HC Deb 08 April 1974 vol 872 cc96-114

Order for Second Reading read.

Mr. Speaker

Before calling the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) to move the Second Reading, I have to inform the House that I have not selected the amendment in the names of the hon. Members for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) and Southend, East (Sir S. McAdden).

7.0 p.m.

Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South and Finsbury)

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

This is a Private Bill promoted by the British Railways Board. Like many other public authorities, British Rail has to seek from time to time by means of a Private Bill the legislative authority of Parliament for some of its activities, and in the case of British Rail this happens almost every year. Being a Private Bill affecting private interests, the Bill will be subject in Committee to the rigorous procedures applying to such Bills. Objectors to the provisions of the Bill will be able to present their cases in the quasijudicial conditions of a Private Bill Committee.

I stand here not as the author of the Bill but as its sponsor, having been requested by British Rail to present and explain its provisions to the House. I remind hon. Members that this procedure for British Rail Bills derived from a complaint, voiced in 1970, I think, that there were inadequate arrangements for the explanation of British Rail Bills on Second Reading. I shall do my best to acquaint the House with the content of the Bill. However, hon. Members will understand that I am not in the position of a Minister presenting a Bill and I do not have the full backing which Ministers have, so I hope that the House will bear with me in any deficiencies on my part in performing that task. If I am able to answer any questions raised in the debate, and if the House wishes me to speak a second time for that purpose, I shall seek leave so to do.

I understand that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will intervene during the debate to state the Government's views on the Bill, but I should say now that the Secretary of State for the Environment has given his consent to British Rail to promote the Bill, as is required under Section 17 of the Transport Act 1962.

The House is entitled to a full account of the content of the Bill, and I shall, therefore, give it the benefit of my lost weekend. I shall not start at Clause 1 and go right through to Clause 31, for I think that it will be more helpful if I present my account in what I regard as a more logical order.

The provisions of the Bill may be divided into three groups. First, there are the non-substantial provisions, such as the title and the interpretation clauses and a few other routine clauses. Second, there are the provisions authorising works to be undertaken in specified localities. Third, there are some important general provisions.

Clauses 1 and 2 provide for the Title and arrangement of the Bill. Clauses 3 and 15 are interpretation clauses defining terms used in the Bill. Clauses 4, 10, 14, 18 and 21 are designed to relate this Bill to other enactments governing British Rail. For example, Clause 4 provides that the general rules about the construction of railways, level crossings, bridges and so forth will apply to general constructions authorised by this Bill as to all others. I should mention in this group Clause 30, the arbitration clause, Clause 20, containing minor amendments to the SELNEC Act, and Clause 31 making routine provision for costs.

I come next to the clauses which authorise specified works in specified places. First, I mention the Maplin railway line. As the Bill stands, Clause 6, under the headings Work No. 1 and Work No. 2, would allow British Rail to construct a railway from Thorpe Bay to the seawall opposite Foulness and from there over the land which was to be reclaimed. I cannot speak for the Government, but hon. Members will know that the Secretary of State for Trade has announced that the whole Maplin project is being reviewed and that meanwhile no further money is to be spent on it. In the light of that, it is not the intention of British Rail to seek the authorisation now set out under Work No. 1 and Work No. 2 in Clause 6. The promotors will seek leave in Committee to delete those provisions from Clause 6. Other provisions of the Bill consequential on Works Nos. 1 and 2 will be deleted also. This will dispose, among others, of Clause 6(1) and (3) and some of the works described in Clause 7.

I emphasise that point again so that there will be no misunderstanding during this Second Reading debate. The proposal to build a line from Thorpe Bay to the reclaimable land at Foulness will not form part of this Bill as it emerges from Committee. It would have been better if the provisions in this connection could have been removed before the introduction of the Bill, but, as hon. Members will understand, the timing of the Government's decision did not allow that. There is a rigorous timetable laid down for Private Bills in the orders of the House for Private Business, and that had to be held to in the way I have indicated. The House will understand also that the question whether there is to be an airport or a seaport at Maplin is not one for British Rail and, therefore, not one for this Bill.

