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British Railways Bill (By Order)

Volume 986: debated on Wednesday 18 June 1980

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Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I inform the House that Mr. Speaker has not selected the instruction in the name of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Osborn).

7.24 pm

The Bill was introduced in January, but because of a number of objections, it has come to us at this late stage. However, I am happy to tell the House that almost all the objections have now been resolved. I hope to deal later with those which still exist.

It has always been the custom in discussions of general purpose Bills for hon. Members, if they wish, to raise matters relating to the railway system. The Bill comes at an important time in the development of British Rail. We have already seen a great deal of new investment in rolling stock and permanent way, and we are delighted that the service is improving its time-keeping quite dramatically.

Although the general output per man in the industry is good compared with our European competitors, unfortunately we are very near the bottom of the league in the freight sector; and so is the railwayman in the amount of pay that he takes out of the business. However, provided that we can continue to improve efficiency and use the existing facilities to the best possible effect, it is to be hoped this can be changed. The Bill goes a long way towards achieving that end.

The Bill is long and is divided into seven distinct parts. Part I is comparatively simple, and I shall not dwell on it. It is merely a definition of the terms used and an incorporation of various Acts of Parliament affected by the Bill.

Part II deals with the major works proposed. A number of these are not contentious. Nevertheless, others have perhaps correctly created a certain amount of concern among those living in the areas affected.

Work No. 1 is designed to increase the line capacity of the route to Brighton. This is all part of the improvment in time-keeping and speed on various routes throughout the country. In order to do this, it is necessary to build a spur line which will divert traffic from London to Coulsdon North over the Tattenham Corner branch line. The board already owns the land. I do not think that this is a matter for contention.

Works Nos. 2 and 3 again deal with the Brighton development and are concerned with resignalling for this piece of track.

I turn now to work No. 5 which has concerned a number of hon. Members. It is the work to which my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Osborn) has referred in his instruction. I understand that the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Crowther) may wish to say something about that matter, too.

At this stage I should like to set out the situation as it is, and I shall try, if I have the leave of the House, to reply at the end of the debate.

Work No. 5 is designed to benefit the travelling public between Doncaster and Sheffield. Sheffield is a city which I frequently visit. It is not as well served by railways as might be imagined from the fact that it is in the centre of the country. Unfortunately, even though I am a strong supporter of British Rail, I tend to use my car when I go to Sheffield.

The station for Rotherham is Masbrough, which is outside the centre of Rotherham. As a result, it has meant that many people who might use the rail service have been tempted not to do so because of the inconvenience of a five-minute walk to get there.

It is proposed to build a short piece of track that will be known as Holmes Chord, which will make it possible to link the existing line with Rotherham Central—which will be re-opened, it having been closed in 1966. The building of that piece of track inevitably means that there will be a large amount of local upheaval. A number of businesses, including British Steel, are concerned about the effect of that upheaval, and others are concerned about the dislocation of traffic. It is a finely balanced judgment as to whether Holmes Chord should be built.

British Rail operates in that area on behalf of the South Yorkshire PTE and is obligated to do all that it can to help. To travel on that piece of track from Rotherham Masbrough to Sheffield takes eight minutes. If we travelled on the next door railway track, presently reserved for freight—the great central line—it would take 14½ minutes. If that were improved, the time could be reduced to about 12½ minutes. Nevertheless, the South Yorkshire PTE has decided that work should go ahead, and the Bill makes provision for that.

I realise that hon. Members who represent that part of the country may wish to ask more detailed questions. But today we are making provision for the Holmes Chord project to go ahead. The matter can be discussed further in Committee, and no doubt it will be.

Work No. 6 is in the Birmingham area, and is to be carried out at the request of the West Midlands PTE, which is seeking powers for the reinstatement of a disused line to improve passenger services between Kidderminster and Dorridge, via Snow Hill. I do not think that that is contentious.

Works Nos. 7 to 9 are worthy of some remark. They are a further step towards the final electrification of Southern region. As a result of the need to make improvements to lines in the area of Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells, certain plans have been put forward to enable wagons and cars to go under the bridge. That will entail a major rebuilding job. However, contrary to the proposals in the Bill, as a result of technical studies it has become possible to delete work Nos. 7 and 8. I am advised that in Committee permission may be sought to delete Nos. 7 and 8, but to continue with No. 9, which is needed in the tunnel at Tunbridge Wells Central because of the new vehicles that will pass through.

