§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
§ 7.0 p.m.
Mr. W. M. F. Vane (Westmorland)
I object to the Second reading of this Bill mainly because of Clause 21 and my concern for the future of the so-called Lancaster Canal. The proposals in the Bill may seriously affect the life and the industry of the southern part of my constituency. In fact, a number of objections have been lodged against this Clause, including one by the local authority most affected, the South Westmorland Rural District Council.
This is only a short Clause when compared with some of the others, but there is a very big principle involved in it, and one which I suggest is something bigger than a Committee point. It ought not to have been difficult to have met the understandable fears of the objectors, and one would have hoped that it would have been possible to meet them and to clear this up before the Second Reading of the Bill. However, the Transport Commission has been slow, and, although it is to meet the objectors in the course of this week and the following week, I think it is to be regretted that it has not done so somewhat earlier.
One is always reluctant to criticise the Transport Commission when it has succeeded in finding a way of taking an old and disused canal and turning it to a new and profitable use, and, at the same time, adding to the revenue of the Commission. But I cannot do otherwise this evening, because the Commission is taking such powers as seem to threaten the legitimate interests of others. This canal, like many others, was constructed in the reign of King George III, and statutory power taken to take the headwaters from a small river, locally very important, in order to fill the canal. But, at the same time, in order not to prejudice the proper rights of the riparian owners, a number of provisions were included in the Act governing the system of the control of the water and also the construction of a reservoir to ensure that 295 the flow during the dry season should in no way be impaired.
The quantity of water then taken was not great, and, at the same time, a great benefit was brought to the county. Coal could be transported to it cheaply, and lime and limestone carried away, and the products of many important local industries. The industries sited in that area were numerous and important. They are still important, and they still depend to a great extent on supplies of water from this river. One of them, a paper mill, has plans for expansion to the great advantage of the neighbourhood. But, of course, water is the "life-blood" of a paper mill, and this mill cannot expand unless it can be assured that the existing water supply will in no way be reduced.
Then there is a manufactory of combs which was founded in 1704, and I believe, is the oldest coal mill in Europe. It still uses water from this river for power and there are natural apprehensions about the disturbance to that business if power is not available at certain times of the year. There is a new milk factory and one need not expand on the importance of a good supply of water to a milk factory—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—to cool the milk and not to put into it—unless hon. Members opposite like having their milk tainted and sour in the warm weather. All that these and other industries ask is that they should continue to enjoy their fair share of the normal and flood water, and that is what appears to be threatened.
It is interesting that the Transport Commission plans to use this old canal no longer as a navigation channel, but as an aqueduct. The Commission intends to convey water in unspecified quantities into Lancashire and there sell it to Imperial Chemical Industries, a very ingenious development which need not necessarily harm my constituents. On the other hand, it is possible that it may.
Any hon. Member who has noticed subsection (3) of this Clause—which I call the "guilty conscience" subsection—will see that something beyond the statutory powers enjoyed by the Commission has apparently been going on for some time. If this business of using the canal as an aqueduct shows a good profit, there is every temptation for the Commission to try to develop it, and get as much water as possible to run down the canal 296 and sell it to their customers in Lancashire.
There is nothing in this Bill to show the quantities of water they intend to sell, or to limit those quantities, or to give any assurance to the industries further down the river that their businesses will in no sense be damaged. These industries in Westmorland are not small, but they are a great deal smaller than the Transport Commission and Imperial Chemical Industries. Therefore, I do not think it unreasonable that I should ask that they be given the proper protection of this House.
There is also the public interest which is affected. The South Westmorland Rural District Council is anxious about the supply of water to augment the public water supply which in some parishes is inadequate. I submit that it cannot be right that all the reserve supplies of water in this district should be conveyed into another county and there sold. Surely it cannot be right, because in the end the local authority would be put to a much greater cost than if it could be assured of an existing supply.
It should have been possible for all this to be cleared up before the Second Reading of the Bill, but, in common fairness, surely the local authority should be assured of a share of this water; not that it should have something for nothing, but in return for a fair consideration payable to the owners of these water rights. The vital interests and rights of riparian owners should be protected, and in particular, these traditional industries lower down the river should be assured of their water supply. It should not be difficult to do that, and so far as I can see the only expense to which the Commission could possibly be put would be the cost of substituting for the ancient system of valves and gauges, something more accurate and up-to-date.
At last meetings are to be held, but I hope that when we see this Bill again, after the Committee stage, Clause 21 will have a new look and that the offensive sub-section (3) will have disappeared. If not, I shall object to the Third Reading of the Bill, as I have objected to the Second Reading, and I have no doubt that, realising the justice of these objections, other hon. Members will give me their support.
§ 7.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Kenneth Thompson (Liverpool, Walton)
I wish to support the observations of my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane) not only on the particular grounds which he has very properly related to the interests of his constituency and the neighbouring part of the country, but on the general question of the way in which the British Transport Commission approached the problem of looking after its own interests.
About two years ago we had occasion in this House to refer to some matters of principle when the question of closing a stretch of canal was raised. It is not only the interests of the Commission which have to be considered. There are very often wider public interests, and there are wider public interests in this matter. There are the interests of those who live in the neighbourhood and who have this supply of water as one of their natural resources. It is used for domestic and commercial purposes, and is part of the irrigation system of that part of the county.
Although I am a Lancastrian I can understand a Member representing another county objecting to water moving from his county into mine. I feel that it is wrong that a prior claim should be established in Lancashire—by Statute or by inference—to some water which falls and is collected in a neighbouring county. We have a duty to the people in the county to see that the water which becomes available there can be used by the people who need it.
In this case, a supply of water is collected and delivered through the becks and canals. It finds its way to certain local industries in the neighbourhood. Those industries have been born, and have developed and grown, very often relying considerably upon this supply of water—not necessarily upon an abundance of water, or even a given quantity of water, but a constant supply of water. Now the Commission wants to supplement its revenue by what I agree is a bright and commendable idea in many ways. I hope that in due course it will be able to increase its profits by selling some water in another place to another company—I.C.I. I have no doubt that that company can do with it, but should not be allowed to do so to the detriment 298 of those who, over the years, have come to rely upon this supply of water.
My hon. Friend has referred to the fact that for some time objections have been made to this Clause, yet it seems that there has been no coming together of the conflicting interests. I submit that that is very naughty of the Transport Commission. It is a big and powerful organisation, with a very considerable influence in many places, and it has a duty to observe its obligations to smaller people. It should have seen to it that before this House was asked to give a Second Reading to the Bill—including as it does this offensive subsection—all the aspects of the matter were discussed with the interested parties.
This House often regards itself as under an obligation to look after the interests of major public bodies, and there might well have been a danger that, in the great flow of business with which the House has to deal every day. a small matter like this would have crept through. It might even be that the Commission was counting upon its creeping through unobserved, although I hope that that was not the case. I hope that what has been said in this debate will have the effect of encouraging the Commission to come to terms with the local interests in a spirit of perfect harmony—because there is no reason why harmony should not prevail. If that is done we may be prepared to see the Bill through its remaining stages. Failing that, I join my hon. Friend in the warning he has uttered, that unless a reasonable agreement is reached in this respect some opposition must be raised to the later stages of the Bill.
§ 7.13 p.m.
§ Brigadier Sir Harry Mackeson (Folkestone and Hythe)
I shall delay the House for only two or three minutes. First, since my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Arbuthnot) is absent on a Parliamentary delegation, I want to point out that the Kent County Council has lodged a petition against the Bill upon the ground that it interferes with the county council's rights in certain property. The site which affects me most is in the area of Folkestone Harbour, in respect of which it is the intention of British Railways eventually to electrify the line. British Railways want to construct sidings on some land which has been 299 earmarked by the county council for educational purposes.
I gather that the point is not a very big one, and that the county council is really thinking mainly about its rights of way and fences, rather than the whole principle. The principle is a very important one to the people on the coast and to everyone who lives between here and Folkestone and Dover. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Dover would be very interested in this matter if he were here, and I also know that the majority of people in this area, especially those who travel to the Continent and to seaside resorts along that part of the Coast of England, would like to see an improvement in rail services by electrification.
I merely want to express my hope that a compromise will be reached, and to suggest that the matter might have been dealt with a little more effectively and, indeed, tactfully, if both promoters and petitioners had informed local Members of Parliament of the situation before the present stage was reached. I remember the enormous expenditure which the ratepayers in the county of Kent were put to when the Kent Water Bill went through the House. It was the longest Committee stage of a Private Bill which the House has ever known, and it was about the most expensive. I hope that that procedure will not be repeated at the ratepayers' expense in this case, and that no unnecessary delay will be imposed upon the improvement of rail services to the Kent Coastal ports and resorts. I support the Second Reading.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ The Minister of Transport (Mr. Harold Watkinson)
I have only a short statement to make. Perhaps I might first deal with the points which have been made by my hon. Friends just by saying that they are all matters which will be discussed upstairs. I have carefully noted them, and I certainly undertake to ensure that they are drawn clearly to the attention of the Commission. It is certainly my wish—and, I am sure, that of the Commission—that an attempt should be made to arrive at a sensible and practical solution. I appreciate what my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane) has said, namely, that the Commission's plans need not necessarily harm his constituents. I believe that my hon. Friend 300 the Member for Walton (Mr. K. Thompson) said much the same thing. I will endeavour to see that all their arguments are fully considered upstairs.
My main point is to draw attention to the fact that we are concerned here with Instructions. I understand that when hon. Members move them at a later stage they will be helped if I now indicate very shortly what is my view with regard to those Instructions.
§ Mr. H. Hynd (Accrington)
Before the Minister finishes, I should like to hear what he has to say about the criticisms of his hon. Friends in connection with the Commission's failure to meet the objectors. Is it a fact that these objectors asked for a meeting and that a meeting was refused them, or is there any kind of legitimate complaint?
§ Mr. Watkinson
I cannot answer that question. All I can say is that these questions will be dealt with upstairs.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time and committed.
§ 7.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Herbert Butler (Hackney, Central)
I beg to move,That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the Bill, to provide that the Commission in carrying out the works authorised by this Act shall not employ or cause to be employed any person who is paid, either directly or indirectly, by way of salary, contribution to superannuation fund or otherwise, any additional sum of money on condition that he does not join or maintain his membership of any trade union.This Motion in no way criticises the contents of the Bill. We are fully aware of the fact that trade union conditions in the Commission are as good as they are anywhere in the country. It will be remembered, however, that in a number of debates upon Private Bills my hon. Friends and myself have draw attention to certain conditions operating in industry. Part II of the Bill deals with considerable works which are to be carried out in various parts of the country, many with names which sound peculiar to a Cockney like myself. I endeavoured to master their pronunciation, but I do not think that I need bother the House with that specific detail of the situation.
301 I can assure those of my hon. Friends who have been, and are, connected with the transport industry that we have no criticisms of the trade union negotiating machinery which exists inside that industry. We merely seek a specific assurance that a pernicious practice which Parliament has hitherto failed to remedy shall, if possible, be eliminated in connection with any works which are due to be carried out under the provisions of the Bill.
For the benefit of hon. Members who had not the advantage of hearing the speeches by my hon. Friend the Member for Reading (Mr. Mikardo) and my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Aston (Mr. J. Silverman) in an earlier debate, I will recall that they drew attention to a peculiar relic of the early part of this century, an organisation known as "The Foremen and Staff Mutual Benefit Society." You are probably getting a little tired of this name, Mr. Speaker. We feel it our responsibility to draw the attention of the House to the fact that that organisation includes in its rules one to the effect that the membership and benefits of the society, although paid for by the members, can be denied to a member who joins a legitimate trade union.
