HC Deb 30 June 1954 vol 529 cc1425-60

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

7.0 p.m.

Mr. B. T. Parkin (Paddington, North)

I beg to move to leave out "now," and at the end of the Question to add, "upon this day three months."

It is unusual for a Private Bill to be opposed in this House on Second Reading, but I assure the House that this step has not been taken by my hon. Friends and myself without very careful consideration and very weighty reasons. It has been suggested that the right thing to do was to allow the Bill to be presented as is usual and to argue the case out in Committee, but our objections to the Bill are profound and weighty, and are objections of principle. It is difficult to sustain objection of principle in Committee where the procedure allows only the grievances of individuals to be put.

Our main objection is that it is wrong in principle to allow a statutory company to divest itself of some of its statutory responsibilities and, at the same time, to retain the right to draw income, make profits and to distribute those profits, if not to the shareholders at any rate to the directors of the company. That is the situation in regard to this particular company. It is a statutory company, and as such is not obliged to publish its balance sheet or its list of shareholders, or to give the public access to information about directors, shareholders and assets. It is well known that should the company be fortunate enough to smuggle through the provisions of the Bill without exposure and protest, it would be in the very happy position of having no longer any obligation to keep up the waterway.

There is a provision in the Bill by which the company can ask the rural district councils to be good enough to contribute towards the cost of clearing the waterway, which has become silted up while the company can go on drawing income from selling water and from the rents of its properties, which are quite considerable. The income from the sale of water to industrial organisations is also quite considerable. It is known, for instance, that the company sells water to the British Transport Commission for topping up the ship canal which goes from Gloucester to Sheerness. The amount that it receives for that service is probably between £800 and £1,500 a year—merely for the privilege of allowing its own water to trickle into the ship canal. No undertaking of any kind set up under statute should be allowed to divest itself of responsibility by a Private Bill of this nature and, at the same time, retain its profits and assets.

Secondly, we submit that it is wrong to abandon the waterway by this procedure. It is probably wrong to close a waterway at all. Public feeling on the subject of waterways has been roused very much for years. The public is beginning to be shocked at the way in which this national heritage has been neglected and allowed to be abandoned and, in some cases, virtually strangled through competitive interests. That theme will no doubt be taken up by other hon. Members later.

I want to recall that as recently as last year a Private Bill entitled "The Rochdale Canal Bill" came before the Private Bill Committee of this House and the Chairman of the Committee, in reporting to the House, said: The Committee consider that the whole question of the future of canals should be dealt with by public legislation, following a general inquiry into the matter. The findings of the Committee on these Bills"— he was referring to the Rochdale Canal Bill and another Private Bin— should not prejudice any decision which may be arrived art as the result of such inquiry or be taken to create procedures for the treatment by Private Bill Committees of future bills dealing with canals. That is a fair and clear enough warning by Members of the Committee that although they would let that Bill through they wished to make their protest that this was not the right way to do it.

Public opinion on the future of canals has gained strength and has become more informed in the past 12 months. The Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation has indicated that the whole matter should be the subject of a great survey. I apologise to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation. I hope that nothing I have said in opposing the Bill will put him into the embarrassing position of having to say something which is in contradiction to or conflicts with the general view of his Ministry that the future of inland waterways should be a subject of survey and public legislation.

Thirdly, we submit that it is wrong to take irrevocable steps in the case of this company which make impossible a later opening of the waterway either for pleasure or commercial purposes. The pressure that has been put on to get the Bill through has, oddly enough, come from a certain department of the county council, which has debated the matter in its Committee. The county council refused to submit to inquiry the objections which were put forward by the local urban district council a couple of years ago.

One department of the county council has made up its mind that the easiest way of getting over its highway difficulties is for this canal to be abandoned so that it can then push the bridges down, particularly a hump-backed bridge in the village where I live. It has been a particular target of criticism and is commonly referred to locally as a "death trap." Hon. Members will readily recognise that it often happens in these cases that there has never been an accident at this spot, although hundreds of thousands of pounds have been spent in widening trunk roads, where the corpses pile up with unbroken regularity.

To show how much of a death trap this bridge is, let me add that this very bridge is scheduled by the county council under Section 30 of the Town and Country Planning Act to be preserved. On the one hand the council desires to push the bridge down and, on the other hand, to keep it up. One of the arguments is that it is much cheaper to push the bridge down and to make a flat bridge so as to render possible easy passage of the canal. It is very much open to debate whether it is cheaper to do it that way. When there was a storm of local protest recently I got information from a local engineer who is a successful designer, and who himself designed one of the bridges carrying a trunk road many years ago. He says that that bridge was made for £1,250 and that in these days of increased costs of labour and materials he could not build another at that price. Another way will have to be found, and I hope that the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation will pay attention to the costs of the alternatives.

I hope that the Ministry will ask the county council to look not at one particular sector of their costs, but at all their costs. The Gloucestershire County Council has to raise about £1,500 every year to fight a losing battle against this canal company. One realises then that it is not fair to say that a certain bridge over the waterway costs only £1,500. If £1,500 a year has to be spent on cutting down weeds, it might be better to spend that money in interest on borrowed money with which to construct decent bridges which would permit the passage of occasional craft, because that, of course, is the surest and safest way of keeping a waterway clear of weeds.

Fourthly, we think it wrong, on the subject of this waterway, to ignore local opinion which has been organising itself very effectively during the last few months as the implications of the Bill have become more clear. Some people in the neighbourhood remember nostalgically when it was a local amenity. It is nearly 40 years ago since I first fell into it, and I learned to swim there.

Mr. F. Blackburn (Stalybridge and Hyde)

Will my hon. Friend explain when it was last used for navigation purposes?

Mr. Parkin

It was last used during the war. I am not certain which year, but it was possibly 1942.

Major W. Hicks Beach (Cheltenham)

In fact, the last time that it was used by one craft was in 1941.

Mr. Parkin

I am very grateful to the hon. and gallant Gentleman for giving the date with such accuracy. No doubt he will also confirm that on that occasion the man who had previously used horse-drawn barges decided to change over to power-driven barges. He asked for an assurance from the company that it would clear the waterway. It gave him that assurance, but did nothing about it. He took his boat down the waterway and his propellor was fouled by the weeds. He was the last man to attempt to get through.

It is now clear from expert local opinion, which backs up my case, that this is not a question of something which was abandoned a long time ago, or a question of something which has no commercial future. I took the very tentative line of the commercial future of this waterway. I thought that it would be quite possible, with the money that could be obtained from through craft and from the mooring of house boats, combined with the income which accrues from the sale of the water and the rates on the properties, to restore it as an amenity, and that it would be possible to take over this undertaking and to carry out all that was required without any burden falling upon the ratepayers.

I am now fortified in that belief by a succession of opinions from local industrialists who say they think that, if restored, the waterway would have a commercial future. Of course, the Stroud Valley is not negligible as an industrial centre.

Mr. Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham

): As one completely ignorant of the whole question, would the hon. Gentleman tell me when, roughly, the canal was last in constant or commercial use?

Mr. Parkin

I suppose that it was the falling off of the horse-drawn coal barges in the 1930s which marked the end of the active period. At the time of the war, there was no opportunity to back up the switch-over from horse-drawn to power-driven boats, so the chance was lost and the weeds grew. The difficulties have not since been overcome.

