BRITISH RAILWAYS (No. 2) BILL (By Order)

Order for Second Reading read.

7 p.m.

Photo of Mr Patrick McNair-Wilson

Mr Patrick McNair-Wilson (New Forest)

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

This general purpose Bill is one of a long series of such measures which have been introduced since the board was constituted in its present form in 1962. With the leave of the House, I shall ask for the right of reply to deal with any matters which are raised by hon. Members during the debate. I understand that it is the custom—I seek your ruling here, Mr. Deputy Speaker—that matters of a general nature relating to the railway system can also be raised during our debate.

The Bill began its life in January 1979 and, as a result of serious reservations held by outside bodies and a number of hon. Members—and the fact that we have had a general election—the Bill is obviously very late in its timetable. However, the matters which are covered in the Bill are extremely important to the successful operation of British Rail. It is very much hoped, therefore, that the Bill will be given a Second Reading so that many of these urgent and important matters can be dealt with speedily.

The hon. Members for Goole (Dr. Marshall), Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) and Manchester, Moss Side (Mr. Morton) have taken the proper parliamentary steps in the past to block the Bill in earlier stages, and I shall in a moment try to deal with some of the matters which I know have been concerning them. However, the Bill is designed to provide structural changes, of a works type and in other ways to make for a more efficient rail system.

Perhaps there has never been a moment in our post-war history when the need for a really efficient rail system was greater than it is now. We are facing a grave new energy crisis. To all of us who watch freight on the roads it is something of a disappointment that we cannot utilise our existing railway system to a greater extent than we do at the present time. Indeed, I should like to feel that moneys can be set aside at some future point for further electrification of the railway system, since this will enable a far more sensible and wise use of energy to be made. In my own constituency, where this has been done, it has led to greater efficiency, better time-keeping and so on.

Before coming to the general terms of the Bill, I should like to plead that we should as soon as possible look again at the possibility of a Channel tunnel, because we are now talking in an international context in energy terms, and with Britain in the Common Market we should also be thinking of transportation in an international context.

The Bill is in six separate parts. Hon. Members have already received an explanatory note about the main provisions of the Bill. Part I deals essentially with incorporation, setting out a method of incorporating relevant previous legislation as it affects the Bill. It also seeks to amend the Compulsory Purchase Act 1965 so that the Board cannot enter on or take possession of land without giving not less than three months' notice to the owner, lessee or occupier. Part I is, I believe, fairly non-contentious.

It is when we get to part II that we begin to run into what has proved so far to be the serious opposition. It is designed to give the Board powers to undertake certain works and at the same time to detail what those works may be. Not surprisingly, in a situation of this type, many individual interests are affected.

Perhaps the most significant sources of conflict in this early part of the works programme are works Nos. 1 and 2, which deal with the problems relating to Manchester. I see several hon. Members from that part of the country who—if they are fortunate enough to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker—will no doubt seek to promote their own particular causes. But in works Nos. 1 and 2 it is the intention to provide a better transport system in Manchester than exists.

I recognise, as does the Board, that the hopes—which have been quite rightly based upon what happened in 1972—and the desire for the Piccadilly-Victoria link, have to some extent gone to one side. Nevertheless, the proposals in the Bill to provide a short connecting line between the Salford station and a point near to the Deansgate station, go some way towards meeting a serious problem. The line will provide a rail surface link from both the north and south of central Manchester and, as is stated in the promoters' statement: Works Nos. 1 and 2 are new railways which will provide a connection between existing railways, and implement a plan for improvement by the Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Executive of surban passenger services, in Greater Manchester. I recognise that this is essentially, to those who would rather see something bolder, half a loaf, but it may be that half a loaf is better than no bread. I am not in any way in those words offering an ultimatum, but I am suggesting that there is a positive proposal here. Perhaps, when hon. Members have made their comments upon it I might comment further, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if I receive the permission of the House to reply. But I want to make very clear that a positive proposal exists which should be of material benefit to Manchester.

In clause 7, of the Bill we come to another serious objection. It is the objection which has been raised by the hon. Member for Goole relating to the closure of the England Lane crossing at Knottingley. The Bill deals at some length with alterations to crossings and inevitably it creates problems in certain areas. I want to make clear that crossings are never closed without the most careful consultation, and also that substantial savings can be made as a result of these changes.

With regard to the hon. Gentleman's complaint about England Lane, he will know that the Board has given an undertaking that, with leave, it will withdraw this part of the Bill in Committee. But his complaint about England Lane at Knottingley and that section of track relates to part of the merry-go-round train system to the Selby coalfield. To some extent the problem has been heightened by the decision to go ahead with the Drax power station. I do not in any sense object to that. As a strong believer in the coal industry I am delighted to see it built.

The fact is that the Selby coalfield can supply both of the Drax stations when they are completed, and can also supply Ferrybridge and Eggborough. At present it is designed and planned that the coal shall be taken from a drift-head at Gascoigne Wood and then proceed west on a railway track which passes those other power stations to which I have referred, ending up at Drax. It is also true that Drax A and Drax B could take the whole production from the Selby field, which will be fully operational by 1987. However, the Central Electricity Generating Board wants the freedom to switch coal from one station to another, and does not want to be committed to sending the coal on a new piece of track direct to the Drax power complex. The reversal of direction would not be sensible unless 90 per cent. of the coal went to that station, and therefore the British Rail Board does not regard this as a viable alternative, and the CEGB will not give any assurance to this effect. Were the Drax A and B power stations supplied from that source, something like 56 trains a day would be needed, quite apart from anything else in the way of rail traffic. My concern for the case that the hon. Member has promoted is that if the Board goes ahead and withdraws the closure of England Lane, we are still faced with crossing a piece of track which will have a large amount of coal traffic on it.

That brings me to the alternative—namely the building of a bridge, about which the hon. Member has had discussions. Because there is already a substantial plan to improve the roads in the area—and the particular plan has already received local approval—the Board would not be prepared to sponsor the building of such a bridge. Nevertheless I am advised that if the hon. Gentleman continues with his proposal, and obtains the support of various bodies—local authorities and others—the Board would be prepared to be represented at any discussions that he might initiate.

I might add that since there is a substantial traffic improvement scheme already under way at Headlands Lane and Spawd Bone Lane, and for the reasons that I have given about the CEGB's determination to have freedom in switching coal and in fuelling the power stations from other parts of the country if necessary, the proposal that the hon. Gentleman put forward for a new piece of track for the fuel to travel in the opposite direction would not be acceptable. One must recognise that the planning of the Gascoigne Wood sidings and the construction of them has already begun. I would be happy to reply to any other points that the hon. Member cares to raise but in general that is the case that the Board has put forward.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Bassetlaw on his elevation to the Opposition Front Bench. He raises the question, in clause 12, of another crossing. Good progress is taking place in the negotiations with the local authority on the matter of the Walkeringham station level crossing. I recognise that the parish council has a strong view on this matter, and it may be that if the hon. Member catches your eye, Mr. Speaker, I shall want to comment further on this matter. The Board is extremely anxious on all these matters to try to find common ground. This is not just an attempt by the Board to close off crossings willy-nilly. It is an attempt to produce sensible cost savings, and a more efficient system at the same time.

