HC Deb 22 February 1965 vol 707 cc106-34

Order for Second Reading read.

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

Mr. A. G. F. Hall-Davis (Morecambe and Lonsdale)

In view of the fact that the opposition of my hon. Friends and myself to the Bill is concentrated entirely on those Clauses which are the subject of a Motion seeking to give an Instruction to the Committee on the Bill, if it would suit the convenience of the House I propose not to move the first Motion on the Order Paper—That the Bill be read a Second time upon this day six months—but to move the second Motion.

Mr. Speaker

We must await the view of the House. I will put the Question, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time and committed.

7.1 p.m.

Mr. Hall-Davis

I beg to move, That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the Bill to leave out Clauses 14, 15 and 16 and the Schedule to the Bill. The instructions which my hon. Friends and myself seek to give to the Committee on the Bill are prompted by considerations which I hope will be readily appreciated by hon. Members on both sides of the House. There are some issues of policy on which the differences between hon. Members on opposite sides of the House are strong and well defined. There are other, less-emphasised fields of policy where the parties share a unanimity of view. Occasionally such a unanimity finds simultaneous expression by all parties in recognition of clear and compelling circumstances in our national life demanding positive action.

This occurred at the recent General Election when it was felt throughout the political life of the country that in an age of marked material progress it was desirable that encouragement should be given to people to lead fuller and more satisfying lives in order that they might enrich their leisure hours. Undoubtedly one of the strongest elements in this field was a clear recognition that the amenities of coast and countryside should be preserved and that the facilities for recreation should be extended.

May I for a moment remind the House that the Conservative election manifesto proposed the establishment of a Countryside Commission. It was stated in the Conservative Party manifesto: We propose to set up a Countryside Commission with sufficient resources to secure the positive care of countryside and coast including the National Parks". It went on, Whilst strictly safeguarding secluded areas, the Commission will advise planning authorities on the designation of 'recreation areas' where boating, Climbing, gliding and similar activities will be welcome. On this issue there was very little between the parties, I feel, having read the statement in the Labour Party manifesto, under the heading "Leisure Activities", or in the publication which I have here, "Importance of Leisure". Perhaps I may read it, without any intention of scoring a debating point but in order to emphasise the deepness of the feeling which is current on this issue: Automation, new sources of energy and the growing use of the electronic calculating machine are beginning to transform almost all branches of our economic and social life. As these trends develop, the importance of leisure will steadily increase. It went on a little later: A Labour Government would therefore … end the present parsimony in the supply of public funds for outdoor recreation; develop the national parks; preserve access to the coast and protect it from pollution and unplanned development.… I quote from those two manifestoes on this occasion not to accentuate differences but to emphasise that on this subject there was a deep unanimity of view. In moving the Instruction in the Motion, my hon. Friends and I are prompted by exactly these considerations. There is, I am sure, a widespread desire in the country for the extension of facilities for outdoor recreation and for the preservation of amenities. With that in mind, I submit that the relief sought in the Bill from the obligation to maintain a considerable section of the Lancaster Canal in a state fit for navigation is directly opposed to the interests of the community and that the Lancaster Canal is the type of rural amenity which this House should be seeking to extend and not to curtail.

The county from which I come, the County of Lancaster, has a population of more than 5 million people, many of them living in towns which still bear scars left by the rapid industrial expansion of the last century, an expansion which took place when the revenues of King Cotton largely sustained the economy of Britain. The Lancaster Canal is within easy access of many of these towns. It wends its way from Preston along the coastal plain of the North Fylde, flanked on its east by the moors and fells of the western spurs of the Pennines. It provides a walk which I am certain is almost unequalled in this country. It has a length of about 50 miles along the towpath of the canal, which would span the whole length of many a county in this country. I walked along it this weekend in order to have a final look at the subject of the debate, and I can assure the House that there can be very few more pleasant ways of seeking true recreation after the toil of the week than taking advantage of this quite exceptional facility.

It is also used by thousands of fishermen each year. Hon. Members who have seen hazy figures walking across the fields and stiles in the mists of a frosty morning know how highly valued is this pastime to those who spend their time confined in factory and workshop. It also provides facilities for pleasure craft, facilities which may be unique in Britain, because it is posible to negotiate 40 miles of this canal without being confronted by a single lock, and it provides access to the sea.

May I turn to the part of the canal for which relief from the obligation to maintain it for navigation is sought in the Bill? The Schedule to the Bill refers to 11 miles, 1,327 yards as being the length for which the relief is sought. Of this, some three miles south of Tewitfield Locks is now freely used by pleasure craft. Of the remaining length north of Tewitfield Locks, much cannot be used because of the locks having fallen into disrepair, despite the statutory obligation of the authorities; they could be used by pleasure craft even at present if access could be given to them.

This stretch of the Lancaster Canal north of Tewitfield is possibly the most beautiful of all. I submit that it is extremely likely that, if other factors had not been operating, ways would have been found within the next few years to repair the locks and restore a considerable further section of this part of the canal for use by pleasure craft. After having viewed these locks I can assure hon. Members that most of the mechanism to make them work is in order and I submit that most of the repairs which need to be done would have been undertaken within the next few years because of the nationwide growth in popularity of all kinds of boating and sailing; indeed, not only nationwide but worldwide. One of the developments in recreation in recent years has been the wish of many people to get on the water and enjoy themselves in this way.

