HC Deb 16 February 1987 vol 110 cc707-18

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 one in a long series of general powers Bills that British Railways has brought forward over the years. It follows closely on the Third Reading of the Stansted Bill a fortnight ago. I hope that today will not prove quite so contentious.

Such Bills are designed to provide British Rail with powers to enable it to bring up to date the whole of its permanent way and other operations. I recognise that the feature of such Bills is often the closure of level crossings and other facilities, but it is worth remembering the positive side to all that is included in such Bills.

Investment in British Rail in the past three years has been £1,400 million and another £2,500 million is planned for the next five years. The House will be aware that recently orders for £95 million worth of new inter-city rolling stock for the east coast main line have been placed. Against the background of the closure of level crossings and the rest, I should like to remind the House that there are now plans to open five branch lines and 12 stations to add to the 56 stations and other facilities opened since 1982.

The Bill follows the normal procedures of past legislation and I do not intend to weary the House by dealing with non-contentious matters. Some of my hon. Friends, and hon. Members in other parts of the House, are anxious about some of the proposed plans so I shall deal with them in particular. If, with the permission of the House, I have the opportunity to speak again, I shall deal with other matters which might arise.

Part II of the Bill deals with proposed works. The first deals with the railway system in the Canterbury area. I am delighted to see my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) in his place. I refer to work Nos. 2, 2A, 2B, and 3 at Whitehall road leading to Whitehall farm. It might be convenient for the House to consider clause 6 at the same time. The works are needed to connect The Chartham and Canterbury West lines and the Selling Canterbury East lines, thereby permitting through running from Chartham and Canterbury East and thence to Dover, avoiding the circuitous route via Minster. That proposal is the subject of a petition by Professor Pressnell, which I have no doubt will be considered in the proper way at the proper time. I mention that proposal because there is a fear that. by virtue of clause 6, a plan exists undisclosed in the Bill to close Canterbury West station. I can give an assurance that that is definitely not so. The board has no plans for such a closure.

Work No. 4 concerns the deviation railway at Llantrisant, which will be of interest to the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John). This work is designed to help the Mid Glamorgan county council with its plan to construct a bypass at Talbot Green. British Rail's proposal will divert the railway, so enabling the land to be released for the road.

Work No. 7 is also the subject of a petition and has been a matter of concern to those living in the area. Petitions have been tabled by the Doncaster borough council and the Ramblers Association. The work relates to the level crossings at Dormer Green and Noblethorpe. They are public level crossings located close to each other, separated by about 450 yards. They are conventional gated crossings controlled by a gatekeeper who lives in a house adjacent to Noblethorpe crossing. The hoard believes that there is no justification for the retention of the gatekeeper. Since the roads, which are described as through routes, can be used only by farm traffic the board wishes to close the Dormer Green crossing and to divert traffic over the Noblethorpe crossing by means of a road to be built, at the board's expense, across land owned by the owner of Thorpe Grange farm, the person most directly concerned.

The future road will be suitable for vehicular traffic but will have private status. I draw attention to subsection (5) of clause 11 which states: Any person who suffers loss by the extinguishment under this section of such private rights of way, if any, as may exist over Dormer Green and Noblethorpe crossings shall be entitled to be paid by the Board compensation, to be determined in case of dispute by the tribunal. There is a remedy in that subsection for anyone who is affected.

Clause 25 is of great interest to my hon. Friends the Members for Stafford (Mr.Cash) and for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Heddle). It relates to the closure of Whitebridge lane, Stone and involves the closure of a public level crossing to vehicular traffic. Pedestrian rights are to be retained. The board's plan is to withdraw the crossing keepers. The clause authorises the board to stop up Whitebridge lane. Wicket gates and stiles will be provided to provide a crossing for pedestrian use.