The provisions under Work No. 3 in Clause 6 would provide for a one-mile extension to connect a spur railway on Canvey Island, which has already been authorised by the British Railways Act 1972, with an oil refinery proposed to be constructed by United Refineries Limited, and possibly a second refinery now under construction by Occidental Oil Company Limited. This line will be used to transport the refined product from the refinery, or refineries, to inland depots.

Work No. 4 would provide for a new railway station at Bury in Lancashire and a tiny stretch of line to connect it with an existing line of route where rail will be relaid. This is required by the Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Executive as part of its suburban commuter services. I should say that Bury Corporation has petitioned against this provision, and negotiations are taking place with a view to meeting these objections.

Work No. 5 would provide for a new road and bridge just north of Doncaster where the East Coast main line and the Doncaster-Leeds lines diverge. These works will allow two level crossings to be closed.

Work No. 6 is provided for in Clauses 16 and 17. It relates to the proposed tube line between Piccadilly and Victoria station in Manchester, the so-called "Pic-Vic". The works required for this tube line have already been authorised, and all that is being done now is to authorise a slight change in the alignment of the tunnel. Only a small part of the tunnel is affected, at the southern end, and the change is expected to save about £300,000.

Hon. Members will note that under Clause 17 (2) compensation for those affected by acquisitions on the old route will not he affected, and I am assured that Manchester Corporation does not object to this proposal.

Those are the five most important works covered by the Bill. I come now to five less significant works. Clause 7 will allow some roads and footpaths to be stopped. The stopping up of these cases is consequential upon the major works dealt with in Clause 6, and, as I said, those consequential on works Nos. 1 and 2 in Clause 6 will be proposed for deletion in Committee. There is also a proposal to stop up a level crossing in Peterborough. This has the approval of the local authorities and is justified because a new road bridge has been built. A footbridge will take the place of the level crossing for pedestrians.

Clause 8 provides for a new level crossing to carry the new Aylsham bypass over the railway. Norfolk County Council approves this step. When the new crossing is in operation, but not before, the nearby Greenwood crossing will be downgraded to a private one usable only by neighbouring owners and occupiers, who will be given private keys to it.

Clause 9 allows a number of other crossings as set out in Schedule 1 to be closed to public vehicular traffic. They are little used except by local residents and this provision will save costs by removing the need for a crossing keeper. Nearby owners and occupiers will still have private use of the crossings for vehicles and the public will be able to use them for pedestrian travel, and in some cases they will also be usable as bridle paths.

Clauses 23 and 24 allow British Rail to transfer two stretches of line to other interests, in one case to the National Coal Board and in the other to a private company. British Rail has no operational use for these stretches of line.

Clause 26 deals with the underground pedestrian way at Blackfriars in London at the end of Blackfriars Bridge. I am advised by British Rail that the proposed subway interferes with property development and it is now proposed to replace it with a way on the surface. That concludes the works authorised in specified localities.

I come now to general powers provided in the Bill. First is the power to acquire land or other necessary interests by compulsion for the purposes set out in the Bill. It is covered by Clauses 5, 11, 12, 13 and 19. The procedure to be used is that provided for in the Compulsory Purchase Act 1965. The power to do this for works authorised in the Bill will expire at the end of 1977 to avoid planning blight. Where British Rail does not need to acquire the ownership of land but only a right on it it will be able to acquire only that right.

Clause 27 extends until the end of 1977 the power to acquire land by compulsion conferred by a number of earlier Acts, but Clause 28 allows the owner or occupier affected by this extension to serve a purchase notice on the board.

Since the hon. Members for Essex, South-East (Sir Bernard Braine) and Southend, East (Sir S. McAdden) are particularly concerned with one work covered by that provision I shall deal with it specifically. The works covering it includes a spur line to Canvey Island and the delay on that spur line has occurred because of delay in the construction of the refinery which the line was due to serve. It is for that reason in that case that the powers compulsorily to acquire the land are being extended for a further period.

Clause 29 ensures that the normal arrangements on planning permission applying to British Rail will apply in cases authorised by the Bill. However, partial exemption from planning permission will apply only if the works are started within 10 years.

There are a couple of provisions of a more general nature. The police have special powers to search and arrest persons employed by British Rail or on British Rail property. These powers, however, are conferred for a limited period and need to be renewed from time to time. Clause 22 seeks to extend the powers for a further period of five years till 1979 in the same form as at present.