My belief is that this enthusiasm, which has already led to a doubling of the pleasure craft on British Waterways canals in the last decade, would have been reinforced by the establishment of the University of Lancaster, which opened its portals only in October last and which has projected student numbers of 2,600 by the early 1970s. The canal is literally on the doorstep of the university. I draw the attention of the House, in this connection, to page 46 of the Report of the British Waterways Board to the Minister of Transport dated 12th December, 1963; only 14 months ago. Headed "Lancaster Canal (Tewitfield to Crowpark Bridge)" it stated: The northernmost stretch of this length of canal (Stainton Feeder to Crowpark Bridge), having been originally de-watered to avoid serious loss of water due to fissures in the bed, has now been closed to navigation. In view of the serious state of this 3¾ miles stretch it seems that its adaptation to agricultural use may be the only practical outcome. The remaining 8½ miles (Tewitfield to Stainton) is important from the water supply point of view, although there are some engineering problems. These will need further study but it seems clear that their solution, in order to preserve the water supply, could include provision for pleasure boating; this will depend to a considerable extent on the detailed financial facts still to be ascertained. I believe, in view of the growing interest in this type of activity, that ways would have been found of restoring this section of the canal, that it is just this type of amenity which Parliament and local authorities wish to see preserved and that they would have come to the assistance of the canal to bring this about, provided that no other factors had been present. There was certainly nothing in the British Waterways Report of 14 months ago to suggest that the Board itself was contemplating the relief being sought in the Bill.

The new factor, of course, is the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Transport, who has the ultimate responsibility for the construction of the much-needed and eagerly awaited M.6 motorway extension from Carnforth to Penrith. It is right that the Minister should be cost conscious. If he were to execute all the suggestions put to him he would need a bottomless purse. Indeed, I have a few I could suggest to him in my constituency.

Nevertheless, cost should not be the only consideration. Proper account should be taken of amenity because it is far too easy for amenity to become an unconsidered casualty of Departmental convenience, and once this has happened it is irrevocable and no action can be taken to restore the situation. Nor would I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman should be the sole judge in the matter. I referred to the comments in the election manifestoes of the two main parties. I hope that, in this matter of the preservation of amenity, the Minister of Land and Natural Resources will discharge the functions which we proposed from this side of the House should be discharged by a countryside commission.

I must confess to being disappointed because, while I know that he has other preoccupations, I think that in this respect the right hon. Gentleman is the phantom Minister of the present Government. At any rate, I sincerely hope that the Minister of Transport will pay full account to any views which may be submitted to him from the other Departments. A judgment must be made in this matter. Cost and amenity must be weighed in the balance. I believe that in this case, at any rate in some directions, the cost has been exaggerated. I certainly do not believe that the relief sought in the Bill is necessary in the form in which it is sought; and that is why we are moving this Motion for an Instruction to the Committee.

The Minister has agreed to provide clearance sufficient to permit pleasure craft to continue to use the canal to within a few hundred yards of Tewitfield, and I thank him for the kind and full Answers which he has given to the somewhat technical Questions we have put on the Order Paper to him on this subject. These are appreciated by the hon. Members concerned. I gather that the Petition which was submitted to the right hon. Gentleman by certain of my constituents, who wish that the access points to the M.6 should not destroy the whole of the hamlet of Tewitfield, may receive sympathetic consideration in view of the costings that have been supplied by the Ministry of Transport in reply to the Parliamentary Questions put to the right hon. Gentleman.

I remind the right hon. Gentleman, when he says that he will provide clearance sufficient to permit pleasure craft to continue to use the canal to within a few hundred yards of Tewitfield, that these boats need to turn round, that they are not running on railways lines like a railway engine and that the facilities for turning round are immediately below the locks at Tewitfield. It would not be very expensive to carry the A.6070 over both the motorway and the canal, so that the full length in present use could continue to be used by pleasure craft.

We are not asking that British Waterways should be obliged to continue to undertake its existing statutory obligations in respect of this length of the canal, which, I believe, are for maintaining it for navigation by wide barges. We are asking that very careful examination indeed should be made of the maximum length of the canal which may be preserved for pleasure craft and that no irrevocable decision should be taken to prevent other lengths being brought back into use.

This is a case where one could say that this is truly a unique amenity. Once the initial capital cost has been met, we do not think that the annual maintenance costs involved in keeping this stretch suitable for pleasure craft would be very great. We therefore ask that the Committee should be instructed to delete the Clauses specified because, as they stand, they will open the door to the permanent destruction of an amenity that is irreplaceable, and which my hon. Friends and I feel could very largely be preserved.

7.20 p.m.

Mr. Paul B. Rose (Manchester, Blackley)

After the debate on Northern Ireland, in which I also took part, I am in grave danger of being known in my constituency as the "hon. Member for Northern Ireland and the Lancaster Canal". In a debate on sports and recreational facilities in the House on 4th December, 1964, the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Denis Howell) stated: The Government are extremely well aware of the potentialities of using the canal system for recreational purposes. We are giving special attention to this aspect."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th December, 1964; Vol. 703, c. 1011.] I therefore ask my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport, who so recently gave us so much pleasure and satisfaction by his decision to keep open the Manchester-Bury line, whether he could not give the same satisfaction and pleasure by a similar decision with respect to the northern reaches of the Lancaster Canal.

This canal passes through some of the most delightful countryside in Britain. It is now within easy reach of the crowded conurbations of the North and the Midlands, since the M.6 provides an unbroken carriageway from Birmingham to the north of Lancaster. It is also within an hour's car run of my constituency and my home. It is used by a large number of organisations in the industrial areas. I have received a strong representation from Lieut.-Commander Hudson, of the Farnworth and District Cadet Corps, so that this is not something of interest only to those hon. Members who sit for constituencies abutting the canal.

Many of us on this side of the House are well aware of the recreational facilities which the canal provides for the densely-populated areas they represent. My hon. Friends the Members for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris), for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden), and for Farnworth (Mr. Thornton) have all taken an interest in this subject, because we are all increasingly aware that a large number of families are seeking their pleasure on our lakes, beaches and canals, attracted by this curious magnetism of water.

The Central Council of Physical Recreation published last July a survey of the recreational use of our inland waterways in the Midlands, which pointed out: … pleasure craft hire firms, river and canal cruising has markedly increased during the last 15 years. That is the trend, and I believe that it is a trend that will continue in the years to come. I therefore ask my right hon. Friend and the House to pause for thought before denying to an area with too few facilities a potential source of recreation merely for the sake of a small saving to the public purse. The closing of the upper reaches of the Lancaster canal to navigation would be irreversible—not something that could be done, and later undone.

