HC Deb 27 November 1978 vol 959 cc107-32

7.0 p.m.

Mr. Ronald Atkins (Preston, North)

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

The Bill seeks to authorise the British Railways Board to divert its east coast main line around the western edge of the Barnsley coal seam, so that the coal under the existing main line may be extracted when the Selby coalfield is developed.

If the diversion is not built the National Coal Board and the nation will lose coal to the value of £800 million. There is general agreement that the main line should be diverted. The argument has been about which diversion is most suitable and especially about the respective merits of the Colton extension and the Sherburn deviation.

The British Railway Board's proposal is for the Colton extension—a new line constructed from a point about four miles south of Selby, going roughly northwest and then north to join the present Leeds to York line about five miles from York, near Colton. This route, preferred by the British Railways Board, is the least costly. It will cost £35.5 million, compared with £38 million for the Sherburn deviation, and it does not sterilise any workable coal or gypsum. The Sherburn deviation sterilises 5 million tons of workable coal and 2 million tons of gypsum.

The Colton extension is 2¼ miles shorter and would save £33,000 a year in fuel costs compared with Sherburn. The board's route has less effect on residential properties. No houses would have to be demolished along the new route. On the other hand, the Sherburn deviation would greatly increase the rail traffic passing through or near to the populated areas of Sherburn in Elmet, Church Fenton, Ulleskelf, and Bolton Percy. The proposed route would require 33 yards of land between the railway fences except at the southern end where the width between fences would be 44 yards. It is estimated that no more than 250 acres of land would be required for the diversion. None of this land would be grade 1—almost all is grade 2 or 3, and some of it is grade 4.

Inter-city trains will no longer stop at Selby when the present line from Selby to York closes. However, Selby will continue to be served by the Leeds-Hull line and local services from Selby to Doncaster and York which will connect with inter-city services.

The board will try to satisfy the railway requirements of Selby and services will be designed to give the best possible connections with main line trains from York and Doncaster.

The majority of rail travellers using Selby are those travelling to or arriving from the North. Therefore the British Railway Board proposes that the Selby-York service will be as frequent as the present one. The Selby-Doncaster service will match demand.

The Bill was given a Second Reading by 63 votes to six and was referred to Committee. There was no petitioner against it. The Committee sat for a whole day giving close scrutiny to the board's proposals. Detailed evidence was given by the board, none of which was challenged by the Committee, and the Committee accepted both the need for the diversion and the route chosen by the board.

The board has conferred widely with local interests. Its officers have had one or more meetings to discuss the proposals with the North Yorkshire county council, the Selby district council, British Gypsum, the National Farmers Union, the Country Landowners Association, the British Waterways Board, the Yorkshire water authority, Ryther parish council, the Department of Transport, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the Forestry Commission, the Yorkshire Electricity Board, the Hambleton parish council, Selby Internal Drainage Board, Messrs. Nicholsons, estate agents of York, the hon. Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison), local farmers, Messrs. Miles, Penty, Stroud, Mills, Houseman, Hepplestone and others.

In addition, a meeting was held on 7th January 1977 with several landowners. The meeting was chaired by the hon. Member for Barkston Ash. A public meeting with representatives of the North Yorkshire county council, the Selby district council, the NFU and the Country Landowners Association was held on 4th November 1977 and a public exhibition was put on at five towns or villages between 12th and 20th December 1977.

It is 12 months since the Bill was deposited and it is in the national interest that it makes as much progress as possible before the Christmas Recess in order that it may then proceed through its remaining stages next year. This will enable the board to start the construction. I hope that the House will allow me to deal with any specific points. I urge the House to give the Bill a Third Reading.

7.8 p.m.

Mr. Michael Alison (Barkston Ash)

I have no intention of delaying the House longer than is necessary to make a number of fairly brief points on behalf of the North Yorkshire county council, the Selby district council, and the National Farmers Union, in conjunction with the Country Landowners Association. These are all points that these bodies have asked me to make. I make them in the context of the British Railways Board's proposal for the diversion as it now stands. I shall not enter into a general debate on the optional routes which may or may not arise. In addressing myself to the route as it is now proposed, I do not necessarily prejudice the attempts in another place to take this matter further.

The opposition that I have presented up to now has been responsible and constructive. I have made no attempt to prevent the carry-over of the Bill from the last Session to the present Session or to cause it to lapse, which would have been possible at the end of last Session.

I want to be sure that we have the opportunity to continue to consider the substantial points which arise affecting local interests. I hope that the promoters of the Bill will demonstrate the same constructive and helpful attitude towards the difficulties that I shall raise, as I have shown towards the Bill.

A code of practice is being negotiated between British Rail and the National Farmers Union and the Country Landowners Association. I should like the hon. Member for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins) and the British Rail authorities to consider with much more sympathy the proposition that the board should accept some extra-legal responsibility for the acts and omissions of contractors engaged in work on land between Selby and York, which includes land owned by my farming community. I make the plea on behalf of individual farmers who will be affected by the works. It is not reasonable to expect busy working farmers to chase around identifying, locating and communicating with individual contractors or sub-contractors employed by British Rail when they damage property, go bankrupt or otherwise affect the interests of farmers on whose land they are working.

