Orders of the Day — Railways (Bishop Auckland-Darlington Line)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 29th June 1964.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Finlay.]

11.31 p.m.

Photo of Mr James Boyden Mr James Boyden , Bishop Auckland

I am asking tonight that two railway passenger services, mainly in my constituency, be kept open. They are the Crook—Bishop Auckland—Shildon—Darlington line and the Middleton-in-TeesdaleBarnard Castle line. It may be confusing to the House for me to take them together, but as this may be my last opportunity this Session to speak about them I hope that I may be forgiven if I try to discuss them together on general principles which, in varying degree, apply to each line.

We are asking to hold on to what we have got, because under the present Government scant regard is paid to the industrial development of South-West Durham. The closure of these lines would be a blow to future industrial development. On 15th June, unemployment was 1,970 in the five travel-to-work areas that these lines largely cover. In Bishop Auckland, the unemployment rate was three times the national average. None of the constituencies in the growth zone and in the area between Barnard Castle and Upper Teesdale even forms a development district. This makes a marked contrast with care taken in the constituency with the revival of coalmines and the institution of trading estates after the war under the care and interest of the late Hugh Dalton.

These two railway lines play a vital part in what the Government set out to be the rôle of South-West Durham. I do not accept that rôle, but I am arguing tonight on the lines on which the Government should be arguing in the terms of their own policy. I cannot be held to claim that I approve of the Hailsham Report or the rôle that it sets out for South-West Durham.

The rôle set out for South-West Durham in the Hailsham Report—"The North East"—is referred to in paragraph 119 as follows: In this area, including Barnard Castle, Tow Law, Crook and Wellington, Bishop Auckland, Shildon, Spennymoor, Aycliffe, and Darlington, the main prospects for expansion seem to lie on the line Spennymoor—Aycliffe—Darlington; the other places mentioned are not regarded as being in the growth zone. It goes on to state: Darlington and a larger Aycliffe must be expected to accommodate much of the increase and to meet some of the needs of the places to the north-west where local employment opportunities are likely to go on declining. Within these latter localities there will be increasing need for selectivity as regards the places at which to build up further social capital. The transport implications of this are that the people all along these lines, from Crook to Bishop Auckland and Darlington, and from Crook to Middleton-in-Teesdale, Barnard Castle and eastwards, must travel to Aycliffe, Spennymoor and Darlington and even beyond to Tees-side to get their jobs. Therefore, in the interests of the Government's plan, it is suicidal to shut these lines.

In addition, the Hailsham Report, the plan for the North-East, makes a special reference to the desirability of mobility. Paragraph 98 states that the growth zone is small and that because of that, people will have to travel, but it contains this soporific phrase: Most of those likely to be coming to work there from elsewhere"— which covers most of my constituency— will be from towns or villages not far away. The distances of travel-to-work involved will therefore be quite modest and in line with present trends. If these railways are closed, the time of travelling will not by any means be modest, nor will it be in line with present trends. In fact, I should have thought that paragraph 66, which refers to railways, would already have been invoked by the Minister to stop these closures taking effect. It states that the Minister of Transport has arranged to take account of the local travel implications of the region's development needs when any railway passenger service closure proposal comes before him for decision. I should have thought he might have spared all the agony of discussions and conferences and public meetings by saying that these lines should be kept open, and so be done with it.

The transport users consultative committees have sat very carefully to consider these problems, and in both cases they have said hardship will be caused by the closure of the lines. On the Middleton-in-Teesdale to Darlington line the Committee gave careful consideration to the representations which were made, and after taking into account the alternative services existing and proposed, reached the conclusion that withdrawal of the train service would cause hardship in varying degrees to present users of the service and that in some instances this hardship would be severe. The committee considered that the operation of additional bus services as proposed by British Railways, and the introduction of special buses for the conveyance of scholars, would only partially alleviate the hardship which had been brought to notice. This is a very moderate recommendation by the committee.

In the case of the Crook-Bishop Auckland line, the first hearing was a complete disgrace. The railways had practically no discussion with the bus companies and practically no alternative arrangements to suggest. In fact, what happened was that the T.U.C.C. heard many representations and adjourned so that the railways could get together with the bus services and make alternative proposals. I said at the time, and I say again, that I think this was completely disgraceful—for the railways, as it were, just to throw away their obligations and the Minister to allow them to do.