In a Written Answer to me on 5th February, my right hon. Friend estimated that it would cost about £40,000 to restore the eight miles between Tewitfield and Stainton, although the remaining four miles would cost considerably more. Here I would pay tribute, as has the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Mr. Hall-Davis), to the excellent and helpful way in which my right hon. Friend has answered Questions on this subject.

My right hon. Friend's figure of £40,000 may be debatable—it appears to be somewhat pessimistic. One estimate I have read put it at only £10,000. However, taking into account the support that would be forthcoming, both physical and financial, from local organisations interested, that sum of £40,000 would not in itself be any obstacle, And this division of the figure between the eight miles north of Tewitfield and the further four miles might provide some basis for a compromise.

What, presumably, is causing my right hon. Friend a great deal of concern is the necessity for bridges at six intersections of the M.6 with the canal. I was most grateful to my right hon. Friend for his Answer on 26th January stating that he has agreed to permit … sufficient clearance to permit pleasure craft to continue to use the 42 miles of canal they at present use, except possibly, for a few hundred yards at Tewitfield."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th January, 1965; Vol. 705, c. 186.] In seeking relief from statutory requirements relating to that part of the canal north of Lancaster itself, it is probably the financial consideration that weighs most heavily with my right hon. Friend. I would, therefore, ask him to look again at the problem of these intersections, because from my understanding three of the six only occur at one point close to Tewitfield by reason of what I understand to be a proposed cloverleaf junction. I am pleased to see that in a Written Answer today my right hon. Friend says: The possibility of reducing the number of crossings near Tewitfield to two by removing a proposed motorway interchange is now being considered. Is it beyond the wit of man to avoid the use of this junction at all? I understand the difficulties involved, but it may be possible to take other steps to modify the projected motorway route in order to avoid half of these crossings. There may be good reasons for the choice, and perhaps my right hon. Friend will be able to inform us on this point.

I must again ask that the additional costs should be weighed against the loss of amenity value in the north-west area for all time. Some hon. Members have proved very adept in blocking up canals far more celebrated than this one, but I would refer to the many people who would be grateful for the keeping open of the full length of this canal. I know that 5,000 anglers use the canal regularly, and they fear that disuse of the northern end would render it a stagnant, dirty ditch, because the northern end would be overgrown and also, because of the intersections by the motorway, the repair barge would not be able to traverse the northern section.

Some industries are supplied with water by this canal, and if the proposed action were taken one would have to take into account the cost of building an expensive pipeline for a supply of water. In addition, 10,000 people travel each year on the "Lady Fionna" pleasure barge, and now that others are being introduced to this pastime every year one can expect at least that number to sample this recreation next year. There are also 700 people who make use of the five holiday craft of Norwest Hire Cruisers, Calgate, and there are also the many enthusiasts fortunate enough to have their own boats.

Above all, I believe that the holiday potential of the North-West generally is underestimated or not understood by the country as a whole. As has been pointed out, the canal has more than a quarter of the amount of water contained in the Norfolk Broads, and can become a remarkable 50-mile elongated park, providing recreation for the crowded smaller conurbations of the North. I hope that when the Bill goes to Committee, due consideration will be given to these matters and that, in some way, this delightful stretch of waterway will not be lost to future generations.

7.30 p.m.

Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland)

I rise to support the Instruction, having listened attentively to the two most excellent speeches made by my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Mr. Hall-Davis) and the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Rose). Both hon. Members spoke about the amenity value of this most lovely and splendid canal. I do not believe that either over-stated the case, or the importance of the Government's duty to provide places of amenity so that people can go there and spend their new leisure.

I am glad that the Instruction is being supported by all parties. I am also glad that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport is in his place. I, hope that he will take careful note of the fact that the feeling on this matter is not a party feeling, but is an all-party feeling which is very representative of feeling in the north-west of England.

I, too, have taken the opportunity within the last 10 days of visiting the northern stretches of the Lancaster Canal. It is a canal which I knew reasonably well before this, because most of the northern-stretch, north of Tewitfield, passes through my constituency, but it is one which I took great pleasure in getting to know much better. It is one of the most lovely places I can think of outside the Lake District itself, in my constituency. The canal is an historic place. It was constructed by John Rennie, who was a great canal constructor. The great Hincaster Tunnel, which is now sadly dewatered, is, I believe, one of the finest examples of John Rennie's canal architecture in the whole land.

The debate is a matter of great interest to many of my constituents. Apart from my constituency of Westmorland, which contains most of the stretch of the canal, the debate is of interest to many more people living in the north-west of England, because the northern terminal of the new motorway, the M.6, is slightly to the south of the Tewitfield Locks. This means that access from the great industrial conurbation of Lancashire to the Lake District and, indeed, to the northern stretches of the canal is made a great deal easier.

Another point, which is of even greater concern to many in the North-West, is that as the motorway becomes developed—I think that this year we will see its development—there will be not only an influx of people from Lancashire, Cheshire and Yorkshire, but also a tremendous influx of tourists from the Midlands. It is true that the Lake District and the beauties and amenities of this part of the world are now within day-trip distance of such places as Birmingham and Wolverhampton. People from these places must be catered for.

This point was brought out by the two hon. Members who have already spoken. I do not intend to continue on this theme, except to point out one figure which is of great importance. The cruising revenue which has accrued from inland waterways has doubled over the last five years. This is a very good example of the rapid and dynamic growth in cruising on inland waterways.

I want to say a few words about the economic side of the Instruction. We suggest that the Minister should change his mind on the matter of bridging the canal where the motorway passes. We suggest that he should not build culverts at these crossings but should built either bridges or aquatic creeps. Mr. Speaker, you may wonder, as I did, what an aquatic creep is. When I first saw the expression, I was a little uncertain as to its meaning. If in a debate on the affairs of the Royal Navy an hon. Member referred to one of the Ministers in charge of the Royal Navy as an aquatic creep, I have no doubt that you, Sir, would very strictly and quickly rule him out of order. As I understand it, an aquatic creep is rather smaller than a bridge, but is just large enough for a pleasure craft to pass. We ask the Minister to try to bring such a construction into the scheme rather than culverts, because if culverts were built no pleasure craft could pass.

