HC Deb 13 August 1919 vol 119 cc1563-7

An appeal shall lie to the Minister in respect of any restriction upon any traffic passing over or seeking to cross any bridge or culvert, and the Minister shall have power notwithstanding any provision in any other Statute to make such Order as he may think fit concerning the strengthening, standard of maintenance, and maintenance of any bridge or culvert, the traffic using it, or seeking to use it, and apportionment of any expenditure involved.

Lords Amendment:

At the end, insert the words' but no Order made by the Minister under this Section shall enlarge the pecuniary liability of any railway or canal company or impose any new liability upon any such company.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."—[Mr. Shortt.]


I am afraid I must ask the House to consider this. It inserts a Clause unanimously rejected by the House on the Report stage. The House probably knows there are large numbers of bridges cutting through the highways of the land. Some of these bridges belong to county councils, some of them belong to railway companies, and some to canals. They have been built for ten, twenty, thirty, forty, and some 100 years. Perhaps all know, who have seen these bridges from time to time, that they are insufficient to carry vehicles over a certain weight. For years back there has been trouble between the authorities, and the difficulty was what must be done to bring them up to the necessary strength to carry roads. One hundred years ago, all roads were made for ordinary cart traffic. When the railways came on they had to build bridges to carry the roads over the railway, and I frankly admit the position of the railway companies under their Act of Parliament. They are only required to keep the bridges up to the extent of the traffic going over them when they were built. The highway authorities on each side of the bridge have improved the road to carry modern traffic, but there are hundreds of cases where the bridges over the roads are not equal to carry modern traffic. There was a case, some few years ago, where one railway company introduced a whole series of bridges passing right across the middle west to the Eastern Counties, which practically stopped the whole road traffic for nearly 100 miles. It was, I think, the Midland and South-Western, or some other, Railway, and proceedings had to be taken. Inquiries were held by the Board of Trade at Worcester, and after a good deal of litigation a compromise was arrived at. These were important, to enable traffic to get through. Board of Trade Bills have been prepared during the past ten years, which have been submitted to county authorities, railway companies, and highway authorities to get hold of agreement so as to enable the proper parties to be charged for the strengthening of the bridges. Railway companies were only required to keep the bridges as they were fifty or sixty years ago, and county authorities say, "We have made the roads. I do not know why we should make the bridges for the railway companies. "After all these years no agreement has been arrived at. I prepared this Clause 11after consultation with many of the road authorities. It is not often that I have provided more powers for the Minister-designate, but, on the Report stage, I ventured to suggest, in Clause 11,that an appeal should lie to the Minister. We wanted to find some kind of authority. He has taken over all the powers of the Board of Trade in connection with railways, and I suggested that an appeal should lie to the Minister in respect of any restriction upon any traffic passing over or seeking to cross any bridge or culvert, and that the Minister should have power, notwithstanding any provision in any other Statute, to make such Order as ho might think fit concerning the strengthening, standard of maintenance, and maintenance of any bridge or culvert, the traffic using it or seeking to use it, and apportionment of any expenditure involved.

That, I thought, was a fair Clause, which would bind the county authorities, the railway authorities, the canal authorities, or whoever owned those bridges. When I moved this Clause on the Report stage my right hon. Friend the Minister-designate was kindly complaisant. He accepted the Clause on behalf of the Government. The Clause was passed unanimously by this House, and was sent up as part of the Bill. It was of substantial value to the road authorities of this country, and would have done away with needless litigation; and we are trusting the Minister to such a great extent in his Bill that I felt that both parties to these long-standing disputes could not do better than place their case in his hands, for him to say whether such bridges required strengthening, and, if he found that they did, to decide whether the railway company or the county authority should pay, but that, at any rate, the bridge would be repaired. The Bill went to the House of Lords. I was there looking on, and I found a railway director moving this Amendment, and it was seconded by another railway director. It was carried nem. con., and it completely nullifies the provisions of the Clause. If this Amendment is adopted here, you may as well cut out Clause 11. It provides that no pecuniary liability shall be placed upon any railway company at all. In other words, if the Minister is of opinion—they do not object to the appeal to him—that a bridge has to be strengthened to carry the traffic of the present time, he may make an Order upon the road authority or anybody else who is responsible for the bridge, but he may not impose any liability upon the sacrosanct railway companies of this country. I had hoped that, after the Minister-designate had accepted this Clause, and after this House had passed it unanimously, the Government would at least have stood to their guns, and not at this late hour have allowed the railway interests in the other House completely to obliterate the really important part of this Clause. I do not know whether the Government really mean to press their intention, but I sincerely hope they will disagree with this Amendment. I frankly admit that the Clause docs impose some liability upon railway companies, but it imposes it upon the railway companies only at the same time as upon the county councils, and so forth. We shall never get the bridges repaired if railway companies continue to adopt the non possumus attitude which they have adopted in some places. In some places they have made terms with the county authorities, but in other places they have adopted this non possumus attitude, and it will still go on. Good roads come right up to the edges of the bridge, and yet the bridge will not carry the traffic which the roads will carry, I venture to ask the Minister to give a little attention to this matter, and say that the Amendment moved by the House of Lords is moved practically in favour of the moneyed interest in that House. I have made appeals in this House, and elsewhere, that the roads should not be lightly sacrificed because my right hon. Friend was more interested in railways than in roads. This is the first time we have come in conflict with the railway interest, and my right hon. Friend, by his suggestion this morning, indicates that ho is going to give way on this very first occasion to the railway interest. I ask him even, at this moment, to reconsider the position, and stand by the Clause as he accepted it in this House.


I hope the House will agree with the Lords. The hon. Baronet the Member for Twickenham speaks without any regard for the future of the railways and without realising the tremendous obligation he is proposing to place upon the shareholders. I am informed that this obligation may extend to several millions, and, with enormous charges already imposed upon the railways and the entire uncertainty with regard to their future position, it seems a mischievous thing that such a change at this hour should be made. The Bill as amended in the Standing Committee did not contain this Clause; it did not impose this obligation. The Clause was slipped into the Bill on the Report stage here, I suppose, without its nature being clearly realised.


It was on the Paper.


I do not think my hon. Friend made quite as specific a speech on the subject as he has done tonight. Is it right that a huge obligation of this kind should be placed upon the railway undertakings of this country? I venture to say that it is not at all right, and I hope that the House will agree with the Amendment.

Question put, and agreed to.

Lords Amendment:

After Clause 11 insert new Clause A.

(Provisions as to New Routes for Omnibuses.)

Section twenty of the Local Government (Emergency Provisions) Act, 1916 (which relates to the establishment of new routes for omnibuses), shall continue in force until the expiration of two years after the passing of this Act, and shall have effect as if—

(a)the following provision was substituted for Sub-section (2) of the Section (that is to say):

(2) Except as provided in Subsection (4) this Section shall not be deemed to detract from any existing powers of highway authorities in regard to omnibuses; and

(b)the following Sub-section was added to the Section (that is to say):

(4) Where, upon application for a licence to ply for hue with an omnibus, the licensing authority either refuses to grant a licence or grants a licence subject to conditions, in either case the applicant shall have a right of appeal to the Minister of Transport from the decision of the licensing authority, and the Minister shall have power to make such Order thereon as he may think fit, and such Order shall be binding upon the licensing authority.—Agreed to.