The T.U.C.C. made a second attempt in that case, and I think the Minister ought to have intervened at that stage and finished with the proposals for the closures. When the committee reassembled and heard again the evidence about alternative bus services this is what it said: The Committee gave very careful consideration to the representations put forward, and after taking into account the existing and proposed alternative services, they reached the conclusion that the withdrawal of the train service would result in serious hardship to the large body of passengers who use the trains to travel to and from their daily work. The operation of additional bus services, as proposed by British Railways, whilst effecting material improvements in the alternative road services, would not eradicate the hardship which has been brought to the Committee's notice. The bue service would miss the expresses from London to Darlington and from Darlington to London.

I concentrate my case on the hardship for the workpeople, because it is on them that the greatest hardship rests. What I would hope is that the Parliamentary Secretary will see that every case of hardship is investigated, and any clues leading to other cases of hardship are followed up and an assessment made of all the hardship likely to be caused, because I am quite convinced that on any fair judgment of the hardship caused he would stop the closure of these lines.

A good many of the local journeys are extremely convenient to workpeople. For example, the Crook—Bishop Auckland line makes possible journeys to places like the Wilton Park and the Aycliffe Trading Estate, and a very considerable number of people have to go to Wilton Park. The same applies to Middleton and Teesdale. There are probably 12 to 15 cases of local journeys which will be made much more tedious at the very least by bus, even where the bus service is possible, and in some cases it will not be possible. The closures will cause unemployment, and what the Minister will be doing by approving the closures will be adding substantially to the length of working day of a considerable number of people and an increase in their costs.

In fact he will be depressing the standard of living of a good many of my constituents by not taking positive action to keep the line open. I have always thought that the Bishop Auckland and Crook business people had a legitimate case for a special express train, as is the case with Darlington, leaving for London in the morning and coming back again at night. This is going a very long way and is looking forward to the sort of integration of transport policy which the Labour Party would like to carry out.

There is considerable feeling in my constituency and in neighbouring constituencies about these closures. This is completely non political. At the public meeting at Barnard Castle Parish Hall I was asked to represent the Startforth Rural District Council, Barnard Castle Urban District and Barnard Castle Rural District Councils. They agree absolutely with the arguments which I am now putting forward and none of those councils is Labour controlled. There was also a public meeting at Barnard Castle which was specially organised and which was one of the best attended meetings ever to be held there. I was asked to address it, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I had no hand in organising it. The Bishop Auckland Town Hall was practically full for the Bishop Auckland hearing. All the local authorities put forward a variety of objections and the social organisations, women's institutes, religious bodies, sporting clubs and so on made strenuous representations, as did many individuals. This degree of representation must have been supported by many people who could not get to the hearing because, of course, they had to go to work.

I conclude by referring to what is a fairly common form of hardship which runs throughout railway closures and particularly these. There will be considerable difficulties for children travelling to private schools. Contract bus services will be provided for children going to State schools, but even then there will be hardship. There will also be difficulties for holiday visitors to Teesdale and many emigrés, if I may call them that, coming to visit sons and daughters, or sons and daughters visiting parents, who, if the line is shut, will have great difficulty getting from Darlington into Teesdale and Weardale. There are the special categories of old people, people visiting hospitals, people with prams wanting to travel by train, women's institute visits, which are likely to be cut off, Barnard Castle public school boys coming and going at the end and beginning of school holidays.

The Hailsham Report refers to the development of tourist facilities in areas like Teesdale. Teesdale is not specifically quoted, but paragraph 107 of the Report says that as modernisation gets under way in the region's communications, public services and amenities, more money will come in from tourists. It looks as though the exact opposite will happen in Teesdale.

The cost of road development and ancillary development of buses, shelters and so on, will be of an order which will put the saving to the railways in the shadows. I will quote only the examples of the Newton Ap Book road into Bishop Auckland via Shildon and Redworth and Heighington, where two double-decker buses could hardly pass, and almost the whole of the Teesdale road, which is too narrow for a bus service.

The social cost of closing these lines will be out of all proportion to the relatively small savings that the railways will make. I hope most sincerely that the Minister of Transport will not add to the catalogue of complaints against the Government for their neglect of this part of the country.

11.45 p.m.

Photo of Sir Timothy Kitson Sir Timothy Kitson , Richmond (Yorks)

I support what the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Boyden) said about the railway line to Barnard Castle. This line serves many of my constituents, and, like the hon. Gentleman, I made representations to the T.U.C.C. meeting at Barnard Castle. Since that meeting there has been a deterioration in the bus services. I have sent the figures to the Minister, and I hope that he will consider them carefully when he is looking at the possibility of keeping this line going.

