HC Deb 22 February 1956 vol 549 cc488-529

Order for Second Reading read.

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

8.56 p.m.

Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke-on-Trent, South)

I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: this House declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill promoted by the Manchester Ship Canal Company until action is taken by the Company to co-ordinate the times of opening and closing of the bridges over the Manchester Ship Canal so as to give maximum convenience both to road users and to canal users. It used to be said that when people, especially working people, were elected to the House of Commons, that was the last that was heard of them and that they forgot the people to whom they belonged. We shall provide evidence tonight that that is not so, and we hope to provide further evidence later on.

The motives of my hon. Friends and I who have put their names to this Amendment are the most reasonable that I have ever known to lay behind a proposal of this kind. Unlike many people, who opposed it for years, as the history of the Manchester Ship Canal can prove, I was privileged to be a close friend of one of the greatest supporters of the Canal in its very difficult days. I refer to Alderman Thomas Grindle.

I want to express my appreciation of the service which we have received from the Private Bill Office. As far as the Manchester Ship Canal Company and its representatives are concerned, they conducted their case above board and with great courtesy, which we appreciate. In presenting our case, we shall reciprocate, and we hope that others will do so from now on.

I contrast the line which we are now taking with the pre-war experience of the late Colonel Josiah Wedgwood, Arthur Hollins and myself with the North Staffordshire Transport Bill. I was born between the Bridgewater Canal and the Manchester Ship Canal. I have always lived in that district, and I belong to the people who live there. I remember Trafford Park when it was a place of beauty, containing woods, a lake, a lovely hall and, later, a golf course and aerodrome. The bridges about which we shall complain served their purpose in those days. My grandfather, who had a pony and trap, used to travel from farm to farm for work with threshing engines.

My father and those of his generation, when they worked at British Westinghouse, used to complain about the bridges. I was glad of the bridges for more than twenty-five years, but the seriousness of the situation increases as the years roll by. Anyone acquainted with the facts of the case would be bound to support us tonight. Thousands of people have complained and hundreds have tried to use their influence to bring about improvements and, at last, the matter is brought to the Floor of the House of Commons. It has come from trades councils, town councils and Lancashire County Council. I hope that from the House of Commons we shall at last obtain justice and decent treatment for the many people who are affected.

It is in the public interest that our case should be accepted. Its acceptance would save hundreds of production man hours and productivity, about which so many speeches are made, would tend to increase. We are dealing with an area about which Air Chief Marshal Harris said to Mr. Ernest Bevin, after the war, that had he been in charge of the German Air Force, he would have spent two weeks on Trafford Park in order to saturate it and knock out the bridges.

In a long article in September, 1952, the Manchester Guardian dealt with the problem and I propose to read one or two extracts. The article is headed: New Bridge Over the Ship Canal Still a Vision. Planners' 21 Years of Frustration. I and thousands of others share that frustration. The article goes on: The traffic delays of 1931 gave the first warning that this narrow, 50-year-old structure—an outstanding engineering achievement in its day—was becoming an anachronism and was slowly strangling the free movement of vehicles through one of the only two northern approaches to Trafford Park—the other being Trafford Bridge. The trickle of traffic which the bridge threatened to choke in the 1930's soon developed into a stream and the stream has now become a torrent which, during morning and evening peak hours, is partially dammed by the swing bridge, at a cost in wasted man-hours, petrol, and oil that is difficult to estimate. Just before the war, questions were asked in the House. The matter was not raised again until 1946, when growing complaints about delays penetrated the House of Commons. To show that this is not just my complaint, I want to quote from a public spirited and conscientious official of the Lancashire County Council, Mr. James Drake, the County Surveyor, who, in 1952, said in his report: Consultations have been held with the Manchester Ship Canal Company in an effort to reach agreement on some means of mitigating the consequent interruption of road traffic flow. In spite of the Company's efforts to improve the position, however, it has been found quite impossible to meet the legitimate demands of both road and canal traffic…The inadequacy of the bridge to discharge its functions properly is a serious matter…Over 150 firms, employing a total number of approximately 60,000 workers, are operating inside an area of well under four square miles. The activities and products of these various firms are vital to the industrial structure of the country. The restrictions imposed upon their activities by the existing swing bridge are many and important. For example, in regard to labour, the homes of a large number of the workpeople concerned are situated north of the Ship Canal. Their normal route to and from work is via the swing bridge and whether they he on foot, cycle or motor vehicle, this adds considerably to the congestion, particularly at peak hours. The average volume of traffic across the bridge amounted to 9,600 vehicles per day in 1952, and it is much more now. This excludes cycles. This volume would be far greater were it not for the fact that the existing bridge is a notorious bottleneck.

Between the hours of 6 a.m. and 8 p.m., which is when the men and women are going to work—the people who are doing the main work of manufacturing products for export, upon which we all depend—the number of closures was 6,180, or 88 per cent. of the total. That is an average of nearly 17 times per day, during a period when the main volume of road traffic is using the bridge. This report was based upon conditions of light traffic and long days. Conditions are worse now.

I want to place on record the fact that progress has been made. I give credit where it is due. First, the greatest credit is due to Sam Radcliffe, Mr. Mycoe, Alderman J. K. Walker, the late Town Clerk of Eccles, the Eccles Town Council and Eccles Trades Council, the hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Proctor), in particular, and the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Storey). A high-level bridge is to be built—or it was to be built, before the Chancellor's statement last Friday—which will relieve long-distance traffic. I want to make it quite clear that the new high-level bridge will be welcomed, but it will not solve the problems of which I am speaking.

Mr. H. Boardman (Leigh)

Do I understand my hon. Friend to say that the high-level bridge project at Barton will not now go on?

Mr. Smith

I did not say that. What I said is on record, and it will be quite clear. I said that a high-level bridge was to be built. It is proceeding to be carried out, but whether it will continue after the Chancellor's statement last week is a matter which the future will prove. Is that quite clear?

Mr. Boardman


Mr. Smith

This bridge will be welcome, but it will not solve the problems with which I am concerned. It will ease the difficulties, but it will be no solution. The high-level bridge will be three quarters of a mile away from the place of which I am speaking. In addition, there will be a climb to reach it, and it will take time to reach. There are also other difficulties which I shall mention later, and which have been brought to light as a result of boring holes—such as the danger of mining subsidence. Local traffic will still tend to go over the swing bridge, and the men and women who do the work will go over it. They will not climb heights.

While the high-level bridge will relieve the through traffic, it will not solve the problems I am putting before the House. In addition to that, according to the authorities it will be three years before the project is properly started. It will then take another three years to build. If we add to that the economic and financial difficulties arising out of the way the country is being managed, it will be in the "sweet by-and-by" before the bridge is finished.

This is a very serious matter. Many bus services use the bridges in this area. First, there is the Salford City Service which runs to places as far away as Broughton, Deansgate, Pendleton, Swinton and Weaste. They all go over Trafford Bridge. Then there is the Lancashire United Transport Company, which runs to places as far as Bolton, Leigh, Caddishead, Irlam, Eccles and all its districts, Swinton, Walkden, Worsley, and Farnworth. In addition, some of these bus services have to connect with trains at the Victoria and Exchange Stations at Manchester, Eccles, Odsal Lane, and other places. They are delayed by the bridges, often for a quarter of an hour, and sometimes as much as half an hour. If any hon. Member doubts that, let him be good enough to say so. We have nothing to lose. We want to focus a searchlight upon this issue. The more the searchlight is focused on it the more pleased will be those of us who come from this area.

I have here details of all the services going into one firm. This firm is not playing about with a few people doing this and that and "playing at marbles." It has 25,000 employees and manufactures some of the largest engineering products for all parts of the world, including atomic energy products, turbines and electrical apparatus of all kinds.

One of the difficulties of dealing with such a matter in the House and not in Committee is that in Committee we can get down to details. In the House we cannot do that, so I must content myself by showing this chart and saying that all these different colours represent different bus services running through two bottlenecks into Trafford Park—one of the most important industrial areas in the country. I regard it as a privilege to speak for the thousands of people there who have toiled so well for so long.

Running into the Barton Bridge bottleneck—that bridge closes on an average about 19 times a day—are at least 14 bus services-9,600 vehicles a day. The road is only 17 ft. wide—as wide as it was when we had ponies and traps and wagonettes. Over the Salford Traffic Road Bridge 11 bus services go into Trafford Park.

To show that this is a matter of concern not only to ordinary people but to managements and directors, I quote the following letter which I received the other day from the director of a big company. It is dated 16th February, and reads: Whilst you are dealing with the hold up at Barton Bridge would you also have in mind the hold up at Trafford Road Bridge. Last Thursday evening, February 9th, at approximately 5.45 I was held up, also on Friday morning, lunch and tea time…It is to the two evening times I wish to draw your attention, the traffic at this time is at its peak, and when the bridge closes it builds up on both sides as far as the eye can see and there is utter chaos. It says that most of the vessels concerned are coasters. Any hon. Member who doubts the authenticity of that letter may examine it.

