HL Deb 25 June 1959 vol 217 cc239-52

3.5 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

Moved. That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Merthyr.)


My Lords, I do not intend to hold up your Lordships for any length of time, but I wish to speak for just a few minutes upon an important principle which, I think, comes out in consideration of one portion of this Bill. I wish to draw the attention of your Lordships' House, of any Select Committee which may be set up if the House gives the Bill a Second Reading, and also of Her Majesty's Government, to this matter of principle. I am concerned that when a branch line of a railway in North Wales is removed (if it is removed) the area shall not be isolated and that some alternative method of transport shall be available to the people in the area. That is my sole concern.

The County of Merioneth, in North Wales, is one of the most sparsely inhabited in the country. I believe that that area of North and Mid-Wales has the same density of population in the reign of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II as England had in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. It is an area which delights those who are interested in romantic scenery of a wild nature. It is beautiful, but bare; but it does not quite so much delight the young people who are growing up in the area, who have very few chances of employment there and who leave it for good to seek employment in other parts of the country or other parts of the world.

This problem has worried Her Majesty's Government, the Opposition, local authorities and all who are concerned with the area. When the noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack was concerned as Minister for Welsh Affairs he had it in mind. The noble Lord, Lord Brecon, has had it very much in his own mind in the last year or two, and I think we should pay tribute to him for the good work he has done and for the great energy he has shown in trying to induce industries into this area. Her Majesty's Government, as part of their inducement of industrial expansion in this area, have proposed to set up, at a place called Trawsfynydd, an atomic station which I believe is to cost something like £60 million. Undoubtedly that will be of great service, not merely to the people of Great Britain as a whole but also to people locally—at least we hope it will.

Between Trawsfynydd and Bala, which is the nearest town to which the children of Trawsfynydd go to school, and whence a certain amount of labour undoubtedly will travel to this new Government atomic station at Trawsfynydd, there is one connecting link, and one only. That is the little railway that runs between Trawsfynydd and Bala. That is the only direct link, except for a mountain road which runs over a part that members of the Royal Regiment of Artillery in the House will know very well—the old firing ranges of the Artillery—and which every now and again is intersected by gates and an occasional stream. I know the road well, because I went over it last October, in the dry season, and as I was not driving the car I had to get out every couple of hundred yards to open the gates. So I have the best of reasons for knowing what kind of track it is. It is shown on the map as being in part merely a track.

The British Transport Commission wish to join up two railway stations, and to make, as it were, a single track from the north down to this new atomic station, at a place called Blaenau Ffestiniog. I have no objection to that; in fact I think it is an admirable scheme. At the same time, in order to pay for it the Commission suggest, in this Bill, that if these two railways are linked up in that way it will no longer be necessary for Liverpool Corporation to construct and Day for a diversion of the railway track between Bala and Trawsfynydd, which they were required to do under the Liverpool Corporation Act of 1957. Your Lordships will remember that we fought that Bill pretty hard in the House, but eventually Liverpool Corporation obtained permission to flood part of the Tryweryn Valley to supply the population of Liverpool and others to whom they wished to sell water. As part of the consideration for permission for the flooding of the Valley, Liverpool Corporation had to make and pay for this diversion, which was to cost over £1 million.

Now, the British Transport Commission say to Liverpool Corporation: "Very well, we will agree with you that if you like to pay for the construction of the link between the two stations at Blaenau Ffestiniog, on the northern line, it will no longer be necessary for you to pay for the diversion of the line on the eastern link, between Bala and Trawsfynydd." I have no objection to this northern link being made: I think it is essential that it should be made on the northern line. But I see great danger in allowing Liverpool Corporation to get away from the obligation Parliament has imposed upon them to pay for the diversion on the Bala-Trawsfynydd line.

It may be found—and I am hoping that the noble Lord, Lord Brecon, will tell us—that it is no longer necessary, or even perhaps desirable, to have a railway link between Bala and Trawsfynydd; that the day of the small railway of that kind has gone, and that it would be better to have a road link. That may be so; I am not in a position to say, as I am not an expert. But if the Government and the traffic commissioners and the local authorities took that view, I think we could all accept it. And in that case there would be no objection, as I see it, to the discontinuance of the railway between Bala and Trawsfynydd, provided that on the existing railway track, or near to it, a road was built. But as to the expense of building that track, that road, I feel that Liverpool Corporation should pay the whole or part of the sum which the diversion would cost them if the railway line wore being maintained.

