HC Deb 01 February 1956 vol 548 cc918-20
44. Mr. Grant-Ferris

asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation whether he will appoint an independent committee to inquire into the future of canals and inland waterways, with due consideration not only of transport requirements but also of the numerous other interests concerned.

Mr. Watkinson

Yes, Sir. A thorough investigation was made in 1954 by the Board of Survey appointed by the British Transport Commission to inquire into the Commission's own waterways, but the widespread interest aroused by the Board's Report indicates that there-is a need for further inquiry on a broader basis which will embrace the entire system of inland waterways in this country and the wide variety of interests concerned in their future. I have accordingly appointed a committee for the purpose of carrying out such an inquiry. Mr. Leslie Bowes, Managing Director of the Pacific Steam Navigation Company, has kindly consented to be Chairman of the committee. I will arrange for a list of the members and for the terms of reference to be circulated in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Mr. Grant-Ferris

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that the Answer he has given will give very great satisfaction indeed, not only to all canal and inland waterway enthusiasts, but also to the large and growing population who believe that a great part can be played by our canals and inland waterways if they are given a proper chance?

Mr. G. R. Strauss

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his Answer does not give anything like that satisfaction to many who are equally interested in the future of the canals in this country? Does he not realise that to set up yet another committee now to consider the whole of this question, when all the facts are well known, and when all that is required— and urgently required—is a Government decision on policy, is really regrettable and deplorable? Is it not a fact that all the Minister is doing by setting up this other committee is obviating for a long time the need to face the facts of this problem?

Mr. Watkinson

No, nothing of the sort. It is quite clear that if we are going to make the most—and that is what we want to do—of our inland waterways system it had better be examined by an impartial body which will report quickly and objectively on the best way of handling the situation.

Mr. K. Thompson

Will my right hon. Friend ensure that in the terms of reference there is expressed an urgent opinion on the part of the Government that the canals have a contribution to make in the future movement of traffic and goods about the country?

Mr. Mellish

Is it not a fact that many of these inland waterways were allowed to go into disuse over a period of years long before the transport industry was nationalised; that when the Commission was established it produced for the first time proposals to make some of these inland waterways effective, and that what was required was cash to do the work? Is it not also a fact that this cash was refused, and that many of the plans were shelved? Would it not be a good idea to take the plans off the shelf and do a good job?

Mr. Watkinson

When the hon. Gentleman reads the terms of reference, I think he will see that they are drawn to meet that situation.

Mr. Callaghan

Could the right hon. Gentleman answer two questions? First, will not this new, and, in our view, procrastinating committee, hinder the Commission in getting on with the plans which it has already announced for modernising a substantial part of the canal system? Secondly, will the terms of reference of this new committee take into account the financial consequences of any proposals, and will the committee be free to put forward proposals as to who should bear the cost of those parts of a canal which are not regarded as proper for economic development?

Mr. Watkinson

The British Transport Commission plan was fully announced, and the announcement that I have made today does not cut across it in any way. I am sure the hon. Gentleman recognises that that represents only a small proportion of the canal length. As to the second point, that is fully covered in the terms of reference.

Following is the statement:


Composition Chairman:


Terms of reference 1. To consider and report on the future of the country's system of inland waterways and to make proposals for any measures necessary to achieve:
  1. (i) the maximum economic use of the system;
  2. (ii) the future administration of and financial arrangement for such inland waterways as cannot be maintained economically for transport purposes, having regard in particular to the requirements of public health and safety and to the facilities which these waterways can provide for purposes other than transport, such as recreation, water supply, land drainage and disposal of effluents; and
  3. (iii) the conversion of canal sites to other purposes when this is considered desirable and practicable.
2. To consider the present law relating to the closing of waterways to navigation and to make recommendations.