I am delighted to welcome work No. 10, which affects the journey to my constituency of New Forest. The work is necessary because of the board's determination to maintain a line speed of 90 miles per hour between Waterloo and Bournemouth. The electrification of that line has made a tremendous difference to all who use it. In an aside, may I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to do all that he can to ensure that we press ahead with electrification throughout Britain. That must be a more sensible way of using fuel. As I tried to point out to the House last night, if we use more electricity it would have the advantage of helping the coal industry, which requires its demand to be stepped up.

Work No. 10 makes it possible for regular engineering works to take place on the line between Basingstoke and Southampton. To do that, we must divert some freight business through Salisbury which, in turn, means that some alteration will be required in the Salisbury area. Work No. 9 is designed to undertake such alteration on the Salisbury curve, so that the freight trains could use that line while passenger trains could continue to the South-West by the fastest route. I wish that work every possible success and speed. That is all that I wish to say about part II of the Bill.

Part III deals with land and its acquisition where it is required, and also with the temporary possession of land where it is required for the works to which I have referred. To some extent, part III is consequential.

Part IV deals with another contentious matter, and affects an area near to my constituency. It deals with the plans by Sealink (UK)—a wholly-owned subsidiary of British Rail—for improvement to the Isle of Wight ferry service, which arrives at the Isle of Wight in Wootton Creek at Fishbourne. I recognise that there is a great deal of local feeling on that matter. The hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) wrote to me explaining that he could not take part in the debate tonight because of parliamentary duties elsewhere. He asked me if I could deal with some of the points raised by his constituents, and I am happy to do so. I know the Isle of Wight extremely well. It is a favoured holiday haunt for many people. The present position is unsatisfactory. There is a good deal of illegal parking, a long backlog of people wanting to board a vessel returning to the mainland, and the facilities that exist are wholly inadequate.

I wish to point out to the local residents of Fishbourne, who feel, not surprisingly, that any extension of the services would be detrimental to them, that if nothing were done the jammed roads and the other problems to which I have referred could only become worse. There is a petition from some of the constituents of the hon. Member for Isle of Wight. I say to those who do not wish to see any alteration in the service that that would be detrimental to those living in Fishbourne.

A second petition relates to the activities of British Rail in Fishbourne when it undertakes development. The petitioners are concerned that, British Rail having undertaken the development, dangers could arise in the area of the jetty. As a result, the petitioners have asked that a maximum speed limit of five knots be imposed, and that only one vessel be allowed to tie up at the outer dolphin at any one time. British Rail is concerned about all safety aspects of the operation of its ferry services. It has taken advice on those two specific points. A survey is currently taking place by the Hydraulics Research Station. If it finds that there is any danger either to the banks or to the bed of the area, or in any other way, and recommends that the speed limit should be restricted to a certain figure, Sealink would be happy to accept that recommendation.

On the question of not more than one vessel tying up at one time, Sealink has already discussed the matter at length with the harbour master, who is ultimately responsible for safety within his harbour. He is convinced that, given good seamanship—which is always implied in any dealings of that sort—there is no danger. I think that on those two recommendations we should be satisfied that the safety elements have been taken care of.

There is every advantage in the new plans because they will have the effect of larger and therefore, it is hoped, fewer craft coming into Fishbourne. It will mean no backlog building up which can be extremely difficult in the holiday season with people sleeping in their cars. It will mean much better facilities for the passengers who use that point of entry to the island. In all respects, therefore, I regard the Fishbourne scheme as most helpful and thoroughly appropriate to the needs of the island.

Other parts of the Bill cover many detailed points, some of which may be better dealt with in Committee. I know that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) has raised the matter of clause 69 and the extension of British Rail's police powers. Further to my comments about Sealink, it is essential to have proper policing of the services and of British Rail's subsidiaries, just as it is necesary to be able to deal with any outbursts of hooliganism on soccer trains.

This general purposes Bill covers a number of important points and is part and parcel of the steady determination of the Board to improve its system. If hon. Members have any detailed points that I have not covered I shall, with the leave of the House, do my best to deal with them at the end of the debate.

