HC Deb 01 March 1961 vol 635 cc1651-93

Order for Second Reading read.

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

Mr. Speaker

It might be convenient if I indicated that if and when we get to the Instructions, the Instruction in the name of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) is not selected and the other two are. I say that because it affects the order in the discussion.

7.1 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)

I welcome the Bill. As hon. Members will recall, I spent nineteen years in the Solicitor's Department of the Great Western Railway and one year with the Transport Commission. For part of that time I was in the section that dealt with Bills of this nature. This Bill strikes me as being a model of its kind. It is clear, concise and informative and it follows the practice which such Bills follow of putting the Interpretation Clause at the beginning. It has always seemed to me rather a pity that that was not a general practice in all Bills. In so many Public Bills one has to look right at the end for the Interpretation Clause, or, possibly, various interpretations and definitions are scattered throughout a Bill.

The Bill contains a number of Clauses relating to useful works. I understand that several of my hon. Friends will raise points with regard to Part III of the Bill, which deals with docks and inland waterways. I leave the details to them. I merely say that in view of the proposals in the White Paper on the Reorganisation of the Nationalised Transport Undertakings, Command Paper 1248, to the effect that waterways should vest in a separate inland waterway authority, I hope that nothing in this Bill will prejudice any decisions which that authority might wish to take when eventually it comes into being.

Among the list of useful works, Works Nos. 8, 9 and 10 are, no doubt, of special interest to my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams), whom I see in his place. I do not know quite what their effect will be, but I hope that they will have an effect in connection with flooding. One of the major disturbances caused by the floods at Exeter was not only inconvenience and damage to the City of Exeter but that the Western Region line was interrupted on both sides of Exeter. On several occasions trains had almost to put to sea for quite long distances. The line was surrounded by water and several times it was cut.

In this day and age that sort of thing should not happen to a major railway line. The country West of Exeter is dependent upon it. As yet we have no major motor roads in that direction. If the line is cut it is a serious matter, not only for the people of Exeter but for everybody Westwards, including the whole of Cornwall. I hope that the works referred to in the Bill will help to improve matters in that respect.

My chief criticism, in so far as it is a criticism, of the Bill relates to an omission which is certainly no fault of the Transport Commission. I am aware that the White Paper to which I have alluded envisages great changes in the structure of the Transport Commission which will need legislation. It may be that the same argument which I have indicated in regard to canals and inland waterways applies also to railways in that it would be inappropriate to make any major alterations at this time prior to any legislation which follows the White Paper setting up bodies, in particular the Railways Board, which may have views on what should be done with regard to British Railways.

Nevertheless, the congestion of traffic in London has already reached the stage that we need far more drastic improvements to the underground sections of railway in London than are envisaged in Works Nos. 1 to 7 in the Bill, which do not seem to me to be of a substantial nature.

All those who are familiar with the problems of transport will know that for many years the Commission and. in particular, London Transport have been saying that a major contribution to the relief of congestion of London traffic would be the extension and improvement of the underground lines in London. Mr. Valentine has said this on a number of occasions, as did his predecessors. Certainly that is fairly obvious when one thinks about it. There has been no major construction of underground lines in London for many years. Although there has been extension into the country at either end of some of the lines, the stations in the central area are not capable of carrying much more traffic than they do now because of the length of the platforms. If it were possible to extend the length of the platforms in the central London area, I am told that the London underground railways could carry a great many more passengers than at present and could carry them in greater comfort than in the very congested conditions of the rush hours which, owing to the developments in working hours in London, have been compressed into ever shorter periods.

In that connection, there is one point on which I should like to make a brief observation. I alluded to this matter in a supplementary question this afternoon following a Question by the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) who asked a Question concerning the Victoria line. I asked whether, before deciding whether the Victoria line was suitable, it would be borne in mind that it had social as well as economic reasons such as the social considerations that are taken into account in dealing with roads.

A rather curious position seems to be arising. For a number of years, when dealing with motorways it has been customary to use as an argument the fact that a motorway pays for itself in a very short time by reason of the more even flow and greater speed of the traffic. All sorts of hypothetical savings are made. I first heard this argument used by the Dutch a number of years ago in favour of their motorway from Rotterdam to Utrecht. They worked out a complicated set of figures by which they convinced themselves that the road would pay them very well indeed because, by reason of the steady flow of traffic, drivers on the road would not have to apply their brakes, thereby not wearing out tyres or gears, resulting in a hypothetical financial saving, and that by reason of not having to slow down and accelerate there would be a saving in petrol. A formidable figure was arrived at.

That was the first time I heard that argument and it was some years ago. It is now common currency in this country in connection with our motorways. There is certainly something in the argument. But if we are to use that argument with regard to roads, we must also bear it in mind when we come to questions like the underground railways in London. It is no good using two arguments in opposing directions, to say that a large sum of money is justified in building motorways for social benefits but that an underground railway could not be built because the fares to be collected from passengers on the route would be unlikely to give a return on the capital expenditure.

We should also take into consideration what saving, if any—I agree that it must be established that there would be saving to the Exchequer—there would be in not having to make other improvements to surface roads or off-street parking if a larger proportion of passenger traffic travelled underground.

That is the only criticism I have of the Bill, in that the improvement suggested for underground railways seems to be rather small. Although one does not expect it to be put in this Bill, I hope that the improvements in the London underground system will be considered at an early date and that the social as well as the economic considerations will be borne in mind.

The other feature of the Bill which seems to be notable is the miscellaneous Clauses at the end which seem to me to be perfectly innocuous. That cannot always be said of Bills of this nature. Sometimes major changes are slipped in at the tail end of a Bill in some Clause or other. Perhaps my hon. Friends will have spotted one, but I certainly have not in this Bill and I think that the Bill should commend itself to the House. For that reason I am glad to support it.

7.12 p.m.

Mr. Dudley Williams (Exeter)

I do not propose to take up more than a few minutes of the time of the House, but there is one section of the Bill which causes me some concern. My hon. Friend the Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) referred to the fact that there are certain works in connection with Clause 5 which affect my constituency. I am not so worried as he is, with his great experience of the railways systems of this country, about the effect of these works on the railways running out of Exeter, but I am a little concerned whether these works will in any way increase the risk of flooding in the city which I have the privilege to represent.

I do not think it unfair to say that there has been criticism in the City of Exeter of British Railways and the way with which they have interfered with the flow of the river by building out by St. David's station, which has certainly diverted the river when in flood.

I am surprised that I had no advice from the city's Parliamentary Agents regarding the works to which I am about to refer. If my right hon. Friend will turn to pages 6 and 7 of the Bill, he will notice that at the bottom of page 6, line 40, reference is made to the City and County Borough of Exeter and to Work No. 8, and, on page 7, to Works Nos. 9, 10 and 11. These are fairly substantial works. They are mainly above Cowley Weir, and I think that it is very dangerous indeed for one authority—British Railways—to start interfering with the course of a river like the Exe, or any other river, if, at the same time, there are other authorities charged with the responsibility.

We have had much discussion recently in the House about the activities of the river boards. In the case of the Exe, which has been the scene of serious flooding in the recent past, we are having a survey made by consultant engineers, acting for the Devon River Board, to decide what steps should be taken concerning the Exe to ensure that serious flooding does not occur in the future. It is most undesirable for these works to be constructed by British Railways unless they have the full approval not only of the City Council of Exeter, but also of the Devon River Board. It is, otherwise, quite useless for instructions to be given by the river boards to carry out surveys in order to ensure that people cannot again suffer the distress which has occurred in Exeter in the last six months.

I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to say that these works will not be carried out except with the approval of the Devon River Board and the local authority. Provided that that is done. I find the Bill acceptable.

7.16 p.m.

Mr. Ernest Thornton (Farnworth)

I want to comment briefly on the Clauses dealing with navigation in certain areas. One of the proposed works runs through my constituency, and my constituents are apprehensive about being precluded from using the tow-paths as rights of way, because these are used frequently as short-cuts by people going to and from work. I should like an assurance from the Minister that people will not be precluded from using the tow-paths where the canals are closed to navigation.

7.17 p.m.

