HC Deb 30 January 1962 vol 652 cc977-86

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Clause stand part of the Bill.

7.34 p.m.

Mr. William Hannan (Glasgow, Maryhill)

In the Second Reading debate we accepted the principle that the navigation rights on the Forth and Clyde Canal should be extinguished. Some of us, however, were troubled about what would happen afterwards. Despite the assurances contained in the speech of the Under-Secretary of State, I should like to press the matter a little further. It will be seen that the Bill is presented by the Secretary of State for Scotland, supported by the Parliamentary Secretary for the Ministry of Transport, who, in turn, has some influence on the British Transport Commission. That Minister has not attended any of our discussions, and I should like to know why.

Can we take the assurances of the Secretary of State in this matter as being the last word? The Transport Commission will still be responsible for this waterway, to the extent that it will supply the water for industrial purposes. According to the speech of the Under-Secretary, it will also be responsible for the maintenance of the banks, sluices and bridges. I should like that assurance reinforced, because some of us feel that the Bill is just a little too simple. It appears to evade the suggestions con tained in the Bowes Report on Inland Waterways, the undesirability of Hybrid Bills and the necessity for Public Bills dealing with canals after navigational rights have been extinguished.

There is one other factual point which I hope the Committee will not regard as being too small to pay attention to. During the Second Reading debate the Secretary of State said that the overall working costs of the canal have been £77,000 annually, the total receipts £40,000, the greater part of which is from industrial water, and the working deficit £37,000 per annum on average."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th December, 1961; Vol. 650, c. 1065.] This deficit would be reduced if navigation rights were extinguished.

A comparable figure is mentioned in the Bowes Report, in paragraph 205, which says: In 1956, water rents on the Forth and Clyde Canal produced £21,800. Both figures may be correct, because £21,800 is certainly the greater part of £40,000, but I should have thought that in the context in which the Secretary of State spoke he was referring to a much greater sum than £21,800 in speaking of the sale of industrial water.

Another question therefore arises. If navigation ceases and the present receipts for the sale of industrial water are maintained at their present level, what are the future figures likely to be? How far will the costs of maintaining the banks of the canal and other safety measures be met by income from the sale of water? Most of us accept the principle of the Bill because of the advantages which flow from it, including the advantage of getting on with the building of better bridges at a much lower cost than would otherwise be the case, because the bridges can be built in conformity with existing rights and there will be no necessity to build opening bridges which, I understand, would cost about £80,000.

We want to know what will happen after the closure of the canal for navigation. Does the Secretary of State accept the interpretation of the Bowes Committee in respect of redevelopment or elimination? It appears from the Government's White Paper that they accept the principle of redevelopment, but the Bowes Report pointed out very effectively that this could lead to canals being abandoned and becoming derelict, and, therefore, nobody's children. This has happened in the case of the Monk-land Canal, in Glasgow. I will return quickly to my point to put myself in order. We are not discussing the Monk-land Canal tonight. I cited it merely as an example of what could be seen in many other parts of the country.

The Government do not appear to have accepted the responsibility of introducing a Public Bill. What are the prospects of such a Measure being introduced to deal with this problem? It is true that the closing of the canal to navigation will mean the end of operating the swinging or bascule bridges which are placed at intervals over the 35 miles of this canal. Eventually, they will be dispensed with. The large bridges which are manned by the corporation's employees also will be dispensed with and the council will be saved a certain amount of money in wages, and so on. Delays at the existing bridges create traffic hold-ups which it is estimated cost £135,000. Were the canal to be kept open for navigation, the cost of new bridges could be astronomical and could amount to £2,500,000. Therefore, we understand the desire of the Government to have this Bill.

However, it is a question of what will happen afterwards and we should be grateful if once again the Under-Secretary of State would give a categorical and complete assurance that the safety measures in connection with the canal will be continued; that the banks and sluices will be maintained by the Transport Commission and efforts made to avoid the weeds overgrowing the banks; and, also, that efforts will be made to avoid the possible loss of life among children, and the accidents which occur periodically in Glasgow.

I do not wish to exaggerate. I agree that parents, teachers and other public people have a duty to point out that the risk of loss of life is greater on the roads than from drowning in the canal, and that dangers are even greater in the home, but we are aware of the upsurge of public sympathy when these things happen and people want this reassurance. The present time gives an opportunity for the Under-Secretary to give such a reassurance.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. R. Brooman-White)

I can reassure the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. Hannan) and give the categorical assurance for which he asked about safety measures. We appreciate the considerations which have led to his interest in the Bill and his fear that circumstances analogous to those which have given rise to such sad incidents in his own constituency may occur in future as a result of any change in the position regarding the main canal.

As I said during the Second Reading debate, the provisions in the Bill in no way reduce the obligations regarding the maintenance of the canal for all purposes other than that of the through traffic of vessels. The rest is completely unaltered and the question of the weeds and banks is still an obligation on the Transport Commission.

The provision of industrial water will not be affected. The hon. Member referred to a figure in the Bowes Report. The latest figure I have is for 1960 and is £23,000, but there may be an increased demand in the future. There will not be an alteration in the amount as a result of the provisions of the Bill. The only financial change will be the removal of small tolls from the through passage of vessels. Long-term planning for the canal will depend on a general development plan.