The commercial future of the waterway cannot be viewed without reservations, because, of course, there can be no certainty about these things until the waterway is actually in operation, and one cannot get anyone to guarantee that they would use it. However, I have seen one very interesting quotation from a canal carrying company for transporting goods from Manchester to Stroud based on the assumption that the waterway would open. The cost would be about one-seventh of that of transporting the goods by rail. Of course, that is very big money when one thinks in terms of barge loads. There is a very considerable amount to be saved on a single barge load which goes through the waterway, and, consequently, the cost of restoring locks should be considered in relation to the profits that could be earned.

One of the executives of a big oil-distributing firm in this country has publicly expressed himself against the Bill, and in favour of the proposal to create a trust. I do not wish to embarrass the hon. Member for Stroud and Thornbury (Sir R. Perkins) tonight, because I know how difficult it is when one has formally commited oneself to a certain line. However, I would remind him that the person to whom I am referring is a former member of the constituency Conservative Association. Therefore, it will be seen that this is certainly an all-party matter in the locality. Local opinion has formed itself into an energetic committee, a trust in embryo, ready to operate.

The most disgraceful thing about this Bill is the way in which the company of proprietors, as they should properly be called, ignore any attempt to discuss an alternative to this Bill. The greatest publicity has been given to the activities of the committee, which is suggesting appealing for an opportunity to discuss the matter. There is no doubt that the money can be raised, and since the company remains so silent about its management, its assets and its activities, it must not complain if the picture presented to the public is that of a dispirited, out-of-date and very old group of people, very small in number, meeting together in the back office of the local lawyer and sharing out the rents of dilapidated cottages and the money received from the selling of dirty water, and doing nothing else whatever.

At the other end, we have people of all parties anxious to do something in the public interest. In these days, movements of this kind—spontaneous, voluntary and public-spirited—should not lightly be disregarded. I ask the House to give these local people a chance to show what they can do—and to follow the guidance offered and the example given through the Inland Waterways Association—through the formation of a non-profit making trust set up to look after this important part of our national heritage until we have had time to survey the whole problem and to come to a decision on the future of our waterways in the national interest.

In these circumstances, I make no apology for my part in opposing the passage of this Bill. I think it is right that it should be opposed, and that I should ask for the protection of the House on behalf of those who want to do their bit for the amenities and the prosperity of their locality.

7.19 p.m.

Mr. Garner Evans (Denbigh)

It is not often that I agree with the hon. Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin), but on this issue I agree with every word that he has said. I do not like these abandonment Acts. We have had far too many of them, and most of them have slipped through this House completely unnoticed. For instance, due to the abandonment Acts which slipped through this House in 1943, we have now lost over 400 miles of navigable waterways. I am most grateful to the hon. Member for Paddington, North for having raised the matter on the Floor of the House.

It is particularly unfortunate that the promoters of this Bill should be trying to slip it through at the present time. I know that the Minister who is here tonight is most sympathetic to the whole canal and inland waterways issue. We are all grateful to him for having got the British Transport Commission to set up an inquiry into the future of our canals, and not only to investigate the commercial use of the canals but to decide what is to be done with those which are no longer used for commercial purposes.

I beg the Minister not to allow this Second Reading of this Bill before we have the result of that inquiry. It would be absolutely scandalous to do so. If the inquiry finds that greater commercial use can be made of those neglected waterways, or that some of them, though not very useful for commercial traffic, have an enormous amenity and pleasure value to the community, would we not look a lot of fools to have passed this Bill?

I turn for a moment to the Bill itself. I am most grateful to its promoters for having circulated to some, but not to all, hon. Members a statement concerning the Bill. Stroudwater Navigation Bill—how it can be called a navigation Bill I do not know. It is a stagnation, not a navigation, Bill. Nevertheless that is its title. This statement is interesting: The main provisions of the Bill are to release the company from their obligation to keep the Stroudwater Canal open for navigation; The main purpose of the Bill is to release the company from its obligation. It goes on: …to provide that the county council shall immediately take over the responsibility for the repair…of bridges.… Then: To empower the company to sell the water. This is rather nice. We are to say, "Release the company from its obligations, throw those obligations on the county council, and then allow the company to keep the profits." Really, the Gloucester County Council is buying a pig in a poke. I do not think that the people in that county know what is going on. To say that the county council is buying a pig in a poke is wrong. What it is buying is a part-share in a cow. The county shares responsibility for the top end and the company keeps the other. The county is to feed the beast and the company will continue to get in profits from the more profitable end of the animal.

The document goes on to say: For very many years the Stroudwater Canal Las not been used by waterborne traffic of any kind. … Why? Because this company, which is now asking us to support this Bill, has failed to live up to its obligations. It was obliged under several Acts of Parliament to maintain this as a navigable waterway. It has not lived up to its obligations and now has the effrontery to say to this House, "Because we have not lived up to our obligations, the thing is now impossible, and because it is impossible we want you to close it down."

We have had this sort of argument before. The old railway companies used it and it has been used by the British Transport Commission. Some hon. Members will remember the case of the Welsh section of the Shropshire Union Canal. In 1937 there was a comparatively small breach in the bank of the Shropshire Union Canal between Newtown and Welshpool. It was a small breach which could have been repaired quite easily in a matter of hours and at little cost. The local people wanted to know what to do and rang up Crewe. Crewe said, "This is all right, do not do anything at all about it. Shut off the water from the canal, otherwise it will become dangerous."

That was one of the most beautiful sections of canal in the country. It was a lovely stretch—almost as good as that which goes through my own home town of Llangollen. They closed the canal to traffic. A couple of working boats were left above the breach and a boatbuilder, a most useful man, was put out of business. Then, in 1943, the L.M.S. came to this House when our attention was diverted—[An HON. MEMBER: "No."] Some of us were in the desert and not thinking about canals. The water rats were almost as busy as the Desert Rats. In 1943 the L.M.S. had the effrontery to come and say, "We must abandon the canal because there is no traffic upon it." How could there be traffic upon it when there was no water in it? This Bill is an example of the same thing.

The brief goes on to say: …the use of the Canal for navigation would not be economic. Who says so? The canal company itself finds it very useful and economic for the sale of water, but for navigation purposes they say that it would not be economical. So far as I know, no impartial survey has ever been made to find out whether it would be economic to use that canal again. I have a letter from one of the biggest industrialists in Stroud saying: We understand that the matter of the Stroudwater Navigation comes before the House of Commons tomorrow and we think a full inquiry into its usefulness ought to be made before this project is finally abandoned, as in the years past this has proved of the greatest value to the business community in Stroud. I do not know whether or not there is a commercial future for this canal, but at least we should have an inquiry before we lightheartedly abandon this waterway.

Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, East)

Might I suggest that one way of getting an inquiry is to give the Bill a Second Reading so that it can be examined upstairs?

Mr. Garner Evans

I take the point, but if the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) had listened earlier, he would have known that it is not only on that point that we are opposing the Bill but that many of us object on grounds of principle as well. I do not see why the time of hon. Members should be taken up, and money spent, in sending this Bill upstairs when really what we want is a clear-cut decision to get the Bill chucked out tonight.

The next point the company make is: The Bill is…supported by…the Gloucester County Council, the Stroud Urban District Council, the Stroud Rural District Council, and the Gloucester Rural District Council. Their main concern is one of road safety.

Sir Harold Webbe (Cities of London and Westminster)

By people who know something about it.

Mr. Garner Evans

By people who may know something about it, but it is very interesting that there has not been one single public discussion in the Gloucester County Council—not one. Much has been said in committee but the ratepayers of Gloucestershire—from the leadership given by their county council—know nothing about the pros and cons of this Bill. As for the Stroud Rural District Council, who have been asked to take on certain responsibilities in connection with this canal, there has not been a single public discussion in that council until last Friday night.