Part III of the Bill deals mainly with compulsory purchase and provides the powers to acquire the land in works Nos. 1 to 7 which we have been discussing. It also deals with the powers for the purchases in schedule 2, and hon. Members will find the purposes of schedule 2 in the explanatory note.

Part IV is a major part on its own, dealing with Fishguard harbour. Here again, the delay in getting the Bill through Parliament has led to a serious problem. Contracts are ready to be let, and since Fishguard harbour requires a lot of work to be carried out on it, it is a matter of some urgency that the Board presses ahead. The works involved are to the extention of the quay wall, some reclamation of the sea bed, the acquisition of some small parcels of land for the diversion of a footpath and the raising and extending of at least one footbridge. This whole area of Fishguard harbour is not controversial but it is extremely important to the Board's operations.

Part V deals with the protective provisions and is self-explanatory. Part VI deals with miscellaneous provisions and I shall be happy to comment on any of these if there are any issues particularly worrying hon. Members.

We have a general purposes Bill which, for the most part is non-contentious. It is important and urgent. While I recognise that some of the problems to which I have referred will not blow away just because meetings take place, I hope that hon. Members will bear with the Board in its desire to try to find accommodation for those who have problems which so far have not been resolved.

We have had some delay as a result of the general election, but it has never been more important to get a good railway system. In fact, we have a good railway system in this country. Here we are talking about matters such as level crossings, with which European countries would never bother. The British Railways Board goes to enormous trouble to ensure the safety, not only of its passengers but of all the people who are in any way involved in the lands which it owns. Therefore, for this reason these detailed matters are brought before the House of Commons for deliberation and I very much hope they will enjoy the support of the House.

7.18 p.m.

Photo of Mr George Morton

Mr George Morton (Manchester Moss Side)

I thank the hon. Member for the New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) for his explanation of the Bill. My objection is limited to the proposal affecting Manchester—works Nos. 1 and 2 under clause 5. I regret that the obstruction on this aspect has led to delay in other works.

The objection to the proposal is not that it is bad but that it fails to do the job that is urgently required for the centre of Manchester. The conurbation of Manchester inherited from the nineteenth century a railway system that has lines fanning out from two main stations, north and south of the city centre, with no linkage between them. The lack of a north-south rail link limits the use that can be made of the suburban rail system for passengers and has inhibited the development of the commercial life of the city.

The hon. Member for New Forest referred to the Pic-Vic tunnel, which was the earlier proposal that came out of a long transportation study in the years 1964 to 1972. That study recommended the principles that have been followed in directing the highway and public transport investment system in Greater Manchester. Basically, the system provides for radial services on the railways to take people to the regional centre, and for circumferential road systems to provide for other services. Road investment has, to some extent, taken place. The circumferential motorway system takes in three-quarters of the central area. It is the lack of a radial system that is causing problems in the regional centre.

To make most use of the rail system the SELNEC study proposed the Pic-Vic tunnel linking the rail systems out of Piccadilly station on the south side with the rail system out of Victoria on the north side, with stations in the central area, thus providing direct access from the suburban areas into the city centre. That was authorised by the Manchester Central Area Railway Act 1972. The proposal was supported by the local authorities, including the Greater Manchester council, up to the change of political control of the Greater Manchester county council in 1977, since when the proposal for a tunnel has been abandoned.

In place of the Pic-Vic proposal, this railway line in the Bill has been substituted. It is commonly known as the Castlefield curve. It will link the north and south systems but will be well to the west of the city centre. It will fail to provide the access that is needed to the commercial centre. There will be an opportunity for people to travel from stations on the north side to stations in the south, but there will be no possibility for the majority of those who require good access into the city centre to achieve that. People may need to go from Stockport to Bury, but many more want to go from Stockport or from Bury to the city centre. This proposal will not help them.

The usefulness of this project is limited by the capacity of the existing viaduct west of Piccadilly station. This carries local services from Altrincham through to Stockport and Crewe, as well as longer distance services to Chester and Liverpool. The viaduct could not cope with all this traffic both to the north and to the west. It is likely that if a north-south service is provided, the services to the west will be reduced.

Manchester has served as an important commercial centre for the region, and it is a centre of employment for inner city residents. In comparison with other cities, Manchester has lacked transportation investment. This has contributed to a dicline of the regional centre in relation to surrounding towns. Employment in manufacturing and service industries in the city centre has fallen, and retail trade in the city centre has dropped while other centres round about it have grown, having gained from the improved road connections. We need the means to improve accessibility to the regional centre, but we need to examine ways others than the Castlefield curve. Therefore, we have asked for this matter to be reconsidered.

Because we feel that studies have not been undertaken, we are asking that this matter should be taken back for further consideration. We are not necessarily saying that this proposal is not wise in its own right, but we are saying that unless we have better access to the city centre we shall be failing that area, that the drop in its usefulness will continue and that the region will suffer.

7.24 p.m.

Photo of Mr Charles Morris

Mr Charles Morris (Manchester Openshaw)

I agree with the hon. Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) that there is an urgent need for expansion of railway services. That need exists in the Manchester city centre—the inner city area. I believe that expansion should take place not only in surface rail services but in the provision of underground rail services, too.

I support the detailed analysis of my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Moss Side (Mr. Morton) in opposing the provisions for works Nos. 1 and 2, set out in clause 5. I was grateful to my hon. Friend for putting the matter in historical perspective. He was right to say that Manchester has not enjoyed the transportation investment that it has a right to expect. It has seen areas such as Tyne and Wear, London and Liverpool attract appreciable Government financial support in improving their transportation systems. It is now Manchester's turn to be considered for greater national financial support to improve transportation in the city centre.

We do not intend to embarrass British Rail by opposing the proposal for works Nos. 1 and 2, because we are not opposed to progress as such. Equally, we do not oppose the Castlefield curve, but we believe that that curve is only one part of a larger and better package that should be provided. We see this as only one part of a larger scheme designed to serve the community in Manchester in order to achieve greater penetration of the Manchester commercial, business and shopping centre.

My hon. Friend the Member for Moss Side explained that the Castlefield curve will provide a surface rail link between the north and south of the city. I believe that it will do little to assist the convenience of those who work and shop in the centre. The figures that I have seen indicate that the provision of the Castle-field curve will involve public expenditure of between £7 million and £10 million. That expenditure should not have been proposed without detailed study of alternative systems of public transportation to serve the city centre. If we proceed with this public expenditure in building the Castlefield curve, we could pre-empt for ever a direct or intermediate Underground system for the city centre in Manchester which would provide the city centre penetration to which I referred.

To embark on the Castlefield curve may inhibit any possibility of ever embarking on the underground tunnel which is envisaged as the first stage of the Pic-Vic scheme.