There is an interesting provision on illuminated signs at level crossings. A fireman pointing a hose at an illuminated sign can get a shock from the electricity travelling along the water. For that reason the law provides that so-called fireman's switches must be fitted near such signs so that they may be switched off if there is a fire. It has been realised that this creates a new risk.

Hon. Members will be aware of the dangers attaching to level crossings fitted with half barriers—that is, barriers which obstruct only the left half of the road on the approach sides to the crossing. Imagine a driver held up at such a crossing. He waits for a while and a train passes. He decides that there will not be another train and that the barrier is defective since it does not rise. He weaves his way round the barrier and gets clobbered by the second train.

To avoid that British Rail uses an illuminated sign which says "Second train coming". At the moment that sign must be fitted with a fireman's switch. British Rail, in its boundless anxiety to save mankind from the consequences of their own folly, fears that vandals or other anti-social persons might switch off such a sign when it should be on. Clause 25, therefore, exempts signs on lifting barriers from the need to have a fireman's switch.

That is my account of the contents of the Bill. I hope that I have managed to make it a little clearer than the text might have succeeded in doing. If there are points which I can deal with I should be grateful for the opportunity to do so at the end of the debate.

7.15 p.m.

Sir Bernard Braine (Essex, South-East)

The House is grateful to the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) for the clear and factual way in which he has introduced the Bill and explained its contents. I and, I am sure, my hon. Friends the Members for Southend, East (Sir S. McAdden), Southend, West (Mr. Channon) and Maldon (Mr. Wakeham) were glad to hear that the proposal for the rail link to Maplin had been abandoned and would be dropped from the Bill. That decision will give a great deal of satisfaction to my former constituents in the Rochford rural district who asked me before the General Election to oppose that provision.

I do not doubt that in general the provisions of the Bill are impeccable. I have no quarrel with them save one. That is the provision in Clause 6 called Work No. 3 for a spur line to serve two oil refineries on Canvey Island which, as most hon. Members know, is in my constituency. It is essential for me to say something about the history of the refineries on Canvey Island so that the House may judge for itself the strength of objection to this provision.

In 1965, the then Labour Government gave planning permission for one oil refinery to be built on Canvey. Although the local Labour-controlled Canvey Urban District Council was in favour of the proposal, everyone else was opposed to it. They included the neighbouring local authorities—the planning authority: indeed, no fewer than 20,000 of my constituents signed a petition against granting planning permission for a refinery close to what was a large and growing residential population. One reason was that the prevailing winds in our part of the Thames Estuary were south-westerly and tens of thousands of people in South-East Essex and Southend were already suffering, and had been suffering for a number of years, much discomfort from the operations of two existing large refineries sited immediately to the west of Canvey Island. They did not want their nuisance to be aggravated.

Another reason was that the area, not merely Canvey but neighbouring Benfleet, was one of growing residential population. Accordingly I raised the matter in the House. There was a public inquiry following which the Secretary of State decided to ignore the recommendations of his inspector and planning permission was given. In the event the company did not proceed at that time to build its refinery.

In 1972, in spite of strenuous opposition from me, from my constituents, the local urban district council, neighbouring councils and the planning authority, the Conservative Secretary of State for the Environment gave permission to Occidental Petroleum to build a 6-million ton capacity plant on the island.

That was bad enough. But last year his successor as Secretary of State gave planning permission to United Refineries Ltd., the company that had made the original application in the 1960s, to build a second refinery with a 4-million ton capacity. That permission, also followed a public inquiry. Again, the Secretary of State, despite protestations from me, from the local authorities, from all those most closely concerned, over-ruled his inspector and granted planning permission. It is, of course, strictly relevant to the consideration of the Bill, and particularly Clause 6, to consider the effect of these two planning permissions taken together.

Canvey Island covers no more than 4,000 acres. It houses nearly 30,000 people. Once the two refineries are built, nearly half of this small island, where a large population have chosen to make their homes, will become a major oil refinery and storage complex. Nearly half the island will be occupied by officially classified hazardous industries. Those industries will include not only the two oil refineries, but an oil storage wharf, oil storage tanks, a methane gas terminal and methane storage.

