HC Deb 15 March 1983 vol 39 cc183-210

Order for Second Reading read.

7 pm

Mr. Patrick McNair-Wilson (New Forest)

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

This is the twentieth miscellaneous provisions Bill of its kind since the reconstitution of British Rail in 1962. It comes at a time when the railway industry is very much in the public eye. It would be difficult for anyone in this debate not to be aware of the recent report into the general activities of British Rail. Although I shall be dealing with the specific points in the Bill, I should make it clear that the British Railways Board recognises the need for efficiency and for making the service as acceptable to its customers and passengers as possible. However, the board can boast a great achievement and a first-class record.

In the 1980 corporate plan it was decided that there should be a slimming down of the work force by about 38,300. About two thirds of the target has been achieved this year, and 24,000 employees have left the railways. The external finance limits that were established in 1982 will be the guidelines for the industry.

However, not everything is perfect and many areas must be improved. A disturbing factor in the future profitability of the railways is ticket evasion. The latest figures for ticket evasion in London and the south-east show that it costs British Rail about £12 million a year. There is a long way to go before we cure all the ills of the system.

This Bill sets out to continue the modernisation that has been part and parcel of previous legislation. It is a slow and relentless attempt by the board to make the system more competitive. That means, inevitably, that occasionally action is required that will provoke local controversy.

One of the most significant parts of the Bill is the decision to establish a rail link with Manchester Ringway airport. It takes into account the argument about the third London airport and of general airport policy. Other parts of the Bill deal with more mundane matters such as the closing of level crossings and footways, the extension of facilities and the improvement of some facilities to make them more efficient. If I am fortunate enough to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and with the permission of the House, I shall deal with those matters in more detail later in the debate.

Clause 3 deals with the incorporation of the general Act and is a standard clause in such Bills. Clause 4 relates to the Compulsory Purchase Act 1965 and is again a standard clause in such Bills. Clause 5 is the first area of contention. It gives power to undertake certain works, the first three of which relate to the construction of the new railway to connect Manchester international airport at Ringway with the Manchester to Wilmslow line via Styal. That work is part and parcel of the airport authority's general plan from 1985 to 1990. It will have far-reaching consequences, because for the first time it will provide access to the airport for rail passengers from many parts of the north of England and from as far away as the east coast. If the Stansted airport expansion ever takes place, or if it is delayed, all those factors will affect the decision. However, there can be no doubt that the airport at Manchester is now of international significance and it is right that such a proposal should go ahead as quickly as possible. I hope that the House will approve the proposal.

The fourth work relates to the constituency of the hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) and to his constituents in the Woodmoor residents association. It deals with the construction of a short length of railway at Hazel Grove to enable a through weekday passenger service to be introduced between Liverpool and Sheffield. As someone with business interests in Sheffield, I know how badly needed that link is. The link will enable passengers to travel that journey without changing. The board is prepared to admit the problems currently faced by passengers in Manchester who have long walks between trains. This construction will solve the problem and will enable the Liverpool, Warrington, Manchester and the Manchester, Sheffield and east coast railways to be combined in a single service through Stockport. That will mean a direct service from Stockport to the Mersey, across the Pennines, to Scotland, the east coast and Europe.

That short line will have a significant effect on the economic and industrial infrastructure of the area. However, I recognise that it will be necessary to acquire a small portion of land which is not owned by the British Railways Board, and which adjoins Norbury churchyard. Discussions have taken place and every possible provision has been made to ensure that there is no interference with graves or memorials in the churchyard.

Clause 6 deals with the infilling of a disused canal in Leeds. I mention it only because it is an example of how a comparatively small amount of work can be used to get round the problem of maintenance that is currently besetting this piece of line, where the bridge can be supported in a different way and money saved as a result.

Clauses 7 to 18 deal with the closures and extensions to which I referred earlier. As I said, I shall be happy to deal with hon. Members' specific points later. Clauses 19 to 27 deal with land acquisitions and related provisions. Clause 19, with which schedule 4 should be read, relates to a section of line that is liable to flooding in heavy rain. My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Rost) is concerned with this matter. In the Draycott area of the Derby to Trent railway there is a dip in the track which tends to flood. The board proposes to remove the dip in the track and to construct a new drainage system. I recognise that the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South-East and especially Erewash borough council and the Breaston parish council are concerned that any plans to do that may be detrimental to other flood prevention plans. I assure my hon. Friend that the board's intention is to work out with the local authorities and others a scheme that will not interfere with flood prevention in any way.

The board is determined to cure this serious problem affecting the railway system. I trust that it will be possible to work out a comprehensive scheme for flood prevention in the area, and that my hon. Friend and the two local authorities to which I have referred will accept the board's proposals.

Clause 28 in part V of the Bill deals with the problems faced by my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, North (Mr. Griffiths). Sealink UK Limited, which is a subsidiary of the British Railways Board, has a plan to overcome the serious problem that affects the Portsmouth area. The new powers sought in clause 28 are that Sealink should be able to levy charges on the users of the floating landing stage and pontoon in Portsmouth harbour beside the railway station. The British Railways Act 1963 enabled the Portsmouth Harbour Ferry Company Limited to have a 20-year lease of the use of the pontoon and landing stage. That lease expires in July. The history goes further back than that.

British Rail and its subsidiary, Sealink, are involved in this problem because of the Joint Portsmouth Railway Extension Act 1873. The Portsmouth Harbour Ferry Company operates ferries from the landing stage to Gosport, which enables passengers to travel a short distance by ferry, whereas if they went by road they would face a journey of between 15 and 18 miles. The 20-year lease allowed the company to use the facility for an annual payment of £1,500. While it is true that the company has occasionally given ex gratia payments to meet the rising costs of maintenance and repair, the moneys that have been forthcoming cover a fraction of the true costs of keeping the facility operational.

The facility, which is used by others as well as the ferry, is regarded as an important local amenity. If it is not properly maintained and repaired, it will be endangered. Since there has always been a common hard near to the facility, the clause seeks to allow Sealink UK Limited to raise charges upon those who use the facility and to regulate its use. Many people would be happy for the position to go quietly rumbling on and to make no change at all. Were that to happen, the facility would become another burden for the British Railways Board to carry. That would be the worst possible solution in the long term. The facility, which came into being in the second half of the 19th century for special reasons, must be seen in the true light of the present position.

Hampshire county council has spent considerable sums of money on the Gosport part of the Portsmouth—Gosport journey. Those in the area recognise that money must be spent.

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport)

Is my hon. Friend aware that there have been discussions among Hampshire county council, Portsmouth city council, Gosport borough council and the Portsmouth Harbour Ferry Company, and does he join with me in hoping that those talks lead to a compromise solution which is acceptable to all parties locally? If the proposals in this clause were to be continued, and if they were put to the House, the clause and the Bill would meet opposition.

Mr. McNair-Wilson

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that statement. He reflects my anxiety and that of other groups.

An agreed solution is required. If any charges are made, they must be reasonable. No firm figure has been agreed. Several figures have been suggested, one of which was 5p per person. It is important to recognise that if nothing is done the facility will eventually vanish because it will not be properly maintained. It is in the interest not just of the ferry company but of those who use the facility to ensure that it is put on a proper commercial footing.

Mr. Albert Booth (Barrow-in-Furness)

If the intention of the promoters is for an agreed solution to be found to the problem, why is the Bill proposed in terms that would give Sealink the power to charge any fee that it thought fit? That is hardly commensurate with the promoters wishing to have an agreed solution.

Mr. McNair-Wilson

The right hon. Gentleman knows that no figures appear in the Bill. The intention of the clause is to arrive at an acceptable figure. Local criticism—my constituency is not a million miles away—is that the charges to be levelled must not be grossly extortionate. The problem is to raise sufficient funds to keep the facility operational. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that he will not find any money figures in the Bill. The proposal will allow Sealink to levy charges for the use of the facility in keeping with the cost of maintenance that must be faced in this day and age rather than when the initial concession was given in 1963. If other hon. Members wish to raise this matter, I shall try to provide further assurances.

Clauses 29 to 32 are the miscellaneous provisions.

The Bill marks another milestone on the road to clearing up some of the problems that inevitably face a railway industry with such a long history. I trust that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading because the matters to which I have referred require urgent attention. If the British Railways Board is given these miscellaneous provisions, I am convinced that several problems can be dealt with. However, I give no assurance that it will not be necessary in future to bring further matters before the House.