Like my hon. Friend, I am most obliged to the Minister for the Answers I have received today and previously. They have been very helpful. We are all most grateful for them. I have asked what the cost would be of providing bridges, creeps, and culverts at the six proposed crossings by the motorway of the canal between Tewitfield and Millness Bridge. I have been told today that the extra cost of building creeps above the cost of culverting would be in the region of £210,000. This is the key figure which we must work on.

I have learned from another Answer I have received today that the first proposed crossing between the motorway bridge and Kellet Lane Bridge is now to be built so that it will accommodate pleasure craft. For this we are most grateful, because it means, as I understand it, that pleasure craft will now be able to come to within 100 yards or a few hundred yards of the Tewitfield Locks.

I repeat that we must consider the key figure of £210,000, which is the extra cost of providing aquatic creeps over the cost of culverting. We must ask ourselves whether we are prepared to pay this price for the continuance and furtherance of the amenity value of this stretch of the canal north of Tewitfield Locks. I believe that the Kennet and Avon Canal, which was saved some years ago for pleasure craft, loses no less than £50,000 a year. If this is true, perhaps it would not be too much to ask the Minister to indulge in an extra spending on motorway construction of £210,000 to preserve the amenity over the top 8½ miles of the canal.

I am pleased to hear that there is the possibility that the Tewitfield interchange will be moved and that the first two crossings may well be avoided. I hope so. If this could be done, it would still further reduce the figure of £210,000 which must be balanced against the amenity value.

I hope that the Minister will take a serious and close look at the possibility even at this stage of moving the line of the motorway. Within the last few weeks he has altered the line of the motorway at a place a little further north than Tewitfield. I understand that in a letter dated 4th February last the Minister said that it was possible that changes might still be made in the line of the motorway. If it is possible still for the Minister to examine the line of the motorway, we may be able to reduce the figure of £210,000 which is what it will cost to give the public this new use of the top 8½ miles of the canal.

I should like to turn to the consequences which I believe would ensue if the Bill went through. It would mean that this canal would be divided up into a series of unconnected strips. It would be very difficult and expensive to maintain. The repair barge would not be able to pass at the places where the canal was culverted and crossed by the motorway. This would impose an extra cost on the British Waterways Board.

As has already been said, this canal supplies water to industry further south. It supplies 3 million gallons a day to industry in Lancashire. This water comes from Killington reservoir which is between Kendal and Sedbergh, and, whatever happens to the Bill—whether the Minister changes it or whether the Bill goes through as it is—this water supply has got to be maintained and the canal must be kept in a state of repair in order to maintain the supply.

In addition, serious health problems will arise if the canal is not used and properly maintained. I should like to mention only one case which happened last summer. The Holme Parish Council last summer had to go to considerable trouble and expense to clean out the canal where it is piped in. and this is a foretaste of what would happen if the canal were culverted.

It might be said, "If the Minister said that he was prepared to allow aquatic creeps to be built at the crossings of this canal, what would be likely to happen to this northern stretch? How would it be developed?" There is a most enthusiastic and active restoration association in being. I was lucky enough to look at the canal the weekend before last with the northern area secretary of the restoration association, and a more enthusiastic supporter of the restoration of this canal it would be impossible to meet. If the Minister were to agree to put creeps on the canal there is no question that this work would be done.

As the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley said, the Minister has already stated that the cost of restoring the top stretch of the canal which is not at the moment navigable would be in the region of £40,000. I have been given a figure of about £10,000 by the restoration association. There is, of course, some difference here, and I believe that this is not unknown in the past. I am told that when the Stratford Canal was restored, some years ago, it was done for £6,000, whereas the estimate of the Waterways Board was many times greater. The estimate of the cost of restoration suggested by the Board was entirely out of step with what the restoration actually cost. Therefore, I am inclined to think that the figure for the restoration work of the northern stretches of this canal would be likely to be nearer £10,000 than £40,000. One of the experts of the Inland Waterways Association has suggested that the locks could be restored for £3,000, and I believe it is nearer the truth.

The other work, quite apart from restoring the lock gates, with which it is important to deal in the northern stretches of the canal, is the reinstatement of the fissured section at Holme, which is at present concreted in. Here again great savings could be made in building a concrete flue so that pleasure craft could go through. The bottom of the canal is seriously fissured, but I understand that if the Minister would agree, a great deal of assistance could be given in the form of prison labour from the nearby camp, and a local unit of the Territorial Army Engineers would be very glad to prepare the bed of the canal at this place in preparation for concreting, as military experience. All these facts suggest that the restoration work could be done locally if the Minister would agree.

I am told that the Inland Waterways Association is adept at raising money for these restoration jobs. In fact, I understand that some years ago it raised £8,000 at one dinner. Those of us who are interested in the financing of politics could perhaps learn a lesson from this and we might invite the secretary of the association to give us advice on how to raise money.

I am confident that this work could be done if the Minister would sanction the building of creeps rather than culverts. Thinking further ahead, having spoken to the enthusiastic members and supporters of the restoration association, I consider that it might be possible by raising money, by getting help locally from the Territorial Army detachment and from prison labour, to restore the section above where the dam is at Stain-ton. This would bring back into being the famous Hincaster tunnel which is one of John Rennie's masterpieces. The National Trust has described it as a tunnel constructed in Rennie's grandest Roman manner. If the Minister would give his approval to the scheme further down, it is possible that the restoration association would be keen to restore the parts above Stainton. That part which goes into Kendal town has now been filled in, and I am afraid that it is now beyond repair, although there are still enthusiasts who are determined to carry on the canal and take it right back to Kendal town where it originally went to.