Many millions of pounds are involved in the Bill. We therefore ask that the position of this 56-year-old relic shall be reviewed. In these days it is unrealistic. It is an undeniable infringement of the rights of the individual that he should not receive benefits for which he has paid if he ventures to join a trade union. In the factory where I was a shop steward the workers had to disguise the fact that they had a trade union. If the foreman knew that we had a ticket we were probably out, and if the manager heard of it we were certainly out. We have advanced since those days. Trade unions are now recognised as equal partners in the affairs of the country.
I am very glad that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport is here. On 27th February he gave an undertaking to look into the matter and to see whether there had been complaints. This matter of complaints is not germane to the issue. The Parliamentary Secretary also suggested that there was machinery within the industry to remedy this evil, if it existed. We say to the 302 Parliamentary Secretary that in a case of this sort there are not two sides to negotiate. On the one side are the individuals who, rightly or wrongly, join the organisation in the expectation of certain benefits, but they do not constitute a side for negotiation.
We seek to ensure that any contractor engaged in connection with the works covered by the Bill shall not be eligible to carry out these works if he operates this infringement of the rights of the individual That is quite specific. We hope to hear from the Parliamentary Secretary how far he has advanced in his investigations and whether he proposes to meet our requirements. My hon. Friends will have to decide what to do following the Minister's statement.
§ 7.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Maurice Orbach (Willesden, East)
I beg to second the Motion.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. H. Butler) has moved this Motion incisively and in langauge that could be clearly understood. As the result of the support it will receive from these benches, I hope we shall advance a little further than we did on the last occasion it was moved,
The Fair Wages Clause is accepted by authorities throughout the country as the sine qua non of Government contracts in relation to the employment of labour. After the debate which took place on the last occasion, all confusion about it ought to have been dispelled. We are not asking for the wages of persons employed by the British Transport Commission to be fixed at certain levels but that an inalienable right accepted by British people, by the Government and by British employers, shall be established in some way by a statement from the Government benches.
We are concerned with the fact that it is possible for an employer to dismiss a man if he is a trade unionist or to see that he does not advance in his occupation. The whole question of wages and collective bargaining can be left to the man's trade union, if he is allowed to belong to one. This foremen's association seeks to destroy that fundamental right. While it might not have been advisable for this provision to be incorporated in a local authority Bill, it seems quite proper to incorporate it in a Bill 303 concerned with a great Government undertaking.
Far be it from us to suggest that the conditions under which men work there are any worse than they are elsewhere—we hope that they are much better—or to suggest that any discrimination is shown by the Commission. We should feel much happier if the Instruction were incorporated in the Bill. The time has come when the Government and organised employers should make their statements on this matter. We shall not be led astray by the suggestion made by the Minister on the previous occasion that he would have to see how many complaints had been made to the Ministry in this connection.
I deal with discrimination in religious practices and I have found great difficulty in getting people who suffer from discrimination to make complaints. There is very great reluctance. I am sure that the Minister will appreciate the reluctance of men in the present case, and the fact that, faced with the blandishments of increased salaries or rises in status, they might be prepared to forget the trade union principles for which we have fought in the past and to accept an inferior social status.
We condemn this association. As my hon. Friend said, it is a relic and although not a relic of George III, it is rather interesting that that monarch was introduced into our debate as one of those people who, perhaps, before going mad make all kinds of mistakes. I trust that on this occasion the Minister intends to help us, otherwise we may have to divide the House. And if we do not divide the House, we shall become perhaps much more irritating than we now are in pressing this point.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour and National Service (Mr. Robert Carr)
As the hon. Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. H. Butler) has already made clear, this is exactly the same question as that which we debated three weeks ago in our discussion on the Croydon Corporation Bill and also on other occasions. As on that last occasion—and for the same reasons—I must at the outset say that the Government strongly advise the House to reject this Motion. I shall not expound the reasons 304 at length, but I should like to summarise them, and deal with the points which I undertook on the last occasion to consider.
Before I come to the summary of the reasons why we think the Motion should be rejected I would like once again to assure the House that the Government do support the freedom of people to join the trade unions of their choice. That is the fundamental freedom that this House wants to assure in this matter. Equally, we must leave people free, if they want to, to join the association which is complained of—the Foremen and Staff Mutual Benefit Society. Whether or not we agree with its rules, or some of its rules, or whether we may think that they are out of date, the fact remains that the Society is a perfectly legal body with legal purposes, registered under the Friendly Societies Act, and, as such, is one which people must be free to join if they so wish. I agree, at the same time, that they should not have to join it under any threat, compulsion or victimisation, but the House must concern itself with both those freedoms.
With that introduction I should like to summarise the reasons for the advice which I must give on behalf of the Government. First of all, I must repeat what I said before—that as a matter of principle we believe that difficulties of this kind should be dealt with not by legislation but by the two sides within industry negotiating and settling them between themselves. That right, that principle, has been established over a long period in this country. It is one to which both sides of the House strongly adhere. It is certainly one which the party opposite not only believes in but practised—and rightly practised—when in power. It is also a principle held tenaciously by the trade union movement itself. It is no good saying that we can depart from this principle in the particular matter before us tonight without realising that by doing so we should be opening the door to pressures—which might become very dangerous—to depart from the principle in other matters as well.
On the last occasion, I reminded the House that the hon. Member for Reading (Mr. Mikardo), who is peculiarly associated with pressing this cause, referred on one occasion to the rule in this Society operating, as it were, as a "closed shop 305 in reverse." I agree that it is in that sense a form of closed shop rule, but I think we will all maintain that the principle of the closed shop is one which should not be decided by legislation—by Parliament—but by the two sides of industry through normal negotiating methods. I think that that argument is an unanswerable one of principle from which it would be extremely dangerous to depart.
Unions, in these days, do have a proper chance of organising and gaining their membership—and, therefore, their negotiating strength—in this field and at this level of staff just as in all others. I feel sure that were the hon. Member for Reading with us tonight he would certainly have claimed that A.S.S.E.T., the association with which he is connected, is well able to look after itself, well able to build up its membership and well able to negotiate. I am sure that he would not be prepared to say that it was too weak or incapable in any way of playing its part as a trade union in the normal processes of negotiation.
§ Mr. Carr
In the international and other fields we get into such a habit of using these letters and code names that I am ashamed to say I do require notice of that question. I know that A.S.S.E.T. recruits its members among foremen and managerial staffs, but what the letters mean I must confess that I have, at the moment, forgotten. If the hon. Gentleman likes to tell me I should be glad to hear it—but I am glad to see that he finds it as difficult as do I.
§ Mr. Orbach
I must correct my hon. Friend—it is not Electrical Technicians, but Executives and Technicians.
§ Mr. Carr
I am glad to find that I am not the only one who is slightly confused in this matter. I must, however, reassert my first principle, which is that we believe that such difficulties as this should 306 be left to the two sides in industry to negotiate and resolve for themselves.
Secondly, even though we were to decide—wrong though that would be, in my view—that a difficulty such as this should be dealt with by legislation, it should be the subject of general industrial legislation and not of sporadic application as various Private Bills happen, almost by chance, to come before the House. Thirdly, in any event, in this particular case legislation is unnecessary to ensure the rights of trade unionism. As the hon. Member for Hackney, Central made clear, those rights are already safeguarded, because the British Transport Commission is firmly opposed to the imposition, as an employer, of a condition that an employee should not join a trade union or maintain membership of one.
Moreover, the Commission includes, as a general condition of all contracts a Fair Wages Clause in accordance with the Fair Wages Resolution passed by this House in 1946. As the House will know, one provision of that Resolution is that the contractor shall recognise the freedom of his workpeople to be members of trade unions. In other words, the Fair Wages Resolution lays down the principle which I suggested to the House a little while ago was the one which it is essential to preserve—the freedom of people to be members of trade unions as they desire.
Finally, I want to refer to points raised in our debate on this subject when the Croydon Corporation Bill was before the House, three weeks ago. I want to do that because, as I have already been reminded, I gave an assurance to look into the points which were then raised and to report back on the next occasion. I am particularly anxious to do that because I realise that my assurance three weeks ago was at least partly responsible for the House agreeing to that Motion being then withdrawn.
The hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) said in the debate three weeks ago that this was a difficulty which should be dealt with in a general way and not by sporadic application in Private Bills, and that if general action were needed it could best be taken by amending the Fair Wages Resolution. I want to say quite definitely that I agree with that point of view, that if general action were needed 307 it should be taken by means of an Amendment to the Fair Wages Resolution.
The hon. Member for Leeds, West on that occasion went on to refer to the debate which took place in 1946, when the Fair Wages Resolution was approved by this House. It was in response to the references to that debate ten years ago that I undertook to make my inquiries, and perhaps it would be for the convenience of the House if I recalled briefly the points which were in question.
When that debate took place in October, 1946, the hon. Member for Reading moved an Amendment to paragraph 4 of the Resolution. Paragraph 4 is the vital one in this connection, because it is the one which lays down the freedom of people to join their trade unions, and perhaps it would be helpful if I read it. It says:The contractor shall recognise the freedom of his workpeople to be members of trade unions.A simple, plain, short statement of principle, clear and unambiguous.
The intention of the Amendment of the hon. Member for Reading, to that paragraph was the same as the intention of the Motion we are discussing tonight, but it was resisted by the right hon. Member for Southwark (Mr. Isaacs), who was then Minister of Labour, and I should like to quote briefly from that debate the main reason why the right hon. Member for Southwark advised the House to reject the Amendment on that occasion. Referring to the terms of paragraph 4 of the Resolution, he said:we were relying upon paragraph 4 without any definition or restriction. We say that the words mean exactly what they say, that there is nothing to be added, and that we do not wish anything to be added.I am sure that he had in mind the danger of which many of us are aware, of trying to elaborate definitions, and sometimes by elaborating them making them open to all sorts of legalistic argument. The right hon. Gentleman also had something to say about it being "a lovely little point for the lawyers to argue." We are seriously aware of the danger of weakening the definition, rather than strengthening it, by lengthening and elaborating it. Paragraph 4 as it stood had been approved by the National Joint Advisory Council, which, of course, includes among 308 its members representatives of the T.U.C. In 1946, the right hon. Member for Southwark stuck to the clear, simple and unambiguous wording of paragraph 4 as being the strongest statement of this freedom which we wanted to assert. The Government today still agree with the view that the right hon. Gentleman put forward at that time.
If I may again go back to 1946, the right hon. Member for Southwark went on to give an assurance to the House if hon. Members accepted the recommendation to reject the Amendment, and he said:as soon as this Fair Wages Clause comes into operation, if the organisations, individually or jointly, can raise any question with regard to the operation in relation to the point referred to, I promise it will have immediate consideration, and that it will be referred to the tribunal mentioned so that a decision can be taken at once."—[OFICIAL REPORT, 14th October, 1946; Vol. 427, c. 715–6.]It was on the basis of that assurance that the House agreed to accept the advice of the right hon. Gentleman, the then Minister of Labour, and the hon. Member for Reading withdrew his Amendment.