The Minister of Transport (Mr. Ernest Marples)

On Second Reading, I propose to deal with the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson), my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams) and the hon. Member for Farnworth (Mr. Thornton). I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Truro for saying that this is a lucid and concise Bill. He is an acknowledged expert in these matters. He has spent a great deal of time with the British Transport Commission and speaks with great knowledge. I think that we ought to congratulate the Commission on trying to make the Bill readable and lucid. which, sometimes, Bills are not, but I am sure that this Bill is, like most of the Bills that emanate from the Ministry of Transport.

There is nothing in the Bill which will prejudice the new management of the inland waterways in any way. In certain details, matters relating to the closure of canals are fixed, but this new body, which will deal solely with waterways, will have its task relatively unimpaired by what is in the Bill. It will be given a flying start to concentrate on its job.

My hon. Friend the Member for Truro mentioned the Exeter flooding. I realise that this is a serious matter, and I will deal with it when I reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter. My hon. Friend the Member for Truro referred to the omission of any reference to the Victoria tube. He then made some comment on the costing of motorways and how much was saved. I agree with my hon. Friend that accountancy is a very curious profession. I say that as an accountant originally and as a chartered accountant still paying my subscription. I believe that many of these calculations depend upon what the person wishes to prove.

Mr. Wilson

Hear, hear.

Mr. Marples

I thank my hon. Friend. It is amazing how far-fetched some of the assumptions can be when people wish to prove a point.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

Like Ministers.

Mr. Marpies

No, not like Ministers—like ex-Ministers.

I suggest that just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder so assumptions are in the heart of the calculator. I agree that some of the assumptions made about savings on the roads are very far-fetched. Those mentioned are reasonable, but there are various degrees of being reasonable. As to the Victoria tube, the Government have been a long time making up their mind, but that must be considered in the context of the modernisation programme of the whole of the British Transport Commission. I promise my hon. Friend that we are not stalling for the sake of stalling. Everything will be borne in mind when we come to make a decision on the Victoria tube, and I hope to make that decision as soon as we possibly can.

I agree that we should extend the length of stations in London because then we should he able to have longer trains and able to carry more people. Quite a number of extension works are going on in Central London and this is a direction in which we could help London transport a great deal. One of the things that greatly exercises my mind is how we are under-using the transport facilities which we already have in an area like London. We do not have a peak hour but sometimes a peak twenty minutes, and everybody complains that the trains are under-utilised at other times of the day.

If we could manage to stagger hours in London we should go far towards making travel much easier and more convenient. I have seen the chairman of the London Travel Committee. We shall have another shot at this problem—a really big drive. I am going with the chairman to see a number of people especially in the Oxford Street area, to find out whether we can spread the load. Everybody wants to go home in the same period of a quarter of an hour. I have been to Oxford Circus, London Bridge and Liverpool Street and seen the trains draw in to crowded platforms. If we could spread things out for another twenty minutes or half an hour we could make travelling in London much more agreeable.

I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter asked whether work being done by the Transport Commission would take into account the view and wishes of Exeter City Council and the Devon River Board. I agree that this is a very important point. The Bill will give it the power, but the Commission has already discussed with the City Council and the River Board the work that it proposes to do, and as those two bodies have not objected, either formally or informally, I presume that the work will have their assent in principle anyway. The Commission has assured me that it will discuss the work in detail as well as in principle.

Mr. Dudley Williams

The important thing, with great respect to my right hon. Friend, is that there should not be any conflict about what should be done between the Transport Commission and other authorities. There have been disputes in the past about work at St. David's Bridge, and I should not like to see that conflict occur again.

Mr. Marples

I will make sure by contacting the Commission myself in the morning that my hon. Friend's view is taken into account. The Commission will certainly discuss in the greatest detail the work that it proposes to do with both the city council and the Devon River Board. I am sorry that the local authority and its Parliamentary agents did not get in touch with my hon. Friend, because he can always be relied upon to look after the interests of his constituents.

The same goes for towpaths, which were mentioned by the hon. Member for Farnworth. The Commission has said that it will look sympathetically at any representations made in, a particular instance, and if the hon. Member has any instance in mind and will send the details to me or to the Commission I will see that it is given consideration. I am among those who find walks on these towpaths most agreeable. Watford, for example, has a nice canal where many people go fishing, and the towpath provides a pleasant walk on a Saturday afternoon. I realise the benefit to be derived by the ordinary person and therefore I will pay great attention to any communication that the hon. Member sends to me.

I think that I have answered all the questions raised by hon. Members in the debate and I hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading.

7.24 p.m.

Mr. James H. Hoy (Edinburgh, Leith)

I was interested in the Minister's explanation in reply to the comments of the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) about what accountants can do with figures. The right hon. Gentleman also tried to prove that ex-Ministers like my distinguished right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) were perhaps more susceptible to using figures to suit their own purposes. But the Minister did exactly that, because it is only a fortnight since he was using in the House to justify expenditure on the M.1 exactly the formula described by the hon. Member for Truro.

It may be that the figures supplied to the Minister proved his point to his own satisfaction, but he cannot have it both ways. He cannot justify expenditure by using those calculations a fortnight ago and then tonight cast doubt on the way the figures were drawn up. I am prepared to accept the Minister's explanation of a fortnight ago and to add that if all this money is saved by making good roads to ensure a free flow of traffic the right hon. Gentleman will have no greater support for that proposition than in Scotland. We shall be delighted if he applies that argument to the building of the new Forth Bridge and allows the traffic to use that road without the payment of tolls.

Mr. Speaker


Mr. G. Wilson

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy) will appreciate—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am having to stop the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy). There would be some difficulty in connecting the Forth Bridge with this Bill and, therefore, if the intervention of the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) is also on that point, the intervention also will be out of order.

Mr. Wilson

I did not intend to relate my remarks to the Forth Bridge. I was about to observe that my comments applied to general principles in making these calculations.

Mr. Hoy

I was saying that the Minister himself used calculations a fortnight ago, perhaps quite rightly, to justify what was spent on the M.1, and that I had no objection if he used that formula in connection with the Forth Bridge. I will take the matter no further except to say that, like hon. Members opposite, we on this side of the House hope that some progress will be made soon and that a decision will be taken about the Victoria tube. If the Minister is able to reach a decision, it will certainly give satisfaction not only to both sides of the House but to the country as a whole.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time and committed.

7.28 p.m.

Mr. Ernest Thornton (Farnworth)

I beg to move, That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the Bill to leave out Clause 45. Clause 45 seeks to relieve the Commission of its legal obligation arising out of the London and North-Western Railway Act, 1861. This obligation was to maintain a passenger station or stopping place with suitable buildings at Worsley, to provide attendance at such station and to stop any train at the station. I accept that it is not unreasonable for the British Transport Commission to seek release sooner or later from this 100-year-old obligation, but at present this arouses in my constituency justifiable fears and apprehensions.

This is particulary so with the Worsley Urban District Council, the authority for an area which is now the most populated part of the constituency of Farnworth which I have the honour to represent. In 1939, the urban district had a population of 26,000. At present, its population is about 40,000, and in 1971, it is estimated it will be about 50,000.

Until a few years ago there were five railway stations in the Worsley Urban District Council area—Walkden High Level, Walkden Low Level, Little Hulton, Ellenbrook and Worsley. This rapidly-growing area now has only two stations, and there appears to be a serious danger that even these will be closed. It is the old story of train services being hacked down to one-third or one-quarter of their pre-war frequency and the inevitable accelerated decline in the number of passengers. I do not argue that in all these cases there was no justification for the action taken, but the train services provided in recent years—only four or five trains per day each way—whilst road traffic congestion was getting worse, did not give the traffic potential a fair opportunity of showing itself.

The closing of Ellenbrook Station is difficult to understand. It is on the same line, and it was closed on 31st December, 1960, just two days prior to the introduction of an efficient and frequent diesel service. I understand that the number of passengers using Worsley station since the introduction of the diesel service on 2nd January has trebled. Would not the same have applied to Ellenbrook Station?

Ellenbrook itself is poorly served by bus, and I want to press the Minister and the British Transport Commission seriously to consider re-opening the station there. I am informed that a few hundred colliers from Hindley, Leigh and Wigan used this station daily, but as their tickets were not booked at Ellen-brook the station receipts did not reflect that traffic.

Every one praises the new diesel service on this line, and the Commission is to be commended for it. The Commission gets more than its share of criticism, much of it unfair. Her Majesty's Government have a large share of the responsibility, because their railway financial policy has made regard for providing adequate public facilities very secondary, indeed, and their dismantling of road-rail co-ordination has had a seriously adverse effect on the railways.