7.42 pm

I shall occupy the time of the House for a very short period on two aspects of the Bill in the proposal described as work No. 5, which have caused some concern to my constituents. As the hon. Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) said, the scheme will undoubtedly improve rail facilities in my constituency, and that is laudable. However, the way in which the matter is being handled has caused some concern.

One part of the scheme involves constructing 912 metres of new track linking the old LNER and LMS lines so that Central station, currently closed, can be reopened. Unfortunately, that takes quite a large piece of land out of the site of a company called Slag Reduction Limited, and it is worried about whether it will be able to remain in business on that site.

The company converts steelworks' slag into road building material, and that is not the sort of operation that can be located just anywhere. It must be remote from residential areas, and it is unlikely that any alternative site can be found for it if it has to be removed from its present location. That has naturally caused a good deal of worry. About 30 to 40 jobs are involved. The only plan in existence until a few days ago showed an area that was liable to be acquired. If the whole of that area were acquired, there is litle doubt that the company would have to go out of business on that site.

The other matter that has caused some anxiety among several firms in the area is the fact that the new line will cross a road by means of a level crossing. The road is used by 1,200 lorries a day, I am told. It is intended to run a minimum of three trains an hour in each direction, but possibly more. There is a good deal of concern that the congestion caused by the frequent closing of the level crossing gates will result in great difficulties of access to the premises of these firms.

Fortunately, within the last two or three days the picture has appeared to be not quite as black as it was. On the first matter, as recently as last week British Rail finally decided where to locate the line. It appears that it will be in a position that will make it possible for Slag Reduction Limited to continue operating from its present site. The company will have to move its plant around, but its consulting engineer told me yesterday that it might prove possible for the company to stay where it is.

I was told by a British Rail representative only this afternoon that so efficient will be the operation of the level crossing gates that the road will have to be closed for only one minute and 40 seconds each time a train passes. I shall believe that when I see it. If they are right, however, the maximum period of closure in an hour will be 12 minutes. If British Rail is willing, as I believe it is, to construct some kind of waiting area alongside the road for lorries that have been held up by the crossing gates, that might prove a solution to the problem.

The position therefore does not appear to be as black as it did. However, I am not happy about the way in which British Rail has handled this business from the time that it first produced the Bill. It has been less co-operative and helpful in dealing with people with genuine problems than it might have been. It was only a few days ago that British Rail finally decided where it would put the line. That was only a matter of days before the Bill was due to have its Second Reading. Indeed, the Bill would have come up for Second Reading before British Rail had decided on the location of the line if hon. Members had not initially opposed the Second Reading. If this had been a planning application, rather than a Private Bill, in the days when I was the chairman of the planning committee in Rotherham, we should have thrown it out and told British Rail to do its homework properly before making proposals. It is unfair for people to be kept in doubt as they have been.

The consulting engineer for Slag Reduction Limited told me yesterday that he had been trying since January to arrange a meeting with British Rail at engineering level. Even now he has not had an opportunity to discuss the matter with its engineers. That is unhelpful and does not enhance British Rail's image.

I shall not oppose the Bill, but I hope that the Committee will satisfy itself that the assurances that have been given verbally will be carried out, so that those who have genuine and sincere worries may have them set at rest.

7.47 pm

Work No. 5 concerns the constituency of the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Crowther), and I may therefore be asked what my interest is. The whole scheme is important for South Yorkshire, and I am a Member for a constituency in one district of South Yorkshire. As the hon. Member for Rotherham knows, many of the managers of the firms concerned—British Oxygen, Slag Reduction Limited and Booth—live in my constituency, which is at the west end of the area that we are discussing. They had doubts whether any Labour Member would feel inclined to speak against the decisions of Labour-controlled district councils, passenger transport authorities and, above all, the Labour-controlled South Yorkshire county council. If I had known that the hon. Member for Rotherham was going to make the speech he did I might have left him to table the instruction and not intervened myself.

I am disappointed that you have decided, Mr. Deputy Speaker, not to select the instruction for debate. I am certain that there will be even greater disappointment among those who asked me to pursue the matter. There is, however, a petition. If, as I am assured is the case, the Bill goes to an opposed Bill Committee, and if the points that the hon. Member for Rotherham has made so lucidly are considered there, I am quite certain that those who put their case to me will be consoled.

