HC Deb 03 April 1962 vol 657 cc345-412

Question again proposed, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Mr. Wigg

An agreement was successfully negotiated with two rail-road carriers, the Pennsylvania Company and the Reading Company. For the sum of 320,000 dollars, the estimated out of pocket cost, the railroads operated for a twelve month period and proceeded to reduce fares by 40 per cent. At the same time, the local bus fares were tied in at reduced rates. The bus services were linked to the railway service so that for a total of 50 cents a person could ride to the railway station on a bus, take a train to the terminal, and then go to his office by bus.

The success of this project increased the use of commuter trains by 30 per cent. and decreased the use of passenger automobiles. In the course of a year it was estimated that there were 2,000 fewer cars a day in the stream of traffic through the city centre. This was a pragmatic question. The question whether it was a Socialist or a Socialist-cum-capitalist measure, is for the purpose of my argument, beside the point, but here was a situation which was desperate in Philadelphia which was solved by measures which seemed to be common sense and which were entirely successful.

The conclusions in the evidence before Congress have an application for this country. The point is made that in the United States at present the population shift from rural to urban areas has accelerated quite remarkably. At present, there is no less than 661 of the population living in urban areas, but it is estimated that by 1975 of the 215 million Americans 80 per cent. will be concentrated in 160 urban areas. To rely on private transportation, which means the automobile.… again, I quote the words in these Reports: is foolish indeed, and will ultimately be fatal. It is said that if the present rate of road development and of building automobiles continues, in the 160 urban centres, by 1975, there will be concentrated 100 million automobiles, which will set up the biggest traffic jam that the world has ever seen, for it will become bumper-to-bumper throughout the whole area.

What is true of Philadelphia is also contained in this quite remarkable report on commuter transportation, which is a study of passenger transportation in the New Jersey, New York and Connecticut area. I shall not weary the House going into the details, but what is absolutely clear is that the point is reached in those areas—here, I quote a phrase which illustrates the problem—where, if the people who work in the Empire State Building were to take their cars when they go to work there it would be necessary to build another Empire State building to accommodate the cars.

This report is the last word in sophistication. It shows what a competent people can do when they get down to brass tacks. They have shown the number of people who move hour by hour. It also graphically says that if the 200,000 commuters—that is, half the people in the central business district who live outside New York—who travel by rail at present were to travel by road there would be no road space left during peak hours and many of them would not get to work at all.

This report also demonstrates that there is a commuter crisis in every aspect of travel from the Atlantic to the Pacific. All sorts of devices have been worked out to meet this. The underlying idea on which these reports are based is that there should be grants to enable experiments to be made. It has been demonstrated beyond any shadow of doubt that a healthy transport policy must be based upon the active co-operation of States and local government.

The report contains these words: Perhaps our greatest need is getting people studying and working on the problems of urban transportation at the local level. I have studied only three of these reports. They are voluminous and comprehensive. They are reports of which any country could be proud. They reach the conclusion that the problem, if it is to be tackled successfully, must be tackled at the ground level. Trade unionists, employers, economists and planners must be brought in. It seems not to be realised in this country that housing, schools, roads, rail, water, watersheds, gas and electricity are all part of one problem.

This brings me back to Dr. Beeching. He is proceeding with a policy regardless of the social and economic consequences to the country. He has placed himself in the position of a man who is blindfolded, taken into a cellar, given a pea shooter, and then asked to knock out the one fly which is buzzing around the cellar. He may hit the fly. On the other hand, he may not. He does not know what he is doing. His directive puts him into the position which ought to be occupied by the Minister.

I make no charges whatever against Dr. Beeching. Any critical remarks I make about him are facetious. I do not know him, but I am sure that he would command the respect and support of us all if he was doing the job he has been given to do. If our transport system is to be recast, and if an area as congested as the Midlands is to be divested of a means of travel—if hon. Members think that I exaggerate, I most earnestly ask them to study the American reports—

Mr. Hale

My hon. Friend says that he does not know Dr. Beeching. I agree with him. Our letters from him are very disagreeable. Surely my hon. Friend remembers Sir Brian Robertson, who was a general and whom we perhaps criticised. Does not my hon. Friend think that on the whole we got from Sir Brian Robertson a very great deal of courtesy and thought, some very nice letters, and very thoughtful help? Is not my hon. Friend concerned that in the administration of a national corporation the letters we have had from this gentleman, whom we have not met, are less courteous, less considerate and are certainly nothing like those that we had in the past?

Mr. Speaker

Whatever the hon. Gentleman's concern may be, it is very difficult to bring that matter within the rules of order.

Mr. Wigg

I should be out of order in following that line of thought, but I do not wish to, because I knew General Robertson. I do not know Dr. Beeching, so it would be quite unfair to animadvert or discuss him in any way. I want to be objective.

I certainly would not judge anyone by the letters he writes to me, but rather on the policy he follows. Dr. Beeching is following a policy which ought to have been laid down for him by the Minister, and I say that Dr. Beeching is put into quite a false position because of the impact of a policy that he has to try to follow without regard to political consequences.

I want to return to what has happened in the United States. Hon. Members may think that I am exaggerating when I say that the West Midlands area may find itself without any transport at all, but on page 156 of the Urban Mass Transportation Report, we find Mr. Robert Weaver, administrator of the Housing and House Finance Agency—who was the first witness called in support of the President's Bill—saying: As many of our people now know from bitter experience we are witnessing the demise of public transportation systems in many of our communities large and small. Between 1945 and 1960 annual ridership on mass transportation systems declined sharply. In some 300 communities mass transportation systems have been completely abandoned. That means that in 300 communities in the United States the people have neither road nor rail transport.

Mr. Weaver goes on

In countless other places service has been severely curtailed. Hardly a day passes that our Agency does not receive a 'phone call or a letter from some desperate local official asking for help in saving the community's mass transportation system. The President recognised the gravity of the problem in his 9th March message to Congress. On housing and community development he stated: 'Nothing is more dramatically apparent than the inadequacy of transportation in our larger urban areas. The problem … manifestly cannot be solved by highways alone'. There is another point—and I will not keep the House much longer—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am sorry if hon. Members are worried about sitting late, but I am thinking of the effect on Dudley. Any hon. Member can go out if he wishes. I have followed this Bill through, and I know that since it was set down it has been altered no fewer than seven times. I should have thought that the issues here were of transcendental importance.

I hon. Members opposite were not still smarting from Orpington, they would know that the commuter problem needs to be looked at seriously and objectively. Even so, we might easily find that we are too late. I do not suppose that hon. Members opposite have looked at the reports from which I have been quoting, but I should have thought that any hon. Member who had any regard not only for his constituency but for the country would have been willing to examine the impact of the Government's policy and bring not Dr. Beeching but the Minister, to account.

From that report it is perfectly clear that the United States Government has gone a long way in their examination of this question. They have carried out surveys, none of which kind have been carried out here. We do not even begin to know what the facts are. We have not the foggiest idea about that. We have not the foggiest notion how things will develop. It does not matter twopence where we look—whether at roads, rail, air, canals, docks or anything else—we see a laissez faire policy.

The representative of the Liberal Party has gone, but I think that one of the most excruciatingly funny things that has ever struck me is that the country is turning from the Prime Minister to the Liberal Party—because, of course, the epitome of Liberalism is the Prime Minister. He is the man who believes in laissez faire. He is not a Tory. He walks in the middle of the road.

The Prime Minister is like the Liberal Party, which is so avid for political power regardless of the consequences. This is the policy of laissez-faire. That the country should now turn from the Prime Minister to the Liberal Party is enough to make a cat laugh, because, of course, that party has no solution to our problems. Neither has the Prime Minister.

The solution to the problems of our time lies, as the Americans are finding, in collectivism. Call it what you like; it is a policy in which the public good prevails. As I say, one may call discovering the fact what one likes, but one must have an appreciation of what is happening, a phrase which resembles an Army term. When the plan is made one can then carry it out. The trouble is that we do rather more talking about our plans and do not give enough time to preparing them. That is one of the things that even my party has done, because we have got too close to the party opposite. Whatever one likes to call it—Left-wing or anything else—I call it common sense.

The Americans, with all their knowledge and money—and they have poured in a great deal of cash already and are now talking about expenditure of 800 million dollars in New York alone-have realised the necessity of resuscitating their commuter transport services while we engage in tearing them up. Do we know enough to enable us even to start making plans? Are enormous sums being spent in research, such as is the case in America? Where is the research is Britain? There is none. I urge hon. Members opposite to go through the sort of exercise that 1 have done. I urge them to write to the Minister of Transport—they should not all write at once and so embarrass the right hon. Gentleman—and ask him to tell them of the road building that has been and is going on in their constituencies, or how the great trunk roads are to be affected.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Robert Grimston)

The hon. Member is getting wider and wider in his remarks and I must ask him to relate them to the Bill.

Mr. Wigg

I have an Amendment on the Order Paper which deals with this matter and I am arguing that the Bill makes no provision at all for the future transport needs of the country. I am trying to convince hon. Gentlemen opposite—1 admit, with some difficulty—of the efficacy of the American project, which is designed to find out the facts. I am recommending to hon. Gentlemen opposite that they should ask the Minister of Transport a simple question: what road building is going on in their constituencies and what relation it has to their nearby trunk roads.

When hon. Gentlemen opposite have that information I invite them to relate it to any set of principles, however high-flown or even silly they may consider them to be. They will not be able to discover any real relation between what is going on and what should be happening. I am saying that expenditure on road building is not related to any principles. Do I see the Parliamentary Secretary nodding?

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. John Hay)

I was shaking my head.

Mr. Wigg

Then I invite the hon. Gentleman to come to Dudley and debate this before my constituents and I will come to his constituency and do likewise. Let the hon. Gentleman try to tell his constituents, and mine, about the principles upon which he and his right hon. Friend work. Of course, there is none.

Even the Americans, with their vast financial resources, are brought face to face with the logic of the situation, because the costs are so gigantic. Whereas British transport is the Cinderella when it comes to investment—with the Minister of Transport always fighting a losing battle with the Treasury—the Americans are getting the facts. That is why the present Minister of Transport is always put in his place. Politically, of course, he is of no account at all. He is rather by way of being a joke. He might do rather a good job as a sort of public relations officer—opening bridges and that sort of thing—but, because of the astuteness of the Prime Minister, that is all that he can do. When it comes to a fight between the Minister of Transport and the Treasury, the Minister is not even a starter.

I hope that tonight the Parliamentary Secretary will welcome the step taken by Dudley in trying to get a survey of the transport needs of the West Midlands, particularly since it is now clear that Birmingham supports Dudley in that policy. If such a survey is undertaken with his approval, I should like to know whether he will give it financial backing. If that one is too hot for him. perhaps he will consult his right hon. Friend to see whether, as an act of policy, transport surveys, both rail and road, of immediate and developing needs will be supported by the Government. I should have thought that an essential first step was to try to find out what is the existing situation. I should have thought that that was mere child's play and that I was pushing at an open door in making this plea.

If Dudley, in association with Birmingham, is publicly spirited enough to do this—and presumably if those two authorities do it, others will join them—it would be the height of folly to go ahead in tearing up the Stourbridge-Wolverhampton line and other lines which are queueing up for the chopper. If the commuter services are to be torn up—

Mr. Hay

For the second time the hon. Gentleman has said that the intention is to tear up this line. Obviously he has not studied with his usual assiduity the correspondence which he has had with the Chairman of the Commission. I have seen this correspondence and the Chairman says that what is proposed is the withdrawal of the passenger service, not the tearing up of the line.

Mr. Wigg

By this time I do not believe anything which the Transport Commission says. I say that in no disrespect. I just do not believe that the left hand knows what the right hand is doing. When the Commission says in capital letters that it does not propose to suspend the freight service, that convinces me that that is wrong. I do not believe that this organisation is wicked. I do not think that they are Machiavellian or that this is a piece of chicanery on the part of Dr. Beeching. This is pure administrative stupidity. They just do not know what they are up to. When I ask whether Dudley station is to be closed, I am told that one line is under review, then I find out that there is another one, and then by a side wind I find that there is a third. I therefore hope that hon. Members will forgive me if I take the part in capital letters at least with a grain of salt.

The Parliamentary Secretary may say that the lines are not to be torn up and that only the passenger services are to be suspended, but the bus services are being curtailed. The Minister of Housing and Local Government proposes that another 350,000 people should go to the area. If Dudley and Birmingham undertake a survey to find out the facts, now and as they may develop, surely I am not unreasonable in asking the Minister to delay the suspension of the passenger services until such time as the needs are established. I should have thought that that was eminently reasonable and that if the hon. Gentleman thought about the political future of his own party he would grab at this suggestion with both hands because what is in revolt is the people who use these commuter services. They are fed up with being asked to pay higher fares while services are being curtailed and with being asked to travel under intensely disagreeable conditions in trains which are dirty and late. They are fed up with being asked to pay more and more for a worse and worse service.