The reason for the Bill is not to alter the position in any way regarding long-term planning, but simply to take the immediate measures necessary to go ahead with alterations to the bridges without incurring heavy and unnecessary expense.

7.45 p.m.

Mr. James McInnes (Glasgow, Central)

The Under-Secretary has answered all the points mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. Hannan). We recognise that an obligation will remain with the British Transport Commission regarding safety precautions, and so on. Nevertheless, the loss of life is a serious matter and we should like to know whether more concrete proposals are likely to emerge designed to avoid the loss of life.

My hon. Friend did not confine himself to the Forth and Clyde Canal, but mentioned the Monkland Canal. We should like further information about the redevelopment. Is that to be by the local authorities? In what way may the redevelopment be carried out? Will they set up housing estates and things of that kind? I cannot visualise further redevelopment on the Forth and Clyde Canal from the Glasgow area to the Dunbarton area. Further redevelopment is out of the question, because all that area has been redeveloped.

I do not suppose that the Glasgow Council or the Dunbarton County Council, or the burgh, could find an inch of space on either side of the canal suitable for further redevelopment. I should like to know what is meant by redevelopment.

Mr. William Baxter (West Stirlingshire)

I should like the Under-Secretary to clarify the question of the cost of maintenance of the canal, which is not now to be used for transport purposes, and the cost of maintaining the reservoir. This will be a heavy expenditure from year to year. After the heavy storms of last week great damage was done, which necessitated about 30 men of the Transport Commission working on Saturdays and Sundays to rectify it.

I wish to know how the maintenance of the canal and reservoir will be carried out from a financial point of view. What is the amount to be asked per 1,000 gallons of water from industrial consumers? How is it to be decided what industrial consumers are to be permitted to take water from the Banton Reservoir and the canal? Are we proposing to allow this matter to drift along with the expenditure incurred at present in maintaining the canal banks and all the rest of it, or are we proposing to make it a paying proposition? Hon. Members are entitled to answers to those questions.

Mr. James Dempsey (Coatbridge and Airdrie)

I wish to know what the Minister means by long-term development. We listened with interest to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. Hannan), who is an authority on the subject, and who explained the problems of maintenance. Will the canal be maintained adequately? Will precautions be taken to prevent accidents which may occur to children wandering about near the canal, or perhaps to people who may be returning home under the influence of drink? Will it be cleansed? Will pollution be prevented, to avoid the whole neighbourhood being upset by plagues of insects such as we have experienced with the Monkland Canal? These are questions which require to be answered.

Mention has been made of the junction with the Monkland Canal at Castle Street. Obviously, the concentration of the Monkland Canal into the Forth and Clyde Canal is a tributory course. Unless the Minister, in his anxiety to maintain this canal in a safe and unputrid fashion, tackles the tributaries of the Forth and Clyde Canal he will find that his efforts are to a great extent abortive. We have heard at the Dispatch Box assurances about a short-term policy of maintenance, of local development, antipollution and so on. That is all very well from a short-term point of view, but is that short-term policy to continue indefinitely, or is any alternative to be considered? Are the Ministers considering the alternative of removing the canal and eventually replanning development? I do not know the area, but possibly highways could be planned. I know that the Monkland Canal would make a good highway for the different townships through which it now flows.

I wholeheartedly welcome the Bill, but I wonder how far the Minister is to go in fulfilling these needs. It would seem to need another Department and another Minister. I want to know if consultations have taken place with the Minister of Transport and if this understanding has been arrived at by bath Ministries. If so, we may take it for granted that the assurance Which the hon. Gentleman has given the Committee this evening will be fulfilled. We should have more information about how far the Ministry of Transport is co-operating in regard to these assurances given to the Committee. That is extremely important from the short-term point of view. We should be given some information on redevelopment and whether there have been discussions and deliberations or representations made by the other Department involved, so that we can look forward in the near future to some plan being enunciated by the Secretary of State for the future long-term use of these stretches of waterway.

Mr. Thomas Fraser (Hamilton)

The Under-Secretary will appreciate, as he did on Second Reading, that no one on this side of the Committee objects to what is being done by Clause 1. None of us wants the navigational rights to be continued. We accept that it follows from that that certain obligations now undertaken by the British Transport Commission need no longer be borne by the Commission, but the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that there is a great deal of concern about what will happen to the canal when the Bill becomes an Act.

The Under-Secretary has given certain assurances about the maintenance of the banks and so on, but the only justification for continuing this canal in existence is that it is a source of supply, and said to be an essential source of supply, of great quantities of industrial water. One wonders if the quantities of industrial water are so enormous when the total income from the sale of that water amounts to no more than £23,000 a year. That is not a great deal of money when we consider the great industries which apparently find this canal essential to their well-being.