British Rail is employing the contractors and using compulsory purchase orders to place them on my constituents' land. The board should accordingly accept full responsibility for the acts and omissions of its contractors so that if damage is done, an individual farmer will not have to chase after an elusive, bankrupt contractor, but can have recourse direct to British Rail.

Mr. Albert Roberts (Normanton)

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that British Rail should be as generous as the National Coal Board with compensation?

Mr. Alison

By the sort of magical insight that is characteristic of the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. Roberts), he has precisely anticipated my next point. The hon. Gentleman knows well the attitude and philosophy of the NCB, which will also be engaged in physical work in my constituency. The board has an exemplary record of compensation arrangements which are acknowledged to be well in excess of legal requirements. Its publication"Compensation for Mining Subsidence Damage"says: The Board…recognise, nevertheless, that damage for which they have no legal liability is sometimes caused and may result in hardship to the individuals affected. The Board wish to prevent hardship and they are willing also to pay compensation in certain other cases in which they have no legal liability. That exemplary attitude towards extralegal liability characterises the NCB and it is entirely proper that the British Railways Board should adopt it as its guiding philosophy in negotiations over the code of practice. Let British Rail do locally what the NCB does nationally and locally and be fair, flexible and helpful. My farming constituents will then be more than content. I hope that in the forthcoming meeting with the NFU and the CLA, British Rail will make a forthright declaration of intent to be at least as generous as is the National Coal Board.

The next aspect with which I wish to deal concerns noise levels affecting certain householders whose property adjoins the existing railway network and who will be affected by the diversion. Representations have been made to me by the Selby district council. I am indebted particularly to Mr. Nevil Parkinson, of the council, who has helped by briefing me on a somewhat complex subject.

I start by reminding the House that there is statutory provision under the relevant Road Traffic Act that if the noise level of road vehicles exceeds a certain technically specified level, compensation and help from public funds is available to householders to enable them to instal double glazing or some other appropriate method of soundproofing. The level of eligible noise of road traffic is reached at a point expressed by the technical formula 68dBa L10. That is 68 decibels over an average hour for 24 hours. If that level is exceeded by road traffic, householders become eligible for compensation.

I understand that the technical officers of Selby district council have devised a formula which applies to the noise of rail movements an equivalent measurement to the road noise level. The new measurement is expressed by the formula 65 LEQ. That is the equivalent in rail noise terms to the 68dBa of road noise.

The new rail noise formula has already been reached by the existing rail traffic on the Leeds and Sheffield to York railway line in the vicinity of Colton to Copmanthorpe near York, in my constituency. If the existing noise level is on the brink of eligibility for compensation, I ask the House and the British Rail authorities to consider what will happen when the east coast mainline traffic is, as a result of the Bill, switched on to the existing network. It will mean an extra 200 rail movements every 24 hours and will include the new 125 m.p.h. high-speed trains which have at each end of the vehicle formation two diesel units, which emit a piercing scream that could awaken or give nightmares to anyone who heard it during the night.

However, I understand that British Rail is still disputing whether the noise level is unacceptable. I beg it to make the same sort of imaginative, constructive gesture towards the 200 or more property owners whose homes lie along the track. I beg it to take the initiative in accepting that there will be an unacceptable level of noise as a result of the diversion, and to make the appropriate provision for compensation or for the installation of sound proofing.

I think that the Minister will agree that the railway authorities have got off lightly in respect of the public aspects of the proposal. There has not been a railway diversion or construction on the scale of that proposed for at least the past 40 or 50 years, and the upheaval is at least equivalent to that of a motorway construction of equivalent length. If the latter had been envisaged, there would have been a massive public inquiry, and it certainly would have been necessary for the Minister to make a public statement about compensation for noise levels. I hope that in spite of the present procedure there will be appropriate compensation.

Mr. Ronald Atkins

Which section of the Colton extension that the hon. Gentleman is speaking about would be loaded with so much more traffic and high-speed trains? The hon. Gentleman's proposal on Second Reading, of the Sherburn deviation, would have resulted in more noise nuisance, because there is a great deal of property near that route. As the hon. Gentleman himself said in our previous debate, British Rail wants a brand-new railway through the grass fields. No one in the grass fields will be disturbed—except, possibly, cows.

Mr. Alison

It is clear from the hon. Gentleman's intervention that he has come into this complicated story a little too late to follow carefully the details of what is proposed. Whether or not the Sher-burn deviation were adopted, we are talking about a section of line north of the river Ouse which either the Sherburn deviation or the British Rail proposals would have fed into. We are talking about a section between Colton and Copmanthorpe, near York, which will be affected whether the Sherburn deviation or the British Rail proposal is followed.

On to that section of line it is proposed to funnel, in addition to the existing Leeds and Sheffield to York and Scotland traffic already travelling along it, the whole of the East Coast mainline King's Cross to Scotland traffic, an extra 200 movements a day affecting existing properties built close to the railway line. It will unquestionably produce a massive increase in the noise level, which I believe will grossly exceed that considered in road traffic terms to be the acceptable level before sound proofing is installed. I very much hope that the Minister and the authorities will sympathetically consider the residents on that stretch of line, particularly as the residents will have high-speed trains going past.

