When I was in my constituency last weekend I asked my constituents who are concerned with this matter which they would rather I did—endeavour to catch Mr. Speaker's eye in the grand foreign affairs debate tomorrow or raise the question of their bus shelter, which is only a local problem. They told me that any fool can speak on foreign affairs and no doubt several would, but that if I did not speak about their local bus shelter, then nobody else would. I therefore prefer to take my chance today and to raise the problem of the people who live in the village of Byram-cum-Sutton and who wish to have a bus shelter at the bus stop on the corner of the Great North Road and Sutton Lane, which is the road leading off the Great North Road into their housing estate.
I do not think this is an unreasonable request on their part, and certainly they do not think it is unreasonable, but since 1952 the parish council has been fighting for this bus shelter, engaged, as it says, in an exercise of frustration and disappointment. I do not have to impress upon the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport the importance of transport in rural areas. He knows that far better than I do, because he has been engaged practically in agriculture and before his present position he was in the Ministry of Agriculture.
What perhaps I have to impress upon him is the fact that the Great North Road, in spite of its grandiose title, is very often a rural road running through rural areas and that transport along the Great North Road to and from the villages situated on either side of it is a question of rural and not national transport.
People living in those parishes rely on buses. They have to stand waiting for those buses. In the rural areas, unlike the city areas, buses run infrequently and the people have to be there well in advance to catch the buses. Standing in the open, exposed to the wind, rain and even worse elements, is not very pleasant. The farther North we go the more unpleasant those elements can be. My contituents on the Great North Road feel that they are entitled to some shelter from those rough elements of wind and weather.
I came into this picture last March. I wrote to the Minister at the request of a deputation from the parish council and, after about seven weeks without a reply, I put a Question on the Order Paper. That, quite peculiarly, provoked a reply from the Minister—a coincidence, I am sure. The reply was most unsatisfactory. It repeated and supported what the parish council had already been told by the divisional road engineer.
I should like to ask at this point whether the Minister thinks that his province in matters of this kind is just to rubber stamp the views of the divisional road engineer or whether there is any substance in the fact that all these matters have to be referred to the Minister for his approval or otherwise, that he gives personal consideration to them and that he is not there merely to rubber stamp whatever views the divisional road engineer has put forward.
In this case the divisional road engineer delayed and obstructed this proposal for several years, and there is a feeling of resentment in the parish about it. It is on record that in September, 1956, after a six months' silence, when the parish council ventured to jog him it was admitted that he had mislaid the papers in his office. In November, 1956, after that had been put right, he said that he had found difficulty in following the council's arguments about bus routes and in locating place names. It turned out that he was using an out-of-date ordnance survey map. Eventually, he produced a number of objections to the proposal for this bus shelter.
It is a very old trick and very often it works—but sometimes it does not—that when one is opposed to a proposal, one never says "No," but always says, "I support this in principle" and then puts up alternative ideas, but always ensuring beforehand that the alternatives are unacceptable; otherwise the whole intention would be destroyed. So it was in this case. The divisional road engineer could not do anything but recognise the need for this shelter, but he told my constituents that they simply could not have it where they wanted it—the site was unsafe and it obstructed the view of the road—and he offered them another site.
It is peculiar that for 10 years buses have been stopping at this bus stop which is now considered to be unsafe. Has the Parliamentary Secretary any record of accidents at this bus stop? Why is it suddenly an unsafe bus stop if it has a shelter, whereas it was not unsafe without a shelter? It is peculiar that it was never deemed unsafe until the desire for a shelter was put forward.
If we are discussing road safety at this site, I impress upon the Minister that the rural district council road safety committee is completely in favour of a shelter being erected there. The local road safety people therefore, fully back the demand of the parish council. I have seen the spot several times. I saw it only last weekend. It is a wide corner and there is a wide footpath. There is a telephone kiosk on the footpath where the shelter is required. There are trees and hedges which screen the house behind it.
The site suggested by the divisional road engineer is 35 to 40 yards away downhill to the south. The shelter, if erected there, would overlook the private garden and house of a local resident, who would be put to the trouble and expense either of raising his wall or planting trees and shrubs to get a little privacy from the bus shelter. In addition, the divisional road engineer suggests that the northbound bus stop on the other side of the road should also be moved 30 to 40 yards to the south down the hill, staggered with the new one which he proposes to put on the other side of the road.