I have spoken of the effects of building the M.6 into the north-west of England. It will have a tremendous impact on the Lake District. I know that the Minister has already been made aware of the problems caused by the new influx of tourists from the Midlands into the Lake District in the north-west of England. He has already been bombarded by constituents of mine with requests to press on with the Kendal Western by-pass. It is only a symptom of this great inflow of tourists in ever-increasing numbers in the next few years from all over the country, but particularly, I think, from the Midlands.

Let us make no mistake about who is the boss, so far as the Bill is concerned. Although the Bill is presented by the British Waterways Board, I do not think any of us has any doubts that the Minister of Transport is the boss, and that this Private Bill has been brought forward under his direction. I believe that the Minister has a great responsibility here at this time. It is true to say that canals are nearly always romantic places. One knows that no Minister can visit every place over which he has control, but if the Minister were to visit this section of this canal I am sure that he would agree that it is probably one of the most romantic places of all. I am sure that it would be used by a tremendous number of tourists and people who come to the area to sail, to walk, and to fish and also to pursue studies of natural history

The Minister has an awesome responsibility in deciding whether he is going to preserve this magnificent place or whether he is going to crush it. He has a responsibility which is as simple as that, and just as difficult to determine. The Minister has shown us in the course of the term of office of this Government that he is not tied to considerations which depend only on costs. He has shown us this with railways. I hope that this time he will put considerations of costs rather low down his priorities and that he will think of amenities. In motorway bridging he has been extremely helpful about agricultural priorities, where new motorways have been built, in helping farmers to cross new trunk roads.

I hope that this time he will regard the expense and the extra capital expenditure on preserving this section of the northern part of the Lancaster Canal as a relative fleabite in comparison to the tremendous pleasure and the tremendous amenity value which he will open up for many thousands of people. I hope that the Minister will be bold and will do what we ask him.

7.51 p.m.

Mr. James Ramsden (Harrogate)

As a Yorkshire Member I almost feel that I should ask leave of the House to intervene in the debate, but I should like to say a few words before the Joint Parliamentary Secretary replies, first to congratulate hon. Members from the Lancashire constituencies who from both sides of the House have made their eloquent pleas in support of the Motion. Secondly, I should like to speak on my own account because of my concern that in these days no amenity that could be reasonably preserved should unnecessarily be lost to the many people who might have the opportunity of benefiting from it in the future.

The reason why we are faced with this Bill is not that the Waterways Board is embarking on any wholesale programme of canal closures. The reverse is very much the case. We are faced with this question because the Lancaster Canal will be traversed in seven places by the motorway, and the plans for the construction of the motorway have become so far advanced that the Parliamentary Secretary must take a decision not only about the route of the motorway and how many times it will be obliged to traverse the canal but what kind of crossings are to be constructed to carry the motorway and its associated roads across the canal.

It is a fact that if the Bill were to be defeated or this Instruction upheld and the canal were to continue as a statutory navigation, certain costs would have to be incurred greater than those which need to be incurred if the navigation lapses. The obligation upon the Waterways Board and hence upon the Minister of Transport to continue statutory navigation throughout the length of the canal would impose upon the Minister or his agents in the construction of the motorway certain specifications for the crossings involving the construction of bridges which would result in additional cost.

If by the Bill the Board or the Minister is relieved of the obligation to maintain a navigation it would be possible to have cheaper crossings—culverts or bridges or possibly the third alternative explained by my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling)—aquatic creeps.

May I summarise the likely effect on the canal if the Instruction does not stand? I take first the southern section, the 40 miles or so running northwards from Preston to Carnforth. I understand that the Parliamentary Secretary has given an assurance that at Carnforth, the first place affected, there will be a bridge and not a culvert and therefore, whatever happens to the Bill, the navigation will be preserved. I understand that the hon. Gentleman gave that assurance in reply to a question from the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Rose).

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. Stephen Swingler)

indicated assent.

Mr. Ramsden

I am glad to have that confirmation.

The next difficulty would come as a result of the crossing or crossings just south of the flight of locks at Tewitfield. It is hoped that the Minister may be able to agree to construct a bridge there rather than a culvert. I hope that in deciding what is appropriate he will bear in mind the point made by the hon. Member for Blackley—that the boats must have somewhere to turn round. At the moment there is wider piece of canal—I am not sure of the technical term for it—at the foot of the locks where the boats can manoeuvre, turn round and go back southwards.

If it is the Minister's intention that navigation over the southern 40 miles is to continue, and if this turning point is cut off from the south by a culvert it would be necessary, presumably, to construct another one to allow the boats to turn round. I hope that in considering whether to have a culvert or a bridge the Minister will have offset in his calculation of what he can afford the cost of the construction of a fresh turning point if he isolates the existing one at the foot of the canal. I hope that he will come to the conclusion that a bridge will not be all that more expensive after all.

Northwards, the next point is the flight of locks at Tewitfield, which as my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland explained is not yet in working order. Judging by experience with other canals in the south, it is by no means beyond the possibility of being put in order, either by funds raised by voluntary subscription or by the help of the Territorial Army, or in some other way. Only the lock gates need reconstruction. The masonry and chamber work of the locks are perfectly sound. If the locks were put in order it would be possible for navigation to be resumed on the northern section of the canal at some future time.

The northern section is not for the moment in a fit state for navigation up and down its length, but I understand that it has to be kept up in the sense that it has to be kept full of water because there is a water undertaking with responsibility for the supply of water and the whole stretch cannot be let go. My hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Mr. Hall-Davis) quoted the Report of the Inland Waterways Board as saying that, in its view, it was not beyond the bounds of possibility that it might be made navigable again.

As regards the problem set by the motorway on the northern section, there are two or, perhaps, three possible ways of proceeding. The Minister might go for culverts or conduits instead of bridges. He might go, as we hope, for bridges, in which case he will have conceded the point we make. Thirdly, there might be a compromise course, a combination of bridges and aquatic creeps to let pleasure boats through.

