§ Order for Second Reading read.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That the Bill be now read a Second time.
§ Mr. WALKER
I beg to move, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the words:this House refuses to give a Second Reading to the Bill until the promoters have given full and careful consideration to the question of building a high-level steel bridge as an alternative to the proposed tunnel.I am bringing forward this Amendment because I believe the promoters of the Bill, when considering a means of providing cross-river communication between the north and south sides of the River Thames, only considered the question of a tunnel and did not go fully into the question of building a bridge. I think everyone who has studied the question of cross-river communication is bound to agree that a bridge is infinitely preferable to a tunnel. In a bridge you get a much wider roadway, and in the bridge that we are suggesting should take the place of this tunnel, at a very similar cost, there would be a six-way traffic, instead of a two-way traffic, as proposed in the tunnel. In addition to that, a tunnel requires to be constantly lighted and ventilated, because of the fact that we have so many mechanically propelled vehicles using our roads at the present time.
1011 I want also to deal with it from another point of view. This Bill is a certified Bill, because it is supposed to be giving employment to people who are now unemployed, and the nation will be required to find 75 per cent. of the expenditure incurred in providing this cross-river communication. The kind of labour that will be supplied to work in connection with this tunnel will be the kind of labour that is mainly getting supplied to work all over the country in connection with the various road schemes that have been sanctioned by the Lord Privy Seal's Department. It has been stated in this House, in every Debate that has taken place on the question of unemployment, that the iron and steel industry is suffering very heavily indeed, and the right hon. Member for Tamworth (Sir A. Steel-Maitland) showed a keen interest in the fortunes of that trade. I trust that he at least will give consideration to this question of a bridge as opposed to a tunnel, because of the work that would be given to the. iron and steel industry.
A bridge such as we suggest would take about 60,000 tons of steel; that would mean something like 250,000 tons of coal, and that, in turn, would mean employment in the mining industry for 1,000 miners for a matter of 12 months. In addition to that, we have to remember that the iron and steel industry of this country is very largely an export trade and that our bridge-building and constructional engineers are not getting a proper chance inside the country to develop their technique and show what they can do because there is not sufficient scope for bridge-building inside this country. We have done practically nothing of a heroic nature since the Forth bridge was built, but we have a firm of British bridge builders who have demonstrated that in competition with the world they were able to secure a contract for building, at the entrance to Sydney Harbour, a bridge that is very similar to the one which we are suggesting should becon structed across the Thames between Dartford and Purfleet. How are our bridge-building engineers to have the opportunity of competing in the world's markets for bridges, if I can put it that way —
§ Mr. OLDFIELD
On a point of Order. Is the hon. Member in order in making long allusions to bridges when we are discussing a Measure for building a tunnel?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
It is quite true that the intention of this Bill is to build a tunnel, but the hon. Member, as I understand it, is trying to show why we should not proceed with the Bill because a bridge would be better. He is, therefore, quite in order, but he would not be in order in going at too great length into the merits of a bridge.
§ Mr. WALKER
I thought I was in order when you called upon me, Mr. Speaker, to move my Amendment, because it quite clearly states that my opposition to the tunnel is because I think a bridge would be very much better. We are against a tunnel for the reasons that I put forward in my opening remarks, and if my hon. Friend who raised the point of Order would like me to repeat them, I should be perfectly willing to do so. A tunnel is not the best means of cross-river communication because it does not provide the same facilities as a bridge, and a bridge obviously affords better facilities for traffic than does the tunnel that is proposed. In addition to that, we have to remember that the Bill itself seeks to give employment, and it ought at least to try to give employment to skilled artisans in this country.
The bulk of the unemployment relief schemes are not giving employment to skilled artisans, but are providing in most cases unskilled and in very few cases semi-skilled work for the men who are unemployed to do. That is why we suggest that the delay that would take place would not be very considerable. I understand we shall be told that the reason why this Bill must be pushed ahead is that delays are dangerous and that the promoters want to promote work. The bridge would not be opposed, I believe, by the people who are opposing the tunnel from a different point of view from that which I am putting forward. The shipping facilities of the London Docks would not be interfered with by the high-level bridge which we propose. The level of the bridge would be somewhere in the region of 230 feet above high water mark, and the tallest ship which we have at the moment is the "Majestic," whose height is 210 feet.
1013 The tunnel is being opposed by other Members of this House on grounds that they will state themselves, but I am quite sure that I am voicing their opinions correctly when I say that they would not give the same opposition to a high-level steel bridge. If we had such a project right here in the heart of the Empire, it would be a standing advertisement to the skill and ability of our constructional engineers, and would help our export trade, which we are wanting to build up inside this particular industry. If our people are competing for bridges—and there are very much longer bridges in other parts of the world, not only built, but being proposed—very naturally the people who want to build those bridges ask, "What have you done in your own country?" We cannot show anything, because we seem to have developed a very strong penchant for diving into rivers and getting off the face off the earth in order to try and improve our means of transport. I, therefore, move my Amendment.
§ Major COLVILLE
I beg to second the Amendment.
The hon. Member for Newport (Mr. Walker) has dealt with the question very ably from the point of view of employment. I take it that the question before us to-night is to consider a Bill, the primary object of which is not to build a tunnel, but to provide means for getting across the river; and, judged from that standpoint, I think we are entitled to ask the promoters of the Bill why it is that they have not considered an alternative method, or, if they have considered it, whether they can put before us cogent reasons why this alternative method so ably outlined by my hon. Friend was turned down.
It is proposed to spend a large sum of public money. The cost of the tunnel has been estimated at approximately £3,000,000, but with the increased depth that would be required by the Port of London Authority, a very considerable addition to that expenditure would be made, and the cost might well be estimated at towards £4,000,000 instead of £3,000,000. What do we get for that money? We get a tunnel, and we get two lines of traffic, undergound, for a distance of rather over a quarter of a mile. I submit that we should consider very carefully whether we are getting 1014 good value for that expenditure of money in a long subterranean passage with only two lines of traffic, cramping traffic into that space.
Then there is the question of ventilation. That tunnel would carry a very heavy motor traffic, which emits poisonous fumes of carbon monoxide gas. It will not only carry motor traffic, but is will be for the comfort and convenience of pedestrians, and I suggest that if pedestrians are to tramp that long subterranean passage, along with the flow of motor vehicles which will go through, the ventilation arrangements will have to be very perfect and very costly in order to cope with those fumes, or otherwise they will have to have at either end of the tunnel a station to provide gas masks and Davy lamps for pedestrians going through. I know that modern ventilation methods are very fine and that much can be done to eliminate gas fumes, but I still think the winds of heaven are the best ventilation of all, and in the alternative method which we propose there will be no artificial ventilation, but there will be the winds of heaven to ventilate this bridge.
There is the question of the services to be given. I should like the House to weigh the two lines of traffic of the tunnel against the six lines of traffic which the bridge could take. Sydney Bridge provides a wide space for traffic, so that this is no engineering impossibility; it is no engineering novelty even. It is a perfectly straight, solid engineering proposition to provide a high level bridge giving six lines of traffic instead of the two lines which would be given by the tunnel. I wish to read a part of the Report of the Royal Commission on cross-river traffic in London, which sat in 1926:A tunnel is less commodious and usually more expensive than a bridge, as the immediate approaches require to be considerably greater in length. Representations have been made to us that tunnels are undesirable as cross-river facilities, owing to the difficulty of dealing with the fumes from petrol driven vehicles.The House is entitled to know from the promoters of the Bill why they selected this method rather than the. alternative which we put before them to-night.
§ Mr. OLDFIELD
I cannot help being impressed by the fact that the arguments which we have so far heard have very 1015 little bearing upon those arguments which appear in a memorandum circulated to Members of the House, and put forward by the Port of London Authority, who are the authority most concerned, when they met some of the Members and the Minister of Transport on the question of this tunnel. Hon. Members have referred to the scheme for a bridge. I have yet to see a scheme properly drawn up and properly constructed for a bridge.
§ Mr. OLDFIELD
This Bill is a Measure essentially for dealing with a tunnel which is to go from Purfleet to Dartford, and the objections which have been raised generally to that scheme have very properly been objections which are peculiar to the construction of a tunnel, and to that only. The objection about which there has been considerable discussion was as to the proposed depth for this tunnel. I am somewhat surprised to see the circular which the Port of London Authority have sent round, and to notice that they are opposing the Second Reading of this Bill. I was present at a gathering in the room of the Minister of Transport, and I may be wrong, but I confess that I got the impression distinctly that the question of the depth of the tunnel was one which was admitted to be suitable for Committee discussion. I thought that, when the Minister of Transport gave them an undertaking—and, I understand, gave that undertaking in writing afterwards—fully to consider the view of the Port of London Authority in Committee, the Port of London considered that that was good enough. I am surprised that, in spite of that meeting, and in spite of what they said, they are opposing the Second Reading.
