HC Deb 29 July 1924 vol 176 cc2007-14

Motion made, and Question proposed, That Standing Order 243 be suspended, and that the Bill be now read the Third time."—[The Chairman of Ways and Means.]


I beg to move, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the words the Bill be re-committed so far as Clause 6 is concerned, and that the Committee take into further consideration the question of increasing the headway of the arch on each side of the central arch to 19 feet. One feels in a somewhat invidious position in opposing this Bill at the present stage, but I think, in view of the safety of the navigation of the River Thames, it is important that this matter should be raised and that, if possible, the whole question of the height of these bridges over the river should be reconsidered. The existing structure has an arch span of 267 feet with 19 feet S inches headway above the Trinity high-water mark and there is an absence of masonry which affords a clear view—a most important matter for those responsible for the navigation of the river. The new bridge is to be a five-arch bridge instead of the existing suspension bridge and it is to be constructed of masonry and steelwork. The central arch will have a span of 152 feet against the existing 267 feet. This centre span will have 21 feet clearance in the centre and the two arches adjacent to the centre arch are to have 146 feet span and only 16 feet 8 inches clearance above the Trinity highwater mark. It is these two side arches which give considerable concern to those responsible for navigation on the river, especially considering the fact that there are large ocean-going steamers using the river, whose officers have to be responsible for navigating them through these bridges. In this proposed new bridge there is only one centre opening left for these steamers to go through, and I feel that there ought to be at least three, so that in the case of an accident to the centre there would be other openings for the steamers to use. The expert opinion of Captain Shankland, the Harbour Master of the Port of London Authority, in his evidence given before the Select Committee, was that 16 feet 8 inches clearance was totally inadequate, and when you have evidence of that kind, I think, after all, the safety of the navigation of the river is more important than the necessity for having a bridge. I admit the necessity for having a bridge, and I want them to have it, but I also want them to take care that it will leave the river free for navigation by these steamers.


I beg to second the Amendment.


I have the honour of having been Chairman of the Committee which considered the proposed Lambeth Bridge. The opposition to the Bill arose from the Wandsworth Gas Company, which has four large vessels that trade between Wandsworth and the Tyne. This bridge if built as the plan shows will certainly not give passage at all tides through the side arches to these boats. The side aches are designed to have a headway of 16 feet 8 inches above Trinity high water mark. There is no trouble about the size of the centre arch, which will be 21 feet above Trinity high water mark and which will be higher than Westminster Bridge, which is 19 feet 6 inches, but the Committee were of opinion that at most stages of the tide the side arches would be sufficient, and I strongly deny that there will be any obstruction to navigation. We considered that, as the great public advantage of having an extra bridge was one which we were bound to take into account, we could not throw the Bill out on account of these four large vessels. The other navigation on the river is amply satisfied with the side arches of 16 feet 8 inches.

9.0 P.M.

I contend that if you wish to navigate the river you must build your boats to suit the bridges, and if you build your ships too large you will only run the risk of running into a bridge and knocking it down, because these bridges cannot be built so securely that, if one of these great vessels touched the top of the arch, it would stand the shock. They might very soon find, if they came into contact with the bridge, that serious damage would be done. I admit quite freely that this proposed Lambeth Bridge is not ideal, but under the circumstances the Committee thought that, seeing that it is a great public improvement, the Bill ought to be passed, because the obstruction to the navigation would not warrant us in throwing the Bill out. With regard to the Amendment to re-commit the Bill, I am afraid that no sufficient evidence has been offered here for such a proceeding, and it does not seem possible, if the Bill were re-committeed, that the Committee could come to any fresh decision.


The question of London traffic is a very serious matter, and I was astounded to hear the statement of the hon. Member for Southport (Sir J. Brunner) that traffic has to be built to fit the bridges, and not the bridges to fit the traffic. That seems to me to be the most restrictive formula which one can possibly put on London, impeding development of all kinds on the river, and holding up the whole question of larger tonnage coming up the river. On top of that, I think it will be in the memory of the House that the particular company which has been mentioned once had a very serious accident with Waterloo Bridge—and it may have had the effect of breaking down that bridge—when the s.s. "Wandle," sonic years ago ran into a buttress at Waterloo Bridge. Here is an old bridge, and here is the traffic of the Thames that could be developed to a great extent, and yet it is to be restricted for the sake of putting 2 feet on two side arches. The whole thing is ridiculous on the face of it, and I hope the House will carry the Amendment.


As one of those who had the honour of sitting on the Select Committee which considered this Bill, I hope there will be no further opposition to the passing of the Bill. Undoubtedly, as the horn Member who presided oven the Committee said, there was some difficulty with regard to the side arches, but it only referred to four vessels belonging to the Wandsworth Gas Company, and only on very rare occasions would they be affected. To raise this bridge to the height desired by the Wandsworth Gas Company would involve a very serious additional expense, and at the same time it would have seriously jeopardised the approaches to Lambeth Palace, and on that ground it was opposed by His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury. When the opposition of the Port of London Authority was withdrawn to the Bill, the Committee thought they had no option but to pass the Bill. In another place the Port of London Authority offered very serious opposition, and as that is the authority responsible for the navigation of the Thames, the withdrawal of their opposition had its effect upon the point of view previously taken by the Committee. However large our bridges are vessels will be made accordingly. The Wandsworth Gas Company have increased the size of their vessels. Bearing in mind the bridges of the river, I think the decision at which we are asked to arrive is a desirable one.