Mr. Gordon A. T. Bagier (Sunderland, South)

If the hon. Gentleman is talking about the increased noise resulting from 200 extra movements, one must point out that the trains will not all be going by together but will pass at separate times. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that the noise will be merely that of the high-speed trains or that there will be more noise over 24 hours? Exactly what is his point?

Mr. Alison

The hon. Gentleman is also beginning to take an intelligent interest, if he has not done so already. His question enabled me to remind him that road vehicles have the similar peculiar phenomenon of not going by continuously in a steady stream but of passing in an interrupted series of movements. It has been possible to analyse in respect of the movements of road vehicles the average level of noise per hour over 24 hours, and in respect of those movements and that level of noise to reach the conclusion that if the noise exceeds 68 dBa there should be payment of compensation from public funds to householders within a certain proximity who are affected by it.

In principle there is no difference between a road movement and a rail movement. With high-speed trains in particular, but also with the huge increase in volume of traffic on the line, I believe that there will be exactly the same kind of repercussions on local householders as if it were a motorway. That the noise is not automatically unacceptable in railway terms is only because there has not been a railway deviation of this kind for nearly half a century.

The Greater London Council already provides a standard level of compensa- tion for those affected by rail noise in the London area. We are asking simply that British Rail should sensitively consider the same practice in respect of what will happen to the villages of Copmanthorpe and Colton.

Mr. Stanley Cohen (Leeds, South-East)

The hon. Gentleman referred earlier to the comparative costs and environmental aspects of road as opposed to rail. The points that he has just made relate to what will happen in the light of the diversion and the increased volume of rail traffic, but have any figures been worked out for the increase in road traffic if there were a road service instead, allowing for the development of the potential of the Selby coalfield and the increased volume of traffic that that would obviously involve?

Mr. Alison

The hon. Gentleman, a neighbour of mine, has slightly missed the point. If road traffic were substituted for rail traffic, and we had a motorway rather than a railway line across this bit of the Vale of York, there would automatically, under the existing statutory provisions, be compensation for the noise level involved, if it reached or exceeded the formula figure that I have already quoted. Therefore, if it were a road link I should not have to be detaining the House in making a plea for special compensation in respect of noise. It is only because no such formula has been devised or applied to railway noise—though that noise will be considerable—that I am asking British Rail to take an initiative to meet the special needs.

I am extremely anxious that the draft undertaking in preparation between British Rail and the North Yorkshire county council should be brought to a rapid and agreed conclusion, so that further petitioning in another place by the county council need not be necessary. It is clearly desirable that two public bodies such as British Rail and a major county council should be able to sort out matters of common interest privately in a constructive way without having to have recourse to costly petitioning procedures.

I very much hope that in the light of the plea made by the hon. Member for Preston, North on behalf of British Rail we shall hustle the Bill through, to get it off the House of Commons stocks before Christmas. I hope that British Rail will play its part, particularly in the matter of the draft undertaking, which has a major impact on some of the issues that the county council raised in its original petition—matters to do with the new road that may be required, the provision of footpaths and new bridges, the reinstatement of land, and so on.

These matters have not yet been finalised between the two authorities. The county council is impatient to see them brought to an agreed conclusion as soon as possible. I ask the hon. Gentleman to press British Rail to lose no time in reaching agreement with the county council, so that further petitioning in the House of Lords may not be necessary.

7.29 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. John Horam)

I shall not detain the House for more than a couple of minutes, but I should like at this point to restate the Government's position on the Bill.

I believe that the need to divert the east coast main line was accepted on Second Reading, and the Bill has now been examined and approved by a Committee of the House. I think that it will be helpful if I remind the House that the Government fully support the principle underlying the Bill, on the ground that it is in the national interest to develop the Selby coalfield to its full economic potential. That requires a diversion of the east coast line.

The facts speak for themselves. The Select Committee examining the Bill was given a report by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport. The report explained that there were two factors which, taken together, made the situation at Selby different from that at other coalfields crossed by railway lines.

First, the existing geological conditions and the intensity of mining necessary for the economic development of the mine would cause settlement problems. In the opinion of the board's experts, they would make it unsafe to run a modern main line railway over the coalfield.

Secondly, my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins) mentioned the economic considerations. If there were no diversion, a pillar of coal approximately a mile wide would have to be left unworked. I understand that the Department of Energy estimates that the value of the coal sterilised thereby would be nearly £800 million at present prices. This would be nearly 15 per cent. of the exploitable reserves of the coalfield, which is a vital element in the plans of the National Coal Board and in meeting the nation's future energy requirements.

Turning to the actual alignment of the diversion, as I made clear on Second Reading this is a matter primarily for the sponsors of the Bill, as are the other details with which the hon. Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison) dealt. However, they have consulted widely in the course of outlining all the various alternatives, and my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North elaborated on the extent to which there had been consultations.