It is rather strange that the promoters are now using as an argument that the people of Gloucestershire are strongly in favour of this Bill on the grounds of road safety. I cannot imagine anything more absurd. There may be one or two hump-backed bridges, which can be removed, but surely the more traffic that is taken off the roads and put on the inland waterways of the country, the better it will be for road safety. A pair of barges can carry the contents of five lorries, and I should have thought that we in this House who are interested in road safety would have been doing everything in our power to permit the use of inland waterways and not giving our support to Measures of this kind.

The hon. Member for Paddington, North referred to local opinion on this matter. There is in Stroud and the surrounding district a body of people prepared to take over this water, develop it and use it for amenity purposes, for pleasure craft and the like, and to investigate the possibilities of its use commercially. Knowing those facts, I beg of this House to oppose this Bill.

7.32 p.m.

Sir Robert Perkins (Stroud and Thornbury)

I am aware of the almost fanatical sincerity of the Inland Waterways Association. I doubt whether tonight, hon. Members really know the facts about this canal, and I hope that when I have told them the facts they will agree to let this Measure go upstairs to be examined by an impartial Committee of this House so that all the facts can be explored.

This Bill has come from another place, where it was passed without a word of criticism or opposition. This canal was deliberately excluded from the nationalisation Act because at that time it was obviously a liability, and the British Transport Commission did not want to assume that liability. The Bill does not provide, as I believe some hon. Members think it does, for the complete abandonment of this canal. All it does is to free the company from the obligation to keep it open for navigation.

The position today is that, in theory, this canal is open for navigation, but, in fact, it is closed, and all that the Bill does is to legalise the present position. The company will remain responsible for all other existing liabilities. It will remain responsible for leakage, aqueducts, the towpath, culverts, drains, maintaining the canal bank and supplying certain factories with water.

In the distant past this canal was a vital part of the canal structure of this country. It was part of the connecting link in the canal system between the River Severn and the River Thames. A barge could enter this canal from the River Severn, go up to Stroud, then change over to another canal through a tunnel under the Cotswold Hills into your constituency, Mr. Speaker, and finally, end up in the River Thames. That tunnel is 2¼ miles long, and in those days the bargees used to lie on their backs and push with their feet against the roof and against the sides to get the barge through the tunnel. The proprietors of the canal in those days had great foresight and tried to look after their bargees, and they provided a convenient public house at each end of the canal so that they could stoke up both before and after a journey.

This section which goes from Stroud to the Thames was abandoned over 30 years ago. It was abandoned because it leaked. The county council spent a small fortune trying to stop those leaks, but they failed, and the last barge went through that tunnel in 1911. The last man to go through into that tunnel was a friend of mine who did it in a canvas canoe just before the last war, and he reported that he could only go in a very short distance because the roof had fallen in.

To restore that link in this important connection between the Severn and the Thames would mean rebuilding that tunnel right under the Cotswold Hills at a vast expense running, no doubt, into millions of pounds. It seems only sensible that if this connecting link is broken, the other link has very little justification today because it is impossible, and it never can be possible, to take a barge again from the Severn to the Thames by that method. Both ends of the remaining section which we are talking about tonight—that is the section from Stroud to the Severn—are blocked, although there is one exit into a neighbouring and prosperous canal.

Except for one short length at the Severn end, which is to be taken over by the British Transport Commission, the rest of this canal is completely derelict. The lock gates are just falling to pieces. The sluices will not work and cannot be made to work. If ever this canal is to be put into operation again, the sluices and the locks must be renewed. The canal is badly silted up. It is smothered with weeds and, in fact, is a breeding ground for flies.

Mr. John Baird (Wolverhampton, North-East)

If this canal is abandoned, will it no longer be a breeding ground for flies?

Sir R. Perkins

The section to which I am referring is not abandoned. It is the section that goes from Stroud to the Thames which was abandoned 30 years ago. This particular section has not been abandoned, nor will it be if this Bill passes tonight.

There was some argument just now about when the last barge went through. The actual date was 27th May, 1941, when it took 10 tons of coal to the gas company. Before that no barge had been through for three years, and today it is impossible for any barge or even a canoe to get up the full length of this canal because of the silt, weeds and lack of water. I believe that this canal can never again be used commercially.

One very good suggestion has been made which appealed to me. It was pointed out to me that in the past, after the break in the link in the Thames to Stroud section, the canal carried on for a comparatively short time and supplied a local cloth factory and the local gas works with coal and took away tar from the gas works.

Mr. M. Follick (Loughborough)

When was the canal built?

Sir R. Perkins

It was built about 160 years ago. I felt that if we could persuade the local gas board to import coal once again we should have an opportunity of reviving the canal. I went to a great deal of trouble in this matter, and wrote to the South-Western Gas Board to find out if this were possible, and it replied as follows: It is the Board's intention to close down the Stroud gas production plant as soon as arrangements can be made for the delivery of the necessary pipes to integrate Stroud with Gloucester. This old stand-by, which provided for the traffic in the past, has now gone. There can be no hope of future traffic from the gas works, or, as far as I know, from any other source.

Immediately upon the passing of the Bill the county council is prepared to take over and modernise the eight bridges which are carrying county roads. The canal company is responsible for this at the moment, and has to maintain them in the condition in which they were 160 years ago. The result is that they are totally unsuited for modern traffic, and some are a danger to the public. Two bridges, in particular, are giving the county council great anxiety. One, which has already been referred to, is at Stone-house, and is typical of the canal bridge of 160 years ago. It is narrow and humpbacked. It is exactly nine feet wide, and there is no footpath. There is also a complete absence of visibility from one side to the other. Only last Friday I was very nearly hit by a cyclist as I went over it.

The population in this area is rapidly increasing, and, as a result of recent housing developments—which the hon. Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin) knows all about—a large number of children use this bridge on their way to and from school. It is obvious to anyone who knows the bridge that with a mob of children going across it a fatal accident is bound to occur one day. I approached the local road safety committee on the subject. This body is very perturbed about it and has written to me. saying: There is great need for widening and levelling. If the Bill is passed that bridge can and will be replaced this year. Surely it is wiser to prevent an accident to a child rather than to wait and be wise after the event.

The second bridge which is causing anxiety is situated at Whitminster. It is in poor condition, and its use is prohibited to both lorries and buses. In my constituency there is very great local feeling about the bridge, and this has been accentuated by a fatal accident which occurred on a bridge over a neighbouring canal. The bridge collapsed under the overladen weight of a lorry and the unfortunate driver was drowned. That bridge was in a far better condition than the one at Whitminster, which the county council is most anxious to modernise this year, if possible.

Mr. Parkin

I am sure the hon. Member will give the House figures showing the comparative cost of replacing these bridges by flat bridges and the ordinary type of swing bridge, which can be opened and can carry traffic. As the hon. Member knows, there is ample space for such bridges to be installed. His own carelessness at the hump-backed bridge at Stonehouse is now becoming famous. This is the second time he has almost had an accident there. The first occasion arose when my wife was taking a traffic census there, on behalf of the local parish council.

Sir R. Perkins

I am very glad that a traffic census was taken. About two years ago the local parish council sent me figures of that census, and they were certainly alarming.

It will be suggested that the responsibility for these bridges lies with the company, which is quite true. It might also be suggested that the company should modernise the bridges. That is a most praiseworthy suggestion, but if anyone takes a look at the balance sheet of the company—which I have here and will gladly pass to anyone who is interested—he will see that it is, unfortunately, absolutely and utterly impossible for the company to adapt the bridges to make them suitable for present-day traffic. It could not even maintain the bridges for the traffic of 160 years ago.

