before they are, but I am fascinated to think that my suggestions will be put into effect, because I wonder how much they will cost the railways.

I do not know what powers the railways have to buy land. British Railways can get all the help that they require when they want to acquire land, but when, occasionally, one of my constituents, perhaps someone in a low income group, or an industrialist, or a school, wants a bit of land from the railways it is extremely difficult to get them to move at all. One would think that one was asking to be sent on an expedition to the moon. As my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon said, it takes weeks, months, or even years, to get the railways to act.

I remember that we tried to get a bit of land from the railways because we wanted to build a bridge to provide additional safety for the children at one of my new schools. The only reason why we managed to get the bridge built was that the Minister was coming up to the school to do the prize giving. As soon as it was known that he was arriving there, the bulldozers got to work, and everyone started talking about what was being done. I am not all that keen on Socialist Ministers coming to my area. It is bad enough getting Conservative Ministers to go there. It is very difficult to get Socialist Ministers to visit us.

The railways have everything weighted in their favour. The wretched public, the elderly, the disabled, and people with children have to walk further and further, without anybody to help them with their luggage. Sometimes I manage to get a sweet and charming engine driver to carry my bag for me. Engine drivers are very nice people.

If the railways want to deal with cows, or crossings, or something like that, they promote a Bill to give them power to take action, but when it comes to dealing with the public, they just go ahead and do what they want. I should like to see a Bill introduced to prevent the railways from chopping off facilities which should be available to the ordinary travelling public.

As we are discussing Private Bill procedure, I should like to know exactly who decides what Bills will be introduced by British Railways. They say that they have put many Bills before the House of Commons. There are masses of things which the railways can do without seeking any powers to do them.

We all know that very often seats on a train are booked and paid for, and then those who have booked the seats do not turn up. In this way the railways get quite a lot of money, which they ought not to receive, yet they leave wretched passengers to stand during a long journey just because the seats have been booked. What has the Minister to say about all this?

I do not always argue on behalf of women, but when it comes to ensuring cleanliness at stations I think that things would be very much better if there were a woman on the British Railways Board.

Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)

But men on the sleeper!

Dame Irene Ward

The men on the sleeper are absolutely marvellous. They could not be nicer.

I put in this point because it is tremendously important. For many years British Railways have been well served by the men. I am talking about all the men, not just about those who sit on boards. But it is very depressing when one talks to men who have served on the railways for many years. They say, "We complain about this, that and the other, but nobody is interested". It does not matter whether it is the guard who is annoyed about a train coming in late. He will say, "I can assure you that I will report this, but do not think that anybody will take any notice, because they will not". The genuine railwayman has no faith whatever in the British Railways Board; nor has the public.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon, I have written to the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity. I am told that British Railways cannot recruit guards, porters or shunters in the North of England. This seems absolutely fantastic as we have such a high level of employment in that region. This is what we are told, but they keep dismissing porters—


Order. The hon. Lady must come to the Bill.

Dame Irene Ward

I did a lot about the Bill before you arrived on the scene, Mr. Speaker. But it is a miscellaneous Bill—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Lady must do a little more now.

Dame Irene Ward

Yes. But if you, Mr. Speaker, read the Bill carefully you will find that there are all kinds of miscellaneous provisions. This is what I am complaining about. British Railways put in all kinds of miscellaneous provisions, but nobody knows what they are. It would be a good thing if the House of Commons was told what the miscellaneous provisions are.

I was about to explain that at Blaydon in the County of Durham there are two level crossings. We had to have Bills dealing with those, but apparently we do not need Bills to ensure that trains are punctual or anything like that. We are given no idea in the Bill—

Mr. Speaker

Order. We cannot talk about the Bills we would like to have but have not at the moment.

Dame Irene Ward

I think that I have got out a lot, and I am delighted. I am looking forward to hearing the Minister give us an assurance about these matters. I once asked the ex-Chairman of the British Railways Board, Lord Beeching, whether he would lunch with me, but I do not think that he would—

Mr. Speaker

Order. That would have been most interesting, but it is not in the Bill.