§ Colonel Sir T. VANSITTART BOWATER
I was also present at that meeting, but I have not the same recollection as the hon. Gentleman. The Port of London Authority said that they 1016 would not oppose the tunnel, provided they got sufficient depth of water to bring up vessels of the draught that would be required in future.
§ Mr. OLDFIELD
That is what I thought, and this was to be a matter for Committee discussion. I thought that, if it were given proper weight, and if the Minister undertook to give full weight to the Port's representations in Committee, we would let it go through. That is why I am surprised to see this opposition from the Port of London on Second Reading. There seems to be an unholy alliance between the Port of London Authority—the ship-owning interest—and the steel trade. It seems to me that the chief point about dragging this red her ring of a bridge across the track is merely to frustrate the Bill altogether —
§ Mr. OLDFIELD
The only practical result in the near future of accepting the Amendment which has been moved, will be to defer it for an indefinite number of years. The tunnel scheme has had a great deal of consideration and years of work put into it, and we should have to begin all over again if we started on the bridge scheme. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why?"] Because, naturally, you have to do a great many things and a great deal of research before an idea such as this can be translated into the promise of an actual bridge. When I consider the demands put forward seriously by the Port of London Authority against this tunnel, my feeling that this bridge scheme has been introduced on purpose is very much deepened, because, as I see it, the Port of London Authority are asking that this tunnel should be no less than 80 feet in depth, that it shall have 10 feet of covering soil, then a 10 feet margin of safety, and then allow the passage of ships with a draught of 60 feet.
That pre-supposes an enormous development in the size of ships in future. The largest ship afloat has a draught of 39.9 feet, and the ship "Minnetonka," the largest ship which comes up the Estuary of the Port of London, has a draught of a little over 36 feet. So the Port of London Authority are supposing a substantial increase in the size of ships. What shall we have to do if we are going 1017 to have ships that carry such a draught as 60 feet? What will happen in London? It will not only be a question of the tunnel getting in the way; the Thames is dredged to a depth of 30 feet, and this implies dredging down another 30 feet. Not only that, but ships that have a draught of 60 feet will be wider in their beam and longer, and have more difficulty in manoeuvring than the present ships. How are they going to get round the awkward bends in the upper reaches of the river? What is going to be the effect of dredging down to 60 feet on the banks of the river Thames? The effect will be very considerable, especially near London, where the way of the river is not over-wide. Moreover, it will not be confined to London, because there is no point in getting ships with a draught of 60 feet right up into the Port of London unless the other ports are equally deep. As most of the big ships which come to the Port of London are ships which go to the Orient, probably the great trans-Atlantic liners will go to Southampton and Liverpool, and not to London at all.
§ Mr. OLDFIELD
I said probably. If you are going to have these large ships, it is not only a question of changing in a revolutionary way every landing stage and dock in the Port of London, but of lowering the depth of the Suez Canal, the Panama Canal, New York Harbour, and other harbours in the world, which are now adjusted to a 35-feet draught, or something like that. It will be a mere bagatelle in view of these enormous alterations to blow up a tunnel which cost £3,000,000; it will be a relatively cheap thing to blow up when you take into consideration all the other enormous works which will have to be done in order to get a ship with a 60-feet draught right up the Port of London.
There is a further point underlying this idea, that we are going to concentrate our ships, large and small, and develop the Port of London right into the heart of the metropolis. I think that is altogether wrong, and not in accordance with the tendency of the times. The chief expense in the moving of goods is in the unloading of the cargo from ships, loading it on to lorries or putting it on to trains, and unloading it at the other end. I do not believe that it is desirable to have a tremendous development 1018 of trade in large ships close up to London, because the whole tendency of things is to take them further down, where facilities are much greater, where the entrances to the docks are not blocked up as they are further up—such as St. Catherine's Dock and London Dock, for example—and to concentrate the road and railway transport on some point further down the river. The tendency of modern times is to short-circuit London with transport, and use Tilbury, for instance, where they have built a colossal new dry dock. The whole tendency will be to develop Tilbury, and to use the new orbital road which is to be constructed, the new arterial road which is constructed, and the road facilities which are there now, and to transport on them the goods that come to London. Those that do not come to London can be short-circuited round London. So far as the passenger is concerned, the matter is negligible. It does not matter to him whether he goes by train to Tilbury, which is below the tunnel, or whether he goes to the East India Dock.
I cannot therefore see very much substance in the full demands which are put forward by the Port of London Authority, because they are essentially unreasonable demands. The Authority in their anxiety that they were going to be ridden over roughshod, have opened their mouths unnecessarily wide, possibly in order to assert themselves, and make quite possible that they will get something. I think they have a certain justification for this, because although they well knew these negotiations were going on, and the local papers were full of proposals one way or the other, they were not in the first place officially approached, and I believe that weighed rather adversely when they balanced up the possibilities of this scheme. Though I feel that we ought to take every reasonable proposal from the Port of London Authority very seriously, I am very far from subscribing to their demands in full. I quite agree that this is an unemployment scheme, but it is not primarily an unemployment scheme: these great schemes cannot be and should not be looked upon primarily as unemployment schemes. If this was really going to affect adversely the Port of London, I am certain nobody in this House would support it. But the point as to the depth of this tunnel is essentially 1019 a Committee point, and I ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading on the very generous assurance which the Minister of Transport gave—and having given it once, I am certain he will repeat it—that nobody wishes adversely to affect the interests of the Port of London. Just for the sake of giving a few men work for a few years it would be criminal folly to impair the usefulness of the Port of London. The fact that the demands put forward in the paper which has been circulated are really unreasonable demands obviously gives negotiable margin, and I am sure that in Committee we shall be able to come to some reasonable agreement which will ensure that we have this tunnel, which will be very useful and advantageous, and at the same time make quite sure that the reasonable uses of the Port of London are not interfered with and that the fairway of the river is kept open to trade.
§ Sir HERBERT NIELD
On a point of Order, may I ask whether it is proposed that there should be a general discussion now? The last speech was directed more to the Port of London Authority than to the question of a bridge, and I would like a ruling as to whether this discussion is to range over the whole question, or whether the Amendment is first to benegatived or carried, and then the question raised by the Port of London as to the depth of the tunnel is to come on for consideration.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The Amendment was put forward as a reason why the Bill should not be proceeded with, and it does not appear to me in any way to prevent a general discussion on the merits of the Bill.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
The speech just made in favour of the tunnel shows quite clearly how little those who are supporting it grasp the importance to London itself of a deep waterway. The first thing that is obviously in the minds of those who are supporting this scheme is that it is going to provide a good deal of employment.
§ Mr. MILLS rose—
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
Perhaps I may be allowed to begin my speech? That is one of the claims made. Unless we lose our sense of proportion altogether, surely 1020 we must remember what happens when a vessel arrives in the Thames. Every extra vessel coming into the Thames provides work for scores, nay for hundreds, of men who would not otherwise get work at all. The one disadvantage from which the Thames has suffered in times past is that it is cramped, that its docks have been too small. The old dock companies were not enterprising; they had not the resources; they made their lock sills too shallow; and it was not until the Port of London Authority was set up and there was a programme on a much more grandiose scale, if you like, that the hopes of increased traffic in the Port of London, which are of immense importance to the people employed there, could possibly reach fruition. One of these big vessels, supposing she comes only once every four weeks, will provide more employment every year of her life than you would get out of the making of this tunnel.
§ Mr. OLDFIELD
On a point of Order. I think mine has been the only speech so far which has supported the Bill, and I never justified it on the ground of its being an unemployment scheme, though I said it was an unemployment scheme.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
I was not merely disposing of the case of the hon. Member. I was speaking of the case put for the tunnel itself. There is nothing new in the idea of a tunnel. We have already handicapped the Port of London by one tunnel.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
Then why should we go further and handicap it by three? 1021 The hon. Member says that this scheme has not been put forward in the interests of unemployment, but unemployment has been one of the justifications for it, though it is true that what is most in the minds of the promoters of the Bill, to judge from their literature, and the speeches made this evening, is to provide easy transit between two great counties. If all they were thinking of was the traffic between the two counties, it would have been, to say the least of it, an act of courtesy to take into consultation the Port of London Authority, which is the authority most affected of all. I cannot understand how a scheme of this kind could have received even the conditional sanction of the Ministry of Transport when the Port of London Authority had not been consulted beforehand with regard to it.
Let me suggest some of the grounds on which the Port of London Authority are justified in viewing this scheme with grave apprehension. In the first place, London has been handicapped, and is still handicapped, by its failure to provide accommodation for deep-draught vessels. There are some people who talk of deep-draught vessels in terms of the Suez Canal or the Panama Canal, but they overlook the fact that the deepest-draught vessels in the world do not run through those canals. Traffic through those canals is limited by the lack of water. The vessels of the deepest draught are those which run across the Atlantic, and on account of their size they have been driven to Southampton. They have actually been driven to Southampton from Liverpool, and the reason for that is that you cannot dredge the Mersey to the same permanent advantage that you can dredge the Thames. One of the grounds put forward for making the tunnel is that they will be cutting through clay and chalk, and that is one of the reasons why you can dredge the Thames to a much greater draught than you can dredge the Mersey. There are permanent banks, and there is not the same siltage. The banks do not collapse in the same way as they would in some other waters. Southampton has already taken a great deal of that traffic, and we never see the "Leviathan," the "Majestic," or the "Berengaria" in the Thames, for the very good reason that if they came to London they would never 1022 pass Tilbury; and I do not think they could get in to Tilbury except at the top of high water.