I should have thought that the Parliamentary Secretary would serve the interests of his own party as well as the interests of the nation if he accepted with gratitude the step taken by both parties, Labour and Conservative, in Dudley and use it as a basis for future policy. If he will not do that, I very much hope that my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall will.

10.25 p.m.

Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)

I am glad to have the opportunity of following the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), because I hope later to have a good deal to say about his constituency and I am glad to know that I have his support in what I intend to say. I, too, in my constituency have a commuter problem much the same as the hon. Member has mentioned and I have every sympathy with what he has said.

I wish, however, to direct my attention primarily to the inland waterway closures that are projected in the Bill. It will be in the recollection of hon. Members that Magna Charta states quite clearly that In the future all kydells "— I will tell hon. Members presently what "kydells" are in case they have temporarily forgotten— shall be removed from the Thames and Med-way and throughout all England ". In the subsequent issue of the Charta in 1350, this passage was further extended to say: Whereas the common passage of boats and ships in the great rivers of England be oft times annoyed …

Mr. Hale

Will the hon. Member tell us what are the present express trains from Runnymede and whether this declaration was made before modern transport was invented?

Mr. Wells

I am grateful to the hon. Member. I said, however, that I was directing my attention to waterways. The point I am seeking to make is that there is an express injunction in our earlier Statutes that the great rivers of England shall be kept open and free for navigation. It is to this point that I wish to revert later. I merely remind hon. Members of it at the outset.

Of the closures mentioned in the Bill, of which there are a considerable number, I have no objection to most of them because they are in accordance with the recommendations of the Parham Committee on Inland Waterway Redevelopment. There are, however, four closures which are the subject of the Instruction standing in the name of myself and those of two of my hon. Friends. The four closures to which 1 object are quite different.

The wording of the Parham Report on these closures, and in particular on the Dudley Canal in the constituency of the hon. Member for Dudley, is open to doubt in interpretation. On the other three, however, there is a quite definite recommendation by the Parham Committee that they should stay open to navigation. I am aware of the Answer given by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport on 5th December last year at columns 157 and 158 to my hon. Friend the Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson), but I consider the Answers given to my hon. Friend's Questions far from satisfactory.

During the past weekend, I have made an extensive examination with my young son of two of the inland waterways which are mentioned in this proposed closure. Both my son and I are not without experience of inland waterway matters. I therefore say to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary that I have somewhat changed my mind about the proposed closure of the Dudley Canal. Last week, until I had refreshed my memory, I took a certain view, I now take the view, having seen the canal as recently as the day before yesterday, that it should definitely stay open.

The position of the Dudley Canal concerning the recommendation of the Parham Committee was that it should be left open until such time as the British Transport Commission definitely required to rebuild the railway bridge at the north entrance of the canal. Do not let us make any mistake about this. There are railway bridges at both ends of the canal and we are speaking this year about the one at the north end.

We are told by the British Transport Commission that the time has now come when it must deal with this bridge; the bridge must be rebuilt. I am told that the Transport Commission takes the view that, if an embankment was built and the canal was blocked up, the job would cost about £8,000 less than if there was a span bridge put in its place. However, having seen the work myself, I am of opinion that there would be a vast amount of solid material required to form the embankment.

I question the figures quoted by the British Transport Commission. First, is it really true that a span would be all that more expensive than a solid embankment? I very much doubt it. Second, the likelihood of the railway being closed in the not too distant future looms over us. The hon. Member for Dudley referred several times to the risk of closure of various railway lines for passenger traffic in his constituency. I fear that, if this particular line is to be closed to traffic in the near future, there will be a vast waste of public money if the bridge is rebuilt.

I hope that the Committee on the Bill will direct its attention to ascertaining the truth of the matter. Will this railway line remain open for some time? Secondly, what is the technical assessment of the costs likely to be incurred in building either a span bridge or, alternatively, putting in the vast quantity of solids necessary to make a firm embankment and close up the canal for all time?

I have received a letter from an experienced canal enthusiast in the Midlands who knows this area well. I shall not weary the House by reading all the letter, but I must draw attention to part of it. He says: Last year British Waterways proposed abandoning the Dudley Tunnel because of the danger of a viaduct at the south end. When that failed, having done nothing about the viaduct, they have now put the blame on the north end where there is another, much smaller, viaduct. This viaduct could be rebuilt in any way they like without interfering with the canal provided about £1,500 is spent on extending the tunnel 30 ft. If the bridge girders are replaced the whole job would be cheaper and no extension would be required for the tunnel. If the proposed embankment is built, a narrow extension of the tunnel would be necessary, even if the canal is aban-boned, to pass drainage from Dudley Borough. A large part of that £1,500 would thus be spent in any case if the embankment is built". I hope that the Committee will give very close attention to the true financial facts of the proposed alternative methods of rebuilding the railway bridge.

Moreover, I think that it would be tragic for several other reasons to lose the navigation rights on the Dudley Canal. It provides an alternative crosslink to the Netherton Canal. At a period when we hope that the entire canal system of this country will be revitalised and go from strength to strength, it would be extremely silly to lose a cross-link, particularly having in mind that it might be necessary at some date to have a temporary closure of the Netherton Canal for repairs or other purposes.

I realise that the Dudley Canal and tunnel has not been used commercially since 1951, but that does not mean that it might not be so used in the future. As recently as 20th March, I heard that there is a good possibility of 20 tons of coal a week being brought from the Brownhill coalfield to Stourbridge. If this weekly consignment of coal were routed via the Dudley route, the journey would be about four miles shorter. Incidentally, it is worth mentioning that the prospective carrier has been kept waiting over three weeks for a told quotation from the B.T.C.

Mr. Grant-Ferris (Nantwich)

Is not that normal?

Mr. Wells

Quite normal. No doubt, the authority is waiting to see the outcome of this debate before giving a quotation. I hope that the Committee on the Bill will take serious note of the commercial potential of this waterway. Furthermore, I have been told that it was written into the Act which authorised the construction of the Netherton Canal that the existence of that canal would not jeopardise the prosperity of the Dudley Canal. That is precisely what has happened.

Yet another factor from the canal point of view arises from the features of great geological interest which are called the Caverns, which are within the tunnel. These are ancient limestone workings. If the canals and the tunnel are closed to navigation, the only access which will be left to interested persons will be through Dudley Zoo. While I pay tribute to the very helpful attitude of the Dudley Zoo authorities, as I am sure does the hon. Member for Dudley, in allowing interested persons to get in through their private property to see these extremely interesting workings, it is clearily not a satisfactory arrangement to extinguish by Act of Parliament the public right of access to this public property and to substitute the necessity to go through private property.

In passing, I remind the House that the Dudley Canal Basin has been declared to be a site of special scientific importance under Section 23 of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act, 1949. The importance of this basin lies, I am told, in the geological exposures, and the Act of 1949 requires nothing to be done with such a site without the agreement of the Nature Conservancy. Yet the Minister of Transport is apparently allowing the B.T.C. to close the public's only public access to these very interesting workings. I hope that the Committee on the Bill will take note of all these points.

I do not know what consultations the B.T.C. had, before it brought forward this Measure, with the interested parties on the matter of land drainage. I mentioned in the letter from which I quoted that there will need to be drainage from the Borough of Dudley via the tunnel and through the canal. This is an important matter. The B.T.C. does not have a good record in dealing with neighbours and others on land drainage. What consultations has the B.T.C. had with local councils and other neighbouring councils? What about the position of British Federal Welders? The Parliamentary Secretary may express surprise at that question, but this company has a large factory which straddles the tunnel. What arrangements has the B.T.C. made to consult and meet the requirements of these various important private interests?

Has the B.T.C. considered the effect of the closure on all these interests? I hope that the Committee on the Bill will probe all these points. I do not apologise to the House for raising them, although they may be thought to be Committee points. I have a very good reason for doing so. It is that there are no Petitioners against the Bill from this point of view and that this is the only method by which the Committee's attention can be drawn to this multitude of important points. It may be said that the canal enthusiasts should have petitioned against the Bill, but this is hardly practicable, for although the canal enthusiasts are numerous—we all receive constituency letters from them—they are not rich, and the funds which they have are used generally for voluntary work on canals, where the B.T.C. allows it, and for buying boats, for example. They do not care to use their funds to hire lawyers.

Hon. Members may ask who are these canal enthusiasts who are using this canal. When I was at Dudley last weekend I heard about a 70-ft. narrow boat being taken through the tunnel at the end of last year. This was perhaps one of the largest craft that have been through in recent years. I heard of pot-holers who go to examine the caverns practically every weekend. Every Saturday and Sunday during the summer a dozen or more arrive by canoe. There is no other convenient method of entry to these workings, apart from going through the tunnel or Dudley Zoo.

In addition to this problem of these young people who examine the workings and enjoy themselves in perfectly healthy recreation, there are other possibilities for the future use of this important waterway. The local newspaper, the County Express, has carried an article about it recently and has detailed many of the other potential serious users of this waterway. I would remind the House that at the other end of the canal there is an extremely interesting flight of locks, called the Park Head locks, which are in good order. It is not as though this was one of those waterways which British Waterways have neglected. Indeed, I shall deal with some of those in a few minutes' time.

The fact remains that the locks on this canal are in good order. There is a good basin at the south end, and the Dudley Corporation owns the property which is adjacent. The Corporation might well at some time wish to develop it for amenity purposes, and it would be tragic if this interesting possibility as a recreational centre were lost. Finally, on the issue of the Dudley Canal, undoubtedly in the minds of some members of the Parham Committee the canal was not to be closed until that Committee—I repeat, until the Parham Committee—had the opportunity of reconsidering the matter.

I should like to turn briefly to the question of the Chesterfield Canal, which is mentioned at the bottom of page 24 of the Bill.

The Parham Committee clearly recommended that part of it should be left open for pleasure traffic, though it admitted freely that part should be closed. I deplore the fact that the British Transport Commission, in bringing forward this Bill, has considered the Chesterfield Canal as a whole instead of dividing it in two as the Parham Committee did. Great sums of money have been spent in past months—the first time for many years—on new works, locks and bridging. Much navigational equipment has been provided. If the statutory navigation of the Chesterfield Canal is to be closed for all time, this money will have been lost.

The local boat club has bought a number of new boats. It is an extremely active club which provides funds for the waterway, and it has offered its voluntary services towards helping the British Transport Commission to maintain the canal. But its services have been refused. This is a deplorable state of affairs. If this waterway is to be closed to navigation I should like to know how much public money will have been wasted in the last twelve months. I think that the Committee considering the Bill might well direct its attention to that point.

The 25 miles of the navigable section of this canal, oddly enough, have cost a great deal less to maintain than the derelict section, for this reason. The navigable section has only about fifteen locks contrasted with fifty locks and a three-mile tunnel on the derelict section.

I have had very comprehensive notes from the local boat club, as have other hon. Members. I will not weary the House by reading them all out in full now, but, in order that the Minister shall be in no mistake about this, I will send him a copy of these notes, and I hope that be will be kind enough to forward them to the members of the Committee on the Bill, so that they may see the true state of this canal and not merely be taken in by the Commission's point of view. I do not accept the breakdown of figures on the expenses of this canal as provided by the Commission.

We have had the recommendations of the Parham Committee, an eminent and able body which has worked hard. It is quite absurd to have a Committee of this sort and then to flout its recommendations. I am not the only hon. Member who has given close attention to this canal. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. J. H. Osborn), has given long hours to it. My hon. Friends the Members for Nottingham, South (Mr. W. Clark) and Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Kitson) both know this waterway well, and I believe that they are fond of it and would deplore its closure for ever.

Mr. J. H. Osborn (Sheffield, Hallam)

I thank my hon. Friend for drawing the attention of the House to my interest in this. This canal has been the subject of many letters to me. Today, I was in touch with certain people about it. Many people are not only interested in the canal but in the reservoirs, which my hon. Friend has not mentioned. I hope that they will also be taken into consideration.

Mr. Wells

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, but I want to get on and I shall not discuss the reservoirs tonight. The Chesterfield Canal should have our very closest attention.

The second canal concerned in this Bill and which I visited last weekend, is the old Stratford cut of the Grand Union Canal. Much of this waterway is dry for parts of the year, but I have had considerable discussion with local people, some of them owners of property adjoining the canal and some of them small boys who are enjoying it as a waterway, at least on Sundays, even though the Commission is seeking to close it to statutory navigation.

In dealing with canals, I believe in listening to the advice of those who use them daily, and these small boys tell me that even in summer this waterway does not dry up entirely. Although I am the first to admit that the waterway is in bad order, I believe that it would be foolish to close it to statutory navigation now. The new Inland Waterway Authority, or whatever it is ultimately to be called—[Interruption.]—Hon. Members who are not aware of the situation will have forgotten that the Minister gave an assurance elsewhere that it would be called something other than "Inland Waterway Authority."