Dame Irene Ward

I was trying to make the point that I have had to make representations to the Chairman of the British Railways Board. I have always thought that one can explain things more easily when meeting a man face to face. There are no women on the British Railways Board. It would be a good thing if there were.

I have come to the end of what I want to say, but I could speak about British Railways for three hours if I had the chance. I hope, having ventilated our grievances tonight, that we will in future know from British Railways what their Bills will be, why they have to produce them, when they are really going to do something to deal with vandalism and people who avoid paying their fares—

Mr. Speaker

Order. At this stage the hon. Lady may discuss the Bill. She cannot discuss the whole of British Railways.

Dame Irene Ward

Clauses 17 and 18 deal with vandalism on football supporters' trains and those who get away without paying their fares. Why are these provisions in the Measure without any publicity having been given to them and without the necessary public relations work having been done? Equally, why are so many things that should be in the Bill not in it?

I appreciate that I am attempting to stretch the rules of order by raising certain matters that need to be ventilated. Unfortunately, there are to few opportunities to arise them. British Railways do not give us such opportunities. They merely introduce a Bill without saying what it is about; and then you, Mr. Speaker, and others get annoyed when we try to ventilate our grievances.

I hope that, in future, British Railways will be more businesslike, with-it and up-to-date in their methods. We like the people in British Railways. I oppose the Bill at this stage because of the way we have been treated, and I trust that this matter will receive full consideration so that on future occasions British Railways will adopt a different attitude.

9.23 p.m.

Mr. James Wellbeloved (Erith and Crayford)

I make no apology for joining the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) in forcing a debate on Second Reading. After all, the Measure sets out to give the British Railways Board powers to construct works, to extend the time for the compulsory acquisition of land, to increase fines for vandalism on the railways and to enable the railway police to arrest offenders on British Rail property.

Because it is such an important Bill, I am amazed that British Rail have not taken steps to see that an hon. Mem- ber who is able to present the Measure and explain it to the House is on hand. It is an insult to Parliament and the public that we are faced with a Private Bill of this importance without the promoters having arranged for it to be properly presented to the House.

I met representatives of British Rail and discussed a number of matters about the Bill with them. During that discussion I told them that I did not intend to divide the House on Second Reading. In view of the discourtesy which British Rail have shown, I am sorely tempted to divide the House, to show British Rail that they cannot treat the people and Parliament with contempt.

The hon. Lady the Member for Tyne-mouth (Dame Irene Ward) asked a number of pertinent questions, particularly about the miscellaneous provisions. Had British Rail made arrangements for an hon. Member to present the Bill and to be in charge of it, the hon. Lady might have been given some answers.

It must be made clear that we are not prepared to allow Bills to come forward in this fashion. I hope that British Rail will take note of what has been said and will ensure that this state of affairs does not arise again. I regret that these complaints are being made when the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Mr. Murray), is present to answer for the Government because he is a man of considerable compassion who will do his duty in answering the debate.

However, this is not the Government's responsibility. British Rail should have arranged for the Measure to have been properly presented and explained, and for this reason I will not hold my hon. Friend in any way responsible if he is unable to reply to the points made by hon. Members.

I am primarily concerned with the proposals to close five level crossings on the North Kent line within my constituency. Those level crossings are vital for my constituents. The railway line cuts off a substantial portion of my constituency, the Slade Green, the Belvedere and the Thamesmead areas. Thamesmead is a most important area because it is the site of a new town development. The crossings provide essential access to those three areas. Several thousands of people live in them and a considerable number have to cross the line to get to work in factories on the other side.

Despite the importance of these level crossings to my constituents, there has been no attempt by British Railways to consult local people, or even to inform them of the proposals to close the crossings. The London Borough of Bexley Council has been involved in discussions, but, like the British Railways Board, it also has failed to inform the public in my constituency of the proposals. Little wonder that there has been considerable hostility in the area since the matter was forced into the open by Press reports.