It has been said that there has been a great deal of exaggeration with regard to the vessels likely to come into the Thames. Any man who would prophesy what is going to be the draught of vessels 25 years hence is a very bold man. In the last 25 years there has been an enormous extension in draught. In some of the literature circulated in favour of this tunnel it is suggested that the draught of the biggest vessels in the world would not be endangered by this proposal. The present dredged channel depth in the Thames is 30 feet. The natural channel depth—that is in the vicinity of the proposed tunnel—is about 8 to 10 feet more than that, probably somewhere between 35 and 10 feet. The depth of the crown of the tunnel, according to the deposited plans, which are what we must go by, is 42 feet is inches Then the proposers wish to have 10 feet to play with. They want the right to deviate 10 feet upwards, which would actually reduce the draught of water that we have at present. We are not concerned with their proposal that they should have the right to deviate downwards; they can to as deep as they like: but if they come up they will interfere with the channel. We are talking about this tunnel being a £3,000,000 scheme. Some of the vessels which ought to be coming into the Thames cost £4,000,000 to build, and they include more labour in their construction than would be wanted for the construction of this tunnel.
We ought to pay very great attention to the potentialities of the Port of London in the future. Running into Southampton at the present time there are vessels drawing about 40 feet. Some of the figures published are not very accurate. I can give one of my own personal knowledge. My firm operate the "Leviathan" on this side of the Atlantic, and her loaded draught, when she is down to her deepest draught, is 40 feet 4 inches aft. Some of the promoters of the Bill have forgotten the difference between a vessel being deep draught and her mean draught, and have taken her mean draught; it is not the mean draught you have to consider but the deepest draught. It is no use bringing a vessel up the Thames and finding that she sticks aft and then saying 1023 "She ought not to have done so, because her mean draught is 1½ feet less." The "Leviathan's" draught is about 40 feet. The "Majestic's" draught is very nearly the same, but she rests on a more even keel than the "Leviathan." The "Berengaria's" draught is somewhere in the region of 38 feet. But that is not the last word. I do not know whether it is news to the House—probably it is not, because hon. Members perhaps know as much about it as I do myself—but when you get a vessel of extreme length the only way of giving her the requisite strength is by providing extra depth; and as we go up in size the tendency will be to go in for deeper and deeper vessels. Designers will be bound to do so, from sheer engineering necessity. It is not a mere fad of those which control ships.
Those of us who are interested in the traffic of the Port of London want to see it grow. It is all very well to talk about short-circuiting the business of the Port of London. It is to the advantage of the people of London that the goods brought into the Thames should come as near to the centre of population as possible. One of the reasons why we have to pay such enormous prices for taking goods across London is that we cannot get them by ship far enough in towards the centre. The nearer the centre the better. The nearer you can bring the big ships the better, and I should have thought that those looking after the interests of the population of this vast area would have been doing their best to facilitate the deepening of the channels right away up to the very centre of London. That would have been a very sensible policy.
I hope the Minister of Transport will make clear what is to be the procedure on this Bill. I think it was begun in the wrong way. It was a great pity to leave the Port of London Authority out of account; and I think it is a pity to imagine that the business can be disposed of by mere haggling across a table in Committee. It is better that we should receive guidance from the Minister of Transport. He must surely realise that the paramount authority in the Port of London is the Port of London Authority—the P.L.A., as it is called for short. We cannot hand over the duties of the Port of London to any county council or, let it be said, to any Ministry. The Port of 1024 London Authority has declared its view in the most pronounced way. It may be they have asked for more draught than is imperative, but they have a right to go to an extreme figure rather than run any risk.
§ The MINISTER of TRANSPORT (Mr. Herbert Morrison)
Does the right hon. Gentleman say that the Port of London Authority is so paramount in this matter that they are not to be asked to prove their case to the Committee upstairs?
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
No, but the promoters should have observed the decency of consulting them. They were not consulted before these plans were deposited. They were consulted afterwards, and when there was an interview with the Minister of Transport he was good enough to say that if the Bill went upstairs he would certainly give every facility to the Port of London to put their case. He could not do anything less. They have a perfect right to go there to oppose the Bill.
§ Mr. MORRISON
The right hon. Gentleman is advancing the argument that on anything affecting the Port of London the word of the Port of London Authority must be final.
§ Mr. MORRISON
Surely that was the point of the argument. I put it to him that it is perfectly reasonable to ask that the Port of London Authority must prove its case before a Committee. That is all I ask.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
I never used the word "final." I said that in matters dealing with the development of the Port of London the Port of London Authority should be paramount. That was the object in view when the Port of London Authority was set up, and I shall be very much surprised if even the Minister of Transport said that in the Port of London any other authority should be set up. How is this case going to adjudged? Is it going to be decided on the Floor of the House or before a Committee up 1025 stairs. If it is going to be settled on the Floor of the House I shall be quite satisfied. If it goes before a Committee I think the Port of London Authority have a right to present their views before the Committee and argue the details. The proposals contained in this Measure have been brought forward by people who do not know, and cannot know, the conditions of the Port of London because they do not employ technical officers who understand this question on either of the two county councils which are concerned with this proposal. Consequently they have no technical officers possessing any knowledge of the Port of London or the river itself.
I know some councils where there are engineers who are good port advisers, but they are not employed by the two county councils concerned with this Bill. The reason why the Port of London Authority was given such large powers was that they had in their employ specialists and experts with the necessary skill and knowledge concentrated on this subject, and there is no other authority which possesses such admirable technical equipment. I have no doubt that if the Minister of Transport carries with him a majority of his party this Bill will be sent upstairs. I want to know, are we to run the risk of the Port of London being handicapped by the decision of a Committee upstairs? I think we ought to guard ourselves against any attempt that might be made to limit the Port of London continuing and extending the useful work it has done in the past. I think the best way of dealing with this Bill is to stop it at this stage, and I do not think it ought to go any further. This Measure has been brought forward without due consideration, and I think the Port of London Authority should be given a fair chance in regard to this Measure to perform the duties for which it was constituted, that is, to provide facilities for allowing larger vessels to deliver their cargoes more in the centre of the population in the same way as other great ports in the world.
§ Sir H. NIELD
The speech to which we have just listened from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Runciman) may be taken as an authoritative statement on the question of shipping. Most of the speeches up to 1026 the present moment have been voicing the protest of the Port of London Authority, and I am bound to say that the proceedings up to now have not reflected very much credit upon the promoters of this Bill. Surely when dealing with a great waterway under the control of a great body like the Port of London Authority, the promoters of this Measure should have consulted that authority before finally deciding upon their scheme in order to see whether it was a practical proposal or not.
I think the Port of London Authority should have been consulted at the earliest possible moment in the drawing up of this scheme in order to see whether some common agreement could not be arrived at. In the Thames there has always been a large ocean-going traffic, including much that has had to be re-shipped from this country. I hope this House will refuse to sanction any proceedings and refuse to give statutory sanction to anything which are likely to cripple the Port of London Authority in the important developments which they have made during the years since they were constituted the Port Authority. In the statement issued in the Royal Commission Report in 1902 they say:The great increase in the size and draught of ocean going vessels has made extensive work necessary both in the river and in the docks, and the dispersion of powers amongst other authorities and companies has prevented any systematic consideration of adequate proposals.We know that since that suggestion was made, millions of pounds have been spent by the Port of London Authority in creating deep water docks. They have improved the East India Docks and the London Docks, so as to enable them to provide adequate accommodation for ocean-going vessels, and they have also improved the Tilbury Docks and the Royal Victoria Dock, and there has been considerable expenditure on the King George V Dock. In the statement issued on behalf of the two counties that the present sills are not of sufficient depth to accommodate ships of larger draught than those which at present use the docks, they have overlooked the fact that the Port of London Authority have purchased large tracts of land above this proposed tunnel, whereon they could construct fresh docks with deeper sills and of greater capacity. Why should not London have the biggest ocean-going 1027 liners that can possibly be brought up the Thames? I venture to think that it is not very fair of either of the county councils to seek to limit, as they undoubtedly will by making this tunnel, the depth to which it will be possible to go. I think that this House should express its opinion, rather than leave it to the Committee upstairs, upon this vital question, and personally I should have liked to move an Instruction to the Committee that they should ensure an adequate depth for vessels, not merely of the present draught, but also of draughts that may be reasonably contemplated in the future.
