HC Deb 11 April 1968 vol 762 cc1681-96

4.8 p.m.

Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)

I wish to speak briefly on this important subject of the risk of flooding in the London area and the need for a barrier or barrage because there are at least three other hon. Gentlemen who 'wish to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, before the Minister replies to the debate.

As Chairman of the All-Party Group on the River Thames, I speak for a number of hon. Members who are interested in the subject. My hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Mr. Worsley) particularly has asked to be associated with what is being said, and so has the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker).

There is a very real risk of an exceptional disaster in London from a North Sea surge and consequent flooding over a possible area of 60 square miles of the Greater London area. London has no insurance policy against this whatever. It surely would be prudent to pay a substantial premium even if it were up to about £50 million. The flood defences of London were just adequate to meet the 1953 floods, which were 3 ft. 8 ins. over spring tide. But in 1962 in Hamburg the flood level was 13 ft. above spring tide, nearly three times the normal of the 1953 floods, with terrible consequences to Hamburg, including the deaths of hundreds of people.

I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to imagine what this would mean to London. The embankment at Charing Cross and here is well below the top tide level. So is York Road at Waterloo, as well as other districts. One can imagine that, if the tide was, say, 3 ft. over the walls of the Embankment, it would pour down into the Underground. The District, Bakerloo and Northern Lines, would be inundated and out of use for months. Professor Bondi, in his useful report, said: … I feel the extremely serious damage envisaged by Mr. Dunton"— the Chief Engineer of London Trans-port— would result. The tunnels would be filled with water, mud and debris, electrical equipment would be irreparably damaged by long immersion, etc. Services would be interrupted certainly for several months and possibly for a whole year. This would, then, be one result of a major surge flood. Over one million passengers use these Underground lines. They would be clogging the streets trying to get to work by bus or car. The Ministry of Defence would be flooded. The Cable and Wireless building further along the Embankment would also be flooded, as would the Houses of Parliament, other Whitehall Ministries and the G.L.C. on the other side of the river. I believe that the telephone system in this area along the river would be in chaos and that the business of the City of London would be halted, as would the business of the Government.

Professor Bondi's full report on the London flood barrier proves that the risk is real even if the floods were only a foot or so above the 1953 level. Why do we think that the risk of this surge is considerably greater than it was even a few years ago? First, geologists and geographers tell us that the South-East of England is sinking at the rate of between 7 and 12 inches every century. Therefore, even since 1953 the South-East has sunk an inch or so.

Secondly, the Meteorological Office says that in the 1960s, for some unknown reason, the proportion of northerly winds in the air is exactly double what it was in the first half of the century. We all know that it is the northerly winds which blow the surge down the East Coast.

Thirdly, there has been something odd about the tides. As a yachting man, I follow this closely. Last year there were 25 occasions when there were surges of more than two feet above the predicted tide level, and in 1967 there were 20 alerts recorded by the G.L.C. of possible flooding in the London area.

After the Boat Race last Saturday I went up the Thames in a motor boat with Lord Simon, Chairman of the Port of London Authority, as far as Teddington Lock. I was astonished to see, with the tide one foot above the predicted level, how high it was up the embankment walls at Kew and Putney. It was within about six inches of the top in what was regarded as a normal tide plus one foot. In addition, the Waverley Committee pointed out in 1954 that if in 1953 the surge of water over Teddington weir had been 20,000 cubic feet per second instead of 2,500, the flood in London would have been nine inches higher.

Since 1953, I am sorry to say, there has been a long story of delay over this matter. In 1954 the Waverley Committee, in paragraph 91, recommended that urgent decisions should be reached about a flood barrier for London. Then there were reports from consultative engineers, Messrs. Rendell, Palmer and Tritton, and Sir Bruce White, Wolfe, Barry and Partners, on two types of barrier of a movable type, costing between £25 million and £30 million. These reports were completed in 1965 and in January, 1966, were put in the Library of the House for our study at my request.

The Greater London Council has, I am glad to say, taken the bull by the horns in this matter. It has given a contract for £80,000 to the Hydraulics Research Station, at Wallingford, to make a deep and detailed study of the River Thames from Teddington down to Southend. I admit, as, no doubt, the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us, that the Government are giving assistance to that contract. The research station is, of course, a Government establishment.