My constituents, including the Worsley U.D.C.. are apprehensive that Worsley Station will go the same way as Ellen-brook, Little Hulton and Walkden Low Level stations. In last week's Farnworth and Worsley Journal, the commendable local newspaper circulating in my constituency, there appeared a very good British Railways advertisement which said: Road congestion! This is your line "— indicating there the railway line; no doubt the one passing through Worsley— Avoid the strain. Travel by train That is excellent publicity, but its readers must find it rather incongruous when they know that steps are being taken, or considered, to close the only two remaining stations in this rapidly-growing area.

A few weeks ago I had a most friendly meeting with representatives of British Railways. They informed me that no decision had been taken to close Worsley Station; that what they wanted was to be able, if the need arose, to deal with Worsley Station through the medium of the Transport Users' Consultative Committee, the procedure used in the case of other stations. In view of the experience in this area my constituents cannot view this procedure with any confidence.

Worsley station provides an opportunity for Manchester commutors. I am sure the Minister will realise that this area is part of one of the really great conurbations. There is an opportunity here to encourage car commutors to become rail commutors, by leaving their vehicles at Worsley station. The blitzed-site car parks charging Is. 6d. a day are rapidly disappearing in Manchester, and the charge at the new Manchester underground car park is Ss. a day. A coordinated publicity campaign on the part of British Railways and the local town council could do much, I am sure, to bring back the railway commutor traffic.

This is a problem affecting not only the Manchester area, but all similar large conurbations. I appeal to the Minister and to the Commission to see that Worsley station is kept open, and to consider reopening Ellenbrook station with this new diesel service line I am sure that the results would be quite gratifying.

7.37 p.m.

Mr. Marples

The House will appreciate the very reasonable way, and the very fair way, in which the hon. Member for Farnworth (Mr. Thornton) has presented his case. There is no doubt that the area is a great conurbation. More people live within a certain mileage of Manchester—I am not quite sure what it is—than in any other part of the country—

Mr. Thornton

Fifty miles.

Mr. Marples

Within 50 miles, yes It has a greater population than any other part of the country, including London. I believe that some of the road improvements being made up there will help the area a great deal—but I must not talk about that, because the subject of this debate is railways.

This is a very curious case. Normally, a station is closed through the consultative committee procedure, but Worsley is in a different category. Worsley station is on the line running between Eccles and Wigan. The land for the railway was acquired from the Duke of Bridgwater's trustees, and the provision of the station was one of the conditions of the sale. That dates back to 1861. The obligations of the railway company in respect of the station—that is to say, both the contractual and the statutory

Obligations passed to the British Transport Commission. The Commission is therefore required, by Statute, to provide the station, with attendants, and to stop trains daily except on Sundays.

It is clear that the facilities in question are provided for the general public, but I think that when the trustees originally imposed this condition, they had in mind that it would be convenient for the trustees. It is doubtful whether the facilities are justifiable economically, and consideration may at any time be given to the possibility of closing the station. That is not possible while these legal obligations remain in force, so Clause 45 proposes to remove this statutory restriction. The majority of stations do not have such a statutory restriction.

Even so, the users of this station at Worsley would still have their normal rights under the procedure of the transport users' consultative committee, and the station would not be closed unless that procedure was followed—as it was followed with Westerham and other stations. All Clause 45 does is to put the Commission in the same position with regard to Worsley that it is in with regard to the great majority of stations where no statutory obligations exist, to make effective use of the consultative committee procedure.

The Commission's view—and, if I may say, mine also—is that this procedure is the appropriate one to deal with proposals for withdrawals of services or facilities by the Commission, and is in accordance with the intention of Parliament as expressed in Section 6 of the Transport Act, 1947. All the Clause does is to place Worsley in just the same position as that of the majority of railway stations, and those using it still have their rights under the procedure passed by this House as recently as 1947.

The hon. Member mentioned the diesel service introduced on 1st January between Manchester and Liverpool, which passes over a section of the line and said there might be an improvement at Worsley. Even though we extinguish these legal obligations, if there is a worth while improvement at this station I am quite certain that the Commission would not close it down—

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

There has already been a great improvement.

Mr. Marples

Yes. The Commission could decide that, and I am sure that the consultative committee would go into the matter carefully. This is an obsolete legal obligation—

Mr. Walter Monslow (Barrow-in-Furness)

Assuming that this legal barrier were removed and the consultative committee agreed that the station should remain open, what power has the Minister in relation to such a recommendation? Is it not a fact that the Government's general policy, expressed by directive, was that uneconomic units must close?

Mr. Marples

No, the Government do not interfere. The Commission has the consultative committee procedure if it wants to close lines, and the Government have given no directive on that side.

My point is that Worsley should be on the same terms and conditions as any other station. I think that it is fair to ask the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) why Worsley should have better conditions —or different conditions—than Old Trafford, Stretford or Trafford Park. The consultative committee should go into this very carefully, and take into account local circumstances and the introduction of diesels. There is no doubt that in some cases the diesel service has been very advantageous for traffics.

Neither the Worsley Urban District Council nor any other authority has petitioned against the Bill, so I think it not unreasonable that the House should accept this Clause. The Bridgwater Estates have not appealed against the Bill, but as they get compensation under subsection (4) of the Clause it would have been surprising if they had objected. I think that the House will agree that it is an anachronism that a station like this should have a statutory restriction of this nature, imposed as long ago as 1861 when the railways acquired the land from the Duke of Bridgwater's trustees. The hon. Member has been so reasonable in presenting his case that I hope he will not press this point.

Mr. Charles Mapp (Oldham, East)

I hope that the House will not take exception to this Clause, but as the Minister is dealing here with anachronistic and out-of-date legislation may I ask him whether in the new Bill to be brought before the House in due course he will deal generally with such limitations of a commercial character?

Mr. Marples

That is an interesting point, and the answer is "Yes". However, I have already looked at some of the things in the new Bill that we are to bring in, and I must say that, from the legal point of view, the Bill is so complex that I am beginning to be terrified of the Committee stage. Unless hon. Members opposite really agreed to help us, it could go on for years—there are so many contentious points in it. But the short answer is that I will consider that point.

Mr. Thornton

In view of the Minister's statement and assurance, I do not propose to press this Motion to a Division. I therefore beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

7.45 p.m.

Mr. Humphrey Atkins (Merton and Morden)

I beg to move, That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the Bill to leave out Clauses 15, 16 and 17, and the Third, Fourth and Fifth Schedules. These Clauses and Schedules all relate to the closing to navigation of certain waterways. and it is to this aspect of the British Transport Commission's policy that my hon. Friends and I object. Ever since the Commission became the owner of a large part of the inland waterway system of this country about fourteen years ago, it has sought year by year to divest itself of responsibility to maintain the waterways open to traffic. Year by year the Commission has come to the House with a Bill seeking our authority to close certain parts of the waterways system. This year, in the Bill now before us, it is asking for authority to close to navigation nine stretches of canal, in all about 32 miles long.

In favour of proposed closures the Transport Commission has always produced some or all of the following arguments. The first is that on the particular waterways there is little or no commercial traffic. The second is that, by maintaining them open to navigation, financial loss is incurred. The third is that the canal in question is either dangerous or a nuisance. The fourth is that the land is required for some other use. Always in the past these arguments have prevailed, and I have no doubt that they will be advanced today in support of the closures here proposed.

My hon. Friends and I believe that there is a powerful consideration which the Commission, being primarily a transport undertaking, never takes properly into account, namely, that there may well be other uses for a canal apart from purely commercial transport Furthermore, these other uses, if properly developed, might solve the financial problem and enable us to preserve our heritage of waterways

Mr. Monslow

Will the hon. Member agree that we shall not be likely to solve the problem unless we have co-ordination of road, rail and canal?

Mr. Atkins

If the hon. Member will forgive me, I think he has missed the point. The Transport Commission always argues that commercial traffic alone is not sufficient in many cases to make a profit on the waterway and. therefore, the waterway has to be closed. What we argue is that there are other uses which, if developed, might help to solve the financial problem, these other uses having nothing whatever to do with transport as such.