I also join the hon. Member for Abingdon in expressing serious concern that Private Bills can be promoted, not only by the British Railways Board but by other organisations, without the hon. Members for the constituencies affected being informed that the proposals affect their areas. This, too, should be rectified. My constituents are not necessarily against the closures of level crossings. Many of them welcome the closing of many crossings as long as proper and permanent means of communication are provided. They have suffered for many years from the frustration which crossings cause by holding up traffic. It is time that this was ended, but it should be done only after proper consultation with local interests and the provision of adequate alternative means of access.

Since publicity was given to these proposals, I have received a considerable volume of correspondence from local people. I have had many letters from retired pensioners who, by the abolition of the level crossings, will be cut off and left with a footbridge as the only means of getting to shops and friends. They ask in their letters whether it will be a step bridge or a ramp bridge. Someone should be present in the House to give an assurance on that point on behalf of British Rail. I have had letters from disabled people who fear that even if the footbridge is ramped they may be unable to manoeuvre invalid carriages across it and thereby will be cut off from friends and shops. At the moment they can get across the railway on the level.

There are considerable fears among people in the area. Mothers fear that they will have difficulty in getting prams across the line unless there is proper provision. Their views should be taken into account. People employed in the many factories in the Slade Green and Belvedere area are most concerned that closure of the crossings might increase hold-ups through the concentration of traffic now using the level crossings on to the existing road network. Employers are much concerned that the proposals may mean greater difficulty for transport of material into their factories and of products out of them.

Clause 6 deals with the problem to which I want to refer, setting out the crossings which are to be closed. The first is in Clause 6(1)(a) and concerns a proposal to close the crossings in the Crabtree Manorway and Norman Road area. These two crossings are used by many industrial undertakings. First, in respect of the Crabtree Manorway crossing, there are at least 32 factories operating beyond the railway line, and beyond the Norman Road crossing there is a large residential area. The people there rely on that crossing to get from their homes to other parts of the town. The Borough of Bexley proposes to construct a road bridge at a point somewhere between the two level crossings to be closed, at a place called Picardy Manorway.

When is it proposed to construct this bridge? There are doubts that the design stage of the bridge has yet been completed. I have a letter from the Borough of Bexley dated 22nd September telling me that it is proceeding with the preparation of a scheme for the works on this bridge but that they will not be considered until the five-to-eight year period beginning 1971–72. If the road bridge has not yet completed its design stage and cannot be constructed until, at the earliest, 1971–72, why have British Rail included the provision in the Bill for the closure of these crossings? It is no use their saying that there is another Clause clarifying the position, saying that the crossing cannot be closed until the bridge is built. My constituents want to know why there is this hurry. Why have they not been consulted? There is no great urgency about this provision.

There is also the rather strange procedure over the agreement which British Rail have reached with the Borough of Bexley. It appears that on 19th June, 1969, a proposal was put to the highways and works committee of the borough saying that in return for the council's co-operation in the crossings closures, British Rail would make a contribution of £10,000 towards the construction of the Picardy Manorway bridge. The offer is subject to review if the level crossings are not closed before November, 1970. If the bridge is not yet even designed and cannot start before 1971–72, it is obvious that this date of November, 1970, is nonsense. There is no hope of that date being effective and the proposal for the Crabtree Manorway and the Norman Road crossings should be deleted from the Bill. There is adequate time for the consultations which the local people want.

The next proposal is in Clause 6(a)(iii) which is to close the level crossing at Pembroke Road. I have had no representations from local people about this crossing and it seems to be a reasonable proposal. I understand that there is a ramp footbridge due to be constructed. This is not a crossing which divides a residential area and there are other road networks providing access for the local people. Providing that the footbridge is erected before the crossing is closed, there can be no objection to this proposal.

The next proposal is to close the level crossings at Slade Green Road and Whitehall Road, Slade Green. These are the two which are causing the greatest concern in my constituency, because their closure would present a very serious situation for the people of the Slade Green area. The two level crossings, plus one road bridge, are the only means of road communication between the area and the rest of the community. If the two crossings are closed, the traffic now using them will be forced to use Bridge Road at Slade Green, which will lead to considerable congestion. That is not only my fear but the fear expressed to me by local people and, significantly, by industrialists in the Slade Green area, who fear that the capacity of Bridge Road will not be sufficient to take the extra traffic generated if the two crossings are closed.