Our request is made on behalf of thousands of workpeople. Scores of managements—and let me emphasise that, because it is irrespective of political differences—support our cause, as do many local authorities. This is one of the most reasonable requests that I have ever heard made in relation to a Private Bill. I am fairly familiar with the history of the Private Bills that have passed through the House. I familiarised myself with their history in order to understand the function of the House. I remember that Instructions galore were issued to Select Committees when private interests were at stake. This time the request is made on behalf of a public, and not a narrow interest. We ask only that no ship shall be allowed to leave Salford docks, Barton locks or any Manchester Ship Canal wharf at a time which would mean closing the bridge at the times we have set out.

Here is where I differ with the Manchester Ship Canal case. It is a most reasoned case of which I have made a careful analysis, but there is one point with which I differ. I am not one who has got his living by talking. I take second place to no one in recognising the great responsibility of the men who pilot the ships along the canal. Therefore, I say that there was no need to include the reasoned case which refers to ships being held up in the fairway or in the canal. It would not be fair to the pilots of the ships to ask for that case.

What we are asking for is that the Ship Canal shall control the traffic so that it shall not leave the locks or docks or wharves at any time so as seriously to interfere with the thousands of men and women proceeding to their employment in Trafford Park. Does any hon. Member fail to accept the reasonableness of such a request? Apparently there is none. I presume, therefore, that there is unanimity on this case which we are presenting, and I hope that the Minister will take note of that.

These times, I admit, may not suit everybody. I plead guilty to stating our case in the most reasonable, irreducible minimum terms, and if I am open to criticism it is because I have not proposed other times. I was not surprised when I received a telegram from the convenor of the shop stewards at Platts, in Barton, who said: Your times do not fit in with factories starting at 8 a.m. and finishing at 5.30 p.m. Suggest 6.50 to 7.50 a.m. and 4.50 to 5.50 p.m. I hope that this debate will stimulate interest among the authorities and all those concerned with this matter so that they may get together and consider the proposals which we have made.

Let me conclude by dealing with the reasoned case prepared by the Manchester Ship Canal Company. It states that the company is concerned about seven bridges. In this debate we are concerned with only two—the Barton Road Bridge and the Trafford Road Bridge. Section 33 of the 1885 Act, which determines the company's responsibility, places it under an obligation to see that such bridges shall be kept closed at all times except when required to be opened for the passage of vessels and shall at such times be kept open only so long as shall be reasonably necessary for such passage. Let me emphasise that that was in 1885. This is 71 years later and no longer does that restriction suit modern conditions. Seventy-one years ago few people crossed the bridge. There were few vehicles and certainly no cars, lorries or buses. Now 25,000 people work in one place in Trafford Park and thousands at several others, such as at Taylor Bros., Turner Bros., and other places. Approximately 70,000 people are now employed at Trafford Park.

By the provisions of the 1885 Act and subsequent Acts, a closing time limit of ten minutes is imposed on the Barton Bridge and fifteen minutes in respect of the Trafford Bridge. All that we ask is that the 1956 needs and not the 1885 needs shall be met in this Bill.

The Manchester Ship Canal case makes much of the high-level bridge. For forty years some of us have made our contribution towards that new bridge. I admit that it would be a big step forward, but it will not solve the problems with which we are dealing. In that view we are supported by the Manchester Ship Canal Company which states in its reasoned case, in page 2: Barton Bridge presents a special problem in view of the Trafford Park Industrial Estate. In page 2 of the Manchester Ship Canal Company's case it is stated that the company have endeavoured to meet the convenience of road users by refraining from swinging the bridge for the passage of tugs, barges and small craft during the following periods… This is our case: the times at which we state the bridge should not be turned form a most reasonable request. That is all we ask in presenting our case this evening.

The limitation about which the Company speaks in its reasoned case does not apply to ocean-going vessels. This is a fundamental difference between us. In my view and in the view of some of the most responsible authorities in this area, it is time that it did apply to those cases, and it could do so if the authorities were prepared to control the traffic.

The Company refers to the difficulties of the tidal section and unberthed and unmoored craft, but that does not apply in the case about which we speak. All we ask is that the canal traffic shall be controlled to avoid the limited times which we specify, and controlled in the way which I have indicated. Surely this is a most reasonable request to make. We cannot accept page 4 of the Manchester Ship Canal Company's case. The answer is that the Company refers to the 1885 Act and we desire to modernise the Act and to cater for 1956 needs.

I refer, next, to the Manchester Ship Canal Act, 1885, page 33, Section 33—"Powers as to opening bridges." This Act has to be read to be believed. I spent some time in the Library last night reading it, and to anyone especially interested in the historical development of our country it would well repay his time to read the history behind this Ship Canal. I am sorry that I have been so slow as not to read it years ago. The Act reads: Provided that all such bridges shall be kept closed at all times except when required to be open for the passage of vessels and shall at such times be kept open only so long as shall be reasonably necessary for such passage. I therefore claim that the 1885 Act is on our side. We have been slow not to seize upon that Act and put upon it the 1956 interpretation instead of the outworn 1885 interpretation which has been placed upon it for far too long. This 1885 interpretation suited when Trafford Park was a park. It suited in 1885. We want it to be interpreted to suit 1956.

We then come to the "daddy" of the passages from the Act. I quote from page 213, Section 126 (15), of the 1885 Act. The heading is: For the protection of Sir Humphrey de Trafford, Baronet and the De Trafford Estate. It says: The swing bridge…shall not be kept open at any one time for a longer period than ten minutes… I should like hon. Members to read Hooley's "Confessions."

Mr. L. M. Lever (Manchester, Ardwick)

Who is Hooley?

Mr. Smith

Hooley was Terence Hooley. Hooley had a secretary named Ellis. Mr. Marshall Stevens, whom you remember, Mr. Speaker, as a Member of this House for a very long time, and who played a great part in this area, sent word to another man named Ellis that Trafford Park was likely to be for sale. Instead of that Ellis receiving it, Hooley's Ellis received it. [Laughter.] The result was that he bought it and made £1 million by selling it back to Trafford Park Estates. Now laugh.

Mr. Jack Jones (Rotherham)

Who were the solicitors?

Mr. Smith

Do not draw me into that. I do not want anyone to take this personally—I know who is who in the House. Those of us who have had experience of workmen's compensation know that the less we are reminded of that the better.

This swing bridge was kept open for the protection of Sir Humphrey de Trafford. We ask that it should be kept open so that thousands of people going to their employment shall not be inconvenienced to the extent they have been inconvenienced in the past sixteen years.

9.26 p.m.

Mr. W. T. Proctor (Eccles)

I beg to second the Motion.

We have listened to a very powerful case for something being done quickly to relieve the situation described by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis-Smith). I am bound to say that we have made very great progress with the high-level bridge. It has been conceded by the Government to be a matter of high priority, and, so far as we know, that project is going on. I was a little alarmed to hear my hon. Friend refer to something the Chancellor of the Exchequer had said, but I think we can all take it that that great construction will be proceeded with at all speed. I could not imagine anyone wishing at this moment to delay it, especially after the unanimous support the project has received from all Lancashire Members and the tremendous case put up to the previous Minister of Transport. We were able to persuade that right hon. Gentleman to go at six o'clock in the morning to see the conditions at Barton Bridge. There seems a clear indication that this great project, which is now under construction, is beyond all doubt to be proceeded with.

Mr. Jack Jones

Is my hon. Friend aware that at the moment the Lancashire County Council has not been authorised to spend one penny piece on that bridge?

Mr. Proctor

I am aware of the position, but I am also aware that the Lancashire County Council, with the very great courage which characterises that body, has spent a great deal of money in anticipation of getting it back. That, I think, is one of the hopeful features. Those who are in charge are going ahead enthusiastically.

Our object in raising this question this evening is to exercise our right to give expression to grievances of the communities we represent. We have no desire in any way to block this Bill and to stop the great advantages which it will bring to the City of Manchester. I should have thought it would have been better for those who have been so active on behalf of Manchester if they had said something to us instead of having so many meetings of their own on this question. I would have been pleased to co-operate with them and to explain what was happening.

Mr. Ellis Smith

I knew about that, but I did not want to refer to it. They had in mind the danger of privilege.

Mr. Proctor

We seek some indication from the Manchester Ship Canal people that they will make a real effort to meet modern road transport needs. There has been a large number of meetings in the past. The hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Storey) and I summoned a conference in Eccles not long ago. It was attended by representatives of the Trades Council of Swinton, the Trades Council of Eccles, trade unions in Trafford Park and of local councils around there. With the blessing of the Minister of Transport, we arranged a conference with the Manchester Ship Canal authorities precisely to consider this problem.