I shall not expand on the amenity value of the canals, which cannot be measured in £ s. d., but I should mention that many of them have a very great amenity value. It is my belief that the more we develop this country, the more houses, roads, factories and power stations we build, the more careful we ought to be to preserve the amenities we have. But, as I say, the Transport Commission does not take very much into account these other uses such as water supply, drainage, fishing, boating, and many others.

Of course, the Transport Commission cannot really be expected to pay much attention to the other uses because it is primarily a transport undertaking. This is one reason why my hon. Friends and I, together no doubt with many hon. Members opposite, were so delighted by the proposals of my right hon. Friend in his White Paper Cmnd. 1248 to change the ownership of the canal system. The new body he proposes, the Inland Waterways Authority, will take account of all the other possibilities and will, we sincerely hope, develop all the other uses of canals which have been neglected in the past.

Mr. Mapp

Did not the hon. Member read further in the White Paper and realise that it envisages what he is speaking of but goes on to contemplate that a considerable subsidy would be necessary in connection with waterways operations?

Mr. Atkins

There is a considerable subsidy now being paid. What we hope is that the subsidy will gradually become smaller and eventually be extinguished because the new body will raise more revenue from other sources which the Transport Commission, with its eyes fixed on the transport problem, could not do in the past.

It is because of this change of ownership that we are worried about the proposals in the Bill. No one knows when the new authority will become the owner of the waterways, whether it will be this year, next year, or some later date. I suppose it is a reasonable guess that the Transport Commission will continue to own them for, perhaps, a couple of years The question we ask ourselves is this: is it right that, so shortly before it transfers the waterways system to another body, the Transport Commission should change the nature of its asset?

But for one thing, my answer would be a definite "No". The Commission ought to preserve the system as it is, handing it over intact to the new authority to leave the new authority to decide what it will do. The one contrary fact is that, as I understand it, all the proposals in the Bill have been scrutinised by the Inland Waterways Redevelopment Advisory Committee, a body set up by my right hon. Friend's predecessor which is independent both of him and of the Commission. I think I am right in saying that the Advisory Committee has reported that these proposals are in the best interests not just of the Commission but of the country as a whole. I would very much like my right hon. Friend to say whether this is so.

Even if it is so, the possibility remains that the Inland Waterways Authority might take a view different from that taken by the Transport Commission or that taken by the parent committee. This is where I want my right hon. Friend's guidance. The proposals in the Bill are designed to extinguish the right of navigation over certain waterways. If they are allowed to pass and the Transport Commission or its successors wish to change their minds and restore navigation, can this be done without another Act of Parliament? I appreciate that a right to navigation cannot be given without an Act of Parliament. As things stand at the moment, if I present myself at one of these waterways in a boat and demand to be allowed through, the Transport Commission must let me go along whether it likes it or not. I am not asking for that position to be restored without an Act. Obviously, it could not be.

What I want to know is this. Supposing that the Commission or its successors say, "This was a mistake and we think that navigation along these stretches of waterway should be restored", can they restore it and allow navigation? If they can, then I think a slightly different complexion is put on the problem, and my hon. Friends and I would be helped in making up our minds.

Our argument is that we do not want the British Transport Commission to do anything which will prejudice its successors. If the Commission or its successors can reverse any recent action taken by the Commission, then matters will not be so badly prejudiced, and, perhaps, my hon. Friends and I will be able to withdraw our opposition. On the other hand, if that is not so, then I think we must continue. I hope very much that my right hon. Friend will give us guidance on the point.

7.54 p.m.

Dr. Barnett Stross (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)

I listened with great attention and considerable pleasure to the speech of the hon. Member for Merton and Morden (Mr. Atkins). I realise that the way he worded his Motion for an Instruction was such as to allow it to be selected rather than mine, and I am happy to support him on this occasion. He in his turn, I am sure, is grateful to me for spotting early enough the desirability of making it possible for us to have this debate. Also, I think the Minister will be pleased for he will have noticed what an equable frame of mind we are all in and that we ask from him only something very simple, namely, that the hands of the successors to the British Transport Commission should not be tied. If he cannot confirm that that is so, then I say at once that I should propose to divide the House on the matter.

We had a very interesting debate on 4th December, 1959, on the whole of the very issue we are now discussing. The House was then unanimous in supporting the Report of the Bows Committee and the contents of the Government's White Paper at that time. In the resolution we adopted, the House went on to say: …in view of the continued rapid deterioration of much of the inland waterways system, urges Her Majesty's Government to announce its further decisions as quickly as possible. The Government have announced their further decisions, but at the moment they announce them we are faced with this Private Bill which asks for further closures.

Cmnd. Paper 1248 on the Reorganisation of the Nationalised Transport Undertakings has been read and is well understood by everyone. There is to be a new body set up, and we are told that there is to be some financial support made available as well. By and large, if there has to be change of this kind, it pleases the majority of us. We say "So far, so good". But, when we look at the proposals in the Bill we are now discussing, that nine sections of canal should be closed so that no navigation may be allowed upon them, then we say to ourselves that there is something wrong. Why the hurry? That is our question to the Minister.

The hon. Member for Merton and Morden gave his views about what he felt was in the mind of the British Transport Commission, about how it argued and how it thought. I will put it in another way. The argument seems to run as follows. These canals have been neglected and they were neglected, not by the Commission, long before the Commission inherited them. Therefore, says the Commission, they are not navigable. There are no boats upon them. There is no income. Therefore, say the Commission, they must be abandoned or, as it is called, redeveloped—which means virtually destroyed. All this is to be done at a cost very much higher than that of putting the canals back into full use, health and vigour so as to allow for all the other eight, nine or ten uses apart from the strictly commercial one which the Commission has in mind, uses which will bring new income, amenity, health, sport and joy to our people.

We are not talking about moats and ditches. We are talking about a very remarkable fragment of eighteenth century England. We are talking about a national park which takes up almost no space. Why should we allow it to be spoiled for lack of patience? It seems to us that there is too much impatience. After all, the Birmingham sections which were to be closed by last year's Bill were taken out of that Bill but they have now returned and they are put back again.

The Minister's Advisory Committee has done splendid work, and I know that it has looked at all these matters. It is independent of the Minister. But it is not the only body which has shown an interest in these sections of canal. The enthusiasm which exists among people who have taken new interest in our inland waterways has meant that the most careful, almost yard-by-yard, inspection has taken place.

Before I forget it, I wonder whether the Minister can tell me if one fragment of information given to me is correct, namely, that although between 2 million and 3 million people fish in our canals and pay a few shillings a year for the right, only £7,000 a year is received by the British Transport Commission in angling licence fees. I should like to know whether that is true. If the Minister has not got the figures now, perhaps he could let me know at some other time. If this is true, something must be wrong with the accountancy. My hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. Jack Jones), who has fished all over the country, looks astonished at the suggestion that only £7,000 is received in a year. Not all his colleagues and friends refuse to pay for their licences.

Mr. Jack Jones (Rotherham)

They do not have the opportunity.

Dr. Stross

Exactly. If the Minister can get the information, I shall be interested. I object to what is proposed to be done, and my objection is shared in all quarters of the House, because if too many branches are lopped off too quickly the trunk may die.

With reference to financial matters, the British Transport Commission has not got all the wisdom and knowledge in the world. Here I am not attacking the British Transport Commission; I would not dream of doing so. The Commission has inherited this situation. It has not perpetrated this evil of neglect. The evil has existed for many years. At the same time, I should like the Minister to satisfy us that a mistaken action will not be taken on this occasion.

As an example of a mistaken view, the British Transport Commission declared that the Stratford-on-Avon canal would cost over £120,000 to close. The truth is that the National Trust put up £20,000 in order to save it, and the Inland Waterways Society, a voluntary body, found the other £20,000. Incidentally, I must confess that I have an interest in that body, for I was so sympathetic towards the idea that it cost me £80. In fact, the canal has been saved by £40,000—one-third of what was thought to be the cost of closure. It will be a beautiful canal, an amenity and a joy for everyone in the area.

We need from the Minister an assurance that when the successor body takes over it will be possible to restore these canals. I have had many communications on all aspects relating to the nine sections of the waterways. I hope the Minister will not tell us that the canals must be closed and talk about great financial losses. There has been financial loss as a result of the long neglect of sections of canal, but that is not the only part of our transport system that loses money. Do we not subsidise our airfields by £10 million a year? Does not shipping get some subsidy? When we finish this business tonight are we not going on to discuss the White Fish and Herring Industries Bill by which it is proposed to subsidise the cost of trawlers?