As I was saying, under Clause 63 of the Transport Bill, the new authority will have an absolute protection, as from 1st January next, from anybody seeking to bring an action against it for failure to maintain a navigation. They will have this blanket protection for five years.

If nobody has brought an action against the Commission for the last ten years, why on earth should anyone seek to do it in the miserable six months that are left? Obviously, no man can bind his neighbour, but I think that I could give a firm assurance to the House that no member of any reputable canal club, no member of the Inland Waterways Association or of the Inland Waterways Preservation Association, and no responsible canal enthusiast who is a member of a club would dream of bringing an action against the Commission in the six months left if my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary could go some way to giving us an assurance that the canal will be left open.

I believe that the geographical situation of the canal has great potential as a location for hire-boat business. Hon. Members who visited the Aylesbury rally last year—and a number of hon. Members did—will remember the enormous change that has come to the Aylesbury arm of the Grand Union Canal, not a long distance from the short arm of canal which we are discussing, directly as a result of the action of one small private company and the enthusiastic work of a number of amateur boat operators. If the navigation of the old Stratford cut could be left open a little longer we might see it developed to great advantage in the future.

Mr. Archie Manuel (Central Ayrshire)

I appreciate the vast amount of thought which the hon. Member has put into his speech. Could he tell me the length of this canal? I do not know the locus. In what condition is the flora and fauna from the point of view of angling interests? I know that if the canal were in Scotland there would be many representations from angling interests.

Mr. Wells

I am grateful to the hon. Member. I see the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Jack Jones) in his place. No doubt he will tell us something later about angling. The canal is only about 1¼ miles long. The state of the flora is deplorable in that trees hang over the canal and it is clogged up with weeds. The various young gentlemen whom 1 met over the weekend assure me that the fishing is good at times. [Laughter.]

Mr. Wigg

As the House seems to find something funny in all this, would hon. Members help me by laughing at this point? At a time when we are treating our canals as a joke and a matter for hilarity, our competitors in the Common Market are building canals to lower their costs. I hope that the hon. Member for Barry (Mr. Gower) will go to his constituency and explain to the unemployed there that what some of us regard seriously he regards as a late-night joke.

Mr. Raymond Gower (Barry)


Mr. Wells

This section of the canal is by no means a joke, and the one in the constituency of the hon. Member for Dudley is an important commercial waterway, as I have said. The old Stratford cut with which I am dealing has great possibilities as a centre for pleasure boating.

It may be said by the Parliamentary Secretary that the Parham Committee was vague in its recommendations on this section. That is absolutely true. It recommended a policy of "wait and see" because some day the canal might be suitable for pleasure boating. The canal passes through an extremely attractive stretch of country. The hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) asked about the flora and fauna. The canal passes through the park of Cos-grove Hall, one of the most beautiful small estates in that part of England. It passes very close to an extremely interesting Roman villa, and any canal enthusiast who wanted to could spend a very enjoyable twenty-four hours there.

I am not suggesting that a nationalised industry has, as part of its public duty, to provide public amenities. My hon. Friend is the Parliamentary Secretary—

Mr. Hale rose

Mr. Wells

I will give way in a minute. I was about to say that my hon. Friend is the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport, not the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pleasure and Pastime.

Mr. Hale

I am speaking on behalf of several hundred thousand people who travel from Manchester every night in conditions which are deplorable, in carriages in which they are almost crushed to death, and in a proximity to others which is almost indecent. These facetious remarks about boating on a canal in Buckinghamshire make me want to spew, and I tell the hon. Gentleman so.

Mr. Wells

I think that the hon. Gentleman has entirely failed to miss the point. [Laughter.] If the hon. Gentleman wants to go and spew, he can do so, but the—

Mr. Hale rose

Hon. Members

Sit down.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker


Mr. Hale


Mr. Deputy-Speaker


Mr. Hale

I do not care what you say or do. I want you to listen to this comment. [Interruption.] If you wish to suspend me you can do so.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order. The hon. Member will resume his seat.

Hon. Members

Sit down.

Mr. Hale

I say on behalf of my constituents that they do not have to put up with these conditions.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker


Hon. Members

Order. Sit down.

Mr. Wells

I was seeking to make the point that there are many people who believe that when the new Inland Waterways Authority takes over the canals from the British Transport Commission they will be on a much better footing because the serious transport matters of the Class A canals will be attended to in their due course. But the pleasures of many other members of the public—perfectly legitimate sports such as fishing—will also be duly attended to.

As I was saying some time ago, and I am glad to get back to my theme of this old Stratford cut, I have only two doubts. The first is about the water supply, and the second is about the strength of the embankment in the middle section where it is built up and is standing free, and not built into the hillside.

In the past the water supply came from a sluice on the Ouse in the neighbourhood of Buckingham. This has not been available for many years, and although boats were built for export at Stony Stratford as late as 1923 and coal was taken into that small town in the 'thirties, the supply of water to the canal has either come in the form of rain or as a backwash from the main inflow of the Grand Union Canal.

That is not a satisfactory situation, and it is for this reason that I mentioned at the outset of my speech that passage from the Magna Charta, because the water taken from the Ouse at Buckingham to make this canal navigable when it was first constructed represents a deliberate step over a hundred years ago to make the Ouse in that section not navigable. Therefore, if, from the year 1350 onwards, there was an obligation on the Government and on the public to keep the great rivers of England open, and the Ouse was deliberately stopped up in order to provide water for this canal, surely it is the successor, as it were, to the right of navigation which was conferred by Magna Charta on the public of this country. I therefore urge my hon. Friend to look very closely at any recommended closure of the canal and the far-reaching constitutional implications that might spring from it.

I am told, on good local authority, that alternative supplies of water are available. There is a brook that passes under the canal. I believe that it is called the Dog's Mouth Spring, and apparently it never dries up. If we wanted to provide a new source of water for the canal it would make a perfectly good one. Not only is this canal situated in beautiful countryside but, for those hon. Members who would like to see a boating station established there, I would remind the House that the stretch at Stony Stratford straddles the A.5 road, and is only a short distance from the M.1. It is therefore handy for all the people of the Midlands and the London area. It is in an almost ideal position. It would be a great tragedy if it were closed. I therefore urge hon. Members to oppose any attempt to close it.

The last canal with which I wish to deal is the Erewash Canal. For the benefit of hon. Members who may not recall it, it is mentioned in line 20, on page 25 of the Bill. The canal suffers from a degree of mining subsidence, but there is no value in a rushed closure, any more than there is value in a rushed closure of the other units with which I have dealt. The Parham Committee did not recommend closure of this canal. As in the case of the old Stratford cut, it recommended a policy of "wait and see".

The Erewash Canal has plenty of water. It is only about five miles in length, and if there is any further mining subsidence between the passing of the Bill and the vesting date of the Transport Bill, which I have already mentioned, it can hardly affect the works policy of the Commission. The Commission is very slow in getting going. If there should be any further subsidence between June or July of this year and January of next year I do not think that the Commission would alter its works policy at all. Therefore, I view this proposed closure as a storm in a teacup. I understand that no money has had to be spent on the canal as a result of mining subsidence since 1958, and that the grand total of expenditure on the canal between 1951 and 1958 was only just over £800. Surely this canal could be left for a further six months, for the new Authority.

The Commission pays lip service to leaving matters untouched for the new Authority when it is set up, but, in contrast with this, when closures are mentioned it is all too anxious to press on. I believe that the new Inland Waterways Authority may well have different views from those of the Commission about the four waterways I have mentioned. There is no virtue in closing them precipitately, unless it is done with the object of saving money—and I have sought to indicate that the prospective saving from the closing of these four waterways would be very small.

I trust that the Committee on the Bill will look at the prospective saving very closely, and see whether it is possible to remove these four sections from the provisions of the Bill, leaving them for the new Authority to deal with, and to do the best it can for canal enthusiasts of all sorts. If in a few years' time the new Authority seeks to close these units on grounds which have been properly argued, unlike these rushed measures with which the House is presented today, I shall have no objection, but at present I hope that the House will in due course support my Instruction to the Committee, unless of course the Minister can give real assurance to the people who are using these canals or will use them in future, and the many supporters of the canals movement of the country.

11.6 p.m.

Mr. Jack Jones (Rotherham)

I rise to support the plea made by the hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. J. Wells) in his effort to get the Minister to postpone the action contemplated by this Bill.

I know that the Minister will tell us that he is not closing the canals but handing them over to the responsibility of the new Authority. I hope that by the time the new Authority gets to work the canals will be in no worse a condition than they are today. I am not going into the question of the strategic use that can be made of canals, their economic use, or whether they should be used for the carrying of ore or grain. I am not going to deal with them as a commercial proposition, but as a social and psychological proposition.

In this country there are many ordinary, decent working folk. I have often spoken about the "bad eggs" among them, those extremists who seek to create trouble in industry. The House can take it from me that every weekend 4½ million decent, quiet, peace-loving fellows use the canals—those which are left fit to fish in—for angling purposes. I challenge any employer to go among his working people in the angling section of the local sporting club, seek out those who comprise that section and tell me that they are not among the best employees he has. These are the people who "seek peace and ensue it." They want to sit by the river bank and do harm to no one. Every club and every pub has an angling section whose members are, more and more, seeking peace and quietness apart from the sad condition of the world. I shall not go into the cause of the condition of the country brought about by the rule of the Tory Party. That can be left until after we have had the Budget next week. Then we can get down to discussing economic matters, but now I plead with the Minister to consider this serious social matter.

Among other things, I happen to be President of the County Palatine Association. That is one of the finest associations in the country with one of the finest angling sections in the world. We have tens of thousands of members. People have asked me: "What are anglers prepared to do about the canals?" Recently we have spent £1,000 per mile to have certain sections of the Macclesfield Canal dredged, cleaned and put right. When the official in London was told this he nearly fell from his chair. I quote these figures to prove the desire of these people to keep the canals available for their pleasure. It is said in the Bill that the Weaver navigation is to be left alone. If it were closed to angling there would be a mutiny. The chap who closed it would be brought to the Bar for incitement to rebellion. Seriously, I ask the Minister to look not so much at the economics of this matter. I know that the canals are in a desperate condition, but that is not the fault of the fellows who use them or of the boating clubs.

Take the case of the Chesterfield Canal. It is 45 miles and 82 yards long. What is the promised use of it today? There is no great commercial use for it but there are thousands of houseboats, small yachts and barges on it in which men with their wives and children can spend a peaceful weekend cruising along and looking at the countryside. Debar them from that canal and where would they go? They would go on to the already congested roads. Debar people from use of that canal and the impression will be created in their minds that the party responsible does it for restriction and the idea that a man should not be allowed to fish. There are now very few rivers open to the public. Because of pollution, because of the rights of riparian owners, and because of all the other factors operating against the ordinary, decent lower-paid worker, the amount of water available for fishing becomes less every week.

I do not hold this against the landowners. I have poached in their waters and enjoyed it. It is all very well for wealthy landowners not to take any interest in this. What would happen if it were suddenly announced that Old Trafford and Wembley were to be closed? Yet only a fragment of the population watch football matches as compared with the millions who go fishing. I hope that the Minister will look again at this question.

The question has been asked whether the country should be expected to keep these places fit for anglers. Why not? I say that it is a social service. This is a social service which can be paid for by a slight increase in taxation. Workmen are more contented and turn out better work because of their fishing. The advantage of having a band of workmen return on a Monday morning contented and relaxed after a weekend's quiet and peace cannot be computed in terms of money.

I have already complained in the House about the closure of canals. I presented a Petition with many signatures about two years ago. I know the difficulties. I know the economic and strategic arguments. However, there is the social and psychological side. The Minister may not be efficient. I do not know whether he is or is not. If he is a Minister for very long he will know what I mean because he will become, as I did, so distressed with the work inside his Ministry that he will want to get into the countryside and fish at the weekends. There is no finer feeling than to want to forget this House. I say that as one who fishes as often as he can. People often tell me that I look very well and fit and always have a smile on my face. There is a good reason for this. Weekends in the countryside, especially angling weekends, produce contentment and relaxation. Both the Labour Party and the Tory Party spend too much of their time at the weekends devising the destruction of various things.

I know something about the closing of stations and the perturbation felt by thousands of workpeople who are now not able to catch the trains they took formerly. Industry is becoming very concerned about the resulting loss of time, because buses are not running to time. If a train was late due to fog, allowances could be made. However, I do not want to go into too much detail on this aspect.

I want to make my appeal on behalf of millions of decent-minded, Christian fellows, that these canals, so far as is humanly possible, should not only be kept fit for navigation but also kept fit for men to fish in so that decent people should have that peace of mind which all decent. God-fearing men are entitled to have.