§ The question arises, is it impossible? The promoters, in their statement, have made the allegation that it is impossible for men to work under air pressure at a greater depth than they propose. I do not know that anybody in this House can tell us the conditions under which the Barking cable was laid. There is, a Barking cable under the Thames not far from this spot. It is 60 feet deep, and the right hon. Gentleman has assured us, with the knowledge that he possesses, and the Port of London Authority, through me, assure the House, that there is nothing whatever to prevent this tunnel from being put at any depth, because of the substratum of chalk and clay. If that be so, surely no expense would be considered wasted that was necessary in order to go to a sufficient depth to leave the river perfectly free to enable London to uphold what she has already acquired, or to give her the right to acquire, if necessary, an undisputed position among the ports of the world. It is here that large quantities of goods are required. Southampton may be all very well for the American passenger traffic, for it does, of course, obviate a long and tedious passage round the coast; but, as regards freights, it seems to me that nothing ought to stop the Port of London from accommodating the biggest vessels that are afloat. It has already been pointed out to the Minister that the proposed construction is so near the surface that, if the deviation which the promoters claim the right to exercise is in fact exercised, the roof of their tunnel will actually project above the present bed of the river. I do not suppose for a moment that they would attempt to do 1028 that, nor ought they to be allowed even to have the depth proposed by the Bill.
§ The Minister of Transport alleges that we are endeavouring to prevent the Bill from going upstairs, but the Port of London Authority have no intention of preventing the Bill from going upstairs if they can get reasonable satisfaction and an assurance that their representations will receive proper attention. The Committee will consist, possibly, of five Members of this House, and, although they will investigate the matter closely and will have the experts before them, it is the right of this House as a whole to pass judgment as to whether anything should take place which is likely to restrict the usefulness of the Port. For that reason I think that the House ought to intimate pretty clearly that they desire an assurance from the Minister-though of course the Committee is supreme—that no objection will be sustained to any reasonable depth that will ensure for all time that vessels shall pass and re-pass in the Thames without having an obstruction of this sort to reduce their size and capacity. I have here the correspondence which has passed between the Port of London Authority and the Minister, and I do say, from that correspondence, that the Port of London Authority have a right to say that they are not being met as they ought, as a public authority, to be met.
§ Mr. HERBERT MORRISON
The House must be clear about this. The Members of Parliament who saw me on behalf of the Port of London Authority agreed that the attitude which I had adopted was a reasonable one, and that objection to the Second Reading ought not to be persisted in. The hon. Member for the City of London (Sir V. Bowater) was one of them.
§ Sir H. NIELD
My answer to that is that the Minister's answer was of such a character that it might have been thought to extend further than it did, but, as negotiations developed and letters passed, it was perfectly obvious that the Port of London Authority were not going to get a wide interpretation of that assurance. I hold in my hand copies of the reports of no fewer than four eminent water engineers regarding the conditions in the river, and they all say how very dangerous, and, indeed, how 1029 positively destructive, it would be to proceed with these proposals unless the extended depth which is asked for is conceded. I sincerely ask the House to express in no uncertain way its intention that the Committee upstairs shall be authorised—not merely permitted by the Minister, but authorised as a Committee of this House—so to go into this matter, and to investigate it so thoroughly, that at any rate the Port of London Authority shall feel assured that they have not laboured in the cause of the Port of London in vain, but that they are able to exercise their statutory duty, which was imposed upon them by the Act of 1908, of ensuring that the Port shall not be handicapped in any respect by this bar which it is proposed to put across the river.
§ Sir V. BOWATER
May I say just a word in reply to the remark of the Minister of Transport with reference to myself? What took place is not exactly as he said. We went away with the impression that the Minister of Transport would, practically speaking, agree to what the Port of London Authority required, and we went away satisfied with that explanation. Some few days afterwards he told me personally that he would not be able to agree with what the Port of London Authority required.
§ Mr. HERBERT MORRISON
I am sorry to delay the proceedings, but, really, I am amazed at what the hon. Baronet says. I was careful—and I am speaking within the memory of hon. Members who are now present—to say that I could not give a blank promise that the Port of London Authority should, so to speak, he the arbiters of the whole matter, but I said that they must prove their case. Certainly, the representations of the Port of London Authority must be taken with very great seriousness and their case must be very carefully considered. I am so considering it. I am speaking within the recollection of hon. Members who were there, and, really, I am surprised that the hon. Baronet should give another version.
§ Mr. MILLS
I should like to draw the attention of the House to one or two points in connection with the Bill that is now before us. Being the Member 1030 for the Dartford Division of Kent, and following the line of my colleague on the North side of the Thames, I want to advance one or two arguments which I think may throw additional light from a new angle on this problem. The House will remember that I interjected, at the end of the Debate on the Charing Cross Bridge Bill, one or two very pertinent queries from the point of view of the working population in the outer parts of London on both sides of the Thames. Some years ago, when I was first a Member of tais House, I served on a Committee with Sir Alexander Richardson, who was then the Member for Grave-send, with the idea of trying to improve the arterial connections between the two counties, and for a very long time the idea of a tunnel between Gravesend and Tilbury held the field. As a result of the efforts of my hon. Friend the Member for Whitechapel (Mr. H. Gosling), who was Minister of Transport in the Labour Government of 1924—I am sorry to say that he is too ill to be in his place here to-night—something which had been merely nibbled at for years became a question of practical politics.
My hon. Friend, as Minister of Transport, appointed Sir Maurice Fitzmaurice to go into the matter, and, to show the House that this is not merely a hurried question of providing employment for people who are out of work, I want to say quite definitely that this idea of more improved communication between the two sides of the river has been in hand since 1902. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Runciman) has spoken of the depth of the Thames in relation to this proposal, and the necessity for protecting the Port, but the whole of these proposals have been based on the Royal Commission of the Port of London in 1902. My hon. Friend the Member for Whitechapel would not be second to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for St. Ives in his zeal for the protection of the interests of the Port, and I am perfectly certain that, as a man who has spent the whole of his life as a waterman on the Thames, he would be the very last to give any kind of support to any interference with the amenities or the development of the Port of London. He is a member of the Port of London Authority himself.
It is perfectly true that there have been under-water communications which 1031 may, and probably do, interfere with the efficient working of the Thames. There is the Blackwall Tunnel, and there is the Rotherhithe Tunnel. People talk about the Mersey and Southampton. When Liverpudlians come to London, or members from Lancashire divisions go with me into the reaches of Kent and look across the little stretch of water which is the mighty Thames, they laugh at me and they talk about the great and wonderful docks of Liverpool. Liverpool is developed at its most efficient point, at its mouth. The South of the Thames is the Cinderella of the City of London. The low lying banks right down to Sheerness afford an opportunity for the finest and best developed docks in the world. It is idle to speak of developing the docks that are up the river now, and still more ridiculous to talk about ships like the "Leviathan" and the "Berengaria" going up into the George V Dock. Can anyone think of the beams of those ships and imagine them going round the bends of the Thames? It is enough to make anyone who knows anything of the width of the waterway, laugh. I can quite understand that the shipowner is quite anxious to safeguard the development of the Port facilities, and I agree with him. I am speaking now as representing a division which demands increased facilities to increase the efficiency of our county's communications with the North of the Thames. We are fed up with this bottle-neck called London, this jig-saw puzzle in which goods are held up by the day and by the week, and the existing facilities are holding things up even worse.
One of the greatest firms I know in Essex uses dozens of great six-wheeled lorries to bring metal windows into Kent and down to the coast. Woolwich Ferry is inadequate. They have to go further up the river, under the Blackwall Tunnel, considerably adding to the already congested traffic of those areas. This is not a matter of yesterday. This is the Royal Commission over which Lord Lee of Fareham presided. He deals with the inadequacy of Woolwich Ferry, subject to fog and all kinds of climatic conditions and utterly inadequate, and when goods and vehicles come up from remote parts of Essex to remote parts of Kent, or from Kent into Essex or Hertfordshire, 1032 that is the kind of thing they are subject to. When you get right up to the approaches you may be turned back by the attendant because the ferry is inadequate to take them, and if you go over the ferry and see the vast network of docks, again you are subject to what we call the bridges. Thousands of men have lost half a day, and in many cases lose an average of a day a week, through the delay that occurs by reason of vessels entering the docks by bridges.
If you are going to deal with the traffic problem of London you must consider the outer arterial roads by which traffic can get through without going right through the centre, thereby adding to the difficulty. I am not against the idea of a high level bridge. I am connected with the Woolwich Borough Council, and have been since 1919, and for over 10 years we have had a proposal for a high level bridge from Shooter's Hill. That has been objected to on strategic grounds, because in the event of another war an unlucky bomb might drop on it and the River Thames would be closed to traffic. The same objection is made to a proposed high level bridge on the Tyne. The strategic authorities, the great brass hats of Whitehall, are objecting because an unlucky bomb dropped on it would bottle up the river.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
This is very interesting. Is the hon. Member stating that the only objection to the bridge was that of a bomb dropping on it?