Do road users—and the Minister is a great expert on this subject—pay directly for the police and rescue services when accidents occur on the roads? Do they contribute directly to the £500 million loss arising from congestion caused by road users? Of course, they do not. Here we are dealing with a trifle, and yet we are considering something which we cannot afford to lose. Therefore, I ask the Minister not to talk to us about financial losses, for they are trifling.

I do not propose to refer in detail to the different sections of the canal, although I have all the details in my possession. I intend to end as I began, and ask the Minister to give us the assurance for which we asked. Otherwise we shall divide the House on this issue.

8.5 p.m.

Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)

I am sure that in all parts of the House we have enjoyed listening to the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) speak on this subject of which he has such a wide knowledge. We appreciated in particular his concept of a national park that takes up no space.

We are most anxious to have from the Minister an assurance that the successors to the Commission will be empowered to reopen navigation if they so wish, for from navigation stem all the other advantages of the inland waterways system. There has been reference to angling. I have not the figures with me this evening, but the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central mentioned a very small figure as the profit accruing to the British Transport Commission from angling. I can tell the House that the Kent River Board, which comes outside the British Transport Commission system, makes a handsome profit from angling. It is a very desirable feature, but, as every angler knows, unless there is some movement of boats to keep the waterways clear, angling becomes spoilt. Therefore, navigation of some sort is an essential first step.

My hon. Friend the Member for Merton and Morden (Mr. Atkins) said that the British Transport Commission had been looking at the canals exclusively as a transport undertaking and had not been considering the pleasure boat aspect. I must take him up on that because, as I understand it, from figures recently given to me by the Inland Waterways section of the Transport Commission its own pleasure fleet has increased considerably in the last few years, and, indeed, it is taking active strides towards improving its own fleet. However, unless the Transport Commission can give a firm assurance to those commercial firms which are trying to maintain hire boats that canals will be open to such firms for many years to come, they will be very chary of putting in more capital to expand their fleets.

Today the cost of a really satisfactory four-berth boat is in the region of £2,000. We all admire the Water Baby class brought out by the Transport Commission, a small two-berth boat which presumably costs a great deal less and does a good job in maintaining clearways. But the basic point is that unless the waterways are maintained and kept open for navigation, the other advantages which can he derived from the waterways will fall by the wayside.

If we allow Clauses 15, 16 and 17 to go through, Clause 18 will become absolutely worthless. It gives the Commission power to make various agreements with other statutory bodies, and so on, with a view to maintaining the residual amenities, the sale of water and SO on. But it would be worthless to leave the British Transport Commission with these powers, because in the course of years they will become atrophied unless some navigation is maintained. I hope the Minister will give us an assurance that the new canal authority will be free to reopen navigation.

I should like a second assurance from my right 'hon. Friend if it is possible, namely, that if there should be another British Transport Commission Bill next year we shall see no reference in it to the closure of waterways. The British Transport Commission's Bill last year contained a number of inland waterways proposals, and I am glad to see that this year there is nothing like the proposal for water extraction from the Oxford canal that appeared in last year's Bill.

With the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central, I deplore the fact that the Birmingham branches, Which were taken out of last year's Bill, should have been brought in again. if it were possible to shelve the decision for a year, surely it might be possible to shelve it until such time as the new authority is fully in control.

I do not wish to be thought to be in any way critical of the wonderful work that has been done by the Parham Committee concerned with the development of the inland waterways. It has done a wonderful work, and it would be absurd of us in this House, who have knowledge only of certain sections of these waterways, to criticise its work. We appreciate the recommendations made by the Committee, and I think that everybody responsible for waterways is grateful to it for the work it has done. It still remains true, however, that the Parham Committee reported some considerable time before the White Paper, Cmd. 1248, came out, and had the Committee known what the White Paper was to contain it might very well have taken a different view on some of the recommendations which led to the Clauses of this Bill.

We understand that the Committee was united on these recommendations, but there might well have been a minority report had the Committee known that the Minister, acting on the advice he was given, was going to set up a new waterways body. That might well have been so had the Committee known that the Minister had decided to separate the canals from the B.T.C., in which case those of us who want to see a unified waterways system maintained might have been disappointed, but I doubt whether the Committee would have been so united had it known the contents of the White Paper when it reported and made recommendations which led to these Clauses.

With my hon. Friends, I am most anxious to withdraw this Motion if we can get a proper assurance from the Minister that in future the new authority will be free to reinstate the waterways, and if we can have the second assurance that there will be no Clauses of this sort in next year's British Transport Commission Bill.

8.12 p.m.

Mr. Jack Jones (Rotherham)

I want to be very brief, but I want to ask the Minister one or two pertinent questions. I understand that the right hon. Gentleman is a very ardent cyclist, who, fed up with the rush and turmoil of London traffic, uses a cycle to get to and from his place of work. Some of us are also fed up with the rush and turmoil of industry, and, perhaps, the rush and turmoil of this House, and would like to use our waterways for a different purpose from that so far mentioned. I include myself among 3–4 million decent, honest-to-God Britishers who like to do that.

We like to do a spot of quiet meditation alongside our canals, and I should like the Minister to go to a section of the Bridgwater Canal near where he was born. He knows where it is. In fact, on a Saturday in the fishing season one can see 1,600 or 2,000 men on one section sitting peacefully, hurting nobody and doing nobody any harm, quietly enjoying that peace of mind which it is essential that workers should have in order to face the boss on Monday morning. The right hon. Gentleman cannot compute the value of angling in fostering the peace of mind needed in industry today. Far too many people are anxious to spend their time at engineering mischief, in attending pubs and so on. and designing mischief for the Government and even for my own party. But there are millions of decent people who prefer to spend their leisure on the canals. I regularly fish when I have the opportunity. It is a good thing to do. One can meditate about the problems which we have been discussing here. Often we reach different conclusions from those we reach in the Lobbies when we have time to think about the problems in peace and quiet.

I suggest to the Minister that he should ensure that this new body which he is setting up will pay some regard to meeting the needs of those millions of people who want to have these facilities maintained. Too many of our rivers are being closed because of pollution. There are very many men wanting peace which can be obtained in angling, and more than ever before millions of men are seeking peace, repose and rest at weekends and in their leisure hours, and who have less space in which to exercise themselves. More and more people like racing down the M.1, though I do not know what M.1 stands for. It seems to me to represent the "Mad Isaacs" part of the country, whereas other people like to get away from the industrial towns and on to the waterways and seek a little peace.

Not far from the birthplace of the right hon. Gentleman on the Bridgwater Canal, I was astonished last year to meet a party of touring Americans who had come up by a converted barge all the way from Banbury. How they got there I do not know, but there they were. I was so surprised that I had a chat with them. They pulled up and went to a local hotel, and the Americans told me that they were against the idea of chasing round Britain in a single-decker bus with all the dust, dirt and diesel engine fumes, and they had therefore gone all the way by barge and were going back to Banbury.

These people are worthy of consideration. I will not go into the question of the value of the canals from the commercial point of view, but I remember seeing some men with a barge loaded with pottery from Stoke-on-Trent for a Manchester exhibition, pushing it through a tunnel with their feet. It is an old-fashioned method of operating a barge in small spaces where neither man nor horse can go.

Mr. Ellis Smith

Legging it.

Mr. Jones

That is a new term. In any case, it is not a job that I would want.

Mrs. Slater

It is an old term.

Mr. Jones

Although part of the commercial side is of great value, it is quite true that the waterways must be kept navigable so as to clean the weeds and to keep them from silting up and so that people are able to use them. There are a number of other uses for the water, such as for cattle and for farming, for industry, and a thousand and one things, but I am more particularly concerned with all those people represented by the 80 thousand signatures to a petition which I brought to this House four years ago.

Yesterday we were arguing about defence and about the cost of this and that, while for less than the cost of one bomber, without the atomic warhead, we could put the waterways right. For less than the cost of one bomber, which seeks to destroy or perhaps to defend the British way of life, the whole of the waterways of this country could be put right. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) was quite right when he complained that there was a very small revenue from these waterways. That is true, and very often the rights to a pitch for fishing on the canals are held by some society in an area which draws the membership fees which do not find their way into the coffers of the British Transport Commission.