Staffordshire county council has petitioned against the board's proposal because it believes that it will create problems for heavy vehicles. It is important to remember that alternative routes will be available and that the Staffordshire police state that Whitebridge lane between the level crossing and Mount road is unsuitable for exceptional loads. The British Waterways Board contends that the bridge over the Trent and Mersey canal is capable of carrying any vehicle which complies with the construction and use regulations. I hope that those assurances will meet the point.

Part III of the Bill deals with works at Blyth and the termination of a short railway, following the Coal Board's decision after the long miners' strike not to use the railways for transportation. This provision enables the board and British Rail to come to agreement as a result of that decision.

Part IV of the Bill deals with the purchase of land and part V with the incorporation of works and lands provisions. Part VI deals with protective provisions under the British Rail Acts 1981 and 1984, both of which I guided through the House. Part VII deals with miscellaneous provisions and part VIII with general provisions, including repeal and arbitration procedures.

I draw attention to the two schedules to the Bill. Schedule I deals with the acquisition of land. Clause 36 gives powers to take land to enlarge the electrical substation at Branksome near Poole. That is of great interest to my constituents and to the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley). They know how well that railway system is improving, and the extra electrification to Weymouth should make a great difference to the journeys of our constituents.

Schedule 2 deals with enactments that are to be repealed by the Bill. This is not a contentious measure. As I say, it is a housekeeping measure, as are most of the British Rail Bills. Following my short explanation, I hope that the House will feel able to give the Bill a Second Reading. If I am given permission to speak again, I shall try to deal with any specific matters raised by hon. Members.

7.10 pm
Mr. John Heddle (Mid-Staffordshire)

I should like to make three constituency points, two of them on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South-East (Mr. Lightbown). He represents the second most beautiful seat in Britain, but because of his much-deserved appointment to the Whips Office a few months ago he is unable to put to my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) these two points. In chronological order they appear in clause 12 and deal with the stopping up of two level crossings just by the A38 at Alrewas.

I do not know that part of Staffordshire quite as well as does my hon. Friend, but I know it almost as well because in a previous incarnation in the Parliament of 1979 to 1983 I represented the constituency of Lichfield and Tamworth. That included the village of Alrewas, which now forms the heart of my hon. Friend's Staffordshire, South-East constituency. The level crossings to be stopped up are at Fine lane and at Roddige lane.

I should like my hon. Friend to consider my remarks about an equally important matter. Perhaps I should say a matter of great commercial importance and in saying that I am expressing a partial prejudice, but I ask my hon. Friend to forgive me for that. I and my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South-East wish to make representations on behalf of Staffordshire county council. It has lobbied vigorously and vociferously, and I hope that it will continue to lobby persuasively to persuade British Rail and its professional advisers—notwithstanding the advice that they have received from the Staffordshire police, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, the British Waterways Board and any other authority that they may wish to call to support their case—to consider the views of the democratically elected representatives of the people who use and derive benefit from the land to which these level crossings give access.

I direct the attention of the House to clause 25. That clause gives power to close the level crossing in Whitebridge lane in Stone in my constituency. The proposed closure of this level crossing causes great worry not only to the county council, but to many of my constituents in Stone and to one section of my constituents with which I shall deal in a moment. The level crossing is one of only two means of access to the Whitebridge lane industrial estate and to an adjoining factory estate on the opposite side of the road.

The other access to the industrial estate and to the factories is from the A51 along Whitebridge lane over an inadequate and steep hump-backed bridge, about which my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest spoke. That bridge is over the Trent and the Mersey canal. It is just not possible for certain long wheel base vehicles to pass over the hump because they bottom upon it. The hump is too steep. Last summer the level crossing was temporarily closed, and Staffordshire county council received complaints about the need to double handle loads. The only access for such long vehicles is over the level crossing and if passed unamended the Bill would give British Rail permission to close that crossing.

The chief fire officer of Staffordshire county council is also worried about the possibility of closure of the level crossing because it would be difficult for his larger appliances to pass over the bridge.