Photo of Mr Peter Snape

Mr Peter Snape (West Bromwich East)

Will my right hon. Friend put the other side of the equation? If the proposals for the Castlefield curve are dropped, will that bring the Pic-Vic tunnel any closer?

Photo of Mr Charles Morris

Mr Charles Morris (Manchester Openshaw)

I would not make any such suggestion. The point that I am seeking to establish is that the Castlefield curve is only one part of the city centre transportation system. We want to see a transportation system that projects a penetration to the business, commercial and shopping area of Manchester.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) appears to suggest that if the proposal for establishing the Castlefield curve is introduced it will further the introduction of the Pic-Vic scheme. I should like to see a detailed study of all the alternative schemes for serving the city centre. That is all that the instruction which I was associated with sought to bring about.

I ask the sponsor of the Bill to consider withdrawing the No. 1 and No. 2 works until such time as the detailed alternative studies have been undertaken. The situation is unusual. I understand that British Railways are eager to proceed with the Bill even if that means jettisoning the proposal for the Castlefield curve. The strange feature of the Bill is the role played by the Greater Manchester council. It has demonstrated what I can only describe as a staggering arrogance by allowing British Rail to proceed with the proposal without the detailed study of alternative service and underground transportation systems. Such alternative systems could provide Manchester with the facilities and penetration that is essential to its future success as a business, commercial and shopping centre.

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Mr Andrew Bennett (Stockport North)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is amazing that the Greater Manchester council has not taken the trouble to get in touch with hon. Members who represent that area in order that their views could be expressed through them?

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Mr Charles Morris (Manchester Openshaw)

I agree entirely. That is a grave omission on the part of the Greater Manchester council.

I want to pose a number of questions to the hon. Member for New Forest who is sponsoring the Bill on behalf of the British Railways Board. At the same time as withdrawing the proposal for the No. 1 and No. 2 works, will he assure the House that such a withdrawal will not inhibit legislation being brought back next year by the British Railways Board for the consideration of the House? Will he encourage British Railways to use its best endeavours to bring together the Greater Manchester council and the Manchester City council to consider further their attitudes to the proposal?

I can understand that the contention that exists between the differing authorities is a matter of embarrassment to the British Railways Board. However, it is possible for the two authorities to arrive at an accommodation, and I hope that the Board will use its best endeavours to bring that about.

7.35 p.m.

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Mr Kenneth Marks (Manchester, Gorton)

I shall refer to Greater Manchester, but first I should like to draw the attention of the House to clause 13, on foothpaths. Because British Rail is a statutory body and introduces Private Bills of this nature, many of the normal regulations about footpaths and their closure are not effective. However, some amenity organisations are worried about the Bill even though, to a great extent, it is a continuation of the existing Acts.

Many footpaths and bridges which exist on railway property are nineteenth century alternatives to what were footpaths at that time. When there is a disagreement with British Rail on the matter maps dating from 1820 and 1840 have to be referred to, and that presents difficulties. Before footpaths are closed, there should be consultations with the local authorities and amenity organisations. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will consult his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment on the matter.

With regard to the Castlefield curve, it was only three years ago that the British Railways Board, the Greater Manchester council and the city council were enthusiastic about the idea of the Pic-Vic tunnel. On the balance, the cost benefit analysis in the Department was against the idea, but it should be re-examined in view of the shortage of oil. Whether the analysis still applies is in doubt.

The other reason that the Department gave against going ahead with the Pic-Vic tunnel was that enormous sums had already been allotted to Merseyside, London, and Tyne and Wear. It was felt that Pic-Vic could be started when the other schemes had neared completion—as indeed, they have. There is no such enthusiasm among the three bodies over the Castlefield curve. It was suggested by the Greater Manchester council to British Rail that the scheme should be included in a Bill so that the tunnel could be included in its transport policy statement. I believe that British Rail was under the false impression that there had been consultations with the district authorities. British Rail may feel that the Castlefield curve will help to solve the long-standing problem of the like between Stockport and Victoria station in Manchester. However, there is such a link. It is possible to change at Stalybridge and Guide Bridge to make the link.

The scheme does nothing to solve the problem of the inner city. I am not referring to the poorer parts of the city only, although they are so much our concern when dealing with special inner city problems. I believe that the regional centre of Manchester will decline if proper transport facilites, either by road or by rail, are not provided. Because of the long delay on the Pic-Vic tunnel, Manchester has been held back on road plans. Therefore, the city has been deprived of new schemes in both forms of transport. I hope that Manchester will not follow Birmingham's example on road transport, but Birmingham, Newcastle and Leeds, with their pedestrian precincts, received vast allocations for their transport plans.

Can the hon. Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) now give us an assurance that he will withdraw the two parts of clause 5 that are the subject of contention so that consultations can take place between the county council, the district councils, British Rail and the Ministry of Transport?

Photo of Mr Patrick McNair-Wilson

Mr Patrick McNair-Wilson (New Forest)

I can give an assurance that in Committee leave will be sought to withdraw that part of works 1 and 2 which is causing a great deal of unhappiness, but I must make clear that we cannot make that conditional upon the completion of any studies As the right hon. Member for Manchester, Openshaw (Mr. Morris) said, another opportunity could be found to meet the points that hon. Members have been making, but this opportunity would cease with the withdrawal of that part of the Bill. It will, however, leave room for hon. Members and local authorities to have further discussions, and it may be that when the matter has been better digested some of the points raised by hon. Members could be put into legislation.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Marks

Mr Kenneth Marks (Manchester, Gorton)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, and I can now conclude quickly. I hope that the county council, the district councils, British Rail, the Ministry of Transport and the Department of the Environment—because the Greater Manchester structure plan, with three alternatives for transport, is under consideration—will get on with those discussions as quickly as possible.

7.42 p.m.

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Dr Edmund Marshall (Goole)

The hon. Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) described the Bill as a general purposes measure, which gave hon. Members an opportunity to raise general railway problems affecting their constituencies.

I have one such problem affecting the Snaith part of my constituency. Snaith is a township about seven miles from Goole and has a railway station on the line between Goole and Leeds. The curious thing about that station is that the platforms are very low. There must be a historical reason for that, no doubt going back to the time when we had individual railway companies. The platforms are 2ft. or more below the level of the train doors.

In many stations there would be no problem, because station staff could provide steps at the train doors, but Snaith has been an unmanned station for a number of years and there are no porters or station staff to assist passengers. The availability of steps on the platforms at Snaith station at points where passengers want to join or leave trains depends on chance and I have received a number of complaints from constituents that the difficulty causes considerable inconvenience.

I hope that British Rail will look seriously at that problem. It seems from my first inquiry to the divisional manager of British Rail at Doncaster, who looks after Snaith station, that there is little likelihood of British Rail being able to help. As usual, British Rail has pointed out the not inconsiderable expense that would be involved in building up the platforms at Snaith station.