Furthermore, a little to the west of the island are two of the largest oil refineries in the country, both of which have expanded in recent years, one at Shellhaven and the other at Coryton, all within sight of the people who live on Canvey. Then there is a third refinery across the river on the Isle of Grain. Last week, as though that was not enough, it was announced that the Secretary of State was minded to grant planning permission for a fourth refinery at Cliffe, on the Kent side of the river, a few miles to the south-west of Canvey. All these refineries are within a five-mile radius of Canvey Island.

We have had our share of warnings about the hazards that are building up around us. We have had many refinery fires, happily without loss of life, happily all contained, thanks to the skill, bravery and resourcefulness of the fire brigade, but all serious in themselves. We have had collisions in the estuary between vessels carrying hazardous cargoes, with near-disaster situations along the Canvey waterfront.

I do not apologise for reminding the House for a second time within a week that recently an ammunition ship collided with the sea wall at Canvey, not far from the methane terminal. Happily, the vessel was empty on that occasion, but it might not have been. I recall that only a few years ago, the Thames off Canvey Island was literally set on fire by oil gushing out from severed supply lines, with blazing barges bearing down upon an oil wharf. Now, thanks to successive Secretaries of State, who do not live in the area, we are to have two new oil refineries thrust on to a small island alongside a large and growing residential population. I have said before, and I say again, that no Government have the right to add to the existing risks surrounding the community which I have had the honour to represent in the House for more than 20 years.

It is against that background then, that one must consider the proposal in the Bill to site a rail depot in the middle of two oil refineries, for that depot represents an additional and considerable hazard in an already high-risk environment. There are always risks in the handling of inflammable materials. I recall the concern expressed in the House only last November about the fire on 5th October at an oil depot served by railway sidings at Langley in Buckinghamshire. The hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor) raised the matter and because of the relevance of the case to our own experience, I was present to support her. Fortunately no one was killed in that sudden explosion and the fire that followed. The injuries were restricted to the firemen handling the blaze, but local residents had to be evacuated from their homes. The situation was brought under control as it so often is, by the usual cool and courageous resourcefulness of the fire brigade.

If I remember correctly what the hon. Lady said at the time, the Langley depot had been in existence for some time, and was close to private dwellings. It follows that in the siting of such installations the greatest possible care should always be exercised to see that they are as far as possible from residential areas.

It might be argued that, if we are to have these monstrosities it would be better to have all the refinery products taken off the island by rail, and that British Rail may be doing a public service by taking the material away in this way. But does it have to do so in this day and age? Could not the products be piped from Canvey to the nearby oil complex at Shellhaven and Coryton? Why is it necessary to extend a rail link for the purpose? I hope that the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury can give a satisfactory reply. If not, we shall want to know the answer in Committee.

In any event, if the Bill becomes law, I must ask that it be made mandatory that no oil products shall be moved by road in my crowded constituency.

However, the point I want to make tonight is that in South-East Essex we already have—I would go further and say that we already have on Thames-side—too great a concentration of high-firerisk installations. Thus, I am asking not merely that the provision for the rail link should be struck out of the Bill, but that a fresh look should be taken at the totality of the effect on an environment of the build-up of high-fire-risk installations on Canvey Island and elsewhere in the Thames Estuary.

I do not know how many more times I have to plead in the House for this very simple proposition to be taken in by those responsible in Whitehall for the environment and safety. All I am asking is that a total look should be taken of all the planning decisions that are being made, one after the other. We had the ridiculous assertion last week by the promoter of the Burmah-Total Refineries Trust Bill that, because there were already other refineries and installations near Cliffe it would not matter if another were added. But the whole point is that it would matter very much indeed. My constituents are crying out for the existing situation to be taken into account before further planning permissions are given. I have been hammering that home repeatedly over the years to successive Secretaries of State.