It is estimated that between 65 and 70 per cent. of the industrial units on the Whitebridge industrial estate, an important part of the economy of Stone, are let. It is thought that if this level crossing is closed not only would it be difficult to let the remaining units, but the present occupiers might have to consider whether to relocate, because some of the occupants depend very much on deliveries by the types of vehicles about which I have spoken and they can only gain access over the bridge.

My next point is not party political: I do not need to underline that. As the House will appreciate, local employment opportunities are very much at stake. I ask my hon. Friend to give me an assurance on behalf of the promoters of the Bill that they will take that into account in any subsequent discussions that they may have with Staffordshire county council. The county council has considered the possibility of the construction of an alternative access to the industrial estate. That would be by means of a new bridge over the canal. The present estimated cost of the bridge and its associated roadworks is £300,000.

I take more than a passing interest in local government finance in general and in the finance of Staffordshire county council in particular. I do not think that the county council could support the funding of this programme. My hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South-East and I both know that there are many village bypasses and other road improvement schemes in our constituencies and throughout the county that deserve greater priority.

I understand that discussions about this level crossing took place with British Rail as long ago as 1978 and that no firm agreement was reached. British Rail considered that the possibility of contributing towards the cost of a new bridge would be a possible way out, but nothing further has been heard from British Rail about that. What does British Rail seek to save by allowing this clause to remain in the Bill? I do not know. Perhaps my hon. Friend could find out and let me know between now and 2 March. I suspect that it may mean the saving of one part-time job of a level crossing keeper during the day, and one part-time job of a level crossing keeper during the night.

I ask my hon. Friend to pass to the promoters that much more is at stake and that it rests on the promoters' decision. It is the continued prosperity and profitability of the factories and the creation of jobs in the two factory estates about which I have spoken. I remind him that 65 to 70 per cent. of the factories are let. That means that 30 per cent. are not. If this level crossing is closed, the possibility of letting those factories will he remote and the viability of the factories that are let will become questionable. He will know that the promoters of the Bill intend to debate this matter further with Staffordshire county council on 2 March. I hope that the promoters will consider discussions with the occupiers of the industrial units on these estates, with Stone chamber of trade, the Staffordshire Development Association and other interested parties.

When the history of this Bill is written in the annals of British Rail, the stopping up of this level crossing and the saving of these two part-time jobs will be seen not to have been worth the candle. I hope that the industrial, commercial and capitalist candle will continue to burn brightly for many years in Stone in my constituency.

7.19 pm
Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) for having introduced the Bill. As he said, it is a sort of routine measure and a general purpose Bill for British Rail and it should do us no harm. The proposals in clauses 5 and 6, which concern my constituency, are improvements on two relatively old lines in the British Rail system, but to say that they would do no one any harm would be wrong. Certain of my constituents will be done considerable harm and that harm can be removed only by generous compensation.

Clauses 5 and 6 refer to work No. 2, work No. 3 and detailed works Nos. 2A and 2B. They will be considerable improvements. The British Railways Board has been very helpful. Its solicitor sent me advance notice of what was to happen, as I imagine he did to all other hon. Members affected by the proposed changes. The information has revealed an inadequacy in the line from London to the Kent coast—to Canterbury and beyond to Ramsgate and to Dover. In the past, the two separate lines—one from Victoria and Cannon Street to Dover and the other from Charing Cross through Ashford, through Canterbury West to Ramsgate and Sandwich — have crossed in Canterbury. That crossover is a disadvantage. It was probably a wrong piece of planning, but there it is. The proposed change will remove that crossover and produce a link between the lines so that, in future, it will be possible for a person travelling from Ashford to Canterbury West to join the other line and go through Canterbury East to Dover. That is a much better plan.

This plan will affect some of my constituents who own the farmland where the rail building is to take place. That work is quite small—between 1,000 and 1,500 yards of rail. My constituent, Mr. Todd, farms Whitehall farm, which is mentioned in the Bill. The effect of the Bill is to carve his farm in two, which makes the farm no longer viable. That is why generous compensation must be considered.