I am anxious that we shall not say or do anything this evening to cause them not to be as helpful and accommodating as we would hope. There is a difference of opinion as to which is the best method, but I express the hope that whatever we say will not effect their helpfulness, if helpfulness is what we can expect.

I am not only saying that we want the Manchester Ship Canal Company to be impressed in this matter. We want the Ministry of Transport to be impressed. We want the Ministry to be much more eager than it has been in the past to do what is necessary to deal not only with the high level bridges but with all the bridges at present in existence.

The legal position regarding this great canal is unsatisfactory. My hon. Friend has read some passages from legislation of the past, but it is clear to me that the Ship Canal Company has the law on its side. The only obligation upon the Company is to close the bridge for not more than ten minutes. It can be swung back for two minutes and opened again for ten minutes. The Company's powers are absolute. When those powers were obtained, the circumstances were entirely different. They should now be modernised.

I have made great efforts to get a number of the bridges improved and have taken up the matter with the Minister of Transport. In one letter from the Ministry, I was told: Your question about the financial responsibility for structural improvements to the existing bridge is not one which can be answered directly. The fact is that nobody has any responsibility, so far as I know, for improving the bridge; it is owned by the Manchester Ship Canal Company, who are responsible for maintaining it but, as a matter of practical politics, I have little doubt that anyone who wanted it improved would have to secure the company's agreement and foot the bill. That seems to me to be a rather unsatisfactory position concerning any improvement that would be necessary, and certainly a large number of improvements are needed on the Barton Bridge.

Thirty-five thousand workers pass over these bridges daily to and from the Trafford Park Estate works. There is grave inconvenience to the workers and great loss to manufacturers and others, as well as considerable inconvenience to people travelling that way. Consideration should be given to a change in responsibility and the problem should be looked at afresh with a desire to do something to improve matters.

I have stated that we are meeting the Manchester Ship Canal Company on 2nd March to deal with the problem. The representatives of the trade councils and town councils, and of the trade unions and employers at Trafford Park, will be present and I hope that something will be accomplished at this conference. If not, we shall have to consider what other avenues are open to us in appealing to the Ministry of Transport to face its responsibilities in this matter.

In a letter sent to me towards the end of last year, the Metropolitan-Vickers Company said: You are no doubt aware of the difficulties which are arising in the transport departments of the various authorities owing to the shortage of operating staff—in this area—Manchester Corporation, Salford Corporation and the Lancashire United Transport Company; this shortage is causing serious delays in the transport of our personnel but, in the case of L.U.T. transport, is made far worse owing to the crossing of the Manchester Ship Canal by Barton Bridge. On one particular occasion recently—Friday, 19th August—passengers leaving here shortly after 5 p.m. did not reach their homes in the Swinton and Irlam areas until 6.45 p.m. This was due, to use a local term, to being 'bridged'"— the English language is enriched by this bridge— buses were late getting into the Park and getting out of it owing to the swinging of the Bridge. Between about 4.45 and 6.30 p.m. it was turned at least six times and traffic at the end of the queue had to wait until 6.30 before their turn came to cross the Bridge. These delays have been happening to a lesser degree almost daily. This is from another firm: The situation is serious and there is every possibility of labour troubles in Trafford Park as a direct protest against the worsening position. It has been suggested that the canal should be lighted at night to permit the passage of vessels during the hours of darkness and by doing so ease the traffic usage of the waterways and thereby enable the Manchester Ship Canal Company to give some consideration to allowing the bridge to remain open to road traffic during peak daylight hours. That suggestion has not been turned down out of hand, so I am hoping that there is a serious possibility of lagging the canal at night and thus lessening the traffic pressure during the day and especially during the peak hours.

There is another Motion on the Notice Paper which I understand is not to be called. It mentions certain times at which Barton Road Bridge should not be closed to road traffic. Its terms are not satisfactory to me or to the Trafford Park workers. My name appears as a supporter of that Motion, but I did not know anything about it until after it was in print.

I want to make it clear that at the present time the canal company has given us an undertaking that it will make efforts to open the bridge to the road from 5.45 a.m. to 6 a.m.—

Mr. Ellis Smith

On a point of order. It is true that my hon. Friend saw only a copy of that Motion, which deals with the question he has raised. I said that I would explain it in my speech. However, he did see the Motion.

Mr. Speaker

In any case, the proposal in that Instruction is out of order. It is outside the scope of the Bill, and it could not be called, and, therefore, I hope, since it is out of order, that in discussing this topic hon. Members will not go too precisely into times, because that would be to bring in by a side wind what is out of order.

Mr. Proctor

I was dealing only with what is already in existence. Had my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) not referred specifically to it in his speech, I should not have mentioned it now. I was speaking of what is in existence now as a promise from the canal company.

The company proposes to keep the bridge open to road traffic from 5.45 to 6.0 a.m.; 6.55 to 7.20; 7.35 to 7.50; 8.05 to 8.17; 4.35 p.m. to 4.55; 5.15 to 5.50; 9.35 to 9.55; 10.10 to 10.30. If the company could give us a firm guarantee to give us those times the position would be more satisfactory than it is. However, we should like to be precise about it.

Mrs. Eveline Hill (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

The times the hon. Gentleman has just mentioned relate to barges, surely. There must be some openings to allow ocean-going vessels, which cannot be delayed, to pass.

Mr. Proctor

The times to which I am referring were in an undertaking given by the Manchester Ship Canal Company about opening the bridge to road traffic. That has nothing at all to do with the canal traffic. I am sorry if I did not make myself perfectly clear. But so far the Company has not succeeded in keeping to these times. I am hopeful that, as a result of this debate, ventilation of the problem will ensure that everybody connected with the matter will make a 100 per cent. effort to improve the situation and do somethng about the tremendous build-up of traffic at Barton Bridge.

Mr. Eric Johnson (Manchester, Blackley)

May I clear up a point about the undertaking given by the Company? Surely, the Company has never at any time given any undertaking to keep the road at Barton Bridge open to traffic when ocean-going ships have to go through.

Mr. Proctor

This is what the Ministry of Transport said: In July, 1951, the Manchester Ship Canal Company agreed that the bridge should remain open to road traffic for the following periods:… And then the Ministry gave the periods which I have just quoted. The undertaking is perfectly clear but the Company has not been able to carry it out, otherwise we should not have the present chaos.

Mr. W. Griffiths (Manchester, Exchange)

This is a most interesting point. The Manchester Ship Canal Company claims that under the Manchester Ship Canal Act, 1885, it is obliged to open bridges to transport along the canal and exclude road traffic at any time that ocean-going vessels are passing down the canal. That is in conflict with what my hon. Friend has said.

Mr. Proctor

The Company is not obliged under the 1885 Act. It is only empowered to do it, and that is a quite different matter. The Company is in supreme control of the traffic on the canal and on the road and, except for the fact that an obligation rests upon it not to close the bridge to road traffic for more than ten minutes, it can do exactly what it likes under existing legislation. I say to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport that this is an unsatisfactory position in modern times. It should be changed. The Minister of Transport should be responsible for seeing that the road traffic and the canal traffic have fair play.

The Ministry, as an impartial body, should be controlling the opening and closing of the bridges. This is now left entirely to the Manchester Ship Canal Company which has a financial interest in getting the ships along the canal and has no financial interest in getting workers and road traffic over the bridges. My understanding of modern life is that where the financial interest is as strong as that the tendency is to favour that interest.

I ask that for this great waterway which is now an absolute block to road traffic in a dozen places, the Minister of Transport should take full responsibility and if necessary bring legislation before the House to ensure fair play for the community for which we speak and which has been so often treated hardly in delay, frustration, difficulties and loss of trade. If we have some satisfactory indications from the other side of the House that the matter will be considered, we on our part will consider further what we shall do.

9.45 p.m.

Sir Robert Cary (Manchester, Withington)

I intervene briefly in the debate because I feel that it is not truly the intention of the hon. Gentlemen the Members for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) and Eccles (Mr. Proctor) to deny to Manchester the great facilities which exist in this Bill. May I say to the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South that by the sentiments he expressed at the beginning of his sincere and excellent speech he showed clearly his deep love for the area in which he grew up?

May I say to the hon. Member for Eccles that in succeeding me in representing that distinguished and charming constituency in 1945, he showed then, by the affection of the electors, that he would think beyond the frontiers of the small Borough of Eccles, and that enshrined in the City of Manchester, based on a true co-operation between all its people, lie the real interests in the development of the city along the lines indicated in the Bill now before the House?

The provision of this great oil dock is of such benefit to the City of Manchester as our third largest port, as it is to the canal itself and to all those who extract their livelihood from the work around that canal or in Trafford Park, that truly it would be a wrong action on the part of the House tonight to deny the Bill a Second Reading.