11.13 p.m.

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

I have enjoyed the joking and laughing which has taken place during the debate as well as anyone, but my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) became very indignant about the justifiable grievances of many of his constituents because of the conditions in which they have to travel between Manchester and Oldham to obtain their livelihood. I want to produce some evidence to show the correctness of what my hon. Friend said. I want also to associate myself wholeheartedly with what my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) said. He lives in Trent. I know him very well. He, his wife and his daughters live in my constituency. They are a highly respected family. I was largely responsible for preventing him being made a general. I have now let the secret out for the first time, but my hon. Friend knows that it is so. Instead of becoming a general, he has held his place in the House and he is making his contribution in accordance with his experience.

I want to speak for people similar to those for whom my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham. West has spoken in his interventions. I am sorry that he has left the Chamber. I know he has a contribution to make, and I hope that someone will persuade him to return and make it.

I speak as a friend of the British Transport Commission, and I want it to be a success. My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley has produced evidence from the most capitalistic country in the world—America. America has great resources, and can do things on a very large scale based on research and development and scientific planning within the limits of the system there—always allowing for the many conflicts that arise in her approach to her problems. That evidence shows that in America, too, transport has its problems.

I believe that if the British Transport Commission were allowed to carry out Che policy which my party in its best Socialist days desired it could make a success of our transport, and that is why some of us are opposing the Second Reading of this Bill. During the last ten years, the Commission has been subjected to a good deal of Government interference behind the scenes. The Parliamentary Secretary indicates denial of that statement, but I know that it is true. If it has not come to his notice it only shows how wrong things can be.

I have never before said a word of this in public—I do not believe in breaking confidences—but as we are speaking frankly tonight it would be wrong of me not to voice the grievances that some members of the Commission, no longer with it, have felt. The Commission inherited a terrible legacy of neglect by past generations, and it has suffered from the effects of two world wars. I say all this in order to get matters in their correct perspective.

I speak tonight with the backing of the managements of some of our largest industrial establishments, which have provided me with maps, drawings and statistics with which, if necessary, to prove my case. I also speak for the organised trade union movement; the North-West Trades Council had a very condemnatory debate in the Manchester Town Hall only a fortnight ago. It is because of these grievances that are reflecting themselves in the controversy that is taking place in all sections of the Press that I speak as I do now.

For a change, we are hearing about part of England, and not about Wales or Scotland. I make all allowances for Welsh and Scottish nationalism, which reflects itself in our proceedings, and I make all allowances for constitutional and national problems, and so on, but it is sometimes overdone. Tonight, I have statistics with which we can approach the problem in its correct perspective.

In the County of Lancashire there live 5,101,000 people, while the population of Cheshire is 1,307,000, making a total for the two counties of 6,408,000. Within a 60 mile radius of where I live there dwell 14,039,730 people and it is, therefore, time that we voiced their transport problems so that justice is done to these toiling millions, thousands of whom are at this moment going on night shift and will not be returning home until tomorrow morning.

Within a 15-mile radius of Manchester, for example, there live 2,695,000 people. Within a similar radius of most cities there is not the same concentration of people. I could quote figures to prove this, but I will not weary the house. More people use the railways in Manchester than in any other city in Britain with the exception of London. More people travel to and from their employment through Manchester than any other city. More than twice the number travel through Manchester daily to obtain their livelihood than travel through Glasgow. It is also said that more people travel into and through Manchester daily than any other city in Britain.

These figures indicate the seriousness of our modern transport problems. I can, therefore, understand the indignation felt by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West, who I am glad to see in his place so that he will be able to express his views in support of what I am saying.

We all know that Britain cannot survive without exports. It is essential that we should at least maintain the present level of exports and, if possible, increase it. Thus, inside industry, we ask for the maximum efficiency and increases in output. In this connection it is worth remembering that in the relatively short time that I have been an hon. Member the B.T.C.—or similar organisations that existed prior to it—has put through twenty-four Bills of this kind. That is simply tinkering with the problem.

There can be no wonder why I and some of my hon. Friends, coming as we do from an industrial area, desire to put the facts on record so that they may be considered by the Minister. After all, if we must do our best within in-industry, we must also do our best outside it to help the workpeople. For many years I stood beside these people. I am one of them yet. Unlike many people, my family live in the same house. We wear the same kind of clothes and we speak the same language. In fact, that is all we desire of life—to remain where our roots are—and it is in that vein that I am now speaking.

These millions of people must often stand in the rain when no bus shelters exist. Thus they arrive at work wet. Their clothes are wet through and this has a terrible psychological effect on them, for they must be at their work in this wet condition, attempting to dry themselves. Obviously this sort of thing must affect production costs as well as output. In the winter, this is more serious still, especially where we live, where the people suffer from bronchitis more than in any other part of the world, never mind our own country. They stand in pouring rain, in snow and in fog.

During the war, we used rightly to talk about absenteeism, but relatively we have no regard to it now. Yet everyone who is away from work for one hour has an effect upon the country's economy. Nevertheless, we allow thousands of people to suffer unnecessarily, to suffer through illnesses or getting colds, because there is not enough transport and not enough bus shelters, with the result that people get wet unnecessarily and all that that means. Consequently, the proportion of our population which suffers from bronchitis and asthma is greater than in any other country or in any other part of our own country.

All this leads to congestion and to more accidents, thus creating a chaotic situation that should not exist in a great industrial country in 1962. We hear a great deal about industrial productivity and higher efficiency. It is time that the Ministry paid more attention to this outside industry, so that those who serve so well in industry can have similar efficiency as soon as they get outside the works.

This requires more and better passenger transport facilities, so that less time is spent in travelling to and from work. This would help to reduce fatigue. All this counts when we consider the aggregate effect. Therefore, conditions call for what my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley has demanded. Public opinion demands it, and it is time that this House reflected that public opinion so that the Ministry will be influenced to adopt a different policy from its present one.

I stand on good ground, because for over thirty years I advocated the electrification of the railways and the introduction of dieselisation. My reason for doing so was that I was employed in working on diesel electrics and on electrification all over the world, but not for our own country. At last, it is a real treat to see that it is going on between Manchester and Crewe. Efficiency is stamped there. If only we had the same kind of efficiency beginning to show itself on the whole transport system of the country, we should be more optimistic about our future. This is a great success to nationalisation. I have no hesitation in saying that if those who believed in nationalisation and were determined to make it a success were running the country in the way that it should be run, the future of the country would be much better.

From this modern policy of dieselisation and electrification, revenue is already going up. It is a treat to talk to the men in the booking offices. The men serving the railways are much cleaner and they take a greater pride in their work. This is an indication of what could be done. Because of ideas like this, I was pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley took advantage of the Second Reading of the Bill to suggest that they should be introduced.

My hon. Friend suggested that the first essential was to carry out a survey. I understood him to say that this was what was being done in New York. I ask that the same thing should be done here.

Mr. Wigg

I quoted from a report on commuters' transportation which covered New York, Connecticut and New Jersey, but in the United States these surveys are highly sophisticated and detailed and they are going on in every great city in the country. In this country, we have nothing at all or only the most amateurish sort of thing.

Mr. Ellis Smith

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The Parliamentary Secretary has heard the constructive suggestions which have been made. We are not antagonistic towards the British Transport Commission. We want it to be a success, and that is why we are making these suggestions. I shall provide further evidence to show the need for surveys to be made. I want the Parliamentary Secretary to undertake that he will consult his right hon. Friend the Minister on the suggestions made in the debate tonight and assure us that a statement will soon be made about them either to the House or outside.

There is an unanswerable case for a survey in all the big industrial centres. I am speaking for our greatest industrial area, not the part I represent in the House but the part I represent outside in many other ways. As soon as possible, there should be a survey in the greater Manchester area, where 7 million people live, or, to take a radius of 40 miles from Manchester, where 14 million people live, so that we can introduce greater efficiency and better organisation in public transport.

I come now to Trafford Park itself. I was privileged as a boy to be employed in an American firm there which finished up by being one of the most efficient concerns in the world and made a great contribution to the development of our economy. Twenty thousand people are employed there now. In Trafford Park, 60,000 people are employed. Many people travel, for example, from Oldham to Victoria each day. They then have to change and walk to the bus, perhaps getting wet through in rain or snow or foggy weather. Then they have to walk from the bus to the Park, with another ten minutes' walk inside the works.

There are 233 firms in the Park. At peak times, 287 buses leave the Park. Between 4 and 5 p.m. by the Trafford Park road only there leave 168 buses, 438 commercial vehicles, 526 private cars and 256 cycles. In the same period by the Mosley Road in Trafford Park there leave 76 buses, 350 commercial vehicles, 1,521 private cars and 2,035 cycles. Often at peak times it takes between half an hour and an hour to coyer 1£ miles. Also, of course, people leaving for home have to cross the Manchester Ship Canal bridges. Thousands of men and women leave home at 6.30 or 7 o'clock each morning and do not return home until 6 o'clock at night. They may work on piecework during the day at the tempo of effort that that entails. Yet they are subject to dreadful travelling conditions.

Mr. Wigg

And getting worse all the time.

Mr. Ellis Smith

I have copies of letters sent to the Manchester Press dealing with these problems. I shall not read them all out, although I should like extracts from them to be recorded in HANSARD. I shall not detain the House by reading these quotations, although I ought to do so; several letters have appeared in the Press which confirm what I have said.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley has rendered a great service to the House, and I am pleased that hon. Members who have been present have been tolerant and have listened with such interest. They, too, can think over what has been said. We are all pooling our ideas and experience with a view to reaching correct conclusions which the Minister can consider. We have made constructive proposals. My hon. Friends and I have been critical but we have also been constructive. Indeed, one is not entitled to be critical unless one has some constructive ideas with which to back the criticism. We have endeavoured to be constructive. I hope that, having put this on record, we shall see that it will result in action being taken by the Minister so that we can improve the transport facilities in the large industrial areas in our towns and cities.

11.36 p.m.

Mr. William Clark (Nottingham, South)

I want to support my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. J. Wells) in what he said about the four canals. I think that the House agrees that my hon. Friend's speech was not only interesting but extremely well-thought-out and logically argued.

One of the canals to which he referred, the Chesterfield Canal, affects my constituency. I do not want to repeat the arguments which my hon. Friend used, but I should like to point out to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary that the weakness of the B.T.C.'s case is that it wants to close the four canals which the Parham Committee said should not be closed. What has happened since last November, when the Parham Committee reported, to cause somebody to change his mind about the four canals? The Chesterfield Canal, which affects my constituency, is perfectly navigable, and it is a popular place for people who like to use canals, whether for fishing or for boating. Presumably it costs money to set up these Committees. The Parham Committee was set up and it made this recommendation. Why should the B.T.C. change its mind two or three months later and bring forward the Bill?

I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone brought this point out. As there are no Petitioners against the Bill on this point, this is the only way in which Members of the Committee on the Bill can be instructed by the House. I hope that in his reply the Parliamentary Secretary will say something about these four canals and will give us an assurance that they will not be closed.

11.38 p.m.

Mr. F. J. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)

I shall not detain the House for more than a few minutes, but I shall refer in particular to the remarks of the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. W. Clark) and the longer remarks of the hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. J. Wells). I want to speak about one of the canals which runs through my constituency. I think that I have a greater knowledge, and more first-hand knowledge, of it than has the hon. Member for Maidstone.

In passing, I have every sympathy with my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) and my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) on the much wider issues which they raised, but I do not want to deal with them; they have been dealt with adequately. Everyone sympathises about the problems of the large urban areas, but I am not sure that they can be dealt with by this Bill. The question of canals can be dealt with by it. Indeed, the hon. Member for Nottingham, South and the hon. Member for Maidstone have asked the Minister not to close these canals.

I am not sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. Jack Jones) and the hon. Member for Maidstone are on the same lines.

Mr. Jack Jones

Parallel lines.

Mr. Bellenger

My hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham spoke for a much wider and more democratic body of people—those who fish in these canals —than did the hon. Member for Maidstone. Many of the people of whom he spoke are purely week-end visitors boating on the canals. Why should we keep the canals open for their purposes? I do not know whether the hon. Member for Maidstone speaks for the Inland Waterways Association, but listening to his speech I suspected that it was running on the lines of the telegrams and letters which many hon. Members have received from that interested body, which wants to keep these canals going at great expense for its own private pleasure.

Mr. J. Wells

The right hon. Gentleman said that he is knowledgeable about canals. I remind him that angling in them is impossible unless there is a passage of boats keeping the canals clear. The boats are essential for fishing.