I would therefore ask Her Majesty's Government, and the Select Committee, if the Bill receives a Second Reading, to address themselves to these three propositions. First of all, should this rail- way be closed? Secondly, if it is closed, what alternative form of transport should there be between Trawsfynydd and Bala? And, thirdly, if an alternative method of transportation is provided, such as the construction of a road, who is to pay for the road? Obviously, Merioneth itself cannot pay, because it is a very poor county.

May I say that the last problem, the fourth problem, to which I think the Government will have to address themselves is this: should these three propositions be decided as has been suggested, then who is to pay for the link on the northern line between the two stations? There is no direct link now. If you go to one station of Blaenau Ffestiniog, though it seems extraordinary in the middle of the twentieth century, you then have to hump your bags, or walk or go by car, or something of the kind to the other station. In those circumstances, I feel that as this is so necessary for the atomic project it may well be that the Government will consider paying for that link. It would cost £200,000, which amount, when we consider the £60 million scheme that it is serving, does not seem to raise a very great problem and a very great issue. But that is really one of the main problems so far as the British Transport Commission are concerned. They would not care, I think, what happened on the Trawsfynydd—Bala line so long as somebody else and not themselves pays for the link up at Blaenau Ffestiniog.

3.15 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, for raising this particular matter in this Bill which concerns Welsh Affairs. While perhaps I may be unable to give him specific answers to some of the specific questions he put before me, I should like to tell the noble Lord exactly what the position is relating to this question at the moment. The first thing I would do is to give an assurance to the House that the Liverpool Corporation intend to fulfil all the undertakings they have given, and they will honour also the undertaking they gave to the Bala Urban District Council, when their own Bill was before Parliament, that they would not seek to influence in any way the decision on the future of the Bala railway. Furthermore, the Liverpool Corporation are quite prepared to cooperate in any reasonable scheme: it might be the diversion of the railway from Trawsfynydd to Bala; it might be the provision of a link line at Ffestiniog to join the two railway stations together, or the provision of alternative road communications. These, I think, are important matters that we should get quite clear; Liverpool are prepared to play their part.

When the Transport Users' Consultative Committee for Wales and Monmouthshire met recently after receiving an intimation from the British Transport Commission about the future use of this railway they held their inquiry, and that inquiry recommended that they should continue to use the line for passenger and goods traffic until some other means were found which would take its place, and they urged the Commission and Merioneth County Council together with the Liverpool Corporation to confer with a view to agreement on a more advantageous solution. I am glad to say that my right honourable friend the Minister for Welsh Affairs took the initiative in this matter, following their report, and invited all the interested parties to attend a conference. This was held recently in London, and I am glad to say that another conference is to be held on July 8.

My right honourable friend the Minister for Welsh Affairs is hopeful that from these discussions a solution will be found which will be to the best advantage of the people who live in that part of Wales. I agree, my Lords, that this is an important matter there at the moment. I do not think I ought to say any more while the conference is pending, but I can assure the House that great care and consideration is being given to this matter at the moment to provide the best means of communication for our people.

3.19 p.m.


My Lords, I will endeavour not to detain your Lordships for too long, but there is a further railway to which I should like to draw your Lordships' attention. The first railway has been considered by the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore; that is, from Bala to Trawsfynydd. But if this Bill passes as it stands it will have the effect of closing down, or enabling the British Transport Commission to close down, a line in South Wales which runs from Nantybwch along the Sirhowy Valley to Risca. It seems strange, perhaps, that I should be speaking for Welsh railways but I am interested in railways as such.

I will not go at any length into the question of the Bala to Trawsfynydd line, because it has been adequately and efficiently dealt with by the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore; but I should like to say that I feel that the Liverpool Corporation should stand by their obligations with regard to Work No. 10 mentioned in the Liverpool Corporation Act, 1957. That is why I am glad to have heard the assurances which were given by the noble Lord, Lord Brecon; because under that Act it seemed that it was the Corporation's intention to build that diversion line. In fact, four sections in that Act deal quite extensively with this question. Personally, I should very much regret it if that diversion line, which is only to be three miles long—to be precise, 3 miles 924 yards—were not built.

As I see it, the question is whether £200,000 should be spent in order to build a line to link up two stations at Blaenau Ffestiniog; or £1,100,000 on this diversion, which will provide a link with the Midlands when the Tryweryn Valley becomes flooded with the proposed reservoir. I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that the Transport Users' Consultative Committee for Wales and Monmouthshire did consider that the construction of this spur line (because that is, in effect, what it is; it would become a spur line from Blaenau Ffestiniog to Trawsfynydd) was, in their opinion, a temnorary expedient of doubtful value, while, on the other hand, the connecting up of what would become the cut portion of line between Tryweryn and Trawsfynydd would give a permanent link between the Midlands industrial area and the Trawsfynydd area, and also a permanent link from the East to the attractive Snowdonia region.