A similar problem arose 10 or 12 years ago with farms and farmers in my constituency when the Canterbury bypass was built. It cut through many farms, robbing them not only of land but of their viability. If a farm is cut in half, the two halves cannot be farmed together. Even if a bridge is built to help the farmer, farming is extremely difficult. Whitehall farm is a small farm and I do not think —nor does the farmer—that there would be a case for building a bridge there. I am sure that this problem will be solved. British Rail has much experience of it. The fact that British Rail wrote to me to inform me of the proposal helped me to advise Mr. Todd and his brother, who together farm Whitehall farm, on the steps that they should take.

A petition has been presented by Professor Pressnell from the university of Kent in Canterbury. My constituents, the farmers, did not succeed in submitting a petition to the House and I have advised them to consider petitioning the other place in due course. I have sought the advice of the solicitor's office of the British Railways Board to pass further information on to my constituents.

I am not complaining about the proposed rail change because it will be a considerable improvement. We do riot often hear of new railway lines being built. I know that I am talking about fewer than 1,500 yards of railway line, but that is a considerable improvement. I thank British Rail for its initiative in building a little more railway line and in improving the route to the Kent coast which will feature prominently in the next few years when the Channel tunnel is built. People will want to get to the tunnel entrance, and one of these lines will serve the tunnel directly. The infrastructure generally needs to be improved as well—an argument which is advanced all the time by people in Kent as one of the measures needed in the area.

I was glad to hear my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest say that there was no question of Canterbury West station being closed. Canterbury is sometimes looked upon as being remarkable. Of course it is a remarkable place, but it is remarkable also in that it has two stations — Canterbury West and Canterbury East. They are extremely good and important stations. Canterbury West is a very distinguished, fine-looking and beautifully kept station. I always congratulate the station manager and the staff on the way that it is kept. Perhaps its appearance has influenced British Rail's decision to keep it going.

More important, as my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley) knows, Canterbury West played a famous part in the history of British railways and the railways of the world. The first passenger service in the world was on the line From Canterbury West to Whitstable. I know that because I happened to attend a service in Canterbury cathedral five years ago at which the Archbishop of Canterbury preached, and we recognised the great achievement of none other than Stephenson in having built the railway line to connect with ships sailing out of Whitstable harbour taking people to London.

Another reason why Canterbury West must remain open is that the original railway track laid down by Stephenson is in the station yard. That line has been preserved. Those industrial and archaeological reminders are important. That is not the only reason to keep the station open. The route to the coast served by Canterbury West is distinct and separate from the route served by Canterbury East.

I commend the Bill. It is an advantage to our infrastructure and our railway system. I hope that the British Railways Board will note what I have said. It must in turn take note of the concern expressed by Mr. Todd at Whitehall farm and ensure that he is properly compensated.

7.28 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Peter Bottomley)

I hope that the House will forgive me if I intervene now because I hope to be helpful. I have not waited for my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley) to speak because I suspect that I shall speak after him arid I want to get the retaliation in first.

I am delighted to be involved in a railway debate. Each of us is here as a Member of Parliament, and our constituency system means that hon. Members can speak for particular level crossings or beautiful railway stations. My hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South-East (Mr. Lightbown), a Government Whip, nodded wisely and enthusiastically when parts of his constituency were mentioned. Within the past fortnight, I have had the opportunity to open a new railway bridge—the Well Hall railway bridge—which I hope will also go down in British Rail's history.

In no sense am I trying to wind up or answer the debate. The Government have considered the Bill's contents and there are no objections in principle to the powers sought by the British Railways Board. A few minor points will need to be raised by the Department of Transport and I have no reason to doubt that they will be cleared up satisfactorily.

As has been mentioned, there are four petitioners against the Bill who will have the opportunity to present their objections to the Select Committee, which will be in a position to give more detailed examination to the issues that are involved, and which will have the added advantage of access to expert evidence.