If he goes for culverts, the following consequences will undoubtedly ensue for the canal, all of which would be in the highest degree undesirable. First, culverts would rule out for ever the possibility of these 12 miles ever being restored as a navigable waterway. The effect would be that, very quickly, the existing watercourse, although it still has to be maintained as a reservoir, would become silted and weeded up. Whereas it is now used, I think, by 5,000 anglers a year—that was the figure given—if it became silted up and weed choked, it would very soon lose all its value as a fishery. What maintains the value of a stretch of water as a fishery is boats moving to and fro and suppressing by their passage the growth of weed.

I have not had the opportunity to get in touch with the Anglers' Co-operative Association about this, but, from my previous experience of the Association in connection with a Bill about river pollution, I know how active it is in support of the interests of anglers throughout the country. I know what a very powerful lobby it is, deservedly so, and how wide is its support among many people, of all parties and of none. I have no doubt that the Anglers' Co-operative Association will be very seriously concerned about the possibility of the deterioration of 12 miles or more of freshwater fishery. Such a fishery is a most important amenity in these days when good fishing water is so short. The British Waterways Board in its Report rather under-estimates the value of freshwater fisheries of this kind. This is a consideration which the Minister would be well advised to bear very carefully in mind. It is a valuable fishery.

On the question of culverts versus bridges, it is a fact that, at present, the line of this canal not only gives access for boats but for other users along the towpath under the existing bridges. A growing number of people now ride horses and go pony trekking. It is possible to walk undisturbed and untroubled by traffic along this towpath for 40 miles from industrial Lancashire in the south right up almost to the heart of the Lake District. It is one of the most beautiful 40-mile walks in the North Country today, though I confess that, unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale, I have not done it. There are thus two sorts of access provided, access for boats and access for pedestrians and horse riders.

The boat traffic can certainly be expected to grow. The horse traffic can be expected to grow. I speak as one who knows better the industrial districts on the other side of the Pennines, but perhaps I may be forgiven for saying that industrial Lancashire will continue to be a place out of which people will be glad to go on foot when they have a holiday. I have no doubt, therefore, that foot traffic also will increase.

When deciding about the motorway, the Minister would do well to consider also the problem of getting farm stock across these big roads. I have had experience of this in my own part of the country. Sometimes an underpass is made for the passage of cattle from one side of the road to the other, but very often it is not. It is not safe to drive cattle or sheep across these roads, especially across a long straight stretch in the middle of the day when traffic is at its peak.

I want the Minister to consider, if necessary with the Minister of Agriculture, whether he would, by going to the extra expense of building a bridge, facilitate at the same time the underpassage of stock beneath the motorway where it has to cross the canal, possibly saving some money which he might otherwise have to spend on making similar crossings for stock not very far away. It would be typical of the unsatisfactory sort of thing which does happen if one of the bridges was not built but a culvert was put there instead so that there was no access along the towpath, but about half a mile away an underpass was constructed to serve the needs of a farm. It may well be that, by co-ordination between the agricultural and other interests, a compromise could be arrived at which would make the cost of a bridge as opposed to a culvert look rather more in proportion.

To sum up, I reinforce what my hon. Friends have said. If the Minister decides to go for culverts on this canal and not the bridges, very many amenities will be destroyed which might have been preserved by a different solution. Putting it the other way, the cost of building bridges—I should no attempt to argue what the cost might be, and I hope that we shall hear from the Minister about it—is not really out of scale bearing in mind the advantages to amenity and in the other ways I have mentioned which would follow from the decision to build a bridge.

Perhaps, out of this debate a compromise may be found. There might be a middle way. I understand that some of the crossings are not the motorway itself crossing the canal but they are necessary for interchanges—feeder roads coming into the motor way or country roads crossing the motorway which have to cross the canal. In these cases, aquatic creeps might be acceptable, as a side road of that kind would not interrupt pedestrian access to the towpath in the same way as an enormous motor road would. Perhaps a compromise along those lines might be found.

I hope that the Minister will feel that the extra cost of keeping this navigation in some form will be worth it from the amenity point of view. It has been said with truth that a canal like this, with a towpath and a right of way along its entire length is in some sense a kind of linear national park. These are 40 miles of country through which people may pass and have their walks enlivened by all the variety and charm of a riverside scene. In these days, that is something which we cannot contemplate destroying without considerable heart-searching. It is something really worth preserving and, if the road is thrown across these 40 miles unbridged, it will destroy its continuity and a great deal of its value.

The canal might well come back into use one day for pleasure craft. The proposed route of the motorway and the extra cost of the bridging ought to be looked at both on the assumption that the canal may be more widely used for pleasure traffic and in the knowledge that traffic in other ways along the towpath, by ramblers, horse riders arid so on, may very well increase.

We put forward our Motion because we believe that the Bill over-simplifies the problem—boils it down too much—by saying that the statutory navigation is to disappear. This makes us fear the worst. If power exists for cutting off the navigation completely, one's apprehensions are that these are the lengths to which the Minister may be forced to go by financial considerations. We have moved this Instruction in the hope that the Minister will not be tempted to go to those lengths. I believe that a compromise is possible. I believe that a balance could be struck between the full cost of the bridging and the destruction of the amenity by culverting. I trust that the Minister will consider our arguments and examine the possibility very seriously. I hope he will be able to give us an assurance about this.

I do not know whether my hon. Friends will want to divide the House on this or not. I am sure that it depends on what assurances the Minister can give us. We desire, first, that the Committee should weigh the arguments and considerations that we have advanced, and, secondly, that the Minister—I believe that he will have the final say on this—should examine them, too, and, if possible, arrive at a solution striking a just balance between the financial considerations which we realise must have a foremost place in his mind, and the amenity considerations which have animated those who have taken part in the debate.

8.12 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. Stephen Swingler)

I am grateful to the House for having given an unopposed Second Reading to the Bill. I must point out straight away that if the Instruction were accepted it would take the guts out of the Bill and virtually kill it. It would even kill, for example, a provision which I am sure all canal users would regard as a constructive one, that giving the British Waterways Board power to make a new cut into the Regents Canal Dock, which is the subject of about 10 of the 15 Clauses.