It was stressed by this Transport Users' Consultative Committee that the case was exceptionally hard, because large developments are taking place at the moment. The noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, referred to the proposed Trawsfynydd nuclear power station, and I believe that work on this is to start next month. Also, there is the 300-megawatt pump storage scheme at Blaenau Ffestiniog, which I am advised can lay claim to being the most important scheme of its kind in the world.

Now, my Lords, I should like to mention the question of the effect this Bill will have upon the line running between Nantybwch and Risca, because it is only briefly mentioned in Clause 73 of the present Bill—and there to the effect only that certain enactments referred to in the Seventh Schedule "are hereby repealed". The effect of the two repeals, as I mentioned earlier on, is to cancel the Commission's statutory obligations to provide passenger and freight services between those previously mentioned points. This line does pass through an important town, the town of Tredegar. This town has over 20,000 inhabitants, and the line enables them to have a permanent link with Newport and Cardiff. The principal industry in this area, as your Lordships will no doubt be aware, is the mining industry; and, although the number of its inhabitants that can find work in Tredegar in the mining industry has been reduced over recent years, they still find work further down in the valley in other mines, and they also find work in nearby important steel works. But it was stated quite recently, when there was a Government inquiry at Newport, that these people of Tredegar prefer to live in Tredegar. Therefore, my contention—and this town has over 20,000 inhabitants—is should not this town be entitled to retain its own railway?

I know that the Commission have to make economies, and I have certain sympathy for the words of Sir Brian Robertson which appeared in the Evening Standard on June 9. He said—and I quote his words: There is a natural feeling of concern, and even irritation, among the public when branch lines and stations are closed. But it will, I am sure, he appreciated that the railways will do better to concentrate on those things which they can do really well and successfully, rather than attempt to perpetuate services for which there is no longer an adequate demand. My Lords, perhaps demand can be created. I should also like to draw your Lordships' attention to an article which appeared this month in The Times Review of Industry. A portion of the article reads as follows: The reorganisation of railway services continues to gather momentum, and in the most recent proposals, for abandoning unremunerative facilities in the London-Midland region, there are some surprising suggestions. The heading of that article is "Odd Rail Service Deletions Mooted." It may well be that these words could apply to North and South Wales.

There are several aspects of this question of attracting further traffic to the railways. As I do not wish to delay your Lordships too long, because this is a Private Bill, and to meet the wishes of your Lordships on this matter, I will cut down my remarks. I feel, however, that extra efforts could be made specifically on the question of attracting more freight. I am associated with a transport organisation whose members are mainly traffic administrators. Traffic administrators are men responsible for despatching their freight by the most economically sound method possible, and they prefer at the moment to send it by road rather than by rail. The reasons for that are: rates; the door-to-door service; less handling, and therefore less breakage; quicker delivery; and less documentation. So it may well be that there is quite a lot to be done yet on the part of British Railways to attract further freight.

Finally, I would ask Her Majesty's Government whether it would not be possible for Parliament to be presented more frequently with reports—on the lines of Command Paper 360, dated February, 1958, on the proposed withdrawal of services on the Lewes—East Grinstead branch railway—when it is proposed either to close down a railway line or withdraw train services. It may well be that similar reports could be presented to Parliament in regard to other lines.

3.30 p.m.


My Lords, I apologise for detaining your Lordships for a short time while I venture to address to you some observations about the innocent words which are contained in the entitulation of the Bill "and for other purposes". The main purpose of the Bill has been adequately dealt with by the eloquent persuasiveness of my noble friend Lord Ogmore, and the point I want to deal with for a short time this afternoon is one on which the noble Lord, Lord Merrivale, has already addressed your Lordships. I do not propose to cover the ground he has already traversed, except to remind your Lordships that Tredegar Urban District Council are gravely affected by the provisions in the repeal clause of this Bill, whereby it is proposed to repeal certain sections of the Monmouthshire Railway and Canal Act and of the Sirhowy Railway Act.

The sections of these Acts which it is sought to repeal place on the Transport Commission a statutory obligation to run railway services from Nine Mile Point to Nantybwch within the Urban District of Tredegar. Tredegar is in a development area. I had the privilege of representing a neighbouring valley constituency and I have found, what I think would be agreed by the noble Lord, Lord Brecon, that one of the greatest problems with which we are faced in South Wales is that of the head-of-the-valley towns. There has been a sharp decline in industrial activity, and without the services of the railways it would be virtually impossible to attract new industries, which are essential if the life of the communities in those head of the valley towns is to continue.