The hon. Member for Barkston Ash said that British Railways had got away lightly and I understand the thinking behind his comment and the comparison which he made with an inquiry into a motorway alternative, for example. None the less, I think he will concede that British Railways have gone out of their way to consult within the framework laid down in this case, for example, by making much more information available at the Committee stage than would have been necessary if they had followed the strict letter of the law. I think that they have gone out of their way to make everything as plain as can be so that there are no facts which people do not know.

If there were any delay in passing the Bill, it would have a serious effect on British Railways' plans for the construction of the diversion line and, therefore, on the plans of the National Coal Board for exploiting the coal reserves. I am told that mining is scheduled to start within half a mile of the existing east coast main line by late 1983. I also understand that even on present plans, assuming that Parliament approves the Bill, British Railways do not expect the diversion line to be fully operational until shortly before that. For these reasons alone, therefore, I urge the House to give the Bill a Third reading.

Mr. Alison

Before the Minister s sits down, can he bring himself, even tentatively, to comment sympathetically on the interplay between noise levels on roads and railway noise?

Mr. Horam

Naturally, the hon. Member's remarks will be given attention by the sponsors of the Bill. There are no powers equivalent to the powers relating to noise resulting from motorway traffic. None the less, I am sure that the hon. Member's comments will be taken into account by British Railways.

7.33 p.m.

Mr. Gordon A. T. Bagier (Sunderland, South)

We must all welcome the fact that this is the first major building of a new railway line for some 50 years, and it is to be hoped that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State and his colleagues will bear in mind the effect that this will have on farms, on existing houses and on the whole area through which it passes. This is important. These are human factors and matters which affect individuals, and it is extremely difficult for anyone to put himself into their position unless he lives alongside a railway. But I am certain that, having offered the information to my hon. Friend, through him British Railways will take note of the fact that adequate compensation has been offered in past years by the National Coal Board and other nationalised industries and that they will be no less generous.

If I may put out one slight feeler about it, I hope that whilst British Railways are being generous they will bear in mind that they are dealing with public money vis-à-vis public expenditure. I am sure that the hon. Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison) will not want to see too much of that thrown about, otherwise he may come to grief with the Leader of the Opposition.

I hope that the Bill gets the blessing of the House, because it is extremely important. On the King's Cross to Newcastle east coast main line services, there have been vast improvements. It is important for these services that the loop is completed. The 125 service at present runs practically like clockwork. It is on time, the trains are full, and it is even difficult to find vacant seats in the first-class accommodation these days. This is tribute to the service, and it is to be hoped that it will continue. In the absence of getting permission for the proposed diversion, there will be a slowing down of the service, with speed restrictions, and when the mine begins to develop down will go the railway line and we shall meet the same old difficulty. However, we hope that if these works take place we shall be able to maintain a first-class service not only with the 125 but also with the high-speed trains expected to come into service in future years.

I am a little disturbed by clause 10, and I speak now wearing my ex-British Railways hat. I hope that hon. Members whose constituencies are involved will ensure that if transport users' consultative committees are asked not to take action when train services are withdrawn north of Selby, some provision will be made for representations to be made on behalf of those who normally use the services and thereby ensure that they are not withdrawn from them.

This is a good Bill. We are far removed from the days when we were closing down railways. Today, we are talking about improving them and making sure that they carry on the upward movement that they have been making in recent years. I hope that the House will give the Bill a Third reading and that, when it goes to another place, a reasonable attitude will be adopted towards it.

7.35 p.m.

Mr. Albert Roberts (Normanton)

I am inclined to agree with the hon. Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison). He is right to take up the cudgels on behalf of his constituents. However, basically he is in favour of the Bill. Many of us live close to opencast mining and sand and gravel workings and, whether we like them or not, we have to live with them. Having heard the hon. Member for Barkston Ash make his representations against this proposal, I can understand his feelings.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Bagier) that the Bill should go through expeditiously. There has been a tremendous amount of co-operation between the National Coal Board and British Railways, and I am convinced that all the cooperation which British Railways have wanted and which the NCB has wanted has been forthcoming.

I well understand the feelings of the people of Selby. They were against the working of the coal from the very beginning. However, I am receiving petitions from my constituents about the working of opencast coal. If the country needs it, it has to be. I am sure that if we wanted sand and gravel and it was discovered in Hyde Park, it would be worked. If the Bill is not passed, it will mean thousands of tons of coal being sterilised. We cannot afford to do that. Therefore, all the arguments put forward against the scheme must be discounted.

I want to make one comment on compensation. I am with the hon. Member for Barkston Ash about it. If people suffer unduly, they should be compensated adequately. The message should go out from this Chamber that we are in favour of that. But whereas possibly the National Coal Board has been generous in many instances, it must be understood that it is involved in a productive industry whereas British Railways operate a service industry and have not the same resilience as the National Coal Board. However, I am sure that every hon. Member agrees that if any damage or harm is done, sensible and reasonable compensation must be given.