7.19 pm
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Stockport, North)

I had rather mixed feelings when I put my name to the blocking motion, because although it seems that some measures in the Bill will be very worth while for my constituents and the country as a whole, there are items that are of concern to them. Through the hon. Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) I hope that we shall be able to elicit an assurance from the British Railways Board that the problems will be dealt with sympathetically. I also hope that we can elicit from the Minister an assurance that the Goverment will give assistance in the areas for which they have some financial responsibility.

I very much welcome the proposals for the rail link into Manchester airport. Manchester airport is an excellent example of municipal enterprise, first by the old city of Manchester, and more recently by Greater Manchester council. In building up the airport over the years they have shown the same foresight as their forefathers demonstrated in building the Manchester ship canal, and just as that brought prosperity to Manchester at the turn of the century, so Manchester international airport has brought great prosperity to the Greater Manchester area and to the northwest in general. It is perhaps a little sad that in the 1950s agreement could not be reached on Manchester and Liverpool going for one airport between the two cities, instead of having independent developments. However, it is now clear that Manchester international airport serves the area extremely well and has brought many jobs into it.

The airport serves not only Greater Manchester but the rest of the north-west and is the nearest major airport for most of north Wales, much of Cumbria and, increasingly, Yorkshire and even Humberside. Many of those who use the airport come from the Sheffield and Leeds areas. Indeed, the region that it serves stretches well down into the midlands. Therefore, the airport serves a large part of the United Kingdom and is very effective. In addition to serving a large catchment area, it runs direct flights to many European destinations as well as some to the United States of America and Canada. To those hon. Members who live in the Greater Manchester area it offers quite an attractive alternative means of getting to the House. Sometines I can get from my house in Stockport to the House of Commons in two hours. Admittedly that involves the shuttle flying promptly on time. Nevertheless, the service is very good.

The airport is now well served by road, and particularly by the M56, the M63 and the M61. The airport is much more convenient than many people think, even if one wants to use the railway in conjunction with a short bus ride. Getting to Manchester airport compares extremely favourably with the difficulties faced by those leaving London for Gatwick or Heathrow, even with the existing system using buses or taxis from the railway station. Any rail link to the proposed third London airport at Stansted would be far less convenient than a link to the Manchester airport. Therefore, Manchester has already established itself as a proven international airport with good communications.

Clearly, the airport would be enhanced by a direct rail link into it. I very much welcome the proposals in the Bill to put a loop off the Wilmslow to Manchester via Levenshulme railway line into or, very close to the airport's terminal buildings. The piece of railway is very short, and in some ways that shows how modest are the proposals for Manchester. One could have envisaged a much more elaborate scheme that would have involved linking that railway line to the old Cheshire railway at Ashley, which would have provided a loop into Manchester and made it much easier to have longer connections into Manchester airport. However, the proposals — modest though they are—will make it possible to have direct links from Wilmslow and from the centre of Manchester to the airport, and will link the airport with the rest of the Manchester rail network and with the rest of the rail network. Therefore, I welcome that proposal.

As the proposal is so modest, we should have an assurance from the Government that they will ensure that British Rail has the money to build that railway. It would offer good job opportunities to those in the construction industry and provide quite a bit of extra work for British Steel and others, because of the materials involved in its construction. If the Government want to show the people of Greater Manchester that they care about creating jobs, they could invest the money in this small and modest project and be sure of obtaining a very good return on it. The Government should think at least of doing that before giving any consideration to a further terminal at Heathrow or any commitment to anything at Stansted. Manchester is potentially London's third airport. Once the rail link is established, many people living on the north side of London, let alone in the midlands, will be able to get to Manchester airport more easily than to Heathrow or Stansted.

The Minister's interests lie with Birmingham, but I would also argue that in many ways the Manchester airport link would provide a good service for Birmingham. If a good rail link is provided to Manchester airport, there will be great scope for ensuring that its work is integrated with the work at Birmingham and Liverpool, Speke airports. In that way it will be demonstrated that one can reach the many centres of Europe from provincial Britain without having to go through London. The way in which transport planning often assumes that people must go in and out of London gives rise to great resentment. Those in the know about Manchester airport realise that one can fly from Manchester to European destinations and get connections to many parts of the world. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will make it clear that he supports the link proposed and that he will put up the money for it.

In the Budget statement we heard briefly that the Government were considering free ports. I have some reservations about the idea of free ports, but if there are to be any, Manchester international airport must put forward a strong claim to be considered. Free ports involve bringing in commodities, adding considerable value to them and then sending them out again, and clearly there are skills available in the Greater Manchester area and very close to the airport which would make Manchester a good The rail link will be important not only for passengers but for freight. A large amount of freight now passes through Manchester airport and I should like more to go by rail than by road. On the whole the freight still goes out on passenger planes and therefore it is important to consider those two groups together. I hope that the line can be used for freight and that when part loads go out with passenger traffic there will be increasing encouragement of the freight handling that goes with it. I hope that the Minister will give us that assurance.

Much of the track involved in the Bill will be run over by the sleeper trains. Last week a useful Adjournment debate was instigated by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Steen). A few of us had an opportunity to tell British Rail that it must reconsider its proposal to withdraw the sleeper service to Manchester. It would have been perfectly legitimate for hon. Members to have obstructed this Bill in order to persuade British Rail to be a little more responsive about the whole question of the sleeper service. British Rail's solicitor and its parliamentary agents have been extremely helpful about the Bill, but its attitude to Members of Parliament over the withdrawal of the sleeper service has been disgraceful.

It has been difficult for hon. Members to have discussions with British Rail, and it has dragged its feet. I hope that the Minister can give us a progress report on the negotiations. There is little point in British Rail proudly saying that as a result of these proposals it will be able to run freight from Kings Cross through Sheffield, through the Pennines and into Stockport and Manchester and up into Scotland, if at the same time it is talking about removing basic services such as the sleepers.

I appreciate that British Rail does not have the money to put into new sleeper rolling stock on those lines, but there is a strong argument for refurbishing the old stock that has been withdrawn from the London to Scotland route and London to the west country route and to keep going the sleeper service to the north-west, Yorkshire and other areas. In particular, British Rail should have taken a little more trouble at least to consult hon. Members who use the service frequently, and other interest in the area, about its proposals, rather than, as appears to be the case, withdraw the sleeper service by stealth.

What is more, it is the fault of British Rail that the number using this service has declined. Three years ago, following a fire and asbestos problems, it reduced the Manchester service from two carriages to one carriage. One attendant had looked after two carriages. He then had to look after only one carriage, so this reduced his efficiency. Furthermore, fewer berths were available. Many hon. Members and other users of the sleeper service found that they could not regularly get the bookings that they wanted and started looking for alternative services.

I am aware that many hon. Members started flying between destinations at that point because of the decline in the sleeper service. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us that British Rail will be more responsive. If British Rail is not more responsive on the sleeper service, it may be tempting one or two of us to return to the Bill at a later stage and press BR to take a little more notice.

Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)

Is not the railway management carrying out its usual practice in these matters, in that when it wishes to withdraw a service or close a railway line it makes the service as unattractive as possible to its essential customers, drives them away to using some other form of transport and then produces figures to illustrate that the service is losing a great deal of money and must be closed?

Mr. Bennett

I did not wish to delay the House for too long tonight by talking about the sleeper service in detail, but in many ways that is what the management did with the service. People had to get on the train half an hour later and get off half an hour earlier. The management did little petty things that made the service a little less attractive.

The line and works at Hazel Grove are referred to in the Bill. Here British Rail has not been as sensitive as it might have been. A group of people in Woodsmoor—not, as the hon. Member for New Forest said, my constituents, but within the Stockport area—have been aggrieved for a long time about the bridge over the railway line. Without any consultation, British Rail suddenly closed the level crossing and stuck a footbridge across which was clearly a monstrosity. That resulted in many people being attacked when walking over the bridge because of the way that it was constructed, and that caused many local problems.

For a long time British Rail treated the issue with little concern for public opinion. It has now, as a result of a court action, had to settle with Greater Manchester council that it accepts that the level crossing should have been kept open and that something had to be done about the bridge. The Woodsmoor residents put in a petition against the Bill but, sadly, as they were not conversant with parliamentary private Bill procedure, they got the petition in a little late.

Rather than the promoters at least hearing the petition, they objected to the vires of the petition because it was late. The Woodsmoor residents decided to withdraw the petition and return to it when the Bill goes before the House of Lords. The promoters would have done better to let those people have their voice heard at this stage and to see how far they could meet the objection. I hope that the promoters will make it clear that they will deal with the matter of the level crossing, that it will be restored and that the bridge will be taken down. In that way, that concern of the Woodsmoor residents will be dealt with before their petition has to be heard in the House of Lords.