Finally, it looked as though a glimmer of awareness was beginning to shine through when, in the debate on the Langley fire on 16th November last year, my right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page), then Minister for Local Government and Development, conceded that he thought that I was correct in my contention that we were reaching saturation point with oil refineries. My right hon. Friend had taken the trouble to get into a helicopter. I am sure that he did not receive much encouragement from his Department to do so. But he at least had the imagination to fly over the area and see for himself what was at stake. Speaking of his flight over the Thames Estuary and my constituency in particular, my right hon. Friend said: From that experience, I believe that my hon. Friend is right—that we ought to consider very carefully the whole implications of any further development of this kind in the area. One can only get a knowledge of this by really looking at the area, and one does get very good knowledge by looking at it from the air as well as from the ground and studying the effects there … I look on it as the responsibility of the Ministers concerned to get together and ensure that further damage is not done to an area of this sort. I can assure my hon. Friend that, following my examination of the area from the air, I am in discussions and in consideration of the matter with my colleagues."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th November 1973; Vol. 864, c. 904.] At last there was someone prepared to look at the totality of the effect of what was being done and planned for my unfortunate constituents.

Since then, five months have elapsed. The only tangible sign of anything happening is that the new Secretary of State has let it be known that he is minded to grant planning permission for yet another oil refinery on the other side of the Thames. During the election he had a lot to say about the necessity for safeguarding the environment and actually sent messages to my constituents saying how concerned he was with the matter and that he would certainly have another look at the issue. Since it is the case that he is minded to grant the Cliffe application, I ask for a pause during which the whole situation can be investigated, as promised by my right hon. Friend in the House last November.

Pending a proper inter-departmental inquiry, I suggest that there should be no planning permission granted at Cliffe and that a clear answer should be given to the request I made in the House on 1st April for planning permission already given for the two oil refineries at Canvey to be revoked. Certainly this should happen in the case of the one refinery where no building operations have yet begun.

The provision for the rail link should be struck out from Clause 6. No provision of this kind should be placed upon the statute book. I repeat that no Government have the right to take chances with the safety of the environment of human beings. It is my contention, advanced repeatedly in the House and outside it over many years, that unacceptable risks are being taken. Ministers should now have the courage and imagination to recognise this and to call a halt. I hope that on this I shall have the unqualified support of the House.

7.33 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Neil Carmichael)

I intervene briefly, as is the custom on these occasions, to give an indication of the Government's attitude. I am sure that the hon. Member for Southend, East (Sir S. McAdden) should he catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will be putting the case for his constituents with the same ingenuity and force as did the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir Bernard Braine).

I appreciate that the proposals to build two refineries at Canvey Island have engendered a great deal of opposition. I understand and sympathise with the attitude of those who live in the area.

I must emphasise, however, that the refineries are not the subject of Work No. 3 in Clause 6(1). The Bill was well introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South-West (Mr. Cunningham). He said that he had spent a lost weekend on it. Should we have difficulty in understanding the legal language of the Bill we shall certainly understand what it is about after reading my hon. Friend's speech. Thus his weekend has not really been lost.

The refineries already enjoy the advantage of planning permission given by the previous Secretary of State. Work No. 3 provides for the construction of a rail link between the proposed refineries and would underline the emphasis placed on the necessity to provide rail facilities for the distribution of production. The hon. Member for Essex, South-East spoke in terms of a pipeline and other methods of distribution. This is a point that can be raised in Committee. In addition to the feelings of local opinion, the views of the experts have to be taken into account.

It is agreed that it is preferable to carry refinery crude oil by rail or sea rather than to increase the burden of road traffic.

This is why conditions were attached to the permission given to United Refineries Ltd. which limited the number of road tanker movements per day. We can have no reasonable objection to British Railways taking power to construct the rail link. That is all that Clause 6(1) does—gives power to construct a rail link to the site of the refinery for which planning permission already exists. I do not think this can be regarded as premature since, if for one reason or another, circumstances changed and the refinery was not built, presumably British Railways would not exercise the power being sought in the Bill.

The hon. Member for Essex, South-East discussed the proximity of houses and factories to this development. The location of such a link is a matter upon which we in the Department have a completely open mind. This is one of those technical matters that can best be left to the Select Committee which will have the benefit of expert evidence. I ask the House to follow the convention with Private Bills and to refer the Bill to a Select Committee.

7.37 p.m.

Sir Stephen McAdden (Southend, East)

I owe it to the House to give some explanation of why it was that in the last Parliament and again in this Parliament I tabled a blocking motion to ensure that we debated the Bill. I did so because of the provisions in the Bill to construct a spur-line from Thorpe Bay Station, which is the station I use every day, to Maplin. I was opposed to this on a number of grounds.