My constituents want to know why these bus stops should be removed a considerable distance away from the parish, almost on the parish boundary. I am sure that I do not have to impress upon the Minister again the importance of people coming home, perhaps from work or from shopping and particularly heavily-laden shoppers, having to get off at a bus stop on a main road and walk 30–40 yards uphill in all sorts of weather before reaching the by-road leading down to their own houses.
The divisional road engineer has, I think, been working to an office formula remote from and without taking any notice whatever of local conditions. He admits at one point that the suggested new bus stop would not suit one bus route to Castleford, but he says that that runs only on Saturday. When does his wife, if he has one, do her main shopping? Does he not know that most working class people do their main shopping on a Saturday? That is the day when they require the assistance of buses to help them get home with their heavy bundles.
The parish council called a parish meeting last week. It was quite well attended and the opinion was unanimously expressed that the parish does not want the bus stop moved, even though the new site would carry with it a shelter. They would rather have no shelter at all than the one offered in the new position and they gave 10 good reasons why the bus shelter should be erected at the place where the bus normally stops now.
All the local authorities and organisations are in favour of keeping the present bus stops and erecting shelters there. I ask the Minister to give full consideration, not to the views of is divisional road engineer whose office is some distance away, but to the opinions of those who have local knowledge and experience. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was in the House last week when we spent two days discussing the new Local Government Bill. Great stress was laid on what I thought was the one reasonable argument in favour of some such Bill for the reform of local government, that argument being that it would give greater freedom to local authorities in the management of their own local affairs. I would ask the hon. Gentleman to give consideration to that point of view and perhaps keep in step with another Department of his own Government in reiterating more freedom for local authorities.
Finally, I would appeal to the hon. Gentleman in accordance with this season of the year. This is the last chance this year that he will have of doing the public a good turn. I would ask him to do this good turn generously and to give generously not to a favoured one or two, but to a collective community. I would ask him to imagine himself over this Christmas holiday driving up the Great North Road in a sleigh, not a car, and having in a sack on his sleigh a very nice new bus shelter as a Christmas present for the people of Bryam-cum-Sutton. If he will do that, I am quite sure that he will earn from them seasonal good wishes, and I will see that he gets them.
I must congratulate the hon. Member for Goole (Mr. Jeger) on the eloquent and moving way in which he opened this subject. I wish that I were able to be more accommodating to him. I hope that my last chance has not gone for the rest of the year of doing a good turn.
I might even do a public good turn outside the House.
I find myself, however, in a difficulty, which I must explain to the House right away. I have learned that the Traffic Commissioners, who as the House will know act in a completely independent capacity, are proposing to attach a condition to the road service licences for these bus routes which would move the bus stop to the position proposed by the divisional road engineer. That will bring the whole of this subject, after the proper notices have been made, before the next appropriate sitting oaf the Traffic Commissioners, where, of course, it will be fully argued.
The rural district council has a statuttory right to be there, and, in the circumstances, the Traffic Commissioners will invite the parish councillors to be there as well so that they can put their very strong views about this matter. This will be an independent inquiry into all the facts. More important, if there is an aggrieved party on either side after the Traffic Commissioners' hearing, there is a right of appeal to my right hon. Friend, who will then appoint an independent inspector to hear the appeal. Finally, the report comes to the Minister to reach a final conclusion. Therefore, I feel that it would be wrong of me to go into the whole matter tonight, because it might in future come before my right hon. Friend in his semi-judicial capacity. I confine myself to saying a few words on the general issues.
The hon. Member will know that this issue will now be fully argued in public. The merits on both sides can be fully developed then, and I feel sure that the matter will be settled to the satisfaction of all parties.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that statement, but could he tell me when it was decided that the matter would take that form? The last letter I had from his right hon. Friend was dated 31st October, and that made no mention of it.
I trust that I shall put myself in a position to answer that question before I conclude my speech; at present, I am not equipped with that knowledge. I imagine that the Traffic Commissioners have decided this in the last two or three weeks, perhaps, but I have not the date in front of me. I suppose they thought that this would be the best way to have full and open consideration of the issues, on which the local people obviously feel very strongly. If I do not deal with the details of the hon. Gentleman's most lucid dissertation on the case, he will understand that that is not because I am not interested in it but because I do not want to prejudice our position for the future.