I have a number of interests in this matter, and I do not want to speak exclusively for the City of Manchester. As many hon. Members know, I had the privilege of representing Eccles from 1935 to 1945, and now I represent the Withington division of Manchester. For ten years Barton Bridge was my own constituency problem, and I spent much the same kind of existence as the present hon. Member for Eccles in attending one discussion after another at Eccles Town Hall, pleading with the local regional office of the Ministry of Transport to take some forward step about the opening and closing of Barton Bridge.

The traffic pressure was not so great in those immediate pre-war years, and the working of the canal through the war years was done by convoy system. Therefore the locality was not quite aware of the enormous impact which might come to it in the post-war years, first, by the expansion of Trafford Park as an industrial estate, and, secondly, by the immense growth in road traffic. Let us remember that Barton Bridge is only a two-way bridge, and what that implies in traffic congestion is so dreadful that I need not elaborate the point.

My interest does not end in formerly representing Eccles in this House and now representing the City of Manchester. I must disclose another interest. I happen to be one of the senior directors of the Lancashire United Transport Company, which has to operate a vast fleet of double-deck vehicles over Barton Bridge into Trafford Park. I can assure you, Sir, that it represents both for the board of directors of that company and for its operating staff one of the permanent headaches of existence. It is not so much in terms of money—that is not quite assessable—but in terms of lost time and bad temper that it is now reaching monumental proportions.

Although, in the first instance, I shall be the friend of Manchester, I cannot be so callous in heart or mind that I cannot make some of the points already made in the two excellent speeches to which the House has just listened. I will read briefly the words of the general manager of the company for which I speak in a letter which he sent me the other day. He says: The actual cost to the Company in terms of pounds, shillings and pence is practically impossible to ascertain, but my estimate would be, approximately, £1,500 per annum. This sum is brought about by overtime and by the necessity for having standby crews and vehicles. Although the financial cost is not great, the cost in passenger goodwill is immeasurable. The passenger complaints are often very difficult to deal with. And the bad temper, and sometimes bad language, between passengers and the operating staff of our company has to be listened to rather than printed.

Mr. Ede

Is that two-way also?

Sir R. Cary

I think it is, as anyone who knows the problem will appreciate.

It has seemed at times that this is an almost insoluble problem, but I believe that if the Bill is given a Second Reading there can be discussions in Committee which may improve the arrangements for the opening and closing of the bridge. It is not upon the lighter vessels, barges, etc., that the quarrel is centred. As the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South rightly pointed out, it is centred upon the ocean-going vessels, the 10,000 ton ships, which are most important to the life and welfare of the City of Manchester. Those vessels are, in turn, governed by tides and by pilots, and the directors of the Canal Company are not themselves free to give the kind of undertakings sought by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South. There are conflicting interests, but I believe that, with continuous collaboration, it might be possible to obtain a compromise which would improve conditions, apart from the difficulties referred to in the remarks of the general manager of the Lancashire United Transport Company which I have quoted.

Do not let us be misled about the building of the great high-level bridge. Many workers travelling to Trafford Park come from Bolton, Farnworth and districts far removed from the sides of the canal, and many of our double-decker buses will unload on the other side and the workers will go via the high-level bridge, with its long gentle ramp, into Trafford Park. Many workers living in Monton, Irlam and Cadishead will, however, still use the ordinary roads leading to the present bridge approaches. The high-level bridge will partly answer the problem, but will not fully answer it.

I would utter a word of warning to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary about the high-level bridge. The Lancashire United Transport Company operates over most of the central area of Lancashire, and in the establishment of depots it is often concerned with the problem of mining subsidence, which has led it in recent months to scrap three potential depot sites. I have not seen the plans for the new high-level Barton Bridge, but in view of the weight of the approach ramps, running back a mile and a half and sometimes two miles, leading to the clover leaf roadway pattern, I wonder whether there will be fracture problems and additional costs which the Ministry of Transport ought seriously to investigate. It may be all very well to promise that the bridge will be completed in three or six years' time, but I do not think that enough technical work has been done in relation to the construction of the high-level bridge.

Mr. J. T. Price (Westhoughton)

Might I refer to the serious point mentioned by the hon. Gentleman about the plans developed by the Lancashire County Council for erecting ramps leading to the high-level bridge? On present indications, that work is expected to be completed in six or seven years' time. I understand from the county surveyor—this ought to be on record—that a survey has been carried out which does not disclose any risk of mining subsidence in the area chosen as the site for the bridge. I believe I am right in saying that there are no coal workings at all in the district.

Sir R. Cary

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman, and it is a comfort to hear that, but in a matter of speculation and conjecture such as the creation of a great public facility like a new bridge, one hears information from many quarters. Because of our experience in the establishment of sites for garages, which because of their concrete floors do have to take a considerable load, we have been somewhat disturbed about that area on account of mining subsidence.

All I ask is that the hon. Members for Stoke-on-Trent, South and Eccles, who moved and seconded the Amendment in such eloquent terms, might think, on reflection, that the interests of the City of Manchester are also theirs, and that the matters enshrined in this Bill ought now to take some degree of priority in the discussions in this House.

9.56 p.m.

Mr. L. M. Lever (Manchester, Ardwick)

I, too, wish to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) as the mover, and my hon. Friend the Member for Eccles (Mr. Proctor) as the seconder, of this Motion, which focuses attention on a problem which has existed for some time and still exists, and which causes a great deal of anxiety to people passing from the north to the south at that point between Eccles and Urmston.

I know this problem well, because I used to live a short distance away from Barton Bridge. I must confess that I was full of curses when I found the bridge closed when I had a particular engagement to keep at a particular time, and yet was at the back of a long queue of motor vehicles. What was my experience has, no doubt, also been the experience of many people. Therefore, I think that my hon. Friends who have submitted this Amendment have rendered a public service, and no words of mine should minimise or in any way detract from the strength of the case which they have put.

I submit that, however valid are the terms of the Amendment and however necessary it is for this problem to be tackled vigorously, there is no reason why this Bill should not receive a Second Reading. There is nothing in this Bill which relates to the Amendment which has been tabled by way of objection to it. This Bill proposes to empower the company to construct a new oil dock at Stanlow for use by the oil industry, and to ease the fuel position, and also to borrow further money—I hope the Chancellor of the Exchequer is listening—for the construction of works for improving the facilities in the Port of Manchester, which are matters of major importance, not only to that port, but also I submit, in the national interest, as being measures designed to prevent delays in shipping.

There is not a word in the Bill which says that we shall not have a high-level bridge, and not a word which says that my hon. Friends are not perfectly right in all that they have been saying. The Ship Canal Company agrees about the trouble that is caused, and it is as much concerned and anxious to help members of the public using the Trafford Park Industrial Estate as are the hon. Members associated with the Amendment.

From time to time the Company has attended conferences where these grievances have been ventilated and there is to be a further conference on 2nd March. The Company will attend that conference and will be only too pleased to sit with the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith), the hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Proctor), the local authorities, the trades councils and all the other parties concerned to deal with the present problem. Is that any reason why these important matters, for which the Company requires immediate power in the national interest, should be delayed? After all, we want to do all we can to assist the workers to get to Trafford Park speedily and to get home speedily. Can anyone deny that the Company operates the canal in the national interest and not for fun?

The canal runs from the River Mersey, at Eastham, to Manchester, a distance of 36 miles. Since 1894 ships have been going back and forth bringing imports and taking exports, particularly from the heart of Manchester which is at the centre of the world's largest population area, a distance of 20 miles round. The Company is not lightly introducing the Bill. It is introducing it because it is absolutely vital. Last year, approximately 18½ million tons of cargo was discharged through the port, probably a greater tonnage than for any other port in the United Kingdom, except London and Liverpool.

The Bill is, therefore, of the greatest possible consequence, not only to Manchester and the workers who depend upon these ships and the oil and shipping industry in the City of Manchester and its environs, but the country needs the Bill to enable the Ship Canal Company to achieve these objectives. At all times the Company has been conciliatory and helpful and it has not been its fault that the high-level bridge has not been built. The high-level bridge was approved in 1952 and a start is now being made which will largely relieve the grievances which have been aired tonight.

At the same time, the Company has provided for hours of closure which it feels will meet the situation. I speak in the name of the Company which, while a public Company, is one in which the City of Manchester holds the majority of shares. The Company is not one purely for private profit, but one in which a great municipality holds the majority of shares and the Bill has the greatest importance from that point of view.

Mr. Proctor

Does Manchester City Council exercise the control to which its financial holding entitles it, or is it like the British Government with their holdings in the Suez Canal?

Mr. Lever

I would remind my hon. Friend that the Manchester Corporation holds the majority of shares. It may also be some satisfaction to my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South and my hon. Friend the Member for Eccles to know that the Manchester City Council now has a Labour majority. I am sure that it will not be indifferent to the representations which my hon. Friends have made on behalf of the workers in those areas.