I was surprised when I received a letter from the parliamentary agents of British Railways, saying that it was their intention in Committee to seek permission to delete anything relating to Maplin from the Bill. Needless to say, I was delighted to read this until I looked at the date of the letter—1st April 1974. I wondered whether someone was pulling my leg. Having fought this proposal without very much encouragement for a long time, I was surprised to find that there had been capitulation by British Railways, that they had at last seen sense and decided not to go ahead with the provision of the railway.

I was delighted to hear the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) confirm, with all the authotiy he had, speaking on behalf of British Railways, that this was not a "con" message sent by the parliamentary agents but represented the truth. That does not prevent me from saying that I was surprised that the provision was ever in the Bill.

Parliament has never yet decided to build an airport at Maplin. We have set up a Maplin Development Authority and at some future time a Minister will come to the House and give us the benefit of his consultations with a number of interested bodies and recommend to the House whether Maplin should go ahead. The House has never yet decided that there should be an airport in that area.

When we had some exchanges in the House about the possible attitude which might be taken by this Government, as opposed to that taken by the previous Government, I noticed that some of my hon. and right hon. Friends took credit for the fact that they had incorporated into the Bill provisions for consultation with various bodies before any important decision was taken. I think that they might have done the decent thing and said that, after all, this provision was inserted into the Bill only against their wishes, and that it was the activity of hon. Members on this side of the House, with support from hon. Members opposite, which brought about that very important provision being inserted into the Maplin Development Authority Bill.

However, there is always good to be found somewhere, and one of the results of the General Election which have given me much pleasure is that Maplin, which my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir Bernard Braine) and I have opposed from the beginning, looks as though it is on its way out. We cannot cheer too soon, but at least it seems that, if we are not to provide a railway with which to take passengers there, Maplin airport is unlikely to be of much use. The arguments for its existence are, therefore, becoming less and less each day, and we are awaiting only the official announcement of its final demise. I am sure that many of us will be pleased to contribute an obituary to this interesting experiment which never was. As the Under Secretary of State will recall: The best laid schemes o' mice and men Gang aft a-gley;". Many people thought that Maplin was a wonderful scheme but many of us affected by it did not view it with such favour, and I am sorry that British Railways decided to introduce a Bill to build a railway line before Parliament decided whether the line ought to be built.

British Railways fell into the trap of seeking to provide a railway line before Parliament had said that it was wanted. I hope that British Railways will not fall again into a trap by being bull dozed by the Port of London Authority or by the noble Lord, Lord Aldington. Other respectable bodies were talking as though an airport at Maplin was inevitable and all that was wanted was the rubber stamp of the House of Commons. British Railways would be well advised to hold horses this time. Just as they were caught out by the airport protect, it is highly possible that they will be caught out by the seaport project. They should take advice on this matter.

All that has been given to the Port of London Authority is the authority to submit a scheme. That scheme, when submitted, will have to go to the docks authorities for examination. No doubt hon. Members on both sides of the House will be able to put forward claims as to why a new seaport should not be at Maplin but somewhere else instead. Thus, if British Railways start providing railway facilities out there, they may find themselves providing them in the wrong place. British Railways made a mistake in the preparation of this Bill and I hope they will not repeat it until Parliament has come to a decision on the seaport question.

I support, as I always have supported throughout the last 25 years, my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East. To hon. Members who may not be aware of it, I point out that he has been Member for that area throughout. It has had a number of different names. Once, he was Member for Billericay. There has been a succession of name changes, but always within his empire he has had Canvey Island. He is king of Canvey, speaks of it with great affection and desires to do all he can for his constituents, as we seek to do for ours.

It might not come amiss now to remind the House that Canvey has suffered enough in many different ways in the past. I remember with great clarity the disastrous floods of 1953 and the great horror and destruction inflicted upon the unfortunate people of Canvey and other places in the area, but particularly in Canvey.

I can well understand the passion with which my hon. Friend seeks to protect his constituents from being subjected to further risks—highly dangerous risks—by the provision of more and more refineries upon Canvey Island. I cannot speak with the same passion about the subject because my constituency is too far away to be immediately affected. My hon. Friend's constituency gets the refineries and we only get the smell. But the smell, though unpleasant and disliked, does not kill us and does not stir the same passions as does the existence of the dangers and hazards at Canvey.