I welcome the works at the Hazel Grove. I realise that there are one or two people who will say that that will make extra noise on the line. However, I have little sympathy with that argument, because the line used to carry old coal trucks and limestone trucks without automatic braking systems. Often, when those trains stopped, the clanking could be heard all over Stockport. Any increase in traffic now will not go back to the noise volumes that existed on British Rail until fairly recently. Therefore, I welcome the proposals for the link at Hazel Grove.

The link will mean that it will be possible for the trains to run, as the promoters say, from Sheffield, through Stockport, into Manchester Piccadilly, and out to Liverpool. It will give a through service, with a considerable increase in convenience for individuals, as it will save them trailing across Manchester.

I have one query about the amount of traffic that will go through the junction at Knott Mill and Deansgate. That is a fairly tight piece of railway line and I am a little concerned about whether it will be able to cope with the amount of traffic. We are also talking about traffic going from Sheffield up to Scotland along that line, using the new Windsor link, which came in a previous miscellaneous provisions Act. There are questions about whether there will be sufficient capacity to take the number of trains that the promoters have been suggesting will go through.

This piece of line will have one other effect. It will give us a first-class route from Sheffield to Stockport, through to Manchester and Liverpool, and will link up with the other line going to the airport. It will also mean that main line trains will be withdrawn from the section of railway line that comes up from Strines, Marple Bridge, Romily, Bredbury, Brinnington Reddish, Gorton and into Manchester. That makes sense for the main line trains, which will come through that bit quicker, and there will be a better service. However, one has to ask what implications it has for the piece of line that will lose its main line trains and will also probably lose a great deal of freight.

I fear, as do many other people, that once those through main line trains are taken off that line, and once the goods are taken off, British Rail will tell Greater Manchester transport executive that the line has now to be paid for by local commuter trains. That has considerable implications, because it will mean either that the fares must go up on that line, or that the Greater Manchester council will have to pay an extra subsidy. As I understand the Transport Bill that is going through the other place, there will be considerable problems for Greater Manchester transport executive if it wants to spend extra money on subisidising that line.

I do not wish to go back over the arguments on the Transport Bill. It is clear that the Opposition have a different view from that held by the Government, but I hope that the Minister will give us assurances that if Greater Manchester transport executive has to put in an extra subsidy to cover this line, that will be given special consideration in working out the grants for the Greater Manchester transport executive. It is already pressed up against the wall by the Government's legislation, and must not now find that it has to take on extra responsibilities for the line and does not have any leeway. I wrote to the Minister on this subject last week, and I hope that he will be able to say whether it will be possible for Greater Manchester transport executive to get extra Government assistance to cover the costs of this line.

I hope that the Minister and British Rail will give a categoric assurance that there will not be a dramatic increase in fares for people using those stations. If, however, there is such an increase, I hope that there will not be talk of closing the line because fewer people are using the service. I trust that allowing British Rail to put in about 100 yards of new track at Hazel Grove will not result in its removing an important and valuable commuter service to Manchester.

If British Rail is looking for savings on the line at that point, it should look for them, not on the commuter services, but on the lines from Hazel Grove into the Mersey valley and Cheadle Heath. If the link is put in, British Rail will have two lines running parallel to each other. British Rail took out a small section of track at the Bridge Hall estate. It has told me that it has considered putting back that piece of track but that it would be expensive because of one of the bridges involved. That bridge is a traffic hazard and will have to be reconstructed for road traffic reasons. If the track beside the Bridge Hall estate from Hazel Grove to the Stockport line towards Cheadle Heath is reconstructed, four or five miles of track which carries freight only could be removed, which would have considerable advantages.

I hope that the Minister will assure us not just that British Rail will have the power to instal a link to Manchester airport but that the Government will give it the resources to do it quickly. It will do a great deal to assist jobs and to help the north-west to achieve considerable economic success.

I welcome the Hazel Grove line, but will the Minister make it clear that the Greater Manchester transport executive will have the money to ensure that the old line used by the main line trains will not be put at a disadvantage or suffer any closures? I welcome the opportunity to raise these issues. I hope that we shall have the assurances for which we have asked so that the Bill can make speedy progress through the House.

7.42 pm
Mr. Peter Rost (Derbyshire, South-East)

I welcome the assurances given by my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) who has so ably moved the Second Reading. I hope that British Rail will find satisfactory agreed solutions to the objections from my constituents.

I understand that there is plenty of good will. British Rail and its parliamentary agents have given every sign in correspondence that they wish to meet the objections. The objections have not yet been made, which puts me in a slight difficulty about supporting the Bill at this stage. I refer particularly to clause 3 which deals with the acquisition of land.

A large part of my constituency is subject to flooding. The river Derwent flows through the area that we are discussing where British Rail wishes to acquire land. The Derwent of course runs into the Trent. The residential areas of Draycott, Breaston and Borrowash and other parts of the constituency have a long history of flooding. The three parishes, Draycott, Borrowash and Breaston, which are most worried about the Bill's proposals, are supported by Erewash borough council particularly in regard to clauses 19 and 20.

Although Erewash borough council has a most competent technical services team headed by Stanley Martin, who I have no doubt will reach a sensible solution to the problem with British Rail, there has been a fair amount of difficulty because the legislation was rather thrown at the parishes without proper consultation. It has added to the problems that must now be resolved.

The railway line runs either through or on the edge of the built-up areas where there has been considerable flooding in the past. There is now at long last a more advanced flood alleviation scheme under way. I should like to detail the problem as seen by people in this part of Derbyshire. British Rail is rightly worried about the regularity with which its tracks get flooded, which is why it proposes to alleviate the problem. British Rail's proposals allow for increasing the capacity of the track-side drainage culverts to accommodate all the flood water and discharging the culverts into a small water course to the south of the A6005, the Draycott road, adjacent to the site of the old Draycott railway station.

I know the area intimately and one of the reasons why the local residents are a little up in arms about the proposals is that British Rail closed the railway stations some years ago and the residents do not even have the benefit of the use of the railway.

The water course flows in a generally south-easterly direction eventually forming the water course on Sawley lane, Draycott at Wilne Cross. It is important to understand how the railway track becomes flooded. A number of water courses flow in a southerly direction draining the higher land of Risley to the north and discharging into the river Derwent to the south. At times of heavy rainfall—we have plenty of that in this part of Derbyshire—the water courses become fully charged and in extreme conditions overflow into the adjacent fields and eventually—because the land generally falls north to south—the flood water finds its way on to the railway track which lies in a cutting. As the present track-side drainage is incapable of accepting all this flood water, the track remains flooded for a considerable period of time. It is a problem which British Rail wants to remedy.

The discharge to the water course is acceptable and controlled at the moment. However, if British Rail's current proposals go ahead, although the quantity of flood water would remain the same, its rate of discharge would increase substantially causing unacceptable flooding downstream of the discharge point at the old Draycott station. Much of this flooding could affect housing. British Rail proposes to transfer the flood water from four catchment areas and discharge it into a completely different catchment area which is highly likely to exacerbate flooding in the Sawley lane area of Draycott.

The Erewash technical services department has worked hard since it heard of the proposals on preparing an alternative solution. It has now finalised the alternative solutions which it believes will be technically feasible and which would cure the problem of flooding. In other words, the flow of floodwater can be controlled so that it does not flood the railway track. Indeed, the local authority maintains that the scheme that it has prepared would be more economical than British Rail's proposals. The problem that faces me is that the meeting between British Rail and my local authority, when these new proposals will be put to British Rail in detail, is not scheduled until next month. We do not really know whether British Rail will find them acceptable. Nor do we know how these proposals will be financed and to what extent British Rail will be prepared to meet its share of what is, after all, an overall flood prevention scheme. The local parish councils are anxious that the Bill should not proceed until there are firm assurances that an amicable solution has been reached.

A further problem concerns my constituents. It relates to clause 21 giving British Rail temporary access over adjoining property in seven places to enable it to move plant and equipment to and from the working site while the flood prevention scheme goes ahead. Of course British Rail needs to have access to carry out the work, but there is much concern over the method that may be used to transport soil from the site and that this will be detrimental to the local environment. There is enough heavy traffic already in the area. We are talking about built up areas that have perhaps inadequate residential roads for carrying a great volume of traffic transporting heavy soil over a long period. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to say more about this aspect.

