§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
§ 7.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Fell (Yarmouth)
I beg to move, to leave out "now" and at the end of the Question to add "upon this day six months."
As will be seen from the Order Paper a number of hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) and my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. J. E. B. Hill), have joined together for the purpose of moving this Amendment. The reason for it is that we object to a specific part of the Bill, namely, Part III, under which the British Transport Commission seeks to close certain waterways, and we are objecting particularly to the closure of the Haddiscoe New Cut.
I should very briefly like to tell the House the story of the Haddiscoe New Cut. I have already told a number of hon. Members by whom I have been approached, as has the hon. Member for Lowestoft, about the Haddiscoe New Cut. It originated in 1827 when this House was mostly concerned with the Corn Laws and Catholic emancipation. At that time, in Norfolk, there was the great port of Norwich from which ships went to sea via Great Yarmouth, and for some years prior to 1827 the rivers from Norwich to Yarmouth had begun to silt up. It was because of that that a way was sought to get the ships from Norwich to the sea via Lowestoft. So, in 1827, this Cut was started and the rivers were deepened so that the ships could sail from Norwich to Lowestoft. The Cut was built at a cost of £150,000 and it was opened in 1833.
All those years ago my constituency of Great Yarmouth put up a tremendous fight against having the Haddiscoe New Cut and those towns would gladly have closed it before it had ever been opened. But things have altered and on this occasion, 120 years later, the hon. Member for Lowestoft and myself and a number of other hon. Members are completely at one in that we do not want to see this waterway closed. The Haddiscoe 1348 New Cut was sold to the railways because of financial failure.
I think it would be helpful if I described very briefly the present use of the New Cut. It is used perhaps mainly for pleasure craft using the Norfolk Broads, which, as everyone in the House knows, is one of the playgrounds of Britain. The suggestion that the Haddiscoe New Cut should be closed is of such moment to yachtsmen throughout the length and breadth of Britain that many hon. Members havefound their postbags full of letters from yachtsmen complaining about this proposed closing.
The second use of the Cut is for ships going to Norwich and to Cantley Sugar Beet Factory, which is also in my constituency. I should like to explain very briefly what the effect of the closure would be as we see it. First, I need hardly say very much further about the pleasure craft except that one of the reasons for objecting is that the Haddiscoe New Cut has been a useful part of the Broads to yachtsmen because, if the craft could not go through the Cut which is two and a half miles long, they would have to go round by the rivers Yare and Waveney which, in fact, the Cut joins together, and the journey, instead of being two and a half miles, would be about nine and a half miles and not altogether safe for inexperienced yachtsmen, whom one meets sometimes on the Broads.
Another factor, of course, is that the closure would mean that the route from Norwich to Lowestoft would be closed for shipping. I will leave completely to the hon. Member for Lowestoft that part of the effect of the closure, because I should like to mention the question of water levels, which is of the greatest possible concern to many people, particularly in my constituency of Great Yarmouth, which suffered so severely in 1953 from the floods and again in December last year.
If I may, I should like to quote two passages to the House, one from the Petition against the Bill by the East Suffolk and Norfolk River Board and the other by the Great Yarmouth Corporation. The East Suffolk and Norfolk River Board, in its Petition, says this:Although, by forming a connection between the rivers Yare and Waveney, the primary purpose of the Haddiscoe New Cut is to provide a direct and unobstructed passage for vessels proceeding from Lowestoft to 1349 Norwich, the Cut also has important land drainage functions and for that reason the Cut, together with the rivers Yare and Waveney, have been designated main rivers. The banks of the Cut protect the low lying land behind from flooding by water from the two rivers. Moreover, since at high tide the level of the River Waveney at one end of the Cut is higher than that of the River Yare at the other, it assists in equalising the two and thus reduces the pressure on the banks containing the rivers. These banks protect valuable marsh lands and your Petitioners view with the gravest apprehension any proposal which might have the result of increasing the danger of flooding those lands.The second quotation from the Great Yarmouth Petition reads:Your Petitioners point out that very high tides are not infrequently experienced in the lower reaches of the Rivers Yare and Bure. The margin of protection against flooding in the borough is very small, and any reduction in the total area of the waterways which would normally help to take up the tidal rise must affect the ultimate level of the rivers in the borough and increase the risk of flooding. Your Petitioners are seriously concerned, therefore, that the closure of the New Cut would increase the risk of such flooding and especially is this so having regard to the amount of flooding which has already occurred in the borough during the past two years.It is not surprising, therefore, that the people of Yarmouth, who once opposed the making of the Haddiscoe New Cut, are now equally opposed to its closing on this ground alone, quite apart from the fact that there are many yachtsmen who want to use it for yachting purposes.