If the anglers of this country had a licence to fish anywhere in Britain in any canal—and they would pay a reasonable price for reasonable facilities—these fees would help to pay the cost of maintaining the canal.

Mr. Ellis Smith

The Ship canal.

Mr. Jones

I will not talk about the Ship Canal; I have talked about that before. That stinking morass is navigable but not fishable. That is all the more reason why men who live in the vicinity of my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central, who lives near the Canal, and who have to put up with the stench and stink all the week think they have a right to get a little peace on the canal banks by fishing. The right hon. Gentleman is supposed to be a sportsman; I understand that he has certain associations with sport, and if there is anything in that I can only hope that he will come to the help of these people.

One could also mention child delinquency and the number of children who are kept away from the peaceful pursuit of fishing because of the lack of opportunity. Whenever I have found a boy who would like to go fishing, I have tried to find him a tin of maggots and a place to fish, because while fishing he would be doing no harm to anybody and he would learn to be a peaceful type of boy, growing up in the way we want. I ask the right hon. Gentleman what these Clauses are meant to do, and suggest that he should get away from the economics of the matter and think more about methods of improving the amenities. There are other profitable things in this country, such as the peace of mind of contented workmen going to their work in industry prepared to do that which is right, provided that the Government do the right thing by them.

8.20 p.m.

Mr. Grant-Ferris (Nantwich)

I am sure that the House agrees that we have had a most interesting debate, with a high degree of unity shown on both sides of the House. I am sure that in his many occupations my right hon. Friend does not have much time to give to this little corner of his empire, but he will have seen how much interest there is in it, what unity there is and how well that augurs for the future.

If the House will forgive me, I must examine my conscience for a few minutes. As the House knows, I am a member of the Inland Waterways Redevelopment Committee. As my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. J. Wells) pointed out, these closures were passed unanimously by the Committee and put to the Transport Commission. I shall immediately be asked what right I have to criticise them here if I did not take the trouble to submit a minority report, and I agree that I stand on the weakest possible ground in that respect. But I must say that on all these closures there were long and heated debates within the Committee about what should be done. In the end, we agreed to let the closures pass.

But this was done before the end of October, when we did not know what the Government's policy would be. For all we knew, the Government would smash the whole system to smithereens. Had we known what the Government would do, then there might have been different decisions in the Committee, or some minority reports. I am in considerable difficulty tonight. Out of loyalty to the Committee, and to the decisions which we took unanimously, I cannot vote in a Division, but it is right that the House should realise the feelings which were going through my mind then, and still go through it, as a result of the present situation.

I very much hope that my right hon. Friend will give some assurances, but I am a little perplexed, knowing some of the details, as to which assurances he can give which can be effective, because it seems to me that once a local authority drops a bridge over a navigation it will be extremely difficult ever to that bridge pulled down again and re-erected again to a navigable height. With the best will in the world, we must face the situation that an Act of Parliament will exist which will allow people to do certain things, and they will have two years in which to do them. Nevertheless, I have great faith in my right hon. Friend and I am sure that he will help us if he can.

I should not like my right hon. Friend or the House to feel that these closures have not produced many criticisms in the country on various aspects. For example, whatever we may say about closing the Dearne and Dove Canal up to the source, it should certainly not be closed from Manvers Colliery, from where it joins the main system about three miles away. There was an agreement of a disgusting character between the National Coal Board and the Commission a few years ago, whereby it was agreed to take the coal from the colliery, which previously had successfully been taken by canal, by some other means. I should like the possibility of that traffic being restored in the future, but if bridges are built and irreparable harm is done in that section, I doubt whether it will be.

Mr. George Jeger (Goole)

Is it not a fact that that canal at present is not being used at all?

Mr. Grant-Ferris

It is not used for navigation now. The lower part to which I have referred was used regularly three or four years ago, and above it has not been used for a longer period. There are strong feelings, and claims are made that it could be used for com- merce in the future, but I will not go into those details now because the Committee reached a decision. As I did not put in a minority report, I must loyally accept the Committee's decision, but I am sure that people outside the House, especially, will read carefully what we say, and that is why I wanted to make these remarks.

I do not want to detain the House any longer. Having made these few observations, I must leave it to hon. and right hon. Members to decide what they think best to do in the light of what the Minister said. If they are helped in reaching that decision by anything that I have said, I think that I have spoken fairly.

8.26 p.m.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

I support the Motion, and personally, I shall want very strong assurances from the Minister before I agree to its withdrawal I have been engaged on this task for many years and I recollect the debate which we had on the Heddiscoe Cut, which was the first of these discussions. On that occasion we were able to reach an arrangement by which the Cut was not closed. That was a great advantage to people on one of the most frequented of the inland waterways. I am not much concerned about anything that happens as long as we are assured that until the new authority is set up no further inland waterway will be closed. One of the difficulties which has confronted us has been the way in which little bits here and there have been closed, so that it has become increasingly difficult to maintain a connected system throughout the country.

Since the Second World War the inland waterways have been discovered by many people who want to get away from the smell and dust of the main roads on the days when they can go out for leisure. These great waterways, which had the misfortune to be taken over by their own worst enemies, the railways, are the only way in which we can get away from the smoke, grime and petrol fumes which make most of our main highways an insufferable form of affliction on people who want to get away for a holiday.

have referred to Heddiscoe Cut. I hope that we shall have an assurance that until the new Inland Waterways Authority has been set up there will be no further closures or withdrawals of traffic facilities along these waterways.

I almost get seasick below Teddington Lock, but I have been a traveller on inland waterways since 1908, when a colleague of mine, in a school which we both served, bought an old ship's whaler and during the summer months we used to tow this boat from Mortlake to Oxford. In those days it was very difficult to navigate above Oxford, because there was only one lock. In more recent years I have made the trip from Hampton Court to Lechlade and it is the most peaceful form of holiday that one can take, for one is away from the smoke and most of the petrol fumes unless one happens to be unlucky enough to get behind one of the new motor tugs that are beginning to operate on the Thames. I know of no more peaceful holiday than to navigate the inland waterways.

I am glad to observe the increasing number of people who take this form of recreation and during July, August and September spend their spare time with their families navigating the inland waterways, whether they be canalised rivers or canals. I sincerely hope that the Minister will not agree to any further legalised closures of any of these waterways.

About 150 years ago there was a fine set of waterways in this country. Unfortunately, they fell into the clutches of the railways, and the railways, fearing the competition which the canals would offer to their systems, steadily closed them.

Mr. G. Wilson

That is the second time the right hon. Gentleman has said that. Does he not think that the fact that when the canals were built they were only large enough for a person with a horse and cart had something to do with it? They were very narrow, and did not carry a sufficient load to compete with the bigger forms of transport.

Mr. Ede

That was one of the excuses rather than one of the reasons for getting them closed. If they had been properly developed as the boats increased in size, there is no doubt that today we would have had as fine a system of canals as there is in France.

Mr. Wilson

I cannot remember the exact figures, but does the right hon. Gentleman know that the average rise on the flat coastal areas of the northern parts of Europe, in Germany, France, Holland, Belgium, and so on, is about 2 ft. per 15 miles, whereas with us it is about 10 ft. per 2 miles?

Mr. Ellis Smith

There is not a lock on the Bridgwater Canal.

Mr. Ede

For years there has been a plan far a canal system on the 350 ft. contour line, which would completely destroy the argument of the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson). I do not regard it as a programme which is immediately feasible, but on the 350 ft. contour line it would be possible to link up the canals so that we could have as fine a canal system as any country in the world.

Increased interest in the waterways in recent years has been one of the social phenomena of which we should take notice—

Mr. Wilson

I am sorry. I made an error. The average vertical lift of canals in Europe is 1 ft. 8 ins. per mile and with us in this country it is 10 ft. per mile.

Mr. Ede

That does not concern me at all. The hon. Gentleman was concerned with the railways that overcame very considerable difficulties and gave us some of the greatest architecture and civil engineering probably in the world. If people are determined to do things, with the help of our engineers, they can always be done. Sometimes the efforts of the engineers are hampered by the lawyers, but when the engineers get control even the lawyers cannot hamper them from doing magnificent work.

There is no more pleasant holiday than one spent on our waterways, and I speak as one who for several years navigated these inland waterways. I know how excellent are the conditions under which they could be worked if there were sufficient traffic on them to enable the various locks and other mechanical devices to be kept in good order. The increase in the use made of the River Thames for this purpose is one of the astounding things of post-war years.