My second reason for supporting the hon. Gentleman is that this is very much a residential area for Tees-side, and if the railway line goes, the alternative road will prove grossly inadequate. Even during last winter, which was extremely mild, on one or two occasions the bus was unable to run. Anybody who knows the roads in this part of the country knows that trains can get through at times when buses are unable to do so.

We are trying to encourage people to come and live in what is essentially a residential commuter area for Tees-side and Darlington. It would be a detrimental step for the dales if the Barnard Castle-Darlington line were closed. I hope that my hon. Friend will look carefully at the bus services which it is proposed to use as an alternative, because they are not sufficient to meet the needs of the area.

11.46 p.m.

Photo of Hon. Thomas Galbraith Hon. Thomas Galbraith , Glasgow Hillhead

I was glad to hear the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Boyden) say that he was regarding this matter as non-political. I was a little worried at one stage when he referred to an integrated transport system. I am afraid that that is really a pipe-dream which he is unlikely to be able to fulfil, because I am certain that his party will not win the next election.

Tonight's debate is not a political debate at all. It is the second stage in the discussion which the hon. Gentleman had with me about the future of these two lines in his constituency following a Question which he first asked on 6th May. At that time I did my best to answer him, but, unfortunately, he was not at all satisfied and because of that we are having this debate tonight. I do not know whether he is going to be much more; satisfied tonight, because I shall not be able to tell him much more than I did on that occasion when he told me that he did not think that my Answer was satisfactory.

The reason why I cannot tell him any more is that, as both he and my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Kitson) know, the case is sub judice, so I cannot comment on the merits of many of the points which have been raised. I am sure that they both appreciate this, and indeed it may well be that this matter was raised tonight less as a means of getting any answer than as an opportunity for underlining the various objections to the closures which were made at the T.U.C.C. hearing, or which have been represented to my right hon. Friend since then, for example, representations from the various local authorities.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the history of the matter is that the Railways Board published these two proposals in the normal way last year, first to close the rail passenger service from Middleton-in-Teesdale via Barnard Castle to Darlington, and, secondly, the line from Crook via Bishop Auckland, also to Darlington. When these proposals were made, an objection was lodged—in fact, several objections were lodged—and this brought into operation the procedure laid down in the 1962 Act to protect the interests of passengers. The hon. Gentleman has been trying to do that, but the procedure is laid down in the 1962 Act whereby, if there are objections, a closure cannot take place without both an inquiry before the T.U.C.C, and the consent of my right hon. Friend.

The T.U.C.C. has considered these objections and has reported to my right hon. Friend. The hon. Gentleman knows about this because he represented his constituents at both hearings. Indeed, I am not sure that I should not say at all three hearings because, as he said, the T.U.C.C. held a second hearing on the Bishop Auckland line after new proposals for alternative services had been put forward. At the Barnard Castle hearing the hon. Member had the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks, and at both the Bishop Auckland ones of the hon. Member for Durham, North-West (Mr. Ainsley). I know the interest which the three hon. Members have in the proposal, and I am glad to see two of them here tonight—one on each side, which shows that this is a non-party matter. I must apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Mr. Bourne-Arton) for not noticing that he, too, is present.

As all hon. Members know, these lines both run into Darlington from the west. They both carry commuters and school children, not only into Darlington but also to intermediate points. They are, however, in many ways very different. The southern line runs through a predominantly rural area to Barnard Castle, which is a small market town and a centre for school children from further up the valley. Then it goes up Teesdale to Middleton, which is a centre for visitors to an area of great attractions, that include High Force and other beauty spots. Approximately 500 journeys are made on this line each weekday, mainly by commuters and school children to and from either Barnard Castle or Darlington. That is the character of the southern line.

The more northerly line runs from Darlington past the south-western corner of Aycliffe Trading Estate to Shildon, with its large railway workshops. Beyond there it passes through Bishop Auckland, which is a centre for the South-West Durham mining areas. Then it goes to Crook, which itself serves as a railhead for other mining towns. such as Tow Law. On this line about 3,600 journeys are made each day, mainly by workers into Bishop Auckland, Shildon, the Aycliffe Trading Estate and Darlington. Though the towns and villages which these two lines serve are very different—as is the volume of traffic; 500 on one and 3,600 on the other—both lines have one thing in common: they carry people from areas of high unemployment to work in the growth area of Darlington—Aycliffe and on Tees-side. The bulk of each line lies through areas just outside the growth zone of the North-East, but the northern line lies wholly within the development district area.