As my hon. Friend has said, the county council is willing to take over all eight bridges, provided that it can legally replace them with modern, flat-type bridges. It is not prepared to pay the extra sum involved in building either hump-backed or swing bridges. These are the county council's exact words to me: Any proposal to renew existing humpbacked or swing bridges is impracticable. The council will not under any circumstances agree to reconstruct any of these bridges except on modern lines. I agree with the council, because the difference in cost is vast. A complete estimate for repairing all six bridges has been given to me by the county council.

I will not give the full details, but I will summarise them. Nothing need be done in the case of two bridges, because there is little or no traffic over them. There is no hurry about them. If the other six were to be modernised according to modern standards—which means that they would be level bridges—the cost of all six would be £5,500. If the council has to put up hump-backed or swing bridges the cost for all six immediately goes up to £30,000, which is five-and-a-half times as much. In the case of the bridge at Stonehouse, the cost would rise from £2,500 to £10,000, which is four times as much.

The reason for that vast increase is very simple. A hump-backed bridge merely goes straight up and down, and if the county council had to build a humpbacked bridge it would have to build up the road for 50 yards on each side to ensure visibility over the bridge. I agree with the county council in this matter. It is wrong that ratepayers should be asked to pay about £25,000 more to build obsolete bridges so that hypothetical barges might travel along a dry canal. The county council is willing to take over these bridges at once, but it cannot and will not move until the Bill becomes law.

Mr. David Jones (The Hartlepools)

If this is to be a dry canal how can the company carry out its obligations to supply water to the British Transport Commission and to other undertakings on its banks?

Sir R. Perkins

There is no proposal to drain the canal. Some parts of it are dry, but other parts contain water, which is used to supply four or five factories as well as the Commission. I meant to say that the canal is dry in parts.

Hon. Members on that side of the House and on this are interested in seeing the building of the Severn Bridge. I am myself. I put it in my Election address in 1935. The scheme to build the Severn Bridge means building a new motor road from the Midlands to the bridge. That motor road will cross the canal at Whitminster. If this Bill does not go through the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation, when it builds the road, will have either to build a hump in the middle of it or build a swing bridge. In either case the cost of the road will go up substantially and either the hump or the swing bridge will spoil the road. By passing this Bill we shall remove one of the many obstacles in the way of building the Severn Bridge in the future.

I know there are many objections, and that there are many alternatives suggested. I hope I have already given the Inland Waterways Association credit, when I said that I know that they are fanatically sincere. Let me examine the alternative suggestions and objections. The first comes from the owners of 43 little boats moored at the Severn end of the canal. They are worried about their future if the scheme is taken over by the British Transport Commission. I was very sympathetic with them, and I have been in contact with the Commission to see how they will come out in the future. The Commission has written to me thus: Unless circumstances change it is the present intention that the mooring of craft in this part of the canal will be allowed to continue. So I do not think that those people in their little boats down on the banks of the Severn have anything for the present, at any rate, to worry about.

A suggestion that has been made is that the local authorities should take over the whole length of this canal and turn it into a swimming pool or pleasure park, or something of that kind. We already have a first-class swimming pool in Stroud; we have already a first-class pleasure park. I have approached all the local authorities, and every one has flatly refused to touch it. I point out to the House that there is a permissive Clause, Clause 7, which gives power to any of these local authorities, should any of them in future change their minds, to take over part of the canal or the whole of the canal.

Another suggestion is a very attractive one to me. It has been put forward by the hon. Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin). It is that there should be some kind of trust set up to take over the canal. I was very attracted by that, but I reluctantly concluded that it is just not possible because of the vast cost involved. If the Bill is passed some such trust may be set up. I certainly shall not oppose it. If this Bill fails any trust that is set up will automatically have to assume full liability for all those eight bridges at a cost of about £30,000.

I see the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) shaking his head. I know he is thinking that the county council will automatically weigh in, that the county council will, help. There is the precedent of the Roch-dale Canal, a Bill in connection with which has already been mentioned and passed by this House. It is well to remember that in that case the local council took over the bridges from the county council, and it was paid a large sum in compensation for doing it.

I am confident that the county council will stand its corner in this matter. I am absolutely confident that it will pay the full cost of the level bridges at £5,500, but the remaining £24,500 will automatically have to be shouldered by any trust that takes over from the canal company.

That is not the whole story. The high cost of restoring the canal is a vital factor. Nobody knows for certain what it will cost, but a firm of consulting engineers, Sir Ernest Halcrow and Partners, has been called in, and puts the figure at £143,000. Add to that approximately £25,000 and we get a figure of £168,000. I do not mind whether it is £150,000 or is £250,000, I do not believe that any such sum can possibly be raised from local sources in those Stroud valleys to modernise this canal. Consequently, I reluctantly conclude that with the best will in the world a trust is impracticable today. However, if the Bill goes through and the liability for restoring the canal to its original purpose is removed, then I think there may well be some useful purpose to be served by some such trust.

Meanwhile, if we fail tonight and this Bill does not go through the Inland Waterways Association in my constituency will do a lot of talking; it will probably form a trust; but it will not get the money and it will not take any positive or effective action. While it is talking my constituents will have to suffer. I am absolutely certain that accidents will occur, and that the conditions of the canal will deteriorate. Very soon it will be abandoned and the ratepayers will have to take it over as an open sewer.

For two years I have been in negotiation on this subject with 16 local public bodies. I have brought into the consultations every one of the principal local elected bodies, and this Bill has been agreed by them all. I got agreement only three months ago. It has been agreed by Stroud Rural District Council, Stroud Urban District Council, Gloucester Rural District Council, Gloucester County Council, Gloucester City Corporation, the British Transport Commission, Stroud and District Water Board and the Severn River Board.

Every one of those organisations is in complete agreement that this is the only practicable solution of this problem, so I ask the House to back up the local, elected representatives of the people and send this Bill upstairs so that it may be examined by an impartial tribunal.

7.58 p.m.

Mr. M. Philips Price (Gloucestershire, West)

The hon. Member for Stroud and Thornbury (Sir R. Perkins) has put in very eloquent terms the very strong reasons why the House should give a Second Reading to this Bill. The canal is not in my constituency, but I sit for a neighbouring constituency and I am an inhabitant and ratepayer of the county of Gloucester, so I am concerned with this problem.

It may seem anomalous that the Bill should leave a private company still in possession of an old canal and making a living by selling water and renting old houses, but there is no other way that I can see except the taking over the whole Stroudwater Canal and all its assets by the British Transport Commission. However, there are hardly any assets the Commission wants. It has the right, under the Bill, to take over the stretch of the canal where its rail bridges are, but for the rest there are no assets that a public corporation could very well take over.

There are, of course, the eight bridges to which reference has been made, but they are to be dealt with by the Gloucestershire County Council. It seems to me that there is no alternative except to allow this company to continue to operate those assets which no other public corporation desires, meanwhile allowing—as the Bill proposes—those assets which are of use to the Transport Commission and to the Gloucestershire County Council to be taken over by them. That seems to me to be the most satisfactory and practical solution.

In his opening remarks, my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin) said it was wrong to allow a statutory company to be divested of its responsibilities. He said that the waterway should be kept clear. This company is not liable to maintain the bridges in any other condition than that which obtained when it came into existence 120 years ago, when the bridges no doubt carried horses, donkeys and perhaps carts.

The hon. Member for Stroud and Thornbury quite rightly pointed out that his constituents are in considerable danger because of the antiquated condition of some of these bridges and their inadequacy for modern traffic. He quoted figures. I intended to quote them, but he has stolen my thunder and I will not weary the House by quoting them again. Obviously, to restore the canal to its original condition would -Involve a colossal expenditure which is not justified in present conditions.