Commercial traffic has almost disappeared from the river, but there are more privately-owned motor vessels being operated upon it than ever before, and every year sees their number increasing. I am convinced that were facilities more generally available, and the locks kept in proper order, the number of people who would derive rest, refreshment and recreation from holidays on these waterways would be quite astounding. As was said by one hon. Member, the efforts of the inland waterways section of the Transport Commission to persuade people to use these waterways for pleasure purposes reveals what it is possible to achieve in this way. I hope that the Minister will tell us that no further closure of these inland waterways is to take place until the new Inland Waterways Authority he has agreed to establish has been given an opportunity of showing what it can do.

I join with my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) in asking that this Motion shall be accepted by the Government, or that we shall be given a pledge that in Select Committee this provision may be so restricted in its plan of operation that it shall not come into force before the new Authority has been set up.

8.40 p.m.

Mr. Edwin Wainwright (Dearne Valley)

I have every sympathy with my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) and with all the hon. Members who have spoken for this Motion, but I should like to take them for a short stroll some weekend down the side of this stretch of canalway. which is in my constituency.

Along with them, I can appreciate the beauty which water can bring to the countryside. I have every sympathy with those who desire to go boating at weekends and find there is no water available close to where they reside. I also have every sympathy with those who go fishing. My hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. Jack Jones), who has now left the Chamber, spends many weekends, as he has done for years, indulging in that wonderful sport, seeing how big are the fish he can catch and how small those he can throw back. This stretch of canal is in such a dilapidated condition that, if any hon. Member who has spoken in favour of the Motion were to visit it, he would say that the Motion is at least twenty years too late.

Dr. Stross

Which stretch of canal?

Mr. Wainwright

It is the stretch between the end of the Borough of Barnsley and Swinton.

Mr. Grant-Ferris

Will the hon. Member say where this stretch of water is?

Mr. Wainwright

It is in my constituency. It begins at the boundary of Barnsley and continues to Swinton.

Mr. Grant-Ferris

In the Dearne Valley?

Mr. Wainwright

Yes. It is a long time since any boats were seen upon that water. In spite of the fact that I have every sympathy with the point of view put forward by all those who have supported the Motion, I want the Minister to accept the Bill as it stands.

For many years local authorities in the area have been wanting a kind of by-pass which would be away from the centre of their towns. In a sense it would be a secondary road which would take all the traffic from the centres of Wombwell and Wath and ease the burden of traffic on those towns. In the streets of those towns traffic is congested. There are shops on either side and shoppers have great difficulty in doing their shopping in safety.

On this canal there are several locks which are in a very dilapidated condition and are unworkable. There are also hump back bridges which are a danger to the motorist. The danger is such that one has to be careful when driving a car over them at even 10 m.p.h. They were built for horse-drawn traffic and are not suitable for present day motor traffic. Those bridges are in bad condition and are due for repair. One or two have had to be propped up in order to carry the amount of traffic that goes over them and most of them cannot carry heavy vehicles.

I hope that, in this instance, the Minister will accept the conditions that have been laid down by hon. Members on both sides of the House on this issue. In any event, if hon. Members want to take it to a vote I hope that the Minister will resist them. I shall certainly go into the Lobby against them on this occasion because this waterway is really nonexistent and had right hon. and hon. Members seen it I am certain they would not have spoken in favour of it being kept open as they have done this evening.

8.46 p.m.

Mr. Marples

We have had an interesting and very good-humoured debate, most hon. Members feeling passionately about inland waterways either from the fishing or boating points of view. I will deal with the points raised during the course of the debate to the best of my ability.

The hon. Member for Dearne Valley (Mr. Wainwright) is quite right. Inland waterways and canals should each be treated on its own merits. Some are extremely fine for one purpose and others are no use at all for that purpose. Some of these canals which are to be closed down will be serving their most useful purpose after they have been converted, whereas at present they are not very useful. Concerning the Bentley Canal, the local authority wishes to eliminate an unsatisfactory bridge and to incorporate part of the site as a tree belt in the general development of the area as playing fields, housing estates, etc. As for the Ashton Canal, the local authority wishes to deal with a road bridge and has agreed to take over the canal site. At Bradley Locks, part of the site is to be incorporated in a school and housing development. It is certainly true that canals vary.

The hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Jack Jones) made a passionate plea for fishermen, which I respect. He mentioned certain canals near my own birthplace. I know them very well because I used to fish in them for very small fish when I was a young boy. I have been to those canals since. Nothing could live in them now, and I doubt whether anything could sail in them. I crossed the Manchester Ship Canal last Friday over the Thelwall Viaduct, which is a magnificent example of engineering. I was terrified in case I should fall into the Manchester Ship Canal, since because of the pollution I doubted whether I should have got out alive. We try to distinguish between canals which serve a useful amenity purpose and those which do not. This is a crucial distinction we ought to make much more sharply pointed.

My hon. Friend the Member for Merton and Morden (Mr. Atkins), in a very reasonable speech, asked me a number of questions. The House feels passionately on this issue. As it was my proposal that inland waterways should be completely severed from the British Transport Commission, I hope the hon. Member will believe my intentions are strictly honourable. Therefore, I ought to start with a fund of good will which I hope I shall not dissipate tonight—although I am sure it will be dissipated in time when my hon. Friends do not get all their own way. My hon. Friend the Member for Merton and Morden pointed out that canals could be used for amenity purposes, and could be used for water supply and drainage. That is true. As I have said, it depends on the merits and assessment of each individual canal which should be used for the best possible purpose. That is my view.

My hon. Friend did ask me about the change of ownership which is coming in the inland waterways. I believe that most of the anxiety is that the new body which is being set up should not be prejudiced or handicapped by anything that is in the Bill. I can see that. We should look at this very carefully. The Government laid down an interim policy in Cmnd. Paper 676. These were the Government proposals following the Bowes Report on Inland Waterways and presented to Parliament in February, 1959. That White Paper says that for a trial period the Government would test the praticability of redeveloping redundant canals. For that purpose and in order to make an assessment, a committee was set up to look into the matter. If the committee were to recommend that a canal should be closed, private legislation would be introduced in order to carry that into effect. The Commission has therefore acted on those lines. The Committee of which my hon. Friend the Member for Nantwich (Mr. Grant-Ferris) spoke has recommended unanimously to me that these particular canals should be closed, and therefore the Commission seeks statutory powers for so doing.

I wish to say this to my hon. Friends. Once the navigation rights are extinguished by law, they will remain extinguished until reinstated by law. In other words, a statutory right will have gone. But navigation which is permissive and not mandatory is allowable. I do not wish to confuse the House in any way, but if the Commission gets permission to close these canals and they had not been opened again by the time the new body took over, it could reopen them if it wished. The Commission received from Parliament permission to close a canal in Wales, but it still allows pleasure boating on it. That is at Llangollen. Therefore, in effect, it did what my hon. Friend suggested.

Mr. W. R. Williams (Manchester, Openshaw)

I did not quite get that.

Mr. Marples

I know that the hon. Gentleman speaks Welsh fluently. I referred to Llangollen, in North Wales. The Commission can therefore permissively allow boating. The Commission allows it at this place in North Wales and makes quite a sum of money from it.

Even my hon. Friend the Member for Nantwich would agree that most of the canals we are considering have a very good case indeed. The question whether some of the others should be kept open is marginal. They have asked for this and have made considerable arrangements with the local authorities. The amenities of the surrounding areas will be enhanced in some cases when the canals are taken over. That is as far as I can pledge myself. We are often disappointed in this House when we produce proposals, but I thought that my proposals in the White Paper would be welcomed. I can see that they are welcomed, but I am afraid that one or two of my hon. Friends have reservations about them.

My hon. Friend the Member for Merton and Morden said that the canals could be used for other purposes, such as the supply of water. The Commission is using them in that way and has increased its income from that source.

The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) pointed out that the House supported the Bowes Committee in December, 1959. I call to the hon. Gentleman's attention the interim measure of policy which I have mentioned and which we are trying to follow. It is not as if this were the brutal closing by the Commission of canals like the Stratford-on-Avon Canal. These canals have been carefully vetted by the Advisory Committee and the Commission received a unanimous decision. I therefore feel that the Commission has done what the House asked it to do in the interim White Paper, and I think that it it our duty to support it.