The hon. Member for Rotherham pointed out explicitly that Slag Reduction would be cut by half, and that sites for the slag after it had been processed would not be available, as my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) also recognised. There has been land use and transportation study which was welcomed by hon. Members representing constituencies in South Yorkshire and Rotherham. A structure plan has been formulated and seminars have been held. Undoubtedly, the concepts of improving rail links, and of dovetailing rail services with bus services between Don-caster, Rotherham and Sheffield have been accepted by all concerned.

The Sheffield-Doncaster corridor is part of a package of improvements. I discussed them with a representative of the Passenger Transport Executive before Whitsun and again today. But reorganisation will take place. Conservative councillors on the South Yorkshire county council supported the decision of their officials. Councillor Pinder, who was involved in the matter, is chairman of my constituency association. Councillor Pat-nick is leader of the Conservative group of the South Yorkshire county council. I ask them and Councillor Arnold to bear in mind the strictures of the Secretary of State for the Environment that every aspect of capital investment must be scrutinised. I hope that they understand that, and I hope that the Select Committee will scrutinise the scheme.

When he considers priorities of expenditure for passenger transport the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport should bear in mind that the citizens of Sheffield and Rotherham would like a high-speed train service between Sheffield and London, comparable to the service from Leeds, York and Manchester to London. He should take the advice of the citizens of Sheffield and Rotherham on the extent to which they would prefer a fast inter-city link to new local services.

The Bill is promoted by the British Railways Board. The concept is that of the Passenger Transport Executive, but the plan, which is part of the transport development plan, does not show that the cost of the work can be justified on a social or economic basis.

I have with me a map that shows that there will be a new station at Denby— and a new curve between Mexborough and Swinton, as well as a new station in Rotherham. Some estimates put the cost of the new link at Rotherham— called Holmes Chord—at between £800,000 and £900,000. But the cost of the removal of the station must also be taken into account. I hope that the Secretary of State for the Environment and the Minister of Transport will be satisfied that this is justified.

There are practical difficulties concerning Slag Reduction and the use of Brims-worth Street during construction, to which the hon. Member for Rotherham referred. The board is now seeking powers of temporary stopping-up during construction. That power is limited, but it could impede normal working. Another crucial factor is the frequency of trains over the level crossing. There is no guarantee that the frequency will be limited, particularly if the scheme is a success. Brimsworth Street is an access road for four large works and it is heavily used by large vehicles. Assurances must be given that there will be no stoppage of work.

I do not understand what is proposed. What area of land will be used, particularly if double track is constructed? We now know that it will be a single track, but is that wise? I have constantly had to persuade objectors to the scheme that if some of British Rail or British Steel's land was made available to Slag Reduction there could be a compromise. As yet, there has been no discussions on the matter, so why should a Bill of this type—a blank cheque—go through the House without adequate safeguards?

A statement of expenses has been deposited under standing orders, but we have no idea of the cost of the scheme and whether it will be cost-effective. We must decide on the value of the improvement, and we must compare the benefits with the disadvantages. If this concept has been studied and approved, provided it is cost-effective, and is not given priority over other matters, provided we know the extent to which the Government will have to contribute as part of the transport grant, and provided the interests of the objectors are examined, I do not object to the scheme.

I merely wish to put down a marker so that the questions can be examined by the Select Committee and adequate answers given. If those answers are not given, I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest will realise that we shall table amendments on Report. I seek assurance that the Select Committtee will deal with the reservations of the objectors and with the concern of the ratepayers in the South Yorkshire area.

7.57 pm

I refer to the proposals in part IV of the Bill which confer powers on Sealink United Kingdom Limited to construct an extension of its existing Fishbourne terminal at Wootton Creek on the Isle of Wight. I wish to refer to the effects of those proposals on the area, and on the Isle of Wight generally.

I have indicated my interest in the matter to the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross), who is at present abroad on parliamentary business. My interest stems from the fact that I used to live on the Isle of Wight, and I have maintained strong family links with the island. My father had a business in Fishbourne Lane, the road that would be most affected by the proposals. As a result of the proposals, the character of Fisbourne would be dramatically, detrimentally and irretrievably affected. Existing British Rail vehicles disgorge vehicles into Fishbourne Lane regularly, but Fishbourne maintains a rural character with its charming cottages and well-kept gardens. Fishbourne Lane terminates in a cul-de-sac, which provides a village green atmosphere enhanced by the local pub, the Fishbourne Inn.