I do not wish to object to the Bill in principle. I relate my comments specifically to the clauses dealing with the acquisition of land and the part of Derbyshire I represent where British Rail intends to alleviate flooding. Alternative proposals are prepared and will be discussed with British Rail. Until that happens, however, there is far too much uncertainty about the future for me to say that I can feel happy about seeing the Bill receive a Second Reading. No doubt my hon. Friend will be able to give further assurances. The problem that really concerns my constituents is how, if British Rail is given leave to proceed with the Bill and the unspecific clauses which allow it to purchase land, they will be able to oppose the proposals should British Rail find that it cannot meet the objections. This is the difficulty. That is why I have sought to put these points while feeling confident that a sensible compromise solution will be found. I hope that such a solution can be reached long before the Bill proceeds through Committee and back to the House.

7.54 pm
Mr. Albert Booth (Barrow-in-Furness)

The hon. Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) referred to continuing substantial reductions in British Rail staffing and the contribution that the Bill will make to modernisation of the railways. The hon. Gentleman certainly tempts hon. Members to comment on the small effects of the Bill on the vast areas of British Rail that are in danger of collapse and the thousands of miles of the network that may have to be taken out of service as a result of shortage of investment. However, it is not my purpose to go further into those matters. I wish to stay fairly strictly within the terms of the Bill.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for New Forest for expanding on the statement by the promoters and giving hon. Members more information about the purposes of the Bill. There is a desperate paucity of explanation in the statement by the promoters about the purposes of the Bill, from clause 7 to clause 31. I am concerned about the badly and loosely drafted clause 13(2). This criticism applies to many parts of the Bill. Clause 13(2) provides: Notwithstanding the provisions of the specified enactments a number of gates at level crossings may be closed between certain hours. One turns in vain to the Bill to see which enactments are repealed for this purpose. They are not shown. Page 3 of the Bill states that 'the specified enactments' means the Act of 1839, section 9 of the Act of 1842, section 47 of the Act of 1845, sections 5, 6 and 7 of the Act of 1863". Those who care to carry out historic research of our statutory records will no doubt be able to relate the provisions of clause 13(2) to those Acts. It is not, however, a good way of dealing with legislation.

Clause 14(4) proposes that British Rail should have the right to close certain crossings as public rights of way and, in fact, to prevent the passage of vehicles across them while leaving landowners effectively with rights of passage across those crossings. This seems to me to beg the question how the clause will assist the modernisation of British Rail. One can understand that in certain circumstances a saving might be made by closing a crossing to everyone for vehicular passage. I cannot, however, understand—it is not explained by the promoters—how one can save money by leaving a passage open to landowners on one side but denying vehicular access to the public. It seems a strange way of limiting public rights.

A more serious limitation of existing statutes is to be found in clause 22. The clause contains a limitation of the rights that this House legislated in the Compulsory Purchase Act 1965. The clause appears to place a limitation on the rights that this House legislated in section 8(1) of the 1965 Act. That was an important right. Section 8(1) provides: No person shall be required to sell a part only—

  1. (a) of any house, building or manufactory, or
  2. (b) of a park or garden belonging to a house, if he is willing and able to sell the whole of the house, building, manufactory, park or garden, unless the Lands Tribunal determines that—
    1. (i) in the case of a house, building or manufactory the part proposed to be acquired can be taken without material detriment to the house, building or manufactory, or
    2. (ii) in the case of a park or garden, the part proposed to be acquired can be taken without seriously affecting the amenity or convenience of the house."
The Compulsory Purchase Act goes on to lay down a way of determining the compensation that will be due.

This House, in legislating to ensure that if persons are subject to compulsory purchase they will have the right to say whether they want the whole of their property or garden purchased, as opposed to part of it, took an important decision. I shall not enter into an argument about the merits of the decision. I am prepared to accept that I and other hon. Members at that time took a good and valid decision. My argument now is that that decision should not be set aside for the purposes of this Bill. This is not the first time that a British Railways Bill has sought to limit or interfere with basic rights of compensation in acquiring land or premise's. So, in my opinion, this part of the Bill needs considerable justification.

In clauses 23 and 24 there is an interesting juxtaposition of compulsory purchase rights. In clause 23, we are asked to agree that the board should have a right of compulsory purchase over certain lands affected by the Bill, provided that it purchases it before 31 December 1988. That is not an unreasonable proposition. One would not want that right to be used at any time in the future. Clearly it is only fair that the present occupiers of the land should know, at least within a limited period, whether the board will exercise its statutory right to buy them out. I accept that between now and 1988 is not an undue restriction on the British Railways Board. It should be able to determine whether it will exercise a compulsory purchase right by that date.

However, in clause 24 we are asked to extend a previous right of compulsory purchase laid down on exactly the same basis, and to extend a right that the House gave British Rail to carry out the purchase by 1983 up to the year 1988. What assurance is there that if we pass the Bill, with clause 23, in 1986 or 1987 we shall not have another clause such as clause 24 in a British Railways Bill asking us to extend clause 23 further? Again, this is an attempt to confer on the promoters a right which the House has been reluctant to grant, in the light of much experience of dealing with compulsory purchase powers arising from planning consent provisions, in the interests of a fair balance between the wider public interests and those of individual owners of property.

In clause 28 a wide and sweeping power is sought. I am glad to see in his place the Chairman of the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments, my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer). He will appreciate how sweeping the power is. The clause says: Notwithstanding anything in any enactment, the company may"— the clause then says what the company may do, ending with the words: as the company may think fit". The company may make the regulations, terms and conditions, and determine when it will demand, take and recover or, as the case may be, waive such charges in the operation of a landing stage. Frankly, that is not the language of a promoter who is seeking to reach a fair and balanced solution to an admitted problem. The days are past when it was possible to enshrine in legislation charges, tolls, and so on. Inflation overtakes such provisions. There was a time when the House could say in confidence that a penny toll for taking a pig or a twopenny toll for taking a cow or horse across a river was good legislation. That time is past.

However, we need to find a way to resolve this problem, and it is not to give those, be they private or public, who have a monopoly right over forms of transport an unqualified power to determine the conditions in which it shall be used. One can say that about Sealink, knowing full well that the Government have taken powers to require the British Railways Board to sell Sealink, so that after many years as a publicly owned operation it might be a private operation. What I am saying does not relate to the question whether it should be private or public. I am arguing that clause 28 is not the way to resolve the problem. In the event of a dispute about proper charges to maintain a transport facility, we need arbitration or some method to determine those charges.

Although I am conscious that British Rail is beset with many problems, and although I do not share the confidence of the hon. Member for New Forest that it can operate happily within its external financing limits over the next year, I welcome the minor provisions in the Bill which allow British Railways to extend small parts of its network. Let us hope that the two and a quarter miles to Ringway are but the start of many more great and valuable extensions of the British Rail network.

8.8 pm

The Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Reginald Eyre)

It may be helpful if at this point I intervene to give a brief indication of the Government's view on the Bill.

The Government have considered the content of the Bill and have no objection to the powers sought by the British Railways Board. However, I should point out that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, for reasons connected with the use of agricultural land, has reservations about the need to take powers in clause 5 at the present time for the construction of a rail spur to Manchester airport, when plans for the airport have yet to be finalised.

I understand that the promoters of the Bill are aware of this reservation and will discuss it with the Ministry in the near future. I hope that in that way it will be possible to iron out any difficulties.

The hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett), who referred particularly to the successful development at Manchester airport—I noted all that he said—raised three preliminary points and then came to his main point. I shall take them in that order. The hon. Gentleman first asked about Government support of the proposed rail link to the airport. I am sure that he understands the procedure that applies in railway development of this kind. It is up to British Rail to come forward in due course with its proposals, which the Government will then consider.

The hon. Gentleman's next point concerned British Rail and freight use. I appreciate the practical element in what he said, and I am sure that it will be considered.

The hon. Gentleman then referred to a subject that was dealt with in an interesting Adjournment debate last week—the sleeper service to the north-west. The hon. Gentleman will understand that I cannot add to the speech that I made on that occasion, but I remember vividly his contribution.

The hon. Gentleman has written to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport on behalf of the Greater Manchester passenger transport executive about the effect of the board's proposals for the Hazel Grove connecting line and the entitlement to transport supplementary grant. The hon. Gentleman referred to that matter again this evening. I understand that the board is examining with the passenger transport executive the effect of diverting services from Sheffield via Hazel Grove. We shall have to await the results of that examination, but I can say that if, as a result of diverting some traffic away from the existing route, the passenger transport executive were left bearing the costs of the line, that would be taken into account in setting the level of revenue support for the transport supplementary grant in the appropriate year.