Paragraph 20 of the promoters' statement says that since the Bill passed its Committee stage in May the board has been in negotiation with the local councils, the water authorities and the farmers. They are still talking on these issues. There is no reason why they should not go on talking if they have not reached some settlement. Everyone, including farmers and landowners, has been brought into the discussions. They have been exceedingly tolerant. There is no reason why they should not go on talking until everything is finalised. We want to see justice done. We all appreciate that this railway line has to come whether one likes it or not. My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South pointed out the need for maintaining the 125 train from the north to Kings Cross.

We also need the coal. It is the best coal in Europe. It will last a long time. I appreciate the point made by the hon. Member for Barkston Ash but the issue is clear. I would make a final plea. I hope that we can reach finality with a good measure of agreement. I hope that all those contentious points that are still outstanding can be overcome. I should like to underline again that I want to see fair compensation and consideration for all concerned.

7.42 p.m.

Mr. Ronald Atkins

With the leave of the House I shall reply. I am sure that British Rail will note the remarks of the hon. Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison). The Bill is concerned with the principle of the diversion of main line trains. Construction and design details and a host of other detailed matters relevant to the construction of a new railway, while very important, as the board admits, are secondary to establishing the principle that a diversion is needed and that it should be constructed along the route proposed by the board. Until that principle has been established, it is premature to go into other details.

The Bill incorporates most of the provisions of the Railway Clauses (Consolidation) Act 1845. Let us remember 1845. This House was the first Chamber ever to deal with the construction of the railways. At that time it was full of landowners and representatives of farmers. The House of Lords, too, was controlled by landowners. It is unlikely that any legislation anywhere in the world was more designed to protect landowners than that Act. We are still working on the basis of the Act, which contains a comprehensive code of provisions relating to the construction of railways, including safeguards for owners and occupiers of properties across which the new railway will pass.

Section 68 of the Act imposes a continuing obligation on the board to provide and maintain accommodation works for the benefit of such persons. These works include, for example, bridges over the railway to connect severed land, new roadways or tracks leading to such bridges, the provision of gates and trespass-proof fencing along the railway boundary, the construction of culverts, drains or tunnels for the drainage of water and the provision of new watering places for cattle. Further, until accommodation bridges and roads have been constructed, the owners, lessees and occupiers of land that will be severed by the railway will be entitled, by virtue of section 73 of the Act, to cross the site of the railway to get to their land. Thus, the board will have to complete these accommodation works before the railway is opened for use.

The Bill also applies the provisions of part I of the Compulsory Purchase Act 1965, which deals with the manner in which land required for the railways is to be acquired. That Act includes safeguards to ensure that owners are not left with small parcels of severed land and makes provision for compensation to be paid to persons whose lands are injuriously affected by the construction of the works. The Land Compensation Act 1961, with its code for determining compensation, will also apply.

In view of the statutory obligations in respect of accommodation works that will be imposed on the board if the board's proposals for diverting the main line are sanctioned, and the other statutory safeguards referred to, it is submitted that the interests of the landowners are already well catered for. In any case, it would have been an extremely time-consuming and onerous task to consult nearly 200 owners, lessees and occupiers of land along the route, some of whom would inevitably have different or opposing views or requirements, before the deposit of the Bill to ascertain detailed requirements regarding the provision of accommodation works. It is unlikely that in any other country in the world one would have as many safeguards as in this country when a new railway is built. We are still in the nineteenth century in terms of safety.

Mr. Alison

The hon. Gentleman has no doubt been giving the House an extremely relevant list of statutory provisions going back to the 1840s. I hope that he will not overlook the fact that the main part of my speech was devoted to asking the authorities to consider two special measures that lie outside existing legal requirements in respect of responsibility for acts and omissions and in respect of extra levels of noise. It is because existing legislation does not make provision for these matters that I hope the hon. Gentleman will make representations to the authorities.

Mr. Atkins

The hon. Gentleman is asking British Rail to do something which is not required of any other authority, including those responsible for motorways. In making his comparison, he was comparing dissimilar things. He was comparing an existing line with increased traffic and a new motorway. What he should do, if he is to compare like with like, is to compare a new motorway with a new railway line and an existing railway line with an existing road.

Mr. Alison

The hon. Gentleman is being uncharacteristically legalistic. He must appreciate that society moves forward with enhanced consciousness and certain disadvantages from which individuals or the body politic may suffer. Noise level is a new phenomenon which it is proper to take into account.

Mr. Atkins

I agree with the hon. Gentleman, but we have to compare the existing line, with increased traffic, and existing roads. I shall give an example. My parents' house is in Buttrells Road, Barry. Since less traffic has been carried by the railway, the docks traffic travelling up Buttrells Road has become so heavy that it has undermined the foundations of the house and juggernaut lorries keep my mother awake throughout the night. Crockery has fallen off the mantelpiece and cracks have appeared in the structure, but there is not an atom of compensation, because the road is an old one. Traffic is increasing all the time on this road, as it is on other roads.

One might argue that this new, more efficient line could take traffic off the road and the majority of constituents would probably benefit from it, but one must not forget that this is creating a precedent that I would like to see established on existing roads. Compensation from British Rail because of increased traffic on an existing railway line is a principle that the hon. Gentleman wants established on this two or three miles of track. Although he would make it longer if he had had his way, only two or three miles of traffic are involved. If one were to pay the people who were disturbed on this length of track because of the increase in traffic noise one would create a precedent that would have to apply to every railway line in the country.