Perhaps I may further give a list of some of the people who are opposing the closure of the Cut. It is quite impressive. It includes the Norfolk County Council County Planning Committee, the Blofield and Flegg Rural District Council, which is in my constituency, the Norfolk and Suffolk Yacht Owners' Association, the East Suffolk and Norfolk Rivers Board, the Great Yarmouth Port and Haven Commissioners, and the Great Yarmouth Corporation. In addition, there have been floods of letters from people all over the country, not stereotyped letters in an organised campaign, but letters written from the hearts of the people concerned. And, of course, there have been letters from yachting associations as well.
I believe that the British Transport Commission has to watch carefully its expenditure and is being harried all the time to make economies and to be efficient, which is proper. Therefore, it is understandable that it should seek to try to be relieved of its responsibilities 1350 where the Haddiscoe New Cut is concerned, if it is to be a costly matter, as the Commission says it is. What I do not think is reasonable is that the Commission should have brought forward this Bill without approaching one of the authorities concerned before so doing. It would have been helpful, and perhaps have avoided this difficulty, if the Commission could have consulted previously with the various authorities to see whether some arrangement could be reached by which the Cut could be kept open.
§ Mr. Arthur Holt (Bolton, West)
Would the hon. Gentleman say whether those bodies which are against the closing, such as the Norfolk County Council County Planning Committee, were prepared to get together to keep the Cut open and so relieve the Transport Commission of the cost?
§ Mr. Fell
They have not had a chance to get together because they were not asked, and that is the point to which I was leading. I hope sincerely that we shall be able to prevail upon the Transport Commission to withdraw this part of the Bill so that, during the coming months or years, it may try to find some other way of getting out of the difficulties, and at least go to the length of having full discussion with all the interested bodies to try to find a more equitable solution. I hope that the speeches which will be made in support of this Amendment will have the effect of bringing common sense to bear on this issue.
§ 7.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward Evans (Lowestoft)
I beg to second the Amendment.
I regret, as the hon. Gentleman the Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell) does, the necessity for putting down an Amendment of this character. The hon. Gentleman said he has a great deal of sympathy with the British Transport Commission, and so do we all. It is true, however, that I have been guilty on several occasions of taking exception to various proposals to effect economies put before us by the Commission, which has an intimate association with the economic life of Lowestoft. Yet the effect of this proposal to close the Haddiscoe New Cut has aroused so much opposition throughout the country that we feel it our duty, as representing the interests 1351 concerned there, to take the action we are taking tonight.
The hon. Gentleman referred to correspondence from persons outside our own constituencies, from persons who have spent happy holidays on the Broads and feel that anything which causes the deterioration of this wonderful holiday resort, for that is what it is, can lead to nothing but a lack of appreciation of what is available there for the people of Britain. Practically every yachting interest in the country has supported the petitioners and the objectors to this Bill. Even our House of Commons Yachting Club, of which I have the privilege to be a member, has added its members to the list of objectors, and the post-bags of all hon. Members have indicated how widespread is the feeling of distress.
The hon. Member for Yarmouth has taken the main points of objection and I shall not reiterate them. It must be remembered, though, that however arduous is the responsibility resting on the shoulders of the Transport Commission—which, by the way it undertook voluntarily—the Commission, with other bodies, takes a good share of the emoluments arising from the influx of people into the Broads. Every year at least half a million people visit the Broads for their holiday amenities. Many come by road, but it would be idle to deny that the Commission takes a good rake-off from those who come by train. That is quite legitimate because the Commission boosts the Broads in its advertisements. There is hardly a station in the country which has not a picturesque Norfolk wherry sailing along the delightful waterways of the Broads.
As the hon. Gentleman has said, perhaps the main objection—at any rate, the most vocal and the most repeated—has come from those interested in the holiday traffic. For not only does the Commission derive a profit from that traffic, but all the towns and small villages in the periphery of the Broads benefit and are sustained in their economic life by this trade. Anything, therefore, which destroys the homogeneity of the Broads renders a great disservice to it.
If the Haddiscoe New Cut is closed it will have the effect of more or less—I do not want to exaggerate—cutting the Broads into two separate entities, with a 1352 long, tortuous and rather dangerous tidal water lying on the route of yachts sailing between Lowestoft and Beccles. The Haddiscoe Cut is a calm, well-conditioned, safe waterway of vital importance to the holiday trade of Lowestoft and Beccles.
For those who are developing the Cut, another consideration is its use as a commercial highway. It is confidently predicted that the commercial traffic will increase. It is a grain passage between Yarmouth and Beccles; and it is a cheap and effective means of conveying beet, which is a very cumbersome load, and grain to their destinations.
The hon. Gentleman has discussed the agricultural implications of closing the Cut. It is a very highly technical matter. It must be remembered that the public bodies who are responsible for land drainage in the area have provided some of the strongest opposition. Not only have the river boards objected, but Beccles, in its petition, has scheduled as one of its main objections the danger of flooding if the Cut were closed. The Cut acts as a spill-away between two rivers, and unless there is a steady flow of water there it is probable that in exceptional weather and in conditions that we have known so well in recent years there will be considerable flooding in the low-lying agricultural areas of North Suffolk.