The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central asked me a question concerning the small sum of money received from fishing. Not all of the fees go to the Commission. They go to various riparian owners and others. The same applies to water. Some people have a statutory right to take a great deal of water at a very uneconomic and low cost. We shall have to look into this matter when we consider our statutory restrictions in the next Bill on railways.

I am certain that we listened to the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central all the more carefully and gave his views added weight because he has paid £80 towards the Stratford-on-Avon Canal, which is an earnest of his good intentions. Therefore, like me, he has intentions which are honourable. I respect his views.

Mr. Ellis Smith

It was £180.

Dr. Stross


Mr. Marples

The other £100 is to come later.

I am not sure which hon. Member said that some of the proposed closures at Birmingham were in last year's Bill. That is not quite right. These are all new proposals. Last year, some proposals were kept back until the Advisory Committee had surveyed and made its recommendations.

My hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. J. Wells) asked for assurances that we would shelve the decision so that nothing would happen until the new body came in. That is a misconception, for two reasons. First, the Transport Commission has in this case paid greater attention to the wishes of the House by carefully vetting the canals than it has done before. It has carried out Parliament's wishes. When the Commission does that sort of thing, it should be supported.

Secondly, during the reorganisation of a business it would be wrong to terminate all the current activities. For example, we are now looking at the railway system to decide the size and shape of the system that the country should have and to make it efficient. While we are doing that, 'however, we cannot stop the current method of closing down uneconomic branch lines after the procedure laid down by Parliament is followed. In other words, it is business as usual "until the new management arrives. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone will feel that what the Government have done in the White Paper for inland waterways is sufficient evidence that they have their welfare at heart.

I join my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone in thanking the Parham Committee, of which my hon. Friend the Member for Nantwich is a member, for the great deal of work it has done. It has had a lot of survey work to do and a number of meetings. This is a subject which excites controversy and is time-consuming.

The hon. Member for Rotherham said that rather than have people going to pubs and causing mischief either to the Government or to his own party he would prefer them to proceed in a tranquil way on the canals. He then told how some Americans met him on a canal in a barge and afterwards they all went to the local pub. The hon. Member seems to be getting the best of both worlds. He went on a 'barge and then' into the local pub, whereas he told us that he would rather have people going on the canals than into the pubs.

Mrs. Slater

My hon. Friend is teetotal.

Mr. Marples

He paid for his round, hope, when he was with the Americans.

The hon. Member for Rotherham gave a characteristic graphic description of the joys of pushing a barge through a tunnel by what he called "legging" it, with his legs on the side of the wall and pushing the barge along. I should very much like to see the hon. Member doing that. If he gives me notice some time I will arrange to be present.

Dr. Stross

The legs are on the roof, not on the wall.

Mr. Marples

That makes me even keener to see the hon. Member.

I agree that we should give the fishermen a fair deal. When I take a walk on a Sunday, I frequently see them fishing. It is too tranquil for me. They sit clown all day by the Thames and the canals, and even in the winter they never move. They are hardy people muffled up in overcoats. If we wanted to raise an expeditionary force for Siberia, the place to recruit it is on the Thames in December. I am not a keen fisherman, but I recognise that the fishermen have their rights.

Although I am the Minister of Transport, I am bound to say that with all these motor cars about, one thinks one is in bedlam. The hon. Member for Rotherham suggested that I cycled to get out of the traffic. I assure him that anybody who cycles in London gets into the traffic very quickly and knows more about diesel exhaust fumes than any car owner. It is getting a dangerous occupation.

I will not comment greatly on the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Nantwich. He was in some difficulty and it would be inappropriate for me to comment, because he discussed the work of the Committee on which he served. I can only take the Committee's unanimous recommendation when it is sent to me. If the Committee submits a unanimous recommendation, I cannot reverse it and say that there is a minority report which must be taken into account.

The right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) has a great love of the country, which I share, and a love of boating that I do not at the moment share. When I say that I do not share it, I mean that I do not indulge in it. The right hon. Gentleman will, I think, give the Government credit for designing and building the new Staines bridge sufficiently high to allow boats of a reasonable class to pass underneath.

When I say that I do not share the right hon. Gentleman's pleasure in boating and yachting, I mean that I do not share it yet. From what I hear in my household, I shall have to do so shortly. My hobby, for which I am getting too old, is climbing the rocks, especially in the North of England, and my wife is trying to sell me the idea of yachting.

I hope that the House will feel that the Government and the Transport Commission have not been unreasonable in these proposals. We now have the new organisation coming along, divorced from the railways, which, I think, is right and proper. The B.T.C. has, at the request of Parliament, carried out the procedure which we asked it to do by having a very careful independent committee surveying the canals which it wanted to close down. Under those circumstances, I hope that my hon. Friends will not divide the House and will allow the Bill to go through.

Mr. Atkins

In view of my right hon. Friend's remarks, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Hon. Members


Question put:—

The House divided: Ayes 34, Noes. 94.

Division No. 81. AYES [9.3 p.m.
Awbery, Stan Holman, Pony Parker, John (Dagenham)
Bacon, Miss Alice Holt, Arthur Probert, Arthur
Boyden, James Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Short, Edward
Braddock, Mrs. E. M. Hunter, A. E. Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)
Brockway, A. Fenner Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.) Stones, William
Castle, Mrs. Barbara Jones, Dan (Burnley) Wade, Donald
Cullen, Mrs. Alice Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham) Warbey, William
Ede, At. Hon. C. Key, Rt. Hon. C. W. Wilkins, W. A.
Fernyhough, E. King, Dr. Horace Willis, E. C. (Edinburgh, E.)
Forman, J. C. McCann, John Yates, Victor (Ladywood)
George,LadyMeganLloyd(C'rm'rth'n) McKay, John (Wallsend)
Grimond, J. Owen, Will TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Mrs. Slater and Dr. Stross.
Agnew, Sir Peter Henderson, John (Cathcart) Pickthorn, Sir Kenneth
Barber, Anthony Hill. Mrs. Eveline (Wythenshawe) Pike, Miss Mervyn
Bell, Ronald Hirst, Geoffrey Pilkington, Sir Richard
Basins, At. Hon. Reginald (Toxteth) Holland, Philip Pott, Percival)
Blackburn, F. Hollingsworth, John Proctor, W. T.
Box, Donald Hornby, R. P. Quennell, miss J. M.
Brooman-White, R. Hughes-Young, Michael Redmayne, Rt. Hon. Martin
Bullard, Denys Hutchison, Michael Clark Ropner, Col. sir Leonard
Campbell, Gordon (Moray & Nairn) Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Skeet, T. H. H.
Channon, H. P. G. Jackson, John Steward, Harold (Stockport S.)
Chichester-Clark, R. Jeger, George Studholme, Sir Henry
Clark, William (Nottingham, S.) Kerans, Cdr. J. S. Taylor, Edwin (Bolton, E.)
Cleaver, Leonard Kerr, Sir Hamilton Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret
Coulson, J. M. Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)
Cunningham, Knox Lilley, F. J. P. Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)
Currie, G. B. H. Litchfield, Capt. John Tlley, Arthur (Bradford, W.)
Donaldson, Comdr. C. E. M. Longden, Gilbert Tilney, John (Wavertree)
Duthie, Sir William McLaren, Martin Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H
Errington, Sir Eric McMaster, Stanley R. van Straubenzee. W. R.
Finlay, Graeme Maddan, Martin Vane, W. M. F.
Fisher, Nigel Mapp, Charles Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)
Fraser, Ian (Plymouth, Sutton) Markham, Major Sir Frank Webster, David
Gammans, Lady Marples, At. Hon. Ernest Whitelaw, William
Gibson-Watt, David Marshall, Douglas Williams, Dudley (Exeter)
Ginsburg, David Matthews, Gordon (Meriden) Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)
Glyn, Dr. Alan (Clapham) Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J. Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Glyn, Sir Richard (Dorset, N.) Mills, Stratton Woodhouse, C. M.
Gower, Raymond Nabarro, Gerald Woodnutt, Mark
Gurden, Harold Noble, Michael Woollam, John
Hamilton, Michael (Wellingborough) Osborne, Cyril (Louth)
Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.) Pearson Frank (Clitheroe) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Hayman, F. H. Peel, John Mr. Wainwright and Mr. Costain.