§ Mr. MILLS
No, I am not suggesting that. One way of trying to enforce your argument is to introduce a little humour, even if it has the savour of being true, which this is. These are the weighty arguments introduced by the Royal Commission. They state:A proposal has been made to us for a high level bridge with a roadway 50 feet wide, which would start from the level of Woolwich Common, cross the river at a height of about 150 feet in order to allow adequate clearance to all vessels using the fairway, pass over the King George V and the Royal Albert Docks, as well as the new dock which is now in contemplation, and join up with the new Barking by-pass road in the neighbourhood of Beckton.It goes into details and says:It also became evident to us that no approach to any agreement had been reached between the public authorities that would be concerned as to the practical possibilities of carrying out the scheme, of which the cost 1033 was estimated at about £4,000,000. Moreover, the Ministry of Transport is not in favour of this proposal partly in view of its expensive character and also because a crossing further down the river is considered to be preferable.I merely say this because this is the Commission of which Lord Lee of Fare-ham was Chairman, and it is not fair to suggest that this has been brought forward by the Lord Privy Seal with a view to giving employment. Surely, if ever there was a classic example of the difficulties that beset the Lord Privy Seal in his endeavour within the limited scope of the present Government to introduce work which does not interfere with private enterprise but which merely adds to the efficiency of communications, it is this very proposal. I join issue with the right hon. Gentleman opposite. The depth of the tunnel is not static. It can be another 15 feet if necessary. The whole of the evidence has been taken with the docks at present existing. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the "Leviathan." That goes into New York harbour. This level is based upon New York harbour levels. Experts can prove their case in Committee. There is no hard and fast line.
We ask the House to envisage the great need of getting on with this job. Look at the difficulties of getting on with it. We have had this Tunnel Committee for 10 years. Since 1924 it has been a practical policy definitely recommended. It has been in the pigeon-holes of the Ministry of Transport since 1925. Within three days of the Minister securing his appointment we approached him to see what could be done with this and, though we have close co-operation with all the local authorities on both sides of the river, and the Kent County Council in agreement although we have short-circuited every one of the methods of circumlocution, it has taken practically from 8th June right down to a month ago before we could cut through everything and get this presented, not as a Government Measure with powers to act but as a private Bill. That is the law. This is an illustration of the obstacles in the road of the Lord Privy Seal in dealing with the problem of unemployment. Now that it is brought forward as a private Bill, all that need happen is that any hon. Members opposite connected with the shipping interest or with the Port of London Authority can merely say 1034 "Object." There is no argument. Over a month has had to elapse because it is a private Bill. I think that it has been rescued as a certified Bill, and now brought forward as a private Bill subject to the Vote which will be given here to-night of our own free will.
I suggest that the difficulties of communication between Kent and Essex, and the lessening of the congestion through the heart of London demand that this thing should be taken up with as much expedition as possible. I desire to appeal to the House to let us have a Second Beading of this Bill. I will give an assurance that if on the Committee stage the Port of London Authority prove their case—and I would say that if this were a tunnel below Tilbury the opposers would have the weight of evidence all on their side, but in the upper turnings of the river, which absolutely preclude the safe navigation of these monsters of the deep, the objection seems to be trivial—I will undertake, although the Member for Dartford, that, if they can validly prove their claim that this Bill will interfere with the work or development of the Port, that I will vote against the Measure after its Committee stage.
§ Colonel HOWARD-BURY
It is not often that I find myself in support of the hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Mills), but on this occasion I do support him. I realise how important it is that there should be a better means of communication between the County of Essex and the County of Kent than there is to-day. The hon. Member for Newport (Mr. Walker) and the hon. and gallant Member for Midlothian and Peebles (Major Colville) raised the question of a bridge, and they based their arguments for a bridge to a great extent on the question of unemployment in the iron and steel industry. But if you make a tunnel you employ a great deal of iron and steel. Further, in the work necessary for a tunnel a vast number of unemployed can be utilised. I do not know whether the two hon. Members have examined the place where they suggest that the bridge should be placed, but I should like to tell them that the ground is perfectly flat. They have told us that this bridge is to be 230 feet above the water. Think of the enormous length of approaches that would have to be made on either side. This matter was considered very carefully 1035 by Sir Maurice Fitzmaurice in 1924, and it was rejected then. He went into the whole question of cross-traffic possibilities, and he rejected the idea of a bridge, and said that the only practical method was a tunnel. Therefore, I think that we may say that a tunnel is really the one practical scheme before us to-day.
The Port of London Authority have raised very serious objections indeed, and they base some of their objections on the fact that they have not been consulted. This proposal has been a live issue since 1924. It has been in all the local papers. Everyone knew that this tunnel was projected and, therefore, it was surely up to them to make representations at the time to the county councils of Essex and Kent. The local authorities have had no objections to a tunnel. We are apt at the present time to look at the City of London not only as a terminus but also as a thoroughfare, and the whole object of the Minister of Transport is to try and make by-passes to the great towns. Here we are to have a great by-pass made to the East of London which is most necessary. I should have thought that the Port of London Authority would have helped very considerably in this. They must realise that it is going to save them from a vast amount of congestion around the docks. All the traffic which comes from the counties of Essex, Hertford and Kent has to come either up to Tower Bridge or via Blackwall Tunnel, and there is also a small ferry which can take very little transport. This adds enormously to the congestion and confusion round the docks. So great at times is the confusion that it amounts practically to a calamity, and it is driving a certain amount of trade, that would otherwise come to our docks, across the water to Antwerp and other big ports.
The chief objection which the Port of London Authority have raised is on the question of the depth of the tunnel. They have asked that the depth of the tunnel shall be such as to enable the river to be dredged to a depth of no fewer than 70 feet. I ask the right hon. Gentleman the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Runciman) if he visualises in the next 15, 20 or 30 years a vessel which is going to draw 60 feet of water. The "Leviathan" and the "Berengaria," or the larger of the two, 1036 as he told us, draws 40 feet. The depth which is required here is 70 feet at low water. The vessels which come up to-day—the "Minnewaska" and the "Minnetonka"—draw 36 and 37 feet of water. They cannot come up at low tide, and they have to wait until more or less full tide before going into King George V Dock, which has only 25 feet of water at low tide. What size are the vessels to be if they are to draw 60 feet of water?
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
It is not a question of their drawing 60 feet of water. You must have sufficient water under the bottom of these vessels, first of all, to enable them to steer, otherwise they do what is known as "smell ground," and you cannot steer them. There is the further fact that the place where the tunnel is to be is one of the anchoring or swinging places of the Thames. You have to take care that you have sufficient ground over the tunnel so as not to have a huge anchor, perhaps weighing 12 tons, coming down and going through the top of it, and breaking it up.
§ Colonel HOWARD-BURY
I was allowing for another 10 feet. The proposal of the Port of London Authority is to have no fewer than 70 feet, which is allowing for another 10 feet of water below the vessels. They are asking for rather more than probably they expect to get. A vessel drawing 60 feet of water must be something likt 1,500 feet in length. Today the largest vessels are about 1,000 feet in length. How are they to get round the bends in the Thames without going aground somewhere? The promoters of the Bill are the last people in the world to desire anything which may stop or hamper the development of the Port of London Authority in any way whatever. They are, and have been, prepared always to accept such modifications in their schemes as to meet any reasonable wishes of the Port of London Authority. I think it is quite possible that if they come to a compromise, that great depth for which they ask will be regarded as an excessive depth.
At the present time the size of vessels is very much limited by the Suez Canal, which is being dredged to 42 feet in order to take vessels drawing 35 feet. You have the Panama Canal, which is 41 feet in depth, and dredged to take vessels drawing 35 feet of water, and you have the entrance to New York Harbour, 1037 which is 41 feet at low tide and 46 feet at high tide, taking vessels of 39 and 40 feet at the present time. Are you going to ask the Port of London Authority to expect to have vessels larger than the "Berengaria" and the "Leviathan" coming up the Thames? Even if you visualise a number of years ahead, you will have to spend a vast sum of money in dredging not only the Thames but all the entrances to the Thames and in keeping them in constant condition. The right hon. Member for St. Ives, who knows far more about shipping than I know, must realise that tonnage has increased in greater proportion than has the draught of the ship. This is done, no doubt, because the existing waterways of the world do not permit of vessels drawing a considerably increased draught. Therefore, they have expanded in either beam or length in far greater proportion than in depth. The promoters of the Bill are prepared to meet them in a very reasonable way. The last thing they want to do is to hamper the Port of London. I suggest that their arguments could very well be brought forward in Committee up stairs, where the right hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Runciman) and the Port of London will be able to put their points, and where, I believe, they would be satisfied. If they were not satisfied, they could move the rejection of the Bill on the Third Reading.
