HC Deb 16 February 1920 vol 125 cc495-6

asked the Minister of Transport, whether he is yet in a position to state the policy of the Ministry as to the future ownership and administration of canals and inland waterways; whether he is aware that the revised railway rates are likely to have the effect of driving heavy and bulky traffic off the water on to the railways; and whether he will cause a further revision to be made with a view to the distribution of traffic between railways and canals in accordance with their several capacities?


I am not in a position to make any general statement as to any change in the present private ownership of canals and inland waterways, but I do not understand the hon. Member's apprehension that the recent increase in railway rates will have the effect of diverting traffic on to the railways. With a view to further consideration of the distribution of traffic between canals and railways, my right hon. Friend, the Minister of Transport, is proposing to appoint a Committee, of which he hopes the hon. Member will consent to act as Chairman, to consider what development of canals and waterways is practicable, having regard to the financial position of the country at the moment.


Is the hon. Gentleman able to answer that part of the question which asks whether the Ministry of Transport has a policy with regard to the administration of the canals, and has not the Minister of Transport, after fifteen months' reflection, a policy of his own until the Committee reports?


The answer is in the negative!


I am always glad to have assistance in answering supplementary questions, but that interjection is not an accurate answer. The policy of dealing with canals is a subject which is closely related to the greater policy of dealing with the railways and other forms of transport. The subject is receiving attention—[An HON. MEMBER: "Hear, hear!"]—and certainly needs detailed consideration by the Committee of which the right hon. Gentleman has asked the hon. Member for Ladywood to become chairman.


Have not all these canals been bought up by the railway companies in the past for the purpose of shutting out the competition of water transport, and what steps has the hon. Gentleman's Chief taken to carry out the policy of the Prime Minister in this matter, a policy announced at the Election?


It is not the fact that the whole of the canals, or the majority of them, are owned by the railway companies.


The key ones are!


As to future policy in relation to canals, I fear I cannot add anything to what I have already said.


Why do you not carry out the policy of the Railway Commission which reported about ten years ago. No action has yet been taken upon their report?


To carry out that report in its entirety would involve the expenditure of many millions. The Minister, before advising the House to sanction such an expenditure, desires to be fully advised upon the question in its present relationship to all transport problems.