Mr. J. T. Price

I think that my hon. Friend still has not got the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Eccles (Mr. Proctor). The point is, do the public representatives sitting on the board of directors of the Canal Company make their presence felt effectively by voicing the sort of grievances which have been expressed tonight? In other words, are those directors—the aldermen who are paid directors of the Canal Company—more active in that capacity than are the directors representing the British Government on the Board of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company?

Mr. Lever

I can assure my hon. Friend that those directors who are members of the Manchester Corporation are very anxious that the problems raised by my hon. Friends shall be solved at the earliest possible moment. There are enough Labour members among the directors of the Canal Company to exercise their influence with a view to easing the situation which has very properly been mentioned tonight by my hon. Friends. I hope that the House will realise that the Canal Company is not responsible in any way for the delay in building the high-level bridge.

The Bill is required most urgently by the Company, and I am sure that the House will support it. At the same time, we are all anxious to help my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South and my hon. Friend the Member for Eccles, together with those who have appended their signatures to the Amendment. They have quite rightly focussed attention upon the problem which now exists, and which ought to be solved, but because it ought to be solved, it does not mean that we have to say to the Canal Company, "You cannot get on with the business of expanding our country's economy by enabling more trade to go backwards and forwards." One thing has nothing to do with the other.

Because of that, I appeal to the good sense of my hon. Friends to recognise the urgency of this matter for Manchester, and also for their own constituents. I hope that they will agree to the Second Reading.

10.9 p.m.

Mr. S. Storey (Stretford)

As the representative of the constituency in which Trafford Park is situated, I know full well the consequences to the trade and industry of Trafford Park—and especially to the workers—of the closing of the swing bridge at peak hours. For that reason I have every sympathy with the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) and the hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Proctor), who moved and seconded the Amendment. I might have been tempted to support them if it were not for the fact that I feel that the Amendment is ill-timed.

My hon. Friend the Member for Withington (Sir R. Cary) was quite right when he said that no one who has the interest of this district at heart wishes to deny the powers which the Canal Company is asking for. When, however, the Company is asking for an extension of its powers it cannot complain if Parliament inquires whether it is using its existing powers in a reasonable manner. No one disputes that as regards these bridges over the canal the Company complies with its statutory obligations, but that is not to say that it does so in a manner which is reasonable in the light of present circumstances.

The statutory obligations were imposed at a time when Trafford Park, as a trading estate, was either in its infancy or did not exist—that it did not exist is, I think, the correct position. Those statutory obligations were intended to deal with the traffic then existing. We are, therefore, entitled, before granting the Company further powers, to ask that it shall fulfil, not only its statutory obligations, but as far as it can, exercise its present powers in the way best calculated to help to deal with the appalling problems to which the closing of the bridge gives rise.

One of the last acts of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance before he left the Ministry of Transport—and here I should like to acknowledge all the good work which he did to help us to expedite work on the new Barton Bridge—was to write to the Manchester Ship Canal Company to ask if it would confer with the local authorities to see whether it was possible to amend the times of opening of the bridge so as to ease the traffic problem. For a variety of reasons it has not been possible to arrange for that meeting to take place before 2nd March, but I hope the outcome of it will be to make it possible for the Company to improve conditions, and for the situation to be mitigated until the new Barton Bridge is built.

For that reason I feel that the Amendment is ill-timed, and I hope that the hon. Gentlemen who moved and seconded it will agree to withdraw it. If, in the meantime, the Company has not shown its willingness to help, or proved to the local authorities that it can do no more to help. I should like to place on record that we reserve the right to oppose the Bill in its later stages.

10.14 p.m.

Mr. Charles Royle (Salford, West)

The hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Storey) began and ended his speech by suggesting that this Amendment is ill-timed. I think that everything that he said in between pointed to the fact that it was not ill-timed at all, but that this was just the right moment to raise this question. The hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Sir R. Cary) in a ten-minute speech which we enjoyed tremendously, spoke of all the difficulties that he had experienced when he was Member of Parliament for Eccles, and had apparently come to the conclusion that because he is now one of the Members of Parliament for Manchester he must take the other line in spite of his own arguments.

I think that the two powerful speakers who initiated this debate really got down to the root of things. We have no difficulty in expressing our views on this problem. Everybody who lives and works in this area knows of the difficulties which exist. When we consider the conditions which existed in 1885 and compare them with our traffic difficulties in 1956 we surely have the right, even at the risk of being accused of ill-timed agitation, once more to bring to the notice of the Manchester Ship Canal Company—and now to the notice of the House of Commons—the great problems that exist. Therefore, I do not think that there is any ill-timing at all. As has been stated already, this has been going on for thirty or forty years. Year by year the situation gets worse.

Let me assure my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. L. M. Lever) that those of us whose names are attached to this Amendment have no objection to the rest of the Bill at all. We think the Bill is a good Bill.

Mr. Boardman

When my hon. Friend says that there is no objection to the rest of the Bill, does he not mean that there is no objection to the Bill at all, because this Amendment has nothing to do with the Bill?

Mr. Royle

I always accept the superior knowledge of my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Boardman). It is correct that we are at the moment rejecting the whole Bill because we want to emphasise the necessity for bringing these other things about.

We realise the difficulties of the Manchester Ship Canal Company and we appreciate what the Company means to the City of Manchester, but let hon. Members remember that only a few yards of the Manchester Ship Canal are actually in Manchester. Most of the Manchester Ship Canal is in other constituencies, including Stretford, Salford, and so on. In spite of that, we appreciate what it means to Manchester, and what it means to Manchester it means equally to Salford.

We feel, however, that the traffic problem must be considered, and for that reason I feel that the Company, in its statement, exaggerates its difficulties. It seems to me that all this talk about ocean-going vessels is something that the wit of man, and certainly the wit of the Manchester Ship Canal Company, should be able to get over.

I want to talk not about Barton Bridge but about Trafford Road Bridge, which is the connecting link between the City of Salford and Trafford Park. Every morning, every lunch hour and every evening thousands of my constituents have to pour over Trafford Road Bridge to their work. There are no oceangoing vessels going under that bridge at those times. In its statement the Company refers to coastal vessels which go to Pomona Dock. Those vessels do not rely on the tides in the way that the ocean-going vessels do. The Company has not to be concerned with the possibility of stopping that shipping somewhere along the fairway of the canal. Yet there is almost as great a problem at the Trafford Road Bridge as there is at Barton Bridge, and hundreds of my constituents are constantly held up on their way to work and on their way home—not only those who are walking and cycling but the bus services from Salford down to the Trafford Park industrial area.

My appeal tonight to the directors and management of the Manchester Ship Canal Company is that while they are considering this great problem of Barton Bridge which might be more difficult of solution, they could easily do something about Trafford Road Bridge. It would be no sacrifice to them to hold their ships from passing through Trafford Bridge during those very busy times.

While I know that it would be out of order to discuss the other Amendments on the Order Paper, let me say that the times that are stated are very fair. In fact, in my view, they are too fair and should be extended. Whatever the result of this debate, I hope we can successfully plead that more consideration should be given to the Trafford Road Bridge and that the local authorities, the trade unions and the employers involved should make sure that the Trafford Road Bridge problem is solved. That is my appeal tonight.

10.21 p.m.

Mr. Eric Johnson (Manchester, Blackley)

I should like to congratulate the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) for having taken this opportunity to ventilate what is a very serious problem for the thousands of people who work in Trafford Park and have to cross either Barton Bridge or Trafford Bridge to get home, but I am bound to say that it seems to me very much like throwing out the baby with the bath water to refuse to give a Second Reading to the Bill for the reasons set down in the Amendment.

I say that for two reasons. First, it seems to me that the solution of the traffic problem on these bridges is more for the highway authorities and the Ministry of Transport than for the Manchester Ship Canal Company. Secondly, as has been said by the Member for Ardwick (Mr. L. M. Lever), it has nothing whatever to do with the Bill which we are asked to reject.

The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South and others have referred to the 1885 Act and to the obligations of the Ship Canal Company under that Act. They have said fairly that the company has stuck to the letter of the law but that conditions have changed very much since that Act was passed 71 years ago.

I should like to point out that if it is true, as I know it is, that far more people want to cross these bridges in 1956 than wanted to cross them in 1885, equally, far more ships and far larger ships want to go up the canal. The hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Proctor) referred to the possibility of unrest in Trafford Park on account of the natural irritation caused by the appalling delays. Many of those who live near Manchester and have occasion to cross those bridges know how true that is.