This, really, is a much more serious question than would appear from the speech we have heard from the Chairman of the Select Committee and other hon. Members. This is really imposing a serious disability upon the navigation of the river. I suggest that before the Committee endorses this scheme it ought to give serious consideration to the extent to which this very important company, whose operations are carried on above this bridge, are interfered with. It is one of the most important public utility companies in London, with a very large branch of its great business being carried on in the Wandsworth region. In order efficiently to carry out its work, it has to employ on the River Thames large steamers. My hon. Friend on the other side, whose special interest in questions of this sort everybody acknowledges, has laid down the extraordinary proposition that you are to base the whole system of navigation upon the size of the bridges. If the principles he has laid down were once accepted in local legislation of this character, you would at once be interfering in private enterprise—


Hear, hear!


And impose serious disabilities upon the important public utility corporations of this country. I certainly suggest that it is exceedingly high-handed on the part of the promoters of this Bill to insist upon this design of the bridge, and so affect the efficiency of navigation on the Thames. My hon. Friends opposite, and particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury), who himself is the embodiment of modern progress, desire to have a voice in this matter. Are we to look forward to the time when the development of water transport on the upper reaches of the river is to be handicapped by this bridge at Lambeth? I submit that it is really an abuse of the forms and privileges of this House, in promoting a Bill of this kind, to ask the House to agree to this condition. I am exceedingly sorry the House has not had an opportunity of earlier coming in contact with the real object of this Bill. In spite, however, of the influential advocacy of my hon. Friend opposite, I certainly think that in face of the facts the House should hesitate a long time before agreeing to this.


I agree that this is a most serious matter, but I view it from a different standpoint to that expressed by some previous speakers—from the point of view of my hon. Friend who spoke about the navigation of the river. The hon. Gentleman for Southport (Sir J. Brunner) laid down the proposition that traffic should be made to fit the bridges of the river, that those steamers which carry these loads should conform to this. But these vessels go to sea in all weathers, and all who have to do business in the North Sea agree that it is a most difficult place to sail in. In heavy weathers the navigator has to nose along the coast, and I think it would be disastrous if this House came to a decision which would impede the navigation of the river in such a way as to cause ships to be built which would be dangerous at sea to the navigator. I do not like to go contrary to my hon. Friend the Chairman of the select Committee, but I think the argu- ment of the hon. Gentleman opposite as to the Archbishop of Canterbury being inconvenienced is not an argument which would weigh with me for one moment against the lives of the men engaged on the vessel.


On a point of Order May I interrupt the hon. and gallant Gentleman to say that that is not quite a correct interpretation of the Archbishop's attitude. He expressed his willingness to do all he could to help the scheme, but pointed ant that some of this enlargement would affect certain of the gates at Lambeth Palace.


I am sorry if I misunderstood my hon. Friend, but I am within the recollection of the House as to the Archbishop of Canterbury. I do not think my hon. Friend used the word "opposed," but I understood him to put it that it would inconvenience the Archbishop. However, I withdraw if I am wrong, but such opposition would not weigh with me for one moment as against the interests of the navigators who sail in the North Sea with vessels of so small a freeboard. I sincerely trust that this very difficult question will be taken into due consideration.


Whenever anything comes from the County Council to this House, we get a lot of opposition from certain quarters, but we do not expect it from other quarters. Some hon. Members probably recognise that the County Council has probably carefully considered what kind of bridge should he erected. Again, if there be any authority that knows anything about the matter, it is the Port of London Authority. They are satisfied with the new bridge. I am informed by an ex-chairman of the County Council, who is at present in the House, that the Port of London Authority are satisfied with the project It is desirable that Wandsworth Gas Company's ships should be able to sail at all states of the tide. I want the House to discuss this as a business proposition. This is something more than a ramp—something to make a joke about.


On a point of Order. Is my hon. Friend entitled to describe a clear, honest and deliberate scheme as a "ramp"?


I have often wondered what was the meaning of the term "ramp"


My hon. Friend the Member for Moseley (Mr. Hannon) finds himself in curious company to-night in those whom he is supporting. What says the proverb about "adversity making strange bedfellows"? This bridge has been held up for a long time. The arches are 19 feet all through, with centre arches big enough to take these steamers at all states of the tide. If attention were directed to the other bridge further down that is to be rebuilt, namely, Waterloo Bridge, there might be something to say against it, and I am in favour of having a wider bridge there. I hope, however, that the House will not be deflected in this way from supporting the proposition which is put forward in this Bill by the London County Council, and I hope the House will consent to the Third Reading.


Reference has been made in this discussion to the Port of London Authority, and I would like to put their views before the House. That authority is the navigation authority for the Thames, and in matters relating to the rebuilding of bridges their view should be taken into serious consideration. In the first place, the Port of London Authority opposed this Bill very strenuously. They objected to the original height of the arches, and after seven or eight days hearing evidence, concessions were made which they accepted from a navigation point of view. They not only considered the question in view of the large amount of traffic up to the gasworks, but also from every point of view. At last they were satisfied with the concessions, and did not oppose the Bill before the Committee. The fact that the navigation authority for the river is quite satisfied with the new bridge ought to be sufficient, and I hope the House will not agree to this Amendment.

The CHAIRMAN of WAYS and MEANS (Mr. Robert Young)

I am informed that in 25 days out of the month the two side arches are quite sufficient for all the traffic. I would also like to point out that the centre arch has been considerably heightened in comparison with Westminster Bridge. As this matter has been seriously gone into by the Committee responsible, I hope the House will agree to the Third Reading of the Bill.

Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question," put, and agreed to.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed, with Amendments.

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