The right hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth) made a short speech. I always find his speeches on transport matters of great interest because of his great enthusiasm for detail. His points will be answered by my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) on behalf of the promoters, as will the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Rost). I must remind the hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness of the relevant parts of the Serpell report which do not support his remark that thousands of miles are likely to collapse.

Mr. Booth

There is no need to look at the Serpell report. One has only to look at the rail policy document that was signed by every member of the British Railways Board. That said that if investment was not increased above the 1981 level, within a decade thousands of miles of track would have to be closed down. Investment has not risen above the level; it has fallen.

Mr. Eyre

The right hon. Gentleman was implying that there was an imminent state of collapse. I must remind him that the Serpell report conceded the areas in which there are problems. The right hon. Gentleman and I both know that there are maintenance problems. We have developed the wise policy of earmarking part of the PSO grant to carry out such work. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman agrees with that policy. We are continuing it on a more extended basis during the current year, therefore assisting British Rail to deal with the problem.

I recommend to the House that the Bill be given a Second Reading and be allowed to proceed in the usual way to Committee where its provisions can be considered in detail.

8.14 pm
Mr. Frank R. White (Bury and Radcliffe)

I rise briefly to support my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett), particularly in his reference to clause 5 and the provisions relating to the developments at Manchester airport. A few years ago it would have seemed very strange that an hon. Member who represents Bury and who lives in Bolton should be extolling anything to do with Manchester. Although we live in the same part of the country, the insular nature of northern towns puts Manchester very much at arm's length. However, the reorganisation of local government and the fact that we are Greater Mancunians, not Lancastrians, has brought us together and made us mindful—probably not early enough —of what Manchester has meant to the region.

Something that binds Manchester with the conurbations of the north-west is, of course, the railway. It was only in 1980 that we celebrated the 150th anniversary of the first passenger line from Manchester to Liverpool. What drew Bolton and Manchester together was the fact that the next railway line was a coal-carrying line from Bolton to the Atherton and Leigh area. Shortly after that Bury was developed as a railway town with its own railway station. The network that had spread throughout the north-west by the late 1840s was fantastic.

In view of what the railway has meant to the industrial development of the north-west, the north-west group of hon. Members, of which I am privileged to be the chairman, has no difficulty in supporting British Rail's provisions in that area. Indeed, we have gone out of our way to foster good relationships with the north-west division of the British Railways Board. We have had a first-class relationship with Mr. Anderson and have kept up to date with future developments and plans by means of briefings and meetings. It is much to our regret that that relationship has been marred by the very points that were raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North.

I hope that the Minister, in his contacts with Sir Peter Parker and those representatives of British Rail who are here today, will make that point clear. Forty Members of Parliament from the north-west could have been here tonight to block the Bill on the basis of the disrespect that has been shown to them by Sir Peter Parker. I regret having to name in that way an efficient and honourable member of a nationalised industry.

However, when the north-west group of Labour Members writes to the chairman of a nationalised industry, as we did in December outlining our fears and requesting a meeting on various British Rail developments in the north-west, including the sleeper service, it is just not on that first, we should have to wait weeks for a reply and, secondly, that after a second letter we should be fobbed off with the observation that the chairman had been advised against a meeting with local Members of Parliament on a constituency matter.

My hon. Friend and I are representatives of those hon. Members who share a sense of anger at the way that we have been treated by British Rail in the north-west over some outstanding items, particularly when we have always co-operated to the utmost with British Rail both in the north-west and nationally. However, we understand that the British Railways Board has been under pressure as a result of the Serpell report and the problems that my right hon. Friend the Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth) has outlined. Therefore, we have not pushed the matter but have preferred to deal with it in personal correspondence. It is because of the rebuff that we receive that we have taken the opportunity tonight to remind the powers-that-be where their attention should be directed.

We heard that the proposals in clause 5 leading to the development of a link to Manchester airport and the development of Manchester airport were important to the regional economy. I believe that it was described as being as important to Manchester and the north-west as was the development of the Manchester ship canal. That cannot be overemphasised. The Manchester ship canal was a great arterial waterway from the seas of the world into the heart of the industrial north-west. Regrettably, it is now little used. We would let that facility die, fade away and silt up at our peril. The state of our canal system is another matter about which my right hon. Friend the Member for Barrow-in-Furness is aware.

The new Manchester airport is as important to the development of the north-west as the Manchester ship canal once was. It is important to the whole of the north. At a recent meeting of the north-west group of Labour Members, a presentation was made on the development of the Ringway airport by the Northern Regional Consortium. This is not just a Manchester case for the development of a Manchester airport. It is a consortium of all the northern local authorities—the north-west region, Yorkshire and Humberside and the northern region—each recognising that the development of an international airport at Manchester would bring great economic benefits to the north. Anything that can weld Liverpool and Manchester together is a miracle, but it must have something extra if it can bring Yorkshire and Lancashire together. When it can go up to pease-pudding land in the north-east and bring that region into a united effort, the Government must sit up and take notice.

The 1978 White Paper, "Airport Policy", recognised the need for a classification of regional airports and for a regional airport strategy. It recognised that Manchester should be classified as a gateway international airport. Since then there have been efforts to develop that policy but it is of concern to us that there appears to be a lobby in the south for the development of other airports, for new terminals at Gatwick and Heathrow and for a completely new airport at Stansted. We believe that that would be a retrograde step and would take away resources that would be valuable to the north-west. The whole of the north resolved, in considering "Airport Policy", that priority in transport investment for improvements in accessibility to regional airports should be displayed by Government. If one can get the industry and commerce of the northern regions and local authorities together, that will be a significant achievement.

The Greater Manchester international airport authority, in its presentation to Members of Parliament, said: The airport could be a national asset. It would be wrong to argue that it should go into an area which needs its economy boosting if the location was indefensible in overall transportation planning terms. But, for Manchester, that is not the case. For example, Manchester is just as accessible as London, not only from the north-west region but also from the north, Yorkshire, Humberside and the midlands. My hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North made the interesting point that about 50 per cent. of Britain's manufacturing industries lie within 75 miles of Manchester airport. There is scope at comparatively modest cost for improving the transport links still further.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

Will my hon. Friend stress the point that the number of manufacturing industries within 75 miles of Manchester airport gives considerable potential for flying out replacement parts for orders gained overseas? A large amount of such work is now going through Manchester airport.

Mr. White

I agree with my hon. Friend.

I emphasise that if the Government are really concerned about the regeneration of the old industrial areas which have suffered so much as a result of the contraction of basic industries, an international airport should be available for new markets and for salesmen from all over the world. Many of those who come to Britain to look for inward investment opportunities get off the plane at Heathrow and do not go any further than a 30-mile radius of London, whereas if the facility was available at Manchester the facilities, skill and locations and the resources at our disposal would be impressed upon them and the spin-off might be the regeneration of the old industries.

The case has been made by the Northern Regional Consortium and the importance of the economy has been emphasised. What the northern regions want to see above all is commitment from the Government. I am pleased that the Minister has said that the Government support the Bill. That is an important step in recognising our need. At the North-West Industrial Development Association there has been discussion on the development of the regional strategy and the regional economy. It stressed the importance of a Government commitment. In a recent report it said: The case for a substantial Government commitment to the economic future of the north-west of England is undiminished. Such a commitment is evident already in the south-east as illustrated by the M25, the London orbital motorway, the Thames barrage, the proposal for a £103 million bridge across the Thames, and the recent revival of interest in the Channel tunnel. Moreover the British Airports Authority proposals to expand Stansted as London's third international airport would, if implemented, add substantially to the imbalance of investment already evident between the south-east and the north-west of England. It will pose a substantial threat to the future of Manchester International airport, one of the key growth points in the north-west economy still awaiting a direct rail link. The Minister's statement tonight in support of this modest proposal answers that fear and I hope is the start of a redevelopment of transportation policy in the north-west which will provide the vital infrastructure for the redevelopment of our industrial base.

I started my speech by saying that the original development of railways more than 150 years ago was a vital ingredient of the first industrial revolution. It was supplemented by the Manchester ship canal. The development and future of Manchester international airport is also a vital ingredient.