However, when we are talking about vast electrification of the railways, the development of the high-speed and advanced passenger trains, and so on, it is anachronistic that difficulties are caused because platforms are too low at a little local railway station. Let us try to solve some of the small problems on the railways at the same time as we are making great strides in technical improvements on inter-city services.

As the hon. Member for New Forest guessed, my main interest in the Bill centres on clause 7(1)(d). It seemed that the hon. Member was trying to answer my speech before I had made it, and I find myself in the strange position of having to put some of the arguments to which the hon. Gentleman has already tried to advance counter-arguments.

Clause 7(1)(d) would stop vehicular access over the railway crossing at England Lane, Knottingley, in my constituency, and that proposal is not acceptable to my constituents in the area. If such a closure took place, traffic wishing to use the crossing would, in the main, have to be diverted along a narrow and tortuous road called Spawd Bone Lane, which in one section has no pavements one one side and where there was a fatal road accident not many months ago.

That section of road carries a limit prohibiting vehicles over a certain weight. The limit is significant in relation to the public works depot run by the local authority, Wakefield metropolitan district council, at the southern end of England Lane. All the lorries using that depot use the England Lane level crossing. If the crossing is closed, the lorries will be prohibited from using the narrow end of Spawd Bone Lane because of the weight limit and will have to make a considerable detour along the other part of Spawd Bone Lane to cross the railway at the Womersley Road level crossing in Knottingley. That level crossing already has many problems.

Photo of Mr Patrick McNair-Wilson

Mr Patrick McNair-Wilson (New Forest)

The hon. Gentleman has raised a very important point. If the England Lane crossing remained open, with the number of trains to which I referred earlier, which could be passing by, the lorries that the hon. Gentleman mentioned could be tailing back. There could be tremendous traffic delay, even with the crossing open.

Photo of Dr Edmund Marshall

Dr Edmund Marshall (Goole)

The hon. Gentleman is making for me the point that I shall make soon. It is the number of trains going over the level crossings that threatens to cause traffic congestion through the town of Knottingley.

I am grateful for the promoters' undertaking, repeated tonight by the hon. Gentleman, that if the Bill reaches Committee an application will be made there that clause 7(1)(d) be deleted. It would be very unusual for a Committee not to accede to such a request. We are grateful that that part of the Bill is to be amended.

However, even if the England Lane level crossing remains open to vehicular traffic, some of the problems that I have described will remain, because, owing to the amount of railway traffic going across the level crossing, the gates are closed to road vehicles for a large part of the time. On 6 June, 139 trains passed over the two level crossings in Knottingley. A total of 112 of them were merry-go-round trains carrying coal to, or returning from, the power stations at Eggborough and Drax. At present the railway line through Knottingley provides the only rail route to those power stations, and that means going over the two level crossings.

The Womersley Road level crossing is closed for an average of two and a half minutes when a train passes. That time has been carefully measured by stop-watch. The average closure time at England Lane is a little more, because the gates there are manually operated. Drivers must wait for the crossing keeper to come out of his little hut, he having ascertained that the line is clear, and then he moves first to one gate and then to the other.

With 139 trains crossing and an average delay of two and a half minutes, the level crossings are at present closed for more than five and three-quarter hours during a 24-hour period. But most of the traffic passes during the day rather than the night, so the five and three-quarter hours must be seen as time taken predominantly during the day. The level crossings are closed to road traffic for nearly a quarter of every 24-hour period and more than a quarter of the normal working day.

Road traffic at Womersley Road is much heavier than at England Lane. About 2,500 vehicles wish to cross the level crossing at Womersley Road during a 10-hour daytime period. One can imagine the congestion that builds up when level crossings are closed for more than a quarter of the time and so many vehicles require to cross. Many of those are industrial vehicles; there are industries in the locality which are reached by road only by vehicles going over the level crossing.

As is shown by the figures that I have given, the problem is serious enough already, but it is likely to become much more serious unless action is taken, because a second power station is being built at Drax. Like the hon. Gentleman, I welcome the building of Drax B and the fact that it is to be coal-fired. But all the extra coal to fuel it must go across the level crossings in Knottingley, whether that coal is coming from Selby, West Yorkshire or South Yorkshire. It is the development of Drax rather than the development of the Selby coalfield that threatens to add to the problem of the rail traffic going over those level crossings.

It has been estimated—I think that it is a cautious estimate—that when the new power station at Drax is commissioned there will be an increase of about 33 per cent. in the number of merry-go-round trains going to and from the power stations at Eggborough and Drax, meaning an increase of one-third in the number of such trains going over the level crossings in Knottingley. So long as the only rail route to the power station is through Knottingley, and so long as the trains are bound to use those crossings, the gates will be closed to road traffic for about one-third of every 24-hour period and for a higher fraction of time during the day.

I do not need to point out that that prospect is intensely alarming to the local community, to say the least. To prevent this serious impending problem, action must be taken both by the local highway authority—the West Yorkshire county council—and British Rail. Unfortunately, neither of those public bodies has so far shown any willingness to take action about the problems under its own statutory powers and responsibilities.

I hope that I am not straying too far, but all these matters are interrelated when one considers the rail problem in Knottingley. The highway authority—the county council—which could do so much to alleviate the problem by new road works to improve Spawd Bone Lane and by constructing a new bridge over the railway at Womersley Road has failed so far to meet its responsibilities in this respect. Instead, it has passed the buck to British Railways and proposed that a completely new railway be built at Brayton, near Selby, in the constituency of the hon. Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison) in order to provide a much shorter route linking the Selby coal mine with the Drax power stations.

I am told that that proposal would cost more than £9 million to implement in the construction of the new railway. It has been rejected flatly by the chairman of British Railways, Sir Peter Parker, who, in a letter to me dated 23 May wrote: In conclusion, therefore, the British Railways Board can see no justification for the West Yorkshire County Council's proposal, involving as it would the expenditure of very considerable resources to achieve facilities that duplicate ones the Board already has and that could be provided to the local community at far less cost by other methods. As British Railways are the only organisation in the country which can seek powers to build and then operate such a new railway, I do not see how the rejection of the proposal by Sir Peter Parker can be regarded as other than final. Therefore it would be foolish for West Yorkshire county council to persist with this proposal, although I understand that it has been raised with the Departments of Energy and Transport and that those two Departments have still to make their response to the county council. I ask that the response be made soon and that it be communicated to me, as one of the local Members of Parliament involved, at the same time as it is communicated to the county council, so that that authority can review the position with regard to its own highway responsibilities in Knottingley.

In fact, I am still awaiting a reply from the county council to a letter which I sent it a month ago about the need for it to undertake the road improvements and new bridge works at Knottingley which I have mentioned. In that connection, I must express my gratitude to the hon. Member for New Forest for saying that if discussions take place about the building of a road bridge at Knottingley, British Railways will be willing to be involved in them, not necessarily with any commitment, but to see whether they can give some help. I accept that as a move in the right direction.