I recommend to the House that the Bill is given a Second Reading and that it is allowed to proceed in the usual way to detailed consideration in Committee. However, I should like to say that anyone who has not had the enjoyment of reading a Bill such as this might, with advantage, read clause 27(5), where they will notice that for the words shut and fasten any gate it is possible to substitute the words, lower and lock any lifting barrier". That shows that the House gives immense attention to detail, as is absolutely right.

7.30 pm
Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch)

I am delighted to have the opportunity to make a brief speech. I hope that my hon. and neighbouring Friend the Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) will allow me to say that British Rail owes him an immense debt of gratitude for his work. The House knows and recognises his eloquence and knowledge in presenting such Bills, and that should be put on the record.

My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) treated us to a delightful nugget of parliamentary history. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Heddle) rightly raised an important matter of concern to his constituents.

I should like to pick out one or two points about the Bill in relation to my hon. Friend's remarks because they provide an interesting illustration of some of the matters about the railways that we take for granted in the House and in the country. Without wishing to cross swords with my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire, I suspect that the railway line was there before the factories to which he referred. However, it is assumed that it must always be British Rail that must take the necessary steps to enable life to continue. That is one of the presumptions which we all make and which, of course, costs British Rail a large sum every year. When we consider the figures for British Rail's overall costs, we should never forget the assumptions that we make which cost them money as is illustrated in the Bill.

My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury discussed the new Canterbury link, but which is very welcome albeit rather less dramatic than the new Windsor link in Manchester, which has already been approved by the House.

The Bill illustrates concern for individuals, but also the larger matter on which my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest touched. Quite properly, he referred to the number of new stations that are being opened. However, I suspect that most people would imagine that British Rail is busy closing stations, rather than opening them. In fact, the reverse is the case. My hon. Friend the Member for Hampshire, North-West (Mr. Mitchell) reminded me the other day of the comparatively large number of new stations that British Rail has opened since the Government were elected.

My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest discussed the electrification of the Weymouth to Bournemouth line, which, as he rightly said, is important to his constituents and to mine. Of course, that electrification is welcome, but it pales into insignificance when compared with the electrification of the east coast main line, which has been talked about for many years, but which is coming to fruition only now, under this Government.

Therefore, the Bill is an interesting illustration of the way in which, with the railways, the facts belie the story of neglect that is often laid at the door of the present Government and their attitude to the railways.

Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)

I hesitate to intervene in the hon. Gentleman's habitually eloquent opening remarks. However, I am not sure where his remarks are leading us in our debate on the Bill. Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that all those improvements to which he has referred have been financed entirely out of British Rail's own resources by the selling-off of land and property, and that not a penny piece for those improvements has come from the Department of Transport or the Government?

Mr. Adley

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has decided to inject a partisan point into the debate. British Rail's finances are in a rather better state than many people might be led to believe. One of the reasons for that could be the support that BR receives from the Government. I am not suggesting, nor is he, that we should not like to see a great deal more investment in British Rail. However, some of the achievements that have been made belie the tales of woe about the railways which are frequently put about by some Opposition Members.

If I am asked whether what I have said about the east coast main line is related to the Bill, I refer to page 5, clause 5, line 43 which refers to the line between Doncaster and York. Therefore, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you will be delighted to know that I am not too far out of order in my remarks.

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State discussed level crossings and lifting barriers. If, as occasionally happens, there is a mishap at a lifting barrier, concern is aroused and questions are asked about the safety of those comparatively new devices. The press automatically assumes either that the mechanism was faulty or that the accident was the fault of the train driver. Anybody who has studied the accident reports relating to lifting barriers —mercifully those accidents are few and far between—will find that, generally speaking, amber gambling or flashing red light gambling car drivers are much more likely to be the cause of any distress or accidents at the barriers.

Level crossings are rarely debated in the House. I wonder how many people realise that last year the Department of Transport contributed £18.5 million to British Rail, through the level crossing grant, but that British Rail had to provide a great deal more money from its own resources to allow roads and railway lines to cross. Through its own resources and finances, British Rail has to provide funds and account for them, although the cost of motoring is borne out of general taxation. That is one of the small points that illustrates the unfairness of comparisons between road and rail transport in this country. That is largely due to the historic way in which we deal with those matters in this House, as well as in the country.