The Greater Manchester passenger executive and British Rail have recently completed a rail strategy for the Greater Mancheser area. I am pleased to note that within that strategy there is a re-equipment proposal for the Bury line, which runs into one of the most modern passenger rail-car interchange developments in the north. I look forward to the development of that investment. The point is made in the rail strategy that it is vital that a link to the Manchester international airport should be completed. It would add to the development of the airport which would add to the infrastructure of the region. That, in turn, would bring the development of new industries and the prosperity which makes such a transportation policy feasible.

We had the network 150 years ago. Perhaps it was developed in a hopscotch fashion. It was built up as demand arose. Three transport authorities in our area are analysing their transport demand and have a vision of what transportation should be in the Greater Manchester area in the future. Within that has been the development of the rail link to Manchester international airport.

I support the Bill because it gives legislative effect to that vision. I thank the Minister for his support for the Bill and urge the House to do likewise.

8.30 pm
Mr. Peter Griffiths (Portsmouth, North)

A motion in my name has stood on the Order Paper in the past few weeks seeking that the Bill be given a Second Reading in six months' time. That is normally a device to show either a modest objection to a part of the Bill or a determination to see that it is strangled at birth. In placing the motion on the Order Paper my motives and intentions were to do exactly as the motion said, and to give time between when the Bill was published and its Second Reading for British Rail to give evidence of its good intentions, particularly with regard to part V, clause 28.

It is not my intention tonight to seek to prevent the Bill from receiving a Second Reading. However, I have the greatest reservations about the Bill's terminology and the lack of vigour with which the preliminary consultations that one would have thought would take place before the Bill was brought to the House were pursued.

I realise that it is not entirely within the province of British Rail to decide when the House will debate the Bill. That depends on many factors. However, when a miscellaneous provisions Bill is brought forward, which raises numerous local matters—some of which cannot be described as mundane, as they were by my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison), because they may be of the greatest significance to the area concerned—we should not be told that British Rail has good intentions about carrying out discussions after Second Reading and perhaps before or during the debates in Committee. We should know that those consultations have taken place and that there is broad local agreement.

I shall confine my comments to part V, clause 28. I welcome very much the cogent statement by the right hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth) on this part of the Bill. Tonight we are not discussing British Rail's good intentions. We are not discussing hypothetical discussions that it might have with other parties. We are discussing the Bill, which is in black and white and which contains terminology which, after the closest examination, can be seen only as sweeping and in some ways alarming. I hoped that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State would say that the Government Front Bench was concerned at the seeking of such sweeping powers by a nationalised industry, certainly by a subsidiary of a nationalised industry, which, as the right hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness said, could become a private company in the near future.

Those of us in southern Hampshire who know the history of the development of the railway to Portsmouth harbour will know that under the original scheme the pier, the harbour station and a landing stage were not built in a disinterested fashion by benevolent railway companies. The Joint Portsmouth Railway Extension Act 1873 placed an obligation on the railway company to provide and maintain a public landing stage.

Going back a little further, we know that as early as 1847 the two railway companies which at that time operated competitively in the Portsmouth area were required to provide a public landing stage with connection to the town. I emphasise the phrase "required to provide". This was because a public landing stage was seen as a place of public resort and an advantage to the city of Portsmouth which balanced the privilege which was given to the railway companies to build a pier, a carriageway and a station into the Portsmouth harbour instead of using the common hard for the purpose of bringing their ferry boats from the Isle of Wight to shore. In return for that privilege they provided a public landing stage.

There is no doubt that the intention at the time was that this should be retained as a landing place to which the public had free access in every sense of those words. To support that, I draw attention to the Act of 1873, where we see in section 10: the two companies shall be at full liberty to use the said public landing place and approach for all purposes"— and then, I emphasise: but not so as to prejudicially affect the public use thereof". The imposition of a charge surely affects the public right, and prejudicially affects it. If there were a modest charge, or provision for whatever charge was imposed to carry with it a right of appeal to some public authority to see whether it was reasonable, if the Bill indicated that this charge was to be a modest one, there might be merit in supporting this particular clause of the Bill. However, the fact of the matter is that it is hard to imagine a more sweeping power than that which is claimed for Sealink UK Limited under clause 28, subsection (2) of which says: Notwithstanding anything in any enactment, the company may—

  1. (a) from time to time demand, take and recover or, as the case may be, waive such charges for the use by the public of the landing stage and approach; and
  2. (b) make such use thereof subject to such terms, conditions and regulations;
as the company may think fit. There is no indication here that the charges are to be modest or reasonable, and I fear very much that the implication is that there is an intention to seek to make the pontoon and the public landing place either profitable or at least self-supporting.

There was never any intention in 1847 or 1873 that this should be so. This was a public provision made by the railways in return for the privileges they received. What is happening now is that British Rail is seeking to shuffle off the responsibility that has lain upon it and its predecessors for 140 years. It might be assumed that it will be possible for British Rail to come to some amicable agreement over this matter and there are numerous suggestions as to what might happen. What we know, however, is what is proposed by British Rail.

We also know the strength of the opposition to the proposals as they stand at the moment. Petitions against this particular provision have been made by the Hampshire county council, the Portsmouth city council and the Portsmouth Harbour Ferry Company. If my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) speaks later he will no doubt draw attention to the attitude of Gosport district council. I have no reason to suppose that it differs greatly from that of the bodies that I have mentioned.

There is unanimous objection to British Rail's proposal. The public representatives oppose it on behalf of the local people. The main user of the pontoon—the Portsmouth Harbour Ferry Company—also objects strongly. The pontoon is also used by Crown employees, by Portsmouth harbour watermen and by members of the public. Local Members of Parliament will know from their postbags how strongly individual members of the public object to the imposition even of a relatively modest charge for use of the pontoon. Why should the public have to pay to enter what has always been a place of public resort?

Until the 1970s, the cost of the ferry service between the pier and Gosport was relatively modest, but with the rapid rise in the cost of fuel the cost of the ferry service has also risen. I fear that if the further burden of charges for access to the pontoon were added to the already increased charge the service would be severely damaged. The people of Gosport and Portsmouth find the ferry the most convenient way to pass from one town to the other. The alternative is a road journey that may take half an hour or longer, depending on the time of day. There would be no advantage in diverting the traffic to the roads and great disadvantage in damaging the excellent ferry service.

It has been suggested that the ferry company, as the main user of the pontoon and landing stage, might wish to take responsibility for that, but I fear that there would be just as much local objection to that company having power to levy charges as there is to British Rail doing so. The most sensible suggestion seems to be that some kind of consortium of the local authorities and the ferry company should be formed or that one of the local authorities should take complete responsibility for the pontoon.

Those suggestions should be investigated, but that would require more than just commercial negotiations. It would involve not just a renewal of the 20-year service agreement between the ferry company and British Rail, which would be fairly simple, but a major political decision by Hampshire county council and Portsmouth city council. The extension of municipal ownership is not something that the city council would lightly undertake.

These matters should certainly be considered, but they should have been considered long before the Bill was introduced. There is no guarantee that if the Bill receives a Second Reading today the negotiations that we wish to see will proceed with speed and vigour to a satisfactory conclusion. I do not suggest that there is other than good will on the part of all the parties concerned. There is good will and a willingness to find a solution, but we cannot give our approval in the House of Commons to what it is suggested may be the attitude of persons outside. We are being asked to give our approval to a Bill, the provisions of which I have read into the record and with which I will not weary the House again. They are different from the bromides that might be offered to us in the sense of protestations of good will on behalf of British Rail and its Sealink subsidiaries.

I express the gravest reservations about the Bill. Had it been a matter of my own choice I would rather we had been able to say, "Come back in six months when you have carried out the discussions and then we will give your Bill a fair wind." We are not in a position to do that tonight. Therefore, I ask my hon. Friend the Member for the New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson), in so far as he is able to commit the sponsors of the Bill, to give us an assurance in clear and unequivocal terms that there is an intention to come to a solution that is acceptable to the public representatives of Hampshire and Portsmouth, to the commercial users of the pontoon, the Portsmouth Harbour Ferry Company and the Portsmouth watermen, and to those ordinary members of the public who for 140 years have had access to the place. If we are given that assurance then it should not be necessary to divide the House this evening.

Nevertheless, I must make it clear that should agreement not be forthcoming at later stages of the Bill, I could not permit such easy progress when the Bill returns to this Chamber, having been considered in Committee. I say that in all seriousness, because that would be the attitude of the people of Portsmouth and southern Hampshire. They would require that the Bill be fought unless a solution is found to the problem which is of such great concern to many hundreds of people who daily need to use the services of the Portsmouth Harbour Ferry Company.