As this is a special area, with special problems, as the House knows, these problems were fully considered last year, under the aegis of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education, who was then Lord President of the Council with special responsibilities for the North-East. I cannot agree with the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland that the Government had given scant attention to the problems of the North-East. They have given very careful attention to those problems. Those who are concerned with the preparation of the North-East Study were aware of the closure proposals which were put forward by the Railways Board.

Photo of Mr James Boyden Mr James Boyden , Bishop Auckland

For the record, I said that scant attention had been paid by the Government to South-West Durham. The hon. Gentleman may not agree, but that is what I said.

Photo of Hon. Thomas Galbraith Hon. Thomas Galbraith , Glasgow Hillhead

I do not agree that the Government gave scant attention to anything. This part of the world received a great deal of attention.

The hon. Member referred to the Report on the North-East, and quoted from it. I also want to quote from paragraph 66, which says: The Minister of Transport has arranged to take account of the local travel implications of the region's development needs when any railway service closure proposal comes before him for decision. This is what we are doing in this area and it is what we do everywhere. There is nothing new about it.

A good example is the two Highland lines which my right hon. Friend decided should stay open although there was a very compelling financial ground for closing them. He did not close them because there were other considerations to be taken into account. That is a matter which I should like to go into the minds of the hon. Member and my hon. Friend.

So much for the history of the case. The position now is that these two proposals are before my right hon. Friend and he is considering them in the light of all the relevant factors. In the exchange which we had at Questions, the hon. Member suggested that my right hon. Friend was, to use his own word, "pondering" the matter at undue length. I think that an unfair interpretation. If my right hon. Friend came to a decision quickly and if it was a decision which the hon. Member disapproved of, he might legitimately criticise my right hon. Friend for giving the matter insufficient attention. When my right hon. Friend does give his decision—and I cannot say what it will be—he will have reached it only after laborious and exhaustive study of the many conflicting considerations involved. It is because of this that time has to be taken. Of these considerations which my right hon. Friend has to balance, the report of the T.U.C.C. is one of the most important. The T.U.C.C. has considered what the effect of the closure would be on the traveller, how he will be able to get about without a railway, how long it will take and what it will cost. All these matters are vital to passengers, not the wider financial and economic considerations, although this is often suggested as something which the T.U.C.C. has to consider; but its function is to consider hardship.

In these two cases the T.U.C.C. found that the withdrawal of the Bishop Auckland service would cause serious hardship to the large body of passengers who use the trains to travel to and from work and that the proposed additional bus services, while effecting material improvements in the road services, would not eradicate the hardship. With regard to the closure of the Barnard Castle service, it found this would also cause hardship in varying degrees to users of the service. It concluded that additional bus services would only partially relieve the hardship. So the advice of the T.U.C.C. is that the present alternatives would not relieve hardship.

My right hon. Friend, however, is not content with the report on hardship. He has also had a report in each case on the effect which the proposed closure would have on the roads and the traffic on them. This is an important consideration and it is sometimes sufficient to prevent a closure to which my right hon. Friend might otherwise have agreed. For example, it was the condition of the roads which resulted in the Alston-Halt-whistle line being kept open. I mention this because it is so often said that the whole procedure is a farce and that the decision is a foregone conclusion. Nothing could be further from the truth and the Minister does not work in these important matters on his own. In reviewing the wider social and economic considerations he has the help of his colleagues. Here my right hon. Friend has the help and views of the Secretary of State for Industry, Trade and Regional Development and also of the Minister of Housing and Local Government and the Minister of Labour. These questions are not decided just by the Minister of Transport rubber stamping Dr. Beech-ing's proposals, as the hon. Member suggested without a grain of truth, but they represent a considered judgment of all the Ministers concerned.

In the light of all the information which becomes available to my right hon. Friend, he reaches a decision on a much wider view than that of the Railways Board, which has a statutory duty to cover costs and operate with efficiency, or with that of the T.U.C.C.'s who are concerned only with hardship. The fact that my right hon. Friend is able to deal with these matters on a much wider scale will, I hope, bring some satisfaction to the hon. Member and his constituents. I am afraid that in the time available I cannot deal with details which the hon. Member referred to about times and fares, or the weather conditions and holiday resorts questions raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks. They are the sort of factors which my right hon. Friend will be considering when he makes a decision. All the facts which have been brought forward tonight have been brought to the attention of my right hon. Friend through the T.U.C.C. and the various representations will be borne in mind.

The Question having been proposed after Ten o'clock on Monday evening and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at one minute past Twelve o'clock.