But this itself is dependent, as those who have read the Bill carefully will know, upon giving to the Board the power to make changes in the so-called Limehouse Cut. Acceptance of the Instruction would prevent the Board from being able to do that, and would, therefore, kill a proposal which I think would be acceptable on all sides.

I believe that it was the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) who said that the boss in this regard was my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport. I am not, of course, speaking directly for the British Waterways Board, but we fully accept our measure of responsibility for what is proposed, and in a moment I shall be speaking directly to that because it has to do with plans other than those for the use of our canals.

First, I share the concern of the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Mr. Hall-Davis) about the preservation of natural amenities. I hope that there will always be hon. Members from all sides prepared to speak up for the preservation of natural amenities, especially those coming from some of the more beautiful parts of the country, as has been the case in this debate.

I would assure my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Rose) that from the earliest days of our assuming office in the Ministry of Transport my right hon. Friend and I have been in touch with the "Minister of Sport" about the recreational use of canals. We want to promote their maximum recreational use and encourage the enthusiastic, and we hope that this will be one of the ways of solving some of the very difficult problems with which the Board is faced.

But none of these considerations has an absolute value. None of them can be said to be totally overriding in any particular case. The country also wants motorways, and it wants them at a reasonable cost, as the hon. Member for Westmorland said. We also want a great many other roads which we cannot afford at the moment. We have to look at the bill very carefully in every case because we know that there is always someone else who would like to spend the money in another part of the country in improving transport facilities, especially by the provision of roads.

The Bill was promoted by the British Waterways Board under Section 17 of the Transport Act, 1962. Here we come parenthetically to an all-party consideration, as mentioned by the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale, with the consent of the then Minister of Transport, the right hon. Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples). My right hon. Friend inherited that situation, and he has completed the all-party position by endorsing the plan made by the former Minister of Transport.

I come straight away to the main burden of the argument of the hon. Members who have criticised the Bill and spoken in favour of the Instruction, especially in regard to the Lancaster Canal. I sincerely hope that what I have to say will persuade them to withdraw the Motion at the end of the debate and enable the Bill to go to Committee where it can be thoroughly examined and the arguments for and against it heard.

Many hon. Members have spoken in particular about the effect of the Bill on the canal north of Carnforth, where it is affected by the proposed M.6 crossings. As has been pointed out, Clause 14, taken with the Schedule, would extinguish the rights of navigation on that section of the canal, and in consequence the Board would no longer be obliged to maintain the canal so that it could be used by commercial barge traffic. That is all we are concerned with in regard to the Board's statutory powers. The effect of the Clause is that the Board would be able to plan the future of the canal in a realistic way having regard to its possible uses in the second half of the twentieth century. It would be freed from any obligation to provide for goods traffic, an obligation which at the present time we regard as having no sense at all.

In fact, as I think the debate has shown, there is really no dispute about the prospects of the canal for goods traffic. Frankly, the prospects are nil. No commercial barges have used the stretch for a very long time. But because of the existing statutory position the Board is still legally obliged to maintain its navigable width to the full standard that commercial barges would require—that is to say, in the Board's present view, a width of navigable waterway of 16 ft. 6 in., a 10 ft. towpath and a headroom under bridges of 8½ ft.

Those are the standards which are thought appropriate. Consequently, unless the Board is relieved of this obligation, wide bridges would have to be constructed, at great expense, at the six or seven points where the proposed M.6 motorway or the roads that are intended to join it will cross the canal. It is estimated that the total cost of all these wide bridges built to the standards that I have mentioned would be £468,000.

Let us look a little more closely at the state of the canal and the traffic using it at the places where the proposed motorway crossings are needed. There will be two or possibly three crossings south of Tewitfield Locks. The most southerly crossing is near Carnforth and there is also the slip road which may be needed to the interchange at Tewitfield itself. If that slip road is needed, it will cross the canal about 300 yards south of Tewitfield Locks.

This stretch of the canal is used by pleasure craft. The British Waterways Board and my right hon. Friend recognise this fact and, if the Bill is passed, a bridge will be provided at Carnforth allowing the passage of pleasure craft. The bridge will provide headroom of 8ft. 6 ins., a 12 ft. waterway and a 6ft. towpath. It will cost the Department—or, rather, the taxpayer—£92,600, which is £70,000 more than it would cost to put an embankment over the canal with culverts for canal water and footpaths over the motorway.

The sum of £70,000 is substantial. It is about the same amount as the revenue derived by the Waterways Board annually from all the canals by the use of pleasure craft. Nevertheless, we are satisfied that the bridge will serve a real social purpose and pleasure craft will continue to use the canal as they do at present up to Tewitfield Locks or, possibly, to a point 300 yards south of the locks, where a turning point will be provided. I hope that what I have said will give some measure of assurance to hon. Members that the recreational use of this stretch of the canal has been considered very seriously.

Mr. Ramsden

I asked the hon. Gentleman about the cost of the provision of the turning point. It would be useful if he could supply or obtain that figure.

Mr. Swingler

I will get it for the right hon. Gentleman and let him know what it is. I have not the figure with me, but only the cost of the bridge that we intend to provide. I can, however, give an assurance that a proper turning point will be provided as necessary.

Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)

May we have an assurance that the turning point will be a full 70ft., so that a 70ft. boat can turn round there?

Mr. Swingler

Hon. Members must not be too suspicious about our plans. We have gone into this very carefully for the benefit of those who wish to make recreational use of the canal. I hope that the hon. Member will accept my assurance. We are doing this at a not inconsiderable cost which is in addition to the rest of the motorway scheme. We shall do everything possible to see that this work is of a standard necessary for those who delight in this form of recreation.

What about the locks themselves and the stretch of the canal from Tewitfield to Stainton? I am informed that the locks are not now usable and that the eight-mile stretch to Stainton, although it still contains water, is not fit for navigation at all. The water level has been lowered 2ft. to prevent leakage through the banks while on one section, at Holme, serious loss of water through fissures in the bed of the canal has been dealt with by sealing off the section and taking the water through a pipe.