I have visited the Hydraulics Research Station and the officials there are building a model of the Thames from Teddington to Southend. They will study all the conditions of tide and flood which could possibly occur. They are highly experienced in this work because they have built models of the River Plate, in the Argentine, and rivers in Egypt and in other countries, such as New Zealand. All that experience from all over the world will be gathered together for the study of London's river. It seems to me that it will take about two years to complete. I have no doubt that at the end of it the research station will probably recommend that there should be either a movable barrier or a permanent barrage as flood protection for London.

When the Parliamentary Secretary replies, I would like him to say that when the report is received from the Hydraulics Research Station the Government will act upon it immediately and not drag their feet a day longer. During the last two or three years, there have been persistent warnings from all kinds of sources concerning the flood danger. There was an interesting colour supplement in The Observer at the beginning of December The warnings have come from a number of people, not least from hon. Members.

If the Hydraulics Research Station recommends either a new barrage at Purfleet or, say, a permanent barrage with locks somewhere near Woolwich, if either of those was desirable I hope that the Government would opt for a barrage with locks. A barrage somewhere between London Bridge and Woolwich would give us very great amenities. It would have the advantage of ensuring a steady river at about three-quarters of the normal tide level. It would be a beautiful river, like the Seine in Paris, or the Charles River in Boston, where such a permanent barrage with locks has been built. There would be no difficult tidal conditions in London. It would, no doubt, help lighter-men, as the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Alan Lee Williams) may be able to tell us, and passenger boats would be able to ply on regular schedules up and down the river.

I agree that with a permanent barrage the defences below Woolwich would have to be strengthened. No doubt the walls at Woolwich and on the other side of the river below the barrage would have to be raised in height. This is a subject on which the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) may be able to say something.

The Port of London Authority has always been rather nervous of the building of a barrage of a permanent nature because of siltation. As Member of Parliament for Twickenham, however, I cannot see what is in the siltation problem. We have locks at Teddington and other places higher up the river and I have never found any great problem about siltation below the locks.

Holland, a country which is about one-eighth the size of our own, is spending no less than £250 million on barrages at the mouth of the Rhine delta for protection and for other purposes. In my view, we should not boggle at spending up to £50 million to protect from inundation and total disruption London, one of the great capitals of the world.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. The Minister will be replying at or before a quarter to five. With co-operation, it should be possible for all throe back-benchers who still wish to speak to do so.

4.19 p.m.

Mr. Alan Lee Williams (Hornchurch)

I am very pleased that the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) has been able to initiate a debate on this important subject. Although, statistically, it is possible to argue that the danger of flooding, which the hon. Member admirably outlined, is remote, nevertheless, because of the possible consequences of a surge, which the hon. Member has described, opportunity must be taken by the Government seriously to (onside- the problems of a Thames barrier.

Further, it gives an opportunity for the Government to consider doing something about the River Thames in its commercial and amenity sense. A Thames barrier provides just this sort of opportunity, because I believe that the commercial use of the Thames is greatly underestimated. With a Thames barrier, by removing the tidal stream altogether, it would be possible to develop effectively passenger transport so that, with the use of hovercraft and hydrofoil forms of water transport, the river would really come back into its own.

I believe also that it is essential, if we go in for a barrier, for it to be as far down the river as possible. I would like it certainly below my constituency. I think that it should be at the bottom end of Long Reach so that there would be the longest stretch of river that we could manage. I believe, too, that proper consideration should be given to locks for smaller craft as well as for the bigger vessels.

This certainly raises the whole question of the Port of London Authority's plans for the development of the lower reaches of the Thames in respect of the siting of new docks. If we are to have a barrier, it may be looked upon by some as impeding the progress of ships or lighters. The lightermen are convinced that a Thames barrier would assist them in their trade and not damage them.

Apart from the opportunity thrown up by a comprehensive review of the commercial opportunities of the Thames, easily the gravest issue facing the House today is the danger of flooding. It is possible, although it could be argued that perhaps it will not happen for 100 years, on a suitable flood tide at the end of this week, with the surge conditions which have been described in operation, for people in central London to be flooded. If it were timed during a rush hour on a "hot" spring tide, it is possible that many people would perish if they happened to be in the Underground system at the time.