§ Mr. TILLETT
I do not wish to take up an unreasonable attitude about this Bill, nor do I think the Minister of Transport has taken an unreasonable attitude. I can remember the River Thames for 53 years. I have come up the Thames as a sailor in all sorts of craft. Thirty-five years ago, as an Alderman of the London County Council, I moved a resolution to institute an investigation into the tideways of the River Thames, compared with the tideways at Antwerp, Bremen and Rotterdam. On this occasion I find myself in agreement with the right hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Runciman) perhaps for the first time in my life. I have had to extract money from him for wages. He is a very keen business man. and I considered myself a genuis almost to extract money from him. He has given us to-night very practical points, with all of which I agree. The nation as well as Londoners have neglected the River Thames. The Thames is a river of 1038 liquid gold to Londoners and the country, but we have lost trade because the citizens and the councils, mostly in conflict with each other, have opposed any sort of progress. I do not begrudge the progress of Liverpool and Southampton, but if economic reasons were considered a great deal of the trade going to Southampton could be done with greater economy in London.
When it is said that the water level, the depth, of the River Thames more or less corresponds with the depth of New York Harbour, hon. Members forget that the "Berengaria" and the "Leviathan" can go to New York, but they cannot come up the Thames. We have to consider that position. All my life I have been assailed by shipowners and dock companies and authorities when I have asked for increases of wages or improved facilities for labour, and they have always pointed to other ports. I have sailed here in a vessel which drew 16 feet of water. I have sailed in vessels drawing 12 feet of water. In my earliest days it was considered that we should never reach the stage when vessels would draw 30 feet of water. We have now reached the stage when vessels draw 40 feet of water. There is no reason why, considering the advance of science in shipbuilding and the production of metals, in less than a generation to come the depth of vessels should not increase by 10 feet. Whether we consider New York, Hamburg, Bremen, Antwerp, London or any other port, we shall have to make a concession to the march of time and the march of progress in this respect. There have been great developments in the depth of our rivers. Possibly, 100 years ago a man could walk across the Clyde at low tide. Less than 100 years ago a man could walk across the Tyne at low tide; but the enterprise of our merchants and our manufacturers and the genius of invention has turned those great centres into ports with prolific capacity for manufacture and the building of ships.
To leave a margin of three or four feet only is so insufficient that you might as well put a dam across the Thames and say that never again shall a large vessel, however large vessels may be built in the future, shall come up the Thames beyond that dam. It would be more common sense to say that. I appeal to the Minister 1039 of Transport as a practical man. I look upon him as the most practical man in the Ministry, but I must not say that, because others may become jealous. However, I know my man, and I know his experience. I do not think that the Port of London Authority have exaggerated in regard to the position. What is a margin of four feet? It will have to be 14 feet within a generation. We shall have to reconsider the position. I am not against the employment of men, but, as the right hon. Member for St. Ives said, the trade which comes to the Port of London is a very important matter.
There is an essential need for a tunnel for transport and for efficiency in the Port of London, but we must have the tunnel sufficiently deep to allow for the expansion and development of vessels in size and depth for at least the next 50 years. We have had arguments at the London County Council about this and that. We were told that the Blackwall Tunnel would ever remain as it was, and that vessels would never get to such a size as to impose upon the resources of the river. I remember our old friend William Steadman debating the issue and, as a true cockney, he said that it was no use doing these things under the water because the tide would do this, that and the other, and that one would not be able to cross the Thames unless one went round. That sort of argument brought fun into our discussion.
We talk about rationalisation, efficiency and the reorganisation of industry, but I say, give the dear old River Thames a chance! Give the Port of London a chance! When the Minister of Transport is approached intelligently, frankly and with candour, and with technical information, I think he will agree with me that the bed of the river should be at least 30 feet above any tunnel that may be built.
§ Major Sir HERBERT CAYZER
I find myself in a somewhat peculiar position being in agreement with the hon. Member for Salford, North (Mr. Tillett) and also with the right hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Runciman). The hon. Member for South-East Essex (Mr. Oldfield) said that there was an unholy alliance of the shipowners and the Port of London Authority against this Bill. Surely the 1040 shipowners and the Port of London Authority are natural allies. The Port of London Authority is the power which has to look after the docks and navigation of the River Thames.
§ Mr. OLDFIELD
The hon. Member has rather misunderstood me. I said the shipowners and the Port of London on the one side, and the steel trade on the other side.
§ Sir H. CAYZER
I understood the hon. Member to say that there was an unholy alliance of the shipowners and the Port of London Authority. It is said that Southampton and Liverpool are the natural ports for large vessels. The reason they go there now is because they cannot use the Port of London, and if this Bill is passed it will make permanent the disadvantages from which London suffers at present. It is also said that ships should not come right up into the heart of London; that it is better they kept further out at Tilbury. Against that, consider what has taken place in connection with the King George V Dock, which was opened in 1921. In 1923, 390 vessels of a net registered tonnage of 1,500,000 used that dock, and in 1929 this had increased to 797 vessels with a net registered tonnage of 3,400,000 tons. That shows that there is a tendency, when they get the chance, for big ships to come right into the heart of London.
This Bill will make permanent the existing depth of the Thames because the crown of the tunnel is only a depth of 42 feet 9 inches, which gives very little margin to go upon, and there is a Clause in the Bill which allows that level to be deviated from to the extent of 10 feet. That is a dangerous Clause. Actually you would reduce the level of the river. We have to safeguard against that from the shipowners' point of view, and also from the point of view of the Port of London Authority. I do not think King George V Dock is the last word as far as London is concerned. We shall see far bigger docks, I think we all hope to see bigger docks, but if you bring in this Bill it will practically wipe out the development of London as a port in the future. It is the duty of the Port of London Authority to safeguard the development of the Port of London. Something has been said in regard to an alternative scheme of a bridge. Whether 1041 it is a tunnel or a bridge, one thing we must have definite from the shipowners' point of view, and that is that neither will interfere with the future development of the Port of London. One reason given against the building of a bridge, perhaps not seriously, was that a bomb might be dropped upon it.
§ Sir H. CAYZER
I only mentioned it because it was one of the reasons given against the building of a bridge. If that is the position of hon. Members opposite then I must seriously ask them to reconsider their proposals for scrapping our cruisers. If we cannot build a bridge in this country because a bomb might be dropped upon it we cannot afford to lose the safeguard of our cruisers in the event of war. Apparently, the promoters of the Bill are inclined to be a little more reasonable. They say that they do not wish to put anything in the way of the development of the Port of London. If that is their attitude I cannot understand why they should introduce a Bill which will stop such development. I urge the House before they pass a Bill which is a menace to the Port of London to seriously consider the suggestions that its provisions should be radically altered.
There are many good reasons why this Bill should have a Second Beading. I have listened carefully to the speeches of hon. Members who have opposed the Motion, and even the Mover of the Amendment seemed to base his argument on the ground of the amount of steel and labour which would be provided in the case of a bridge. Knowing the hon. Member for Newport 1042 (Mr. Walker) as I do I imagine that if it can be shown that as much iron and steel and engineering skill are necessary in the building of a tunnel he will probably have less objection to the Bill. My view of the situation is this, speaking quite candidly I care very little whether it is a bridge or a tunnel so long as we have adequate and essential transport facilities across the Thames at this particular point. If there was any real substance in the alternative proposal of a bridge, if it was other than an attempt to block the Bill for the time being, I should be quite happy to agree to any plan that would enable us to consider the matter again. The project of a tunnel across the Thames at this point has been before the House as far back as 1924. This present Bill has been before the House already, and there have been adequate opportunities for opponents of the proposal to put forward alternatives. In my opinion the suggestion for a bridge seems to fall in no other category than an attempt to prevent this Bill getting a Second Beading.
§ Mr. WALKER
On a point of Order. May I make my position quite clear. The suggestion of an alternative bridge cannot be put forward in any way except by an Amendment to the Second Beading of this Bill.
The method of transport across the Thames, whether by bridge or tunnel, has been before the House for a long time. It is an acute question not only for the people in the Dartford division of Kent but also for those in the South-East Essex division. One of the weightiest reasons for giving the Bill a Second Beading is that a tunnel at this point will be one of the greatest contributions to a solution of the London traffic problem, which is getting more and more difficult. I happen to live on the Essex side of the Thames, my constituency is on the Kent side, and I have to come to London every day. Anybody who lives in Essex has to travel many miles up the Essex side of the river in order to get into Kent, and has to be dependent on crossing the river either at Woolwich by the ferry or through the Blackwall Tunnel. He has to go as far 1043 as that into London in order to get round into Kent. That is a weighty reason why the Bill should have a Second Reading.
I have listened carefully to all the reasons urged against the Bill. I am bound to say that I have not been very deeply impressed by the plea of the shipowners and of the Port of London Authority against the Bill. No one has more regard than I have for the important work of the Port of London Authority. I do not live by the Thames and represent a Thames-side constituency without taking the trouble to find out something about Thames traffic. I appreciate all the difficulties of the Port of London Authority, and if I thought that this Bill would hamper or restrict any possible or probable or legitimate developments of London docks and shipping, I should not be here supporting the Bill. But, so far as I can see, there is no point of the Port of London Authority or of the shipping interests that cannot reasonably be met.