British Rail's plan will destroy for all time that rural character of the village of Fishbourne. The proposed new jetty and the loading ramp that is referred to in clause 40 will be built adjacent to people's properties, and it will hardly enhance their views. It is bound to provide noise, nuisance and other inconvenience from the vehicles using the jetty almost non-stop throughout the day.

The proposed dredging of Wootton Creek, which is referred to in clause 42, will require about 78,000 cubic metres of material to be dredged to accommodate the deeper draught of the larger ferries that are provided for in British Rail's plans. That in itself arouses fears of erosion of the waterside frontages of the properties overlooking the creek. There is also fear about the effect of the wash resulting from the larger ferries, bearing in mind that they are proposed to be 250 ft. long compared with the 180 ft. ferries now using the creek. That has aroused the fears that are referred to in the petition mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson).

I am pleased that Sealink is to undertake a survey and has pledged itself to introduce a speed limit if that proves necessary. British Rail's plans will have their greatest effect on Fishbourne Lane—namely, the B331. That road is barely able to cope with existing traffic. It is used by 150 vehicles an hour. It takes about 25 minutes to clear the queues of vehicles using the ferry from the end of Fishbourne Lane. It is not wide enough in its present form to deal adequately with the nature of the traffic, which includes long trailers and caravans. It clearly requires to be widened with the introduction of the new ferries proposed by British Rail. However, there is no provision in the Bill for the widening of Fishbourne Lane.

The greatest bottleneck of all will occur where Fishbourne Lane meets the A3054, the main Ryde to Newport road. The two roads form a T-junction. It requires a filter lane for traffic coming from Ryde, from the East, and aiming to get to the ferry. A system of traffic lights, or perhaps a roundabout, will be required at the junction to accommodate the increased traffic that British Rail's plans will incur. However, neither traffic lights nor a roundabout are included in the county council's estimates for the next five years.

Many of the residents who live in Fishbourne Lane are professional people—for example, doctors. They require easy access to their homes. They cannot contemplate the delay that would result in gaining access as a result of the inevitable queues that would build up outside their homes. They may be forced to leave their homes.

Another bottleneck occurs further down the road about a mile to the east in Wootton High Street. It is caused by traffic on the way to Ryde, Sandown and Shanldin. The extra traffic generated by British Rail's plans will undoubtedly add to the congestion, to the detriment of local residents and the character of Wootton village. Again, no estimates are included in the county structure plan to cope with the extra traffic and the increased congestion. Local people are asking who will pay for the extra cost of the road improvements that are required to cope with British Rail's plans. The local people are already under pressure in trying to provide sufficient money to ensure that there are adequate social services to cope with the elderly who have chosen to retire to the Isle of Wight.

The local people are also asking why it is necessary to develop a further ferry route, as British Rail proposes, to Fishbourne when there already exist two good ferry routes from Lymington to Yarmouth and from Cowes to Southampton. They say that it is a proposal that threatens to transform a rural village into a busy port, especially when the county council spent a great deal of money a few years ago on providing better roads to service the East Cowes ferry.

It is suggested by some that British Rail wants to avoid renewing its lease on Ryde pier. British Rail provides a passenger service from Ryde to Portsmouth. It will shortly be required to renew the pier pilings. It is suggested that it will avoid that requirement by developing the Fishbourne route.

If British Rail is to discontinue the use of Ryde pier, that will undoubtedly mean the end of the railway service from Ryde to Sandown and Shanklin, which is of great social and tourist importance to the Isle of Wight. The coaches that now meet passengers at Ryde pier will go to Fishbourne and add to the congestion that I have described

I hope that I have adequately voiced the fears expressed to me by island people about the British Rail's plans that are contained in the Bill. I hope that the consequences of its plans will be properly scrutinised in Committee.

8.7 pm

I rise briefly to acknowledge the contribution of the hon. Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson). The hon. Gentleman said that I inquired about schedule 6, which includes powers being extended to provide for the right of arrest without warrant. He rightly said that concern about football hooliganism is such that suitable powers should be provided to deal adequately with the prob- lem. With my background as a seaman. I am more concerned about those who use the dock area as a means of access to their occupation—namely, seafarers. Therefore, any extension of powers in that area concerns me. I am glad to say that I have been satisfied by the authorities that are involved with the Bill : I have been reassured that we are talking only of an extension into an area that was omitted in previous legislation when Sea-link was made a separate company.