It is estimated that, besides involving heavy maintenance expenditure in future, to restore this length, including repairs to the locks, sufficiently to enable pleasure craft to pass, would cost the sum of £40,000. In these circumstances, is it really fit and sensible for us to build four bridges to take the motorway and its side roads over this stretch of canal? As some hon. Members have said, the estimated cost of providing even a lower standard bridge sufficient for pleasure craft to use the canal such as we will provide at Carnforth would amount, for the four crossings of the M.6 over this stretch, to a sum of £227,000, whereas the cost of the culverts would be only £27,000.

Thus, to provide for the possibility that, some future date, £40,000 might be found to restore this eight-mile stretch of canal, additional expenditure of £200,000 would have to be incurred in the construction of the motorway. A number of figures have been bandied about by hon. Members. One can refer to "only" £200,000 in addition to the enormous cost of the M.6, but, of course, I know many parts of the country where people would like a sum much less than £200,000 to spend on the improvement of the roads and we must be extremely careful in the Ministry of Transport, in considering all these projects, to bear in mind the needs and demands for money and resources which are being made upon us from so many quarters.

Mr. Ramsden

The hon. Gentleman is being very fair, but the House will be interested in an accurate comparison of these costs. When the hon. Gentleman gives the cost of culverting as against that of bridging, does he include the necessity, in the case of a culverting solution, for a footbridge to carry the towpath over the motorway and, therefore, preserving the right of way by the towpath and the facilities for people using it on foot?

Mr. Swingler

I am coming to the question of the towpath and I have a feeling that I may say something that will be found quite satisfactory by the right hon. Gentleman, so perhaps I had better leave it at that until later in my speech. But no doubt the right hon. Getnleman will recognise that I am not a technical expert on this matter and if he has questions of a technical nature I would prefer him to write to me, when can provide him with the best available figures and estimates.

It follows that those who are opposing the provisions in the Bill are, in fact, asking for an expenditure of about an extra £250,000 on this eight-mile stretch of canal. This seems to be out of all proportion to the benefit likely to be derived by the addition of these eight miles to the 42 miles which are already navigable and which, I am informed, are used by only about 250 craft. Indeed, we hope that there will be some increase in the use of the 42-mile section. But, I am advised that the £250,000 is more than double the sum which the Treasury pays in grant each year to the National Park authorities. As I have said, another comparison is with the total revenue coming annually to the British Waterways Board from the recreational use of canals, a sum of £70,000. When the £250,000 is seen in perspective in relation to our resources, it must be generally recognised that we could not possibly consent to the expenditure of such a large sum of money.

Unless the statutory right of commercial navigation is extinguished, we are compelled by the Statute to build wide bridges to the full commercial standard, an extra width of no use to anybody and for which no potential user of the canal is asking. The cost of such wide bridges on the whole stretch would amount to nearly £500,000.

It has been suggested that the line of the motorway should be shifted in order to avoid crossing the canal at all. The draft line for the M.6 was published by the previous Minister, the right hon. Member for Wallasey after extremely lengthy and careful consideration. It covers an extension of the motorway of about 36 miles, of which only a short length is affected by the canal. As always, there were considerable difficulties. Once the line had been finally selected, consideration was given to the possibility of moving it up to half a mile either side of the canal near Tewitfield.

However, movement to the west would have involved crossing a main railway line at two points, involving considerable costs and disturbance, and movement to the east would have involved considerable engineering difficulties and a great deal of agricultural severance. Having once settled on the general line of the motorway, these canal crossings were inevitable in order to avoid great additional cost and difficulty.

I have been asked by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden) and others whether the towpath will be preserved as a continuous pedestrian way. The Bill does nothing to remove any public right of way for pedestrians on the towpath of the canal. The whole of the towpath in Westmorland is already scheduled as a right of way and my right hon. Friend will be required to preserve it in constructing the motorway. Although the towpath in Lancashire is not so scheduled it will clearly have to be maintained along the whole of the length which remains open to pleasure craft.

This leaves only a short length from just south of the Tewitfield flight to the Westmorland border. If the Bill is passed and the proposals for the crossings are put into effect, my right hon. Friend proposes to ensure that access to the towpath is preserved, thus maintaining a continuous pedestrian way of more than 50 miles. This can be done quite simply by footpath diversions on the crossings concerned. The additional cost is about £2,000, which we believe should be spent in order to preserve this continuous pedestrian way.

Mr. Hall-Davis

Can I ask the hon. Gentleman for an assurance which may have some bearing on whether we press the Instruction to a Division? It is feared that the present canal will fall into an unpleasant state and become overgrown and weed ridden, and so on. Can he give an assurance that he will at least discuss with the Waterways Board the possibility of ensuring that those sections of the canal which are cut off, as appears to be proposed, are kept full of water and attractive to look at for people who walk along this exceptional country way, which is very like the Pennine Way in what it has to offer? Can we have an assurance that the canal will not be allowed to decline into a festering ditch?

Mr. Swingler

We are looking somewhat into the future and I do not know all the technical difficulties involved, but on behalf of my right hon. Friend I readily give the assurance that he will discuss with the Waterways Board that suggestion and all others which have been made in the debate.

I hope that what I have said will have shown that we have gone into these criticisms extremely carefully at all stages. I hope that what I have said will satisfy those who have criticised these provisions and will demonstrate that we are concerned about maintaining the use of canals for recreational purposes where we can and that that is one of the things we want to promote.

In the light of that and the other assurances which I have given, I hope that hon. Members will be prepared to withdraw the Instruction, which would have the effect of killing the whole Bill, on the understanding that it will go to Committee, where it will be carefully and comprehensively scrutinised with opportunities for different points of view to be considered. The Bill would then be able to return to the House for hon. Members to decide whether my right hon. Friend's proposals were right. I hope that the Bill will go forward now to be considered in Committee.

Mr. Hall-Davis

In the light of the assurances given by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, particularly the one about the preservation of the appearance of the canal, which is of great importance, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.