As there is this danger, however remote, the problems of a Thames barrier should receive urgent consideration. I therefore hope that the points I have made about a comprehensive review will be examined at the same time. I hope that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will give some hope that, as a result of Professor Bondi's excellent study, the Government will take a decision which will lead to action as soon as possible.

4.23 p.m.

Mr. James Wellbeloved (Erith and Crayford)

I hope that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will appreciate the significance of the fact that this debate has been initiated by the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke), who is the Chairman of the all-party group in the House concerned with amenities and flood protection on the Thames. This is a matter which has agitated Members who represent constituencies along the banks of the Thames. It is a matter in regard to which we shall increase our activities and our pressure on the Government to take positive action for the protection of our constituents.

I was pleased that the hon. Gentleman referred to the initiation of the first reports into London flood protection that arose from the 1953 floods. It is a matter of regret to everybody that 15 years after those disastrous floods we are still without any positive action, although there have been many reports.

The question of London's Underground presents very serious problems. In paragraph 20 of his report to the Minister, Professor Bondi recommends that there should be a trial physical evacuation, during a peak period, of those using the Underground. I regret that this recommendation has not been adopted by the Government. I believe that it should have been, because there are millions of people on any day of the week in London who are at risk when they use the Underground while the Thames is unprotected from North Sea surge. There is urgent need for a decision.

The hon. Member for Twickenham said that there were 60 square miles of London unprotected. That is 20 square miles more than I had in mind. But hundreds of thousands of lives and a very great deal of property are at risk. Professor Bondi, in paragraph 24 of his report, says that delay invites disaster to London, and I agree with him.

There is one point on which I am not in complete agreement with all Members who represent constituencies along the Thames, and that is the priorities for what should be done—whether there should be a barrier or a barrage. My view is that, although we want the amenities of the Thames to be increased, we must get our priorities right. The first priority in developing the Thames must be flood protection. Any amenity improvement which comes after that is all well and good.

I turn to my constituency problems. A large part of Erith and Crayford lies low down by the Thames. There is as well the Thamesmead Development, which is being carried out by the Greater London Council, another 60,000 people are to be housed as a deliberate act of policy by the Minister of Housing and Local Government and by the G.L.C. on an area which is known to be subject to flooding and which has been ravaged in the past by the Thames bursting its banks. It would be criminal to put another 60,000 people at risk without having erected a barrage on the Thames to give protection, not only to the new Thamesmead residents and existing residents in my constituency, but the hundreds of thousands of people who reside along the Thames.

Professor Bondi, in paragraph 8 of his report, says: It is, of course, nonsense to say that it is impossible to quantify the cost of a human life. In paragraph 9 he says: On this basis, then, we can again look at relatively minor disasters involving perhaps the death of 50 people there or a hundred people here in much the same probability calculation as for the minor economic disaster. If the report has in mind people who live in my constituency, 50 deaths there or 100 deaths here are not minor disasters. They are disasters of immense and unspeakable magnitude, and it is because of this that we demand positive action be taken.

The Hydraulics Research Station is to carry out research. I believe that, when it has done so, it will come to the conclusion that the barrier should be erected at the lower reaches of the Thames, about Purfleet and Long Reach, because I believe that that is the inescapable conclusion. The moment that the report is published, the Government must act. They will have no further excuse for delay and continuing to invite disaster to London.

4.28 p.m.

Mr. W. Howie (Luton)

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) for raising this very important matter. From his speech and others, there can be no doubt about the importance and gravity of this question.

I do not have a constituency interest in the Thames as Luton is some way from the Thames, although admittedly the River Lee runs through Luton and eventually makes its murky way into the Thames. My interest arises from the 10 years or so which I spent with one of the consulting engineers who submitted the reports. I did some of the simpler calculations in the 1958 report and in the more recent report. The more difficult calculations were done by more sophisticated engineers who were better at arithmetic than I was.

Two points arise from the present situation. In a Written Answer on 20th February to the hon. Member for Twickenham, the Minister of Housing and Local Government pointed out that the Greater London Council intended to consider the possibilities of both the movable barrier and the fixed barrage proposals for flood control, and: … to investigate, in conjunction with the Port of London Authority … the relative advantages of these two types of structures and the most suitable site."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th February, 1968; Vol. 759, c. 59.] I find this question of raising the matter of the site again slightly odd, if only because after the first consulting engineers' report, a steering committee was set up, representing various authorities and Ministries—Housing, Agriculture, Transport, the L.C.C., as it was then, the Port of London Authority, Essex and Kent River Boards, Trinity House, and others. The committee was set up in 1959 and it found that there was unanimous agreement that the site should be in Long Reach: … in order to protect the whole of London down to and including Erith". Those concluding words should please my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved).