That is not the end of the problem. What would happen to the Slade Green area if, because of an accident or any kind of calamity, Bridge Road were temporarily closed? How would ambulances, the fire brigade and essential services get to the people of Slade Green if Bridge Road were out of use and the two level crossings were shut off? There would be a tremendous outcry in my constituency if British Rail were allowed, with the consent of Parliament, to close those crossings and to leave that area exposed to the danger of being cut off from emergency services.

I know that the local authority has consulted British Rail and that there is the possibility that one of the level crossings might be left available for use in an emergency. If British Rail had had the courtesy to appoint a Member to present the Bill to the House tonight, we might well have had an assurance about that written into the record, but it failed to take that opportunity.

An alternative means of access to the Slade Green area is essential. British Rail cannot rely on the fact that at an unspecified date the local authority will build a new road connecting Slade Green to Manor Road, Erith. There are no concrete proposals for that, and it may be many years ahead, but the powers to close the two crossings are in the Bill and it is the intention to close down as soon as possible. That is not acceptable to the people of the area.

There is the additional problem that if they are closed the extra traffic which will be forced on to Bridge Road will find, when it gets to the top and joins the A206, that that road is subject to extensive road works. What will happen to all that extra traffic when the road-works are carried out in the years ahead?

It has been suggested to me that if the level crossings are not closed British Rail way well have to consider installing automatic barriers on them. I should issue on behalf of the people of my constituency the very solemn warning to British Rail that if it tries to introduce automatic barriers in the areas of Belvedere and Slade Green it will face militant action from the local people, and that action will have the full support of the Member of Parliament for Erith and Crayford. We should not be prepared to allow that sort of situation to develop.

Although I am sorely tempted to divide the House on Second Reading, I shall resist the temptation, but British Rail must be fully prepared for further opposition at later stages of the Bill unless it meets the legitimate requirements of the people of my constituency.

9.40 p.m.

Mr. John Hynd (Sheffield, Attercliffe)

I apologise for rising at this time of night, but I will take only a minute and a half.

I would point out to my hon. Friend that whilst many of us will sympathise with some of his complaints about the actual procedure under which this Bill has been presented to the House, British Railways have produced a fairly clear statement as to the intentions of the Bill. Furthermore, this is a Second Reading, and if the Bill passes this stage it will go to Committee, where all the points that we have raised can be examined.

Clause 16 of the Memorandum states: The Promoters respectfully submit that they should be allowed to put forward their case for the clauses to the Committee in the ordinary way if the Bill receives a Second Reading.

In normal circumstances I would be tempted to try to follow the rather challenging remarks of the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) about the whole scope of British Railways. I will not do so, first of all because it would take too much time and second, because I would be wildly out of order if I tried to do so.

There is one point on which I agree it would be helpful to hear the Minister's comments. Clause 18 of the Bill provides for a considerable increase in the amount of fines for ticket frauds; but there is no provision for increased fines in Clause 17 for what is, in my opinion, a much more serious and dangerous offence—physical violence involving danger to passengers. I would not have thought that ticket fraud was something which affects ordinary people apart from the individual who is charged; but violence on trains, particularly by football groups and the like, can be a serious danger to life and limb. I would like to know, therefore, why this has not had attention.

My final point is with regard to the provision in Clause 17 that railway police should now obtain power to arrest in cases of hooliganism and disorderly, riotous, indecent and other such behaviour on trains. I am not authorised to speak for the trade unions involved but I know pretty well what is in their mind in this connection. They have been worried for many years over the position of railway police vis-à-vis this kind of behaviour which puts the police in a defenceless position.

One may say that giving the police powers of arrest does not make their position safer, since it is easier to take a name and address than to make an arrest. On the other hand, although they are without powers of arrest at the present time, the railway police are expected where necessary to eject troublesome people from the premises. Power to arrest, therefore, would not expose them to further danger and may give them authority in dealing with these people. This will give considerable satisfaction to the trade unions.

I only hope that when the Minister replies to this debate he will say something to explain why there is no proposal to increase penalties for the much more serious type of offence.