Although there may be great irritation on those grounds, I ask the hon. Member also to bear in mind that if ships are delayed in their passage up the Canal that may well mean disruption of the smooth operation of the factories in Trafford Park. The hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Royle) said that Manchester had a very small part of the Ship Canal, but I would point out that if there had been no Manchester there would not have been a Ship Canal; and if there had been no Ship Canal I do not think there would have been a Trafford Park Industrial Estate, so that it cuts both ways.

The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent and others referred to the arrangements made for closing the bridges at certain times and to the point about oceangoing vessels. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Salford, West is no longer in his place—

Mr. Ellis Smith

He is not well and has to be careful of his health.

Mr. Johnson

I was merely going to say, in connection with his remarks on Trafford Bridge, that the bridge lies east of the main dock and west of the smaller dock called the Pomona dock. He referred to the fact that these were largely used for coastal vessels. It is true that in the case of the Trafford Bridge it is closed to all vessels at certain specified times. I have a list of them, but I expect that all hon. Members interested know those times as well as I do. The Ship Canal Company might well look into this and consider whether it cannot extend the time. I think the period is only half-an-hour in the morning, which seems a little short; and the Company might be able to do more in that direction. The question of Barton Bridge is, of course, entirely different. That lies west of the docks and ocean-going vessels, about which so much has been said, have to pass through it.

I do not pretend to have any practical knowledge of the problems of shipping or navigation. I would not presume to express my personal opinions on the subject of ocean-going vessels, although I am bound to say that what the Ship Canal Company has held to be the case seems to be common sense. There are enormous difficulties in applying limitations which are applied in the case of smaller vessels to ships running up to 10,000 tons. I understand that it is simply not practicable in view of the conditions of tides, wind and weather to stop an ocean-going vessel on its passage down the canal. Once one of those large vessels has lost headway it is out of control and presents a positive danger to anything else in the Canal.

Mr. Ellis Smith

indicated dissent.

Mr. Johnson

The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South shakes his head, but I said that I had no personal knowledge of these matters, although it seems a question of common sense. It also seems true that ocean-going vessels have to sail according to the tides rather than the convenience of road traffic. If they miss a tide it may mean a day's delay in arriving at their destinations. It is equally serious if they are delayed coming towards Manchester because the whole port might be tied up through delays. There may be ways round that and I am sure the Canal Company would do all it could, but the difficulties seem almost insuperable. The Company holds the view that it has done all it can to help road users.

That is a view not shared by all hon. Members. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South and others think the Company could have done a great deal more. That may be so, but whatever might be achieved by the canal company keeping the bridges open for longer periods would not solve the problem by any manner or means.

I cannot agree with the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South or my hon. Friend the Member for Withington (Sir R. Cary) about the high-level bridge. It seems to me that the only real solution of the problem is the construction of a high-level bridge. That has been recognised for a long time by the highways authorities and everyone. They have been planning for 20 years to build such a bridge. The Ship Canal Company concluded an agreement in 1952 with Lancashire County Council about the southern approach to the bridge. I have seen the plans and, as the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. J. T. Price) told us, they seem to be good and not to involve danger from mining subsidence. The bridge has been approved by the Ministry of Transport and it is in the 1956–59 road plan. It will cost a great deal of money, but I am certain it will be money very well spent.

Apart from any commercial consideration, it is quite impossible to estimate the loss in time to workers who have to cross Barton Bridge or Trafford Bridge during the rush hour. As I think my hon. Friend the Member for Withington pointed out, it is not only a question of time, but it must be very annoying indeed—to put it mildly—to have to get up extra early go to work, and then find one is delayed at the bridge. I cannot believe that one would be in the best of tempers at work and give of one's best, particularly with the thought of the journey home in mind. Many of us have experienced these delays. I have, and I have experienced them when sitting comfortable and warm in a motor car. That made me fairly irritable, but I do not know what I should feel like it I were to experience that same delay standing, for example, beside a bicycle on a wet night after I had done a hard day's work.

While there is a great deal to be said for the point of view of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South, I do not think that the remedy lies with the Ship Canal Company. We should be ill-advised to reject on those grounds an admirable and most useful Bill, important not only to Manchester but to the whole country. The Company has done everything possible to facilitate the building of a high-level bridge. I have referred to the fact that it has agreed about the southern approach. It has, I understand, abandoned its powers to build a railway so as to facilitate that approach.

It is also worth bearing in mind that 20 per cent. of the traffic going into the Port of Manchester is for Trafford Park. We have to balance the inconvenience of the one against the other and make up our minds which is the greater. Various hon. Members have spoken of the importance of the oil dock, which is perhaps the main item in the Bill, and the provisions to finance it and to make improvements in the Port of Manchester.

The Port of Manchester, as most hon. Members no doubt know, is one of the leading ports in the country. Last year, I think, it was the third largest, about 18½ million tons of goods being shipped into it. The Ship Canal Company wants to raise the figure even higher. While I welcome the action of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South, I very much hope he will see fit to withdraw his Motion and not impede the passage of a useful Bill, especially as he has now further ventilated a problem which has been very widely known.

10.32 p.m.

Mr. Jack Jones (Rotherham)

It may well be asked, what right has a Member representing a Yorkshire constituency to speak on the question of the Manchester Ship Canal? I happen to be the one Member of the House who, for forty seven years, has lived nearer to the canal than any other person in it.

Mr. Ellis Smith

In the canal?

Mr. Jones

I can throw a stone from my allotment into the canal, so that is near enough. It is often as near as I wish to get to it.

No one in the House wants to impede progress, but what this House has a right to do, and what we on this side of the House, representing industrial workers, have the right to do, is to point out to all promoters of Bills ways in which we think Bills can be improved and in which, as a result of the passing of Bills, the public interest can be protected. The Manchester Ship Canal Company is a concern which can well look after itself. It is an affluent concern, with a lot of effluent coming from it.

Mr. L. M. Lever

And down it.

Mr. Jones

I am not dwelling on that aspect at the moment.

I have to declare something of a vested interest. As hon. Members know, I happen to work for an organisation on the canal which employs 5,000 people. We load our ore there. Ocean-going vessels bring in the iron ore without which we could not make our record tonnages, the record tonnage having been made last week.

Barton Bridge has been a vexed question for a long time. It is impossible to compute the loss of production which has been caused, the aggravation to, or the psychological effect upon, workers coming to and from the Trafford Park area. But what about the more remote parts? There is sitting in the Gallery a very worthy manager of one of the finest departments of the country's steel works. Only a few days ago, he complained bitterly to me about not being able to get to and from his place of work. Managers have to deal with absenteeism. They have to deal with men who come late to work. How can men in executive positions deal with men who come late to work when they themselves are being held up through no fault of their own? This is not an isolated instance, but one of thousands of such instances which arise from the lack of proper facilities in the area.

Nobody wants to impede the Ship Canal improvement. Goodness knows, it is needed. Much has been said about Barton Bridge and about Trafford Park Bridge, but nothing at all has been said about the high-level bridge at Hollins Green. At Hollins Green Bridge is a good roadway which could carry much traffic and relieve congestion at Barton Bridge, too. Why does it not go over Hollins Green Bridge? Because there is a prehistoric toll working there. I use it very often when I get an opportunity to do a little fishing—not in the canal: no self-respecting fish would want to go near it—but elsewhere, even other canals, and on my way, at weekends, for instance, I go over the high-level bridge there. It costs me a shilling every time I go that way because of that Noah's Ark arrangement, which ought to be terminated.

Industrial as well as private vehicular traffic could use that bridge and lessen the congestion at Barton Bridge at the same time, and the bridge would be used if the toll were not operating. The Ship Canal Company has a responsibility to terminate it.

Mr. J. T. Price

I know that my hon. Friend wants to be fair, and I know he is a great authority on the Ship Canal, so perhaps he will allow me to point out that the reason why the high-level bridge at Hollins Green is not used to any large extent by heavy traffic is that the network of secondary roads on the Cheshire side could not take heavy vehicular traffic.

Mr. Jones

That may be, but the bridge is built to take five-ton loads. There is a notice which says so, and it can. I have gone over with fairly heavy loads of material in recent months, testing it. If that toll were ended much of the congestion at Barton Bridge could be removed.

Much has been said about the efficiency of the canal. I happen to live at Irlam, on the canal. There is only one cottage between my front door and Irlam locks. For the people wanting to cross north and south there is the facility of a ferry. Noah's Ark is a long way back in time from now, but even Noah would not have used that method of getting from one side of a waterway to the other. We have the 1855 Act—

Mr. L. M. Lever

Eighteen eighty-five.

Mr. Jones

Yes, of course. But we have 1855 facilities or older—a rowboat with one oar. If it snaps, you have "had it." How long it takes to get from one side to the other! I think the ferry must have been used by the originator of the song of the Volga boatmen—not the vulgar boatmen. The boat is still there. The ferry cannot possibly carry heavy traffic. I do not suppose it has carried cattle or vehicular traffic or any transport for the last fifteen or twenty years. It is prehistoric. It takes four men to wind the winch. There it is, not a hundred yards away from the great modern works of Petrochemicals, Ltd., and the great modern works of the Lancashire Steel Corporation. There it is in this atomic age, and we have a boatman to carry us from one side of the canal to the other. So much for the—so-called—progressive Ship Canal Company.