The question I was really asked last time was what had happened as a result of the assurance the right hon. Member for Southwark gave at that time, and that is what I should like to report to the House. Before doing so, however, I wish to confirm what the hon. Member for Leeds, West said, that the right hon. Member for Southwark had, previous to our last debate, written to my right hon. Friend to inquire what had happened in relation to this assurance since he had left the Ministry, and that information, which I am now about to give the House, has already been sent to the right hon. Gentleman. The information is that two complaints have been received as a result of that assurance. Both of those complaints were in 1947, when the right hon. Member for Southwark was still Minister of Labour. Both these cases were settled within the industry, without reference to the Industrial Court. I think perhaps the House might like to have, not the details, but just a brief summary of what those two cases were about.
In the first case, a foreman in a firm failed to secure promotion for which he was being considered, and he attributed his failure to his unwillingness to join the Foremen and Staff Mutual Benefit 309 Society. The firm denied that joining the Society was a condition of the promotion; they said that the man in question was on the short list, and the fact that another man was selected had nothing to do with willingness or unwillingness to join the Society.
§ Mr. Carr
I believe that the other man was, but the reason why this case was solved was that the man in question, the complainant, was himself promoted very shortly afterwards to foreman, in spite of the fact that he did not join the Society. That, I think, is a clear example of how, when there was a query as to whether there was victimisation, the normal machinery within the industry, without legislation, was sufficient to ensure that no victimisation took place.
The second complaint related to the down-grading of a number of foremen following a reorganisation due to redundancy. It was considered that A.S.S.E.T. members had suffered particularly in the operation, but at the subsequent conference within the industry—again using the normal machinery that existed—it was satisfactorily established that the down-gradings had been carried out on the principle of "juniority," and that victimisation was not involved.
§ Mr. Carr
I realise that I am using a new word, but if we can use "seniority" I think I am justified in using "juniority" as slightly more simple than "lack of seniority."
There again, in the second of the only two cases of complaint, is proof that came to us, as a result of the right hon. Gentleman's assurance in 1946, that in both those cases the normal machinery within the field of industry was sufficient to ensure that no victimisation took place.
If I may sum up, the Government advise the House that this Instruction is not necessary in this case because of the record and practice of the British Transport Commission; that in any case this difficulty, where it exists, should not be dealt with by sporadic action; that with the Fair Wages Resolution in the background, difficulties of this kind are best 310 and properly dealt with by negotiation between the two sides of industry; and, finally, that if there were to be need for general action, it would best be taken by considering an Amendment to the Fair Wages Resolution of 1946. However, the Government still believe, as the Labour Government did in 1946, that such Amendment is neither necessary nor, indeed, desirable, and the evidence I have quoted certainly does not contradict this view.
I should, however, like to repeat now the assurance which the right hon. Member for Southwark gave to the House in 1946, that any cases brought to our notice will have our immediate consideration; I think it is fair that we should do that. For the reasons which I have given I would advise the House not to support the Motion.
§ 7.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)
We are most obliged to the Parliamentary Secretary for his painstaking and helpful explanation, although we are somewhat disappointed at some parts of it. He has referred to my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell), and I should say at once that my hon. Friend would have been with us this evening had he not been detained at another meeting.
The Parliamentary Secretary disappointed us because he still rested his case on a point which we believe to be invalid. He said that he recognises the freedom of everyone to join a trade union, and that is common ground, but he went on to say that we must also recognise the practice of the Foremen and Staff Mutual Benefit Society because it is legal. That is the very reason this matter has been discussed on the Floor of the House; we have to accept it because it is legal, but we need not necessarily put up with it. It is for the House to alter the law. That is the purpose of the present Instruction. Our argument is that we have reached the stage of historical development at which we can say, "We will not permit discriminatory practices when those discriminatory practices are directed against trade unionism."
When my hon. Friend the Member for Reading (Mr. Mikardo) introduced a Bill on that subject, that Bill received a unanimous Second Reading; and I believe 311 that that reflected the views of the House as a whole. I hope that when the Parliamentary Secretary has more experience of his office he will not only know what A.S.S.E.T. stands for but will appreciate this widespread feeling that it is wrong in principle to accept discriminatory practices of this nature.
The second point which the Parliamentary Secretary made which we do not find acceptable is that this matter should be disposed of by negotiations between both sides of industry. The hon. Gentleman will no doubt recognise that there are many matters relating to the conduct of both sides of industry which are defined by legislation. We think it right and proper that legislation should prevent discriminatory practices which upset the harmonious relations between both sides of industry. I am sure that if the Parliamentary Secretary reflects upon that he will agree that, if it is conceded that this is a discriminatory practice which can be avoided only by legislation, then it would be proper to resort to legislation to ensure that the negotiations within industry are conducted on a fair and proper basis.
I turn now to the other matters with which the hon. Member dealt and which are acceptable to us. He said—and we accept this—that the British Transport Commission is firmly opposed to any such practice. We assume, therefore, that for all practical purposes we need have no fears about the works to be carried out under the Bill, for the British Transport Commission will be responsible for them and it has declared to him that it is firmly opposed to these practices. That we accept and welcome.
The other matter which we accept—and there is no quarrel about this; the quarrel is whether legislation is necessary—is that the Parliamentary Secretary has said that he believes this to be a matter for consultation. As he will appreciate, it is a difficult matter to discuss across the Floor of the House. We have made some progress through tonight's discussion and our previous discussion and we are very much obliged to the Parliamentary Secretary, not only for informing the House but for putting the position on record and for following the debate in the House to which reference was made on the last occasion, particularly in connection with paragraph 4.
312 I invite the Parliamentary Secretary to give us this further assurance—that he will discuss the matter with such hon. Members as have shown a particular interest in it in order that we may endeavour to clarify our minds about it and see whether it is possible or desirable to consider general legislation. I do not think there is anything between us on the fact that this is a matter, whichever view we take about it, which is more susceptible to general legislation than to sporadic legislation in different Private Bills which happen to come before the House.
I am not asking the Parliamentary Secretary to bind himself in any way, but if he can give an assurance that he is quite willing to discuss the matter with those hon. Members who are interested, I think we may be able to make progress.
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ Mr. H. Hynd (Accrington)
It is a great pity that the British Transport Commission should be brought into such a debate as this, because of its very good record in connection with the recognition of trade unionism and its practices. It is unfortunate for the Commission, just as it was unfortunate for the Croydon Corporation on the last occasion, particularly since we have had an assurance this evening that the Commission has stated that it is firmly opposed to the practices which we are discussing.
Why have we to be troubled, and why has the time of the House to be occupied, by discussing this question time after time? It seems to me extraordinary that in this year, 1956, it should be possible for any organisation to have as one of its rules that anyone who is a member of a trade union is to be excluded. That is quite out of harmony with the advances which we have made in the industrial field and with the opinion of both sides of the House.
It is all very well for the Government to say that they support the freedom of people to join trade unions of their choice, but that ought to be taken a little further and practices of this kind ought to be condemned. As far as I noticed, the Parliamentary Secretary said nothing about the undesirability of a rule of that kind. If he would use some words along those lines on behalf of the Government, it would at least give a lead towards what we want to achieve.
313 Like my hon. Friends, I think we ought to approach this matter through the proper channels and after proper discussion, but we want a lead from the Government on whether they feel this to be a wrong kind of rule. That is what we have lacked so far. When the Parliamentary Secretary said that the best way to deal with this was by an amendment 'to the Fair Wages Resolution, I was hopeful that he was about to suggest that he would propose such an amendment; but I gather from his later remarks that he feels that no such amendment is necessary. Whether that is the best way or not, I hope that the discussions suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) will take place and that before they take place, and before this discussion has concluded tonight, we shall have a statement from the Government Front Bench condemning this kind of anti-trade union rule.
§ 7.58 p.m.
§ Mr. B. T. Parkin (Paddington, North)
I do not wish to prolong the discussion or to enter into an acrimonious debate with the Parliamentary Secretary, but I feel that he has been rather scurvily treated by his own advisers. The first time he appeared at the Box to discuss the matter he dealt with it somewhat lightly but in a very conciliatory manner and offered to make inquiries. His advisers have served him up with the same brief tonight and have not told him much more about the problem. If he cannot get information from his advisers, he ought lo know a little more about this Society.
Furthermore, he must not rely on being able to ride off on discussions which took place a long time ago on the Fair Wages Resolution. This problem is not irrevocably linked with that subject, although hon. Members interested in this matter tried to take an extension of the principle involved in that Resolution into the field dealing with this ancient and, nowadays not quite so honourable an organisation—the Foremen and Staff Mutual Benefit Society.
It is not surprising that discussions about the Fair Wages Resolution came to no satisfactory result and it is certainly not surprising that not many complaints were received by the Ministry, because the 314 very nature of the problem is that in certain sections of the industry workers cannot get promotion to the grade of foremen unless they join this organisation. They know that perfectly well and they do not apply.
It is true that the Parliamentary Secretary gave an example of a man who got promotion in a particular form after complaints had been made, but it is perhaps legitimate to point out that this Society is legal because it is a benefit society. The contributions to this Society are paid normally by employees, they are part of the normal earnings of foremen and part of the conditions of his service. They are part of the contributions which provide for certain benefits for sickness and death.
The example the hon. Gentleman gave is that, because of this offending clause in the rules of the Society, a certain man agreed to forgo certain money benefits which were customary in order that he might remain a trade unionist. There is no harm in the benefit society; it is an admirable one and people should be able to belong both to the benefit society and to a trade union. Those points the Parliamentary Secretary should bear in mind before he discusses the matter again in this House, or with those who want to bring an end to it.
The position is perfectly clear and I hope that the Minister of Labour may be able to pick up something from these debates, which surely affect industry as a whole. It is surely inadmissible in these days that in certain sections of industry promotion should no longer be on merit, but that the candidates for promotion should be filtered and screened by a provision of this kind. It is rejected in principle by hon. Members on both sides of the House, it is rejected by the trade unions as a whole, and I hope that it will be rejected more emphatically by the Parliamentary Secretary tonight in response to speeches made by my hon. Friends. I hope that it is due to be killed. If the discussions we have had hitherto continue on the lines of the assurances given, I am sure that these debates will not have been a waste of time, but thoroughly worth while.
§ 8.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Stan Awbery (Bristol, Central)
This practice appears to me to cut right across the principles of trade unionism. For an employer to say to his employees, 315 "We are prepared for you to join any trade union—you have full permission to do so—but we shall give to those who do not join a trade union some advantage which we cannot give to you if you still remain a member of the trade union," means that the employer gives with one hand what he takes away with the other.
Years ago an employer said to a man, "We shall not employ you if you are a member of a trade union." Today he says, "We have got to employ you, but we will refuse to give you promotion or certain advantages because you remain a member of that union. If you want the advantages which we are prepared to give you must leave the trade union.'' That cuts right across the principles for which the trade union movement has stood for many years.
§ Mr. H. Butler
I do not propose to make another speech, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but there seemed to be a receptive gleam in the eyes of the Joint Parliamentary Secretary when my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) suggested that there might be talks about this question, and when the hon. Gentleman referred to an amendment of the Fair Wages Resolution. If the hon. Gentleman is still as cheerful as he was then, I shall ask leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Mr. Carr
I would certainly be willing, as I always am willing, to meet hon. Members to discuss this or any other matter connected with my Department, but, as the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) realises, I cannot agree to meet that deputation with any commitments. I have stated the views of the Government on this matter. They are the same as were those of the Labour Government on this subject. We hold those views strongly, but I am perfectly prepared to meet a deputation and to listen carefully to what its members have to say.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. Harold Steward (Stockport, South)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I tried to make it clear that I called "No" when you asked whether we agreed that the Motion should be withdrawn.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris)
I am sorry. I did not hear the hon. Member when I was asking whether the House agreed that the Instruction should be withdrawn.