9.50 p.m.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

Two major legislative matters arise in the Bill—level crossings and crime. On the first, dealt with in Part II of the Bill, the House will recollect that after the Hixon level crossing accident an inquiry was set up under Mr. Gibbens, Queen's Counsel, who recommended certain technical improvements to the half-barrier crossings. Further installation of those crossings was cancelled for the time being until existing crossings had been remedied. Are British Railways intending to introduce again, by means of some of the Clauses in the Bill, the automatic half-barrier crossing?

We have in Clause 4 a reference to a new railway crossing of a road at Duxford, and in Clause 7 to a new crossing at Blaydon. In Clause 8 there is a reference to a change to footpath crossings without any indication of the protection which will be given to the pedestrian in those cases.

Clause 6 provides for the stopping up of roads, by closing crossings, without the public inquiry which one normally expects. Before these provisions were inserted in a Bill, the House should have heard from the Minister about the progress being made with the recommendations contained in the Gibbens Report. For several years the public has been deeply concerned about level crossings by reason of the number of accidents which have occurred. The House is not anxious to give a Second Reading to a Bill which introduces in this casual fashion so many new level crossings and alterations to existing level crossings without hearing what progress has been made with the recommendations of the Gibbens Report.

Part IV of the Bill deals with crime. Clause 18 increases the penalties for ticket frauds, and that seems to be well justified. Clause 17 is an important Clause. My hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) made an effective and moving speech on this issue. The wanton smashing of "football specials" and the terrorising of passengers has been a national disgrace for too long, yet it is left to a small Private Bill to attempt to deal with it. Of course there should be power to arrest in these cases. Why have not the Government proposed it earlier? Why have not British Railways, in their previous seven Bills, proposed it earlier? Will the Clause be sufficient to deal with the problem? With all respect to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, I am sorry that more senior Ministers—the Home Secretary and the Attorney-General—are not here to deal with this important point. It is a matter not just for the Ministry of Transport but for those who are concerned with the enforcement of the law.

Look at the machinery of this clause. The constable cannot make the arrest if he is given an address. When he is given an address, how does he know whether it is true or false? These serious crimes of malicious damage and rioting on the railways are treated as no more than breaches of the board's bye-laws. This is not good enough. The statement presented to hon. Members by the board says in paragraph 12: The Board are concerned to improve the capacity of their police force and any constable to deal with hooliganism on football special trains and the like. It would perhaps have been better if the words "and the like" had been spelt out. The public is fed up with the apparently complacent attitude towards the malicious damage caused in carriages, on stations and to lavatories, telephones, benches and so on. But it is violent hooliganism that gives the greatest anxiety, and it is regrettable that such serious crimes are left to be dealt with by a Private Bill. The Government should have stepped in and dealt with that kind of violent crime firmly as a subject of substantive public law and not just as a private railway bye-law.

9.49 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. Albert Murray)

This has been an interesting debate which has ranged from rural Berkshire to the busy new Thamesmead area and taken in a local derby in football terms.

My hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) and the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) mentioned that no hon. Member was promoting the Bill on behalf of British Railways. I understand that it is not normal for an hon. Member to introduce a Bill on behalf of a nationalised undertaking. Certainly on the last occasion on which such a Bill as this was debated, which was in 1962–63, it was not introduced by an hon. Member.

First of all, I should like to make it clear that the Government have no objection in principle to the Bill. The administration of the railways is the job of the Railways Board and the Government recognise that if this administration is to be as efficient as we all want it to be many of the developments the board proposes need statutory authority. The board has found it necessary to promote a Bill each year for this purpose so that the Bill we are considering tonight can be regarded as one of a series.

Mr. Neave

The hon. Gentleman began by saying that it had not been the custom for an hon. Member to promote a private Bill by British Railways. No doubt he is correct, but is he in a position to answer a very important constituency point that arises because of the provisions of this Bill? Can he speak for the Railways Board?

Mr. Murray

I hope that I can answer some of the points that have been made.

Mr. Neave

Only some of them?