Years ago the Gloucestershire County Council spent £10,000 in trying to keep the canal going between the Severn and the Thames. As the hon. Member for Stroud and Thornbury pointed out, there still remains the old trunk of the canal between the old Gloucester and Sharpness Canal and Stroud itself, which, for a time, was economically useful, but this small canal, even if it were restored to its original condition, could not carry modern traffic.

The Gloucester and Sharpness Canal now carries 300-ton barges which go to the Midlands, and it is a vital inland waterway. Those who say that we who support the Bill are indifferent to inland waterways are being unfair. Where they can be economically useful, we believe that they should be developed in every possible way, but this is a case in which the expenditure of public money is not justified.

I remember the time when the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal and the Severn carried what are known as "long boats"—100-ton boats which plied between the Bristol Channel and the Midlands. Very few of those are to be seen now. We see the modern 300-ton barges. What is the use of trying to restore the Stroudwater Canal under modern conditions? A sum of £250,000 would not be enough if the canal were to carry those big barges.

The Gloucester and Sharpness Canal carries thousands of tons of oil, timber and grain between Sharpness port, on the Bristol Channel, and the inland port of Gloucester—for Gloucester is the most inland port of the country, still thriving and flourishing. But Gloucester finds it much better to distribute by road to places like Stroud instead of using this antiquated canal. In addition, large quantities of materials go from Gloucester into the Midlands by the Severn and the canal which it picks up at Worcester. It is vital to try to be realistic in these matters, to recognise the revolution in transport which has taken place over the last 50 years and to act accordingly.

My hon. Friend the Member for Paddington, North asked whether part of the Stroud canal could be used by pleasure boats. It could not all be used, because parts of it are dry, but it is possible that some parts could be used for this purpose. That is not a reason for rejecting the Bill. Rather, it is an argument for sending it upstairs to the Standing Committee and thrashing it out, seeing whether it is possible to use part of it for pleasure boats.

The Gloucestershire County Council is very much concerned about this matter and its engineers have been considering it. I believe that they can see their way to giving this part of the county good bridges over this canal which will meet the conditions of modern traffic. I hope the House will agree to give the Bill a Second Reading.

8.7 p.m.

Mr. John Baird (Wolverhampton, North-East)

I had not intended to take part in the debate, because I have no local knowledge of the Stroudwater Canal and I am in no way connected with Gloucestershire, but I am interested in the whole principle of the future of our canals and I have been forced to my feet because of the speech of the hon. Member for Stroud and Thornbury (Sir R. Perkins).

I take it that he was advocating the support of the Bill and the abandonment of the canal, but the argument which he put forward was the best which has been made tonight against the Bill. First of all, he said that at one time this was a very prosperous waterway carrying traffic which came all the way from London to the Midlands and the Severn. It was owned by this company—the same company as is now seeking these powers. The hon. Member said that after some time one part of the canal became neglected and began to leak, and now it is abandoned—abandoned by this company which has been drawing profits from the canal.

Sir R. Perkins

It is an entirely different company.

Mr. Baird

An entirely different company but the same type of company. After that, the other part of the canal, which runs from Stroud to the Midlands and the Severn, was also neglected and became choked. It is no longer fit for traffic. The hon. Member said that the canal had been in existence for 160 years, so that these companies have been drawing profits from the canal for 160 years. Now we are told that they have no assets with which to carry out their obligations. I should like to know where the money came from to promote the Bill, because we know that Private Bills cannot be promoted without large assets.

As far as I am concerned, the hon. Member's argument is simply that this company, or these companies, have been neglecting their obligations for many years, and now we are asked to give them power to extort more profits while we have no more control over them than in the past. How do we know that if the Bill is passed they will carry out their obligations, when they have not carried them out in the past? I believe that the hon. Member's whole case is the best argument against the Bill. Do not let us give more power to a company which has neglected its duties when it had power in the past.

The hon. Member for Stroud and Thornbury used a very plausible argument about the bridges and the cost of putting up new bridges to allow of their use by heavy traffic. This is a problem which is facing the canals all over the country. It is not only a problem for this canal. The Minister has told us that the British Transport Commission has set up a survey committee to inquire into all these problems of canals and their future. It may be that that committee will have some recommendation to make to the House or the country about the future of the canals and about how this bridge problem is to be tackled. I think it would be very foolish of this House to give permission to this company and to the local authority to remove these bridges and put up flat bridges in their place until that committee has reported.

The Minister gave an undertaking in the House some time ago that until the survey committee had reported, which will not be very long now, there will be no further abandonment of canals. It is quite true that this is not a canal owned by the British Transport Commission, but I see that, according to the circular sent out, the Bill is supported by the British Transport Commission. If the Commission is supporting the abandonment of this canal after the Minister has given an undertaking that there will be no further abandonment until after the survey committee has reported, that is a matter which should be inquired into.

I was astonished by one statement made by my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Philips Price). He talked about the "antiquated" canals and spoke of 30-ton barges in the narrow canals being no longer economic. I do not think that anyone in any responsible position in the transport industry has ever said that. It is true that in the future we should like to see what we term "The Cross" linked up north, south, east and west and the broad canals continued throughout the Midlands. There all the canals are narrow ones and all the barges are narrow barges—30-ton barges—and they are working economically all along those canals at present. To argue that 300-ton barges must be used before canal transport can become economic and profitable is as wide of the mark as the argument that canals are antiquated.

I have said in the House before that no Member who travels about the Continent and sees the amount of traffic carried on canals in the Low Countries and in Germany would argue that those canals are antiquated. Some of them are narrow canals—[An HON. MEMBER: "Large barges."] Most of the barges are large, of course, but most of the narrow canals are also profitable. I feel that anyone who puts forward the argument that canals are antiquated is more antiquated than the canals.

Mr. Philips Price

My hon. Friend should not misquote me. I made a great point of saying that some canals are extremely valuable, and that thousands of tons of all sorts of traffic pass along them. I was not speaking in the sense which my hon. Friend has attributed to me. I was referring only to certain canals which clearly are not used.

Mr. Baird

I heard my hon. Friend referring to "these antiquated canals" and I thought he was referring to the network of canals in the Midlands. If he is referring to one, I should like to know in what respect one differs from another.

I am opposed to this Bill on principle, chiefly because, as I said earlier, the Minister has set up a survey committee to inquire into the whole future development of our canal system. I do not believe that while that committee is sitting—and until it has reported—any further powers should be given for the abandonment of a waterway. We do not know how that committee will report. I believe that the report will be favourable to the development of canals rather than to the retardation of their development.

As for the canal with which this Bill is concerned, I do not accept the figures given to the hon. Member for Stroud and Thornbury by his engineering friends. The Inland Waterways Association often finds that a job can be done much quicker and cheaper in ways other than those proposed. I hope that the House will not accept the figures which have been given without going into the matter much more fully. If this canal were cleared again, the growing industrial area round Stroud would still be linked by waterways to the whole of the Midlands, Manchester and the Severn.

We all know how traffic is growing on the roads today. Week after week, month after month, the problem is becoming much more serious. In my own area in the Midlands, where also canals have been neglected, almost all the roads are death-traps. If we want to save life and keep death off the road, we should encourage the development of the canal system. Speed is not the only consideration in transport. Regularity of supply is required, and I believe that can be obtained by canal transport. If we protect and preserve the canals, we shall save many lives and have a much more efficient transport system than we have at the present time.

8.15 p.m.