At the same time, British Railways have been reluctant to alleviate the problem threatening to arise at the level crossings in Knottingley. In addition to the correspondence that I have had with the chairman of British Railways, I have had meetings at Board level in London and at the regional headquarters in York. So far I have detected very little acceptance from British Railways that there is a growing serious problem at the level crossings in Knottingley. They keep trotting out the argument that the amount of traffic will not be any greater than it is now and that Selby coal goes to places other than Drax. However, it is not Selby that is the problem for Knottingley; it is the construction of a second power station at Drax.

I have now arranged a further meeting with representatives of British Railways and the other relevant public bodies, which is to be held during the next week or so. At that meeting, I hope very much that we shall be able to make some progress towards finding an alternative solution to the problem, because there has to be such a solution.

Without going into the ambitious proposals put forward by the West Yorkshire county council, it strikes me that there could be a relatively small adjustment to the rail network connecting with Drax power station, which is on the site of the old and now disused railway line between Goole and Selby. If there were such a small adjustment, it could go a long way to providing greater flexibility in the rail network in that part of Yorkshire and help to achieve a significant reduction in the number of merry-go-round trains passing over the level crossings at Knottingley not only now but more significantly in the time ahead.

As a former employee of the Central Electricity Generating Board, I am perfectly aware of the need for total flexibility in the allocation of coal from pits to power stations, and that there can be no rigid links, with coal from a certain pit always going to a certain power station. There has to be that flexibility, but it seems to me that British Railways will be in a much better position to operate the movements of the merry-go-round trains if they have an alternative route and are not bound to use the one through Knottingley for all the merry-go-round trains that are going to Eggborough and Drax.

This becomes apparent only when one looks at a map of the area. I suggest that with a very small adjustment to the railway network an alternative rail access could be opened up into Drax, but of course the onus for making such adjustments rests with British Railways. They are the only body who can run the merry-go-round trains. Although the National Coal Board and the Central Electricity Generating Board have a part to play in the coal traffic, it is the British Railways Board that has to take the initiative in deciding which routes are followed by the merry-go-round trains.

Photo of Mr Patrick McNair-Wilson

Mr Patrick McNair-Wilson (New Forest)

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that even without the Drax B power station, trains will still be coming from Selby to both Ferry-bridge and Eggborough and, of course, Knottingley is between Selby and both Ferrybridge and Eggborough.

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Dr Edmund Marshall (Goole)

Yes, but so long as the only power stations to be east of Knottingley are Eggborough and Drax A, the amount of coal going to those stations will be fairly constant, from whatever source it may come.

There is also the point that if an alternative route can be opened up into Drax, it will be possible for trains going from the Gascoigne Wood drift mine for the Selby coalfield to Eggborough to go round via Drax—an alternative route made possible to get to Eggborough.

There are other complicated rail movements, difficult to describe without a map, which would be able to make use of an alternative access to Drax, even though the coal was coming from collieries other than the Selby coal mine. This is due to the need to reverse some of the merry-go-round trains at certain points in the rail network where there are no connecting loops which would help a train to take a left-hand turn at a junction where it could only take a right-hand turn.

The position at the England Lane level crossing in Knottingley, contained in clause 7(1)(d), which is the centre of my interest in the Bill, is already serious. It threatens to become significantly worse unless some action is taken by British Rail and the West Yorkshire county council in their respective spheres of responsibility. Up to this evening, I was feeling disheartened. No willingness was being shown by either body that it was ready to take such action.

British Rail, in particular, has appeared less than ready to acknowledge that its traffic will cause an increasingly serious problem for my constituents in Knottingley. I hope that the House will acknowledge that this debate is a prime opportunity for me, as the constituency Member, to raise these matters on behalf of my constituents. It is also a prime opportunity for British Rail to be more forthcoming and to indicate a greater willingness to co-operate with the local Member of Parliament in trying to solve the problems facing the people in the area that he represents.

8.12 p.m.

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Mr Joe Ashton (Bassetlaw)

I shall not attempt to follow the complex problems of Knottingley which my hon. Friend the Member for Goole (Dr. Marshall) has put so admirably. I shall instead talk about a problem in Bassetlaw which affects a number of my constituents to whom it is of great importance. I refer to clauses 10 and 12 on pages 11 and 12 and schedule 1 to the Bill which requires the alteration of four level crossings in Bassetlaw on the main Doncaster to Gainsborough line. This is not usually a fast express line, but 65 trains a day use the line. The top speed is 60 miles an hour. More importantly, it is a line used for diversions when work is taking place on the main London-Edinburgh line. The fast Inter-City 125 trains are diverted at weekends whenever work is in progress.

The alterations to the level crossings are causing some concern to my constituents. There are four crossings—at North Carr, at Tindall Bank, at Tethering Grass Lane and at Walkeringham. It is at Walkeringham where the real objections are being made by the Walkeringham parish council and by the Bassetlaw district council. The first proposal is that the North Carr crossing should be closed to road traffic from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. the following morning except when flooding takes place on the River Trent and in the pea vining season.

The second proposal is that the Tindall Bank crossing shall be closed completely except for a wicket gate giving access to people on horses and on foot. The Tethering Grass Lane and the Walkeringham crossings are to be closed with a padlock. The keys are to be given to nine local farmers who can unlock the crossing and take their stock across when flooding occurs or when they need to gain access to the other side of the line.

The objections come especially from the Walkeringham parish council which says that the village will be denied amenity land on the other side of the line and that it will be difficult for villagers to walk to the River Trent. Most of all, the council says it will create a dangerous hazard in the vicinity. In the village of Walkeringham, there are 60 houses, 40 of them council houses. There are many children in the area. The crossing at Walkeringham is, in effect, a barrier between the village and the amenity land on the other side of the railway line. If the farmers are allowed the keys to open the gates and lock them after use, a farmer or a farmworker will sooner or later forget and the crossing will be left open for children to wander on to the railway line. Someone will be killed. There is also the chance that the locks would be vandalised or that children would break them so that farmers would be unable to get their stock across to the other side of the railway line if flooding took place.

Representations have taken place between British Rail and the parish council and the district council over several months. One or two changes have been promised. It was agreed that vegetation on the side of the line would be cleared, making for better visibility, and that whistle boards would be installed to give seven seconds' warning to anyone thinking about crossing the line. It may seem that the villagers are being unnecessarily cautious, but there have been two serious accidents in the area.

Ten years ago, at a crossing nearby at Saundby, a car stalled on the level crossing. Instead of getting out of the car and running, the occupants of the car attempted to push the vehicle. A train hit the car and two people were killed.

Again, last December, according to a report in the Retford Times an accident happened at the Tethering Grass Lane crossing. The headline said "Rider thrown clear as train hits horse". Two 17-year-old girls were riding their horses over the crossing. One escaped with minor injuries when a train appeared round a corner and struck the rear hind quarters of the horse. The horse was killed instantly. The girl rider was thrown and taken to Gainsborough hospital where she was detained overnight. She was obviously badly shocked and sustained some injuries.

According to the newspaper, the Retford police said that the riders had started to cross when they noticed a train approaching at high speed from the direction of Doncaster. One of the girls managed to cross safely but Miss Richardson's horse was struck on the hind quarters and killed instantly. The horse belonged to a local farmer who said it was a miracle that the girl was not killed or seriously injured. The accident involved the Hall to King's Cross passenger express which had beeen diverted to the Beckingham line because of track works on the main line. The Inter-City 125 trains, which are now diverted, are much quieter, are quicker and approach at fast speeds.

British Rail propose that at Walkeringham, which has a population of 200 literally butting up to the level crossing, the crossing shall be locked with keys accessible only to farmers. Sooner or later, a farmer who is in a hurry or whose stock is going astray, or who simply forgets, will leave the crossing open and a small toddler will wander on the line when an Inter-City train is going past at high speed. The villagers are saying, rightly in my opinion, that the crossing should continue to be manned. They realise that changes have to be made They are not objecting to the closure of Tindall Bank. They do not object so much to the Tethering Grass Lane crossing being padlocked and the farmers possessing the key. But they maintain, as an absolute minimum, that the same proposals should apply at Walkeringham as those put forward in the Bill for North Carr.

This means that the crossing would be manned from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. and that at times of flooding and during the peavining season, when there is heavy traffic, carrying peas from farms to Batchelors in Worksop in my constituency, it should be manned all night. My constituents are not asking too much. The alternative is to close the crossing. The farmers would then be in trouble when the Trent floods, as it does almost every time there is heavy rain.

British Rail have taken a census of the number of vehicles crossing at Walkeringham. They say that a manned crossing is not justified since only 30 vehicles a day use it. The local parish council has checked with the signalmen and they dispute the figures. The union says that just as many vehicles use that crossing as use the crossing at North Carr. They say that the crossing should be manned because sooner or later there will be an accident.

British Rail say that they cannot be held responsible for trespassers. But if those trespassers are young children who do not know any better and go through an open gate on to the line, British Rail have a duty. I understand the problem of cost. But if cost is to be measured by the lives of children living nearby British Rail cannot justify trivial savings which might put lives at stake. Accidents have already occurred. The villagers are justified in asking for the alteration.

8.21 p.m.

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Mr Peter Snape (West Bromwich East)

I shall confine my remarks to the contentious clause 5 and Works Nos. 1 and 2. My hon. Friends' main objection to the Castlefield curve is that it in some way prejudices the building of the Pic-Vic tunnel. I am a member of the National Union of Railwaymen. I spent most of my railway career in the Manchester area.

In 1971 I was a member of the passenger transport authority. I remember approaching the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) who was then the Minister for Transport, about the Pic-Vic tunnel. I received a sympathetic hearing, but no money. After being elected to the House in 1974 I approached my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley), who was then the Minister of Transport and again I received a sympathetic hearing, but no money. It seems that Manchester's transport problems, and the Pic-Vic tunnel in particular, arouse sympathy but that no money is available to deal with them.

The attitude of my hon. Friends to the Castlefield curve surprises me. Their objections can be summarised in three ways. They imply that the curve does not give the same advantages to Greater Manchester's transport needs as the Pic-Vic tunnel. Of course it does not. Nobody says that it does. They say that because the curve is part of the transport study permission to construct should not go ahead, but they overlook that there is no direct permission in the Bill to go ahead with construction. It merely smooths the path for the future, when it is necessary or desirable for that construction to go ahead. My hon. Friends seem to think that because of those views any go-ahead at present would be premature.

I am a little fed up with squabbles between councils. They are not confined to Greater Manchester. They happen in Birmingham and in Liverpool. The city of Manchester is Labour controlled. It is squabbling with the Greater Manchester county council, which is Conservative controlled. Different political control does not make much difference when it comes to squabbles. Councils with the same political views often squabble.

I regret that the hon. Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) gave a commitment. The Manchester district council and my union are in favour of the Castlefield curve. Out of deference to the constituency interests of my hon. Friends, I thought that they should speak before me, but I tried to ask my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Openshaw (Mr. Morris) whether the construction of the Pic-Vic tunnel was being brought a day nearer by the prevention of construction work on the Castlefield curve.

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Mr Patrick McNair-Wilson (New Forest)

Because of the differences of opinion, it is probably more sensible to withdraw this part of the Bill and have another Bill which enjoys the support of all the people living in the area, than to go ahead when there is schizophrenia in the area about what should happen.

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Mr Peter Snape (West Bromwich East)

I am grateful for that clarification. There is an additional difficulty. My union received a letter a few weeks ago from Mr. Angus Monro, the director of planning for the Greater Manchester council. He said: Our main concern is that the land required for the Castlefield curve which belonged to British Rail, has already been leased under a long-term contract to a developer. We are concerned that we should have the powers to prevent any development being started before we have had an opportunity of fully evaluating the merits of the Caslefield curve … I would hope that Members of Parliament would see it as sound common sense that no development should be started on the site which would be aborted in the case of a favourable decision to go ahead with construction. I appreciate the reasons behind the actions of the hon. Member for New Forest, but I do not believe that in the long-term he is doing Manchester's transport interests any good. He has agreed to the postponement because of the opposition, and I understand that.

The NUR regrets that the Castlefield proposals are to be postponed. For the first time since the construction of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway, the London and North Western Railway and the Victoria and London Road—now Piccadilly—stations we had an opportunity for a more direct through service. My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Marks) says that there is an alternative service, but it is not particularly convenient. There is a diesel multiple unit service between Stockport and Stalybridge.

The possible direct service would have caused difficulties because of the lack of track capacity, particularly on the double track route from Piccadilly to Oxford Road, but at least it would have provided some benefit for the city. It would have provided a few commuters—for example, from my home town of Stockport—with the opportunity of getting through to Manchester Victoria station and beyond.

Of course, it would not have benefited the commercial centre of the city. Only the Pic-Vic tunnel can do that. The action of my hon. Friends and the acquiescence of the hon. Member for New Forest means that not only have we decided not to go ahead with the Pic-Vic tunnel but that we have decided to do nothing further for the railways in Manchester. My union will regard that as bad.

8.28 p.m.

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Mr Albert Booth (Barrow-in-Furness)

I wish to concentrate mainly on the important issue of the Castlefield curve and the possibilities of development of the Pic-Vic. I shall do that if only to illustrate, as have my hon. Friends the Members for Manchester, Moss Side (Mr. Morton), Manchester, Openshaw (Mr. Morris) and Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Marks) that there was a belief by a considerable number of people, including three who have spoken tonight in the debate, that the Castlefield curve was to be regarded as an alternative to the development of any other rail transport system for central Manchester and an alternative to any direct rail access to central Manchester.

Whether or not those people were correct in that belief, and whether there was an alternative, their actions in raising that matter in the House tonight have resulted in an undertaking being given that the provisions in the Bill for works Nos. 1 and 2 will be withdrawn in Committee. So the situation that we now have to consider is slightly different. It is whether, by withdrawing that part of the Bill, the proposers have contributed in any way towards an improvement in the rail services in central Manchester, or whether they have set that back for a very long time, or at least until such time as another British Railways Bill can be brought before the House.

If the proposition upon which my hon. Friends stated their objections to the provisions in the Bill for the Castlefield curve was correct, namely, that by proceeding with it there would be no possibility of proceeding with an alternative and better one, that is a serious matter. The terms in which the sponsor spoke, particularly in his reference to half a loaf being better than none, must raise the fears of many interested people that there is no alternative and that they will be left with none for so long as it will take to prepare another Bill.

If the proposition were correct the argument would be overwhelming. No one could suggest, after having made an objective study of the alternatives, that the Castlefield curve would be anything other than a very limited improvement in terms of rail access in Manchester compared with the Pic-Vic line or any other tunnel development that would have provided access to stations in the centre of Manchester.

But it is unfair to suggest, as has been suggested in the debate, that British Railways were proceeding on the proposition that the Castlefield curve was in some way better. I can find no evidence that British Railways were proceeding on such a presumption. When I examined their comments on the medium-term rail studies—I admit that these were initial comments—I found a very clear indication that British Railways regarded the only real solution to the problem of city centre distribution as the encouragement of greater use of the rail system by the linking of the northern and southern rail networks across the city in the form of the Pic-Vic tunnel or some similar scheme.

I take it from that, and I shall be interested to see whether I am contradicted, that in this Bill British Railways were making provision for the Castlefield curve in the belief that the Pic-Vic system, or a similar system, would not be going ahead, or would not be going ahead in the immediate future. I would therefore have welcomed from the sponsor an assurance that this provision would be put in the Bill in that spirit and with that intention, and not in any way to frustrate development at the earliest possible date of an alternative and better rail system from central Manchester.

I believe that the development of such a system is of considerable importance, in terms not only of convenience for travellers but of employment in the central Manchester area. I invite the House to consider for a moment the effect on employment in central London if London Transport had to close down the Tube system so that there was no access by rail. It is only too obvious that, given the problems of modern conurbation transport, once the conurbation develops to a certain size with a certain population density, a rail system, probably a tunnel system, but certainly an inner city rail system giving access to a wider rail network, could make a considerable contribution to the employment potential of that city.

Before long the House will require some kind of assurance that reconsideration is being given to this problem not only by British Railways and the local authorities concerned but by the Government. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will give some indication tonight that the Government appreciate the size of the problem in terms of the convenience of urban transport, employment implications, the inevitable change that will take place with the increase in fuel costs, and the environmental hazards created by heavy lorries in our city centres. All these elements require a reconsideration of the priority to be given to rail transport within the city centre.

The other feature that has been surprising in this debate is the assumption that the system would go ahead with the passing of the Bill. The Bill, if I have read it correctly, would not have committed British Railways to proceed with the Castlefield curve. I think that British Railways would, in any case, have been willing to examine alternatives to provide a better rail service. This Bill, in its present terms—here I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape)—enables British Railways to frustrate a developer who has a contract enabling him to develop land that would be required should British Railways seek to go ahead with the Castlefield curve.

Without that there is always the possibility that ere British Railways may prepare its No. 3 Bill, or the next Bill that might have the same effect, that developer might have started work. This does not mean that the development could not take place, but it is fair to assume, as I do, that it could take place only at considerably greater public expense. That would be very much to be regretted.

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Mr Charles Morris (Manchester Openshaw)

My right hon. Friend has identified a very real point in this context. It is a point that would provoke concern even among the Manchester Members who have spoken in the debate. I wonder whether the sponsor, the hon. Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson), would deal with this point. If there is a developer and this proposal is designed to frustrate the acquisition of land, which would be needed for the development of the Castlefield curve, I would like to hear the detailed background.

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Mr Albert Booth (Barrow-in-Furness)

I hope that we shall advance to that point before the night is out. I am certainly proceeding on that assumption. If I have read the Bill correctly in its present form it gives British Railways the right to prevent a development taking place. There is an existing contractual right for that development. and presumably that contractual right will be set aside by the Bill.

The Bill is valuable in enabling us to debate this subject. It will go into Committee, which will provide time for evaluation, and I am sure that those who make submissions to the Committee will raise some of these points, which can be considered in detail along with the alternatives. I also hope that the Government will regard that as allowing them time to consider what priorities ought to be given to the question of rail transport within central Manchester.

I wish to raise two other points. One concerns section 13, which appears to enable the stopping of footpaths by British Railways providing that the consent of the owners of the land and of the occupiers of those houses abutting both sides of the footpath is obtained. Although I should be the first to acknowledge the primary interest in the stopping up of a footpath of those whose houses abut it, I would never concede that they are the only ones with an interest in footpaths.

Over the years, on the question of access to the countryside and rights of way, the House has on many occasions debated the importance of maintaining footpaths. I hope, therefore, that when the Bill is being considered in Committee further thought will be given to clause 13 with a view to ensuring that other interests are consulted before footpaths are closed, that is to say, interests other than those of owners of land on either side and of houses abutting them.

As more and more people turn to the countryside for their leisure, a trend which we should seek to encourage, we must attach growing importance to the maintenance of definitive footpaths. I suggest, therefore, that we should examine with greater zeal any proposal coming before us which would enable a footpath to be closed.

I turn now to clause 44 and the related part of schedule 3 which contain a provision which will enable the maximum fine for refusal or neglect to quit a carriage on arrival at destination to be raised from £25 to £50. This seems to me to require explanation.

I do not doubt that a number of possible explanations could be offered. Perhaps those who propose it think that it is now a much more serious offence to fail to quit a carirage on arrival at destination than it was when they brought a Bill before the House a year ago. On the other hand, they may expect that we shall have such rip-roaring inflation before they have time to bring in another Bill that, when the provisions of the present Bill take effect, the £50 will be worth only what £25 was worth when they brought them in. At least, it requires some explanation. I recognise that British Rail has to cover a lot of things each year in its one Bill coming before the House, but that in no way excuses it from explaining the purpose of such changes in the law as that.

This has been a valuable debate. It has enabled many hon. Members to raise points of general significance and of particular importance to groups of their constituents. I am optimistic that British Rail will seek to resolve many of the problems that they have raised, preferably when the matter is before the Committee or, if not then, in the near future. I hope also that our proceedings will encourage British Rail and other bodies to pay considerable heed to Members of Parliament when they raise matters that affect their constituents.

8.43 p.m.

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Mr Kenneth Clarke (Rushcliffe)

At the outset, I take this opportunity to welcome the right hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth) to his new duties at the Dispatch Box as Opposition spokesman on transport. I am surprised to see him make his debut on the British Railways (No. 2) Bill, but he has taken the first opportunity and I am sure that we shall have many contributions from him on weightier matters of transport policy which come before us.

This is in itself an important and valuable Bill, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) on the way he presented it and put forward the case on behalf of British Rail. Plainly, this is not the occasion for a general debate on railway policy, but I noted with interest the views on railway policy in general with which my hon. Friend began. His interest in nationalised industries, including the railways, is well known in the House. I noted also my hon. Friend's approval of plans for electrification of the railways and his support for the Channel tunnel.

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Mr Kenneth Clarke (Rushcliffe)

I did not say that there was anything wrong with it. Nevertheless, I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has made his mark on the debate, too. I was about to say that my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest knows that the Government are, together with British Rail, at present carrying out a study of electrification. We expect the first results of that study to come this summer, and in the light of that study we shall move on to make decisions about British Rail's desire to extend the electrification of the system.

As regards the Channel tunnel, the Government have received—as the public have, since they have been published—British Rail's proposals for a modified version of the Channel tunnel project. Those proposals are at present being considered. We expect further proposals to come forward because the European Commission is carrying out some work on the Channel tunnel. When the various proposals are put forward by the Commission we shall consider the options and see what progress can be made on the tunnel.

The Bill is not a Government measure and I shall not answer the debate. The Government do not have a committed view, certainly not on the constituency points that have been put forward. Nevertheless, I have listened with great attention to the debate on the general problems of transport in central Manchester. That is a serious matter and one which, I can assure those who have spoken, will be considered properly inside the Department.

It appears that a decision has been taken to exclude the Castlefield curve from the Bill. Again I emphasise that the Government are neutral on that point between British Rail on the one hand and the objectors on the other. As a spectator, it is perhaps unfortunate that Manchester city council and the Labour Members representing Manchester constituencies are somewhat at loggerheads with British Rail, the passenger transport executive, the National Union of Railwaymen and the Greater Manchester council. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest that some attempt should be made to find an agreement from with- in Manchester about people's precise requirements. This would be in everyone's interests in that city.

The hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) is an expert on railway matters. He should be heeded when he gives a warning that we should not conduct the discussion in such a way that nothing is achieved in central Manchester. I am not sure whether the Bill would necessarily promote the Piccadilly-Victoria line, or bring it forward in any way, desirable though that project is considered by many hon. Members.

I cannot enter into other constituency points. As far as the Bill as a whole is concerned the Government do have a view on that. We support the Bill. We invite the House to give it a Second Reading. The points raised that are still outstanding can be considered in Committee. It would be desirable if the Bill could make progress and was allowed a Second Reading.

8.47 p.m.

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Mr Patrick McNair-Wilson (New Forest)

With the leave of the House, I should like to reply. I deal first with the point raised by the right hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth) on the scale of penalties. I am advised that they are in line with the Home Office scale of penalties for similar offences. That is why the figures appear in the Bill.

The right hon. Gentleman and others, including the hon. Member for Manchester, Moss Side (Mr. Morton), the right hon. Member for Manchester, Openshaw (Mr. Morris), the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Marks) and the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape), raised, with differing view points, the question of works Nos. 1 and 2, the Manchester rail link. It is with a heavy heart that I have given an assurance on behalf of British Rail. The British Railways Board does not wish deliberately to cave in, but it recognises that a short-term answer is provided, although it does not meet the ideal circumstances that would be created by the Pic-Vic link.

Were it not for the strong opposition that the Bill has run into on that issue, the promoters would like this legislation to remain intact and be discussed in the normal way. However, because of the urgency indicated by the British Railways Board, and because there is so much difference of opinion, it Is felt that it would be wiser to seek leave in Committee to withdraw that clause so that there can be time for further discussion.

I accept the point made by the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East that there will be much disappointment over this issue. I assure him that there is much disappointment in British Railways Board that it has been necessary to make this accommodation. However, there is no point in pressing ahead with something that apparently does not enjoy very much local support.

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Mr Peter Snape (West Bromwich East)

If the two sides in the Greater Manchester area can come together before the Committee stage, I presume that the hon. Gentleman will agree to proceed in the normal way.

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Mr Patrick McNair-Wilson (New Forest)

I accept that olive branch. It is a question of seeking leave to withdraw this part of the Bill. However, I hope that tonight it will go through on Second Reading as part of the Bill. I hope, too, that it will be possible to carry out the hon. Gentleman's proposal. That would be welcomed by the British Railways Board. The Board recognises that the scheme is nothing like as good as it would have liked to see in the 1972 proposals. However, we shall not go over the history now. We know what happened. This is an attempt to solve some of the problems by means of a short-time solution. The judgments of Solomon are never ideal. Clearly, there is a problem. I support the point made by the hon. Gentleman. I hope that that deals with the criticisms of the right hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness.

The hon. Member for Goole (Dr. Marshall) referred to the complicated situation at England Lane crossing in his constituency. He pointed out that a difficult situation would still exist in Knottingley, whatever happened, as a result of the growth of the coal trade, revolving around the opening of the complex at Selby and the fact that it would serve a large number of power stations. I regret that the Board cannot be persuaded to look again at the idea of moving the traffic from east to west, rather than starting from the west.

I should like to take up the point about a bridge that might bring the Womersley road across the railway link. I gave an assurance that the Board would be prepared to be represented at discussions. It is worth thinking about this matter further. The cost of building an additional rail link would be about £9 million to £10 million. The bridge would not be cheap. It would mean a great deal of construction work. We are talking about one-ninth or one-tenth of that figure. Even taking into account the points made by the hon. Gentleman, this is a long-term problem. However, this may provide a solution.

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Dr Edmund Marshall (Goole)

Before a bridge can be considered the highway authority must show willingness to go ahead with the bridge. So far the West Yorkshire county council has set its face against such a bridge.

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Mr Patrick McNair-Wilson (New Forest)

West Yorkshire county council published a document dealing with the Selby coalfield transportation issues. The hon. Gentleman has a copy in his hand. In that document the bridge suggestion is dismissed in three sentences. I see that the hon. Gentleman agrees. If that proposal is to go ahead, others must discuss it, and West Yorkshire county council must look again at the problem. I support the hon. Gentleman's view on that matter. My earlier assurance still stands.

The hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton), when dealing with clauses 10 and 12, rightly stressed the question of safety. I represent a constituency in which a large number of animals and people roam about comparatively freely. Oil companies are now drilling for oil there. Unfortunately, accidents are already taking place as a result. Therefore, we must meet the safety aspects. We have taken careful note of the hon. Gentleman's points about the manning of the crossing, and further consideration will be given to that between now and the Committee stage. In Committee I may be able to give the result of that consideration. This is a material matter.

I agree with the right hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness that this has been a valuable occasion. I take advantage of this opportunity to congratulate my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary on his appointment. I thank him for his comments about the railway system in general. I hope that the flush of enthusiasm that we have all demonstrated this evening will not be lost in the mists of time. It is about time that the railway system of this country carried—as I know it is willing to carry—its fair share of the load. The days of pouring good energy wastefully on to the roads of this country when we have a first-class permanent way—which has to be maintained, whether it is used or not—are surely drawing to an end.

The Bill gives our railway system a nice, gentle push into the future at a critical time, and I very much hope that the measure will receive a Second Reading.

Question put and agreed to.

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