Mr. Adley

I am obliged to the hon. Member for giving way so frequently, and I am sorry to interrupt him again. There is a precedent involving the compensation arrangements between the GLC and British Rail for certain railway lines in London.

Mr. Atkins

That shows how generous British Rail is. British Rail is the favourite Aunt Sally of many hon. Members who always demand that British Rail should make a profit. When a subsidy is necessary for social, environmental or other reasons, hon. Members sneer and say that it is time that we made it pay its way. The burden that some wish to apply to British Rail could grow immeasurably.

Let us examine the noise levels. The route proposed by British Rail will cause the least noise disturbance, because most of it runs through green fields. Else where, even on the older section with which it will merge, only two or three properties are involved. They are three old railway cottages. One of them is empty, another is to be pulled down, and only the third is inhabited.

I refer to a foreword by the chief civil engineer of the British Railways Board research and development division which states: All existing properties adjacent to the new line between Templehurst and Colton are outside this noise contour ". That was referred to in the preceding paragraph. The foreword states: Only two properties are close to the contour. The Railway Board do not accept, however, that the 65 aba 24 hour LEQ noise contour has any special significance in relation to railways and, in particular they do not accept that it could he considered as an appropriate contour to determine whether there should be any obligation to execute protective works to minimise the effects of noise. The Railways Board opinion is that their obligations in respect of railway noise should he no more onerous than those placed upon highways authorities, taking into account residents' relative acceptance of road traffic noise and noise from trains. In general the environmental lobby welcomes railways because they are less disturbing to the community than is road traffic.

The Colton extension, which is favoured by British Rail in contrast to the Sherburn deviation which is favoured by the hon. Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison), is a low-level line. A low-level line creates less noise than a high-level line. British Rail had that in mind when it decided on the preferred route.

The hon. Member for Barkston Ash mentioned high speed trains. Those trains might be speedier, but they are no more noisy than the older trains. The high speed trains are lighter and quieter.

Mr. Alison

The high speed trains are twice as noisy because they have two engines, one at each end.

Mr. Atkins

The weight matters most. I travel frequently on the high-speed trains between Cardiff and Paddington. I have heard them when I have been on stations and elsewhere. I assure the hon. Member that they are much quieter than the main line electric trains between Glasgow and Euston. We shall have to differ on that matter.

Some people sneer at speed, and the speed at which we wish to pass the Bill. The Bill was deposited a year ago. It has not gone through the House speedily so far. We should all remember the need for national resources to be used efficiently. In order to be efficient we must proceed quickly with this railway line and with the development of the Selby coalfield.

In 20 years we shall be desperately short of energy. It is in our interests to progress with that scheme. The country is also in crying need of development, which creates employment. This project could help unemployment in the North of England. I hope that we shall pass the Bill.

7.58 p.m.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

The question of blight was mentioned by the hon. Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison) and my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins). My hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North does not have the argument in its right perspective. I can understand why people are upset by such developments. But my hon. Friend is so inured to the idea that British Rail should meet all the bills that he assumes that British Rail must meet that bill. In the ideal society the State would meet that bill.

Mr. Ronald Atkins

I agree.

Mr. Skinner

There are many precedents for that, including the motorways. We all know of the gigantic road lobby which is financed by the big companies which make massive profits out of the roads. But the railways are a State concern.

Many properties which are adjacent to the motorways have had to be double glazed or demolished because of the noise. Invariably that cost has been met by the State. That is despite the fact that the real profits from motorways go not to the State or to the motorist but to the multinational companies and other companies based in this country which make the products necessary to build roads and the other products which are related to driving on motorways.

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Transport is gazing in my direction. I think that he is nodding his head and I assume that he agrees with me. I hope that he takes the matter into account. I do not despair of the argument made by the hon. Member for Barkston Ash about people being protected from planning blight.

Mr. Atkins

My hon. Friend will remember that the hon. Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison) suggested that British Rail should meet the cost.

Mr. Skinner

That is why I thought it necessary to make that point. Precedents are made in respect of motorways and many other matters. Airports, which were mentioned at Question Time today, are another example of how safeguards are built in. I am not against that. It adds strength to the argument made by all NUR sponsored Members and others. Once it is established that the State has to meet costs which are over and above basic costs on the railways, who knows, we might advance even further so that the cost of maintaining the track is also met by the State.

It would be ideal if, with the first new line to be built for 50 years, certain of the maintenance costs were met by the State. That could set a precedent for many other costs to be removed from British Rail, which is apparently having to meet certain significant bills. Such a move would assist the workers on British Rail. They are always arguing for more money, over and above the 5 per cent. limit, notwithstanding what Sid Weighell may say. He says that they do not want more than 5 per cent., but I know differently. I travel on the railways every week, and I am clear in my mind that the railwaymen do not want to be restricted to 5 per cent. So if these massive costs could be lifted from British Rail more money would be available for railwaymen's wages.