My point is that the steering committee, which reached a unanimous decision, has now been overtaken by a second and more recent investigation to decide, among other things, the most suitable site. I cannot see any great justification for that. I wonder why the change in Ministerial attitude has been made. The only due I have been able to find lies in the hand-out published by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government at about the same time as the Written Question to which I referred. In that the Ministry said: The fact that the consulting engineers could not agree on a design made it clear that the advisability of a movable barrier at this site was open to question. I find this a highly questionable and very frail conclusion. There were two consulting engineers involved in the report, and they were agreed that a retractable barrier in Long Reach was feasible. They disagreed on the design.

I was involved in some of these discussions, and do not find this disagreement particularly alarming, because, after all, a project of this kind and magnitude had never been attempted anywhere before. In that context, it seems unreasonable to suppose that there should not be a certain amount of disagreement—disagreement which could readily have been resolved. If anything, that disagreement probably showed the inadvisability, not of Long Reach, but of appointing two consulting engineers instead of one.

The design problem was imposed upon the consulting engineers by the requirements insisted on by the navigation authorities for a 1,400 ft. opening. I am not a sailor, but I would have thought that it would have been possible to take a boat through an opening rather smaller than 1,400 ft. I was interested to see that Professor Bondi suggests openings of, I think, 700 to 800 ft. On the strength of the sentence I have quoted, the G.L.C. h as been asked by the Ministry to set up a new inquiry with new terms of reference. I have no doubt that the G.L.C. will do this extremely well, but it will go over the ground which the consulting engineers have already been over. It will do it with great expertise, and I have complete confidence in its capacity to do the job.

I am a little saddened that several years of engineering investigation, hard thinking and hard work, in an urgent situation, have now become almost academic—not quite academic, because in the tidal calculations done at the time, an engineering dynamic relaxation method of total prediction was evolved, which has later been valuable for three-dimensional stress calculations for power stations and other places. So it has not been a total loss. There has been a little technical spin-off from the proposals.

There is only one question which the Minister should be asking and which they should answer: is there a likelihood of flooding on the 1953 scale or worse? If there is a likelihood of such flooding, are the Government prepared to spend the money which is necessary for flood protection or will they merely advise people in the flood area to step up their insurance a little and to cover the physical loss which they may suffer? This situations has dragged on for top long. It is 15 years almost to the day since the 1953 flood. The Government should make up their mind, if possible without setting up any more inquiries or asking for any more reports or investigations. They can look at the reports which they already have, make up their minds and decide.

4.36 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. James MacColl)

I am glad to have the opportunity of speaking on this subject, because it is clear from what has been said on both sides of the House that it is time that the Government said something about it. When someone as fair-minded as my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Cray-ford (Mr. Wellbeloved) can say that it is time that the Government looked for no further excuses for delay, it seems to me that I ought to put the position before the House precisely as it has been over the years.

I will deal first with the question put, as an engineer, by my hon. Friend the Member for Luton (Mr. Howie). He asked whether there was a likelihood of a disaster. The answer is, "No", because if he uses the word "likelihood" in any strict mathematical sense, then in terms of probability the chance of a surge comparable with that of 1953 is one in 100, and the chances against a surge much bigger are very much greater. The short technical answer to my hon. Friend, therefore, is that this is not a likelihood.

That is no sense gets away from the human problem which always arises where there is a risk, however much the mathematicians may say that the chance of it happening is less than one in 100. If one is about when it happens, that is little consolation. I recognise that there is a feeling that one can never be sure that this will not happen again unexpectedly and suddenly.

But the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) overplayed the point about risk. He was unwise to do that, because it is disquieting to the public to be told by their local Members that there is a substantial risk. There is not. But it could happen, and I do not in the least want to be complacent about about recognising that we must consider with great care what ought to be done. I cannot completely discount the factor of cost, because to some extent we are choosing between comparable risks. There are other risks of perhaps even greater gravity than this, and if we are to spend money at all, then those other risks might be met before this risk is met. Nevertheless, it has never been the Government's view that we should should shut our eyes to the seriousness of the problem and not consider what we ought to do.