I will begin by apologising both to the hon. Gentleman and to the parish council for the delays which have occurred in dealing with this case. I read the copy of the "progress report" drawn up by the parish council which was sent to my right hon. Friend, and I thought it a most lucid and interesting document. As I read it, I reflected that the spirit of Hampden still stirred in Yorkshire villages; evidently, they are energetic and very determined people in the village of Byram-cum-Sutton. As a parish councillor myself and chairman of my own parish council for very many years, I can sympathise with the strength of feeling that there is no doubt is in the village, and I congratulate them on the determination with which they have carried on their struggle. Time will show whether it is possible to meet their wishes, but I hope that they will accept my apologies, in so far as delays have been our fault. I am sure they will give credit for what have been genuine attempts by the divisional road engineer to try to find a basis for agreement, and will accept my assurance that neither my right hon. Friend nor I are "rubber stamps" for advice from our officials anywhere. Excellent though that advice usually is, we look at it very carefully, and I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we listen to other advice as well.
As the hon. Member said, this dispute really is about the bus stop. The bus shelter comes in only because it has to have a site on which to stand. The bus stop is, as he says, at the junction of the Castleford-Sutton road with the Great North Road, and, if I may make a somewhat indirect comment on it, I assume that the divisional road engineer has taken the view that, probably, that was not an ideal position. I suppose that it was considered just acceptable in the past. When the proposal for the bus shelter came along, this raised two further objections; first, that it would make permanent that bus stop which had never, I suppose, been particularly approved of; and secondly, it would to some extent interfere with the sight line.
I was going to say a word about the arrangements for approving bus stops. I should add that I have not the accident figures for its junction, but I will get them for the hon. Gentleman. I am not sure whether they will add much in a positive way, but I will provide them in any event.
The position about the fixing of bus stops is that they are usually settled upon by informal agreement between the bus operating companies, the local authority and the highway authority. The Traffic Commissioners have power, under the Road Traffic Act, 1930, to attach to road service licences conditions about the siting of bus stops, and it is in accordance with those powers that the Traffic Commissioners have acted here, presumably, to find a means to bring all the conflicting views together and settle the matter in a satisfactory way.
I have explained that there is a right of appeal to my right hon. Friend, and I feel certain that this is the right way of dealing with the matter. I would say straight away that my natural inclination would be to let a parish council put a bus shelter wherever it wanted to. Nine times out of ten it can. But the reason for my right hon. Friend and myself coming in here is that we have a responsibility for traffic flow and road safety on trunk roads, which Parliament has specifically put on us, and we cannot, nor would we wish to, avoid that responsibility. I am sure the hon. Member would not wish us to do so. Therefore, in respect of this road, that responsibility enters into the matter.
Somehow, we have to reconcile the conflicting interests of the local people who wish the bus stop with the shelter, or, indeed, without it, to continue to be where it is, and to decide whether that or whether what we believe to be the interests of traffic flow and traffic safety should prevail.
This is a very important road. As the hon. Member knows, we are having dual carriageways built along almost the whole length from London to Newcastle. That will give very wonderful benefit. I make that point just to indicate how terribly heavy the traffic is there and how necessary it is for us to do all we can to keep the conditions as safe as we can and the traffic flow as smooth as possible.
I feel certain that the House will recognise our specific responsibility in the matter. I hope that the parishioners of Byram-cum-Sutton will understand that the Minister is not interfering for the sake of interfering, nor is his divisional road engineer, with what the village wants to do. We are taking action because we have a specific responsibility for what happens on the trunk road. These matters will be decided now in open forum, where I hope both sides will finally be satisfied.
I would add that there is another procedure by which the matter could have been settled, and that is by the parish council opting to go to arbitration. The 1953 Act made such provision. I mention it just to complete the picture. The parish council can by mutual consent with the disputing parties, appoint an arbitrator. If no agreement is reached, the arbitrator can, in default, be appointed by no less a person than the President of the Institution of Civil Engineers. I may say that that procedure has never yet been used and we must hope that the procedure before the Traffic Commissioners will prove to be satisfactory to everybody.
I sympathise with the hon. Member and his constituents. I well understand the difficulties about rural transport, including the difficulties about taking home the shopping bag on Saturday evenings for those living in rural areas who depend on public transport services. There are many in the farming world who do so, and it is important that we should do everything we can to help them. I hope the hon. Member will accept my assurance that my right hon. Friend and I, and, indeed, our officers in the Department, look at the matter from both points of view, and we shall certainly make sure that fair consideration is given to it at all levels. I am certain that the Traffic Commissioners will give it fair consideration. I am grateful to the hon. Member for raising the subject tonight, and I hope that in due course the parishioners of Byram-cum-Sutton will be satisfied.