The Bill on page 2 states that 'the Act of 1845' means the Railways Clauses Consolidation Act 1845", and that 'the Act of 1863' means the Railway Clauses Act 1863". When one starts to count the number of individual pieces of legislation that are referred to in this small Bill alone, one gains some idea of the obligations that have been laid by Parliament for 150 years upon the operators of our railways. Would that we had taken the same care, concern and time over our attitude to the methods by which we control, or do not control, the traffic on our roads. Through Bills such as this, Parliament sets tight rules and high standards for British Rail which make our railway travel one of the safest forms of transport on earth. However, on our roads we happily slaughter more than 5,000 people a year and maim 250,000 for the simple reason that we refuse to impose, upon ourselves as road users, anything remotely approaching the high standards of safety that we lay upon the railways.

I am glad to have had the opportunity to speak briefly, and I should like to congratulate my hon. and neighbouring Friend the Member for New Forest. I am happy to support his Bill.

7.38 pm
Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)

Like the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley), I shall be extremely brief in commenting on the Bill. I join Conservative Members in congratulating the hon. Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) on the clear, concise and detailed manner which he habitually adopts to present such Bills. They are traditionally nonpolitical, but not always non-controversial. It is greatly to the hon. Gentleman's credit that the controversy behind some of those Bills is not reflected in the exchanges between the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members.

Like the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch), I am somewhat concerned about the clause that refers to the Canterbury accord. I hope that the Minister will re-emphasise the assurance that the addition of the new stretch of railway will not mean that in future British Rail will introduce proposals to close the Canterbury East station.

The Bill is studded with references to level crossings. Many of us will agree with some of the remarks made by the hon. Member for Christchurch. The provision, maintenance and upkeep of level crossings costs the British Railways Board considerable sums and protects not its assets, but private and commercial motorists from the consequences of their actions. For once, I do not blame the Government. About 50 per cent. of the total costs of level crossings falls on the board. I suggest to the Minister that we look at that in a non-controversial, non-partisan way.

If the Department coughed up, it would not be political, controversial or partisan. That area would repay further study.

The Bill understandably does not mention automatic crossings. We understand that following last year's fatal accident near Hull some crossings which may have been thought suitable for conversion to automatic crossings will not be converted because of the suspension of those crossings. Again, I must agree with the hon. Member for Christchurch that, although the provision of flashing lights without barriers is regarded as dangerous, particularly in view of that accident, it is dangerous only if motorists ignore the lights. Although we read occasionally in the newspapers about the failure of those lights, one rarely sees any detailed evidence. I know from reading the reports of the Department of Transport's railway inspectorate that their reliability is not often questioned.

A worrying aspect of the suspension of the conversion of crossings of this type is the increased financial burden of maintenance and operating services on these comparatively lightly used stretches of track. I wish to use this opportunity to express our concern that further closure proposals are not introduced because of that additional expense which is largely beyond British Rail's control. Accidents are often caused by the stupidity and carelessness of motorists who appear to believe that they can treat red lights at railway crossings as they treat red lights at road crossings. Occasionally they get a salutary reminder, and often a fatal reminder, that racing a train across a crossing against a red light is even more dangerous than jumping red lights in the normal course of driving round our towns anc cities.

The Opposition welcome the Bill and I hope that when the hon. Member for New Forest replies he will appreciate our concern about the future of Canterbury East. I know that he will relay back to the British Railways Board that we would not wish the welcome provision of a new stretch of line to prejudice the line that already exists.

7.43 pm
Mr. Patrick McNair-Wilson

With permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I should like to reply to some of the points that have been raised.

I thank the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) for his support. He and I have been through several such occasions together and I hope that there has been a greater measure of agreement on this occasion than we may have had in the past.