Mr. Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)

The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mr. Baird) obviously feels very strongly about the canal system in general, but he has not directed any attention to the actual position of the canal with which this Bill is concerned. It does not lead anywhere; it is now a cul de sac. Canal traffic fell off, and it was not possible to maintain it. It fell into disuse and however much it may be reconstructed there would be no traffic on it because it leads nowhere. If the hon. Member looked at a map he would discover that fact.

The hon. Gentleman spoke of the vast profits that this company has been making. Had it been making vast profits it would have paid the company to divert some of them into the maintenance of that canal as a profit earning asset. It did not maintain the canal, because there was no traffic to speak of. I wonder if the hon. Member would like to make a guess at the profits of this canal company for the first six months of 1952.

Mr. Baird

I should like to know what the profit was in the early years of this century.

Mr. Nicholson

If there is a profit, no one lets property fall into disrepair. The profit was £119 in the first six months of 1952.

Mr. Parkin

That the balance sheet of a statutory company should be made the subject of a frivolous guessing game is really going too far. Will the hon. Gentleman tell us what the directors' fees have been since the last time any traffic went over the canal?

Mr. Nicholson

There have been no directors' fees. The hon. Member should direct his reproof to the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East, who got none of his guesses right.

However enthusiastic one feels about canals, and I am certainly as sentimental about canals as anyone, one cannot turn a canal which leads nowhere into a paying proposition or justify the expenditure of tens or scores of thousands of pounds to bring it into a modern condition. If this canal were brought to such a condition there would still be scarcely any traffic, and a very heavy annual charge would have to be paid to maintain it in that first-class condition. This is a derelict canal. However much one wants to see it used as a canal again no one will be found to use it, so it is not worth while spending a lot of money on it.

I approach this subject as I think most Members of the House will do, regarding myself as a member of a jury. The local authorities, the promoters of the Bill and the local Members of Parliament are the experts who come and plead before the jury. It seems to me to be the duty of ordinary Members of the House who are not immediately concerned with the question that they should, in passing judgment on whether the Bill should have a Second Reading, ask themselves: should the project be referred by the House to a Committee, or are its contents such manifest nonsense that it is not worth further consideration: or, does it run so counter to our principles that we do not think it should be passed into law? If that should be shown we should reject the Bill.

If a good prima facie case can be made out for the Bill—and quite clearly there are questions which need inquiring into—I maintain that, whatever our political opinions, we should send the Bill to Committee upstairs and have it properly examined. Any hon. Member who has sat on these Committees knows that Bills are treated there with complete impartiality and on their own merits. It is a very interesting branch of the service of the House. They then come back to the House for Third Reading and we can then take our partisan attitude and pass it or reject it, after it has been thoroughly and fairly examined by an impartial Committee.

My hon. Friend said that here was a case for inquiry into the background of this problem. It seems rather curious to say that and then, in the next breath, to say that we will not have an inquiry. I hope that the House will discharge its duties as a jury and send this Bill upstairs for inquiry.

8.20 p.m.

Mr. F. Blackburn (Stalybridge and Hyde)

I know that it is always dangerous for an outsider to enter into a domestic row, and I shall intervene only for a few minutes. The trouble really is caused because the Government will not accept the good advice given to them by committees which have been set up. I have been a member of a committee on a Private Bill which made recommendations, already referred to tonight, and if the Government had accepted and acted upon those recommendations which were then put forward, we would not be in the position of having to debate this particular Bill, and neither would the Stroud-water Canal Company be put to the expense of having to promote a Private Bill, which is a very expensive operation. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wolver hampton, North-East (Mr. Baird) said, how are the company to pay the expenses of this Bill out of £119 profit which it made last year?

Those of us who do not know this canal came to the House tonight in a quandary. Naturally, if there is any possibility of the canal being kept open as a canal, we would wish that to take place. If there is no possibility at all of that, then of course it is a useless expense to try to maintain this canal, and it would be better to have the bridges reconstructed by the county council. But so long as there is the slightest possibility of the canal, or any portion of it, being kept open, I think that we should be careful about the action we take with regard to it in this House.

It has been said tonight that we are likely to have a report about the future use of the canals of this country. If this Bill becomes an Act, the bridges will be reconstructed and it will be impossible to use this canal for navigation purposes. Therefore, I suggest that if we are to have this report in the near future, it would be inadvisable in this case to act at the present time.

My usual reaction to Bills of this kind when they come before the House is to support their going upstairs, where they can be very thoroughly examined and all the arguments for and against put, but there is this particular danger that if this Bill becomes an Act and the bridges are reconstructed, it will then be impossible to consider the question of navigation, and, therefore, I think it would be better if this Bill were to be delayed until the particular committee to which the Parliamentary Secretary referred some time ago has reported and we have a plan for the whole of the country. In this instance, I shall go against my usual practice and vote against the Second Reading of the Bill.

8.25 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. Hugh Molson)

Hon. Members on both sides of the House have inquired as to what is the attitude of the Ministry of Transport to this Bill, and therefore I think that I ought to intervene for a few moments to explain the attitude of my right hon. Friend towards it.

I was gratified that both my hon. Friend the Member for Denbigh (Mr. Garner Evans) and the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mr. Baird) mentioned the fact that my right hon. Friend has publicly expressed his sympathy and interest in the inland waterways of this country. We take the view that the bad old days when the railways were deliberately attempting to stifle the competition of the canals are over, and now that the British Transport Commission are responsible for the inland waterways, as well as for the railways, they should endeavour to make the fullest, best and most economic use of all kinds of transport which is available to them.

I am glad to say that that is entirely the attitude which the British Transport Commission have adopted. As the House knows, it was the British Transport Commission which, at the request and suggestion of my right hon. Friend, appointed the Board of Survey, of which Lord Rusholme is chairman, to go into the whole question of the best and most economic use of the inland waterways vested in the British Transport Commission. Sir Rex Hodges, the recently retired manager of the Mersey Docks—a very remarkable man with an impartial outlook upon these things—was added to the Board of Survey, and there is also on it Mr. R. D. Brown, who it was thought would be a great asset to the Board.

Sir R. Perkins

Do I understand the hon. Gentleman to say that this inquiry applies only to canals which are under the control of the British Transport Commission and does not apply to other canals?

Mr. Molson

I was just coming to that point. I was about to say that that survey applies only to the inland waterways which are vested in the British Transport Commission; and therefore it is a quite mistaken argument to suggest that, before the House takes a decision in connection with the Stroudwater Navigation, we should await the findings of a board which is not empowered to consider this matter at all.

Mr. Blackburn

In regard to canals of this type are the Government likely to consider the recommendations of the Private Bill Committee in the case of the Rochdale Canal Bill?

Mr. Molson

I was just coming to that point also. On the last occasion that this matter was discussed at some length by the Private Bill Committee, it was recommended that the Government should consider the desirability of new general legislation dealing with the matter of canals which are either abandoned or on the point of becoming derelict. As a result an inter-Departmental inquiry is being held on the matter. My Department, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries and the Ministry of Housing and Local Government are all concerned in the inquiry. They are considering the many recommendations and representations made by a wide assortment of interests, but I am bound to say that they have not got very far in reconciling the extremely diverse advice which has been proffered. I think, therefore, that it would be most unwise for this House to refuse to deal with immediate matters because at some time in the future the results of an inter-Departmental inquiry will be reported to the Government.