8.47 pm
Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)

I want to raise briefly one or two items on this private Bill which has been promoted by British Rail. I welcome the extension of British Rail's network to Manchester airport at Ringway. I hope that the discussions which the Minister said would take place between the British Railways Board and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will solve any difficulties which the Ministry has brought to his attention. This is an excellent development by British Rail. Where massive numbers of people are involved, British Rail should seek to serve them.

I ask British Rail to bear it in mind that currently at Leeds-Bradford airport a £13 million extension is being constructed and that there is an abandoned track there of a railway that used to run to Yeadon. In the same context as Manchester, with a municipally owned airport and an increasing number of passengers, British Rail should consider the possiblity of serving that airport with an extension of the railway network if it has a vacant track bed which could be adapted either in whole or in part for such a purpose. That would be a useful development.

The introductory part of the Bill refers to the general duties of British Rail. It says: It is the duty of the board … to provide railway services … and … to provide such other services and facilities as appear to the Board to be expedient, and to have due regard, as respects all those railway and other services and facilities, to efficiency, economy and safety of operation:". I echo some of the comments that have been made today about the withdrawal of sleeper services. The British Railways Board is proposing to withdraw the King's Cross to Leeds sleeper service on the ground that the decline in the number of users of that service means that the board cannot afford even to refurbish the sleeping coaches.

The board claimed that new coaches, which cost a great deal, would be necessary. When I challenged that I received a letter, not from the person to whom I wrote, but from an assistant to whom my letter had been passed, who said that even refurbishing could not be met out of the usage. However, he did not give the usage or the proportion of revenue that is ascribed to the sleeper services, either supplement or passenger revenue.

The board also claimed that the inter-city service between King's Cross and Leeds is now provided by high-speed trains, that it is a good service and that it has been speeded up since the introduction of the HS125s. As I pointed out, however, the HSTs are now roughly 10 minutes faster than the 1938 West Riding Limited service which was introduced on the same route using Sir Nigel Gresley's Streamlined Pacifics. Although I recognise that there has been an increase in speed, the railways did not regard the introduction of West Riding Limited in the late 1930s as sufficient reason for the withdrawal of sleeper services. Nor do I regard the introduction of the HSTs as sufficient reason for withdrawing the sleeper services.

British Rail must make out a much fuller case before it can justify that decision. The sleeper services will not bear, and have never borne, the full cost of train movements between King's Cross and Leeds, I am sure that if and when the sleeper service is withdrawn, the night parcels train that carries newspapers will be maintained, that the shunting facilities at King's Cross and Leeds will also be maintained, both for the newspaper parcels and other services, and that the only cost that will be reduced or removed will be that of porterage and coaching stock.

As a considerable number of sleeping cars will be available because of the introduction of new cars, it cannot be beyond the wit of British Rail to refurbish on a limited scale to provide the service. The service is relatively slow. The maximum speed, which is entirely satisfactory, is 80 miles an hour. The train is so designed that the occupants are not disturbed by excessive speeds. Therefore, the problem is not one of refurbishing coaching stock that has to go at the high speeds of which British Rail is capable.

I want to draw my anxiety about the King's Cross to Leeds sleeper service to the Minister's attention because in a recent Adjournment debate he said that he had nothing to add. That debate was limited. I merely want him to draw the attention of British Rail to the wider area of worry in the House about the withdrawal of sleeper services, which comes not only from the north-west but from Yorkshire and Humberside.

If the services are withdrawn, a potential use of British Rail will also be withdrawn, and it does not necessarily follow that people will automatically use the high-speed train service as British Rail suggests. They may be diverted to motor cars or the air service that is available from Heathrow, thereby causing yet another diminution of what I regard as a valuable facility for business men who want to go to Yorkshire and spend a full day in Leeds and the surrounding cities. They can do that by using the sleeper service. I strongly hope that the Minister will draw British Rail's attention to the anxiety of Yorkshire Members of Parliament, as he will do with regard to hon. Members from the north-west.

New railway works are proposed at Stockport, Disley and Whaley bridge. British Rail is diverting the Nottingham to Glasgow service via Manchester, and I am anxious that the capital investment proposed should not be based on a design to improve the speed of that service, which would result in greater justification for the closure of the Settle to Carlisle railway. The service between Nottingham and Glasgow has been diverted through Manchester since May 1982, and is a tortuous and lengthy service. The Nottingham, Leeds, Keighley, Skipton, Settle, Carlisle service to Glasgow was much better.

Many people believe that what is proposed will lead to the closure of the Settle to Carlisle railway, which is one of the most magnificent railways in the country. It goes through starkly beautiful countryside. It has maintenance problems, as do all railways, but it is believed that the stories of withdrawal and the rundown of services is a prelude to British Rail presenting a case for the closure of this magnificent railway. The line is an important diversionary route to the west coast. When blockages occur, when there are derailments, or when the overhead catenary equipment needs attention, trains can be diverted through Hellifield, Settle and Carlisle to Glasgow. Closure of the line would cause severe operational difficulties.

I recognise that the works proposed in the Bill are primarily for another purpose, but if they facilitate the north-south movement, it must not be at the expense of the Settle to Carlisle line. If British Rail proposes to close that splendid scenic route, which has not been exploited to its full potential, there will be strenuous opposition in the House. An organisation called Friends of the Settle-Carlisle has support on both sides of the House, and that support will be strengthened and widened if British Rail decides to close the line. That is a warning to British Rail. People such as myself will be keeping an eye on the service in the hope that the board can be put under pressure to improve it this summer—not at some dim and distant stage in the future—so that the maximum use can be made of the railway and the revenues increased by providing a decent service, including a Sunday service.

The hon. Member for Portsmouth, North (Mr. Griffiths) mentioned the powers for Sealink UK Limited. I suspect that the hon. Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) will also refer to that. Clause 28 gives absolute powers, which are not unusual, to Secretaries of State. I am not happy for Secretaries of State to be given such powers, although they are accountable to the House. Hon. Members would like to think it is full accountability, but that is debatable. To hand over that power to a subsidiary of the British Railways Board and, moreover, a subsidiary that might be sold, is highly unsatisfactory.

British Rail is not easily accountable to the House, so a private company would be even less accountable. Hon. Members can table questions to the Secretary of State for Transport about meeting the chairman of the British Railways Board to discuss investment. We can raise a wide range of issues in that way. However, it will not be easy for hon. Members to raise questions about a private company. If a private company takes over Sealink, it can be assumed that the rights and duties of Sealink will be transferred to it.

There is an absolute power over charges. The Bill says: Notwithstanding anything in any enactment, the company may do certain things. That pushes aside any existing legislation or safeguards. The company will be able to do anything about charges. British Rail has the right to levy charges on the railways. The board is indirectly accountable to the House. Many discussions take place in the House on railway services. The British Railways Board takes its liabilities in that respect seriously. Accountability may be remote, but it will be even more remote if a private company is concerned. A private company will seek not only to provide a public service but to maximise its revenue in a manner that may not be to the taste of the users of the service.

I do not like private legislation—concern has been expressed about it—that gives absolute powers to private bodies. Some hon. Members may recall that I objected to sections of the Lloyd's Bill. An easy solution might be for the Secretary of State to introduce an instrument levying the charges, which could then be subject to the negative procedure of the House. That would be an entirely satisfactory safeguard. The House deals with hundreds of such instruments every year. The vast majority are not objected to or prayed against, to use our archaic phrase. It would be a simple matter to apply to the Secretary of State, who could lay the order in the usual way. If people felt aggrieved, a prayer could be tabled and debated. Another safeguard would be to give local authorities the power to approve the charges by way of a byelaw if people felt that the involvement of the Secretary of State was too grand for a relatively minor matter.

Following the accumulation of legislation, Secretaries of State in various Departments deal with all sorts of minor and humdrum matters and are subject to delegated powers. Either way, hon. Members should examine private legislation carefully. I have much hesitation in handing over unqualified powers to the British Railways Board, although it has occupied a unique statutory position by virtue of the powers of the component railway companies of British Rail. Bearing in mind the possibility of privatisation, it was interesting to hear the reservations expressed by Conservative Members. I share with them the view that when such charges are made they must be subject to a proper negotiating process and some degree of accountability. In my view, the clause does not provide it.

9.4 pm

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport)

The Bill has the broad support of the House and the debate has been marked by several well-informed and thoughtful speeches from Conservative and Opposition Members and by the fact that the minority parties have not found it necessary to disturb the even tenor of the Bill's progress by attending it.