In considering the shocking surge of 1953 I wish to recapitulate the history of the matter and, while I do not wish to weary the House, I must point out that my interpretation of this history is slightly different from that of the hon. Member for Twickenham. The Waverley Committee was set up in 1954 by the then Government as a result of the flooding in 1953. That Committee did an efficient and quick job. After it reported, technical investigations were undertaken by the Department and the details were published in a Blue Book in 1960, entitled "Technical Possibilities of a Flood Barrier".

At that time immediate objections were raised by the Thames navigation interests. I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Luton came into the picture at that point. Two consultants were appointed and were asked to design a retractible barrier of about 1,400 ft. in width. They reported at the end of 1965, when a Labour Government were in office, and it is correct to say that they could not agree on a design. One proposal would have cost £23 million and the other £39 million.

It is interesting to note that they ruled out the idea of a barrage, although the hon. Member for Twickenham is still interested in that concept. At that time there was only one type of barrage which they could consider—only one that was worth thinking about—and for this purpose it would have been the wrong one. If we were going to build a barrage now, the proposals put forward at that time in connection with a barrage would not have been adopted. In other words, it was not the sort of barrage that we would adopt if we were to do this work today.

This is a hidden factor in the situation. Technical knowledge of this problem has been developing all the time and attitudes have been changing rapidly. In considering what steps to take, my right hon. Friend was, therefore, faced with two conflicting reports. It was at that stage that he asked Professor Bondi to make a re-examination of the whole problem. He had to see if another site could be found and look at the Long Reach site to assess its implications. Professor Bondi reported on 22nd July, 1967. Tribute has been paid to his report and it has been quoted. The very fact that hon. Members have gone to Professor Bondi for their quotations shows that we were right to set up the Bondi inquiry. To put it another way, it should not be suggested that we should have taken an immediate decision when we were faced with two conflicting reports from the consultants and a wave of objections at the time from the navigation interests. We were, therefore, absolutely right to have set up that inquiry.

Professor Bondi thought that the most economical defence compatible with navigational requirements would be a movable barrier in the vicinity of Dagenham or Woolwich, upstream of Long Reach. That immediately arouses the interest of my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford, who, of course, would want it to be as far down river as possible. This is a case of the gathering of opinions, of the need for agreement, and of complaints about an obstinate Minister standing in the way of something being done.

Mr. Howie

It is important to remember that Long Reach does not silt up. From the technical and engineering point of view, the tide there clears the river and makes it convenient for this purpose.

Mr. MacColl

I have more than once incurred my hon. Friend's wrath when he was a Whip. I do not intend to become involved in an argument with him on a technical matter of which he has great knowledge. I am arguing the case for a technical examination and a recognition of the fact that the problem is changing all the time. I want to make it clear that once Professor Bondi had reported, the initiative was with the Ministry. The picture of our doing nothing and of the G.L.C. then taking the bull by the horns is not the right picture. We in the Ministry saw the importance of taking action.

The Greater London Council is the local authority responsible for the problems of London's river. It was set up by the last Government—the greatest, wealthiest and most skilled local authority in the world—precisely for the purpose of taking from the central Government responsibility for detailed decisions on the problems of the Metropolis. By aw, responsibility was given to the Greater London Council. It was there-`ore not for us to say that we would not consider the views of the local authority of the area. We are not dealing with a small authority responsible for a population of about 5,000, asking the borough engineer to run something up on the back of an envelope, but with a tremendous vocal authority having available to it great resources and technical and professional skill—

Mr. Gresham Cooke

It is all very well for the Minister to say that this is a matter only for the G.L.C. To begin with, the Long Reach is not in the G.L.C. area. The area is much bigger than that of the Greater London Council, and involves also the P.L.A. and the navigation interests.

Mr. MacColl

The G.L.C., as convening authority, is responsible for getting action. The Herbert Report again and again makes a point of the importance of having in London a local authority which can take initiative about cross-river problems, main drainage problems, and so on.

We reached a position where we asked the G.L.C. to look into the problem and it was at this stage that the new idea of a fixed barrage as opposed to the barrier came in. At least, it is said to be new, but I am advised that the first proposal for a fixed barrage was made in 1780.