We all recognise, and I am glad my hon. Friends paid tribute to, the enthusiasm of the Inland Waterways Association but I beg them to exercise some discrimination in these matters. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East asked a rhetorical question of his hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Philips Price). He asked how one canal differs from another. If we are not to distinguish between canals which are still active and, with improvement, capable of further development—and which may be of immense value to the transportation system of this country in the future—and canals like the Stroudwater Navigation which, as has already been pointed out, can no longer act as a link between the Severn and the Thames—which was the purpose of its construction—I am sure that we shall find ourselves in great difficulty.

I beg those who are most concerned about making the best use of the waterways in this country to draw a clear distinction between cases where it is possible and desirable to improve and extend the existing canal system, and cases where canals have been out of use for many years and where it is inconceivable that expenditure on their maintenance and improvement would prove an economic proposition.

In the case of this canal, the Minister of War Transport received in 1941 a report from the late Mr. Frank Pick who, as the House will remember, was a distinguished expert on transport. Even at that time—13 years ago—he expressed the opinion, without any shadow of doubt, that expenditure on this canal to maintain it in good order would be quite disproportionate to any use which might be made of it.

We have been told by my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud and Thornbury (Sir R. Perkins) that all the local authorities in that part of the world support this Bill. The hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West, speaking as a neighbour, also supports it. The British Transport Commission is prepared to maintain such part of the canal as would be handed over to it under the provisions of this Bill, and we at the Ministry of Transport are most anxious that this Bill should be passed. We are concerned about these bridges, which are indeed a great danger both to pedestrians and to traffic. It is the duty of this House, in my opinion, to consider how to obtain the best bridges and the safest highways and, at the same time, to save the money of the ratepayers and the taxpayers. So long as these obsolete and unnecessary obligations are imposed upon whoever is responsible for maintaining the bridges, quite unnecessarily large sums of money would have to be spent upon the renewal, repair or replacement of them.

Therefore, it is my humble advice to the House that the Bill should be sent upstairs. I hope that this will not be treated as a matter of principle, nor indeed as an opportunity for propaganda in favour of inland waterways generally. The case for an inquiry is a strong one, but I do not believe that we will find anywhere a better inquiry than that which would be provided by sending the Bill upstairs.

8.35 p.m.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

All those hon. Members who had the opportunity to hear the hon. Member for Stroud and Thornbury (Sir R. Perkins) will feel that he made a speech which will be one of the classic accounts of the way in which the canal system has been destroyed by neglect and, in some cases, by the arrogance of competitve interests. I advise the Inland Waterways Association to issue his speech as a pamphlet on the whole question, because it illustrated the way in which, because these canals were built up in small pieces, therefore when one met with an untimely end others which were quite capable of a continued existence if the link had been maintained, have, in fact, been forced into bankruptcy.

I know the Sapperton Tunnel very well. It really is one of the saddest things to see that magnificent piece of engineering derelict, and when I saw it, in a condition which was pitiful. The part which it must once have played in our commercial life could not be better typified than by the huge size of the Tunnel Inn which at one time catered for the many men who were employed on the canal. To see it now, huge, deserted and obviously a relic of past prosperity, is one of the saddest things I can imagine.

I used to travel to the end of the navigable waters of the Thames at the time when this canal was still open. That probably qualifies me to be regarded as something of an ancient monument.

Mr. George Chetwynd (Stockton-on-Tees)

An ancient mariner.

Mr. Ede

No. People who travel on rivers and canals are not mariners. They are only navigators. At that time the Inglesham Lock connected the canal which we are discussing with the Thames and it was used mainly by horse-drawn traffic.

I am disappointed to hear of the slow progress which is being made by the Government to deal with those canals which have not been taken over by the British Transport Commission. If one sees a map of the canals which were in use at the time of the Royal Commission of 1906 and sees marked on them the pieces that have become derelict since then, one realises how serious has been the neglect of this part of our communications system in the past. I should have thought that it was very desirable that we should consider bringing back into use all those which are capable of being brought back into use.

The appointment of the Rusholme Committee has undoubtedly stimulated the people employed on the British Transport Commission's waterways very considerably. I spent my Whitsun Recess navigating, in my own boat, the Grand Union Canal—

Mr. Percy Shurmer (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)

Paddling one's own canoe.

Mr. Ede

It was far better than a canoe. I should be quite willing to take my hon. Friend the Member for Spark-brook (Mr. P. Shurmer) in my boat, but I would never go with him in a canoe because he is far too restless. That great man who was born in the constituency of the hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Nicholson) said of Middlesex, "All Middlesex is ugly."

Mr. Nicholson

What did he say about London?

Mr. Ede

We are not dealing with London at the moment. I was surprised, once I got through the Thames lock at Brentford, to find how near the country was. Even in places like Southall and Hanwell one reached delightful country in which one could spend a pleasant day and find suitable places for mooring and spending the night.

Sir Waldron Smithers (Orpington)

For what?

Mr. Ede

Obviously, when one is navigating one spends the night with the craft.

The men employed by the Commission—the men engaged on the barges, the lock keepers and others—have all been greatly encouraged by the appointment of the Rusholme Commission and by a visit which Lord Rusholme paid to that part of the canal system. It has given them fresh hope that there is some future for this part of our transport system.

I cannot help thinking that it would be a very good thing if some such personal contact could be made by the Departmental committee which is dealing with the waterways which are not under the control of the Transport Commission. I think that would encourage some of the people concerned to do something to help themselves.

Turning to the canal which we are discussing tonight, there is, after all, no need for the Bill to enable the Gloucestershire County Council to deal with these bridges. The Surrey County Council was faced with a similar problem about the bridges over the River Wey and the Wey Canal. The River Wey was canalised in the reign of Charles II, and the bridges were of the type which has been described tonight. The Surrey County Council obtained its own powers, not to take over the Canal but to deal with the bridges, which had become derelict and archaic and needed prompt attention. I should have thought that it would have been far better for the Gloucestershire County Council to promote its own Bill to get the powers to enable it to do what it is willing to do.

Sir R. Perkins

Would the right hon. Gentleman support such a Bill, if one were forthcoming?

Mr. Ede

Yes, I should certainly support it. I do not want to see the two or three intricate problems with which we are involved here being so used as ultimately to end against the public interest.

I think that the duty of providing bridges to deal with modern traffic over these canals ought not to be the liability of the canal company. Their liability, as the hon. Member quite rightly said, is only to deal with providing the same sort of bridge as would carry the traffic at the time the bridge was first constructed under the Parliamentary powers given when the Act authorising the canal was passed. I think these canal bridges are among the most beautiful structures that man has made within the last couple of hundred of years in the countryside—far better than some of the concrete monstrosities that are now being erected in straight lines, which, though perhaps very efficient, certainly do not give any pleasure to the eye when one seems them.

Just as Richmond Bridge, on the Thames, was widened by skilled engineers with the aid of the Royal Fine Art Commission. I can see no reason why

the general shape of these bridges should not be maintained and their width made suitable for modern traffic. There are two ways of dealing with the problem that results. Either one can build ramps, as the hon. Member for Stroud and Thornbury mentioned, or it would be possible by the use of traffic lights to prevent two vehicles approaching the crown of the bridge at the same time from opposite directions. That is done in various parts of the country.

I hope we shall not be told that because, at some point or other on this canal, the road to link up with the Severn Bridge will have to be constructed, we must therefore accept a bridge that will be too close to the water level in the canal as the inevitable result. I should have thought that, in the case of such a bridge, we should have regard to the possible future use of this waterway, and I sincerely hope that this matter will receive further consideration from the people concerned.