It is ironic that the hon. Member for Barkston Ash should have raised this issue. He does not realise what a trap he has laid for himself and for his right hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench. He is arguing in favour of allowing British Rail's costs to be cut substantially. Perhaps he will support me in seeking to start this new experiment in Selby, eventually extending it throughout the system.

There is, however, one aspect that might upset the hon. Member for Barkston Ash. I do not say this malevo-lently—

Mr. Adley

Perish the thought.

Mr. Skinner

I envisage several thousand miners and their families moving into the district which borders on and encroaches into Barkston Ash. The chemistry of that constituency will change.

Mr. Adley

The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) should remember Ashfield. He can no longer take it for granted that miners vote Labour.

Mr. Skinner

I know quite a lot about Ashfield. That by-election occurred at a significant time. It was when the Government, unfortunately and wrongly, began cutting public expenditure in line with the hon. Gentleman's philosophy. For about 12 or 18 months the Government became mixed up with Tory philosophy. Under pressure from the Opposition the Government gave way. The net result was that Labour lost Ashfield. However, since then one or two of my hon. Friends have said to Ministers"Hey, remember Ashfield". The result has been seen in the last few weeks. We won Berwick and East Lothian, and we won two other seats in Scotland. We are making marginal improvements in England.

Mr. Alison

The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) knows Ashfield, but he obviously does not know Barkston Ash. The miners who will work in the new Selby coalfield will almost certainly come in large numbers from Peckfield, Kippax and other such collieries in my constituency. I have a large number of miners in my constituency already, and many of them are looking forward to working in the better conditions in the Selby field. I am not expecting a great influx of new miners.

Mr. Skinner

The hon. Member may be right. Existing pits in his constituency may be closed, and I would be against that.

If this business is arranged as I would like, not only will Kippax remain open, but other pits will be saved from closure, too. There would be a growth in the industry. Selby would be an addition to what already exists. That would help to cut the dole queues. I have reservations, however, about the way this matter will be handled. If Selby were to be an addition, however, more miners and their families would move into the area.

Barkston Ash is currently a Tory seat, and an influx of more miners would have more than a marginal effect on the nature of the electorate there. I cannot ignore the fact that the hon. Member for Barkston Ash may be seeking a clean and decent way of opposing the Bill, bearing in mind that he is concerned about his seat. Of course, he denies that, and he has every right to do so. I do not say that what I have suggested is bound to be the case, but it crossed my mind that it might be.

The Conservatives are always against public expenditure in principle, except when it applies to their own patch, to their constituencies. I got the impression that the hon. Member for Barkston Ash —I think that he is anxious to leave—wanted a system that eventually would cost more in terms of public expenditure than would the proposition advanced in the Bill. Perhaps he will tell me if I am wrong.

Mr. Alison

My assumption is that the compensation which should be made available for those who would be affected by the extra noise that would be generated by the new railway service would be a proper charge upon public funds generally, including upon those who use the new train service regularly. It may be necessary to have a marginal increase in fares to finance that compensation. It would, however, be a proper offset against the additional funds that will flow to British Rail through operating the trains. That would not necessarily involve extra expenditure. It would simply mean that the extra revenue flowing to British Rail from running the improved service should be used to meet the compensation.

Mr. Skinner

I did not realise that I would catch one as big as that.

Mr. Alison

May I make another point?

Mr. Skinner


Mr. Alison

The hon. Gentleman was quite right. I have another appointment to keep. I hope that no discourtesy will be implied if, in the course of what will obviously be a long and very interesting speech from him, I leave. I look forward to reading the rest of it in Hansard. Perhaps we may correspond if he makes a point to which I ought to reply.

Mr. Skinner

As long as it is only corresponding in the literary sense, I accept what the hon. Gentleman says. There has been too much of that going on in this place lately, or so they tell me. I do not know, I only read the papers.

The hon. Gentleman is seeking, therefore, to spend a lot more money. I am not against that. I believe that one way of cutting the massive dole queues is to spend more, and in the way that I have already demonstrated. We could find ways and means of spending money, but I do not believe that we should spend it when the relationship between spending and efficiency is so unsatisfactory.

The hon. Member for Barkston Ash is saying that although generally the Tory Party favours ultra-efficiency and cutting what is known by that dirty phrase"Government expenditure ", he wants to spend more money in the way that he has outlined. The Conservatives always refer to cutting Government expenditure and never to spending less on social services, housing, hospitals or welfare services. They want to cut back services that people need. Tonight we had an admission from the hon. Member for Barkston Ash that he wants to increase public expenditure. He does not want to increase the volume or efficiency of services for the working class. He wants to spend money willy-nilly in order to keep miners out of his constituency.

The Leader of the Opposition should have a word with him. It is not just the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) who is causing trouble. If the hon. Member for Barkston Ash represents Tory Back Benchers, the right hon. Lady has some real problems—not just with the opinion polls. Of course, the hon. Gentleman used to have a job on the Front Bench. Perhaps he is peeved. If there is another poll, who knows, he may get by inside the Tory Party.