There is growing concern about the restrictions laid on level crossings. I can understand the difficulties experienced by British Rail in having to man a considerable number of crossings. There is a stretch of railway in my area that runs to Bridlington and that has more crossings than any other line. That makes it extremely difficult to retain and to operate economically. Thankfully, British Rail is managing to do so.

The Bill proposes to close no fewer than 17 level crossings from about 8 o'clock in the evening to about 8 o'clock in the morning. I hope that the hon. Member for New Forest will indicate whether any protests have been received. In some instances there is little traffic passing over a crossing during the day, quite apart from at night. Does it make sense to close such crossings? We read in the Bill about a new crossing over which about 1,200 lorries will pass in a day. It is clear that a great range of usage is involved. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will indicate whether protests have been received and whether there is still protest about the restriction of access, especially to road vehicles.

I come from the Humberside area, and I have received no protest from the authority that is concerned, or from any of the districts that are directly involved. If the Minister intends to intervene, I hope that he will indicate whether he is satisfied that an undue restriction is not being imposed. As I have said, I understand the economic reasons.

I hope that the House will forgive me for not resisting the temptation to make the following comments. First, I welcome the Bill. It seeks to expand a section of rail, and anything that expands rail development I welcome. We are branching out into a new line, a new station and a new level crossing. More people will use the service. Any area that manages to increase rail traffic is to be congratulated. As is usual in such expansion, there is also an expansion in road transport. The infamous South Yorkshire authority is expanding in this way. It is the only authority that is expanding into road traffic, and now it is branching out into rail traffic. Those interested in transport systems might find that there is a lesson to be learnt. The Private Bill contains an essential point, namely the expansion of transport in South Yorkshire. I am glad to say, that the Labour Party is devoted to a comprehensive transport system.

8.10 pm

The House will be relieved to know that I have not been provoked into making a political speech. I shall intervene briefly, because this Bill is essentially a Private Bill. Any detailed points will be answered by my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson), in his usual expert way, as he is the sponsor.

I agree with the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott). At this stage, the Government are happy to support the Bill and to commend it to the House. We suggest that it should be given a Second Reading so that anxieties can be considered in Committee. However, we support the main objective, namely, to make worthwhile improvements to rail traffic in various parts of the country. I am sure that the House would like the points that have been raised to be considered seriously in Committee. The Committee is under a heavy obligation to weigh up the issue carefully before any decision is made as to whether the proposed works should go ahead.

I listened carefully to the speeches made by the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Crowther) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Osborn). I was concerned about the proposed works in Rotherham. On the face of it, those works would appear to be worth while. They will improve the standard of passenger service in Rotherham. However, while listening to those speeches I could not help contrasting the procedures involved in a Private Bill with those that would be involved if a new road were being contemplated through the middle of Rotherham. We long ago abandoned the idea of promoting roads by means of Private Bills. Technically, a local authority can still try to avoid the more cumbersome procedures of road promotion by bringing forward a Private Bill. I do not wish to commit myself, but I do not think that the Government would look with favour on any local authority that tried to promote a controversial road scheme in that way. If a new stretch of road through Rotherham were proposed, there would be full public consultation. The plans would then be published in detail, and objections would be invited. If objections were forthcoming, a public inquiry would be set up. Only on the report of an independent inspector would the Minister go on to decide whether to build that road.

It is right that the House should look upon British Rail with favour. In the knowledge that most hon. Members are anxious to promote rail traffic, British Raid used the procedure of a Private Bill. I understood that Second Reading and the Committee stage are a substitute for the road planning process. British Rail is being given planning permission, consent, and statutory powers to go ahead with the works. I hope that I have not misunderstood the hon. Member for Rotherham. However, I understand that a week ago there was some uncertainty about where the line would go. I was concerned to hear about the problems of a small firm whose continued existence may be placed in jeopardy by the line. Such a situation would have given rise to serious consideration if a road scheme had been involved.