It is only fair to say that the depth of water over the tunnel must sooner or later have a limitation. Suppose that the 40 feet provided is not enough. The promoters of the Bill have always signified their intention of meeting that plea if necessary. That I understand is the only reservation made—that it is shown to be necessary. They are quite prepared to meet that claim in Committee. But if you go down another 10 feet, and then another 10 feet, there must be a limit to it at some time. It is perfectly true that in the case of shipping it cannot be expected that we shall stand still in the matter of draught, but, again speaking as a layman, I suppose we must have some regard for the peculiar course of the river. It is not only draught that has to be considered, but the navigation of the Thames round very awkward bends. Not only do I live on one side of the river and work on the other side, but I have been up and down the Thames enough times to know that, apart from the question of draught, there is a limitation to the size of ships that can be brought into the heart of the Port of London, whether this tunnel be built or not.
Let me return to the first point I made. The question of transport across the river has been before this House for a long time. It was considered in connection 1044 with the Woolwich Ferry, the Blackwall Tunnel and other tunnels. If there was a case for bridges then, why were bridges not adopted? Half the Blackwall Tunnel happens to be in my constituency and the other half in the Poplar constituency. One has only to see the traffic that even these tunnels are keeping from the centre of the City to appreciate how great an improvement there would be if there were another cross-Thames system of transport lower down. As far as I can see a tunnel is the only thing that will meet the case. The suggested bridge, I understand, would be 250 feet high. That would present difficulties, owing to the flatness of the approaches at that point. I am fairly familiar with the ground on both sides, and I say that on the Essex side—I would not be so dogmatic about the other side—it is quite flat, marshy land, and there would be difficulty in building a bridge of that height.
I am impressed by the weakness of the case against the Bill. The only point that has fastened itself on my mind is whether or not this House should give just the extra consideration suggested to the Port of London Authority. As a London Member I am not going to be party to riding roughshod over the feelings or the dignities of the Port of London. Certainly it was not in the minds of the promoters of the Bill to do so. As far as I know the minds of the promoters, they merely wanted facilities for getting across the Thames at this point in order to link up two very important counties, and to make possible the construction of docks and the development of townships lower down the river, and to make the Port of London bigger and more progressive than it is at the present time.
My last word is this. It was urged by the Mover of the Amendment that this was a certified Bill. I do not think we can lose sight of that fact. I do not, in my support of the Bill, approach it at all from that standpoint. I happen to have been in the House when this Bill was promoted in 1924, and I have always from that day to this seen the necessity of the Bill. Although I do not approach it from the point of view of it being a certified Bill, that is an important aspect of the case of which this House cannot lose sight. Here is a Bill to provide a very important facility for transport 1045 across the Thames farther down, that will relieve the transport problem of London and will make possible developments between Essex and Kent which will save the people of Essex much travelling. There are some populous areas right down in South-East Essex. There is the constituency represented by the Noble Lady the Member for Southend (Countess of Iveagh) with its 126,000 population, many thousands of whom travel up by road every day and cross London to get to the other side. Having regard to the development that will be possible if this Bill can go through Committee and have the examination it deserves, and having regard to the fact that this certified Bill will provide employment for many people—think of the iron and steel, coal and everything which will be used in a construction of this nature—I urge the House to give this Bill a Second Reading, and to oppose the Amendment, which appears to have been moved mainly for the purpose of preventing the Measure from going forward.
§ Mr. E. C. GRENFELL
I wish to oppose this Bill for several reasons. The Port of London Authority was established originally to remedy the difficulties that have existed on the Thames in the management of the great shipbuilding trade of this city. Several Members have spoken on both sides with knowledge of the river, but with the population of Greater London amounting to 7,000,000 or 8,000,000 people, I believe that only some five or 10 per cent. of the people of Greater London have ever seen the Thames, by which I mean the Thames which we regard as the Port of London. In Liverpool and Southampton all know their docks. see the ships, make it their daily walk to see their river, but few Londoners know anything about the Port of London. It is because of that that London has taken little interest in the port and in the river. It was for that purpose that the Port of London Authority was established. I believe everyone acknowledges that it has done its work well. It has attempted successfully to bring London up to the level—and, perhaps, to exceed the level—which in sleepier times permitted Rotterdam, Antwerp and the mouth of the Thames to grow so that they took away a large part of our trade.
I have now no connection with shipping, but in the past for some 12 years I 1046 was chairman of a company which controlled four out of the biggest shipping companies on the Thames. I remember that I first went to New Zealand in one of the biggest ships in their service, which was 4,000 tons. When I was chairman many years afterwards, and the company owned more lines, we put on the biggest ship which had ever been in the Port of London, and the Port was hardly able to cope with her. She was an 18,000 ton vessel as compared with the 4,000 tonner in which I went to New Zealand. I was also chairman of a company controlling Atlantic transport, when the ships of that line were 5,000 tons. To-day their two ships are of 22,000 tons—five or six times as big as the biggest ship then trading on the river. When the Port of London Authority was established, it set to work to build as fine docks as there are in the world, and the King George V Dock is the result. I think anyone who knows about shipping will admit that it is important to London to get the big ships up as near the centre as you can. Several mistakes were made, one of which meant a delay when once a big scheme of docks was built in affording proper accommodation for London. I have been connected indirectly with a big company which managed the cartage and wharfage of the River Thames. Five years ago they were considering going back from motor haulage on the roads to horse haulage, because of the traffic on the roads between the London Docks and London had become so slow owing to congestion that the pace of the vans was something like one to one and a half mile per hour. The last Government and the present Government have spent millions on the great East India Dock Road which will permit those docks to be connected with London on an economic basis.
consider this Bill to be ill-considered, because it is making what is possibly meant to be an improvement, but which may still be a great danger to the London docks. Anyone with experience of the London river knows that certain tunnels built earlier have prevented ships getting up as near London as otherwise they could. Supposing those ships increase—and who is going to say they will not?—as they have increased in the last 20 years. Anyone who considers this will not be dogmatic enough to say that they will not increase in the same proportion, and possibly in a greater proportion again.
1047 In this ill-considered Bill it is suggested that the tunnels should be made under the river with so little margin that it will be extremely dangerous to send the biggest ships up the river. I do not pre tend that the big passenger ships from the Atlantic, such as those referred to by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Runciman) will ever return to London, because their place is to trade at a port so near to the Continent that they can combine the services, with the Continent and with England, but there are certain passenger services, the great services to the East, and other great freight services, with which London has to compete with Hamburg, Rotterdam and Antwerp. It is a most dangerous thing to build a tunnel at this place, where, owing to the fogs of London, great ships expecting to get up to the port and the dock may suddenly have to stop and anchor. That means a great danger—
§ Mr. GRENFELL
That means a great danger, with hardly any margin under the keels. You have only just begun making accommodation for road transport from King George V Dock. It is possible when that is done that you will have another impediment to making London a really good port for modern conditions. Is it anticipated that if ships increase in size the promoters will be prepared to blow up this tunnel and sacrifice the £4,000,000? When I saw the Minister of Transport, on behalf of the Port of London Authority, the right hon. Gentleman was most courteous and gave me a reply which I brought back to the authority, but they were not content with it, and it is because of that that they have brought their case before the House to-night. You appoint this great authority of eminent men, and someone has given them cause to believe that they are not going to get fair treatment and that this ill-conceived Bill will be proceeded with at all costs, simply because it has been begun.
§ Mr. HERBERT MORRISON
Can the hon. Gentleman justify the statement which he has just made from the letter which I sent him?
§ Mr. GRENFELL
What I said was that I was going to produce an extract from the printed statement sent to me this 1048 morning on behalf of the promoters of the Bill. I did not refer to the Minister. Under the proposals of this Bill, there is the suggestion of the possibility that the level of the tunnel may be raised or deepened in order to suit the Port of London Authority, but in this matter a very difficult problem is involved, and I do not believe that it has been fully considered. I base that comment on the statement of the promoters. They say that if it has to be greatly deepened the difficulties will be considerable and that different methods will have to be employed. They say:From the known geological conditions at this spot the promoters are advised that, in view of the water which might reasonably be expected to be met with, it might well be found impossible to carry out the project at all, or at any rate, except at a cost which would clearly render it impracticable.That is their own statement, and I say the promoters have not considered these difficulties and could not have done so, because they confess that they are ignorant on the subject. I, therefore, submit that it is unfair to give a Second Reading to the Bill when the promoters acknowledge that they do not know what will happen to the sub-soil if they deepen beyond a certain point. We agree with that view, and we say that Members who have spoken in favour of the Bill, whether in their own interests or for the public weal, are the people who ought to bring forward a really well-worked-out plan and not one involving geological questions which they confess they do not understand. I would point out to the House the danger of this experiment, and I submit that it should not be undertaken, especially in view of the fact that we have a workable proposition apart from this proposal for providing for the traffic between these two counties. We ought not to run the risk of passing a Bill which may inure to the harm of the Port of London. I say myself, as one who is not connected now with shipping or with any other trade concerned in this matter, that I would rather not undertake such a hazardous experiment. I wish to protect the Port of London; I wish to see it made the equal and the superior of our rivals of Rotterdam and Antwerp. The inhabitants of those cities look upon their ports as necessary to the greatness of their countries, and we ought to look to the Port of London. I repeat that this is a 1049 dangerous experiment, and I hope that the House will not give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ Mr. HERBERT MORRISON
There are two forms of opposition to this Bill which is one with which the Government are associated—obviously from the fact that, partly for traffic reasons and partly for unemployment reasons, they have decided to contribute a very substantial part of the cost of the tunnel. Therefore, the House will realise that the Government have been consulted all the way through, as previous Governments were, and that we are associated with the promoters of the Bill. The first form of opposition I shall deal with very shortly. It is represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Newport (Mr. Walker) supported by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Midlothian and Peebles (Major Colville). With that form of opposition, I find it a little difficult to be patient. It represents the attitude of the steel industry, and, as far as I can make out, the position of that school of critics is that, if we built a bridge, more steel would be used than if we built a tunnel, and, therefore, the proper thing is to build a bridge.