I go fishing in other canals. I know of one where there is a boat with a small outboard motor, and it takes thirty or forty men as quick as you please from one side to the other. Then there is Bob's Ferry as it is called; not that it costs a bob; it costs a penny. It is a little further up the road. It works only when the wind is not blowing, if the weather is suitable. What happens if there is a heavy wind? The men coming from the works of Petrochemicals, Ltd., try to get across on a narrow board. It is all too easy to slip off and fall in the water. Do they drown? No, they are asphyxiated; they have "had it".

That is the sort of thing which needs the attention of the Manchester Ship Canal. It is all very well to talk about high-level bridges, modern transport and the rest. Great improvements could be made with the company's existing facilities. I am not saying this in any spirit of unfair criticism because the Urban District Council of Irlam has raised this matter with the Company time and time again, yet nothing has been done. It is a scandal that in this age a company of that type, with all its great engineering facilities and business acumen, should allow such a system to remain. All the things I have described are there to be seen—the boatmen, the one boat, the penny-in-the-slot arrangement, the toll, the shilling, and so on. They should all be swept into oblivion.

Now I want to deal with the question of industrial discontent. How is it possible for managements to talk to trade union people about extra production when the men concerned are discontented, frustrated, fed up? In my industry men work hard, they sweat, they get wet through. Yet they have to stand in buses in bitter weather like that which we are having today. It is not fair. It is not British. We should stop talking so much about the progress that is made when such conditions as these are still with us.

I could go on for a long time, but I will not do so because I hope that the Bill will get a Second Reading. The primary reason for putting down this Amendment was to give us an opportunity to voice our opinions so that the new Minister can get at the facts.

I have to declare an interest in the high-level bridge. There are available between 2 million and 3 million tons of the finest hard core in the country, good slack, out of which roads can be made. We want to get rid of it, but I understand that the Lancashire County Council has not had permission to spend a penny on the necessary purchase. I know that tipping has taken place on a voluntary basis, but when anything is free it is not generally the right stuff.

We want to help the Minister. We are not politicians in the sense of theory and Bills and Amendments. We are practical, hard-headed chaps who look at these problems in a practical way. The high-level bridge will help considerably. It will take traffic from Cadishead and Irlam in one direction and avoid it going to Barton. The sooner we get this bridge the better, because these transport problems are having a tremendous effect upon the costs of production. The Minister should not make any mistake about that. A lot of nonsense is talked about the ships that cannot lose headway. They stop easily enough every time they come past my front door. They make no headway or, if they do, they burst the gates wide open. The idea that they cannot go into lay-bys is silly. During the war we had to decide to do something about D-day, and millions of logs were lashed together. If that could be done then it can be done in the Manchester Ship Canal now.

A final word to those representing the Manchester City Council. Let them come to tea to my house next Sunday and see the things I have been describing. Then perhaps we shall get something done.

10.44 p.m.

Lieut.-Commander S. L. C. Maydon (Wells)

I am sure that the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Jack Jones) will appreciate that I intend no offence to him when I say that we were very glad to hear that when he goes fishing he just comes within the weight limits when going over the bridge at Hollins Green.

I do not know the locality that we are discussing, but I have sympathy with the mover and seconder of the Amendment. I live not far from Bristol, where we suffer similar delays from swingbridges in the Bristol Docks. However, I wish to oppose the Amendment, on behalf of shipping.

The hon. Member for Rotherham said he knows that ships have no difficulty in losing headway and stopping. That is true if it is done in the right and proper place, within a lock where there are buoys, dolphins and bollards to which one can secure, but in the main portions of the canal where these appliances are not available it is not only dangerous but disastrous to stop a ship.

Mr. Ellis Smith

Might I interrupt the hon. and gallant Gentleman? He is making a reasonable case, even if it is of a critical nature, and we welcome it. I assure him we are not asking for anything like that. All we are asking is that this should be controlled in the locks, docks and wharves.

Lieut.-Commander Maydon

It is not so easy. Tides do not run to a 12-hour clock. It is not like clocking in and out of a factory. Tides run according to the moon. Each day high water is at a different time. These things cannot be controlled on the basis of a timetable. The large vessels—some are ocean-going cargo carriers of more than 10,000 tons—rely on the tides to enter the Mersey and the canal, and they have also to rely on the tides to get out again, ensuring that there is sufficient water for them to negotiate the shallower parts of the river.

It may be possible to find suitable places at a swingbridge where a ship of that size can secure alongside or where it can be secured by putting lines to either bank, but delay of even a few minutes there may make the vessel miss the tide at Liverpool. The result may be that as much as twelve hours are lost. There may be disadvantage, not only to the vessel itself in relation to its handling, but to other shipping if congestion is created which results in delays, and that may be felt very severely in Manchester Docks. If ships miss a tide, rather than go down the canal and berth in the Mersey, Liverpool or one of the other neighbouring places, they may remain in Manchester, which will be more convenient and more comfortable for them. That will result in congestion of berths which ought to be free for other vessels to enter and unload.

There is not only the difficulty of delay and congestion. Time costs money. In the case of a vessel of 10,000 tons or thereabouts the cost runs into several hundreds of pounds per hour in wages, fuel and maintenance, taking into account the ship's capital cost and its likely earning lifetime at sea. All that has to be taken into account.

It is simple to apply the brakes and stop a double decker bus or lorry or for a cyclist to put his foot down and prop his machine against the kerb, but as soon as one stops an ocean-going vessel one is wasting an asset which ought to be earning money. Any delay of that nature adds to the costs of our imports and exports.

Mr. Proctor

Is not that equally true of delay on the roads? If one delays a thousand vehicles, one is delaying a thousand men. One aspect must be balanced against the other. It is not a single problem but a double problem.

Lieut.-Commander Maydon

I agree with what the hon. Member says, but in trying to remove one difficulty the mover and seconder of the Amendment are confronting the locality and the industry within it with another difficulty. That is an equally big, if not bigger difficulty, taking into account the thousands of dockers who are affected if ships are delayed in this manner, the loss of working days and the loss of cargoes which must reach their destinations on time. Those effects add up to something very much more important than the delay of a few minutes likely to be caused by the swinging of a bridge.

After all, a 10,000-ton vessel is about 600 feet long. Let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that she moves up the canal at three or four knots. At three knots she will take two minutes to pass any point on the bank from stem to stern. If she is travelling at four knots, the time will be one and a half minutes. Let us also suppose that it takes three minutes to open the swing bridge and three to shut it—I doubt whether it takes so long—then the total time is roughly eight minutes. If an extra minute at either end is allowed, that makes ten minutes for one vessel to pass. If the delays are longer than that, and I take the word of hon. Members that they are, then something must be wrong. But ten minutes should be ample time for a vessel to pass. In view of the delays it would involve to the great industry of the Port of Manchester, the third largest in England, I oppose the Amendment on behalf of the shipping industry.

10.52 p.m.

Mr. Frank Allaun (Salford, East)

Reference has been made to the loss of time and to the bad temper caused by the closing of these bridges. It is that added to the existing shortage of land in the area that makes the situation intolerable. At Metropolitan Vickers, work starts at 7.30 a.m., but to get there on time, thousands of workers have to get up at 5.30 a.m. The 7.30 a.m. buzzer at Metropolitan Vickers can be heard within a three-mile radius. One million people hear it every morning, many while still in bed. It serves as an alarm clock to thousands. I believe that those who get up at 5.30 a.m. deserve a wage, even before they get to work.

In those circumstances, one can imagine how keenly and bitterly it is felt that on top of all the natural difficulties there are unreasonable difficulties. Many of my hon. Friends have worked in jobs where one has to "clock on" in the mornings, and they have had the experience of being "quarter-houred" or "half-houred." That is not a pleasant experience. When it happens through no fault of one's own, it becomes even more objectionable.

Let us suppose that hon. Members had to "clock on" at 2.30 p.m. I do not know how such a proposal would be received. Let us suppose that for being late in arriving, part of their annual income was stopped and that they were late, not through any fault of their own, but because Westminster Bridge or Lambeth Bridge was closed for fifteen or twenty minutes. Hon. Members would then feel as strongly as do the people in the area to which we are referring.

By now the House should know how strong are the feelings of the people of South-East Lancashire, particularly in Salford, part of which I represent. Trafford Road, which connects with Trafford Bridge, is one of the main thoroughfares in Salford. It carries an exceedingly heavy traffic of passenger buses and lorries, and this traffic is growing. It is not only the people of Salford who are concerned; the people on the other side of Trafford Bridge are also affected, because Salford is connected, through Trafford Bridge, with the Broad-heath industrial area—Altrincham, Sale, Stretford, Moss Side, and the whole of southern and western Manchester.