Under this Bill it is proposed that the obligation imposed upon the Transport Commission shall be repealed, which means that, if the Bill were passed in this form, the Commission would have it in their power to close the railway line, the only railway line which serves the town of Tredegar. If there were good road communications, perhaps the matter would not be quite so serious. Unfortunately, the road communications to these head-of-the-valley towns, and in particular to Tredegar, are particularly bad by reason of the mining operations which have taken place in the area. The main road linking Tredegar and Newport is subject to severe subsidence, and in winter, as I know, it is often impassable owing to ice and snow. So, if the Transport Commission saw fit to close this railway line, it would mean that the town of Tredegar would be completely cut off, with the result that there would be no possibility of the local authority being able to attract new industries into this area. It is the Government's policy to encourage industrialists to go into the industrial areas, and I should like to know what view the Government have about the closure of this railway line.

It is obvious that this repeal would not be sought unless there was an intention in the minds of the Transport Commission to close down this railway line. I know that it may be argued that, even if the repeal were granted, the application to close down would have to go before the Transport Users' Consultative Committee. I have no doubt that if an application were made to the Transport Users' Consultative Committee at the present time, the Transport Commission would be able to prove that the line is uneconomic at present, so the Consultative Committee might find themselves in considerable difficulty in resisting an application to close the line. That would have the most serious consequences to the inhabitants of the Tredegar area. For these reasons I feel that I should oppose the repeal provisions contained in the Bill.

I realise that the main purpose of this Bill has wider and more far-reaching implications than those which affect the town of Tredegar, and therefore I am in some difficulty in opposing its Second Reading. I should like to have the guidance and advice of the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, as to whether, if the repeal of the sections of the two Statutes to which I have referred is allowed to remain in the Bill, it would be within Standing Orders to move an Amendment on Third Reading to delete these Statutes from the repeal clause of the Bill. For all the reasons that have been mentioned, I hope that your Lordships will be sympathetic to the needs of an area like Tredegar, which, after all, is suffering an economic blight as the result of industrial depression. I am sure that your Lordships desire that everything which possibly can be done to bring encouragement and hope to such places, should be done.

3.37 p.m.


My Lords, we are dealing with a routine Bill in a very unusual manner. On the wider considerations of procedure, I will not offer an opinion. In the ordinary procedure, a Private Bill, having passed through a Select Committee of another place, goes before a Select Committee of your Lordships' House. This Committee, having heard counsel, and all the arguments and evidence, and having gone into them exhaustively, make such amendment as they see fit and then return the Bill to your Lordships' House for a Third Reading. Two matters have troubled some of your Lordships on this Bi11—two comparatively minor clauses in a 78-clause Bill. One is the power taken to build 3 miles, 924 yards, of railway line to Trawsfynydd. The implications of this, as my noble friend Lord Ogmore pointed out, are a good deal wider, because the link proposed is part of a scheme by which one unremunerative line may be closed. I think that all that need be said on this is that the noble Lord, Lord Brecon, has given a very satisfactory reply. He has told us that all the parties concerned are in negotiation and that at their meeting on July 8 they are very likely to reach satisfactory agreement.

I should like to say one thing about this. From the speech of my noble friend Lord Ogmore, it might have been thought that the Transport Commission had some particular malice towards the area served by the Bala—Trawsfynydd railway. Of course that is very far from the truth. It is not even in the power of the Transport Commission to terminate the railway facilities or to close the railway line. The procedure laid down by Parliament gives this discretion to the Transport Users' Consultative Committee, which is one of the bodies that has been engaged in these negotiations.

The other question to which the noble Lords, Lord Merrivale and Lord Granville-West, have referred, arises from the peculiar status of the short line of railway that was formerly under two owners, in that the former railway companies from whom the Transport Commission take over were under a statutory obligation to provide facilities between two points. I do not say it is unique, but it is rare in the case of all the railway companies of this country that the companies were under a statutory obligation to provide traffic. It is for that reason that the Transport Commission seek powers in this Bill, in the Schedule, to repeal those Acts of Parliament, one dating from 1852 and the other from 1860.

The speech of the noble Lord, Lord Merrivale, was partly a repetition of the Petition lodged by the Tredegar Urban District Council before the Select Com- mittee of your Lordships' House arguing the case for the district and submitting why the railway facilities should not be withdrawn. The other part of his speech semed to be a general review of railway policy which would be much more suitable to be brought out in a debate on railways or transport, and I suggest that the noble Lord should put down a Motion in order to bring out those points. However, they have nothing to do with the Bill under consideration at the moment. My noble friend Lord Granville-West also eloquently pleaded the case of the Tredegar Urban District Council. I hope that none of your Lordships thinks that it is within the power of the Transport Commission to close railways just like that: they go through the procedure laid down by Parliament of the Transport Users' Consultative Committee. If noble Lords feel that the machinery is not working, then it is for Parliament to review the situation and to set up better machinery; but while we have got that machinery, let us give it a chance to work and leave the matter to go to the Select Committee upstairs.

3.43 p.m.


My Lords, I feel that in exercising my right to reply to the speeches made on the Motion which I moved at the beginning of this debate there is little that I need add[...] I would make it clear, however, that I do not appear here in moving this Motion as an advocate of the policy contained in this Bill. I feel that that would in any event have been quite unnecessary, even if it had been proper, because the speeches which have been made this afternoon more than fulfil the need for the information your Lordships require in order to judge this issue at this stage. So I will add only this. Your Lordships may like to know that in the event of this Bill obtaining a Second Reading this afternoon it will be committed to a Select Committee of five noble Lords, in the usual way, and it is hoped that that Committee will, if it has the opportunity, commence work on Tuesday next. It may be that the proceedings there will take some little time, but I know that before that Committee all the relevant issues will be completely dealt with.

I might remind the House that this is an opposed Bill and that there are two Petitions set down against it. The first deals with the matter raised by the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, and is a Petition of the Bala Urban District Council. That Council, to put it shortly, seeks the same object as the noble Lord does, though perhaps in a slightly varying degree. Then there is the Petition of the Tredegar Urban District Council which deals with the matter raised by the noble Lord, Lord Granville-West, and seeks to oppose the power being given to the Commission to close the railway between Risca and Nantybwch. Your Lordships will appreciate that there is a slight difference, because in the case of the North Wales Railway the Commission do not need to have a Bill in order to close the railway; whereas, on the other hand, in the case of the Monmouthshire railway, they do need legislative power in order to do so, for the reason which was clearly set out by the noble Earl, Lord Lucan.

I was asked a question by the noble Lord, Lord Granville-West. He said that he wondered whether Members of your Lordships' House could put down an Amendment on the Third Reading of a Private Bill. The answer is that it is quite possible and quite in order to do so. The last time it was done, if I remember rightly, was on the Kent Water Bill in 1955. Finally, without, as I have already said, wishing to appear as an advocate, I would just throw out the suggestion to the House that, after hearing all that has been said this afternoon, it really would be better to allow the issues to be fully judged by a Select Committee upstairs, and, in order that that should be achieved, to give this Bill a Second Reading.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether this Bill comes within the decisions of May 13 and 21 of last year as regards Private Bills, with which decisions the Chairman of Committees in another place was associated?


My Lords, in the absence of a little expansion of the question I am afraid I do not apprehend the exact point which the noble Lord wants answered. I wonder whether he could elaborate it. I remember the two occasions, but I am puzzled as to what he calls the decisions of those days.


The decision of those days was that it was proposed that Bills should not be promoted unless the promoters had an interest in the powers which were sought. In this Bill I think there are certain proposals where the British Transport Commission are asking for powers to be given to others than themselves. In those circumstances, I ask whether the Bill would fall within the decisions, which are being considered by a Joint Select Committee, announced in May of last year.


I am obliged to the noble Lord and I now fully apprehend the meaning of his question; I am sorry I did not do so at first. I am perfectly satisfied that the principle laid down by this House on May 21, 1958, is complied with by this Bill. I could give a number of reasons, but it is a well-established principle that Promoters of a Private Bill can properly include provisions in that Bill which have the effect of giving a power to other people, provided that the giving of that power to that other person or body does in a way, perhaps in an indirect way, assist the Promoters of the Bill. If one applies that principle to this Bill, I am satisfied that that principle is not infringed.


That is to say, the noble Lord states that, as regards the British Transport Commission, and presumably like public undertakings, the principle enunciated in May of last year would not apply.


Perhaps I might just add this. I am guessing that what the noble Lord really has in mind is the provisions in the Bill which would seek to enact that the Liverpool Corporation do certain things. If the Liverpool Corporation do those things, it would, in my judgment, be in the interests of the promoters, the British Transport Commission. If I am right in saying that, I do not think I need say any more.


My Lords, the noble Lord says that as regards the British Transport Commission and the Liverpool Corporation it is right, but that it is wrong for the Kent County Council to do the same thing.


The noble Lord is not correct in assuming that meaning in my answer.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Select Committee.

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