Mr. Murray

I did not intervene once in the hon. Gentleman's speech, and I think I should be allowed to answer as many points as I can. If they are not covered, I am certain that the hon. Member, who has not been backward in coming forward in giving British Railways the rough end of his tongue, will be on to them with further letters or telephone calls.

As I was saying, this Bill is one of a series. I am certain that British Railways would express some interest in the amount of heat which this Bill for the first time, seems to have engendered.

Two hon. Members who have taken part in this debate have expressed concern about Clause 6 of the Bill which would enable the Railways Board to stop up the roads over certain level crossings in Abingdon and Bexley. The Government do not consider that the level crossing is the ideal means of crossing where a road and a railway meet, but convenience and safety for the public must both be taken into account when considering either to open or to stop up level crossings as well as the savings of expense which will also result.

The Railways Board want to close the crossing at Abingdon because it is expensive to man and maintain. Clause 6 provides that closing this crossing will not affect the rights of pedestrians to cross the line and will require the board to maintain wicket gates on both sides of the railway, but I understand diet the board is now thinking of providing a footbridge for pedestrians.

Clause 6 also provides that the crossing will not be closed until Castle Street—which I understand is known locally as Cat Street—has been made up at the cost of the Railways Board, to the satisfaction of the highway authority, and is open for public use as a highway maintainable at public expense.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned that the Berkshire County Council has petitioned against the Clause. The county council wants closure deferred until a link road to the east as well as to the west can be made up, but it is unlikely that anything of this sort would be practicable for some time. Meanwhile, the extra distance which vehicles will have to travel if the crossing is closed does not seem to be excessive, and pedestrians should not be inconvenienced at all. However, unless the county council's petition is withdrawn, all these points will be considered in detail by the Select Committee should the House agree to the Bill being remitted to it.

As to the crossings at Bexley which my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford mentioned—he will know that I am a constant commuter on the North Kent line—it is provided in Clause 6(2) and (3) that none shall be closed until pedestrian footbridges are provided over the railway line at or near them.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

Do I understand the Minister to say that my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) must speak for the constituents of Bexley? Where is the right hon. Member for Bexley (Mr. Heath)? Should he not be putting the case? Must we rely on my hon. Friend?

Mr. Murray

According to the comment which this Bill has aroused, it is difficult enough to speak for British Railways, let alone the right hon. Member for Bexley (Mr. Heath). I must point out to my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis) that Erith and Crayford comes within the Greater London Borough of Bexley and that is why we have that name mentioned. Subsection (2) further provides that a road bridge over the railway along the line of Picardy Manorway must also be opened before two of the crossings, Crabtree Manorway and Norman Road. are closed. The Railways Board will provide the footbridges and will contribute towards the cost of the road bridge.

My hon. Friend was concerned about the North End crossing and Whitehall crossing. He is worried that closing these two crossings may mean that traffic from Slade Green to North End Road will be channelled along Bridge Road and will cause congestion there. It is true that there will be extra traffic on Bridge Road when the crossing is closed. But I understand that the Railways Board have already given my hon. Friend some information which shows that on one day recently at the peak morning travel time between 7.30 a.m. and 9 a.m. traffic on the railway was such that the North End crossing was closed for 50 of the 90 minutes and at Whitehall crossing it was not possible to open the gates at all to road traffic, whereas in the afternoon peak period of 4.30 p.m. to 6 p.m. North End crossing gates were only open again for 50 of the 90 minutes and at Whitehall crossing they were only open for six of the 90 minutes.

I understand that the London Borough of Bexley, which is the highway authority both for the two roads over the crossing and for Bridge Road, has no objections to the proposals. Since closure of these crossings will be necessary if the public is to receive the full benefit of the new colour-light signalling system which the board propose to instal on this line, I was naturally pleased, after hearing several of my hon. Friend's objections, to hear him say that, although he was sorely tempted, he was not opposing the Bill.

Hon. Members have been a little disturbed and have mentioned that they feel that the Railways Board should consult them in advance about the terms of their Bills. This was particularly so where hon. Members' own constituencies were involved. The hon. Member for Abingdon has already been in touch with the Railways Board about the closure of the Stocks Lane crossing, and it was unfortunate that the board did not fulfil the undertaking they gave him last March to let him know what steps they would take. I understand that the board have apologised to him for this. I understand that the failure was an administrative error.