It is quite wrong that, day after day, both on their inward and outward journeys, the workers of that area should be forced to suffer in this way. Constant references have been made in this House to the loss of production caused by industrial disputes, but I say, quite confidently, that far more time has been lost through the closing of these bridges than through industrial disputes.

The hon. and gallant Member for Wells (Lieut.-Commander Maydon) referred to the importance of shipping, and other hon. Members have spoken of the importance of the Canal Company. I recognise the force of their arguments, but I believe that the Canal Company and shipping were made to serve the people, and not the people to serve the Canal Company. The people should come first. I submit that greater attention should be paid to the needs of the majority of people living in that area.

Lieut.-Commander Maydon

In that respect I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's point. This is obviously a matter of balance. If one takes the argument to the other extreme one can quote examples of factories closing down in Manchester because they are so cluttered up with their own products, which should have been taken away via the canal or alternatively because the raw materials which they require are not coming in via the canal. This matter must be finely balanced. It cannot be argued too far one way or the other.

Mr. Allaun

We are eminently reasonable people, and we acknowledge the debt which the people in the area owe to the Canal Company, but we believe that it is quite possible for the Company to carry out its work without interfering with the lives of the people in the way that it does at present.

To indicate the strength of feeling which exists on this subject I close by quoting a letter representing the views of tens of thousands of people in the area. It come from a recent issue of the Manchester Evening News, and reads as follows: Twice on one day I have been held up by the closing of Trafford Bridge, at 8.30 a.m. and 2 p.m. With road traffic as it is today I feel that it is time that this Victorian relic should be permanently closed to water-borne traffic, except that which can pass underneath. The coasters could be diverted to the main docks and the sand barges, etc., adapted to pass under. Alternatively, the bridge could be opened for vessels between 7 p.m. and 6 a.m. only. (Sgd.) John P. Wilson. I would point out to hon. Members that although in nine or ten years an alternative bridge will be built at Barton, there is no such proposal for an alternative bridge to the Trafford Bridge.

We are reasonable people, as I have already said, and are merely asking that there should be a reduction in the time during which these bridges are closed, and that local authorities and other organisations should be consulted as to the times when those bridges are closed.

11.0 p.m.

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

The hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun), in the course of his interesting speech, mentioned the question of clocking-in. I think that he and probably other hon. Members will agree that the time looks as if it is approaching when we should clock out, so I do not wish to detain the House for more than a few minutes.

Although I have not any direct responsibility for this Bill in the same sense that one would have for a Departmental Measure, it may be for the convenience of hon. Members if I say a word or two because my right hon. Friend certainly has an interest—in fact, he has a dual interest—in this matter.

I have listened with considerable sympathy to hon. Members on both sides of the House who have put very clearly the difficulties which arise from the problems of traffic going up and down the canal necessitating the bridges stopping the flow of people, particularly those working in factories at different times of the day. I have listened most carefully, but I hope that those hon. Members will acquit me of any discourtesy if I say that their arguments have no direct bearing on the objects of the Bill as such.

In fact, there have not been any criticisms—and I listened carefully for them—of the actual Bill. The hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Royle) admitted that he and his hon. Friends had no objection to the Bill whatsoever. I think it would be a pity to block a non-controversial Measure of some considerable importance because other interests not directly connected with the objects of this Measure are felt to be not satisfactorily safeguarded.

Every important public utility undertaking must come to Parliament for new powers every so often. The last time that the Manchester Ship Canal Company asked for new powers was in 1952—four years ago—and the powers that are asked for in this Bill are purely enabling powers. I am not even saying that my right hon. Friend may or may not agree with all the powers they are asking for. That is a matter to be thrashed out later on. But these are powers for improving the efficiency of the port working—a matter which is obviously of first-rate importance not only to the economy of Manchester and the interests of those hon. Members who represent constituencies around there but, indeed, to the very nation itself.

Her Majesty's Government are, of course, very much in favour of public utility undertakings making their plans well in advance and obtaining the necessary Parliamentary powers for them so that they will be ready to take them up and carry on with these schemes as and when circumstances permit. I suggest that it would be wrong to say to this undertaking, "You shall not be given Parliamentary sanction to develop schemes in accordance with your statutory responsibilities unless you do so within prescribed limits; that is to say, we will not even give you a Second Reading to your Bill unless you agree here and now to carry out certain qualifications which we wish to lay down"—especially when there has been no suggestion that the Company has not carried out its obligations under the existing statutory provisions which safeguard the rights of road users.

However, as I have said, my right hon. Friend has a dual function in this case, in that he has oversight of the interests of both canal and road users. Of course, the perplexity of the case arises from the conflict of these two interests. Therefore, some sort of compromise must be arrived at. Both my right hon. Friend the present Minister of Pensions and National Insurance and my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary have shown considerable interest in this case. They have been most impressed by the serious inconvenience and hardship caused to the workers on the Trafford Estate by the closing of the bridge during morning and evening peak periods.

Last November, in connection with the representations made by the hon. Member for Eccles and my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Storey) for the extension of the restricted periods, they instructed that an approach should be made to the Company suggesting that it would not be unreasonable to ask that the present arrangements should be reviewed and that the Company should give sympathetic consideration to the representations which it was expected would be made by the local authorities.

Within the last few days the Company has been asked to meet representatives of the local authorities and Members of Parliament, and this the Company has agreed to do, thus showing its good faith. I stress that the Company has already gone a long way to meet the position of road users by restricting the passage of small vessels at peak periods. We must not forget that the first responsibility of the Company is to maintain the working of the port. It is impracticable to attempt to restrict the movement of ocean-going ships in a major port such as Manchester.

Mr. Ellis Smith

We do not accept that.

Mr. Profumo

I think it is impracticable to restrict their movement. May I go a little further—and perhaps the hon. Member may go this far with me.

To paraphrase what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Sir R. Cary), if ocean-going vessels could not pass freely up and down the Ship Canal, to and from the Manchester docks, the whole object of the Canal would be defeated and the whole of the port of Manchester and the industries dependent on it, not least the oil and shipping industries, would be very seriously affected. Whether ocean-going traffic can or cannot be restricted, I hope that the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South will at least go with me as far as saying that if it is restricted it will spoil one of the main objects of the Company and may lead to very serious difficulties.

Mr. Proctor

Surely the Company might have some effect if it made an effort to consider speeding up the work and avoiding peak times.

Mr. Profumo

If the hon. Member will wait a moment I will come to that. What I said was that unless these vessels could pass freely up and down the canal serious conditions would arise. But, subject to this limitation concerning oceangoing vessels, the Company assures me—and I am authorised to say this—that it will enter the forthcoming meeting ready to see whether it is possible to revise the timing of the present restricted periods.

In addition, the Lancashire County Council has now made a scheme under the Special Roads Act, 1949, to construct a motor road as part of the Manchester Outer Ring Road. This includes a new high-level bridge at Barton which, in spite of what the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South thinks, is bound to relieve the congestion on the existing bridge to a certain extent. I think I detected some suspicion in the speeches of some hon. Members, and I should say that this scheme is in no way affected by anything my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer said the other day.

While I appreciate that this will take some years and will not offer an immediate solution, I feel that, because the Company is already doing more than it is statutorily obliged to do in regard to the opening of swing bridges, and because it is willing to discuss the matter further with those concerned—and has asked me to say so—it would be inappropriate to deny the Bill a Second Reading.

Perhaps the hon. Members for Stoke-on-Trent, South and Eccles will now reconsider their proposal and withdraw their Amendment. As the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Jack Jones) said in a speech which was both moving and entertaining, perhaps the main object of hon. Members was to air this problem in the House. Perhaps we may regard them, in the words of another hon. Member, as being eminently reasonable and perhaps it is not too much to ask if they will withdraw the Amendment. Although I have no official standing in the matter, perhaps hon. Members will allow me to advise that the Bill be given a Second Reading.

Mr. Jack Jones

Would the Parliamentary Secretary give an undertaking that the local authorities concerned with the ferry question, and the high-level bridge, and the toll question, will be consulted by the Ship Canal Company?

Mr. Profumo

I could not give an undertaking regarding a local authority, but I am sure that the publicity of this debate will not remain within the four walls of this Chamber; I am certain that the local authorities will read with great care what has been said this evening, and I assure the hon. Gentleman that that will also be carefully examined in my own Department.

Mr. Ellis Smith

Anyone who knows the constitutional rights of this House knows that tonight we have only used our rights as hon. Members to voice a grievance of the people. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Bill read a Second time and referred to the Examiners of Petitions for Private Bills.

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