HC Deb 20 March 1940 vol 358 cc1968-70
32. Brigadier-General Clifton Brown

asked the Minister of Transport whether he will encourage the carriage of coal and goods by making more use of existing canals; and what steps is he taking to revive this important form of transport?

28. Sir Stanley Reed

asked the Minister of Transport what steps have been taken to make full use of the canal system of the country, especially in view of the fact that before the war some of these canals were operating below capacity owing to the shortage of bargemasters?

Captain Wallace

The question of the fuller use of the canals has been very carefully considered both by the Regional Transport Commissioners and by the Canal (Defence) Advisory Committee, on which are represented the waterways and carriers, as well as the various Government Departments concerned in getting traffic moved. Steps have been taken to bring the facilities offered by the canal carriers to the notice of traders and Government Departments.

My right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour is taking special measures to fill vacancies for canal boatmen, and at the last meeting of the Canal (Defence) Advisory Committee representatives of the employers and of labour agreed to make jointly an immediate inquiry into the labour position. I have also asked the representatives of the industry whether, upon the basis of some measure of financial assistance from the Government, they can formulate practical plans for carrying more traffic by canal.

Brigadier-General Brown

Will the Minister consider the case of the Kennet Canal, west of Reading, and use his influence to get the Great Western Railway to take off the embargo which has been on the canal for many years?

Captain Wallace

I hope the canal people will consider every canal in putting forward their proposals.

Mr. Ede

Will the right hon. and gallant Gentleman take steps to see that railway-owned canals are brought back into use? Can he make grants available for clearing weeds in such canals as the Kennet and Avon, through which you cannot get a motor boat drawing from 2 feet 8 inches at the moment?

Captain Wallace

I think that before we distribute any money we shall have to make sure that it will be well spent and that any canal which can be opened will give us a good return.

Mr. J. Hollins

Will the Minister consider that canals, as a means of transport in bulk, are the cheapest form of transport in the country and have been deliberately put out of commission by the railways? Will steps be taken to encourage canal companies to put their waterways into operation and thus save petrol on the roads?

Captain Wallace

The fact that I have been able to say in the last part of my answer that we are asking representatives of the industry to work out a plan on the basis of some financial assistance from the Government is, I think, the best assurance I can give to the House that we are taking this matter seriously.

Mr. De la Bère

Is not the attitude of the railways on this matter very unsatisfactory?