There have always been two objections to that proposal: first, it would delay shipping, which would have to pass through locks and, second, siltation would raise the cost of dredging—something which my hon. Friend the Member for Luton is more capable of assessing. It would also be very expensive to construct. On the other hand, there are amenity advantages, but as soon as that was mentioned one of my hon. Friends at once said that amenity must always be subordinate to the preservation of life.

We must therefore ask ourselves: are we looking at this as an amenity exercise, which might cost £100 million, to provide a pleasurable place for Londoners, or are we thinking in terms of expenditure essential to save life?

Mr. Alan Lee Williams

I know that my hon. Friend is referring to my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Cray-ford (Mr. Wellbeloved) but I made the separate point that there is commercial advantage to be derived from a permanent Thames barrier.

Mr. MacColl

I only make the point that these are matters to be taken into account. To give it a certain amount of perspective, I might say that £30 million for a barrage—and it might cost a great deal more—is about 15 years of country parks expenditure. That is big money.

It is true that the situation has changed because of changes in the docks and because of technical change, and it may very well be that a fixed barrage is the answer—I am not qualified to argue that. But we have to ask ourselves: what sort of fixed barrage? I am advised that on our existing knowledge the cost of a fixed barrier might be anything between £20 million and £100 million. We have to consider in the light of developing knowledge and developing changes in the Port of London what is the most practicable and effective thing to do.

That is why the G.L.C. decided to hold this inquiry. It said that it wanted to get on with the inquiry untrammelled by too much interference from us. It wanted freedom to look at everything and not to be on tight leading reins of the central Government. It is right that a big and proud authority should feel like that. It wants to look at the whole matter and we are not in any way holding it up. I hope that it will go on and do this.

I saw that the leader of the council said that a barrage is better than a barrier, but to say what type of barrage there should be is very difficult without seeing the results by use of various models and the technical investigation that has to be made. I think the G.L.C. is right to have this inquiry. From it we shall get some information which will help us in assessing what is the best thing to do.

I do not want to leave the impression—I hope it will not be left by the debate—that London is trembling on the brink of disaster. The probabilities are very much against that happening. We watch carefully to keep up-to-date the methods of giving alarm and so on.

I was asked whether the Underground authorities could employ an evacuation scheme. I do not know that that would be wise. We have enough troubles with rush-hours without suddenly deciding to have evacuation schemes of that sort. If the transport authority, which has responsibility for paper exercises can satisfy itself that it has the situation under control—

Mr. Wellbeloved

Does this mean that the Minister and the Government have rejected outright paragraph 20 of Professor Bondi's report, which makes clear that Professor Bondi positively recommends a physical evacuation of London's Underground because of this great danger? Have the Government rejected that recommendation out of hand?

Mr. MacColl

It is not for us to do that. It is for the transport authority to decide whether or not to do it and I understand that the authority does not consider it practicable.

Mr. Wellbeloved

The Bondi report was made to Her Majesty's Government and Her Majesty's Government have it within their power to say that they accept or reject the recommendation. Will my hon. Friend give a positive answer; do the Government accept or reject that recommendation? This is most important.

Mr. MacColl

I do not think we can take one paragraph of the report as a single issue and say whether we accept or reject it. We certainly do not feel on existing evidence that it is for us to issue a formal direction to the Underground authorities to do this. Those authorities says that it is not a very practical thing to do, and we think they are right. We keep an eye on the warning systems to see that they are up-to-date and that there is no risk of people forgetting their importance. We are waiting for the report from the Greater London Council, which we hope will come soon—the quicker the better—then we can see what is the best thing to do.

My final word is that we should draw this lesson from what I have said. The fortuitous chance of uncertainty about what to do and the differences of view on the matter have led to a changing situation so that hon. Members in the House today are saying things which they would not have said if we had acted in 1965.

Mr. Howie

Will my hon. Friend take note of the fact that he was wrong when he said that the consulting engineers came into the picture in 1960 following the issue of the Blue Book? The consulting engineers submitted a report in September, 1958, and that preceded the Blue Book.

Mr. MacColl

I apologise for having said that. I did not intend to mislead the House. My notes have the sequence the wrong way round.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at five minutes to Five o'clock till Tuesday, 23rd April, pursuant to the Resolution of the House of 8th April.