We do not wish to promote road schemes aimed at helping industry, only to find that we are putting firms that are in the path of that road out of business. I therefore hope that the Committee will consider those objections with care. I hope that those who have pettioned against the Bill will be treated with the same care and objectivity that is given when any engineering work in the public good intrudes on private interests.

The same points are relevant to the Isle of Wight. I listened carefully to the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson). I know that the issue is controversial on the Isle of Wight. However, it is an issue that the Committee should consider. There are great advantages in improving the service to the Isle of Wight and in avoiding many of the delays that are involved in getting on and off the ferry. However, I trust that those in Fishbourne who are concerned about the effect of the developments proposed will be listened to carefully by the Committee. The House will benefit from their objective advice.

I was invited to respond on the subject of level crossings. Economies can be made in the case of manned level crossings. I imagine that the crossings involved are manned crossings, as they are closed for several hours when there is a minimum amount of road traffic in the area. With the Government's full support, British Rail hopes to spread the use of the type of automatic level crossings that are activated by rail traffic. That represents a great cost-saving. Such systems have a better safety record than manned level crossings. They avoid the problem of delays to road traffic and they also avoid the need to economise on the cost of manned level crossings. I am sure that that will prove to be the answer for most level crossings.

This is a Private Bill and will be considered in Committee. I await with interest the response of my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, on behalf of British Rail. The House will agree that, although there is serious concern about the local implications of the Bill, its overall aim is highly desirable. No one wishes to inhibit the better development of rail services. I trust that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading.

8.16 pm

I should like to deal with the points that have been raised. I turn first to the points raised by the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Crowther) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Osborn). Unfortunately, my hon. Friend has told me that he has had to go to another engagement.

On behalf of the board, I am empowered to say that the problem facing the board about Holmes Chord is that a substantial interest is involved, because some businesses will be affected by the works. Much of the original plan was therefore made in outline form. Now that the details are being thrashed out, it is possible to set up a meeting. The hon. Member for Rotherham knows that Slag Reduction Ltd. is meeting the board later this month. It is hoped that firms affected will also have meetings with the engineers, so that those problems can be dealt with before the works go ahead.

British Rail is conscious that, as some of the plans are in outline form, it has not been possible to give the detailed consideration sought. However, that consideration is now available. I hope that hon. Member for Rotherham will be satisfied.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson) asked about the Isle of Wight and the plans put forward by Sealink. He suggested that it might be possible to expand the Lymington ferry. Lymington used to be in my constituency. However, it was given to my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley). I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East that access roads to Lymington are inadequate. I cannot for-see that the mainland would be able to provide the facilities that exist in the Portsmouth area. It would be difficult to expand Lymington.

I have sought advice about the closure of Ryde pier. There is no foundation behind the belief that British Rail is trying to pull a fast one. The scheme is designed to take account of an increasing flow of traffic. The junction is certainly a matter for consideration by the county council. I hope that a proper solution can be found. If nothing can be done in Wootton Creek, illegal parking, and so on, will become worse. As the county council is now part of the discussions, I hope that we can ensure that that lovely part of the island is not spoilt.

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) rightly raised the question of crossings. He is right to say that many crossings are referred to in the Bill. I remind the hon. Member that the Bill was blocked at one stage by two of my hon. Friends who were protesting about the matter of crossings. My hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Best) was concerned about a crossing at a place which I shall refer to as Llanfair PG. In fact it is a good Welsh word of 20 letters, and I shall not try to pronounce it. This was an exact example of the point put forward by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East. There had been a request that the crossing should be closed between 9 pm and 8 am. This would have had a serious effect on those who normally used it. As a result of discussions with the Gwynedd county council, it has been possible to shorten the closure period to between 11 pm and 7 am. Consequently, my hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey removed his block on the Bill.

There was a similar situation at Grange-over-Sands on a crossing known as Cart Lane. In that case my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) tabled a blocking motion. Here again, as a result of local discussions, the point has been met. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East is absolutely right—the closure of crossings and alterations of lines of routes which have been established over many years, rather like rights of way, properly causes considerable local concern. The British Railways Board will always try to reach a proper accommodation with the appropriate local authority. I am grateful to the hon. Member for his comments on clause 69, and, indeed, his interpretation is quite right. With those comments on the points that have been raised, I express the hope that the House will give the Bill a Second reading.

Question put and agreed to.

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