The powerful speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, North (Mr. Griffiths) has dealt comprehensively with clause 28, which I have severe reservations about. I shall merely supplement his remarks briefly and add some minor points of my own.

As far as clause 28 is concerned, this Bill is too early. There is no consensus in south Hampshire as to what should be done about the Portsmouth pontoon except to say that the proposal in clause 28 is unacceptable. There is no doubt that in 1873 the railway companies accepted a duty to provide a pontoon and jetty in exchange for a benefit and that Sealink is now seeking to extricate itself from that duty. There can also be no doubt that the manner in which Sealink proposes to implement its powers is unacceptable. To give a small example. I understand that British Rail intends to impose a single fare for passengers going one way only between Portsmouth and Gosport and to do so on the Portsmouth side. Meanwhile, the Portsmouth Harbour Ferry Company has decided to do the same, and to impose a single fare on the Gosport side. Of course both would like to diminish their overheads by imposing a single fare but have so far failed in their discussions to decide where it should be imposed.

It would clearly be unacceptable for broad powers to be given to British Rail through Sealink to impose any charge that it sees fit, so the proposal is unacceptable in broad terms. Indeed, it is also unacceptable in detail, because the ferry is very important locally. I think that I can claim to know the ferry as well as any hon. Member, because I used it for five or six years on the way to school. There are two ways to get from Gosport to Portsmouth, or vice versa. One can use the ferry across the half-mile strip of water that marks the entrance to Portsmouth harbour, or one can travel about 15 miles by road. Of course, travellers by road will almost inevitably go by car, while those travelling on the ferry will either use bicycles or, more probably, go by foot and then take advantage of the bus services in Gosport and Portsmouth, and/or the train services in Portsmouth.

If passengers start travelling more by road, the bus and train services, as well as the ferry, will lose passengers, it has been estimated that if a charge of 5p were made on the ferry, it would lead to about a 5 per cent. loss of custom, and that loss of custom would also be felt by the bus and train services. Therefore, we are in a classic vicious circle and a way out of it must be found in order to protect the ferry company and its services, as well as the bus and rail services.

I join my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, North in not opposing the Bill at this stage. However, I should like to use two examples to underline the importance of the ferry and the pontoon to the area. First, the Gosport side of Portsmouth harbour is developing as a tourist centre, with the submarine museum and other tourist facilities. It is now more than ever necessary to develop good services across the mouth of Portsmouth harbour. In addition, there are wider proposals for the development of Portsmouth harbour as a tourist centre, with services possibly going through from the Portsmouth and Gosport side one day to the fine Roman castle at Portchester. Perhaps one day the munitions museum in the Gosport area will also be developed. In addition, the Victory has now been supplemented by the Mary Rose. The whole area is developing as a tourist centre and it is vital that the Portsmouth pontoon should be available not only for the ferry company but for the other boat services that may one day come in connection with the development of those tourist facilities.

Therefore, I hope that the local authorities will adopt a constructive approach when discussing this proposal with British Rail. I have every reason to believe that they will do so and, indeed, have done so. The Portsmouth Harbour Ferry Company, which is most concerned in the immediate future of the Portsmouth pontoon, will also adopt a constructive approach. Above all, British Rail, promoting the Bill, should not feel that because the Bill was not opposed at Second Reading it will not be opposed later on in its progress.

I put down a marker, and join my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, North and other right hon. and hon. Members to say that the proposal in clause 28 as it stands is unacceptable. Unless a reasonable arrangement can be worked out among British Rail, the local authorities and the ferry company, there will be opposition later during the course of the Bill. In case they have not done their homework, they should know that there are a thousand ways in which individual Members can oppose the progress of a private Bill.

9.10 pm
Mr. Patrick McNair-Wilson

With the leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker perhaps I may reply to the debates. Several important points have been raised by hon. Members, such as those raised by the hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett). I should like to thank him for his general welcome for the airport proposals and assure him that British Rail is anxious to find the most practical way to restore the level crossing to which he referred. I make it clear that it was not British Rail that took up the position over the petition to which the hon. Member referred. The Standing Orders Committee did so, and it was its ruling that was upheld. Nevertheless, I take the point that he made about the suggestions for the bridge, and that will be noted.

My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Rost) spoke of the objections made by his constituency that have not yet been met. That is true, but the proposals from the Erewash borough council have not been received. We understand that they are coming this week, and I can assure him that when they are received they will be most carefully studied. I hope that a comprehensive plan for the flooding problem can be arrived at.

The right hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth) referred to level crossings and the problems that he felt had not been sufficiently spelt out. Clause 13 gives the details of three crossings and their closure times at night. I make it clear that his objections to clause 14, which is also about the closures, is that by these means the board is seeking powers to reduce the status of level crossings from public to private crossings. The present-day use of the crossings does not justify the cost of retaining crossing keepers, and the powers will enable the board to withdraw the crossing keepers from eight crossings, which will bring about a considerable saving. That is the thinking behind this part of the Bill.

However, as to the point made about the compulsory purchase provisions—

Mr. Booth

Before the hon. Member leaves the point about level crossings that change status from public to private, will the private owners who are served by them have to open and close the gates to gain access to a road and, if so, why should not members of the public do the same to gain the same access?

Mr. McNair-Wilson

Persons who need to make use of the crossings to gain access to their properties will still be able to do so, but persons having alternative means of access to their properties will not be able to use the crossings. The Bill makes provision for such persons to be compensated for the loss of such rights, which may go some way to meet the point that the right hon. Member made. The appropriate local authorities have been consulted about each proposal. The matter will, if necessary, be further considered in Committee. That is where I hope that the important point that the right hon. Member makes about the 1965 compulsory provision will be fully explained. I can give him that assurance.

The right hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness further referred to the vexed question of the charges in clause 28, and I shall deal with the whole of the Portsmouth problem in a moment.

The hon. Member for Bury and Radcliffe (Mr. White) made some important points about the north-west. He also made clear the difficulties that he is having in establishing proper communications with the chairman of the British Railways Board. I assure him that those comments will have been noted, and I hope that some new relationship can be established. I am grateful to him for his reiteration of the importance of the rail links with Manchester to which other hon. Members have referred.

My hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, North (Mr. Griffiths) made a strong appeal for the provisions in clause 28 to be set aside until further consideration had taken place. He pointed out that he had earlier put down a blocking motion. Were we to have acceded to his request and delayed the matter for six months, the position would have been even more critical than it is now because six months from now brings us to September and, as I pointed out earlier, the lease to the ferry company runs out on 8 July. There is some need to press on with establishing a new relationship.

There seems to be some misunderstanding about the exact position of the pontoon facility. Much has been said about the 1873 Act and my hon. Friend referred to an earlier date in the 19th century. The 1873 Act authorised the extension of the railway system from Portsea to the Royal Naval dockyard. In so doing, it prevented access to the common hard which is still there. The pontoon facility came into being for that reason. It was not, as has been suggested by my hon. Friends the Members for Portsmouth, North and Gosport (Mr. Viggers), that in exchange for some facilities—perhaps the ability to build an extension of the railway—the railway company felt that it had to provide another public facility. The company provided it because by building the railway it had prevented people from using the common hard which was the normal place for them to land. It must be made clear that those who have suggested that the pontoon is a public facility are not strictly correct. It is a facility that has been provided for the public because of what was done in 1873 —shutting off access to the common hard. The common hard still exists. People may continue to use it.

The important fact that must be faced, which was raised by the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer), is how to overcome the existing deficit. I explained that the ferry company pays £1,500 a year. I have the maintenance budget for the landing stage for 1983. It talks in terms of £42,000. Somehow we must ensure that the cost of maintaining the facility is paid for either by those who use it or in some other way. I do not believe that it is sensible to continue with an arrangement that started in 1963, as I explained earlier, and which has been clearly overtaken by events, and expect the problem to go away if nothing is done. The problem will not go away. It must he dealt with, and I contend that it must be dealt with before the

I share the desire of my hon. Friends the Members for Portsmouth, North, and Gosport, to see an agreed solution. Let us hope that that will happen, but a solution must be found because without it it will not just be a problem for those to whom my hon. Friends have referred who use the facility, but for the ferry company as well.

With those few comments on the points that have been raised I should like to thank hon. Members for the manner in which they have received the various proposals. I hope that the Bill can now proceed to Committee and its remaining stages and that it will eventually become part of the modernisation process of British Rail.

Question put and agreed to.

Read a Second time and referred to the Examiners of Petitions for Private Bills.