I also hope that the efforts that have been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin) to arrange for a local society to be formed to deal with the future use of the waterway will be successful. I am quite certain that, with the increasing opportunities for leisure that will be generally available for people in the towns, the use of suitable waterways for recreation will become of ever increasing importance. As far as I am concerned, and I speak for myself alone, as a protest against the neglect of the canals which has been shown for so long, I shall support my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington, North if he proceeds to a Division.

Question put, "That 'now' stand part of the Question."

The House divided: Ayes, 144: Noes, 112.

Division No. 185.] AYES [8.49 p.m.
Alport, C. J. M. Braine, B. R. Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne)
Amery, Julian (Preston, N.) Braithwaite, Sir Albert (Harrow, W.) Darling, Sir William (Edinburgh, S.)
Anstruther-Gray, Major W. J Braithwaite, Sir Gurney Davidson, Viscountess
Arbuthnot, John Brooke, Henry (Hampstead) Deedes, W. F.
Baldock, Lt.-Cmdr. J. M. Brooman-White, R. C. Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA
Baldwin, A. E. Buchan-Hepburn, Rt. Hon. P. G. T. Drewe, Sir C.
Barber, Anthony Bullard, D. G. Duncan, Capt. J. A. L.
Barlow, Sir John Burden, F. F. A. Duthie, W. S.
Bartley, P. Cary, Sir Robert Erroll, F. J.
Beach, Maj. Hicks Clarke, Col. Ralph (East Grinstead) Fleetwood-Hesketh, R. F.
Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.) Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmouth, W.) Fort, R.
Boyle, Sir Edward Cole, Norman Fraser, Hon. Hugh (Stone)
Godber, J. B. Maclay, Rt. Hon. John Shepherd, William
Graham, Sir Fergus MacLeod, John (Ross and Cromarty) Shurmer, P. L. E.
Griffiths, David (Rother Valley) Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries) Smithers, Sir Waldron (Orpington)
Grimond, J. Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg) Snadden, W. McN.
Grimston, Hon. John (St. Albans) Markham, Major Sir Frank Spens, Rt. Hon. Sir P. (Kensington, S.)
Hall, John T. (Gateshead, W.) Maude, Angus Stanley, Capt. Hon. Richard
Hare, Hon. J. H. Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S. L. C. Steward, W. A. (Woolwich, W.)
Hargreaves, A. Mellor, Sir John Strauss, Henry (Norwich, S.)
Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel Molson, A. H. E. Studholme, H. G.
Heath, Edward Moody, A. S. Summers, G. S.
Higgs, J. M. C. Morgan, Dr. H. B. W. Sutcliffe, Sir Harold
Hill, Dr. Charles (Luton) Morrey, R. Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)
Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe) Morrison, John (Salisbury) Taylor, Rt. Hon. Robert (Morpeth)
Hinchingbrooke, Viscount Nabarro, G. D. N. Taylor, William (Bradford, N.)
Hopkinson, Rt. Hon. Henry Neave, Airey Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)
Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P. Nicholson, Godfrey (Farnham) Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)
Hutchison, James (Scotstoun) Nicolson, Nigel (Bournemouth, E.) Thompson, Lt.-Cdr. R. (Croydon, W.)
Hylton-Foster, H. B. H. Nugent, G. R. H. Thornton, E.
Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich) O'Neill, Hon. Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.) Tilney, John
Jennings, Sir Roland Orr-Ewing, Charles Ian (Hendon, N.) Turner, H. F. L.
Johnson, Eric (Blackley) Orr-Ewing, Sir Ian (Weston-super-Mare) Vane, W. M. F.
Kaberry, D. Perkins, Sir Robert Vosper, D. F.
Kenyon, C. Peyton, J. W. W. Wade, D. W.
Kerby, Capt. H. B. Pitman, I. J. Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)
King, Dr. H. M. Powell, J. Enoch Wakefield, Sir Wavell (St. Marylebone)
Lambert, Hon. G. Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.) Waterhouse, Capt. Rt. Hon. C.
Lambton, Viscount Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.) Webbe, Sir H. (London & Westminster)
Leather, E. H. C. Proctor, W. T. West, D. G.
Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield) Profumo, J. D. Wheeldon, W. E.
Lennox-Boyd, Rt. Hon. A. T. Remnant, Hon. P. Williams, Rt. Hon. Charles (Torquay)
Lever, Leslie (Ardwick) Ronton, D. L. M. Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)
Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.) Ridsdale, J. E. Williams, Rt. Hon. Thomas (Don V'll'y)
Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.) Roberts, Peter (Heeley) Williams, W. R. (Droylsden)
Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks) Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
McAdden, S. J. Russell, R. S.
McCorquodale, Rt. Hon. M. S. Schofield, Lt.-Col. W. TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Mackie, J. H. (Galloway) Scott-Miller, Cmdr. R. Sir Herbert Williams and
Mr. Crouch.
Acland, Sir Richard Hayman, F. H. Popplewell, E.
Adams, Richard Holmes, Horace Pryde, D. J.
Allen, Arthur (Bosworth) Holt, A. F. Pursey, Cmdr. H.
Anderson, Frank (Whitehaven) Hudson, James (Ealing, N.) Reid, Thomas (Swindon)
Awbery, S. S. Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire) Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Bacon, Miss Alice Hynd, H. (Accrington) Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)
Bonn, Hon. Wedgwood Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A. Ross, William
Bing, G. H. C. Jeger, Mrs. Lena Shackleton, E. A. A.
Blenkinsop, A. Jones, Jack (Rotherham) Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill)
Bowden, H. W. Jones, T. W. (Merioneth) Skeffington, A. M.
Brockway, A. F. Keenan, W. Slater, Mrs. H. (Stoke-on-Trent)
Brook, Dryden (Halifax) Lawson, G. M. Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)
Brown, Thomas (Ince) Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock) Smith, Norman (Nottingham, S.)
Castle, Mrs. B. A. Lever, Harold (Cheetham) Sorensen, R. W.
Champion, A. J. Lindgren, G. S. Sparks, J. A.
Chetwynd, G. R. McInnes, J. Steele, T.
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) McKay, John (Wallsend) Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)
Crossman, R. H. S. Mainwaring, W. H. Taylor, John (West Lothian)
Dalton, Rt. Hon. H. Mann, Mrs. Jean Thomas, George (Cardiff)
Davies, Harold (Leek) Manuel, A. C. Thomas, lorwerth (Rhondda, W.)
Davies, Stephen (Merthyr) Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A. Thomas, Ivor Owen (Wrekin)
Delargy, H. J. Mellish, R. J. Timmons, J.
Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C. Messer, Sir F. Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn
Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly) Mikardo, Ian Viant, S. P.
Fernyhough, E. Mitchison, G. R. Wallace, H. W.
Fienburgh, W. Monslow, W. Weitzman, D.
Finch, H. J. Morris, Percy (Swansea, W.) Wells, Percy (Faversham)
Foot, M. M. Mort, D. L. Wells, William (Walsall)
Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton) Moyle, A. White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)
Garner-Evans, E. H. Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. J. Wilcock, Group Capt. C. A. B.
Gibson, C. W. Oldfield, W. H. Williams, David (Neath)
Greenwood, Anthony Oswald, T. Williams, Rev. Llywelyn (Abertillery)
Grenfell, Rt. Hon. D. R. Paget, R. T. Williams, W. T. (Hammersmith, S.)
Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly) Paling, Rt. Hon. W. (Dearne Valley) Willis, E. G.
Griffiths, William (Exchange) Palmer, A. M. F. Winterbottom, Richard (Brightside)
Hale, Leslie Parker, J. Younger, Rt. Hon. K.
Hamilton, W. W. Parkin, B. T.
Hastings, S. Pearson, A. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Mr. Baird and Mr. Blackburn

Bill read a Second time, and committed.