Mr. Neave

The board have apologised, but will the hon. Gentleman note that they did not understand that they had been discourteous to Parliament in not informing hon. Members that they proposed to deposit this Bill—

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Ordered, That the Proceedings on the British Railways Bill set down for consideration at Seven o'clock this evening by direction of the Chairman of Ways and Means may be entered upon and proceeded with at this day's Sitting at any hour, though opposed.—[Mr. Harper.]

Question again proposed, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Mr. Neave

The point is that British Railways do not understand in what way they have been discourteous in not informing hon. Members of their intention to deposit a Private Bill affecting our constituencies. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will see to it that the chairman and members of the Railways Board have this pointed out to them so that it does not happen again.

Mr. Murray

They might not have understood before tonight. I am certain that they will understand after tonight. As I pointed out to the hon. Gentleman, he has received an apology saying that their omission was an error in administration, and they have informed me that they did not intend any discourtesy. But, although hon. Members rightly want to know statutory proposals for matters which affect their constituencies, we must accept that the Railways Board would find it difficult to give advance warning of all that they may have in mind. Often they are not able to take a final decision to include a proposal until just before depositing the Bill.

The board follows the statutory procedure which includes advertising locally and consulting highway authorities, and other authorities beyond the requirements of Standing Orders. In this case, it consulted the Berkshire County Council on the Stocks Lane proposals. By this means, hon. Members get to hear of proposals, especially when their constituents or local authorities are aggrieved by them. Hon. Members can always raise these matters with the board. Moreover, once a Bill has been deposited, hon. Members can obtain copies from the Private Bill Office. I understand that normally about two months elapse before it comes up for Second Reading and before petitions need to be lodged. I can assure hon. Members on behalf of the Railways Board that, should they discover any matters affecting their constituencies which arouse their interest or concern, the Board will be happy to meet and discuss matters with them.

I now turn to the points raised by the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward). I am not certain whether she will be surprised to know that these are mainly matters for the Railways Board to consider. It is the board's job to administer the railways efficiently, and this means that the quality of the service that they provide for their passengers should be as high as is consistent with their obligation to pay their way.

I know that the hon. Lady has had a long and voluminous correspondence with the board about different matters. When she spoke about a charming young man bringing out a great pile of letters, I thought that she was about to say that that was just one week's correspondence. Her points include the difficulty of getting porters to carry luggage at railway stations. I understand that the board is making efforts to improve on many of the conditions about which she has complained, such as punctuality, a high standard of train and station cleanliness and train heating. Another point which she has raised with them is the importance of letting the public know about cancellations and delays as soon as possible so that they are kept informed.

The hon. Lady also said some hard words about the Central Transport Users' Consultative Committee. I can assure her that these committees do a good job, both the central and the area committees, in bringing consumer influence to bear on the board, and that the board takes seriously any criticism or advice it receives from these committees.

In these days of political argument about law and order, I thought it a fairly natural reaction that Clauses 17 and 18 should have received some comment in the House. I am always interested, as a follower of Association football, to hear what people think about the football hooligans. But I was hoping that somebody would say that this is mainly the minority of cases, and that football followers in this country do behave themselves and are not a source of trouble. But the point was that it is really not just a question of football supporters: the board was concerned to give the powers of arrest, because it is an offence against the bye-laws for a passenger to behave in a riotous, disorderly, indecent or offensive manner. This was really the point, and the reason that they were asking for these powers of arrest. The hon. Lady talked about penalties. The penalties in Clause 18 are concerned with fare evasion and refusing to pay fares, and are not meant for dealing with violence or hooliganism.

I hope I have answered most of the points that were raised in this very wide-ranging debate. I am certain that, if hon. Members are concerned about any of the points which I have not answered, they will not hesitate to either write to me or to the Railways Board. Certainly, no one who has taken part in the debate has ever been hesitant about writing to the Railways Board. I hope that the House will give the Bill an unopposed Second Reading.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time and committed.