Mr. Bellenger

I am going to try to persuade the House, by giving an illustration from my own constituency, that if the Minister or the British Transport Commission are forced to maintain for navigation purposes the portion of the canal that goes through my constituency it will mean hardship to a large body of miners. I feel sure that many of my hon. Friends believe that the reasons which I am going to suggest for stopping the statutory obligation of the B.T.C. to maintain navigation rights are far more important than the arguments which the hon. Member for Maidstone put forward.

The hon. Member for Maidstone mentioned the Chesterfield Canal. Part of that canal runs through my constituency. I have had discussions with the Minister of Transport about a matter which I should have thought carried as much practical weight, especially with hon. Members on this side of the House, as some of the arguments which have been put forward on what I would call a rose-coloured basis by the hon. Member for Maidstone.

The inhabitants in one of the colliery villages in my constituency, which is within three or four miles of a large town, have to make a wide detour to get to this large town. Among them are old-age pensioners who wish to draw their pensions. They have to make this detour because no public transport can run over the old-fashioned, out-of-date hump-backed bridge which was erected in the last century to allow barges to have 8-ft. headroom. The anomalous and farcical situation is that this portion of the canal has not been used by traffic for years. The local authority which wants to culvert this canal—which would stop navigation along the canal—would have to spend five times as much from public funds to erect a bridge, leaving 8-ft of headroom over the canal and providing navigation rights which are not wanted and have not been wanted for many years.

In my discussions with the Minister I have urged that he should include in the Bill provisions bringing statutory navigation rights to an end. If this were done—and I hope hon. Members will not oppose the Bill; some of them have good Committee points but I hope they will keep them for the Committee stage—we could proceed forthwith to open up the colliery village to which I have referred and the residents would be able to have public transport over the canal, because the hump-backed bridge would be removed and the canal would be culverted at comparatively small expense. A good deed would also have been done for the miners, whose case is just as important as the maintenance of the fishing rights to which my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham referred.

I have nothing against fishing. Fishing is a democratic and cheap form of sport which is practised by hundreds of thousands of working people. Good luck to them. I am not a fisherman, but we have to be careful what we advocate in pressing their point of view. If the Commission is forced to keep open waterways simply for the purpose of fishermen, we are asking for a very great charge to be imposed on it. It will be further in debit if it has to undertake these duties.

There are other features of the canals which are not so rosy as the picture which the hon. Member for Maidstone painted. I have here a letter from one of those lobbying in support of the Inland Waterways Association. It says: May I, as a resident of your constituency, living within one hundred yards of this canal, point out the other side of this matter? There is a great deal of difference between using this canal at weekends for pleasure only, and living near to a rat infested open sewer, as I and many other residents of this area consider this semi-stagnant rubbish depository to be. That gentleman is not exaggerating. This matter is constantly drawn to my attention in my constituency, and I know it well. The letter goes on: Has any of these weekend buccaneers any idea of the anxiety parents of young children can suffer if their children are missing for an hour when such an attraction is so near. Has any of them pulled a drowned child out of the canal as one of my near neighbours has? Can any of them imagine what the smell is like on a hot day? (The summer of 1959 was terrible.) I think not; they only see it when they want to. I am not speaking on the wider issues which my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley raised, although he said in opening that this affected his constituency. But I urge all hon. Members not to oppose the Second Reading of the Bill. If they want to press certain constituency points, they can do so better in Committee.

Mr. Wigg

Will my right hon. Friend tell us how we do that? How can I raise this matter in Committee?

Mr. Bellenger

I should have thought that my hon. Friend could have raised the general issues, apart from the Dudley aspect.

Hon. Members


Mr. Bellenger

There are many opportunities—on Supply days, for instance.

Mr. Wigg

My right hon. Friend must not get away with this. He and I have had many controversies, and he must not now run away from what he said. He claimed that hon. Members could raise these matters as Committee points. How?

Mr. Bellenger

I am referring to the particular constituency issue which my hon. Friend mentioned at the beginning of his speech.

Mr. Wigg

I was careful to say that I was raising an issue far beyond the question of a constituency point. I should have thought that even an apprentice to the Parliamentary system would oppose a Bill of this nature, because this is one of the few opportunities a back bencher has of raising matters of this kind. I should be failing in my duty if I did not do so.

Mr. Bellenger

My hon. Friend raised the wider issue, but I am not concerned at the moment with it, except with that part dealing with his own constituency. I am concerned also with the part which relates to my constituency. The hon. Member for Maidstone has suggested that the Committee be instructed to omit certain portions of the Bill, including that referring to the Chesterfield Canal, which runs through my constituency. The only argument I am offering is that the House should not throw out this Bill.

Mr. Wigg

My right hon. Friend cannot have read the Order Paper. The hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. J. Wells) is seeking to give the Committee an Instruction, because that is the only thing he can do.

Mr. Bellenger

I am opposing the hon. Member for Maidstone, that is all. If my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley wishes to vote against the Bill, let him do so tonight. I am appealing to the hon. Member for Maidstone on the ground, which I have explicitly put, of my own constituency, which I thought the hon. Member for Maidstone was advocating when he opened his speech. I hope that the House will see that I have a strong point of view about my own constituency. It may be that my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley has a stronger point of view on the general issue. If he wants to test it, let him vote. If he does, I shall support the Bill.

Mr. Jack Jones

On the point of the letter from his constituent which my right hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) read about the child who might be absent for an hour, I would point out that in Warrington, an industrial town, there are 8,000 boy members of the angling association. The association has never heard of any parents complaining. Child delinquency there is less than in any city. When the children are fishing on the canal bank the parents know where they are. The angling association should not be blamed if a local authority allows a canal to be clogged up with old prams and similar rubbish.

Mr. Bellenger

I do not want to over-stress that point. It was not the purpose of my intervention. I lived in London for many years in the neighbourhood of the Union Canal and there were constant drownings there, but I recognise that the answer to that problem is proper protection of the canals.

My main point in opposing the hon. Member for Maidstone, while supporting my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham on angling, is that 1 want the powers in the Bill to be given to the Transport Commission. The hon. Member for Maidstone represents Maidstone and I represent Bassetlaw and I am entitled to say that I disagree with him.

Mr. J. Wells

The right hon. Gentleman will recollect that I deplored the fact that the Transport Commission did not divide the Chesterfield Canal into two—the derelict part which passes through the right hon. Gentleman's constituency and the other part. Had it been divided clearly in the Bill I could have gone the whole way with it.

11.53 p.m.

Mr. Humphrey Atkins (Merlon and Morden)

I am glad to have the opportunity of following in the debate the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger). I entirely agree with the speeches of my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. J. Wells) and the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Jack Jones). I do not think that there is anything between those of us who want these four canal closures to be moved out of the Bill. Chesterfield Canal is 45 miles long. We are asking the Minister to give an undertaking that only 20 miles of it should be closed, as recommended by the Par-ham Committee. These are the 20 miles in and near the constituency of the right hon. Member for Bassetlaw. They are in a bad state, derelict and unsafe. The Parham Committee has recommended that right of navigation on them should be extinguished. We are in entire agreement with that.

We are asking that on the remaining 25 miles, which are used for fishing, boating and other purposes, the right of navigation should not be extinguished just yet. We feel that that section is not in such a bad state. The Parham Committee did not recommend that this section should be closed. We feel that it should be kept open until the new authority takes over and decides what to do with all the constituent parts of the canal.

My hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone made an excellent speech and put the whole case clearly. There is only one point that I want to add, and it relates to Dudley Tunnel. My hon. Friend said that the British Transport Commission had quoted a figure for rebuilding this bridge rather than putting up an embankment, but that some other authority had given a different figure and suggested that this was something that ought to be looked into.

As I understand it, the British Transport Commission has come forward with this proposal because the need to rebuild this bridge or do something about it is now urgent. It has been drawn to my attention that as recently as 30th December a British Railways spokesman was saying something different. I have been shown a cutting from the County Express of that date in which the spokesman of British Railways said that the proposal to replace the bridge at the north end of the tunnel was not being made because the bridge was unsafe, but because it would save future renewals … He went on to say that the bridge was becoming due for renewal.

I must go back to the Parham Committee which said that this matter should be looked at again if and when the bridge became unsafe and it was urgently necessary to do something about it. This, I understand, is what the British Transport Commission is now saying, but it did not say that on 30th December, and this Bill was produced before that date.

I do not know the rights of the matter, but I think that this emphasises the point that this must be looked at carefully because there are conflicting opinions about cost and about the need. If the cost of keeping this canal open is shown to be astronomically high and the need is urgent, then we get a different picture. But I am not suggesting that this is the case, and I ask my hon. Friend to give an undertaking that this will be looked at and that if it is found in Committee that there is any doubt about it, this closure will be struck out, because, as has been demonstrated, there is a considerable body of opinion which, far various reasons, would like to see this canal left open. I should like to see the right of navigation preserved in canals wherever possible until the new Authority takes over and has had time to make up its mind.

11.58 p.m.

Mr. B. T. Parkin (Paddington, North)

I should have been glad to speak on this occasion if only to make a melancholy protest about the catalogue in the Second Schedule to the Bill, and to join other hon. Members in lamenting the passing of many miles of canal, most of which I remember walking beside more than forty years ago as a boy, some in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) and others in Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Yorkshire.

I regret, above all, that the controversies on this matter have in some way soured public opinion on this question of waterways and made it more and not less difficult to find a solution. I think that there has been a little too much willingness to keep this as a convenient stick with which to beat the Transport Commission from time to time and to have a sort of night out.

Hon. Gentlemen opposite who speak to the brief of the Inland Waterways Association have had a long time to convert their party to their ideas. There have been ample opportunities for most of these decisions to have been taken, and I should have thought that it was time to drop this sort of disproportionate protest about canoeists, anglers, and so on, and to try to get the amenity situation looked at as a whole by some independent body like the Civic Trust or the National Trust. I should have thought that the Transport Commission could be induced to hand over on those terms the stretches of waterway, that it might well follow the same principle as applies when things are given to the National Trust, and that it should not be too niggardly about giving away with the waterways any buildings and property attached to them which might provide some income for their upkeep and improvement.

However, my main reason for rising at this late hour of the night is also a constituency one. I follow my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) in saying that we should not give a Second Reading to the Bill because we have not a proper, comprehensive and co-ordinated development of the essential transport facilities necessary to meet the nation's future needs.

My hon. Friend gave us an example. He said that if we interfered with the circulation system we got thrombosis, which for him was a singularly elegant turn of phrase; I take it that that was Parliamentary Greek for a "clot". If the "clot" were to be identified he would be within reach of legitimate Parliamentary attack. He would be the person who decided to go out and buy the most expensive and efficient brains that could be found in management in industry and then failed to give the right kind of directive to which that brain could bend its energies. It seems to me rather like firing off an extremely expensive rocket at the moon in its present position, making no calculation for the fact that the moon would have moved when this expensive instrument arrived there. Social conditions are changing. The very changes which the Commission is being urged to make will involve other changes, which will render nugatory the improvements that have already taken place.

Hon. Members have spoken of the difficulties of rural areas. They have talked about the closing of canals and branch lines, but they have spoken only of the sufferings of the rural areas. Let it not be supposed that an area like Paddington, around one of the main line stations, does not suffer directly from the absence of a sensible transport policy. The Commission is unable to retain its skilled men in the service because of housing difficulties. That means a turnover and a wastage, because the incentive to find regular employment on the railways is not as powerful as it was years ago. In order to secure the services of skilled men something else must be offered—and the one thing that cannot be offered is a home.

One of the sad things that happen in the great conurbations—as it is now fashionable to call them—is that we start alternative transport schemes without any special plan. We say that the roads are crowded and that we must build some more. The alternative transport system which involved the Cromwell Road extension and widening meant the pulling down of dwellings and the consequent rehousing of people who otherwise would not have need to be rehoused—a number of people almost exactly equal to the number on the waiting list in Paddington. Apart from the human suffering involved—a point which I must not develop now—that made it much less likely that the mainline station would be able to recruit the type of young labour that it needs if its modernisation schemes are to be carried out and if it is to develop the improvement in the efficiency and the standards of the transport system which we all hope to see.

I regret that there is nothing in the Bill to show that the Commission has been taking seriously some remarks made by the Minister of Housing and Local Government. One or two throw-away remarks have been made, not in the House but on public platforms, about the number of acres of railway land which might be used for housing purposes in London. People have said that it is a pity that the railways have not the power to do that. I am not sure about that. At least, if they have not got it they could get it in a Private Bill of this kind, because it would not be a major change of policy.

The railways have had powers for a hundred years to provide dwellings for their workers in places where no such dwellings existed—for crossing keepers in remote country lanes and station masters in places where they needed to be housed. I should have thought they could have afforded to house them in London. "But", someone will interrupt, "they have no money." The map of my constituency shows 10 acres of railway land which could be covered over. The man who goes into the market to find a developer is not necessarily devoid of resources if he can offer 10 acres of land in the middle of London, even if it would cost a great deal to cover it over. I support that it would be worth about £10 million and it would not cost a third of that amount.