Therefore, I add my still small voice to my hon. Friend's voice in the hope that, although it may not be particularly or significantly related to this Bill, the words he uttered will be read by those who are not here tonight, and that they will realise that the cause of Canvey and the dangers to which its inhabitants are subjected are, and will continue to be, matters of great concern, not only to my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South- East but to his many Friends who represent neighbouring constituencies.

7.46 p.m.

Mr. Ron Lewis (Carlisle)

I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) for not being present when he moved the Second Reading of the Bill. As is customary, I should declare an interest. As far as I know, I am still on the books of British Railways. I am also a member of the National Union of Railwaymen. I have consulted the union about the Bill and, naturally, if it will mean employment for railwaymen, we welcome it.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) on the way in which he lambasted the late Conservative Government and the present Government. It goes to prove that there is still an independent spirit left in the House after all. I hope, however, that he will not divide the House tonight. I appreciate his problems and the problems of the hon. Member for Southend, East (Sir S. McAdden). I appreciate how their constituents feel.

I appreciate their problems all the more because we in the far North-West of England complain that we do not seem to be able to get sufficient development there because so much is concentrated south of the Thames. I only wish that some of the larger industries or industrial developers would remember, in their planning for the future, that we in Cumberland have a coastline and a railway system that can take us almost anywhere within these islands, and that we have been trying to develop an airport.

At times it seems that we have been forgotten, however. I hope that, arising even out of this Bill, the area I represent will be considered for development and that industry will be channelled there. The Bill is not confined to Essex. It deals with other parts of the country. For example, as I understand it, it proposes to abolish two level crossings in Yorkshire and Lancashire. The Bill surely deserves support from us all.

I hope that the House will not divide upon this issue but will allow the Bill to go to Committee and, if necessary, to be tidied up there. On behalf of myself and my organisation I support the Bill, while understanding the feelings of the hon. Members for Southend, East and Essex, South-East.

7.50 p.m.

Mr. Paul Channon (Southend, West)

I respond entirely to what was said by the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Lewis). It would be a pity if the House were to divide against the Bill. I hope that it receives a Second Reading.

I have listened to the speeches made by my hon. Friends the Members for Essex, South-East (Sir Bernard Braine) and Southend, East (Sir S. McAdden) who have made a formidable case to which the House should pay attention. I was disturbed when I originally read Clause 6(1), to which the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) referred. His introductory remarks satisfied me, and I appreciate the undertaking which the hon. Gentleman gave that British Railways would withdraw in Committee the proposed Work No. 1, which is in the constituencies of my two hon. Friends and affects the lives of other people in constituencies not far away.

It is right that British Railways should seek to withdraw that provision because the decision whether to have a third London Airport and if so whether it should be at Maplin cannot be taken by British Railways. That decision can be taken only by the House of Commons. The sooner that decision is made the better. The uncertainties about access routes, the rail link and many other aspects lead me to think that this is not the last occasion on which this matter will have to be discussed in the House. I am glad that British Railways have taken a sensible view. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will make sure that his Department carries out speedily the review that has been promised so that finality may be reached. That must be in the interests of all those who live in or represent Essex.

I do not wish to oppose the Bill, especially in view of the extremely helpful remarks made by the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury, and his undertaking that British Railways will seek to remove Clause 6(1) if the House gives the Bill a Second Reading.

7.54 p.m.

Mr. George Cunningham

May I reply, Mr. Deputy Speaker, with the leave of the House? Probably unwisely, I said that I might seek to intervene a second time if questions were raised with which I could deal. Certainly questions have been raised, and I must, with all humility to older and wiser Members of the House, congratulate them on the vigour of their presentations on behalf of their constituents.

All three hon. Gentlemen will understand that their criticisms are directed principally at the Government, as the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir Bernard Braine) made abundantly clear, and not at British Railways. I assure the House that British Railways will read with great interest and sympathy the remarks which have been made, and it is inevitable that the comments made on the Floor of the House will be considered in Committee.

I hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time and committed.