If this water is so essential to the wellbeing of those industries, can we be satisfied that a proper price is being charged for it? This canal was originally developed for the purposes of navigation. It is no longer used for that purpose but is to be continued in existence for the sole purpose of providing industrial water. We have understandable pleas that the Government shall ensure that the canal does not become a death-trap, or more of a death-trap than it has been up to now. It has already claimed many victims. Some of us hoped that when the navigational rights were taken away the canal would disappear and would no longer be a threat to those, particularly children, who play on its banks through want of proper playing fields.

This week we have heard a great deal about the deficit of the British Transport Commission. It seems a great pity that that deficit should be contributed to, even by the small amount required to keep this canal in a condition of not too much danger to the public—it will always be some danger—because the industrialists are undercharged for the use of the water. May we have an assurance that a reasonable price has been charged? My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. Hannan) called attention to the proposition he made that not enough was being charged for the water. If the total receipts amount to no more than £23,000 a year it seems that this scar across Scotland is not of such great importance, after all, in the supply of water to industry.

It may be that further steps should be taken—not the step of abandonment, as was done in the case of the Monkland Canal, leaving it as an eyesore and source of public danger and a breeding ground for disease. We do not want that to be the next step with the Forth and Clyde Canal. We hope that the next step might be that the whole length of the canal will be cleaned and the danger to life by drowning and to public health by breeding of disease from the canal shall be removed. So long as it is required as a source of supply for industrial water, some of us wonder why industrialists cannot pay an economic price for the water.

Mr. Brooman-White

I think that I can deal under three headings with the various points which have been made. I must explain again what the Bill does and what it does not set out to do. The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) said that everyone agreed with what the Bill sets out to do—that is, to abolish the right of through traffic. Apart from doing that, the Bill makes no change in the existing situation. That, in a sentence, is the answer to all the other points which have been raised. It makes no change in the finances nor in the charge for water, and it makes no change in the wider matter of the future use of the canal.

Any further scheme for development is not, as I said earlier, prejudiced or altered in any way by what we are doing in the Bill. If a scheme is brought forward by the British Transport Commission or a local authority or anybody else, it will be considered on its merits at the time. The Bill does only one thing. It deals with through navigation. It therefore effects economies on bridges and facilitates the road programme. I hope that this explanation reassures hon. Members.

8.0 p.m.

Mr. Hannan

Does the Under-Secretary agree with paragraph 10 of the Memorandum issued by the Scottish Office to hon. Members on 12th August, 1960: If redevelopment proposals are not made from some source, there is no apparent alternative, in the absence of legislation, to the continued existence of the canal in its present state. The situation is summed up succinctly in that paragraph and if no proposals come forward the canal will remain. Although the Transport Commission owns the canal, it has no responsibility to do anything about infilling it or otherwise getting rid of it.

Mr. W. Baxter

The Under-Secretary has not answered the very important questions he was asked. This proposal will fundamentally alter the use of the canal. Did not the original Act setting up the canal and the reservoir for feeding the canal stipulate that the canal and reservoir were to be used for navigational purposes? The Government are now altering the basic use of the canal and the reservoir. They should, therefore, tell the Committee, before hon. Members agree to the legislation, who is to pay the bill for maintaining the canal and the reservoir.

Have the Government the right to alter the basic use of the canal and the reservoir without at least considering whether compulsory purchase of land or compulsory deviation of roads took place when the canal and reservoir were originally built? The Government should consider whether they have the right to do this. The Under-Secretary says that the Government are not altering the use, but the use is being altered to such an extent that the canal is now to become a feeder for industry.

Much as I want that state of affairs to be continued, I think that it should be continued in a reasonably sensible way. The reasonable way would be to pipe the water from the reservoir towards Grangemouth, where all the water could be utilised in the new industrial area, and fill in the other part towards Glasgow. If this were done, there would be no danger to children.

I have asked a few definite questions which have not been answered. The Under-Secretary merely said that, if other schemes were proposed, the Government would consider introducing legislation to put reasonable schemes into operation. This is not sufficient. I do not think that we should pass this Measure without getting a clear understanding from the Secretary of State about the future of the reservoir and the canal. The taxpayers will be put to considerable expense in maintaining the reservoir and canal and we should at least be assured that this will be paid for by revenue raised from those using the water.

Mr. Brooman-White

I am sorry that the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. W. Baxter) thinks that I did not adequately answer the question. I tried to do so when I said that the financial position would not be significantly changed, except that the fairly negligible dues for through traffic would be removed. I can answer both him and the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. Hannan) on the same point. The incentive on the Transport Commission is not materially altered by the provisions of the Bill.

The hon. Member for West Stirling-shire referred to a change in use. It is a change in use only in so far as we will remove in future the very small number of boats which make the through passage. The incentive for maintenance and the financing of the maintenance are unaltered. The main sources of finance—industrial water, and so on—are unchanged. I am assured that the technical changes in bridges and other arrangements which will be made as a result of the Bill will not affect the provisions of industrial water and these other considerations.

The Bill is strictly limited in scope. It has only one objective. As the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) said, the Committee agrees with the objective. I can only repeat the assurance I have already given that the other matters which concern hon. Members are not materially affected by what we are doing. I hope that the Committee will accept this.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule agreed to.

Preamble agreed to.

Bill reported, without Amendment read the Third time and passed.