I should also like to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley) for his kind remarks and speech. He is an acknowledged expert on the railways. Not only is he an expert on the railway system, but a fine photographer of railways arid all things that travel on them. I appreciate what he said.

Both the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend laid considerable stress on the safety of level crossings, lifting barriers and other systems in use. I assure them both that the board bears that in mind and is extremely anxious at all times to improve the operation of unmanned crossings wherever possible. I assure them that the chairman and members of the board will note their remarks.

My hon. Friend referred to legislation and pointed out that a great deal of it was 19th century. That is absolutely true. It may be worth noting the way in which the legislation has stood the test of time. When we discuss Bills of this nature we are inevitably taking a snapshot—if I dare say that with my hon. Friend so close — of the railway system, but we are looking, not only at a long history, but at a long future.

If I may, in the good spirit of some television competitions, I shall start in reverse order and deal with matters raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) relating to clauses 5 and 6. His remarks will be carefully noted by the board and his constituents' problems carefully considered. On clause 5, I remind him that a lesser but significant factor is the condition of bridge 259, carrying the Faversham-Canterbury East line over the route between Chartham and Canterbury West, which will require major engineering work within the next few years. Implementation of the scheme will enable the bridge to be eliminated by removing the superstructure and substituting solid embankment. The bridge has a separate brick arch over Whitehall road which will be retained.

The various works in the scheme include a new railway — work No. 2 — connecting the Ashford-Minster line with the Faversham-Canterbury East line; and a new railway — work No. 3 — following the course of a connecting line between the railways mentioned above which was installed during the last war and removed in 1957, to relink those railways and work in conjunction with work No. 2, creating a route for Ashford-Minster traffic which avoids bridge No. 259.

I can assure my hon. Friend that his other anxieties about individuals who are affected will be carefully noted.

Mr. Crouch

My point is that Mr. Todd and his brother who own Whitehall farm will receive a compulsory purchase order for the land that British Rail takes from their farm and should receive compensation for the fact that their farm is no longer viable by being cut in half by these railway works.

Mr. McNair-Wilson

As I pointed out in my opening remarks, subsection (5) provides an opportunity for aggrieved parties to seek compensation and redress through a tribunal. I hope that that will apply in the case of my hon. Friend's constituents.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Heddle) referred to clauses 12 and 25 and I was glad to see my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash) present. The eloquent way in which my hon. Friend described the problems which may confront his constituents will be carefully noted, especially the point relating to job opportunities and the prosperity of Stone and the surrounding area.

On the matter of clause 25, alternative routes exist and it will be for the petitioners in Committee to make their case. Nevertheless, clause 12— Stopping up of roads at Alrewas, Staffordshire"— is worth an additional comment. Fine lane and Roddige lane level crossings are both public crossings. Crossing keepers are employed manually to work the gates. Both crossings are situated on the board's railway between Lichfield City and Wichnor Junction. With a view to improving the economies in the operation of the railway — this is the point to which my hon. Friend referred when he talked about part-time employees—the board proposes to convert the crossing to automatic operation, thus enabling the attendants to be withdrawn altogether. It is intended that the authority for that will be sought from the Secretary of State by means of an order under the Level Crossings Act 1983.

The road over each crossing is approximately 30 ft wide, far wider than the road approaches, and the board wishes to reduce the width of the crossing decks before embarking on any scheme. I hope that that will help to clarify the points which concern my hon. Friend. I can assure him that the petitions from the Staffordshire county council will be carefully considered.

I remind my hon. Friend that the Staffordshire police have made it clear that they do not believe that the road, as at present operated, is suitable for heavy vehicles. Although I listened to what he said about vehicles touching bottom on the bridge over the canal, we are assured by British Waterways that any vehicles which are legitimately on the road should be able to use that thoroughfare perfectly adequately.

We have had an extremely useful and valuable, although short, debate. As I said at the beginning, it marks a milestone in the development of the railway system. I hope that the House will allow the Bill to go forward to its next stage.

Question put and agreed to.

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