It might then be objected that there could not be shops and other development, yet stations are littered with the greatest variety of merchandise. What is to prevent the Transport Commission from owning, sharing, buying and otherwise developing commercial trade in its properties? Near to Paddington Station there are these possibilities. There are also all these clever people who have shown what can be done with new techniques of high building on the South Bank, pumping up great quantities of liquid cement. There is all this new knowledge at our disposal. Why, therefore, has someone not included the people we need to house in central London and some proposal to house them—not in narrow little tubes going up into the sky, but in decent housing at the edge of the railways?

We do not want to live in the smoke and the grime but to have a vast leap forward in city design and the new kind of living of which we have not yet had experience, but which we need. If we bought the best brains with the biggest salaries and told them that this was what they had to work out, they could cope with the people who are at present commuting by public transport and being squeezed out. Because of the discomfort and increasing cost, they are taking to the roads and grinding themselves to a halt. They want new houses. What is the next step? The next step—who can blame them—will be a great increase in the number trying to acquire for themselves a pied á terre in the centre of London, a remote flatlet in the struggle to get normal living accommodation for those who are needed to do the servicing of the transport system of London.

This is a serious threat. It is not a question of a few spivs here and there, or a few exploiters, or incompetent old widows who cannot look after and manage their property. These are major social influences which never seem to be noticed in time, this erosion of building sites which will deprive us of the working people needed on the railways.

I am glad to have the opportunity to make my protest that this Bill is put before us full of little things which do not reveal as they might indications that the bigger issues have been considered. I think that the blame lies with the Government for not having had the courage to give that wider directive to those whose skills they have purchased and whom they have brought in to solve this problem. No particular good has been done by the rather dilettante interventions of those with a very limited view of amenity. I am not being disrespectful to the hon. Members concerned, but that particular argument does not fit with the question of what is to be the grand design for transport in a generation's time.

I hope that before we get another Bill of this kind we shall have a better indication of that. I am sure that it is shaping in the brains of young people, of all parties and in all parts of the community. It is time that the Government gave it encouragement and produced the sort of scheme which we all hoped would be the basis of the work of the Transport Commission by now.

12.10 a.m.

Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)

Mr. Speaker, my name is Hale and I entered the House in 1945 on election, fortuitously, by a very small majority. I do not normally intrude in the affairs of the House, because we have standing orders in the party which preclude me from saying basically what I think. It is only because we are now talking about a Private Bill which does not seem to be controversial that I have thought that I can say something on behalf of my electors in Oldham, who have been very kind to me.

We have had a long discussion about canals, which are no doubt important. I do not for a moment under-estimate their importance. I thought that the twenty-seven pages of prepared impromptus by the hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. J. Wells), who initiated this discussion, were on the whole quite tolerable, but there was a moment at which, I am told by my hon. Friends, I appeared to lose the patience which has been one of the characteristics of my political life. I regret it if that was so, but I have travelled from Manchester to Oldham by train and all this nonsense about canals and all this bilge and lousy stuff about fishing clubs is nothing to do with the conditions of the working man travelling home every night from Manchester in circumstances in which it is physically indecent for any girl to get into a train at all. The trains are crowded and the conditions are miserable and deplorable.

In the past ten years we have passed ten amending Acts to the Transport Act. I speak as a retired solicitor, and probably a tired solicitor, too. We now have a basic Act. Then we have an enabling Act. Now we are passing a disabling Act. There cannot be anything funnier than that, if we have a sense of humour. But we have not a sense of humour now. We have long ceased to have a sense of humour. We passed an Act in 1959 saying, "In three years we will do something." We pass a Measure in 1962—this is it—saying, "We will give them another three years to do something and, if they do not do it by then, we shall have to do something about it."

We are not now talking about boating on the Thames. We are not discussing who would win. We are not concerned with bumping. We are concerned with getting people to work. Hon. Members opposite must not grin. They should have a guilt complex about this. Of all the burdens that the Tory Government have put upon the people this is one of the worst. I live six miles from Westminster. It is very easy for me to get here—a bob each way on the train, and 3d. on the tube, and so on. I could get here for half a dollar. It is now 3s. 3d., I think. That is not much for those of us who have a bob in our pockets, but it is hell for those who have to pay it out of their weekly income. It is certainly hell for members of families who are alii paying for it. Most of them are.

A few years ago the fare for the six miles from Dulwich was 1s. At the moment it is 1s. 5d. That is not much to those of us who, although perhaps we are not very well off, at least have enough to buy ourselves a peppermint and soda without remorse. And do not let us forget that the system of season tickets on the London suburban railways is such that on short distances it costs as much for five days as it could for six. It is so organised that one has to pay pretty well the full fare for five days.

I have travelled from Manchester to Oldham and, as I have said, Oldham is worried about its transport arrangements. We have four stations in Oldham, which is rather a lot, but Oldham is a curious, elongated town. It is a long distance between each station, and it would be a great hardship if one of them were closed—and there is talk of that. If anybody travelled from Manchester to Oldham at night he would find himself in an overcrowded train—so overcrowded that it would be just as bad as any train I have seen on the London suburban system. That is the normal thing every night.

I do not worry about the hon. Member's twenty-seven pages on boating; they were pretty good. I say, quite frankly, that if Oldham people boated home I would support him. But the Oldham people are miserably, stinkingly overcrowded, in indecent conditions, right after night—and now we are told about Sir Someone What's 'is Name, or Dr. Beecham, or Beeching & Son-there are so many of them I get mixed up—someone who gets £24,000 a year, and who, so far as I know, has not done a damn' thing since he got the job.

I do not like the idea of giving a second douceur to Sir Brian Robertson, and I am told that if this Bill does not go through Sir Brain's £12,500 of "golden handshake" will not be permitted. I have read the Bill and I do not know why that should be. But I have also read the Daily Express, which tells me that that is so. And anybody who reads the Daily Express will know that the hon. Member for Solihull (Sir M. Lindsay) has given it his virtual support, so that we have to treat that newspaper with some reverence we did not give it before.

I want to say, very humbly, that the correspondence I had from Sir Brian Robertson while he was in charge of the British Transport Commission was by far the best I have ever had from any sort of organisation of a national character. He was always charming, always helpful. He always did his best. The correspondence I have had from Dr. Beeching really stinks—and I will send copies of it to any Minister who wishes to see it. This is really a sort of dictator who has no ground at all for talking to democracy.

That is only a limited correspondence and I may be unjust, but I can say that the correspondence I had from Sir Brian Robertson was charming, and courteous and helpful. He even tried to arrange trains for Oldham wakes week during a national strike, and I loved him for that. If he wants his douceur he can have it from me—although I do not thank that he should. I would permit myself to say that, on the whole, "golden handshakes" twice are rather more than one should have in a normal lifetime. I venture to say to the authorities that I have not had one once, but that sort of thing does not excite my mind.

Our transport system is one of the most important things we have, but there is no question but that the Tory Government have tried to run it down. We get a further indication from the various transport committees, and so on—British, Welsh, and Scottish. It is pretty tough, it really is, that when they have run down the whole national system they should start to run down the individual system, too.

They say, "We run a fast express from London to Aberystwyth, and time it to do 28 miles an hour-"—they call it the North Wales Express, or something like that—

Mr. Charles Loughlin (Gloucestershire, West)

The Cambrian Coast Express.

Mr. Hale

Yes--there it is; it is almost deceiving. This train runs at 28 miles an hour, and we tell the world's railway experts, "It is very difficult. The Cambrian Coast Express is our best train, but it is not making a profit." This is monstrous—but this sort of thing shows itself in all the reports that we receive.

May I, for a moment, look at Oldham as a man with no particular expertise? I may be completely wrong. I have been wrong before, but not always. In politics I am nearly always right. If hon. Members would care to bear with me I could give a list of the occasions when I have been right. I should probably be out of order in doing so, but it would be a fascinating list. Perhaps I was right just by chance. Southern Rhodesia and Orpington are a couple. There are others. If anyone wants a full list of the items will they please let me know? They can write to me. In the meantime let us return to our muttons.

I take it that we wish really to consider the relationship of British Railways to the country. I am not now going to raise political issues which are obvious and which every hon. Member opposite understands. I am not now going to say, "Of course, the party opposite hived off road transport, and so on, and ditched it by making it almost impractical". Everyone knows that. I am not now going to say anything like that because, frankly, hon. Members opposite really did appoint a bloke who was their bloke and then they gave him orders which virtually involved the necessity of cutting out profitable stations. I do not want to be controversial. I am anxious tonight to be matey.

Let us look at the situation in the light of events and in the light of the restrictions hon. Members opposite have decided to put on our transport system—extremely regrettable restrictions. If one is really to look at the system one must look at the capital assets for a moment. Oldham has its four stations and we want them. The Government need not close them down. But Oldham has a mass of old railways running through the town, bisecting the town. Going around the country I have found that this sort of thing is happening everywhere. In many towns—despite the committees, the advisory bodies and the rest—there are these masses of old, tangled railways. The Government close down profitable systems, but no one seems to have considered these blank, useless areas which came to the railways in 1865 but which no one has considered since.

I should have thought that this complete bisection of Oldham does the town nothing but harm. A committee considering this independently in Oldham would show that four or five lines of railways could be closed down so that the town could be opened up. A bridge could be erected and the amenities of the place could be considerably altered. The result would be a profit, and there are scores of other places where the same could be done.

I urge the Minister to consider this. Here am I, popping up with a suggestion, realising that the House may feel that I am wrong, appreciating that, in a year or two, the Government will adopt such a move, discovering that I was right but praising themselves for their insight. Oh dear. To think that it all started with an odd back bencher popping up without restriction of the Standing Orders and making an observation.

12.25 a.m.

Mr. G. R. Strauss (Vauxhall)

The Second Reading of a Bill of this sort is always an opportunity for private Members to make a few comments about their constituency troubles, or to express general grievances against the body that is bringing the Bill to the House. On this occasion, a number of my hon. Friends and a number of hon. Members opposite have so expressed themselves and made effective contributions to the debate.

I rise only to say a few words from the Front Bench because of some observations from my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), who seemed to be in doubt about where his colleagues and I stood in these important transport matters which he has raised. He spoke largely of the problem in and around his constituency and the North-West Midlands, but I remind him that the problems confronting his constituents and those who live near his constituency are almost identical with those which confront people all over the land, and will confront them in greater numbers during the next year or two. Therefore, the problem which my hon. Friend has raised is not a local one, but a national one, and, for that reason, all the more important.

If my hon. Friend asks what is our attitude to railway closures and such problems, I have to remind him that we have been debating these very matters in the House on numerous occasions during the last year or two and particularly vigorously upstairs in Standing Committee E for the last few months, three sittings a week. My hon. Friend may well say that although the Committee sits in public, not much of what we do is reported in the Press.

Mr. Wigg

My right hon. Friend must at least give me credit for being able to read. Of course I have looked at the Committee reports. What I have tried to find in what has been said by my right hon. Friend and other experts and, indeed, by the Minister, is coherent principles. I have made inquiries and f understand perfectly well the general line. I do not want to be unkind about it. What I am looking for is a basic plan for action. Tonight, I have put forward a basis of action. First, we should establish what our present transport situation is and how it is likely to develop.

Mr. Strauss

I am glad to have my hon. Friend's support for a point of view and a policy which I and my colleagues have been expressing for some time. We have expressed it on the appropriate opportunities—that is, when Transport Bills are brought forward by the Government. If my hon. Friend cares to read the debate on, for example, Second Reading of the Transport Bill last November, or the debate in the House on the Government's proposal for reorganising the transport system, he will find closely argued discussion on this point from both sides, including speeches from myself and my colleagues from the Front Bench. He cannot, therefore, say that we have not thought out a policy or expressed it, both in the House and outside, on many occasions.

Mr. Wigg

Of course my right hon. Friend has said these things. I have read them. I understand perfectly what he has said. What I am looking for is coherent principles on which action could be based, but that I cannot find. If, now, my right hon. Friend agrees with me when I argue that there should be surveys—and my constituency is taking it in association with Birmingham to get it done by the local authority—I am delighted.

Mr. Strauss

It does not much matter whether I agree with my hon. Friend, or he agrees with me. We have, apparently, been thinking along the same lines, and I, at least, have been expressing the view for many a long day, both inside the House and outside, as my colleagues have done, that, briefly, there should be a survey of the national transport requirements. Not only should there be a survey concerning the railway requirements or the road requirements, but the situation should be considered as a whole. We have pressed that upon the Government. They have been telling us in Committee upstairs that they now have such a Departmental survey in operation. I am not defending the Government, or saying that their plan is adequate, large enough or is not too late, but that is what they tell us.