§ 8.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Grant-Ferris (Nantwich)
I beg to move,That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the Bill to leave out Clause 14.May I first express my gratitude, and, I am sure, the gratitude of all those hon. Members who wish to take part in this debate, to Mr. Speaker for allowing us to have a general debate on the Kennet and Avon Canal by discussing this Motion with the following Motion, which is:That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the Bill, That they shall make adequate provision in the Bill—
- (i) to ensure that the British Transport Commission allows no further deterioration to take place in the condition of the Kennet waterways and appliances, as defined in the Bill, until such time as Parliament shall determine; and
- (ii) to secure the enforcement of such provision."
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
If that meets with the convenience of the House, it appears to be a satisfactory course.
§ Mr. Grant-Ferris
I gather that that meets with the approval of the House. Tonight we reach an important stage in the history of canals in general and the Kennet and Avon Canal in particular. It is especially important that we can say quite truthfully that this is a non-party matter. For many weeks and months now hon. Members on both sides of the House—
§ Mr. James Harrison (Nottingham, North)
On a point of order. Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Do I understand from your Ruling that we are to discuss these two Instructions together in a general discussion on the canals and waterways of England as mentioned in the Bill?
§ Mr. Grant-Ferris
I beg the pardon of the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Harrison) if I led him to think that I was tempting Mr. Deputy-Speaker to rule me out of order.
§ Mr. Harrison
I was not criticising the hon. Member, but I was thinking about 317 another aspect of the canals and wondering of I could introduce it into the discussion.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I want to make it perfectly clear that the discussion must be limited to the scope of the Instructions.
§ Mr. Grant-Ferris
I was saying that we can congratulate ourselves that this is a non-party matter, and that for many months we have joined together in our negotiations with the British Transport Commission to try to reach some agreement. I wish to say especially how grateful I have been to the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) for the great help and instruction he has given me in the complicated questions of Private Bill procedure to enable us to reach the very happy situation in which I think we find ourselves in regard to these Instructions.
My right hon. Friend the Minister, in his wise decision to set up an impartial inquiry, has certainly set the stage for the House to reject the attempt of the Transport Commission to plan the closure of the Kennet and Avon Canal. It will be within the memory of the House that a body was set up by the B.T.C. called the Board of Survey. Without wishing to be rude to it, I should say that the Board could not strictly be called an impartial inquiry because it was very much an inquiry of the Commission.
In that Board of Survey it was recommended that no fewer than 791 miles of canals should be closed. It is a measure of the unity of this House in these matters that we have heard nothing more, for the time being at any rate, of those proposals and the present Bill is confined entirely to the question of the Kennet and Avon Canal. The waterway, which it is sought by the Bill to condemn, one of the most beautiful in England, stretching between Bath and Reading, is a broad canal which carries 80-ton barges and has locks at least 14 feet wide. It is interesting to note that not many years ago more than £1 million was spent on the Grand Union Canal to make it as wide as that over a distance of only 35 miles.
On the canal which we are now discussing the last barge—to the shame of those concerned—passed through it as long ago as 1948. Part of the canal was closed for repairs in 1950 and since 318 then no barge has been able to pass along the length of the canal. May I illustrate the importance of this canal and why it ought to be retained in use by saying something about the cost of inland water transport?
Fifty tons are propelled along this canal by a very tiny engine in a craft which is a great deal cheaper than a lorry because it carries thirty to forty times the weight of a lorry, which only carries once its own weight. The maintenance of these barges is extremely low. The boat pays no rates or taxes and often provides a home for a family free of rent and rates. It carries four or five times its own dead weight. It positively improves the stretch over which it passes, which is a great deal more than can be said for either a lorry or a trailer.
It needs no words of mine to show how much cheaper it is to use a canal than it is to use a railway, because rail-days are far more expensive to maintain than roads.
Let us turn to the cost of the abandonment of canals. The hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. J. Harrison) will know that is is costing Nottingham Corporation no less than £93,000 to close two miles of canal which, if they had not been allowed to be abandoned twenty years ago, could have been put right for one-tenth of that cost. That is not the only item to which I wish to call attention in the matter of abandonment.
Even the Board of Survey itself admits that the Welsh pool and Newtown sift-etch, one of the most beautiful in the world, abandoned in 1954, cost £44,000 to maintain in the two years 1950–51. I know, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that you are thinking that I am not sticking as close as I should to this Instruction, but I am trying to say that the Kennet and Avon Canal, far from being shut, ought to be kept open because it can be used not only economically but beneficially for all.
I should like to say a word about its use for pleasure. I do not want to weary the House by quoting a great many figures, but everyone knows that the use of inland waterways for pleasure boating is increasing by leaps and bounds every year. In one case, a large boat hirer on the Thames announced that six times 319 more use is being made of his craft now than five years ago. All this is very important when we consider our own canal and what could be done with it if it were revived and not allowed to be closed. The Kennet and Avon offers the greatest possible scope for those who wish to plan their holidays upon its beautiful waters. May I quote a few words from Mr. L. T. C. Rolts' "Inland Waterways of England."Rennie's Kennet and Avon follows a course of great beauty particularly westwards from the summit tunnel at Savernake. From the little thatch-roofed village of Wootton Rivers, which lies almost within the shadow of the great downland camp on Martinsell, it winds level for fifteen miles through the rich vale of Pewsey to Devizes with the smooth green folds of the chalk downs marching always on the right hand. Then follows the great descent into the valley of the Bristol Avon where the canal clings to the wooded slopes high above the river and where Rennie's lovely stone bridges and aqueducts fittingly announce the approach to Bath.Properly advertised and properly handled by those who are keen to do it, the Kennet and Avon could indeed prove a godsend to those who wish to have, and who are entitled to have, that kind of holiday where they can be quiet and restful, and not least important in these days, able to see and contemplate beautiful things.
In company with hon. Members from both sides of the House, and by the courtesy of the British Transport Commission, I reviewed parts of the canal between Hungerford and Reading the other day, and I was greatly impressed by the beauty and pleasure potentialities, quite apart from the commercial aspect on which I have no doubt other hon. Members will be speaking. I ask the Minister to use his influence with the British Transport Commission to get it to open once again the stretch between Hungerford and Reading. It would be a most important and useful contribution. It would show the Bowes Committee what in fact could be done if only this canal were given the chance. Indeed, the same would be shown by many of the others.
Let us consider the proposals in the Bill. The B.T.C. is saying that we have neglected our duty—"We propose to create a watery ditch. Confirm us in our neglect and give us leave to come back in five years time and say what we would do with this ditch." The B.T.C. and its 320 predecessors—and in all fairness to the Commission it is mostly its predecessors—have inflicted serious loss on canal users. Although hon. Members may be talking about the actual details of what has happened in the courts, I think that it is relevant to point out that damages and costs of between £20,000 and £30,000 have been paid in the last few years. If that money had been spent on keeping the canal in order years ago it would not have been necessary to have paid that and people would have been able to enjoy the canal and trade on it today.
The provisions of Clause 14 go far beyond the protection which the Commission is entitled to expect. The Clause authorises the closure of the navigation. However objectionable, the Bowes Committee's existence now makes the Clause, to my mind, quite improper in a Private Bill. The Kennet and Avon has become a part of a much larger question of the use of canals in general. Such a piecemeal suggestion as this is today is, I think, to be considered quite out of court. Other Clauses give to the Transport Commission immunity from legal claims. I did not propose to comment upon this or on the period of freedom that the Commission should have—I prefer to leave that to the discretion of the Committee upstairs; but I do stress the need not to close the canal beyond, at any rate—
§ Mr. H. Hynd
In the interests of accuracy, does not Clause 14 suggest the possibility of the canal being transferred to "any authority body or person" who may want to run it, and not necessarily the closure of the canal? If the Transport Commission has no use for the canal, I do not see why it should be pressed to continue to spend money on it.
§ Mr. Grant-Ferris
If the hon. Member reads the Clause carefully, he will see that the position is not quite like that. The whole idea behind the Clause is set out in subsection (1, a)The extinguishment of rights to navigate the Kennet waterways or any part or parts thereof.
§ Mr. Grant-Ferris
Subsection (1, b) states:If so determined the transfer of the Kennet waterways or any part or parts thereof to any authority body or person named in the scheme.321 But at that time there may be no body which is willing to undertake the job. The neglect has been so great that unless a substantial sum is forthcoming from the Treasury or from the appropriate quarter, one could hardly expect any private body of persons to take over a canal which had been so sadly neglected. As the hon. Member knows, we hope that as a result of the findings of the Committee of Inquiry another public body will, perhaps, have the chance to put matters right where the Transport Commission and others have gone wrong.
§ Mr. Grant-Ferris
Oh, no. I said that other hon. Members would be dealing with the economic side of the proposition. I cannot possibly cover all aspects of the canal in one speech and am confining myself to one or two aspects only. I have almost finished and the hon. Member will, no doubt, hear more about the other aspects shortly.
I should very much like my right hon. Friend the Minister to undertake to press the Commission to get the eastern end of the canal into use again. I hope he will manage to do this. I remind the House that more than 80,000 people signed the petition, which was brought into my right hon. Friend's office in a canoe. [HON. MEMBERS: "In a what?"] The canoe was carried up the steps of his office, but I believe it could not quite get through the door; at any rate, it was brought up to his office.
Those 80,000 people are only a small part of the great number who are interested in the future of this waterway, and they are only a tiny microcosm of all those who are interested and are watching hopefully to see what emerges from this debate tonight. I should like it to go forward from this House that we like to protect their heritage, which is, after all, the national heritage. I should like it to be brought home to the Government and to the Commission that we intend to see that rehabilitation, and not closure, is in future to be the order of the day.
§ Sir Robert Grimston (Westbury)
By speaking now, would I be regarded as seconding both Instructions?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
It is the Motion for the first of the two Instructions that is being put at the moment.
§ 8.24 p.m.
§ Mr. James Harrison (Nottingham, North)
I beg to second the Motion.
I little expected when I came in to the debate that I should be in the honoured position of seconding the Motion for the first Instruction. I whole-heartily support both the first and second Instructions, although not for the same reasons as the majority of their supporters would support them. I suggest that in supporting the first and second Instructions, there should be two conditions.
Although I have not been a resident of the neighbourhood through which the Kennet and Avon Canal passes, all parts of these islands have heard a great deal about its beauty and the pleasure that it gives to the majority of people living in its area. It is, therefore a cause worthy of our support, but I support it for another reason than its amenity value to the residents in the area of the canal.
This is where the delicacy of my position will be revealed. In and around Nottingham, we have had experience of canals being closed. The hon. Member for Nantwich (Mr. Grant-Ferris) mentioned that the Bill contains the proposal to close a short stretch of canal in the city of Nottingham, and to facilitate its closing, apart from other expenses, the cost to the Nottingham Corporation will be about £93,000. But that is not the only section of canal to be closed in the Nottingham area; other canals are being closed.
Anyone who had smelt those other canals on a summer's day would understand why I, living nowhere near the Kennet and Avon Canal, come here to second the Motion to prevent the closing of this beautiful canal. A tremendous responsibility is placed upon any local 323 authority when one of these canals is closed, and it is right that attention should be directed to this aspect.
I am quite in agreement with my hon. Friend the Member for Accrington (Mr. H. Hynd) in his suggestion that it would be unfair and wrong to impose the burden of expense upon the Transport Commission. I am quite sure that the Commission's finances, which are often discussed in this House, would not bear the tremendous expense of keeping the canals open. It is a responsibility which ought to be faced by the Government. While it may be necessary to close our canals in Nottingham, I am quite sure that fit could not be argued that it is necessary to close the Kennet. But if they do that, it means tremendous financial responsibility on the local authorities and a perpetual nuisance to the people living there.
Thirdly, to keep the canals open will mean such a bill to the Commission that unless the Government step in and accept some responsibility for these conditions the Government's neglect will be far greater than we could ever put at the door of the previous owners, though I agree that the previous owners also neglected the canals. If the Government do not do something to meet the situation, we shall be justified in blaming them and complaining that they are neglecting still further this nasty situation which arises when we close canals in and around big cities.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Hurd (Newbury)
I support these Instructions. I have been interested in the Kennet and Avon Canal for many years. One of the first public meetings I attended was one in Devizes, in 1927, when my father, Sir Percy Hurd, then Member for Devizes, was in the chair. It was a full meeting to discuss the proposal of the Great Western Railway to abandon the Kennet and Avon Canal. In the end, the railway company decided that there was so much opposition and that so much compensation would have to be paid if it proceeded with its intention to abandon the canal, that it dropped the proposal. Ever since then, the Great Western Railway and now the British Transport Commission have neglected essential repairs to the canal and made it impossible for traffic to pass, 324 and successive Ministers of Transport in the Labour Government and in the present Government have turned a blind eye to the failure of the Transport Commission to carry out the obligation placed upon it by Parliament.
Obviously, the railway company and, more recently, the Transport Commission have taken the view that the less use is made of the canal the smaller the compensation claims if they succeeded in their purpose to obtain the authority of Parliament to abandon navigation on the Kennet and Avon Canal. When traffic has sought to flow it has been discouraged. Firms who have asked about the possibility of using the canal and who have sought tenders for the alternative costs of carrying their goods by water, rail or road from London to Reading and Newbury in my constituency or from Bristol to Newbury and Reading, have been told, "We would not recommend you to use the canal." But the canal still exists and, as late as 1941, sections of it were navigable for quite useful commercial-size craft which can carry 50 tons, with a length of 69 feet, a beam of 14 feet and a draught of 2 ft. 9 ins. Fifty tons do not sound very much, but if the draught were a little more than 3 ft. these craft would carry considerably more.
The chief engineer responsible for the waterways reckoned in 1941 that it would cost £20,000 to put the Kennet and Avon Canal into navigable condition for boats with a draught of up to 3 ft. 6 ins. and then cost £5,000 a year on maintenance, that is, on keeping the lock gates in order, and so on. There is the liability that Parliament placed on the Transport Commission. The Commission has neglected that responsibility, and successive Ministers have not kept it up to the mark.
I should like to give just one example of the discouragement given to firms who have inquired about using the canal. About ten years ago a firm in my constituency inquired about the conveyance of 50 tons of cocoa beans a month to a cocoa mill, from Bristol and Theale, but the use of the canal was not encouraged. Advantageous rates were offered if other means of transport were used and the traffic eventually passed by road.
§ Mr. Hurd
I am not arguing about nationalisation. I am giving the facts.
The railway authority wanted to be able to say, as the Transport Commission says today, that there was no natural flow of traffic across the South of England and then come to Parliament with a request to abandon the canal with the least possible liability to compensation.
Anyone who has to use the Bath Road, as I do every weekend, and every day when the House is in recess, knows that there is an endless flow of traffic east and west and west and east. It is heavy traffic, such as timber, road stone, grain, coal, fertilisers and wood pulp which could more conveniently be taken by water than by road. There is, therefore, a heavy natural flow of traffic across the South of England and it grows heavier month by month.
We are looking to the committee of inquiry which has been set up to tell us whether it is practicable and economical to modernise this waterway to take some of the load off the roads. It would be a great boon to us in the South of England if that could be done. This is an independent committee, an unprejudiced committee, and, I would say, a very competent committee. It will take evidence from knowledgeable people here and I hope it will also draw on continental experience. We have passed out of the age of the pick and shovel, which has been the attitude of mind of the Great Western Railway and of the Transport Commission so far towards this canal, and there are more modern ways of improving the commercial possibilities of the waterway.
I hope that this competent committee set up by the Minister will go fully into all these technical matters, and will let Parliament know its findings and recommendations quickly. There is a prospect of considerable commercial traffic. Since this matter was first raised, and we heard that the Transport Commission proposed to abandon the canal, it is remarkable how many possibilities of commercial traffic using this waterway have appeared.
For instance, we hear that the Mendip stone quarries, in Somerset, transport 200,000 tons of road aggregate a year west from Somerset to Reading and east. This is the kind of traffic that ought to be 326 on a waterway and not on a road. I have in my constituency a large floor cloth mill which would favourably consider bringing 10,000 tons a year of wood pulp from the London docks, where it comes in from Scandinavia and can be transferred direct to barges and brought straight up the Thames to Reading, and then on to the Kennet and Avon Canal into its works at Thatcham. There is also a possibility of reviving timber carrying by water and all that other heavy, cumbersome traffic which we do not want on our roads because within the next few years they are unlikely to be in a fit state to carry it.
The canal is very beautiful, as I saw when I was down there on Saturday afternoon, and many people used to enjoy pleasure boating on it. There are possibilities for cruises which one or two firms in Newbury want to run again. These were much appreciated and would attract business again this summer if the canal could be used for this purpose. So there is a great deal to be said for the pleasure aspects of the canal, to which my hon. Friend referred. Then there is the fishing aspect, which is important. Many of my constituents are keen coarse fishermen.
Again, the bathing aspect is important. There are some good bathing places on the canal. However, as long as it is in its present condition, the public is denied these proper and natural rights of enjoyment. The lock gates have been neglected. In some cases hooligans have been allowed to remove essential fittings so that these cannot be opened. As a result, the locks silt up with mud and people do not want to bathe there, and because weed grows the fishing is not as good as it could be.
If only some quite minor repairs were done, I believe that the traffic passing through, even the small motor boat traffic, would help to keep the canal clear and would indeed lighten the task of the Transport Commission in carrying out the obligations which I hope this House will put upon it by means of this Instruction tonight.
I have in mind particularly the ease with which the section on each side of Newbury—east of Newbury to Thatcham and west of Newbury to Kintbury—could be opened up. It is only a matter of 327 replacing a few posts here and there and of dredging out some of the mud which ought never to have been allowed to accumulate. I join with my hon. Friends in urging the Minister of Transport to see whether it is not possible for the Transport Commission to make the canal useful for light craft from Reading, where it joins the Thames, and open up a stretch of water to a much wider public interested in boating, from Reading right up to Hungerford, which is a very beautiful stretch.
I believe that that would be the most economical way for the Transport Commission to carry out the Instruction and the obligations which I hope this House will place upon it; that is to say, by means of minor work like clearing away the mud where the canal is badly silted up. We should find the canal reviving without any heavy cost.
There is another point arising on the second Instruction. The Berkshire County Council, the Hungerford Rural District Council, the Newbury Town Council and the Newbury Rural District Council have all petitioned against this Bill of the Transport Commission. They have done it on practical grounds. They are worried as to what obligations and liabilities are to be placed upon them if the Commission has its way and the Kennet and Avon Canal is closed. It is necessary to prevent the canal falling into worse disrepair while the Minister's committee of inquiry is doing its work, and I hope that the Commission will now be as co-operative and as helpful as possible in carrying out the minor repairs to which I have referred; I mean the replacement of fittings where they have been removed or are broken and the clearing away of the mud.
It is not only a matter of maintaining the canal in its present condition. It is a matter of carrying out the routine maintenance work which the Transport Commission has failed to do in recent years. We are not asking it to fulfil its statutory obligation to keep the canal in full navigable order throughout, but we are asking the Commission to do what is necessary to allow part of the canal to be used this summer, and, I hope, a wider stretch next year.
A few hundred pounds spent sensibly on routine maintenance will regain for the Commission some of the good will which 328 it lost by its restrictive and unhelpful attitude while it has been preparing the way for this Bill. The Commission will not get what it set out to get by this Bill, and I suggest that it should now turn over a new leaf and be more co-operative in trying to work with the local people to get the canal revived at the least possible cost and to get some life into it again.
The Berkshire County Council and the other local authorities consider that the proposed Instruction, which they have, of course, seen on the Order Paper, does not go far enough, and I should like to quote a few sentences from a letter which I have received from the Clerk to the Berkshire County Council, which will make its point of view clear:In some parts of the canal the condition which now exists is unsatisfactory, and it would be undesirable to tie any protective provisions to the present position. One illustration will make clear what I have in mind. The main surface water drain for Hungerford High Street at present discharges into the canal by means of a large 2 ft. diameter culvert.Some twelve months ago, it was discovered that the effective size of this culvert had been reduced to about four inches as the silting up of the canal at Hungerford had almost completely covered the mouth of the pipe. This silting up arose through the neglect of the Commission to dredge the canal and would never have arisen if the canal had been kept navigable.The County Council's remedy was, in the last resort, to enforce the duty to keep the canal navigable, which would have consequentially resulted in dredging being carried out. Such an action will not be open to the county council during the interim period if the Bill is passed into law in its present form.The important matter is to secure that there is no deterioration in the capacity of the waterway to perform the same functions as those of which they were capable, but in many cases not actually performing, before the passing of the Bill.
It is the capacity of the canal to serve its purposes as a drainage way that is the concern of the local authorities at the moment. I very much hope that the Minister will have that point in mind and that the Select Committee will have it in mind. It is not only the present state of repair of the canal, but its capacity to fulfil its proper functions that is important. That is what we have to watch. It has deteriorated and may become a public menace in our part of the country. It is with those views that I most heartily support the Instructions.
§ 8.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
The closing sentences of the speech of the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd) reminded us that when these canals were fashioned in the 18th century, those who constructed them were placed under certain duties to the inhabitants of the country through which the canals passed. Sometimes they had to accept drainage. At other places they had to supply water, and, of course, the construction of the waterway altered the natural drainage of the area through which the canal passed. On occasion, other duties were placed upon them and the canals became a very important part of the organised social life of the areas through which they passed.
I do not feel as angry with the British Transport Commission as did the hon. Member for Newbury. I think that the Commission took over a dud show. My attitude to the Bill and the failure of the owners of the Kennet-Avon Canal to perform their duties would have been very different if we had still had the Great Western Railway in charge. Over a long period of years, for the rather sinister purposes mentioned by the hon. Member for Newbury, the Great Western Railway Company allowed the canal to get into a condition where the company hoped that it would be able to abandon it without very much trouble to itself.
As in the case of Nottingham, the local authorities might very well have been landed with a substantial scale of costs which Nottingham now has to discharge for closing a couple of miles. No less than £93,000 will fall on the ratepayers of Nottingham because of past failures of the owners of canals to keep them in the condition in which Parliament said they were to be kept, and they have failed to discharge the other duties that have fallen upon them.
What has happened in this case? Last year an action was brought in the High Court to compel the British Transport Commission, as the successors to the people to whom Parliament granted the privilege of constructing the canal, to keep the waterway open and to allow certain people, who had vessels which they wanted to put on the canal, opportunities for navigating it.
In the High Court it was held, as must have been obvious from the first that it would be, that the British Transport Com- 330 mission was failing in its duty, and damages were awarded. And the effort to get a mandamus against the canal owners to keep the canal navigable was, I understand, disposed of by a promise by the Commission that it would come to Parliament this year and get relieved of its responsibilities during the current Parliamentary Session. Of course, the Commission could put up such a proposition to the judge and he could even believe that the Commission could discharge it. But after all, this House has to be consulted before such legislation can be passed.
I shall be frank about this, and say that I think that for a limited time the Commission should be relieved of the liability to make the whole of the canal navigable. In the first place, I believe that it would be an impossible task for the Commission to undertake. It is not the fault of the Commission. Had the old Great Western Railway Company been concerned I should have felt no such sympathy. I should have considered that that company deserved all it got, both from this House and from the courts. I think the Commission should be given this relief from its liability. I regret to note the form of Clause 14. That Clause is a clear indication that it is intended to close down the canal.
I wish to say how courteously I was received when I approached the chairman of the Commission on the matter. I have had two or three interviews with him, and the reception was very different this year from the reception by the Commission's officials last year when we were dealing with the Haddiscoe Cut. Even these great corporations can learn manners, and the improvement indicates that I have not lost all the skill I acquired as a schoolmaster.
This waterway is exceptionally important, because it is one of the ways in which the English Channel could be bypassed in time of war. If one could get into Avonmouth—by no means an easy task in time of war, but sometimes rather easier than getting into the mouth of the Thames—then this canal, if open, would provide a way for traffic right through to the mouth of the Thames. From that point of view, therefore, this is a very important waterway.
I went to see a couple of films, shown by a petrol company, depicting the deplorable state of the roads, and after 331 the film had been shown one of the directors of the company said to me, "What do you think of the films?" I said, "They greatly impressed me." He said, "I was sure they would." "Yes," I said, "Nearly all the traffic that was shown ought never to have been on the roads at all." What was said by the hon. Member for Newbury about traffic on the Bath Road and other roads in the South of England reminds us that a great deal of this heavy traffic, which goes along pounding the roads to pieces and making them very expensive to maintain, could far better be conveyed either by the railways or the canals. It is certain that the neglect of our canal system is one of the reasons why we have such very heavy traffic on the roads.
A gentleman who is very interested in this matter pointed out to me that we can see the difference between a country which has no canals and a country which has if we study the conditions in Italy and France. In France traffic can move swiftly along the roads, because much of the heavy traffic, which in this country and in Italy would be on the roads, is carried on the canals. Those of us who, during the World Wars, saw the use which can be made of the French system of canals for the transport of heavy goods, must realise the extent to which this country is handicapped.
I hope that the Committee upstairs will not regard itself, because of the Instructions, as limited in its constructive efforts to improve the Bill. I submit. that this House is not instructing the Committee upstairs not to go beyond the requirements of the second Instruction, but is saying that that is the minimum, and that it is a concession which is made—if it is made—because the House recognises that the Commission is not entirely responsible for the difficulties which confront it and us.
From what I have seen and heard in my investigations, I believe that the commercial use of this waterway has not been properly appreciated during the past thirty or forty years. Road material, fertilisers for farms, and all sorts of fairly heavy and bulky stuff which does not need to be conveyed so quickly if it can be conveyed certainly along well-defined routes, ought to be travelling along this canal, if its route lies anywhere in this part of the country.
332 I agree with what the hon. Member for Nantwich (Mr. Grant-Ferris) said about the beauties of this canal and the engineering of some of the canal works. After all, Rennie's bridges are not to be treated as things which can be despised in this age when people think that if they can design a purely rectangular concrete bridge, they have really achieved something useful. The constructors of the canals managed to combine artistic beauty with strict utilitarianism, and the bridges of Rennie over this canal, and of Telford over other canals, are among our great constructive engineering enterprises and heritages. To be seen properly they should be seen from the waterway and not from a motor car passing over them.
I do not want to stress too much the pleasure aspect of this matter but, as one who spends his summer holidays on the Thames. I know there is a very substantial demand for access to these waterways for pleasure purposes. That is not to be regarded with hostility; nobody says that we should not have a good railway to Brighton because people want to go to Brighton for pleasure. The railways do a good deal to provide pleasure traffic. I cannot see why the other means of transport in the country should not similarly, and with due proportion, be considered for the same sort of thing.
The committee which the right hon. Gentleman has appointed will examine the whole of this project. It might be better that the canals should be under some other authority than the British Transport Commission. I am not advocating that until I have seen what the Committee makes of the proposals. The canal companies now vested in the British Transport Commission have to discharge some duties which are not normally the function of a transport commission, and there may have to be some sorting out in that respect. I know the great interest which the Minister takes in this project, and I sincerely hope that, as the result of the committee he has appointed, the House will get guidance on the way in which, in the circumstances of our time, the canals can discharge their original social purposes and such other purposes as the advances which take place all around us may enable them to undertake.
333 I hope that the two Instructions will be passed and that the Committee will give very careful consideration to the Part of the Bill which is concerned with the canal system.
§ 9.3 p.m.
§ Sir Robert Grimston (Westbury)
I have very little to add to what the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) has just said, and with which I entirely agree.
This canal passes through my constituency. When it was first mooted that the British Transport Commission was to seek powers to abandon the canal I received many protests, some on commercial grounds, but a great many on amenity grounds. I was surprised to learn that literally thousands of people enjoy the canal for fishing and many other purposes. Although the right hon. Gentleman did not stress it, that many people can get rest and relaxation which they would not get if the canal were entirely abandoned is a most important aspect.
That is not a matter for a transport commission. It is not one of the things for which the canals were originally constructed or for the maintenance of which one should look to a transport organisation. That is one reason why I welcome the setting up of a committee which, with its very broad terms of reference, may give us guidance on the future of the canals from the economy and amenity angles.
Referring particularly to the second Instruction, we were, I think, faced with the problem of what was to be done in the meantime. What is fair both to the public and to the Transport Commission is that the same Instruction should go to the Committee to see that the canal is not allowed to deteriorate further—that is the Instruction—coupled with some provision to secure its enforcement. It is because I believe that that is fair to both that I very much hope the House will unanimously agree that the Instruction should go forward.
§ 9.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Jack Jones (Rotherham)
I support all the arguments put forward in favour of the two Instructions. I think that the Kennet and Avon Canal is a test case. The British Transport Commission has been criticised in many places by 334 thousands of people, but we must remember that it took over a rather tough job when it took over this canal. We on this side of the House often argue in relation to nationalisation and other things that people are not entitled to skim the cream and to leave the country with the skimmed milk. Here I do not think that the Transport Commission is entitled to take over a vast canal organisation, to keep those parts that are lucrative and not to keep in proper order those canals which are not quite so profitable.
At this stage, I should like to pay a tribute to the officials who enabled some of us to have a look at quite a long stretch of the canal as recently as Wednesday last. We had an opportunity of seeing it at many points, we examined its condition technically, and so on, and we had with us some extraordinarily good guides who answered literally hundreds of questions. But in my opinion this canal can never again carry the weight of commercial traffic from its beginning to its furthest extremity. I do not think that any hon. Member would suggest that the Transport Commission should be called upon to make the canal navigable from its source right to the Thames, or from the Thames right to the extreme point to which it extends—Devizes, I think.
What could be done is that it could be opened for any available traffic offered to it. During our trip we learned that in the Victorian era, and since, farmers sent their goods along the canal to London, and certain coalfields, which are not now available, sent coal. Gravel, sand, and the like also found their way along the canal. It was quite a lucrative business. It is now not quite the same. Farmers' merchandise—especially perishable goods—is taken quickly by road overnight.
I do not want to dwell on what might be called the industrial side of the canal, but on its amenities. When the Transport Commission first suggested closing 771 miles of inland waterways there was a howl of indignation throughout the length and breadth of the country. A meeting was held at the House of Commons, attended by 183 people representing over 30 different organisations—county councils, urban district councils, and so forth. For myself, I received—and still have in the House—about 85,000 signatures of 335 men all over the country who are protesting against the idea that the canal should be closed. Those signatures came from anglers—men of good intent.
Not many minutes ago—as time goes in this House—we heard arguments about the merits or demerits of a certain trade union within, the framework of the Bill. I want to speak for a moment or two about the man who has had all his trade union troubles settled and finds himself peaceably at work with his foreman. We have heard the argument about the foreman who did not get on and did not get the job he wanted. I suggest to the Minister, who is now removed from the Ministry of Labour, where he dealt with industrial troubles, that the way to get industrial peace is to see to it that the working men—and there are more of them than of the other sort, who are in the minority—shall have all the amenities they are entitled to get.
I speak particularly for and on behalf of the three million men in this country who go angling. It may be said that there are plenty of rivers and other places for them, but that is just nonsense. Every man driven from the canalside is a menace to those who already go to the overcrowded riversides. More and more men today go angling, because there are more and more people seeking peace and relaxation in that way. [Laughter.] I say that quite seriously. This is not a laughing matter; it is not a matter of conjecture or joke.
I happen to deal, in a rather big organisation, with a psychological type of work, affecting men's minds. Last Sunday morning, alongside the Weaver Canal—a very fine canal, kept in good condition, because it pays to keep it like that—there were 360 men from one club, chatting and bantering, questioning and answering one another, but all doing one thing, all getting one thing—relaxation. When they returned to work on Monday morning—many of them steel workers—they were better men than they would have been if that amenity had not been available to them.
I do not want to detain the House, but this is a very important matter. There is attached to angling in this country quite a flourishing dollar earning trade, and the more men who do not buy angling equipment the less call there will be upon 336 that fine industry, and the export trade and dollar earning they create will not be so readily available as it is now. I want particularly to stress that point of view.
Last Wednesday, I saw some splendid stretches of water and some very good locks. It appeared to me that if, of each pair of locks, one at least worked, if one went they would be held together by poverty, old age, silt, and so on. I know that to put the Kennett and Avon Canal into the condition some Members would wish to have it would be a tremendous job and would cost a great deal of money. But the reasonable thing could be done, namely, to make it possible to use the canal for light shallow draught barges and for pleasure purposes. For once in a way, I think for the first time in history, I do not agree with my hon. Friend, who said that he was not so much concerned with amenity value. There is tremendous amenity value available in our canals.
I could talk for a long time of the people I met last Wednesday, public authorities making electricity, private owners deriving electricity, others getting drinking water for cattle, sheep dips, and all the rest of it. I ask the Minister to use the good influence of this Committee and to see to it that, while this Bill envisages a magnitude of problems which will cost millions upon millions of pounds to solve, as many canals as possible are kept for the amenities of these many humble, decent-minded folk, because by so doing he will earn the respect of some very decent people.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Spencer Summers (Aylesbury)
In supporting these Instructions, I want to associate myself with the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Nantwich (Mr. Grant-Ferris) and those of the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), who expressed their appreciation of the co-operation of the British Transport Commission in the joint talks in which I was privileged to share with them.
The hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Jack Jones) said that this Bill was a test case. I do not know exactly what construction to put upon his words, but I hope that it will be regarded as a test case in this sense—that the House, by giving Instructions to delete Clause 14, are making it quite clear that they are not prepared in advance of the findings of my right hon. Friend's Committee to 337 condemn any canal to extinction. The essential justification, in my view, for instructing the Committee to delete Clause 14 is that the Clause anticipates the detailed findings and judgment which we hope will be forthcoming from the Committee set up by my right hon. Friend.
It would be farcical for the Commission to set about framing a scheme dealing with this stretch of waterway when we know well that a committee has been set up to consider the future of all waterways. As the right hon. Member for South Shields said, when that report is forthcoming it may well be found that the British Transport Commission is not the right body to carry the responsibility for the canals. It is not only a question whether certain functions are outside the normal purview of the Commission—that may well be the case—but it is also possible that if the canals are to play their proper rôle in the future they ought not to be run by the same people as those who run the railways, thus stifling the opportunity for competition which would result if the canals were run by someone else.
Many others who are directly affected by the decision on the future of the Kennet and Avon Canal are watching the outcome of the Bill. I have here a letter from the town clerk of Aylesbury expressing concern for the sake of the Aylesbury branch of the Grand Union Canal and hoping that Parliament, by giving the Instructions it is suggested should be given to the Committee, will make it plain that they are not prepared to seal the doom of any waterway until such time as the Report and findings of the Committee are forthcoming.
Many people are affected and are anxious to see steps taken either to make these canals navigable or to put them on a satisfactory basis. I hope that my right hon. Friend will expedite the Committee's findings as far as is reasonably possible and subsequently will expedite his consideration of them.
§ 9.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Stan Awbery (Bristol, Central)
I will not detain the House for more than a moment, but I want to follow a point made by the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Summers), who referred to the Committee which is now sitting. I am afraid that we are called upon to reach a decision without having the evidence. 338 That will be forthcoming when the Committee which the Minister has appointed to go into the whole question of the canals in this country has reached a decision and reported to the House. It would be far wiser if Clause 14 were not passed until we had the Committee's report.
We can say that from 1790 to 1840 was the canal, the waterways, period. After that came the development of the railways. Those who took over the canals took over obligations as well as advantages, and the feeling today is that they are trying by this method to evade the obligations which they carried years ago. It is a subtle method of getting out of the obligations gradually, and I do not think it should be used. We should examine the position properly and allow the Committee which is now sitting to go into the details.
If what has been said is correct, it might be possible to use the waterways for heavy traffic diverted from the roads. If that is so, well and good. It may be that the amenities will appeal to some people and that we ought to use the canal for those amenities. That can be considered, but we cannot consider it in a Bill of the character of that before us tonight. It can only be considered by the Committee set up by the Minister for that specific purpose.
Local authorities, at their conference in 1951, decided to ask the Minister for a committee for the purpose of examining the whole question of the canals of the country. We now have to wait for the decision of the Committee. It has to discuss the question of the abandonment of the canal. If the canal is abandoned great responsibilities will rest upon someone to put the waterway into good condition. It may have to be drained and turned into a road, or it may be used for some other purpose. Whose is that responsibility to be? Must the local authorities along the canalside carry responsibility for draining and filling in the canal? If so, we shall be taking away responsibility from the Commission or any other canal owners and placing it on the ratepayers of local authorities, and I do not think that should be done.
There are so many things which the Committee will have to examine that it 339 would be wise for this House not to agree to Clause 14. I do not know whether this canal is necessary or not. If it is necessary I should certainly vote for it to remain in operation. It it is unnecessary I should certainly vote for its abandonment. I cannot come to a decision on whether it is necessary or unnecessary until we have full information. We can only get full information when the Committee has reported to the Minister. I suggest we should wait until that report is made before coming to a decision, not only on this canal, but on the whole of the canals of the country.
I have seen canals which have been abandoned and the water allowed to remain there. Weeds grow up and they become disease-breeding areas. If we are to allow canals to remain in that state, disease will be rife in those areas. This is a matter which should be planned and dealt with in a proper way and that can only be done after we have had the report of the Committee.
§ 9.22 p.m.
§ Commander Agnew (Worcestershire, South)
Enough has been said in this debate to show that it would be a very bad precedent to follow if this Bill were to leave the Floor of this House without the two Instructions which have been set down being passed.
Hon. Members through whose constituencies the Kennet and Avon Canal flows are the best judges of the commercial potentiality of the canal.
§ Commander Agnew
I think the answer is that they have a better chance of knowing the industrial conditions in their constituencies than do other hon. Members.
I wish to add a word about amenities. I was very impressed by what the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) said about the value of the amenity question to expanding and developing the industrial activity of this country and to people indulging in all sorts of activities in which they used not to indulge.
There flows through my constituency not the River Avon which gives its name to the Kennet and Avon Canal, but another River Avon—Shakespeare's Avon—which, at the moment, is in the course of being made navigable right up 340 to Evesham, above Tewkesbury. Already, a growing number of people value the amenity of that waterway. The fact that that amenity has been created has in itself created a demand for facilities, as soon as they may be made available, for people to go down the Severn River and look into one of the southern canal systems, such as the Kennet and Avon Canal could be.
The creation of that demand again gives rise to another one which is for further development of those light industries which build yachts, cruisers, or even small boats—whatever we like to call them—in ever increasing numbers, many of which are owned by working people in the Midland towns who go to them for the weekend and take great pleasure in them.
I believe that those industries could be developed and, if ever there came a state of national emergency, we should have the small teams of craftsmen who could build, as they did in the last war, just the kind of boats which were so valuable for our light coastal forces. If we take the long view and say that we ought to wait until the new inquiry has reported before allowing the Transport Commission to close the Kennet and Avon Canal, we shall be acting in every way to the national advantage.
§ 9.26 p.m.
§ Mr. G. A. Pargiter (Southall)
The question of setting up a committee only occurs after the Commission has taken the decision that the canal is no longer valuable to it as a waterway. Whenever someone does not want to do something, it is always convenient to set up a committee, and that is the issue with which we are now faced. This matter of the Kennet Canal and many other canals has been known to local authorities for a long time. I am not quarrelling with their amenity value. But the Transport Commission are concerned with the operation of navigable waterways and of transport. There are many hon. Members on the other side of the House who want to limit the Commission severely in its opreation of transport. Here is a case where the Commission says that from the transport point of view the canal is no longer navigable and it wants to be rid of the responsibility.
If this were a private company it would merely go into liquidation. The Commission is being blackmailed on this particular occasion because, being the Transport 341 Commission, it cannot go into liquidation. I think that this matter has been on the boards long enough for the local authorities concerned, the county councils, county borough councils and others, to come to the conclusion on whether or not this and many other canals are of value to them as amenities as distinct from their value as transport undertakings. The Transport Commission has made out a perfectly good case.
§ Mr. Grant-Ferris
The issue was that the British Transport Commission should not necessarily act as carriers on the canal but should make it fit for use so that carriers could carry on it.
§ Mr. Pargiter
If the Transport Commission were a private company no one would bother to ask that question. It would go into liquidation and say, "We have no use for this canal. We are no longer prepared to operate it," and would do nothing about it. Many canals have gone into disuse under private enterprise, about which hon. Members opposite have raised no question. It is only because it happens to be the Commission that somebody says it should put the canal in navigable condition.
The issue here is whether we require a public body to do something which a private body would not be required to do. The whole issue hinges on that. It seems to me that the Transport Commission is entitled to bring this matter to a head and to say, "From our point of view, we no longer want this canal. We recognise that certain obligations were entered into. We are prepared to recognise our obligations within the capital commitments of that part of the undertaking, and we are not prepared to meet, at the expense of the transport system as a whole, any additional cost which might be incurred in connection with this waterway." If that were accepted, it would not need a committee to deal with it. It simply means that the local authorities and the Commission could have got together, had the local authorities decided to do so, to settle the future of the canal.
From the point of view of the light industries, such as boatbuilding, which have been referred to, I appreciate that this waterway is of value. It has considerable amenity value. It also has considerable drainage value, which is more important than boating value or anything 342 else. It is an important waterway from the viewpoint of the drainage of the area, but that is not the responsibility of the Commission. The fact that ipso facto it is being used as a navigable waterway is another matter.
§ Mr. Pargiter
Parliament placed those responsibilities on the constructors of the canal and upon those who operated it afterwards.
I am prepared to say that any company which operated this canal and which went into voluntary liquidation because it no longer wanted the canal would not have been held up to blackmail, as the Commission can be held up because it happens to be an authority in respect of other works than this waterway.
If the question is kept to the narrow issue of the Clause—the responsibility of the Commission for this waterway and the capital commitments—
§ Mr. Pargiter
I cannot give way—in respect of this waterway and this particular responsibility—there can be no question that it would have to handle the responsibility; but what is sought to be done is to pin on the nation as a whole a responsibility for one company on the narrow issue of one waterway.
I suggest that it is better to let the Commission have the Clause. The Bill can then go into Committee and the bodies concerned can come to terms upon the future of the waterway. I am certain that the local authorities would be much more amenable to reason on the future of this waterway as an amenity if the House followed that course.
§ 9.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Ernest Davies (Enfield, East)
This has been a calm and peaceful debate, almost as calm and peaceful as the waterways we are discussing. Before the Minister intervenes, there are one or two points I should like to put to him, but first I should like to deal briefly with the general subject which the House has been discussing.
343 Tonight, the House has shown that we all regret the past neglect of the canals. We are not here tonight to apportion blame. Clearly, the canals have been neglected over a long period, under different ownership, and what the Commission inherited when it was set up was once described as "a pretty poor bag of assets." The House has also made clear its view that we all desire to preserve the amenities of these waterways. The question which arises from the closing of the Kennet and Avon Canal is, who shall be responsible for those canals which can no longer be operated economically?
The Board of Survey divided the canals into three categories. First, there were those which were commercially economic and which it was proposed should continue. On these, the Commission has already announced a programme of £5½ million capital expenditure. The Commission, therefore, is no longer neglecting those canals which it considers suitable for transport and which should continue to be used. The second category of canals—those which are not considered to be worth having large sums spent upon them at present—are being kept in operation, whereas those with which we are concerned tonight—in particular we have been discussing the Kennet and Avon—are those which are accepted as not being suitable for commercial navigation.
We are concerned about what should happen to the 700 miles or so of canals and whether they should be kept open for amenity purposes and, above all, who should be the responsible body for seeing that they are maintained for the purposes for which they are suitable.
Clause 14 of the Bill is superseded by the Bowes Committee of Inquiry into Inland Waterways. I understand that the Bill was drafted before the Minister had decided to set up that Committee to inquire into the future of the canals. It is significant that among its terms of reference is the following:To consider the future administration of and financial arrangement for such inland waterways as cannot be maintained economically for transport purposes.In my view, that covers quite definitely the Kennet and Avon Canal.
§ Mr. Awbery
Is it not a fact that the municipal authorities asked the Minister of Transport to appoint such a committee in 1951?
§ Mr. Davies
That may well be, though I was not aware of it. It may be that this Committee was not altogether necessary, because I believe that the Government have already a large amount of detailed information from previous inquiries on which they might have been able to make a decision on policy. But that is a matter which we are not here to discuss tonight.
It is not so easy to bring the Kennet and Avon Canal into navigable condition. Some hon. Members, for quite understandable reasons, have rather glossed over the difficulties which would confront the Commission in bringing the canal back into the condition in which they would like to see it. The capital expenditure would be very considerable, and the House has to take the responsibility of deciding whether that capital expenditure would be justified.
The House has to accept the fact that there is not the commercial traffic available for this canal. I know that one or two hon. Members opposite believe that there is some commercial traffic and that they can produce figures but, as far as I understand, the traffic on this canal has never been great for over 100 years. The highest total carried was 360,000 tons in 1848. The total fell by 1890 to 112,000 tons, and by 1905 it was already down to 64,000 tons. In 1938 it was down to 12,000 tons, and it has never been higher than that since.
§ Mr. Davies
I do not deny that, but we have to be realistic and we have to look at the canal in its present condition. It is not carrying the traffic.
§ Mr. Davies
No. It cannot. Even if there were traffic available which people would like to put on the canal, we have to decide whether that traffic would be sufficiently great to justify the necessary capital expenditure to get the canal into a suitable condition to carry the traffic. I have considerable doubts about that. I know that the Commission itself sees no prospect of adequate traffic being available even to meet the maintenance expenses. Those expenses would certainly be considerable.
345 I should like to put one or two points to the Minister. The right hon. Gentleman, of course, is the spokesman for the Commission in the House, the Commission itself being responsible for the Bill. It is the right hon. Gentleman's responsibility to give the House some indication of what he considers it is reasonable to expect from the Commission.
It will be left to the Committee of Inquiry to decide on the future of the canals or to make recommendations about them. Tonight, however, we must consider the interim period between now and the publication of the report of the Committee and the reaching of decisions on its recommendations. I hope, therefore, that tonight the Minister will give a lead to the House and say what he considers the House is entitled to expect from the Committee about the Kennet and Avon Canal. Personally I think it unreasonable during this period, when the future of the canals are being considered, to expect the British Transport Commission to keep this canal in a reasonable state of maintenance.
§ Mr. Pargiter
Would my hon. Friend agree that the Commission should keep this canal in the condition it was in when it took it over?
§ Mr. Davies
I do not know. Since the Commission took the canal over it has probably deteriorated considerably because it had already reached such a state of deterioration that it was not worth while spending money on it. I consider, however, that the Commission should keep the canals in a reasonable state of maintenance. This means that the Commission should keep up the water level, which is vital to any canal which is not filled or completely abandoned. It does not mean that where the locks fall in they should necessarily be replaced by new ones. I do not think it feasible that the Commission should be permitted to spend any large sums on replacements rather than on maintenance.
I know that if the Commission does not do more than maintain the canal on a reasonable basis it will not be open for traffic. I do not think that will be possible, but there are stretches, which we all know and which rightly deserve the praise which has been bestowed upon them tonight, where pleasure-boating and other amenities can easily be preserved without a large expenditure of money. 346 I believe that the Commission is willing to see that those amenities are preserved, as far as practicable, during the interim period, and I hope that will be the way in which the Minister will suggest to the House that the second Instruction is interpreted.
When I first saw this Instruction it seemed to me to go a little too far and I was somewhat worried as to whether the House, if it decided to pass that Instruction, would not be imposing too great an obligation upon the Commission. It depends on the way that Instruction is interpreted, if it goes through the House, and I would suggest that there the Minister might give the House a little guidance by explaining how he interprets the Instruction, and what he considers should be done by the Commission in that respect.
We look to this Committee to help us to resolve the future of the canals. In future there will have to be a segregation of those which are commercially economic from those which we wish to preserve for other reasons. The other reasons are largely those amenities which we all desire to be available for the leisure time of the community.
I would prefer to see those canals which can be commercially operated retained by the Commission. I favour the Commission retaining the transport section of the canals and I favour the hiving off, the segregation, of the other canals to authorities which should be responsible for maintaining them for amenity and for other purposes. We can all think of such bodies which in certain cases might be suitable—local authorities, river boards and so on. I am not laying down a definite policy, but giving an indication that something along these lines should be the way in which we look for a solution of this problem.
When we created the British Transport Commission, it was created as a transport organisation, and it was given the obligation to operate as a commercial undertaking. It has to pay its way. It may well be that the Government of the day made a mistake in imposing upon it the obligation of maintaining these canals which are not used for transport purposes, and that now the time has come when they should be separated from it.
I trust that the Committee in its deliberations will give consideration to that aspect of the matter. Having said that, 347 I would suggest to the House that it is quite reasonable that the first Instruction should go to the Committee. As far as the second is concerned, I think it depends largely on the manner in which it is interpreted, and the more reasonable the interpretation which the Minister can give in that respect tonight, the happier I think the House will be in agreeing to the Instruction.
§ 9.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Watkinson
Those of us who are rather fond of pottering about in boats and that sort of thing have to be rather careful in this debate not to let our hearts rule our heads in a rather charming but not necessarily very practical way. The hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) quite rightly said that the British Transport Commission has no spokesman in this matter other than myself, and, therefore, it is my duty to try to keep a fair balance in this very good debate and to present some of the facts.
First, may I get out of the way the question of the first Instruction? I think we are all agreed, and it is no fault of the Commission, that it has really been overtaken by events. The Bowes Committee, with its carefully and widely-drawn terms of reference, which certainly include the amenity aspects as well as all the others, has entirely superseded Clause 14, and, therefore, I would certainly recommend that the House should send that Instruction to the Committee. Perhaps I may dispose of that question first.
Then we come to the second Instruction, and here, of course, we are in a greater difficulty. Let me give one figure which rather follows from what the hon. Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter) said earlier. The best estimate that can be formed by the experts at the moment—and it must only be approximate, although I do not think it is very far out, and it is rather different from the estimate given by my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd)—of the cost of making the Kennet and Avon Canal navigable throughout its whole length is no less than £750,000, and the estimate for maintenance is that it would cost roughly about £150,000 per annum. I am not saying that this is right or wrong, but I think that the 348 House should understand the measure of the expense that would be involved in making the whole canal operational and navigable. That is a very heavy charge on the British Transport Commission.
I ought also to say at this stage, for those who, like myself, sometimes feel that we ought to spend a great deal of money on these canals even for amenity purposes, that I should warn the House, as I think this is the only time in the immediate future when we shall be discussing the Commission's affairs, that my estimate is that the deficit under which the British Transport Commission will be labouring at the end of this year may well be of the order of £100 million. That is a very great sum of money, and a Commission facing that kind of deficit can hardly be expected to have too many additional burdens put upon it. I think it is right that that should be said. I am not in any way saying to my hon. Friends that this is an argument for not considering canals on their merits, but I must bear that in mind when any course of action is being pressed upon the Commission which will greatly increase that already very large and alarming deficit.
To come to one or two of the points that have been made by my hon. Friends, I would say that my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury suggested that certain parts of the canal could be made useful in the meantime. Perhaps I may give just another example. Although I may be corrected by the experts, I think there are forty-three locks on this canal. We cannot imagine, when we start the job of trying to put these locks, or even some of them, into a fully operational condition, what a terrible difficulty it is to know where we are to stop. For example, in 1948, the Commission did start to try to make the stretch of the canal between Reading and Newbury fully navigable. The work went on and cost a great deal more than the Commission thought it would do, and in 1954 the Commission had to admit that the expense was too great, even on that stretch, to put the canal into a condition in which it would be a workable and paying proposition. It is fair to say that the Commission has not completely written off this canal. From time to time it has made attempts to make some use of it, but unfortunately it has found in each case that to do so was not a very practicable proposition.
349 Other hon. Members have dealt with the broader issue of amenity value. The hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Jack Jones) was very persuasive on that topic and I agree with him; but I should like to point out that that is entirely within the purview of the Bowes Committee. Bearing in mind the Committee's enormous job, I have asked it to try to submit its Report as soon as possible, because these issues are rather in suspense until we get the Report. I am very grateful for the tributes that many hon. Members have paid to the Committee. It is impartial, as my hon. Friend the Member for Westbury (Sir R. Grimston) said, and I think it is in a position to draw a fair judgment about these difficult matters.
That brings me to the second Instruction. The hon. Member for Enfield, East clearly put to me that it was my duty to try to say what I felt was the Commission's responsibility in interpreting the Instruction Of course, the terms of the Instruction are pretty tight. It says:…to ensure that the British Transport Commission allows no further deterioration, to take place.…I am sure that that is what my hon. Friends want, and I am sure that that is what the Commission wants as far as it is able to get it.
The Bowes Committee has the kind of terms of reference that will enable it to report on all aspects of the topic of canals. I think that the Commission now accepts that it must try to preserve the Kennet and Avon Canal, for example, in its present condition. However, it must be remembered that there are forty-three lock gates on the canal which are in an advanced state of deterioration. How is one to maintain in its present condition a lock gate which is about to fall down? I do not know. Does one continue to prop it up until it falls down, or does one have a new lock gate which will cost a great deal of money?
If my hon. Friends will accept my interpretation, I should feel fully justified in recommending the House to send this Instruction to the Committee and I believe that I am only interpreting the wishes of the Commission. Do my hon. Friends really mean by the Instruction that they only want to require the Commission to 350 do what is reasonable and fairly practicable to hold the canal in its present condition and not to spend a great deal of money on it, which may to some extent prove to be useless expenditure—for instance, in the building of a new lock where it could keep a lock in some sort of condition, but about which it would be difficult to say, under the terms of the Instruction, that no further deterioration had taken place?
If my hon. Friends say that that is what they wish, it should be merely a fair and practical requirement and not what I may call a mandatory requirement that might put the Commission to a great deal of expense which, on the whole, would be unfair. If that is so, I will certainly ask the House to send the Instruction to the Committee in the knowledge that the Commission would have a fair chance of making its case and a fair chance of submitting to the wish of the Committee and of trying to do what we all want, which is to keep this canal in its present state, as far as is humanly possible.
I have to decide what is the future not only of this, but of a great many other canals which may possibly have no commercial future, but which may have an amenity future, or even be used for limited commercial purposes. If I have interpreted the desires of my hon. Friends correctly—
§ Mr. Hurd
I happen to represent part of the country through which the Kennet and Avon Canal passes. I, and, I think, my constituents, would be fully satisfied if this Instruction to the Committee is interpreted as a requirement that the capacity of the canal to perform its drainage functions be carried out fully and properly. I mentioned the difficulty of the position at Hungerford through one culvert of the canal being silted up. I think it essential that that kind of trouble should be put right.
I would ask, also, that where, with very modest expenditure, repairs to locks could be done—such as the putting in of a new mitre post, which would cost a few pounds and might be done with local help—they should be done, so as to allow a little pleasure craft traffic to pass during this summer.
§ Mr. Watkinson
That is a very reasonable requirement and exactly the sort of thing I had in mind. I think that running 351 expenditure, so to speak, is not an improper thing to place on the Commission. But suddenly to place upon it the cost of the complete reconstruction of the whole concern would appear an unfair burden.
§ Sir R. Grimston
I agree with the interpretation of my right hon. Friend. May I ask that there will also be machinery to secure that in the event of a disagreement it would go to independent arbitration?
§ Mr. Watkinson
I am obliged to my hon. Friend. May I conclude by recommending the House to accept in those terms that construction of the second Instruction to the Committee?
§ Question put and agreed to.
That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the Bill to leave out Clause 14.
§ Instruction to the Committee on the Bill, That they shall make adequate provision in the Bill—
- (i) to ensure that the British Transport Commission allows no further deterioration to take place in the condition of the Kennet waterways and appliances, as defined in the Bill, until such time as Parliament shall determine; and
- (ii) to secure the enforcement of such provision.—[Sir R. Grimston.]