It is interesting that even with this relatively small measure—I will explain later that in its own dimension it is important—we have had another example of Tory Back Benchers speaking against public expenditure generally but being in favour of it when it concerns their own purposes. Whenever this happens someone on the Labour Benches ought to get up and point out the irreconcilability of this approach. Ministers ought to do it more often than they do. We have had this welcome sign illustrating my point from the hon. Member for Barkston Ash.

I am prepared to play the devil's advocate on this issue because it is broad enough to be looked at from all sides. When I went to Ruskin College they said"Dennis, you must look at things in the round." I did not, but I mean to take the opportunity of doing so tonight. On this occasion I want to draw attention to the fact that this project is not necessarily the most wonderful vehicle in which to ride.

If Selby is developed along the lines proposed by the Coal Board, I can envisage many pits in and around the area being closed and the miners being transported into the Selby coalfield. Naturally, houses will be provided and some of the people will live in Barkston Ash. But, because of the current demand for coal, I can see that we would not increase total output. The same would apply to the Vale of Belvoir. We are not discussing that tonight. It will come to us much later. I am not in favour of the development of Selby if it means that, when completed, total output in the industry will remain at or around 100 million tons. That means that there will be a lot of pit closures in Yorkshire.

Mr. Albert Roberts

I am sure that my hon. Friend will bear in mind that we hope to supply the Common Market with coal, too.

Mr. Skinner

I was coming round to that. I want all Ministers associated with these matters to look at Selby, this bright new jewel, in terms of doing everything which is encapsulated within the policies of the Labour Party. One such policy is to ensure that the coal industry increases total output. One of the ways in which that can be done is by ensuring that the economy is expanding. That means bringing down the present 12½per cent. minimum lending rate—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)

Order. I believe that the hon. Member has been waiting for some comment from the Chair. I am sure of it. I could read it in his face, in his eyes and in his delivery. May I remind him that we ought to be discussing the Third Reading of the British Railways (Selby) Bill?

Mr. Skinner

It is fair to put the point on the Third Reading of this important Bill that we must ensure that all the things which we desire are made clear within it to those who will take the final decision. This Bill means nothing if it is not discussed against the background of the coal industry. I give the Bill my full support. I want to see the railway project carried through. I want to see everything rushed through. I do not want the House of Lords to tamper with it. I want things to go through as quickly and easily as possible. However, I say that in the knowledge that the coal industry is suffering from a fall in demand. We must look at Selby in that context. A third of the total annual output is held in stocks, by power stations and elsewhere. A massive new coalfield at a time when we are putting 35 million tons of coal a year in stock—

Mr. Allen McKay (Penistone)

Does not my hon. Friend agree, bearing in mind the historical co-operation between the railways and the coal industry, that this is yet another such development? Will not the development of the Selby coalfield lead to further research and development and to the creation of expertise which we can sell to the rest of the world, as the Coal Board is currently selling expertise to China?

Mr. Skinner

That is a useful spin-off. We have many natural resources in this country. We have North Sea oil and we have 300 years of coal reserves, if the coal is extracted at the present rate. We have to think of what to do when the North Sea oil has finished. We do not want to throw the baby out with the bath water. We must ensure that Selby is developed at a time when there is growth in the economy, so that any slack in the industry can be taken up.

I come now to the point concerning the Common Market. The Common Market was supposed to buy our coal—not only Selby coal but all the other coal—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. We are not discussing the coal purchasing policy of the EEC. The hon. Member knows that. He is enjoying himself immensely, but he knows that he is absolutely out of order.

Mr. Skinner

Contrary to your view, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am not enjoying myself immensely. Whenever I think of the 35 million tons of coal on the ground, not being sold, and whenever I think of these Common Marketeers who are not buying British coal I do not feel happy. I am not enjoying myself. I feel bitter and frustrated.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I remind the hon. Member that this is a Bill designed to enable the development of the Selby coalfield. We have heard a great deal about the need for speed. I do not know why we are wasting our time now.

Mr. Skinner

You are quite right to refer to this question of speed, Mr. Deputy Speaker. That is why I am trying to race through my speech. I have got to the final point, having made the point about selling coal to the Common Market. We have to buy all of its rubbish, and pay all the subscriptions too.

We must look at this development seriously, against the background of the massive fall-off in the demand for coal. There are 35 million tons of coal on the ground, close to an all-time record. Selby, and any other development, has to be viewed in that light. I hope that those in the various Departments are taking on board the fact that we have to sell more coal. This does not apply simply to my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Departments of Energy and Environment. It must apply to all those who have some connection with the selling of coal. I agree with those who have dealt with the need for proper consultation. I agree with all that has been said about the creation of more jobs and the development of the infrastructure. I agree that this development will take people off the dole and will lead to the building of new houses and connected services. All of that is necessary.

The central point of my argument concerns the coal industry. It is not as buoyant as some would have us believe. It is going through a bad phase. This development must not be seen as an excuse for mining coal only at Selby. It must not mean that closures are allowed to take place in the surrounding areas of Yorkshire with redundant miners being transferred to Selby. On those grounds, but with just a little bitterness and frustration, I wish to give a blessing to the Third reading of the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.

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