I fully agree with my hon. Friend when he says that in this matter we are very much behind the Americans. They have made these surveys. They have gone ahead in what they call traffic engineering—a curious name for surveys of transport problems—and they have done it on a scale far greater than anything we have attempted here. We have advocated many times that we should undertake traffic engineering in this country on a scale comparable with what is done in the United States. The Government are now beginning to do it.

Mr. Wigg

I do not want to be hypercritical, and I do not wish to keep interrupting, but the argument breaks down if it is done by the Ministry of Transport. What I understand by the expression that my right hon. Friend has used is this. The Americans are taking a synoptic view of the development of the community as a whole, of which transport is only one part. I have expressed myself badly, and I apologise. That is what I am asking for. That is what the Government have failed to do, and that is what I am delighted to find my right hon. Friend agreeing with me about.

Mr. Strauss

I am glad that there is no difference between us. I only protest to my hon. Friend that, when he accuses us of not having expressed this sort of idea, he forgets that we have on many occasions done so. We have put it very strongly. We have done it not only recently, and, no doubt, we shall be expressing such ideas again within a week or two, when we take the Third Reading of the Transport Bill.

I suggest to my hon. Friend that such grievances as he and others of my hon. Friends have expressed should be directed against the Government rather than the Transport Commission. The Commission, whose Bill this is, is, broadly, carrying out the policy dictated to it by the Government. Dr. Beeching, in his activities, is carrying out Government policy.

Therefore, if my hon. Friend wants to express vigorously in this House his disagreement with that policy or the inadequacy of it, rather than vote against the Commission when it comes to the House to seek powers to do certain necessary things to improve our transport, he should express his lack of confidence in the Government by voting against their Transport Bill, in which case we should support him. Indeed, we have voted against the Government's Transport Bill. That is a more effective and better way than preventing the Transport Commission from doing certain things which it needs to do and which my hon. Friend and I want it to do.

I come now to the subject of waterways. During the passage of the Transport Bill through Committee upstairs, and in the many discussions we have had on inland waterways, we have discovered that the inland waterways lobby is the most powerful of all in the House. It approaches us on every possible occasion with a great amount of paper. It has in the House several hon. Members who are interested in waterways. They are exceedingly active and vocal. We are always made fully aware of the needs and requirements of inland waterways, particularly of the need to expand them, and of the horror with which we should regard the possibility of closing any of them.

Most of my colleagues do not accept the case that no waterways must ever be closed. I do not think that anyone does. It is quite impossible for us in the House to decide which should be closed and which should not. It seems to me, at least, sensible that the Transport Commission, which, presumably, has a case for closing certain waterways which goes further than some hon. Members think is desirable, should have that case examined in the Committee upstairs. The Commission does not, I imagine, want to close waterways for the fun of it. It has a case, good or bad, and that case should be considered. Any local authority or other body whose interests are affected if a certain waterway is closed can state its case fully before the Committee.

For my part, therefore, while agreeing with many of the criticisms which have been expressed by my hon. Friends, in strong language, which I think it merits, of the Government's policy towards our transport system and their lack of a national survey of our transport requirements, I am not prepared to vote against the Bill. If such a vote succeeded, it might have undesirable consequences. But my hon. Friends have served a useful purpose in expressing, very ably, with such vehemence and with such vigour, some of the grievances which they feel so strongly and which their constituents feel. We know that these railway closures will become a national phenomenon and will present ever more difficulties.

It is as well, therefore, that the Government should be made aware of the strong feeling which is held by many hon. Members who represent the victims of the Government's closure policy, particularly when the Government, as no doubt will be the case, in the next year or two endorse the Transport Commission's proposals to carry out many closures of this sort all over the country.

12.36 a.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. John Hay)

I begin by expressing on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport his apologies for his absence. It had been his intention to listen to the debate and to take part in it, but he has been laid low with a very severe chill, from which I hope he will soon recover, and he has asked me to express his apologies to the House and to substitute for him.

This is likely to be the last Bill presented by the British Transport Commission. Under the Transport Bill, a Government Measure to which the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) referred, the Commission is to be dissolved and to be replaced by a number of separate organisations. Nevertheless, there is every reason why this Bill should receive consideration by the House and should be passed into law, because it seeks powers for the Commisssion for the remaining period of its existence which will be of considerable importance and utility to the Commission and will help to promote the greater efficiency of our transport system.

Bills of this kind are general purposes Bills which seek powers for such things as new work, the acquisition of land, the closure of canals and miscellaneous subjects. Before I turn to the major issues raised in the course of the debate I want to say something about the background to the canals problem which, as has been the custom in recent years, has ranked quite high in the discussion. The inland waterways are always a controversial subject, as the right hon. Member for Vauxhall said. With the exception of the four canals which have been specifically referred to in the debate, all of the 19 lengths of canal listed in the Second Schedule, with one very minor exception, were recommended for closure to navigation by the Inland Waterways Redevelopment Committee.

I think that it is important to put on the record what is meant by "closure". Clause 15 is permissive. It does not oblige the Commission physically to close the canals; it merely authorises the Commission to close them. It therefore puts these canals in very much the same position as that which nearly all the railways already occupy. Railway services can be withdrawn and railway lines can be torn up without restriction by the House, except that the Minister of Transport has the power of directing the Commission not to proceed with any such proposals if he wishes to.

What the Commission seeks to do in the Bill with reference to canals is to put them on the same footing as that on which the railways already stand. With two very small exceptions, the canals mentioned in the Bill are all disused canals on which there is no commercial navigation at all. There are certain exceptions—the Trent and Mersey Canal, the Burslem arm of which is only 660 yards long, and the City Road basin of the Regent's Canal where a navigable channel is to be left—but there are no proposals in the Bill for commercially-used canals, although I must tell the House that there are a great many of these commercially-used canals which are still operating at a considerable loss.

There is a widespread fallacy that it is much cheaper to abandon canals than to restore them. It is quite untrue. It is based on a confusion of thought between closing a canal to navigation, which often means nothing more than keeping it as a water channel and economising on its maintenance, and, on the other hand, total elimination—that is to say, filling in. This latter course of filling in is normally adopted only for special reasons—for example, where one wishes to carry out building development—but it is very seldom applied to the whole of a closed canal.

Occasionally, one hears references to the term "abandonment" and that means leaving canals to decay without further maintenance. Abandonment in this sense is not proposed for any of the canals mentioned in the Bill. The restoration of a disused canal for commercial or even any kind of navigation almost always costs more than redevelopment for simple purposes, such as water supply, which require the minimum of maintenance.

To restore the lengths of canal in the present Bill would cost, I am advised, about £700,000 plus £25,000 a year in additional maintenance costs. This is over and above the present loss on these canals of £35,000 a year. The Commission's proposals will cost at the outside about £250,000 spread over a number of years, and this money would only be spent as and when it would produce worthwhile reductions in the present maintenance cost.

It is important for me to say a word about the general financial plight of the waterways, because I think that some people are rather inclined, as one hon. Member said, to look at these problems through rose-tinted glasses. The average operating deficit of the British Waterways over the last three years—that is to say, 1958–60—was £600,000 a year. For 1961, it is expected that the operating deficit will be about £850,000. In addition, the carrying services run by the Transport Commission are losing somewhere between £150,000 and £250,000 a year. These figures, incidentally, include nothing whatever for interest on capital charges. In the most recent year for which we have figures we know that there is an overall loss on British Waterways of over £1 million, and this is a worse deficit in proportion to turnover even than the railways show.

I have put those facts and figures on record because they must form the background to what I now want to say about the four separate canals. My hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. J. Wells), supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Merton and Morden (Mr. Atkins), have made an eloquent plea against the proposals for these four canals. They have singled these particular canals out of the 19 canals mentioned in the Schedule because they say that on these four the Inland Waterways Redevelopment Advisory Committee did not recommend immediate closure to navigation.

May I say, first, a word or two about this Inland Waterways Redevelopment Advisory Committee. This is not the time for me to express my right hon. Friend's thanks to the members of that Committee for their work, because their work is not yet completed, but I can say, even at this stage, that we realise how difficult a task they have had.

At the same time—and I am sure that they themselves would be the first to appreciate it—they are an Advisory Committee, and the responsibility for reaching decisions on their recommendations remains, quite rightly, with the Minister. Similarly, the ownership of the waterways and all the duties and obligations which attach to that rest upon the Commission. So, with respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone, it is not the right sort of language to complain that this Bill flouts the recommendations of the Advisory Committee, because that Committee is advisory and it is for the Minister to decide whether, and to what extent, he is prepared to accept its advice.

The Committee was appointed in 1959 to consider schemes of redevelopment for waterways whose usefulness for transport had dwindled or disappeared altogether, or which might still have value—for instance, for drainage or water supply. The Committee has submitted a number of reports, many of which have supported schemes put forward by the Commission. Where the Minister has decided to operate them, they have been presented to Parliament by the Commission in its annual Bills—both last year, the year before, and now this year. We have studied all the reports of the Committee with the greatest care. This is particularly so where the Committee has not seen fit to agree with schemes for redevelopment or closure which the Commission has presented.

In some of these cases, my right hon. Friend has still not yet come to a decision, because it seems to him that the issues at stake are bound up with rather wider questions of policy on the future of the inland waterways as a whole. On these, the House will find no proposals in the Bill, simply because the Commission needs his approval before presenting its Bills. But there have been some cases where the Minister has not been able to go the whole way with the Committee, and where it seemed to him that it would be wrong to go on postponing action. These are three out of the four cases which are concerned in this debate—the Chesterfield and Erewash Canals and the old Stratford cut of the Grand Union Canal.

As I have said, a disused canal is not like a disused railway. It is not merely a question of not spending money. Money has to be spent on a disused canal to prevent it becoming a danger or nuisance, and money must often be spent by highway authorities—for example, on bridges—which otherwise could be saved. For this reason the Commission and the Minister have had to take steps to reduce these unproductive expenditures as soon as possible. The present statutory position is unsatisfactory. At the moment, the Commission has a duty to maintain these canals in a fit state for full commercial navigation. If there is no good case for spending the sums which would be necessary for that purpose, that duty should be removed.

I cannot see any point whatever in waiting until the new Inland Waterways Authority, which we propose in the Transport Bill, is in being. The Authority will have to face exactly the same practical problems as the Commission itself. It will have the same duty to reduce its deficit as well as it can. Where the right course is reasonably clear, as I suggest it is here, there is no justification for postponing action any longer. There would be a delay of at least a year and perhaps more if we had to wait for the new Authority to be set up and vested with its assets.

Dealing with the Chesterfield Canal, the Advisory Committee proposed immediate closure of 20 miles, which included a collapsed tunnel, a dried up section, and at least one road bridge urgently in need of reconstruction. The right hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) gave the House an interesting description of the difficulties his constituents and local council have been facing for some time as a consequence of this situation. The Parham Committee proposed to retain 25 miles for navigation and to repair it for pleasure boating at considerable cost.

The figure estimated was about £24,000 more in capital works than the Commission's proposals and would cost an additional £2,000 a year to maintain. After prolonged and careful consideration we are convinced that formal closure to navigation is justified. The recommendation to restore the canal for pleasure boating is in some ways an act of faith. Nobody—no authority, no society, no body, public or private, has yet come forward to contribute to the extra expense, and I really must take leave to wonder whether the taxpayer should be expected to shoulder such a risk, because that is what it means. However, we want to go as far as we possibly can to meet the wishes of the Advisory Committee and of my hon. Friends.

The Minister has asked the Commission, in view of the Committee's recommendation, to maintain the status quo on the 25-mile section until the future possibilities can be seen a little more clearly and he can decide how best they should be handled. The Commission has given him an assurance that it will do so and I hope that my hon. Friends will accept that that is really as far as we can reasonably go.

As to the old Stratford cut, the Committee recommended a waiting period to see if a possible demand for pleasure boating justified the cost of restoration. This canal is unnavigable now, and for part of the year is completely dried up. Here again the future, as envisaged by the Advisory Committee, is a matter of pure speculation, and I cannot think that it would be reasonable to expect the Commission to remain saddled with the duty to maintain this length in a fit state for full navigation in perpetuity. Here again, the Minister has asked the Commission for an undertaking—and it has given it to him—that it will do nothing and allow nothing to be done to prejudice the possibility of pleasure boating until there is a chance to see what demand there is likely to be.

The Committee had no positive proposals for the Erewash Canal. It merely suggested that closure should not wait for future deterioration. The trouble is that there has been damage by mining subsidence as recently as 1957, and if there is any more the Commission might well be let in for considerable expense if the canal is to be retained for full navigation. The proposal refers to the five-mile section from Langley Mill to Ilkeston. The remaining seven miles from Ilkeston to Trent Lock, which is extensively used by houseboats and pleasure craft, will remain open to navigation. The section to be closed has not been used for commercial navigation for ten years and it is not attractive enough to tempt pleasure boats. There is some fishing which yields a revenue of about £30 a year. The only useful function of this section is to supply water for agriculture and to the rest of the canal.

If the canal is closed it will be adapted for use as a water channel. This will involve an eventual expenditure of £2,500 on the replacement of lock gates by cascades or weirs as the need arises. If the canal were retained for navigation there would eventually have to be expenditure of between £7,000 and £10,000 on the replacement of lock gates, and more would need to be spent on maintenance, dredging and lock repairs. I am sure that it is right to close this section before further deterioration takes place rather than wait until after it has happened. As the House knows, mining subsidence is a danger which often comes without warning.

I have heard my hon. Friends views and I hope that they have now understood what ours are. The Bill will go to a Select Committee if the House gives it a Second Reading and we have no doubt that it will be very carefully scrutinised by our colleagues. The Preamble of the Bill includes the words: And whereas … it is expedient that the Commission should be relieved of their obligations to maintain the said portions of any of such waterways for navigation … If the Select Committee decides after a full inquiry that that part of the preamble is not properly proved, I am sure that it will amend the Bill as necessary. My right hon. Friend proposes to make a report on the Bill in the usual way to the Committee, and if my hon. Friends who have spoken tonight would like him to do so I am sure that he will include in it a reference to the view that they have expressed, as well as his own.

That leaves me with the Dudley Canal, which is in a slightly different category. The Advisory Committee did not recommend that it should be retained permanently as a navigation. It simply said that no decision on the closure should be made until it became necessary to replace the railway bridge at the northern end of the Dudley Tunnel. The Committee suggested that when that happened the balance of interests in the future of the canal should be reviewed.

The Minister was informed three months after that that recent tests by British Railways had shown that the bridge urgently need reconstruction by this year. In the meantime, it had been necessary to impose a speed limit of 20 miles an hour on both tracks, and this happens to be one of the Western Region's main lines.

My right hon. Friend then followed the advice of the Committee. He reviewed the balance of interests and decided that it was right to allow the tunnel to be blocked at one end by an embankment which would cost, I am advised, several thousand pounds less to construct than a new bridge.

In the course of the debate reference has been made to the possibility of the railway line being closed. As I said to the hon. Member for Dudley in an intervention, I assure the House that there is no likelihood of the line being closed in the foreseeable future. The withdrawal of local passenger services is being proposed, but goods traffic and some main line passenger services will continue in any case.

Mr. Wigg

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has got his brief wrong. What main line trains run over this section? I think that the hon. Gentleman ought to stop at this point and make further inquiries, because he is wrong about that.

Mr. Hay

I was careful, before I came to the Box, to make sure that I had got my facts right, and I assure the hon. Gentleman that I am right.

That is the general situation, and that is how my right hon. Friend saw the picture. I ought to add that there has been a little misunderstanding on the part of some members of the Inland Waterways Advisory Committee as to whether or not the case should have been referred back to them by the Minister before he came to any final conclusion. If that is so I am sorry, but the majority of the Committee, and certainly the chairman, did not expect that in the crcumstances the case would be referred back.

Mr. Grant-Ferris

The fact is that the majority of the Committee thought that it ought to have been referred back, and the chairman and one or two others did not think so.

Mr. Hay

Here again, I carefully checked my facts before I made my statement, and I understand the position to be as I have stated it.

My right hon. Friend came to his decision on this case of the Dudley Canal very carefully after looking at all the evidence before him, but once more, if my hon. Friends wish, when the Minister makes his report to the Committee on the Bill I am sure that he will mention the views that they have supported, as well as what we believe to be the right course

In considering this canal the Select Committee will have before it the proposals in the Bill, and the views which have been expressed on it. It will be in a position to judge whether what is proposed is the best and cheapest way of achieving the desired result, namely, the safe passage of trains on the permanent way above, and in addition the general question of whether the navigation on this waterway ought to be kept open

Mr. Wigg

Will the hon. Gentleman give an undertaking that he will verify that the main line runs up this line from Dudley? This is of fundamental importance. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will tell the House what these main line trains are.

Mr. Hay

I have said that I verified this before I came to the House, and I verified it before I came to the Box.

That is all that I propose to say about canals. I apologise for having taken some time in doing so, but the canals have ranked rather high in the debate. There has been a lot of discussion about them, and there were a number of matters that I wanted to get on record. There is a good deal of woolly thinking about the canals, but our job, as I have said in Committee on the Transport Bill, is to try to keep our heads in a rather confusing and confused situation.

I now turn to the speeches of the hon. Member for Dudley, the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) and the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale), who raised rather wider and different issues. I am aware that the matters with which the hon. Member for Dudley dealt are very close to his heart. Very rightly, he has taken a close interest in the proposals of the Commission which involve the services on one of the lines which serve his constituency. He has sent my right hon. Friend copies of correspondence he has had with the Chairman of the Commission about all this.

My right hon. Friend has quite deliberately refrained from commenting or intervening in the correspondence, because this is primarily related to the proposals for closing a particular railway line. As the hon. Member knows, these proposals are at present under consideration by the regional transport users' consultative committee. The upshot of that Committee's examination may well be a recommendation from the Central Transport Consultative Committee to my right hon. Friend the Minister. In that case he would have to consider whether he ought to give the Commission a direction about its proposals. I think that the hon. Member will understand that in those circumstances it is preferable that the Minister should not become involved in correspondence or discussions in which the merits of proposals which might eventually come to him through the statutory machinery might be in question.

I want to deal with the general aspect of what the hon. Member had to say. In the first place, the Amendment he put on the Order Paper referred to the omission from the Bill of a provision for ascertaining the nature and extent of existing transport problems. In his speech he pressed for greater use to be made of transport surveys. He mentioned American documents. They are not new in the Ministry of Transport. We have known about them for many years. We know all about these transport techniques.

Mr. Wigg

The Ministry cannot have known about them for many years. The reports were published only in 1961.

Mr. Hay

I should not have referred to the actual documents. I meant that the ideas and techniques used in the Philadelphia cases to which he referred have been known for years. I have read those reports.

Incidentally, 1 cannot regard it as the function of the Commission to carry out surveys of that kind. It is not the Commission's job to ascertain transport needs in general. The Commission is virtually the sole operator of the railways, but outside London there are many other transport operators. There are areas where the Commission has no bus interests at all, and where all the bus services are provided by municipal or private bus operators. In such areas it would be beyond the Commission's responsibility to undertake surveys to determine the nature and extent of existing transport problems.

At present, the Commission is engaged in cutting out unremunerative railway services in various parts of the country.

Mr. Ellis Smith

Will the Minister be good enough to tell us whose function it is—in his opinion, or in the opinion of the Minister—to carry out a survey of the kind suggested?

Mr. Hay

It is not for me to say whose function it is. As the hon Member said, I told the Committee on the Transport Bill—as did my right hon. Friend—that we have established machinery inside the Ministry which looks after this side of affairs. Indeed, my right hon. Friend has been vigorous in expanding this side of the Ministry's activities. But we do not regard it as our function to carry out traffic surveys and transport surveys over a wide area. In that part of the question common sense itself provides the answer.

The main difficulty that one is up against—and the hon. Member for Dudley might contain his indignation until I have finished the sentence—is that we suffer not so much from a dearth of transport facilities as from a superfluity of them. Not least the fact has to be borne in mind that many people who formerly used public transport facilities by road or rail are now using private transport to an increasing extent. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South gave some interesting figures about the numbers of vehicles leaving Trafford Park by various exits. I noticed the numbers, of private cars and bicycles he quoted compared with the number of buses. This is the tendency throughout the country and it makes planning difficult. That is why we do not regard it as a major part of our duty to examine throughout the country various areas and to decide by whatever techniques exactly how the system should be planned.

Mr. Wigg

The hon. Gentleman has told us that he has read the American surveys. So have I, not once but a couple of times. It is perfectly clear from them that the Americans have been faced for many years with this problem. It has gone further, this decline of mass transportation, to the point where there is no road or rail service, but they ask all through, "Do we know what to do?" The principle behind the Acts before Congress last year was that there should be demonstration surveys and research so that they could get to grips with the problem and avoid making the same mistakes again.

Mr. Hay

We know about the American experience and we are not in their situation. My right hon. Friend frequently refers to the fact that after his visit to Los Angeles he calculated that if we adopted the same system for London as the Americans have done, London would extend from Blackpool to Calais. The fact is that we have not yet been faced with that situation because we know what could happen if we allowed the motorised society to take charge. We can make necessary arrangements, as we are doing with parking, the use of traffic techniques and modernisation of the railways to improve and develop our public transport system and at the same time to control private traffic.

Mr. Wigg rose

Mr. Hay

There is a lot I want to say before I sit down. Obviously, the system which I mentioned earlier, of cutting out the unre-munerative railway services in various parts of the country, has to continue. Indeed, it must be intensified. There is no doubt that this must be done in the light of the astronomical deficits which the Commission is at present running. The figure of £146 million last year was quoted by my right hon. Friend at this Box only a week or two ago. Both we and the Commission are very well aware of the desirability of seeing that where closures take place they do not take place without regard to the transport needs of the areas concerned. This is one of the reasons why the Commission always puts its closure proposals to the various transport users' consultative committees. Those committees take full account of whatever alternative transport facilities there are available when it is decided to recommend approval of closure proposals.

Mr. Wise

The trouble is that the transport users' consultative committee is not given the true facts at the right time. I quoted a case in which, in order to close one railway line, the Commission gave an undertaking to maintain adequate services on another line running in the same direction, but it had already got plans and schemes for ceasing to run adequate services on the other line. As the whole question of the canals is now based on my hon. Friend's statement of undertakings by the Transport Commission not to do certain things, can we have any faith in it at all?

Mr. Hay

I remember, when my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mr. Wise) interrupted at an earlier stage, making a mental note that, obviously, he had not read that Clause of the Transport Bill which requires the Railways Board in future to give advance notice of closure proposals on a much wider scale than has been the case up to now. That sort of complaint is the sort we have heard several times and the Commission freely admitted that it had made mistakes in the past. We give powers in the Transport Bill to the Railways Board to make known its closure proposals over a wide area much earlier than the Commission has done up to now.

Mr. Wise

It is not a question of the proposals. There has been a definite breach of an undertaking which was given in order to persuade the transport users' consultative committee to agree to the closure of a line.

Mr. Hay

Allegations of bad faith are sometimes made. I think that I should be prudent and not comment on them without far more information than my hon. Friend can possibly give me on the Floor of the House tonight.

There has been more than one instance recently where a committee's examination of a railway closure proposal has shown that the real reason why the line has been proposed for closure is that the railway has lost the great bulk of its passengers to local bus services or to private cars. In such cases what need can there be, I ask the hon. Member for Dudley, to institute a survey to determine what the public need by way of public transport? The public has already indicated its preference by abandoning the railway.

Mr. Wigg

The hon. Gentleman has been very patient with me, but he does not seem to grasp the point. I gave the House an example of the proposals of the Minister of Housing and Local Government to decant 350,000 people just over the green belt. Industry is to be held in Birmingham and these people will commute. This is evidence of the policy. These factors Should be taken into account in assessing the transport needs. If this is not done we shall always be one stage behind in the game.

Mr. Hay

It would be appalling if that was the policy of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government, but it is not. The policy of my right hon. Friend in dealing with the problem of the Birmingham conurbation is not to set large numbers of people down outside the green belt with the prospect that they will commute back into Birmingham. It is to set them down outside the green belt in places where local industry can develop and avoid, in future, the commuting problem. That is where the hon. Gentleman has gone wrong.

Mr. Wigg rose

Mr. Hay

I have given way to the hon. Gentleman a number of times and I moist now draw my remarks to a close at this time of the night.

I have tried to deal as clearly and as fully as I could with the issues raised in the debate. Whatever views may be taken of what I have said, I think it is clear, both in respect of the canal proposals and the other proposals in the Bill, that there is a clear case for them to be considered and examined in detail by a Select Committee. While we take note of the proposals and suggestions made by the hon. Member for Dudley and his hon. Friends, I cannot think that it should be made the responsibility of the Transport Commission to deal with major matters of general policy, as the hon. Gentleman would seek to have it do. Having had the opportunity of ventilating his point of view, I suggest that the hon. Gentleman should not press the matter any further tonight. I hope, therefore, that the Bill will now be read a Second time.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time and committed.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Does the hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. J. Wells) wish to move his Instruction?

Mr. J. Wells

I do not wish to move my Instruction, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, because the assurance that my hon. Friend has given that, not only the Minister's point of view, but the point of view of my hon. Friends and myself will be fully put before the Select Committee, meets the requirements of the case. We are very grateful to my hon. Friend for that assurance and for his kind attention to all our inland waterway problems over 15 hours yesterday and today.