§ Major COLVILLE
May I point out that I based my argument entirely on my belief that a better service would he given by a bridge than by a tunnel?
§ Mr. MORRISON
Certainly, but having adopted the position that it would be good for the steel trade to have a bridge—and that is the position of the steel trade
§ Mr. MORRISON
Having adopted that position I say, then, of course, arguments must be produced to show that it is the sound thing to do technically. I quite agree that arguments were produced, but they are arguments which I cannot accept. It will be a bad thing in the history of Private Bill legislation and the history of the examination of proposals by technicians advising the Government or local authorities on these matters if they are to foe influenced in the choice of materials and so forth by the question whether it is going to benefit this trade or that. If we superimpose that consideration on the aesthetic considerations that must arise as to whether 1050 we should build, for example, a stone bridge or a steel bridge or a reinforced concrete bridge, surely we shall be placed in an impossible position. We all meet interests from time to time, but I have never met them so nakedly as upon this issue; and, although the arguments for a steel bridge were considerable, nevertheless I think that that basis of argument is a bad basis and ought to be discouraged by the House.
The hon. and gallant Member said that the opponents of the tunnel would be good enough to accept a steel bridge. But the people who are to pay for this proposition have some right to be heard. It is not the critics alone who should determine what is to be built. The local authorities and the Ministry of Transport who have to make substantial contributions to the work must have some voice in it. I am advised that it is unlikely that the local authorities would be persuaded to embark on such a project as a bridge. They have a dread of the cost of upkeep of a large exposed engineering structure. The quotations in paragraph 7 of the Steel Manufacturers' Association's statement in opposition to the Bill as to the views of the Royal Commission, are somewhat unfair because in the first of these the Royal Commission were referring to a bridge where "breaking" is provided similar to that provided in the case of the Tower Bridge. In modern tunnel construction, there is no reason to fear anything from petrol fumes, and that point can be well met. The difficulty must be faced that on the Essex side of the river the country is very flat, and I do not know how far you would have to go back to start the bridge on the ground level. The consequence would be that the expenditure—on steel, I admit, but still expenditure—would be extraordinary in order to get the bridge right back again to the ground level. The hon. Member for South West Bethnal Green (Mr. Harris) was apprehensive about viaducts in the case of the Charing Cross Bridge, but here is a case where there would be greater apprehension over a much longer viaduct, and I am certain that, in view of its effect on the rateable value of the county of Essex, which is not too great, the local authority would not look at the bridge proposition at all.
1051 In paragraph 2 of the circular the cost of ventilation, lighting, and drainage and police patrol of the proposed tunnel is capitalised at £500,000, but no provision is made in their estimate for the upkeep of the bridge or its lighting or policing. It is argued that you could have a six-line bridge, and there are some who hold the view that that should always be aimed at. What do we want a six-line bridge there for? It is assumed that the traffic there will be analogous to that of Westminster Bridge and Blackfriars Bridge. It is an important thing to link up Kent and Essex—very important—on the merits of the counties, and from the point of view of by-passing London, but to imagine that you will have enough traffic to fill a six-line bridge is to imagine something that will not happen, and the local authorities will be immediately faced with the fact that if they have provided a six-line bridge, they have to provide six line highway approaches, and the cost is going up on the approaches as well as the bridge.
No, Sir, the bridge scheme seems to be based on the virtue of spendinig the maximum amount of money, and, as a true economist, I cannot accept that philosophy of life. I leave that part of the argument, because I think the House is somewhat impressed by the Port of London Authority's argument, but I do not think the House is impressed by the argument of industry on that basis, although I am always willing to see to it that where a steel bridge can properly be considered, it shall be considered. Certainly we want to help the steel industry, but we cannot consider it on the basis which is before the House to-night.
I pass to the tunnel. It has been realised for many years that there was a great need of additional facilities at that part of the river for the purpose of connecting up Kent and Essex, for the considerable traffic that would go from one county to the other, to give better access from Essex to the Southern ports possibly, without going right through the East End to Blackwall, and contrariwise; for giving better access from the Eastern half of built-up London on the North side of the river to Kent; and above all to try and divert some of the traffic that now goes through London to that tunnel and over roads that 1052 could better take the traffic. Therefore, I think everybody, including the right hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Runciman), will agree that on traffic grounds, on road transport grounds, there is a very strong case for the proposal in the Bill.
Since 1924, as has been stated, the matter has been under consideration as a result, very largely, of the instigation of many local and public authorities in the home counties, a large number of whom have pressed the Labour Government of 1924, the Conservative Government which last went out of office, and this Government for the provision of this tunnel roughly at the point which we have indicated. Sir Maurice Fitzmaurice, the eminent consulting engineer, was instructed by a previous Government to make an engineering inquiry into the proposition, and here arises the point of the alleged want of courtesy towards the Port of London Authority.
I need not assure the House that I am exceedingly sorry if there is any feeling on the part of the Authority that they have not been treated with proper courtesy, either by the promoters of the Bill or by the Ministry of Transport. I cannot be responsible for what happened at the Ministry before I went there, but I should be very sorry if the Port of London Authority felt a grievance in the matter, and they can be assured that, so far as I am concerned and, I am sure, so far as the Department is concerned and was concerned, it is always recognised that in anything affecting the Port of London the Port of London Authority have the fullest right to be heard; and indeed it is to the advantage of all of us that they should be heard and fully consulted. I think the misapprehension, if it was a misapprehension, originally arose in this way: Sir Maurice Fitzmaurice was the consulting engineer. It was assumed by everybody that he would be in consultation with the Port of London Authority's officials, and, as far as the Department knew, he had been in consultation with the Port of London Authority's officials during the period of this engineering inquiry. Those officials do not agree that he was in consultation with them, and, of course, I must accept their assurance. On the other hand, even if I wanted to, I could not disprove it, because unfortunately Sir Maurice 1053 Fitzmaurice is dead, and that is probably part of the reason for the misunderstanding, if there was any, that has arisen.
Having made that admission, if so it be, I must add that the discussion of a tunnel at that point has been common knowledge ever since 1924. There was no secret about it. This is not something that suddenly stole along like a thief in the night and caught the Port of London Authority unawares. They knew that it was being discussed, that it was actively under consideration, and they knew that they had only to write to the Minister of Transport, who, after all, is a sort of godfather to the Port of London Authority itself, and that at all times we should have been willing to confer with them. My part of the business comes in here. As I say, we had assumed that there had been consultations, and if there were not I am exceedingly sorry, and I express every regret. We did not know what we required until shortly before the time when the Bill had to be deposited, but directly we knew what depth it was likely we should go to, we communicated officially with the Port of London Authority, as early as the 18th November, 1929, which, after all, is some little time ago; and on the 31st January the Port of London Authority were in a position to tell us the depth they considered they wanted. Between those dates my officers were in consultation with the officers of the Authority, but up to that time they were not themselves clear what depth they would want in figures, though they were satisfied that the depth which we were proposing was, in their judgment, not sufficient.
I venture to say that when matters became effective we took immediate opportunity to inform the Port of London Authority. We did inform them, and we have been in consultation either with the Authority or with their officers ever since. At the beginning of February I received representations from Members of this House who had met together, irrespective of party, at the request, I understood, of the Port of London Authority. Those Members of Parliament asked me to meet them to discuss this particular grievance and the general position. I met them, and discussed it, and I thought—and hon. Members of the House confirm 1054 my recollection—that the attitude I took was one which was perfectly reasonable, and was one which ought to have enabled the Port of London Authority to withdraw its opposition to the Second Reading of this Bill. After the meeting, I sent this letter to the Members concerned on the 6th February, to which none of the Members concerned demurred. I agree that it has not been accepted by the Port of London Authority, but none of the Members named in the letter have demurred to the view that this was a reasonable proposition, as indeed was agreed at the meeting, which took place in my room down below. On the 6th February I caused the following letter to be sent to the General Manager of the Port of London Authority: