§ [Queen's Recommendation signified.]
§ Considered in Committee under Stand-ing Order No. 84 (Money Committees).
§ [Sir GORDON TOUCHE in the Chair]
That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to amend and consolidate certain enactments relating to matrimonial proceedings in magistrates' courts, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of moneys provided by Parliament of any increase attributable to the provisions of that Act in the sums payable out of moneys so provided under any other enactment.—[The Solicitor-General.]
§ Resolution to be reported.
§ Report to be received Tomorrow.556
§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 6.22 p.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Dennis Vosper)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
This, I think the House will agree, is a simple but important Bill. I have little doubt that it will meet with approval on both sides of the House. It is designed to close a gap in the law which makes it impossible at present to prosecute for indecent assault a man who invites a child to handle him indecently but uses neither threats nor force. That conduct is not at present an indecent assault because in the absence of force or threats it is not an assault at all.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary referred this problem of how best to close this gap in the law to the new Criminal Law Revision Committee under the chairmanship of Lord Justice Sellers. It was that Committee's first task; and in a little more than three months it produced a report in the form of a draft Bill and a commentary on it. My right hon. Friend once again is most grateful to the Committee for dealing with this problem so quickly. The Committee has now moved on, as I think the House knows, to the consideration of other important issues. The Report was published as a Command Paper last August, and Clause 1 of the Bill now before the House embodies the draft Bill which the Committee appended to its Report.
The Committee recommended that it should be an offence for any person to commit an act of gross indecency with or towards a child under 14 or to incite a child under that age to such an act with the offender or with another person.
The first limb of this provision, which is embodied in Clause 1 (1) of the Bill, covers, first, successful invitations of the kind to which I have just referred; and the Committee thought that it also covered most other kinds of indecent conduct with children which were likely to occur in practice, and which ought to be penalised and which are not penalised under the existing law.
The second limb, which makes incitement to the act in question an offence, 557 covers cases such as those where the invitation is unsuccessful, or, although it is successful, the resulting act of indecency occurs between two innocent children.
The new provision has the additional advantage that it removes the difficulty in prosecuting a man for indecent exposure with intent to insult a female when the female in question is of such tender years that she is unlikely to be insulted.
Perhaps the most difficult question which Shis Bill poses, and which the House will possibly wish to discuss, is the Question up to what age children should be protected under the Bill. The Criminal Law Revision Committee considered this most carefully, and concluded that the protection should apply to a child under 14, on the ground that it was intended to protect children incited to do things the full meaning of which they did not comprehend, and that children of 14 or over would have the necessary comprehension and would be adequately protected by the existing law relating to sexual offences.
The Committee pointed out in addition that the age of 14 has the additional advantage that a person below that age is a child within the provisions of the Children and Young Persons Act, 1933. The Committee also points out that a boy below that age is presumed not to have sexual capacity; and it said that while there was room for more than one view on whether the age should be 14 or 13, it wasconvinced that it would be wrong to choose an age as high as sixteen".The Government have examined this point very carefully both before introducing the Bill into another place and also as a result of discussion in another place. They remain in agreement with the Committee that 14 is about right and that 16 would be much too high. This, as I have said, is a matter which there will be opportunity to discuss in Committee, but as it goes to the root of the matter I should, perhaps, say a little more about it now.
The principal object of Clause 1 (1) is to protect little girls—boys, I think the House will appreciate, are substantially protected already by Section 13 of the 558 Sexual Offences Act, 1956—against a form of indecency which consists in the exploitation of the innocence of a child who does not either understand the purpose of the indecent invitation or realise that what she is asked to do is indecent. This presupposes a fairly young child, a child Who is not only ignorant of sexual matters but who is also unprotected by the notion of indecency; a child who can be induced to behave indecently without any force or threat, and consequently at present falls an easy victim to the man who is aware that if he uses threats or force he will lay himself open to a charge of indecent assault. We think that a child of 14 or above is outside this category. She may not know why the man asks her to handle him, but she must realise that to do so is indecent. That is the reason for adhering to the age of 14.
On Clause 2, the Government have thought it right to consider at the same time another subject which was not referred to the Criminal Law Revision Committee, and therefore not dealt with in its report: namely, the question whether children are adequately protected by the maximum penalties available for existing sexual offences. For most offences the penalties are adequate, but there are certain anomalies which it is sought to remove in the Bill.
The most striking of these is that while the penalty for unlawful sexual intercourse with a girl under 13, like the penalty for the corresponding offence of rape, is life imprisonment, the penalty for attempted unlawful sexual intercourse with a girl under 13 is only two years' imprisonment, whereas the penalty for attempted rape has, since the Attempted Rape Act, 1948, been seven years' imprisonment.
The Government think that this is wrong, and the Bill accordingly increases the maximum penalty for attempted unlawful intercourse with a girl under 13 to seven years' imprisonment and the penalty for attempted incest with a girl under 13, which is simply a special form of the more general offence, to the same amount.
The Government have considered also the problem of indecent assault. There are, unfortunately, serious cases of indecent conduct with little girls which 559 come very near to the offence of unlawful sexual intercourse but in respect of which the proceedings for attempt of that offence cannot be taken because the evidence of attempted penetration is insufficient. In such cases, the offenders can be prosecuted only for indecent assault, which carries the maximum penalty of two years.
Two years is an appropriate penalty for the great majority of indecent assaults, many of which are relatively trivial, but the courts have not found it adequate as a penalty for these very serious offences which approximate to the full offence of unlawful sexual intercourse and may do a great deal of harm to the child.
The Bill, therefore, seeks to increase the maximum penalty on indictment for an indecent assault on a girl under 13 from two years' imprisonment to five years.
The remaining provisions of the Bill are merely ancillary to these purposes and follow, where appropriate, the corresponding provisions in the Sexual Offences Act, 1956. The Bill does not apply to Scotland or to Northern Ireland.
I do not think I need detain the House with a more detailed exposition of what is, I think, a simple Bill designed to remove defects in our law which I know have worried hon. Members on both sides of the House and those who practise or adjudicate in the courts for some time and which, indeed, have been a cause of anxiety to all who have their responsibility for children at heart.
§ 6.32 p.m.
§ Miss Alice Bacon (Leeds, South-East)
I am sure that all hon. Members will agree that this Bill is necessary. Not only does it close a gap in the law and give protection to children against depraved and abnormal people in our midst, but it increases the penalties in a way which most of us would think necessary.
It is a very sad fact that sexual offences generally are increasing. Between 1937 and 1954, the number of recorded indictable sexual offences rose by 252 per cent., that is, two and a half times during those years. Eighty-two per cent. of the victims of these offences were 560 children under 16 years of age. From 1st July to 31st December, 1958, there were 3,660 convictions for sexual offences. These are recorded indictable offences, and it is worth while remembering that Dr. Radzinowicz, of the Cambridge Institute of Criminology, believes that recorded sex offences are only about 5 per cent. of the sex crimes actually committed.
It is sometimes argued that sex offences are attributable to mental disorders, but, out of the 3,660 cases which I have mentioned, only 261, or 7 per cent., of the offenders had had treatment for their mental condition. It may be that the offences with which we are dealing today are only a small proportion of the total number of sex offences, but because of the very great harm done to innocent children I believe that this further legislation is necessary.
We support the Bill, both the main part of it which closes the gap in the law and that part of it which imposes greater penalties for existing offences. Any argument about it will be directed to the ages proposed. First, there is the age of the victim, with which the right hon. Gentleman has dealt, and, secondly, there is the age of the offender, with which he did not deal.
Under Clause 1, it will be an offence to commit an act of gross indecencywith or towards a child under the age of fourteen".That does not mean children of 14, but children of 13 and under. In another place, it was proposed that the age should be raised to 16, which would have the effect of bringing within the range of the Bill boys and girls of 14 and 15. Although this was resisted in another place, I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider it again. I know the difficulties.
I know that girls, in particular, mature much earlier than they used to do. It is argued, as the right hon. Gentleman has argued, that girls and boys of 14 and 15 know that they are doing wrong, so are not in need of protection. That may be true of many children today, but it might not be true of all girls and boys of 14 and 15, and if only some were protected who need protection, then it would be worth while raising the age.
For a long time I was a teacher in a school with boys and girls from 11 to 561 15. I know from my experience as a teacher of children of those ages that at 14 and 15, young people are much more impressionable than younger children are, and if, unhappily, a girl or boy of 14 or 15 is invited to take part in gross indecency, this can do more harm to that child, perhaps, than to a younger child. It is sometimes argued—indeed, it was argued in another place—that backward children would be among this class of child.
But I do not think that that always follows. My experience has been that it is sometimes the highly intelligent boy or girl, the boy or girl who is studious and concerned with swotting and books, who is sometimes much more innocent of sexual matters than the backward child who is sometimes very knowledgeable about these things. I hope that the Government will look again at this age of "under 14" and consider whether we can include children of 14 and 15.
I come now to the age of the offender, about which there was some discussion in another place. According to Clause 1, any person who commits an act of gross indecency would be liable to penalties under the Bill. What does that mean? By "any person" I think we mean anyone of eight years and over, because eight is the age of criminal responsibility. I know that a young offender would always be dealt with by the juvenile court as in need of care and protection, but I hope that the House will think very carefully before making it possible for a child of eight and upwards to be hauled before a juvenile court for indecency probably towards or with another child. We have been told in another place that this would not be likely, but it could happen under the Bill.
In another place there was an Amendment to substitute the age of 18. I should not agree with that; I think that that would be much too high an age. It would mean that boys of 15, 16 and 17 could not be proceeded against. I feel that a reasonable age would be 14, and we could say that any person over the age of 14 committing an act of gross indecency would commit an offence under the Bill.
It has been said that it is unlikely that an offender would be under 14 because of the age of puberty, but this raises the question of what is meant by gross 562 indecency. The right hon. Gentleman has said—it was said in another place, too—that the Bill altered the law with regard to indecent exposure. But if indecent exposure is included within the term "gross indecency", then the argument about the age of puberty loses its validity. I believe that we must have the protection for children which the Bill gives, but we must not, at the same time, make it possible for harm to be done to children by a sense of guilt through being brought before a juvenile court.
I know that the Government will say that it is unlikely that a child of 14 will be brought before a juvenile court on these charges, but it should be made quite clear by putting in the age of 14. We do not want the Indecency with Children Bill to become the Indecency by Children Bill.
One other point which has been put to me by one of my hon. Friends is that we might include in Clause 1 provision with regard to gross indecency not only with or towards a child under 14 years of age, but in the presence of a child. Matters concerning the age of the offender, the age of the victim and whether we might include provision with regard to the presence of a child can be considered in Committee.
We on this side of the House agree with the principles of the Bill. We think that it should be supported, and hope that it will have a Second Reading.
§ 6.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward Gardner (Billericay)
I strongly support this Bill, particularly what might be described as its secondary object, namely, to increase substantially the powers of punishment which a court will have in dealing with a person convicted of sexual offences against girls under 13 years of age. I think that the House and the country recognise, rightly, that these are very grave offences and constitute some of the worst in our criminal calendar.
I am not, however, altogether satisfied that the maximum penalties of imprisonment laid down in the Bill are adequate. Take the case of a child who is maimed or disfigured as a result of a physical assault upon her. The person convicted of causing such grievous bodily harm with intent to maim or disfigure will be liable to a maximum punishment of 563 imprisonment for life, but the punishment for the same person convicted of a sexual assault is limited by the provisions of the Bill to seven years' imprisonment for attempted sexual intercourse or incest and five years' imprisonment for indecent assault.
In my view, a sexual assult on a child—and a girl under 13 years is certainly a child—is not only an assault upon her body but upon her mind which may maim and leave a mark upon her character for life. Under the present law, the maximum penalty which can be imposed is only two years' imprisonment. The need for a severe sanction, the power to impose a lengthy term of imprisonment, is quite clear if we are to give our children maximum protection.
Parents should realise that they have in their own hands the power to protect their children. They can warn their children—and I think that they should do this repeatedly, particularly if they live in cities and large towns—of the dangers of such things as taking sweets from strangers, going for walks with strangers and allowing strangers to speak to them in quiet places.
Unhappily, there is another and very ugly side to this problem on which the Bill, as drafted, does not touch. Often when a girl under 16 years allows or encourages a young man to have sexual intercourse with her, the blame is not always exclusively his. Sometimes it may be entirely hers. All too frequently the courts are shocked by evidence of undisciplined precocity. Time and again the courts hear evidence of a young girl who has gone out wearing the clothes and make up and with the bearing of a mature woman, deceiving, and apparently with the intention of deceiving, any young man she may meet about her true age. Neither parental discipline nor self-discipline has any influence or meaning with such children. They might well be described as teen-age terrors and a peril to any young and unwary man they may meet.
I can only urge that when precocious girls come before the courts, even as witnesses, the courts should bear in mind the possibility of intimating the desirability of these children appearing before juvenile courts so that it can be declared, if necessary, that they are in 564 need of care and protection. In many of these sad cases investigation would show that the girl's parents have abdicated all responsibility and that there is no control or discipline. All too frequently one feels, sadly but strongly, that the people who should be in the dock with the man charged are the parents of the girl concerned.
Finally, there is an anomaly in this aspect of the law. If a young man under 24 years of age, who has not been charged with a like offence as sexual intercourse with a girl under 16 years, can satisfy a court that he believed the girl to be 16 years or over, or had good cause for so believing, he has a perfectly valid defence. But if he is convicted or charged with the lesser offence of a sexual assault upon a girl under 16, that defence will not avail him, no matter how obvious it is that he may have believed, and was induced to believe, that she was over 16. I ask my right hon. Friend whether this aspect of the law could be considered. As this is an amending Bill, it might be possible to cure this defect.
§ 6.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Royle (Salford, West)
I apologise for the fact that I had to eat and, therefore, missed the preceding speeches. I assure the right hon. Gentleman the Joint Under-Secretary of State that I shall not prevent him replying to the debate, because I can see the necessity of the Bill getting a Second Reading before seven o'clock.
I should like to make two points. Clause 1 (1) of the Bill reads:Any person who commits an act of gross indecency with or towards a child under the age of fourteen"—I am concerned with an extension of those words. I hope that, in Committee, some consideration will be given to the insertion of the words "in the presence of". It may well be that during an act of gross indecency against a girl, perhaps of 13 or 14 years of age, a much younger child was present, and not only its susceptibilities but thoughts and future may be deeply affected. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman and the Home Office will give some consideration to such an extension in the Bill before the Committee stage.
My other point concerns the culprit in these cases. As the Bill stands—I 565 am sure that the point must have been considered—a child of eight could be brought before a juvenile court for this kind of offence. That is the age of criminal responsibility. One does not like to get on to a delicate subject of this kind too closely, but I try to take my mind back to my early grammar school days and recall what we discussed among ourselves. What we discussed about the girls of our acquaintance in early grammar school days was "nobody's business."
I am a little concerned about bringing before the court for offences of this kind in a criminal way boys of, perhaps, 12 years of age. Parliament should be very careful before placing upon a boy of that age what might be a lifetime stigma of being accused of gross indecency. These things happen as a form of curiosity more than as any form of evil intent. None of us knows exactly how the young adolescent mind works in these sexual matters and in that period of curiosity things happen that might not happen when a boy reaches, say, the age of 16. I am, therefore, worried at the possibility of bringing these persons before the courts charged with offences of this kind when some other kind of advice or treatment might be the right method.
I wish that we could raise the age of criminal responsibility in a general sense. Eight years of age is now completely out of date. We should be much more progressive in these matters. In the meantime, however, we can perhaps do it in the Bill and I hope that the Government will seriously consider this.
§ 6.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Percy Browne (Torrington)
With my eye on the clock and having put my notes away, my main excuse for speaking for only a minute or so is that when I drew a place in the Ballot for Private Members' Bills, I wished to introduce a Bill on this subject, for two reasons. The first, which relates to Clause 2 of today's Bill, is that it is difficult to bring the criminal to book because there is difficulty in getting corroborative evidence owing to the age of the victim.
If we are to introduce the maximum possible sentences, we should introduce the birch for this sort of crime. I am not a flogger—I am very sparing in my belief that we should use the birch—but in this case we should try to produce 566 the most varied sort of punishments available to add a deterrent to people who might be prevented by such punishment from committing an offence of this nature. I was hoping to produce a long argument on this matter, but, unfortunately, I cannot do so. I ask my right hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary, however, whether we might consider this point in Committee.
§ 6.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Vosper
In the few minutes that remain to me, I do not intend to be drawn into the argument raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Torrington (Mr. P. Browne). I discussed this matter elsewhere last week, but I note what my hon. Friend has said. All I can do now is to thank hon. Members for giving a welcome to the Bill. I had no doubt that they would do so, because it is an important Measure. In general, the points that have been raised are matters which the House will want to consider in Committee, as was done in another place.
I would like to associate myself with what my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mr. Gardner) said so eloquently and to agree with what the hon. Lady the Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon) said about the increase in offences of this nature. Two issues which the House will want to consider further, which were both considered in another place, are, as the hon. Lady said, the age of the victim and the age of the offender.
I refer once again to the Report of the Criminal Law Revision Committee, which was quite emphatic that whereas there might be an argument between the ages of 13 and 14, there was no case for the age of 16. In my opening speech, I referred to the reason for this. It is probably also relevant to point out that when dealing with the existing provisions concerning sexual offences, the Committee said thatthose provisions already present problems for both courts and prosecuting authorities in relation to girls approaching sixteen, and the creation of a further offence would tend to increase these difficulties.The Committee will want to consider this matter further, but the Government still remain of the view expressed in another place, that the Committee was right in coming so emphatically to the conclusion that 14 was the proper age.
567 The age of offenders is another matter that will be discussed in Committee. The hon. Lady the Member for Leeds, South-East said Chat she did not share the view of her noble Friend that, possibly, the age of 18 should operate in this respect. The hon. Lady probably knows that, as the law stands, no child under the age of eight can be guilty of any offence and a child under 14—the hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. C. Royle) referred to this—is presumed to be incapable of guilty intent although the presumption may be rebutted by satisfying a court that the child knew he was doing wrong. The question of raising the age of criminal responsibility is, no doubt, within the terms of reference of the Ingleby Committee, which is considering the whole of this aspect. I should be hesitant to make any alteration in the Bill, although we can consider the matter further.
My hon. Friend the Member for Billericay spoke, also, about penalties. I am advised that the penalties in the Bill are in line with the existing penalties for sexual offences. I will, however, examine what my hon. Friend has said and see whether there is any adjustment. I will also consider the question of the anomaly to which my hon. Friend referred, although I am a little doubtful whether it exists quite in the shape he mentioned.
The hon. Member for Salford, West asked me to add to Clause 1 the words "in the presence of". That is a point which I wish to consider further. At first, I thought that it might be covered by the second limb of the Clause, but I think that it would be outside its terms.
I am grateful for the comments which have been made and for the fact that hon. Members have enabled the House to give the Bill a Second Reading before seven o'clock.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Standing Commitee pursuant to Standing Order No. 38 (Committal of Bills).568
§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Speaker
It might be for the convenience of the House, and would be in accordance with precedent, that I should give a general ruling on the scope of our debate on the Second Reading of this Bill. Its terms are such as would make it permissible within the basic rule of relevancy in debate to discuss generally the administration of British Railways, the railways of London Transport, and the inland waterways of the Commission. On the other hand, it would not be in order to discuss the other undertakings of the Commission.
There is a specific reference in the Bill to the Tilbury-Gravesend Ferry and the Strood Dock, so discussion relating to those two topics would be admissible, but a general debate on ferries or docks would not be in order.
It may be helpful to remind hon. Members that there are related matters not mentioned in the Bill, many of which are of a kind governed by public and not by private legislation—for instance, fares, freight charges, or the structure of the Commission—and it would not be in order to discuss such matters on this Question now before the House. Nor can wages or pensions be discussed, for there is no mention of them in the Bill.
§ Mr. Wedgwood Benn (Bristol, South-East)
Following that Ruling, Mr. Speaker, may I ask your guidance on one point upon which difficulty may arise? Administration of the railways does come within order by your Ruling. I believe that some difficulty may arise in drawing a line between the administration of the railways and the structure of the Commission, because administration and structure are very close together. I wonder, therefore, if it would be possible to take a very liberal view of that in any discussion which there may be.
§ Mr. Speaker
I shall listen, as always, to what is said, but I must adhere to the 569 Ruling which I have given, that discussion of some remodelling of the structure of the Commission must be out of order within the terms of this Bill as it stands.
§ Major Sir Frank Markham (Buckingham)
Do I take it, Mr. Speaker, that we must not make any reference to the Guillebaud Report in any shape or form?
§ Mr. Speaker
Yes. a debate on wages is on precedent right outside discussion on a Bill in this form.
§ 7.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Delargy (Thurrock)
This Bill is a formidable document. It is divided into six parts and contains 48 Clauses and nine Schedules. It is also, in most respects, a quite commendable document, and the Bill, so far as I am concerned with it at all events, would have had an unopposed Second Reading were it not for the presence of one Clause, Clause 37, a long one beginning at the bottom of page 33 of the Bill and occupying nearly all page 34.
By this Clause it is proposed to close the ferry services between Tilbury and Gravesend at a date as yet undecided. The date will be when the Purfleet-Dartford Tunnel, which is now being built under the Thames, is opened to public vehicular traffic. We do not quite know when that will happen. Everything seems to move slowly in my part of the world. We have the worst railway system in Britain and we have been waiting many years for the Purfleet Tunnel to be built.
However, this Clause empowers the British Transport Commission to close those ferry services. There are two services, the passenger ferry service and the vehicle ferry service. This proposal is causing great alarm on both sides of the river, and particularly in the urban district of Thurrock, in which is situated the northern terminus of the ferry. It is felt there that the tunnel will not absorb all the traffic which is now ferried across the river. In any case, the tunnel is more than seven miles away to the west, so chat a journey by car in future from Gravesend to Tilbury would be about 15 miles long, which seems to be a considerable hardship. Furthermore, having regard to the ever-increasing number of cars on the road, we believe 570 that the vehicle ferry at Tilbury will still remain essential.
The Transport Commission has said and has written that it has no intention of closing the passenger ferry, and that it will not close the vehicle ferry without first having discussions with the area transport users' consultative committee. With all due respect to the Commission, I am not concerned with its good intentions. Between good intentions and Acts of Parliament there is an unbridgeable chasm. All that I know is that the good intentions are not written into the Bill. There is nothing in the Bill which would compel the Commission, as it is at present compelled, to continue these ferry services.
Then the idea of the Commission having talks on the matter with the area transport users' consultative committee does not commend itself to me. In fact, I thoroughly disapprove of it. For one thing, Thurrock Urban District Council is not represented on the Committee. As I have already said, Thurrock Council is the local authority responsible for the district in which is situated the northern termination of the ferry; but even if Thurrock Council were represented, I would still object, and I hope every Member of the House will object with me, for this reason.
These area consultative committees have very narrow terms of reference. They were certainly never intended to interpret Acts of Parliament. It is beyond their constitution, surely, to sanction the abandonment of legal obligations. There is only one tribunal which can do that, and that is Parliament. That is why I raise the matter in Parliament, and that is why I hope that all hon. Members on both sides of the House will agree with this argument of mine, that Parliament should be consulted, that Parliament should decide and that the matter should not be left between the Commission and the area transport users' consultative committee.
We have opposed this Bill so far chiefly on these grounds. We want this Clause taken out, or so amended as to safeguard the ferries, the passenger ferry and the vehicle ferry, between Tilbury and Gravesend. Unless we get an assurance either now or when the Bill is examined in Committee we shall continue our opposition to the Bill right through the Third Reading.
§ 7.8 p.m.
§ Sir Anthony Hurd (Newbury)
I want to refer particularly to Clause 18, which would continue to give the British Transport Commission, in dealing with the Kennet and Avon waterway, the right of absolution which was given by the Act which we passed in 1956. That Act, which runs till December of this year, absolved the Commission from the obligation to keep the Kennet waterways open to navigation. It did require the Commission to maintain the Kennet waterways, and the appliances on the Kennet waterways, so that the capacity of the waterways to perform the functions which they were capable of performing before the passing of the 1956 Act, would be unimpaired.
Unfortunately, the capacity to perform the functions was sadly impaired by neglect before 1956. That was why we had a rather prolonged discussion on that British Transport Commission Bill four years ago. As the months pass, the months of disuse, the conditions of the locks and banks along the length of the waterway from Reading to Bath gets worse. So my constituents, and I myself, do not welcome this Clause 18 in the present Bill, which extends this dispensation for another three years.
I should like to inform the House about the Kennet waterway and I think that I can do so most briefly by quoting a few sentences from a paper published by the Inland Waterways Association. It says:It might be no exaggeration to state that the Kennet and Avon is the best loved waterway in Great Britain. The most important engineering and artistic achievement of the great John Rennie, it links the Severn with the Thames; in effect, South Wales with the London Docks. It is a wide waterway, traversing beautiful and peculiarly English country from end to end. It was purchased in 1852 by the former Great Western Railway Company, which, by raising the tolls, by imposing restrictions, and by neglecting maintenance, virtually destroyed it. It was saved from actual abandonment at the hands of the company's even more ruthless successors, the British Transport Commission … "—by the action of many interested people outside this House, and by our own action in this House, when we amended the abandonment proposals of the Commission by the Measure which we passed in 1956.
Many of us look forward to the day when an authority other than the Trans- 572 port Commission will take over this waterway and restore it to a navigable condition for present-day needs. I need not remind the House of how congested the Bath Road, the A.4, is today. For many miles it runs parallel with this waterway and I need not remind my right hon. Friend the Minister of the proposal to create a new motorway, the South Wales motorway, which will again run parallel with the Kennet and Avon Canal. Yet we have this old avenue for traffic disused and so far disregarded as to prevent an opportunity for development and an opportunity to meet some of the harassing problems of the very heavy traffic which passes East to West and West to East through southern England.
The Bowes Committee had its say about the future of the Kennet and Avon Canal and now, happily, we have the Minister's advisory committee which is looking closely into the possible development for present-day use of this waterway which some consider no longer has the commercial value that it had in the old days. I am glad to know that the advisory committee, of which my hon. Friend the Member lor Nantwich (Mr. Grant-Ferris) is a member, is to visit the Kennet and Avon Canal at the beginning of May.
While we are waiting hopefully the findings of this advisory committee, the local people have not been idle. Through the Kennet and Avon Canal Association, and individually, they have done much to restore a length of the canal to enjoyable uses. It is a stretch four miles around Newbury. The local people have helped to dredge out and repair the locks. I am glad to say that the Transport Commission, through its new body the British Waterways, has been much more co-operative than when I had to speak about this in the House in 1956. I then said:A few hundred pounds spent sensibly on routine maintenance will regain for the Commission some of the good will which it lost by its restrictive and unhelpful attitude while it has been preparing the way for this Bill.That was the Bill of 1956.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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th March, 1956; Vol. 550, c. 327–8.]573 Happily, through my words, or just through good sense, the Commission has taken that line. I am glad to say that the present director of British Waterways, Major-General Sir Reginald Kerr, has been most helpful in doing those little things—such as spending £30 on putting in a new lock gate in co-operation with the local people—so that now we shall have at least four miles of canal which small pleasure craft can use. There are many hundreds of people who delight, in the summer months, in going on the canal, which is a very beautiful stretch of water. I am glad that not only my constituents but many people coming from a distance should have that opportunity for recreation.
The next stage must be to reopen the whole stretch of this waterway from Reading to Hungerford at least. I say that particularly because today we are suffering not only by being denied the use of this waterway, but also because it is becoming so disused that there is serious risk of flooding. Indeed, in January, had it not been for the good sense of the local farmers, at Midgham, a large area of farm land would have been flooded. Why? Because British Waterways did not keep a maintenance staff on Saturdays and Sundays and if it rained during the week and the water rose there was no one there to open the sluices.
That is one of the troubles when we leave the canal unused and for a few days of each week unattended. I drew the attention of British Waterways to that—it was very contrite about it—and I hope that someone will now be on duty at weekends to take care of this kind of risk.
I raise this matter this evening, because I am anxious to ensure that the Transport Commission does not feel that because we are giving it Clause 18 in the new Bill today—giving it this dispensation—it is free to prejudice, by neglect or deliberate action, the restoration in due time of this part of the canal from Reading to Hungerford, or, indeed, any other part of the Kennet waterway from Reading to Bristol. We want it to be restored to a fuller life of usefulness in the future.
I am sure that we are bound to need, with the traffic problems as they are in 574 this country today, that throughway which was created many years ago. We should be extremely foolish in our generation if we cast it away through neglect and lack of foresight.
§ 7.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
In 1956, I joined with the hon. Member for New-bury (Sir A. Hurd) and the hon. Member for Nantwich (Mr. Grant-Ferris) and others in securing in the British Transport Commission Act of that year a Clause dealing with the Kennet and Avon Canal. All that I want to do tonight is to say that I regret that more has not been done in the period between 1956 and 1960, although I welcome the fact that the British Transport Commission now appears to have passed from hostility to regarding the waterway with a kind of benevolent neutrality and has, on occasion, done some of the things which the hon. Member for Newbury has mentioned.
I hope that with the interest that is being taken by the people and local authorities along the course of the Kennet and Avon Canal there will be more active co-operation between the Transport Commission and those people and authorities, and that as a result of their combined efforts considerable reaches of this waterway will be brought back into active use, first, probably, for pleasure reasons; but I am certain that, as the hon. Member for Newbury has said, there is a future for this waterway if it can be made workable from end to end for the conveyance of goods, many of which ought to be on the canal rather than on the roads.
After all, there are certain traffics which really have their efficacy based upon establishing a rhythm rather than speed. In the old days the canals were able to achieve that rhythm and people were able to be assured of the delivery of their goods to places on such canals as the Kennet and Avon Canal. Manure was delivered for the farms and coals for the towns and villages on the route. These loads were loads for which a steady flow of movement was more important than is speed to some of the traffic which ought to be on the roads.
I hope that the good will which has begun to grow will strengthen and that the reasonable needs of the localities served by this fine piece of English 575 engineering will benefit in the future from a better feeling than existed certainly just before 1956.
§ 7.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)
On a point of order. May I seek your guidance, Mr. Speaker? You may be aware that at the moment lobbying is taking place by old-age pensioners against the very miserable pensions which they are receiving at the hands of the Government. Outside, about 50 or 60 of these aged people are standing in the streets, where it is cold and windy.
§ Mr. Lewis
I am coming to the point of order, Sir. I am seeking guidance and asking whether or not it is in order to keep these people standing outside in Old Palace Yard while the old St. Stephen's Hall is completely empty. Could you issue instructions that these old-age pensioners should be allowed into St. Stephen's Hall?
§ Mr. Speaker
That is not a point of order. If the hon. Member addresses himself to the Serjeant at Arms he may be able to ascertain whether it is possible to do something to avoid the inconvenience to which he refers, but it is not a point of order.
§ Mr. Lewis
Further to that, Sir, there was a similar occasion twelve to eighteen months ago in the time of your predecessor when I raised a similar point of order. With great respect to you, Mr. Speaker, your predecessor then said that he thought it was wrong and that he would advise the Serjeant at Arms what action he should take. Could you follow your predecessor's action in this matter?
§ Sir F. Markham
Is it not a fact, Mr. Speaker, that every hon. Member is informed, when he becomes a new Member of the House, what the rules and regulations are? The hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. A. Lewis) knows these rules. He is deliberately taking the time of the House in order to get a little self-advertisement. He could very well follow this question through by the normal method of going to the Serjeant 576 at Arms and doing the thing without a public demonstration of his interest in a subject in which we are all interested.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I do not think that observations about hon. Members' motives are helpful. I hope that the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. A. Lewis) will recognise what I have said— to which I adhere—that no point of order is raised. If he will adress himself to the Serjeant at Arms I feel confident that anything that can be done to meet the inconvenience to which the hon. Member refers will be done.
§ 7.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Grant-Ferris (Nantwich)
I wish to speak for a few minutes on Clause 22 of the British Transport Commission's Bill. As hon. Members will have seen, the Clause deals with the Oxford Canal and the desire of the British Transport Commission to take water from it. If I may say a few words about the canal so that the House will appreciate the difficulties of the situation generally, perhaps that will not be altogether out of place.
The canal is one of our very old canals, built, and finally opened in 1790, by the great canal architect James Brindley. It was part of his scheme to effect the famous "cross" of waterways which we now have in Britain joining the Thames with the Mersey and the Wash with the Severn. It is the only satisfactory way of getting from the very populated area of the Midlands to an area which perhaps some of us think is now getting too populated around Oxford.
Undoubtedly the canal has a very great future as a waterway. It is, of course, an outstandingly beautiful waterway, where one can achieve a solitude which it is almost impossible to believe could exist in the heart of England. In the Summit Pound, which is about eleven miles long, it is possible to travel for two or three hours without seeing not only a human being but a house or a building of any kind. Therefore, the canal is something which we have to treasure very much as a heritage and for the future good and pleasure of our 577 people. I am saying all this with a view to showing how important it is to be careful about the conserving of water in that area, because there is really quite a shortage of water in that watershed.
The Summit Pound receives its water from three very remote reservoirs situated high up on the boundaries of Oxfordshire, Warwickshire and Northamptonshire. Hardly anybody has ever seen them. Unfortunately, as is the case with so many of the Transport Commission's reservoirs, the dredging has not been as well carried out as in the past or as well as it should be. Therefore, conservation is not anything like as good as it was and ought to be. When the rains come in the winter, instead of the reservoirs filling up as they should do, they overflow and all the water goes to waste.
That is the situation on the Summit Pound. The water supplies the canal down to a short distance before one gets to Banbury. After that the River Cherwell supplies the canal. If I am sufficiently fortunate at a later stage in the debate, I intend to move an Instruction to She Committee on the Bill in terms which I will then read and which I hope my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport will accept. The object behind the Instruction is to make sure that a limited amount of water be taken from the canal, probably not more than is already being taken from the River Cherwell by the British Transport Commission, and that that should be made to suffice.
One cannot understand altogether why it is necessary to come to Parliament at all for these requirements at this stage. We understand that the water is needed mainly for locomotives, and to some extent for washing down locomotives and other railway equipment. But we know that the locomotive is on its way out. Therefore, it should be possible to insert in the Bill a provision that less and less water be taken as the years go by.
§ Mr. J. T. Price (Westhoughton)
Surely the hon. Member is not suggesting that because steam locomotives are now becoming obsolete the diesel locomotives which succeed them will not also need washing? I hope we shall have them cleaned as the old railway engines used 578 to be. It is quite fallacious to say that water will not be needed in the future as much as in the past, though the amount of water is a matter of argument, and I do not know the facts.
§ Mr. Grant-Ferris
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. I see his point, and it is important. What is happening is that a great deal of water is going into troughs and being picked up by locomotives to be blown off in steam between Oxford and London or between Oxford and Birmingham, as the case may be. That is the larger aspect, which I am saying should be a decreasing factor.
The other important point is that if water is taken out of the canal, which, by the very nature of things, is short of water, it should be put back into the same pound from which it was taken. There is no argument about the shortage of water because this whole area tends to be short of it. If that water is put into a lower pound, the one above will have been denuded and there will not be sufficient water in the reservoirs higher up to put back that pound into a reasonable state of navigation. Although there may be plenty of depth of water above the pound in which to float craft, and the same thing may be true of the pound below, in the pound affected water may be short and so navigation will not be possible. Although I realise that water which has gone into locomotives cannot be put back, it is important that as much as possible should be put back into the pound concerned.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) cogently said on 4th December, the most important task of a water undertaker is to sell water. It is upon the sale of the water that much of the maintenance in future will depend, and so far very little has been done to tackle the problem properly. Unfortunately, the Bill seeks to perpetuate one of the worst aspects of the eighteenth century legislation, in that it confers great privileges on large interests, in this case the railways. In whatever we are doing now we must also have an eye to the future. We may be doing something beneficial for the railways, but we must also be sure that it will be beneficial for the inland waterways as well when the time comes for a different form of management, which we hope will be in the not-too-distant future.
579 I hope that when my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary replies to the debate he may be able to indicate that, subject to a slight alteration which I am prepared to make in its terms, he will accept the Instruction, which will then go to the Committee. We must remember that in all these things there is only a certain amount of water to be taken, and once it is taken from the area it is gone for ever.
§ 7.32 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
I understand, Mr. Speaker, that in accordance with your Ruling and previous custom it is in order to say a few words about the running and administration of the railways. I have two points to make in this connection.
The first concerns non-railway property now in the ownership of the British Transport Commission. I hope that the Government will not compel the Commission to sell this property. If it wishes to sell it, that is a different matter, but it should have discretion to sell or develop. After all, the Commission creates a lot of the value of such property and it has always been an integral part of the railway system. I have often been a critic of the British Transport Commission, but it deserves a compliment for what it has done to its hotels. We may think them expensive, but they are good. If you, Sir, should ever find yourself short of a cook, I recommend you to go to Charing Cross Hotel where you will find a building which was constructed by the same architect as constructed your house—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I should be glad to accept the hon. Member's recommendation if it were in order. I do not think that he was here when I indicated the scope of this debate. I cannot get into the Charing Cross Hotel on it.
§ Mr. Grimond
The Charing Cross Hotel may be too far away, Sir, but I think that the general administration and running of the railways would be in order, and it was to that point that I was addressing myself. The Commission has made an effort and the Government should give it power, if the Commission desires it, to raise money by debenture on the open market in order to develop this property.
580 My second point is this. The Government have said that they intend to set up a planning board to assist the Commission in certain respects. I am glad to see the Minister of Transport here. He is, or was, an eminent businessman. Does he really think that it can be helpful to the Commission or to himself that a board should be interpolated in the machinery for running the railways? Most of the proposals made have been current for many years, and many of them have been made by Liberals. If they are not well known to the Minister of Transport and to the British Transport Commission, I should be surprised. There is a need to build morale in the railways, from the top to the bottom, and the continual chopping and changing is not good for morale.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. John Hay) indicated assent.
§ Mr. Grimond
I am glad to see that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary agrees. I urge the Government either to say to the Commission—or possibly to the Minister of Transport—"You are not able to do your job" or, if they have confidence in the Minister and the Commission, they should let them try to bring in these reforms themselves and make a success of the railways, as I have no doubt they are keen to do.
§ 7.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Humphrey Atkins (Merton and Morden)
I support what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Nantwich (Mr. Grant-Ferris) about Clause 22, which deals with the Oxford Canal, and I will say why I am not very happy about it. Subsection (2) states:The Commission shall have power and shall be deemed always to have had power to take and use water not required for the purpose of navigation from the Oxford Canal…I am not happy about the wording of the Clause because it seems to me to be open to almost endless argument what "not required for the purpose of navigation" might mean. What it means today may not be what it will mean in three or four years' time, and in my opinion an Act of Parliament should not contain words which will give employment to members of your profession, Sir, for many years to come. I would like to see those words left in, because they 581 matter, but other words added, if possible, specifying a maximum amount of water which can be taken out of the canal.
I will now refer briefly to Clause 17 This, again, is about waterways and confirms the agreement made between the British Transport Commission and the National Trust last November for the lease by the latter of thirteen miles of the Stratford-on-Avon Canal. This is a stretch of water of particular beauty which is known to, and loved by, many thousands of people. Its original and primary purpose was that of transport, like all the other canals of this country, but that has changed with the passage of time and its primary purpose now is to provide amenity.
I am particularly delighted to note that by this Clause the Commission has appreciated that it is not the body best suited to look after amenities, and has agreed to lease this canal to the National Trust. It does, of course, rid the Commission of a financial problem.
In the agreement quoted in the Second Schedule the Commission covenants to pay the National Trust £1,500 a year during the course of this lease. That, I believe, is in the neighbourhood of its present annual loss on the canal, but there is no doubt that this figure will increase in years to come, particularly if improvements which should be done are done. The Commission has managed to fix its contribution towards the cost of maintaining the canal for a number of years, and has got rid of the bogey of abandonment, because that is what it would ultimately be faced with if it continued the present policies. I believe I am right in saying that the estimated cost of abandoning this section of the canal is £125,000.
It reflects great credit on the National Trust that it is taking over this canal and will maintain and try to improve it with what is a rather poor inducement. I fear that the Trust may find itself in financial difficulties with the canal, and I hope that it will be able to obtain financial assistance from somewhere else. The Trust has other sources on which it can draw to help in this work—not financial but voluntary help and effort which the Commission would not be able to get. I understand that volunteer 582 helpers are already working on the canal, despite the fact that the House has not yet passed this Bill.
I have every confidence that this venture will be a success. I welcome it and commend it to the House, and hope that it will be the forerunner of other schemes whereby the waterways will be transferred from the British Transport Commission, which does not want them, to another body which does.
§ 7.42 p.m.
§ Mr. George Thomas (Cardiff, West)
The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) drew attention to morale of British Railway employers. I am glad the British Transport Commission has taken the trouble and the pain to bring this Measure before the House. I presume that the Bill is intended to meet its requirements at least for the next five years, and I do not expect that it is thinking in terms of another Bill coming along in a short while. I presume also that the Commission is seeking to bring British Transport up to date to deal with the modern industrial developments in various parts of the country. I notice that the alterations proposed in the Counties of Monmouthshire, Gloucestershire and in Newport are such as to make it look as though the Commission hopes to deal with the increased traffic with the new steel works at Llanwern and with the great development that that will require.
I want the Commission to deal with another little matter which niggles me, and that is the snobbery which is attached to the administration of the railways. I have strong feelings on this matter. It concerns what I call the "top hat treatment" for "top people".
I noticed this week at Cardiff Station local building contractors being greeted by the stationmaster wearing a top hat. This is in 1960. To me it is a lot of outmoded poppycock which I would have expected the right hon. Gentleman, who came to the Ministry of Transport from the Post Office, to have blown away. I would like to know, within the terms of the administration of British Railways, what the definition is for people being accorded this top hat treatment. It is a fair question. It does not happen in industry or anywhere else that the boss takes it into his mind to say, "I will 583 decide who are the important people, the top people." I have made it my business to inquire as to who are the top people in Cardiff and South Wales—
§ Mr. Thomas
No. Members of Parliament—and this is part of our grievance no doubt—do not come under that heading. I would hasten to assure the hon. Gentleman that I have noticed that junior Ministers do get the top hat treatment.
§ Mr. Thomas
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will be a little more patient. He will get it if he drops a note to the stationmaster and says that he is going to Cardiff.
This is irritating. British Railways at Cardiff have another absurd custom. There is a V.I.P. gate one yard away from the public entrance, and in the rush hour, with only two porters on duty trying to deal with the crowd, if one of these important building contractors happens to come—I see that this is touching the Minister on a sensitive point—a porter is taken from his duty in order to go a yard away and open the gate to let important people through.
British Railways are seeking to modernise their engines and to improve their lines. I suggest that they should modernise their approach to the public. This Victorian snobbery is quite unjustified, and in a nationalised industry I believe that it is offensive. I can understand it if the top hat is kept for Royalty, but of course British Railways are now in the position that they can only treat Royalty as they treat building contractors—with the same top hat and tails. Sir Brian Robertson and British Railways should look at this ridiculous custom and bring the railways fifty years forward to 1960, because they behave in this matter as though it were 1910.
I am so glad that, within the terms of this Measure, it has been possible for me to say these things. I would only add, so that I can keep myself completely in order, that I am very glad that British Railways are realising that this canal in the heart of the most beautiful part of England is better left to the National Trust. I welcome the Measure, and hope that my words will not fall on deaf ears outside the House.
§ 7.49 p.m.
§ Mr. Marcus Kimball (Gainsborough)
I am sorry that, on this question of the general administration of the railways, the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Thomas) did not pursue his researches into headgear a little further. I hope that when the administration is changed nothing will be done to stop senior inspectors who look after engines and such things riding on engine footplates in billy-cock hats.
I follow the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) in what he said about an even flow of traffic on the canal dealing with coal and particularly heavy objects, but I wish he had extended his remarks to cover Clause 23, which deals with the closing of Strood Dock.
Strood Dock is a typical example of a coastal port in the United Kingdom which deals with small coastal vessels with a draught of about 700 tons. All hon. Members will be familiar with the practice of the old private railway companies who were determined to squeeze out small coastal ports because they regarded them as rivals to the railways and hoped that by squeezing them they would be able to divert to the railways traffic which went through the docks.
In three Transport Bills we have had the closure of no fewer than nine small ports or wharfs, and I am particularly perturbed that, unless some warning is sounded and if there are further British Transport Commission Bills, we shall have the closures extended to Keadby at the mouth of the Trent in North Lincolnshire. The closures at places like Strood follow a general pattern. First, the port is allowed to fall into a start of disrepair. Then it becomes unsafe and then uneconomic. The incredible thing about Strood is that beside this dilapidated and decaying dock, owned by British Railways, there is a thriving and expanding dock run by private enterprise.
It seems to be a matter of the general administration of the railways to do no maintenance whatever on any of these small ports and docks. In the case of Keadby Wharf, British Railways even went so far as to deliver all the materials for repair and reconstruction four years ago, and then did nothing about it. Now the dock has been declared unsafe and unusable.
585 The one coalfield which we all agree to be economic and worth keeping on working is that in South Nottinghamshire. There is a very flourishing trade through the Trent to Keadby with the coal then being taken by coastal shipping from the Midlands to the South Western Gas Board's works in Cornwall and elsewhere. We cannot indefinitely continue to allow British Railways to neglect ports of this kind and allow them to fall into a terrible state of dilapidation. Even if they have no economic use, they are vital to the tourist trade and to the growing use of small boats round our coasts.
There is an unhappy marriage in the Transport Commission attempting to control these small ports and coastal shipping and the railways, which are their rivals, in one Commission. I hope that this is the last Transport Bill which we shall see and that this is the last year in which British Railways will have the responsibility, which they have continued to neglect, for small ports and wharfs round our coasts.
§ 7.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Frank McLeavy (Bradford, East)
It is right that when Private Bills come before Parliament hon. Members should insist on a debate of this character during which they can raise topics vitally affecting their constituencies. The remarkable thing about tonight's debate is that although the Bill is comprehensive and has 47 Clauses, there have not been many objections to its provisions. I can well understand that hon. Members should refer to the closure of and interference with canals in their constituencies, because those canals are vital local amenities of great value to the industrial and agricultural life of the community.
Most of us appreciate that the protections about promoting Private Bills are very strong. First, the House has to give a Bill a formal First Reading. On Second Reading, hon. Members who wish to object to any of the Bill's provisions are able to put forward their points of view. That is important, because those points of view are recorded in HANSARD and are thus available to members of the Committee who eventually consider the Bill. Those of us who have served on Committees of that character know that due regard is paid to observations made in the House.
586 However, it is only right that the public should be reassured about the safeguards which Parliament very properly provides when Private Bills are promoted. When a Bill leaves the House, having had a Second Reading, local authorities, industrial organisations and individuals who wish to object to its provisions can make their representations in Committee. There is also a very valuable safeguard, that the Minister concerned—-in this case the Minister of Transport—departmentally examines all the Bill's provisions, paying due regard to what he considers to be the best interests of the community. If there is anything fundamentally wrong with the Bill, the Minister ensures that it is amended in Committee. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will take note of representations made this evening and will see how far they are justified and how far they can be reasonably met.
I was very impressed with what my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Delargy) said about the proposed closure of the Tilfoury-Gravesend Ferry. My hon. Friend made a legitimate case for careful examination by the Minister. This ferry is very important to my hon. Friend's constituency and it is only right that we should ask the Minister to see that the Clause in question is so amended that the Minister is left with the final decision about when the ferry is to be closed. When the Dartford-Purfleet Tunnel is completed, it may be that the ferry will be of very little use.
It would be wrong to allow the British Transport Commission, immediately the tunnel is constructed, to discontinue the ferry service. Provision ought to be made for the ferry service to be discontinued only with the approval of the Minister of Transport. That would meet the point made by my hon. Friend and safeguard the rights of his constituents. It would enable the Minister to re-examine the position when traffic was going through the tunnel to see whether it would be a disservice to my hon. Friend's constituents to discontinue the ferry service. I am not one of those people who would ask the British Transport Commission, or any other authority, to run a service which was not required. My hon. Friend has made a legitimate case, and I hope that my suggestion will be considered so that in Committee the necessary provision can be made.
587 I was pleased to hear the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) appeal to the Minister of Transport not to succumb to the invitations and temptations to sell off land owned by the British Transport Commission. All reasonable people want to see British Railways pay their way. We want to see them run as efficiently as possible, and we want to hear less carping criticism of those who are trying to do a first-class job.
My sympathy goes to the Chairman of the British Transport Commission, who has rendered great service, and to his colleagues who have been shot at right and left, and who, in spite of all the difficulties with which they have been confronted and the restrictions put on them by the interference of the Government, have done a first-class job. I regret, and probably the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland shares my view, that it was considered necessary to appoint a planning board. I can see nothing which reflects more adversely upon the ability of the chairman and members of the Commission than that the Government should appoint a planning board when the Commission has a competent staff which is capable of running the railways properly and efficiently.
It is not a planning board that we should appoint. We ought to give the railways an opportunity to do the job for which they were intended. I appeal to the Minister of Transport and to hon. Members opposite to give British Railways a chance to do their job. Let us relieve them of pettifogging restrictions. Let us make sure that in meeting the increased costs arising from wage increases and other factors the public understands the problems of the railways. If we do that British Railways will continue to have the good will of the community.
For many years British Railways will be vitally necessary to the industrial and social life of the nation. That is why I want the railways to prosper. I want British Railways to serve industry and society in such a way that they will bring benefit to all sections of the community. If we had a committee of industrialists drawn from industry and from the Trades Union Congress to advise the Minister and British Railways on the requirements of industry, we 588 would have a far more successful set-up than this so-called planning board. The railways need a committee to advise them on the needs of industry.
We must not forget that the cost of our exports depends on the cost of transport. If we improve the railways and enable them to pay their way we may keep down the cost of transport, and perhaps reduce existing charges, to the benefit of industry and the travelling public.
In spite of attempts to describe the British Transport Commission as an ineffective organisation, I hope that it will go out from this House that we have the utmost regard for the chairman and members of the British Transport Commission, and that we wish them well in the task which lies ahead.
§ 8.7 p.m.
§ Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)
I hope that the hon. Member for Bradford, East (Mr. McLeavy) will forgive me if I do not follow him too closely in matters of railway administration, because I should like to deal with water-borne travel, which has concerned most hon. Members this evening. But before I get on to that I should like to make one small point.
I note that in Clause 12 (1, h), which refers to some footpaths in my constituency, the British Transport Commission may substitute new paths for old. I have had no representations or complaints to make about that, but I notice that in paragraph (g), which deals with footpaths in Gloucestershire, the Commission may stop up and discontinue roads or footpaths, without offering any alternative. I hope that the Commission has consulted the local residents and farmers in the neighbourhood of the proposed alterations.
May I now turn to marine matters, both inland and sea-going. Those of us who are interested in the well-being of our inland waterways welcome Clause 17. This is a new experiment in canal rehabilitation and maintenance. We welcome it.
Clause 22 is not quite so good. Hon. Members will see that there is a Motion on the Order Paper in the name of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Nantwich (Mr. Grant-Ferris), to which I have added my name. We want to see 589 not only that water is restored to those points from which it is taken, but that the Commission should be forced to keep some account of the water extracted.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) said on 4th December, the Transport Commission or the inland waterways undertaking of the future, whatever it may be, is likely to get a great deal of its revenue from the sale of water. Clause 22 gives the railway authority power to take a free gift of water for the benefit of its undertakings. If the railways and the waterways sections of the Commission are at any time divided I do not want to see this free gift of water quoted as a precedent. If other water users have to pay for it, so should the railway authority.
§ Mr. J. T. Price
How would the hon. Member deal with this matter if he were in charge of the Commission's ventures? How would he levy a charge upon himself, merely for taking something from his own property? This seems a remarkable doctrine to come from the Tory benches. I do not understand it at all. It is the most original thing I have heard in this House for a long time.
§ Mr. Wells
There should be an accounting procedure. Nobody expects that the Commission, in its present form, will continue for ever administering both railways and waterways. It would be desirable to keep a precise yearly account of water taken, in millions of gallons. We should keep records of the gallonage taken for the time being, so that if we wish to proceed on a cash basis in future the necessary information will be available to us.
Clause 23 comes much nearer my constituency of Maidstone. Strood Dock is one of the many small coastal ports scattered round the country. Since the Commission was formed it has attempted to abandon or close 11 docks, and this is the most recent venture it has made. Coastwise shipping is a great national asset, and if it is to continue in any form it must have small ports as well as large ones. The point about coastwise shipping is that small barges and lighters can deliver their goods to the doorstep. Immediately outside my constituency, but affecting many thousands of my constituents, who gain their livelihoods from it, is Aylesford Paper Mills, which is the largest mixed mill in Europe. The bulk 590 of its pulp is delivered up the Medway, past Strood Dock.
The Commission attempted to close Whitstable Dock recently, but it is now prospering substantially, largely due to the great activity of the London and Rochester Trading Company, whose main place of business is situated practically alongside Strood Dock. It is deplorable that this proposal to close Strood Dock should be included in the Bill without any opportunity being given for other interests to take it over.
Subsection (2) of the Clause says:Any person who suffers loss by the extinguishment of any private right … shall be entitled to be paid by the Commission compensation…Paying compensation to a man with rights is no safeguard for the future. In other hands good use could be made of these small docks.
A firm of welding suppliers on that section of waterway where the Medway flows into the Thames is at present having much of its supplies brought in direct from Sweden by water. On 12th February of this year there was considerable comment in Kent about trade between this country and Denmark— timber coming here from Denmark and the sale of second-hand tractors by this country to Denmark. That trade is carried on from our small coastwise ports. As I have said, coastal shipping is a national asset, and it should not be continually eroded because of the ineptitude of the Commission.
§ Mr. F. H. Hayman (Falmouth and Camborne)
Will the hon. Member give an example of the ineptitude of the Commission? His own Government have required it to give up branch railways which are no longer economic.
§ Mr. Benn
Is the hon. Member suggesting that where a loss is involved in carrying on a certain operation the Commission should nevertheless carry it on at a loss for non-economic reasons? How does this square with the claim which is constantly made that the Commission should operate on a business or financial basis?
§ Mr. Wells
I trust that I shall not be ruled out of order following Mr. Speaker's Ruling at the beginning of the debate. I want to refer to Whitstable Dock, which is only a few miles from Strood Dock. That is operating very profitably in other hands. Clause 23 provides for the closing of Strood Dock, but says nothing about offering it to other people. It merely provides that it shall be closed, and that those who lose their rights as a result shall be compensated. I would rather see the dock sold to people who will operate it on a commercial basis, as the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) would wish.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker(Major Sir William Anstruther-Gray)
I do not want the House to be led away beyond Mr. Speaker's Ruling. Anything to do with Strood Dock is in order, because it is mentioned in the Bill, but a debate on docks in general would be outside the scope of the Bill.
§ Mr. J. T. Price
May I submit that when, in supporting an argument related to a Clause in the Bill, a Member sees fit to refer to the Commission as having shown gross ineptitude in seeking powers to rid itself of an uneconomic limb of its business, it is definitely related to the text of the Bill and is not dealing with generalities to point out the fallacy in the hon. Member's argument? From that point of view, I hope that you will agree that my hon. Friend is in order.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I do not think that the hon. Member had got out of order, but there was a danger of his doing so.
§ Mr. Wells
I fear that I must have expressed myself very badly. When I referred to the ineptitude of the Commission I meant in the administration of small docks and particularly Strood Dock. I should prefer that the dock was 592 not abandoned, but that powers be acquired to dispose of it.
I wish to express the Kentish point of view on Clause 37, to which reference has already been made by the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Delargy). Subsection (2) states that the northbound ferry "shall be extinguished" and that the southbound ferry "shall cease". As was said by the hon. Member for Thurrock, this is a matter of great regret in Essex and also, I think, in Kent. To satisfy those hon. Gentlemen who are anxious that everything the Commission does shall be profitable, it may be necessary to extinguish the ferries at some future date. But I would rather have seen some permissive right accorded the Minister to enable the extinguishment to take place at a later date when we know what is the volume of traffic.
I do not wish to raise what might be regarded as a Committee point, but I think that the Clause is unfortunately worded in the statement that the ferries "shall" be extinguished and "shall" cease. It would be nicer if powers were given to the Minister, or if the whole matter were left until the tunnel was much nearer completion.
May I say how much those of us who are concerned with the well-being of the waterways welcome this Measure and the fact that I may have found myself in certain difficulties regarding my references to coastwise shipping in no way lessens my desire to see the inland waterways prosperous.
§ 8.22 p.m.
§ Mr. J. T. Price (Westhoughton)
I have been interested in some of the points advanced by hon. Members whose constituencies lie in those areas of the country where canals have been allowed to fall into disrepair. Many of the canals are in surroundings of great natural beauty. I fully understand the need to safeguard the heritage and amenities of the countryside, and those things which by their beauty bring joy to so many people. Anything I say which may seem to be in opposition to that feeling is said not because I am less zealous than other hon. Members regarding the preservation of the amenities of our country, but because, as an hon. Member of this House, I have some responsibility for the public institutions which were created here.
593 I am not referring to canals built by famous engineers of the past, but to the present difficulties and liabilities which face the British Transport Commission in its operations. I have heard hon. Members making speeches which reveal what is perhaps a rather narrow point of view in these matters. They seem to think, for some romantic reason, that it would be a great shame if we lost all these waterways and people could not take a 10-foot craft on them at weekends. I agree that it would be a great shame, but may I remind hon. Members who advance these views that when the Commission began its operations under the provisions of the 1947 Act it took over many of these broken-down undertakings which had been left in a state of disrepair and ruin for generations?
I disapprove of these strictures upon the Commission, because I think that they art; quite unfair. The Commission has a job to do. It is continually criticised because it is not making a profit in terms of a commercial undertaking. It is not making a profit for reasons which I should be out of order in referring to, but I think that we should be a little more charitable in our attitude to the Commission, however zealous we may be to retain the waterways and the many legacies and inheritances of the past.
In the Bill, to which I hope the House will give a Second Reading, the Commission seeks working powers to deal with the immediate problems connected with the development of its main undertaking. I do not regard it as part of the duty of this House to require the Commission to maintain for ever undertakings which are demonstrably causing a serious loss to it and which were already in a bankrupt condition when this nation paid a good compensation price for them as part of the take-over terms from the old railway companies. The Commission is entitled to be given these powers, subject to the proper safeguards of scrutiny and examination which this House is amply empowered to apply.
This is the last opportunity which we shall have to raise constituency points on this matter and I wish to refer to Clause 12, which occupies about six pages of the text of the Bill. The Clause is concerned mainly with giving the 594 Commission power to discontinue and stop up a large number of footpaths and roads in different parts of the country. There may be good reasons for many of these closures, but they are not revealed in the Bill because it would mean a long Explanatory Memorandum to give such details. I have as much regard as anyone for the preservation of the existing amenities, particularly in the countryside.
I see the hon. Member for Manchester, Moss Side (Mr. Watts) smiling at me. He has recently come to the House from the North, where I also live. He and I have often wandered across Kinder Scout and other places in the North where there are no railways within a mile or two. We have been interested in the preservation of footpaths and even in trying to create footpaths where there is none. He and I can argue this matter when we chat outside the House. When a footpath is to be closed, for whatever purpose, the intention to close it should be properly scrutinised to see that there are good reasons for it.
At the bottom of page 16 of the Bill hon. Members will read:(i) In the county of Lancaster—In the urban district of Blackrod—they may stop up and discontinue so much of the road known as Factory Brow which is crossed by the railway between Blackrod and Adlington at the level crossing known as Anderton Hall crossing…This footpath follows the line of an ancient footpath which has probably existed for hundreds of years. I have recently consulted a 1-inch ordnance map to check the locality. If it is convenient to him, I should like the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, in his reply to the debate, to give me the reasons for the closure of this footpath.
I should like to draw his attention to another matter connected with the preservation of footpaths. There are many accommodation roads and footpaths, as they are described by surveyors and others who are technically responsible for these things, in respect of which there were long-standing contracts made by the railways which were the predecessors of British Railways, and long before nationalisation, for maintenance. Railway companies very often accepted responsibility for the maintenance of accommodation roads and footpaths. I 595 have come across several examples in recent years of roads which have been allowed to fall into complete disrepair because, for some reason, these old obligations have not been pursued. Will the Joint Parliamentary Secretary tell me whether this is a road over which any rights have been established and any maintenance obligations undertaken either by the Transport Commission or by the railways whose operation the Commission took over?
§ Mr. Hay
The only information I have on this matter, supplied to me by the Transport Commission, is that the Anderton Hall crossing is very little used by vehicles and that the local authorities and other local interests have agreed to its closure to vehicular traffic. The London Midland Region of British Railways intends to provide wicket gates for people on foot. That is as far as my information goes. I cannot help the hon. Member further tonight.
§ Mr. Price
I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman.
This is clearly a matter which must be adjusted at local level, but merely to say that a road is little used by traffic is not the best reason for refusing to maintain it open for the use of those people who like to walk across a right of way. The existence of a right of way goes beyond the question of whether traffic is using the road. Hon. Members who have been interested in the Footpaths Preservation Society, as I have, know what I mean. The fact that traffic does not use it does not conclude the matter. I am obliged to the hon. Member for giving me that information. If the local authorities are satisfied, I shall not be unduly contentious about it.
I give my support in general terms to the Second Reading of the Bill because I am convinced that if the public only realised the tremendous energy which is being put into the job by the Transport Commission, in the face of all these discouraging circumstances, there would be a much happier relationship between that great body, which deals with one of the main economic assets of this country, and the public. We should encourage the Commission in the great modernisation scheme which it is carrying out to improve facilities. If it needs legislative adjustments which require Parliamentary 596 sanction, we should not be unduly obstructive. We think that the Commission ought to have these powers. I heartily support the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ 8.34 p.m.
§ Major Sir Frank Markham (Buckingham)
Both the hon. Member for Westihoughton (Mr. J. T. Price) and the hon. Member for Bradford, East (Mr. McLeavy) have made appeals to hon. Members on this side of the House not to obstruct either the Bill or the British Transport Commission. I think I can say for everyone on this side of the House that we have never had any intention of obstructing the Bill. What is more, we have no intention of obstructing the Commission, nor shall we have. Reviewing the debate so far, it seems to me that the greatest criticism of the British Transport Commission has come not from the Conservative benches but from the other side of the House.
If the hon. Member for Westhoughton will cast his mind back to the speech of the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Delargy), he will remember that it contained the most damaging criticism that has been made of this Bill and of the British Transport Commission tonight. I know that the hon. Member for Westhoughton is one of the most sincere Members in this House, and the same applies to his hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, East. But sincerity demands that they should give credit to us on these benches for possessing the same high-minded motives which move them, and they should not belittle the party to which I belong because we are trying to put high principles into practice.
§ Mr. J. T. Price
I think the hon. and gallant Gentleman has misunderstood me. I am much obliged to him for the implied compliment; it is generous of him. I am not seeking to belittle anyone. So far as I remember, the only critical reference I made was in response to a very objectionable expression used by an hon. Member opposite when he spoke disparagingly of the British Transport Commission. I thought that reference was unfair. However, if the hon. and gallant Gentleman thinks that I have been unfair, I hope he will take a charitable view. I was trying to be most temperate and reasonable. I could be more controversial if I wished to be, but this is not the occasion.
§ Sir F. Markham
I am glad to receive the hon. Gentleman's explanation. I objected to his statement that we on these benches were being obstructive. However, I accept the withdrawal and I will now move to the Bill.
This Bill affects my constituency as much as any constituency in the country. Not only does Clause 24 (2) but the whole of the first part of the Fourth Schedule refer to parts of my constituency. These references are mainly to the creation of a new marshalling yard at Swanbourne and Mursley in Buckinghamshire in order, as the Bill says, to provide a railway depot and to improve railway communications between Bletchley and Oxford and for other purposes. By and large, we welcome this move. We think it is good. We hope that this great improvement in east-west freight communications that will follow upon the creation of this new marshalling yard will justify all the hopes of the British Transport Commission in making these new plans.
My criticism goes back a little earlier than this. British Railways have been considering this new marshalling yard for years. Their plans must have been made before the last General Election, but they kept one or two local farmers on tenterhooks. Months ago British Railways produced plans showing the areas that they wanted, but they never said to the farmers, "This is when we shall want the land." The result is that even at this moment—and here we are in March, with the first day of spring already past—one or two local farmers whose lands may be affected do not know whether to plant for this year or not. Surely the British Transport Commission could have given to people like Mr. Stacey of Lower Grove Farm, Mursley, a much earlier and clearer indication of their intentions concerning his land.
The reason that the British Transport Commission have given for not providing the fullest information is that they are waiting for Parliamentary approval of this Bill. We all know, as the British Transport Commission must have known, that the chance of this Bill going through this House is about a million to one in favour. The odds in favour of Parliament approving of this Bill were fantastic. The British Transport Commission should have been fairer to the 598 local farmers. Under this Bill we give them full powers to impose immediate controls upon certain farmlands. They should have been fairer and should have given the farmers the right sort of notice to enable them to cultivate for at least a year without undue loss.
My next point concerning my constituency has already been raised in connection with another constituency. When British Railways take over lands for extensions or for marshalling yards and so on, there arises the vexed question of footpaths and roads. The same thing arises in the Winslow Rural District Council area. I should like an assurance —I do not know whether the Minister can give it to me or whether he can get it from the British Transport Commission—that, before the final plans for the Swanbourne marshalling yards arc completed, the Commission will consult the Winslow Rural District Council with a view to ensuring that road communications and footpath or bridlepath communication are retained as far as possible.
Your predecessor in the Chair, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, in a very wise review of the subjects which we might debate tonight, ruled, if my memory is correct, that, while we might speak about the administration of the railways, we must not speak about the future of the British Transport Commission as a Commission and we were not to mention wages or the Guillebaud Report. I hope that I can weave my way between the "mays" and "may nots" and, walking on the edge of impartiality, as it were, say a few sentences with reference to other railway problems.
I wish, first, to refer to the disquiet which exists in many railway workshops simply because the British Transport Commission cannot—I think "cannot" is the word rather than "will not"— give a definite forecast for a few years ahead about what will be the work requirements of the railway workshops. The outstanding example, of course, is probably Wolverton, because the railway workshops at Wolverton are so extensive that they make Wolverton a one-industry town.
§ Mr. Leslie Spriggs (St. Helens)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. May I have your guidance? I cannot 599 find any reference in the Bill to what the hon. and gallant Member is now discussing.
§ Sir F. Markham
Although there is no reference to Wolverton in the Bill, I understood Mr. Speaker to rule that we might discuss certain aspects of general railway administration, even if they were not included in the Bill. If the hon. Member for St. Helens (Mr. Spriggs) had been here when Mr. Speaker gave his Ruling, he would not have risen on that point of order. May I come back to where I was when I was so blithely interrupted?
§ Mr. Spriggs
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I believe that Mr. Speaker gave a Ruling against the subject about which the hon. and gallant Member is now speaking.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I am listening very carefully to what the hon. and gallant Member is saying, and I admit that I am anxious lest he should put himself out of order. I think that the hon. and gallant Member heard Mr. Speaker's Ruling, and I hope very much that he will keep himself well within the bounds of that Ruling.
§ Sir F. Markham
To make this quite clear, may I put this question to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker? Am I properly in order in discussing the future of the railway carriage works at Wolverton?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The administration of the railways in general is in order under this Bill, but the topic of wages is right out and any reference to Guillebaud would be right out.
§ Mr. J. T. Price
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I am sorry to delay the House for a moment or two longer, but you have just given a Ruling which, according to my recollection, is at variance with the instruction given to the House by Mr. Speaker when the debate began. I have been in the Chamber the whole time, and I distinctly recollect that the sort of subject now being raised was specifically excluded by Mr. Speaker's Ruling.
If it had not been so, instead of speaking for only a few minutes a short time ago when I caught your eye, I should most certainly have spoken at considerable length about railway works because 600 I have the honour to represent one of the largest railway workshops in the country. I restrained myself in view of what Mr. Speaker has said. I am quite certain that Mr. Speaker made it clear to us when we began that the debate could not be conducted in a wide-ranging fashion to cover the sort of topics now being introduced. I therefore feel deprived in having resumed my seat when I could have spoken with much greater effect on a question of greater importance than the one on which I spoke in trying to keep myself within the bounds of order.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Perhaps it would help the House if, instead of relying on our recollections, I were to read the words with which Mr. Speaker was good enough to preface the debate. He said: "It is permissible to discuss generally the administration of British Railways, the railways of London Transport, and the inland waterways of the Commission, but not the other undertakings of the Commission." I think that I have read sufficient to make it clear that to discuss the general administration of British Railways is in order.
§ Sir F. Markham
Thank you very much, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I am sorry that my friend the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. J. T. Price) did not realise the width of the debate, in which case we might have had a still more illuminating speech from him.
May I get back to my beloved subject of Wolverton? Wolverton is practically a one-industry town, and that industry is British Railways, centred in the carriage and wagon works.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I am getting anxious again because Wolverton and the carriage and wagon works are not, I think, mentioned in the Bill. I think it would be better if the hon. and gallant Member kept clear of that.
§ Sir F. Markham
I feel rather like a shuttlecock. I do not know on which side of the net I am landing, but in order to save embarrassment all round I will move from the subject of Wolverton. Before I do so, perhaps I might say one sentence. It would be a great blessing to the people of Wolverton and district if the Commission would 601 let them know what its future longdistance intentions are about those works.
I say this with great diffidence because I do not want to embarrass you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, or anyone, but I gather that if I went on to say a few words about the future policies of the Commission I would be out of order. We have already heard two speeches from hon. Members opposite urging that everything should be done to make the Commission pay its way.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
A discussion on the general administration of the Commission is in order under the Bill.
§ Mr. F. Blackburn (Stalybridge and Hyde)
Surely the hon. and gallant Member does not want to discuss the general administration. The request of the hon. and gallant Member to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, was whether he would discuss future administration, which, I take it, would be out of order.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I think that is true. I do not think this Bill deals with the future general administration.
§ Sir F. Markham
Thank you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. May I add that I did not mean to speak for more than a few minutes, but I think hon. Members will agree that I have spoken so long solely because of the manifold interruptions I have had from hon. Members opposite.
Appeals have been made by hon. Members opposite to us on this side not to criticise the Commission. I believe most strongly that we in this House have a responsible duty to any nationalised industry of bringing to public notice and to the notice of that industry any improvements that we can suggest. I think that we should take full advantage of debates of this kind to bring out these points. I should not like a constructive debate of this kind to be termed obstructive criticism, because that is not in the minds of any hon. Member on this side, nor, I am sure, in the minds of hon. Members generally.
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Holt (Bolton, West)
We seem to be getting a little thin-skinned in this House when the hon. and gallant Member for Buckingham (Sir F. Markham) takes exception because somebody talks about obstruction. 602 The hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. J. T. Price), who is a fairly tough character when he gets going, as I know to my cost, took great offence because somebody said that something was inapt.
§ Mr. Holt
The hon. Member for Westhoughton appeared to make his apology for the deficits of the Transport Commission by saying that they were, at least, no worse than those of private enterprise. That seems to me to be a rather inadequate defence of nationalisation, which, we were told, would put everything right. However, I do not wish to get drawn too much in that direction, because I might get out of order, although there has been considerable discussion about it from other hon. Members.
This debate has taken much the same form as previous debates on Private Bills of the Transport Commission have taken in recent years. Indeed, many of the faces attending this debate are very much the same. One of the difficulties in previous years has been to discuss the kind of things that arise in a Bill of this type, as, for instance, the Tilbury-Gravesend Ferry, or, in Clause 23, the Strood Dock, against a comprehensive background of policy. Some of us, whilst admitting that problems were raised for individual passengers or people who use parts of the Commission's activities by the closing down of some of them, have pressed the House to recognise that it was absurd for us to expect the Commission to make both ends meet and yet still carry on these uneconomic activities.
Like my colleagues in the Liberal Party, I have always been one of those who wish to get economic sense into the activities of the Commission. We have never denied that there were, and would be, perhaps for many a long day yet, some activities which it was in the public interest to carry on even though they would still be uneconomic. It is largely 603 a question of dividing these into clear categories and then examining the case for, say, the ferry or the dock against that background. Before I get on to that, however, I would like an assurance from the Minister that he will deal widely and thoroughly with the question of the Tilbury-Gravesend Ferry.
§ Mr. Hay indicated assent.
§ Mr. Holt
One of the things that slightly alarms me about this is that I have a note which indicates that since the Bill was presented, the promoters have decided not to proceed with so much of the proposals in the Bill as would relieve them of their legal obligation to provide a passenger ferry service. There is now a difference between the way in which they intend to treat the vehicular ferry service and the passenger ferry service. If, even when the new tunnel is open, there will still be a demand for a passenger ferry service, we ought to see how it will be provided. If, however, it cannot be provided economically we must be very careful before we put any pressure upon the Commission to continue to provide it.
I would also ask the Minister whether he will be giving any assurance to his hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. J. Wells) on the question of Strood Dock. Surely it cannot be true that the Commission is proposing just to close this down and is not prepared to offer it to anyone else who might be prepared to run it for the general good of those who wish to use it?
I hope, too, that when the Joint Parliamentary Secretary replies he will be able to give us some background to how he views these problems of the various uneconomic services, some of which are being dealt with in this Bill, and to the closing down of which there is some resistance. It seems to me that we can arrive at a reasonable and logical position if the Commission's services are divided into three categories: firstly, those which really can be made economic; secondly, those which are marginally uneconomic but which are still necessary to the public and whose closing down would cause the very greatest inconvenience for many people; and, thirdly, those which are really quite uneconomic and for whose continuance 604 really no case can be made out. The latter category is quite simple. It is the middle one which is the difficult one.
I hope that when the hon. Gentleman takes these matters into consideration he will also give attention again, as I believe he has already given attention to it, to a Motion which my hon. Friends and I put down some while ago in which we drew attention to our objections to Government policy and in which we set out how we would go about putting it right. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will give a very full reply to the very interesting points which have been raised by other hon. Members besides myself, particularly on those two matters.
§ 8.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Leslie Spriggs (St. Helens)
I am surprised at the rather parochial outlook with which hon. Members on the other side of the House have viewed the British Transport Commissions' proposal to close the Strood Dock. It is not long ago that the Minister, speaking from the Government Front Bench, said—as, indeed, the Prime Minister later said—that he would expect the co-operation of everyone concerned to help to bring about the speedy closing of railway lines which are uneconomic. If that is the Government's policy, and apparently it is, it is rather unfair of hon. Members on the benches opposite to oppose Government policy because something is happening in their constituencies which is very unpopular among the public.
In considering Clause 23 and, in particular, subsection (2), it is very interesting to a railwayman who has known redundancy, and has been offered a job hundreds of miles away from home, without expenses, and living on a single wage, to note the way in which compensation is proposed to be paid to private people who lose private facilities. What I want the House to consider is that when rail-waymen lose their jobs they should be offered alternative work within reasonable distance of their homes, and that the Commission should be told so by Parliament. Moreover, services should be provided for the workers between their homes and their new jobs. Where, at any time of day or night, services are not available to take redundant workers to their new jobs, other jobs, where there are better transport facilities, should be offered.
605 My next point concerns Clause 37 (2), which deals principally with the closing of the Tilbury-Gravesend Ferry. If we are prepared to deal with constituents in general and those who would require the car ferry, I think that hon. Members should consider what is to happen to redundant staff. Nothing in the Bill says what the Commission is prepared to do by way of finding alternative work. Before I give my support to the Bill, I want to hear from the Minister what the Commission proposes to do for the staffs who will be concerned in all the proposed closures. I believe that, on principle, we should consider, first and foremost, the people who run the industry.
Clause 33 (2) deals with the development of lands at Euston. I am rather disturbed at the wording of the subsection:The Commission shall have power to construct and fit up on over or under the specified lands buildings and works of any description for the purpose of letting or otherwise disposing of the same or any part or parts thereof and in connection with the occupancy of any such buildings or works …I believe that if we are honest in our criticisms of the Transport Commission, when studying its financial report and knowing something of land values and the rackets that are operating in London, it is about time that we gave the Commission a warning that valuable assets should be developed. I would have thought that the development of any assets to raise finance would have been in line with what the Minister of Transport has been saying since I entered the House.
There has been a growing deficit year by year, yet the Commission and those responsible for the drafting of the Bill, and whoever was behind the scenes prompting it, put this Clause in so that the Commission would be empowered to sell valuable assets. They must share the responsibility for what is in the Bill. I hope that when the Minister replies to the debate he will remember what has been said about the closing down of docks, the ferry, and the reasons that have been put forward from the benches opposite. I can assure the Minister that I have taken a note of what has been said and that if hon. Members opposite are prepared to use the arguments which have been used over the past few years, with the intention of destroying the 606 prestige of public ownership, I shall not forget to remind him of what they have said.
§ 9.5 p.m.
§ Mr. William Small (Glasgow, Scotstoun)
I should like some clarification of Clause 31 which deals with the compulsory purchase of lands and easements, and I am also concerned with the provision for arbitration in Clause 47. It would appear from Clause 47 that though parties to an arbitration usually prefer that there should be three members of an arbitration court, where the parties fail to agree to the appointment of a single arbitrator—as provided in the Bill—either party can apply to the president of the Institution of Civil Engineers to appoint a single arbitrator.
It appears, therefore, that both contestants would be required to agree to the same individual, but at the end of the day a heavy onus would be placed on the president of the Institution of Civil Engineers in making a single appointment. Current thought in relation to arbitration cases is that there should be three arbitrators if all the parties are to be satisfied.
§ 9.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Wedgwood Benn (Bristol, South-East)
As I am the only hon. Member to rise, perhaps I may assume, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that your eye is pointing in my direction. Perhaps that may even be written in as one of your Rulings if you have not already given it.
I should like to say a few words about those aspects of the Bill which have not been discussed. It is a very big and important Bill, and only a very few points in it have been sufficiently controversial for hon. Members to rise to speak about them. What we are doing tonight is, in a sense, reviewing the work of the British Transport Commission, much of it connected with the modernisation programme which it wants to get through in the next month or two or year or two. It would be wrong that we should pass the Bill on Second Reading without paying tribute to the Commission for the progress of its modernisation plan. Some of it causes temporary inconvenience as lines are re-adapted and bridges rebuilt, but there is no question at all that it brings great benefit to the country as a whole. As the roads get 607 more congested and as the modernisation programme progresses, it may well be, and we hope that it will be, that traffic from the roads, both passenger and goods, will return for comfort and speed to the railways.
Most of the points made in the debate inevitably have been constituency points. It is quite appropriate that it should be so. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport will no doubt deal with many of them. I do not want to take them up individually, except to relate them to what seems to me to be some of the general problems which the railways have to face at the moment.
As I listened to hon. Members opposite and heard them appeal for the preservation of a beautiful canal or of a dock which has great associations with their own constituencies, I wondered how all this fitted in with the rigid demands which we are always having from the other side of the House that the British Transport Commission should be run on a strictly commercial basis. Hon. Members opposite cannot have it both ways. They cannot expect the Commission to operate as a purveyor of amenities to the British public and then hit it time and again because it is not being a financial success.
§ Mr. Grant-Ferris
We do not want that. We want the Commission to give way to a body much better fitted to do this work.
§ Mr. Benn
I will come back to the waterways in a minute. But here is an example of where the Commission is doing it with money which is coming within the general deficit. I am not saying that this is wrong. I am only saying that it does not fit in with the general argument that we have often received from the other side of the House.
Before I come to some of the applications of these detailed points, I want 608 to make one or two general points. First, I really wonder how far this procedure of proceeding by Private Bill every year is really necessary. It goes back to the days when all railway advances were made by Private Bill. But surely the British Transport Commission should be given as much authority as a local authority has to acquire land and make changes in its undertakings without having to come back to this House for legislation?
Obviously we want to preserve the public right of criticism and comment, but let us compare this procedure with that used by the Minister himself who lays more orders than any other Minister in the House, most of which involve rights of way. I receive all the regulations laid before the House every day at home; 75 per cent. come from the hon. Gentleman's own Department and they offer the right of prayer against them. I do not see why the Transport Commission should be required to legislate always on some things which are really part of its day-to-day administration, so long as the rights of the public are preserved.
The other question raised by this debate is that of accountability, to which I will return in another context. It is important that there should be an airing of views tonight on the relationship between a Member of Parliament and his constituents and the British Transport Commission. I hope very much that we can have some general broadening of accountability in this regard. I was extremely disappointed by the Minister's reply today at Question Time, when he seemed to limit himself strictly to the traditional approach to accountability.
I believe I am speaking for many other hon. Members on this side of the House as well as for myself when I say that we are heartily sick of the Transport Commission being used as a political football, so that whenever a train is late there are cheers from the other side of the House. One reason why we want a greater degree of accountability is because we believe that if the Minister's reputation were a little more involved in making the British Transport Commission a success, we should get away from this hideous business which in my opinion has been going on far too long. However, we shall have other opportunities to come back to that.
609 Now I come to the effect on railway administration of the Government's statement, made by the Prime Minister ten days ago. I am relating this strictly to the administration of the railways. It would be quite out of order today to speak about the economic problems of the British Transport Commission, and I do not propose to address a word to that question. It would also be out of order to talk about the Guillebaud Report. But it is perfectly in order to discuss the rôle and function of the planning board which is to be set up by the Government, and which has been referred to by the Leader of the Liberal Party and other speakers. The intervention of a planning board over the administration of the railways seems to me to be a highly unsatisfactory procedure.
First, we do not know when the board will start work, we do not know who will compose it, we do not know what it will do, we do not know to whom it will report, we do not know whether it is advisory to the Commission or to the Minister. We do not know whether it is accountable to Parliament. If we understand, as we do today, that an important decision like, for example, the decision over the Victoria Line tube is now to be taken to the planning board and to be postponed until that board has reached a decision, an entirely new principle of Parliamentary accountability is being introduced, namely, that there should be a committee appointed outside Parliament by the Minister which will evidently have power over the British Transport Commission.
I must say frankly that I agree with what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, East (Mr. McLeavy), and by many other speakers, that the Commission is being put in an impossible position by the imposition of an outside planning board with no definition of its responsibilities, and being told by that planning board how the railways are to be administered. The 1953 Act, which provided a measure of decentralisation, has been implemented. There has been a considerable amount of regional decentralisation since the Act came into operation, and there is no question about it that it is going well. At the same time, there are great benefits from some centralisation in railway administration. I give two examples which come obviously to mind.
610 The central design and ordering of rolling stock by the Commission has been organised on a much more economical basis, because the number of different designs and engines has been reduced and there has been great saving to the Commission as a result.
Secondly, the benefit of centralised control and organisation by the Commission may be seen in centralised wagon control. I believe I am right in saying that there are still too many wagons which are not being used as effectively as they might be, and the Commission is conscious of this. Unless there is centralised wagon control, and the Commission prevents every region from keeping its own private strategic reserve of wagons, it is impossible to get a higher productivity from the wagons. Any attempt by the planning board to reorganise the administration of the railways which gets away from central design and ordering of locomotives and central wagon control would lead to great inefficiency of administration.
We come now to the question of regional accountancy. For some reason, the Minister and Members opposite have become bemused by the idea that it would be much better if every region had its own accountancy system. I am not referring here to freight rates or wages or anything of that kind, but asking whether it is seriously believed that anything would be gained from attempting to impose a regional accountancy system.
A load may start on a branch line in one region where it is very expensive to load and deliver. It may then go to marshalling in another, which may cost more money again, and then go through a part of the line of another region where, because of a much higher productivity, as it were, the costs are very much reduced. It may then come to be unloaded in a third region where terminal charges are very high.
What sense is there in dividing that operation up for costing and describing it as regional accountancy? This aspect of Government policy makes no sense. As anyone who bothers to look it up will find out, before the war the accountancy of the private companies was purely notional. I believe that 75 per cent. of all railways receipts were pooled then, and 611 the only reason that a notional balance sheet was published—it did not reflect true accountancy divisions but the share of the pooled receipts which came to each company—was in order to provide some sort of basis for dividend payment.
I am speaking now purely on this question of railway administration. I believe Government policy is absolutely false in its conception and will lead not only to no economies but to less efficient rather than more efficient administration. I also support strongly what the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) said when he commented that to impose this planning board on the Commission was technically unsound.
If the Minister—who is occupying a somewhat detached relationship to this debate in sitting at the end of the Front Bench—thinks that there should be a reorganisation of the Transport Commission, he should either compel Sir Brian Robertson to carry out that reorganisation or dismiss him and put somebody else in who will reorganise the Commission and, if the Commission disappears, go with it.
Frankly, after all these months and years of uncertainty, to come along and say that there has to be another re-examination of railway management is an extremely unsatisfactory solution. Indeed, I wondered whether there was any significance in the fact that it was not announced by the Minister himself but by the Prime Minister, which suggested that the idea may have been produced strictly outside the Ministry itself. What are required at the moment from the Government and the Minister of Transport are certain clear decisions, and there is no reason why those decisions should not be given. I want to give examples of at least three or four of them which stem entirely from the Bill.
Let us take first the whole question of branch lines. We have an example in the Bill of the closing of Quainton Road Station. This is rather an unusual provision, because most stations and branch lines do not require legislation to be closed. They are closed after the Transport Users' Consultative Committee has considered them and a report and recommendations have been made.
612 We want a clear decision from the Government as to the policy to be pursued about branch lines. The hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Holt) is quite right to say that where there is difficulty is where a branch line is neither profitable nor absolutely hopelessly unprofitable but where there is a middle position and where, with a little Government help, the line could be made profitable. I see no reason at all why the Commission itself should subsidise lines which are uneconomic.
If those lines are to be kept open and should be kept open for non-economic reasons, if there is a strategic, amenity, educational, or some other reason why those branch lines should be kept open, it is quite unfair to expect the Commission to bear responsibility, particularly if at the end, when the Commission is bearing that responsibility, it is accused of failing to observe strictly commercial principles. What we want from the Government is a clear statement of policy about those branch lines, which we fully recognise to be part of the public service, but which at the moment it is not possible to operate on a perfectly ordinary commercial basis.
The next point which stems straight from the Bill is the question of the development of sites, and the example given in the Bill is, of course, that of Euston Station. Here, again, we have the possibility that the Doric Arch at Euston Station may have to be removed. I think it is a hideous arch. I was rather expecting some hon. Member to say that it was part of our national heritage and that it was part of the duty of the Commission to provide for the benefit of overseas tourists an arch at Euston which could be typified as part of our way of life and catalogued in the British Travel and Holidays Board's brochure. I can only say that I am relieved that Chat has not been the case and that we are not told that the Commission also has the duty of maintaining ancient monuments.
Clearly, the Commission's duty at Euston is to get an efficient station. I gather that under the old L.M.S. powers it was in order for the old railway company to develop sites, including Euston, for other than strictly railway purposes, but under the 1947 Act, introduced by my right hon. Friends, those powers of site development were removed. Frankly, 613 we believe that the time has now come when they should be restored.
There may be two reasons for restoring those rights. One is that if the Commission can make a profit on valuable city sites, that profit should be made. If the Commission is forced to see its land, then that is in the character of a forced sale and the speculators who want to buy the land will benefit very greatly from the operation of the existing statutory provisions. It seems to me that it is to the great advantage of the taxpayer, who would otherwise have to provide money to meet a deficit, and to the great advantage of the Commission that the Commission should be allowed to develop those sites which it needs for a profitable purpose.
However, I am not so much concerned only with that aspect, although I think that the case is made out entirely. I am also concerned that those railway sites should be developed for transport purposes, because in practice we should benefit enormously if existing railway stations were redeveloped primarily to give greater transport use. One of the things which one notices very much about the London termini—and this applies to other large stations—is how bad are the arrangements for handling goods and passengers compared with those at London Airport and similar places. That is nobody's fault. "It is because they are old stations, but they cannot be redeveloped to provide for the modern handling of goods and passengers unless in that process something else is clone which makes the re-development profitable. One could not otherwise justify great expenditure purely for the convenience of passengers and goods.
We hear a lot about the necessity to develop off-street car parks. That is right, but they should be developed on railway sites as part of the redevelopment of our railway stations. If we want people to make use of the railways, we must provide them with car parking facilities so that they can go to the station, leave their cars in the car park, and use the railways. If we do not provide car parks near railway stations people will not go by train. They will make their journeys by other means.
Similarly, if we are to attract people to London and get them to use public transport, we must see that there is a 614 proper rebuilding of many London main line stations so that they join up with the underground system. I do not know whether the Minister has travelled in this way, but when one goes to a main line terminus one sees streams of people criss-crossing and jostling in an endeavour to get from a main line station to an underground station and one realises why people would rather go by car, which is more expensive, than put up with this intolerable inconvenience. We want better standards for passengers. We cannot get that unless we redevelop London's main line stations.
§ Mr. Benn
That is a good example. It is ridiculous not to redevelop our stations to take into account future transport developments.
Inter-city helicopter services are not very far away. They may be only ten or fifteen years away. If they are less, so much the better. These new stations will probably last fifty or sixty years, and it is ridiculous not to try to develop heliports on top of railway stations in the middle of our cities. That is the sort of thinking that we want and this is all part of site development policy.
My hon. Friend the Member for Thur-rock (Mr. Delargy) raised the question of the Tilbury-Gravesend Ferry in relation to the Dartford-Purfleet Tunnel. The British Transport Commission has said that as there is to be a tunnel it need not run the ferry. That is reasonable. It does not want to be left holding the baby as it has been in the past with all the best traffic creamed off in the tunnel and then have to listen to hon. Members opposite saying that as ferry boats are one of our greatest national assets they must be kept on because of their attraction for school children in the summer.
Somebody ought to be thinking about the future development of traffic in this country. Somebody ought to be thinking that even when the tunnel is completed the build-up of new cars will be so great that my hon. Friend's constituents will find that they cannot get through the tunnel because of traffic blockages and they will wish that the ferry was still there.
615 Nobody in this country, certainly the Minister with his bright ideas, and I am a great admirer of him, as he is of himself, has done anything, as far as I can see, to project the transport requirements of this country as a whole further forward into the future.
We do not want another re-examination of railway management. What we want is somebody, or a group of people, appointed by the Minister to sit down and re-examine the transport needs of this country over the next fifteen years. For example, the modernisation plan produced by the British Transport Commission was produced without regard to the building of motorways. It was not the British Transport Commission's responsibility to consider the effect of motorways on its plan, but the motorways have an effect on its plan because they are built between big cities and tend to attract traffic on to the road. That affects railway traffic.
Similarly, if we are to have helicopters and vertical take-off aircraft, we want somebody to work out what effect that will have on inter-city travel. If there were a helicopter service between here and Bristol, I would rather use that service than go by train or by road. Somebody ought to calculate what effect such services would have.
We read about the pipelines which will be built by the oil companies and others. It is possible even to move coal by pipeline. Who is sitting down and working out where the pipelines should go, how much traffic they should carry, and what effect they will have on the British Transport Commission? Or have we to wait until the end and then be told that this is something which has happened, and the British Transport Commission is criticised for not thinking forward? Let us take the question of congestion in the cities. It may be that the only answer is a fleet of cheap taxis to carry people about.
Who is doing all this thinking? I would like to see it done by the Minister. I believe it is his job to think ahead about the total transport needs of the country and, when he has worked out plans, to try to relate it to the different branches of transport. The United States 616 has recently invested 200,000 dollars in exactly this sort of survey of future requirements.
§ Mr. Speaker
. I am in an astonishingly indulgent mood, but I find it difficult to relate United States surveys to the British Transport Commission Bill.
§ Mr. Benn
I did not know whether I was in order, Mr. Speaker, or whether you were interested. I was hoping that both were the case. At any rate, I have come to my last few sentences and hope my peroration will not be out of order.
This Government face transport problems greater than those faced by any Government in the past. Most of them are predictable, if only someone will think ahead about them. We have recently had a new Minister. We have admired, encouraged and supported him, but we have had nothing but delay on some of the basic decisions. Today, we have been told that the Victoria Line tube, which has been referred to many committees, is to be delayed again by the planning authority. We are told that the acquisition of sites is to be delayed, and the whole question of branch lines is also to be delayed. This Government will be judged, rightly, not by the bright ideas flowing from the right hon. Gentleman's Department, but by the forward-thinking and action that it takes. We believe that there must very soon be a clear Government statement about all this, and we shall want to debate it as soon as it is available.
§ 9.32 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. John Hay)
I am sure that the House will agree that the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) has made a very stimulating and interesting contribution to our debate. I was especially pleased to hear him compliment my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport in the terms in which he did. [Laughter.] I speak within the recollection of the House. It was the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East who said that the whole of our transport problem—the most serious problem that we have to face—should be handed to my right hon. Friend to deal with. I commend that suggestion to the right hon. Member the Leader of the Opposition, who is in a 617 somewhat less semi-detached position on the Front Bench opposite than my right hon. Friend has been.
The subject of the debate is the British Transport Commission Bill, and I would like to refer to the many points which have been raised by hon. Members before coming to some of the wider issues raised by the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East. The first issue brought to our notice was the question of the Tilbury-Gravesend Ferry. This was mentioned by the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Delargy), supported later by the hon. Member for Bradford, East (Mr. McLeavy) and my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. J. Wells).
It is important to understand exactly what the present state of play is in regard to this proposition. Clause 37 and the Seventh Schedule to the Bill give the Commission power to be relieved of its legal obligations to operate ferry ser-vies between Tilbury and Gravesend as from the opening of traffic in the Dart-ford-Purfleet Tunnel, which is now about to be constructed. At the moment, the Commission operates both a vehicular and passenger ferry service between those two points, as successor to one of the old railway companies.
I am told that, in law, three separate ferries are now operated by the Commission. The first is a statutory ferry, or a steam communication, which is authorised by the London, Tilbury and Southend Extension Railway Act of 1852; the second a franchise ferry from Gravesend to Tilbury, known as the northbound ferry, which the Commission now owns in fee simple and which has its origin in the Middle Ages, when it was originally provided for pilgrims to the shrine of St. Thomas a Becket, of Canterbury, and the third ferry is again a franchise ferry, but leased from the Crown Estates Commissioners.
It is interesting to note the origin of this ferry. At one time, in the sixteenth, or it may be the seventeenth century, the Officer Commanding Tilbury Fort found that his pay was in arrears. He compounded his pay with the War Office and obtained, in return, the right to run this ferry. In the course of time the right became vested in the Board of Ordnance and eventually in the Crown. This is the southbound ferry. The Commission now leases it, for a period which will 618 expire in 1980, from the Commissioners of Crown Lands.
The difficulty about these three ferries, as any hon. Gentleman who has studied this fascinating subject of ferries knows, is that the powers to run a statutory ferry are usually permissive but each of these franchise ferries carries with it an obligation at common law to provide a service. Therefore, the Bill proposes, in Clause 37 (2), that as from the time when the Dartford-Purfleet vehicle ferry is opened the northbound franchise ferry run by the Commission, the one which it owns, should be extinguished. At the same time, its lease on the southbound ferry would equally be determined. The effect would be that the Commission's legal obligations would be completely removed, leaving it only with permissive powers under the Act of 1852 which I have mentioned.
As I think the House knows, the present services are a passenger ferry between Tilbury and Gravesend and the combined passenger and vehicular ferry between the same two points. These services are operated with five vessels built at different dates between 1901 and 1927. The age and condition of these vessels is now such that they have obviously to be replaced before long if they do not come to a full stop. Therefore, with the Dartford-Purfleet Tunnel coming along very soon, this appears to the Commission an opportune moment to take the necessary statutory steps.
The Commission recognises that there will be a continuing need for a passenger service. It assures me that it has placed an order for three marine diesel passenger vessels in replacement of the steam "puffers" which are used now. Those vessels will be delivered some time this summer. When the Bill becomes law the Commission will be in a position to terminate its legal obligations, but it does not have the intention of withdrawing the passenger ferry. It will not withdraw either the vehicle or passenger ferry service without first submitting its proposals to the transport users' consultative committees.
As was said by the hon. Member for Thurrock, there has been a good deal of local opposition to this proposal and I think it important to realise that the Commission has been quite forthcoming in trying to meet this opposition. The 619 Commission has told me that it intends, during the Committee stage proceedings on the Bill, to propose Amendments which will make it clear that the Clause is not intended to relieve the Commission of any of its obligations with regard to the passenger service.
As I understand it, the effect would be that the Commission would no longer have an obligation to run a vehicle service for which the tunnel would be provided, but it would continue to have the legal obligations to run a passenger service. Some hon. Members have said that this is a somewhat premature proposal and that the Commission ought to have waited until the tunnel was opened before coming to the House to seek these powers. I think it only right to point out that the Commission do not wish to incur the very heavy expenses involved in the replacement or renewal of the existing vehicle ferries. It is replacing the passenger ferries, but does not want to spend a lot of money on replacing the vehicle ferries.
From the traffic surveys which the Commission has taken, and from the additional information which we at the Ministry of Transport have been able to provide there is no doubt that once the tunnel is opened almost all, if not the whole, of the vehicle traffic at present using the ferry will go through the tunnel. If that be the case, I am sure that the House would not wish that the Commission should continue to be under an obligation to provide this expensive vehicle ferry.
§ Mr. Delargy
Is the Minister satisfied that to leave the matter to the discretion of the Commission and the transport users' consultative committee is a better expedient than leaving it to the Minister?
§ Mr. Hay
That may well be a matter for the Committee on the Bill. I do not think that there is any precedent of a case like this in which my right hon. Friend has obtained from Parliament some reserve of power in respect of ferries of this kind.
If Parliament relieves the Commission of the parts of its legal obligation to provide the ferry which I have mentioned, the Commission intends to go to the transport users' consultative committee in the normal way. I remind hon. 620 Members that this committee machinery was established under the Transport Act, 1947, and that, on the whole, it works well, although some people may not necessarily agree with me if they have suffered from the removal of a service which they held dear. I do not think that my right hon. Friend would be wise, at this stage, to offer to undertake to be the final filter on this proposition, but no doubt those of our colleagues who sit in Committee on the Bill will take note of what has been said in the debate.
Much of the debate has turned on the exciting and interesting subject of canals and inland waterways. This is the second debate which we have had on this subject in recent months. I well remember the debate on Friday, 4th December, 1959. On that occasion I had the pleasure of explaining to the House the Government's reactions to the Report of the Bowes Committee. I also mentioned the setting up of the Parham Committee on the redevelopment of inland waterways and I told the House that we wanted a little more experience from that Committee before we reached final conclusions on what should be done about Britain's canals.
Since then, and in the last month or two, the question of the reorganisation of the Transport Commission has emerged. In the meantime, the Parham Committee is continuing with its work, and some of the first fruits are shown in the Bill, for example in Clause 17, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Merton and Morden (Mr. Atkins) referred; Clause 18, containing provisions about the Kennet waterway; and Clause 19, dealing with the closure of certain disused canals in the Midlands.
I can say nothing more about the canals and inland waterways in general at this stage, because if we are considering the reorganisation of the Transport Commission and its various undertakings, it is inevitable that the canals and waterways will have to be considered, as well as other branches of the Commission's affairs. In our consideration we will certainly bear in mind the various points which have been made by hon. Members tonight and which were made at greater length on a more general basis in December.
621 My hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Sir A. Hurd) and the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) asked me about the Kennet waterway. Clause 18 extends for three years, until the end of 1963, the interim period which is fixed by Part III of the British Transport Commission Act, 1956. That provision limits the obligation upon the British Transport Commission to maintain the canal in its 1956 condition and further says that any proceedings which might otherwise be brought against the Commission for failure in its statutory duty should be prevented.
Clause 18 is intended to give the Commission time to prepare a redevelopment scheme in conjunction with observations which the Parham Committee may well make; and I understand that the Parham Committee intends to put forward some suggestions for a redevelopment scheme for the Kennet waterway. In that event, the Commission must be given a breathing space, and that means that the statutory provision must be extended for a further period to enable all that to be investigated and, if need be, implemented. That is the purpose of Clause 18. It is a matter for the Committee upstairs to consider, and I have no doubt that the Commission will take very careful note of the various points which have been made in the debate by the right hon. Member for South Shields and my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury.
May I now come to the subject of the Oxford Canal. This is a canal which I know very well, because it forms one of the boundaries of my constituency. I think that the House now appreciates that Clause 22 has the effect of authorising the Commission to extract surplus water from the Oxford Canal which it owns and to make use of it for railway purposes at its Banbury locomotive depot, and also for the water troughs on the railway south of Banbury. This supply to the troughs, in particular, has been taken for a good many years past.
At the moment, the locomotive depot is supplied by the Banbury Corporation, as local water undertaker, but the Commission believes that it could make a considerable financial saving if, in future, it could take a supply of water from its own canal. The Banbury Corporation, however, has disputed the 622 Commission's power to use water from the canal for this purpose, and, therefore, the Bill proposes to put this matter beyond doubt by giving the Commission the power to extract the water.
My hon. Friend the Member for Nantwich (Mr. Grant-Ferris) and other of my hon. Friends have raised the question whether or not there should be some check upon the amount of water to be extracted from this canal. I understand that my hon. Friend will later seek your permission, Mr. Speaker, to move an Instruction to the Committee on the Bill. He has been kind enough to tell me its terms. It is, I understand, a slight modification of the Instruction which is now on the Order Paper. As far as my right hon. Friend is concerned—and I have looked at the suggested form of words very carefully —he would see no great difficulty about it.
As I understand my hon. Friend's suggestion, it is that the amount of water extracted, or an equivalent amount, should be replaced by the Commission into the pounds which he mentioned. I think that it would be impossible for an arrangement to be made whereby the same water that was extracted from the canal to be used by the Commission should go back into the pounds. This may sound highly technical, but I assure the House that this is a problem, because the water will not be used simply for cooling or for some industrial process as a result of which it can go back without alteration. It will be used for steam generation and all sorts of other purposes, and the only obligation which we could put upon the Commission would be to put back into the canal an equivalent quantity to the amount of water which it took out.
The Commission is perfectly clear that it is willing to enter into any undertakings and to have any safeguards written into the Bill to ensure that the volume of water in the canal will not be so substantially reduced as to make the sort of navigation which is at present carried on there impossible. I hope that with that assurance, which the Commission has authorised me to make, my hon. Friend, possibly with his Instruction, will feel satisfied.
May I next come to the major point which was raised by the hon. Members for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond). 623 for Bradford, East and for Bristol, South-East. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland raised two major points. He wanted to know, first, what was the position of the planning board to which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister referred in his statement to the House on 10th March. The second point that the hon. Gentleman raised was the question of disposal of British Railways' property. I should like to refer the House to the words that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister used, because I think that there has been, not only inside the House but certainly outside as well, some misunderstanding as to what exactly was in my right hon. Friend's mind in referring to a planning board.
If hon. Members will look at the OFFICIAL REPORT for 10th March, they will see that my right hon. Friend laid down three major principles which henceforward will have to guide us in our ideas about the British Transport Commission. First, he said:… the industry must be of a size and pattern suited to modern conditions and prospects. Secondly, the public must accept the need for…certain changes. Thirdly, he said:… the Commission must accept a radical alteration of its structure, so as to secure a more effective distribution of functions and a better use of all its assets.He went on, to clear up the doubt in the minds of hon. Members opposite about what this means, and said:Measures of reorganisation should include decentralisation of management so that individual undertakings, including the regions of the British Railways, should as far as practicable, be made fully self-accounting and responsible for the management of their own affairs.These are the important words:The detailed application of these principles to all the Commission's undertakings is a matter of urgency and will be worked out by a special planning board. Legislation, as well as administrative action, will certainly be required. This planning board will be appointed by the Government and will report both to the Government and to the Commission.Then he said:Meanwhile, the Commission is securing expert advice on the question of regional accounting for the railways."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th March, 1960; Vol. 619, c. 643–4.]If one looks at that statement carefully, one sees that the planning board is to be set up to give us, the Government, 624 advice on the detailed way in which the principles enunciated by my right hon. Friend should be carried into effect. It may be that some of these principles can be carried into effect without legislation, in which case the planning board will say so. It may be that some of them will require legislation. Again, we shall be advised.
The board will report to the Government and to the British Transport Commission jointly. It will not be some kind of supernumerary body wedged in between the Minister of Transport and the Transport Commission to run the railways. That is important. It is not the intention that the planning board shall run or administer the railways. It is to be a purely advisory body to suggest to us the answers to some of the points which the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East raised, about what sort of size, shape and pattern of railways we need in this country, what are the future prospects for traffic, and so on. On all these matters we need detailed expert advice.
The Government will be represented. The Transport Commission will be represented, because it is in possession of a great deal of the information. We want also to have on the planning board a number of people with great experience of large industrial undertakings in private hands. That, briefly, is the story about the planning board.
§ Mr. Benn
I must say, having listened to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, that I wish that he had been allowed to make the statement on 10th March instead of the Prime Minister. What he has said is a very important announcement. If this planning board is to consider the future development of traffic as a whole in this country, including, as I think he said, all the points I mentioned, it puts a very different aspect on the matter. I should be very grateful if the hon. Gentleman would amplify what he has said.
§ Mr. Hay
I shall not amplify it further. I think that I have said enough to make the matter perfectly clear.
These things are all within the ambit of the planning board. It will be able to advise us on the whole problem facing us with regard to the Transport Commission. It may well be that the board 625 will wish to advise us on traffic flows and matters of that kind. Perhaps it will not. Nothing is barred. Although the final terms of reference are in process of being worked out, and the detailed composition of the board is at present under discussion, I think that the Opposition will find, when the names and details are announced, that we have not done anything tremendously different from what the hon. Gentleman was suggesting.
§ Mr. Hay
I think that the hon. Gentleman had better wait until the planning board starts its work.
One detail which the board will have under consideration is the possible disposal of British Railways property, to which the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland and the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East referred. In the Transport Act, 1947, Section 2 (2), there are words which prevent the Transport Commission from developing property which it owns for anything other than purely transport purposes. This is not our fault on this side of the House. I was not here in those days, but as far as I know we never put this provision in. I do not say where the blame lies. Let us say that a mistake may have been made in the past. But possible legislative change in this matter is something which the planning board certainly may look at and advise us upon.
§ Mr. Grimond
Is it not true that, although this may be the fault of the Government ten years ago, the Transport Commission has asked to be relieved of that part of the Act? If so, is there any reason why the Government should not do it now?
§ Mr. Hay
That is a difficult question to answer briefly, but, as I understand it, the situation is that the Commission asked comparatively recently for this provision to be lifted so that it would be enabled to carry out general development, and then almost at once the whole of the difficulty—the crisis, I might call it—we have been having in recent months with the railway industry began to come 626 along. The whole thing has gone on together, and now it is clearly a matter for the planning board to consider whether there should be legislation to enable the Commission to redevelop its property, to enable it to make use of its track for pipelines and of its premises for car parks and other things that any normal commercial enterprise would be entitled to do. These are matters which the planning board could consider and advise us upon.
I must come from these lofty heights down to Strood Dock, about which so many hon. Members have spoken. Provision in the Bill authorises the abandonment of this dock. It is important to understand why this is being done. Originally, it was the terminal basin of the Thames and Medway Canal which was filled in under statutory power more than a hundred years ago. The dock was formerly used for coal traffic, and the position today is that it is much too small to accommodate modern colliers. It have been operated by the Commission and its predecessors, I believe, at a loss for a good many years. There is no prospect whatever, with the best will in the world, of making it profitable.
Nevertheless, once again by Statute, the Commission is prevented from closing it and it therefore seeks power in the Bill to close it. If Parliament agrees and the Bill is passed it intends to go to the transport users' consultative committee and put forward the proposal to close it in the normal way. If it is closed, the Commission hopes to dispose of it to a firm of barge owners and warehousemen which will purchase it and take a lease of an adjoining site for the erection of a warehouse. It will not, therefore, be completely lost to commerce.
Time is now inadequate for me to deal with the remaining points made. I hope that what I have said will have helped the House to come to a conclusion about the Bill. I have no doubt that the House will wish to pass it.
§ Mr. Spriggs
Will the hon. Member answer the question that I put to him about the staff that will be made redundant?
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time and committed.
§ 9.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Grant-Ferris
I beg to move,That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the Bill to insert in Clause 22 a maximum figure for abstraction of water from the Oxford Canal by the British Transport Commission, and to ensure that such water be returned to the same pound.I understand that you, Mr. Speaker, are likely to rule that the Instruction must be passed in the form that it is in on the Order Paper, but I should like my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to understand that I clearly appreciate what he meant. He and I have the words "as much as possible" or "an equivalent amount of" in mind, and that is what the Commission is prepared to accept.
§ Question put and agreed to.