It has always been an ambition of mine to have the Broads made a national park. It is the best defined of all the areas designated in the Hobhouse Report as national parks. Its layout is such that one can almost step from the area which is outside the ambit of a national park into the area which is within its ambit.
The area provides facilities for many traditional English sports. It is interesting that Nelson learnt his sailing on the Broads. There are facilities for swimming, skating, fishing, bird watching and a whole host of other real British sports which call for an expression of individuality. [Laughter.] I know that there is a good deal of other sport there as well, but I do not like the kind of laughter now coming from hon. Members opposite. Anything that would destroy or lessen the value of such a wonderful asset as the Broads would be a great disservice to the community.
As I have said, the economy of towns like Beccles and Lowestoft is very much 1353 bound up with the holiday trade. There are yacht builders, small boat builders and caterers who depend to a very large extent upon the Broads being an easy waterway on which amateurs can go without danger. I very rarely hear of any casualties on the Broads unless someone acts very stupidly indeed. It is a great training ground for yachtsmen, and it provides a healthy and reasonably cheap holiday for many people who describe themselves as sons of the sea, but have never been on a ship of any kind.
It is well known by now that those of us who have been urging the Amendment upon hon. Members—we are very greatly indebted to my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) and other who have interested themselves in this great waterway—have been in touch with the Commission on this issue. I echo what the hon. Member for Yarmouth has said when I say I very much hope that at same stage in tonight's proceedings we shall be given some indication that the Commission is willing to forgo the Clause and to set up some form of negotiation with interested parties. The hon. Member spoke about the extent to which financial responsibility could be lifted from the shoulders of the Commission. It cannot be lifted wholly, because the Commission has a real economic interest in the maintenance of the Broads. I hope we shall hear about the possibility of making an accommodation in relation to the costs.
I hope that we shall be told something positive during the evening because those of us who are in favour of the Amendment would be only too happy if the past could be forgotten and all interested parties could get together to see what can be done. That is in the modern tradition. We do not wish to battle with anybody. We can give an assurance that if something of that kind is forthcoming we will do our duty and encourage the objectors to participate in negotiations with the object of arriving at some accommodation.
§ 7.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Higgs (Bromsgrove)
My hon. Friend the Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell) and the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) have dealt faithfully with the question of Haddiscoe Cut. All I want to say on that subject is that even in my constitu- 1354 ency, which is in the very middle of England, the matter has aroused some interest and I have heard something about it from my constituents.
I should like to know whether we might be given a little more general information about Clause 19, which provides for the closing of not only Haddiscoe Cut but a large number of other inland waterways which are set out in the Fourth Schedule. The Clause not only relieves the Commission of the obligation to maintain the waterways, including Haddiscoe Cut, but also extinguishes the rights that people may now have to use them.
I do not know what we are to be told about Haddiscoe Cut, but I invite the House to consider the form of the Clause and the machinery by which the Commission, in respect of not only Haddiscoe Cut but all the other waterways, is to get rid of its responsibilities. It may well be a very proper course for the Commission to say in respect of Haddiscoe Cut or any other canal, "With the leave of Parliament, we will give up our responsibilities," but is it necessary for the Commission to follow that by extinguishing the rights of all people who use the waterways?
Suppose, in the case of one of the waterways, that a number of other authorities got together and said they would take it over, that would not be much good if this Bill had passed into law, thereby extinguishing the right of people to use the waterway. Though I can appreciate that the Commission may have a good case in respect of many waterways for saying that in future it will not remain responsible for maintaining them, it seems a little gratuitous for it then to add that nobody else shall have any right to use the waterways even when the Commission ceases to be interested in them.
I do not know whether this Clause is intended to be a precursor of another to the same effect, or whether, in future years, all one will have to do is add names to the list in the Fourth Schedule. If it were to be so, I would regret that the matter had been handled in that way. Even in Private Bills things can often be slipped into Schedules without everybody realising precisely what they mean. I would rather that a machine was not 1355 set up whereby it would be possible in future years to do that.
I should like to ask two further questions about two other Clauses. There is a power in Clause 7 to break up the surface of streets in London in the course of the construction of new railways in the city. I do not know why it should bethought, having authorised the railways to be constructed, that it is necessary to insert a special Clause to say that a street may be broken up. It would be interesting to know why it is necessary. If hon. Members will look at the Second Schedule, they will see mentioned some very important streets like Piccadilly, Regent Street and Oxford Circus.
My understanding of the position is that, if it be necessary and one gives this power to break up streets, the Transport Commission is not subject to the very detailed stipulations which were laid down in the Public Utilities Street Works Act, 1950 as to the procedure to be followed to minimise inconvenience to the public and the highway authority and expense and disorganisation. That is a matter of which the House approved at that time, but one would like to be assured that if such important streets in the centre of London are to be broken up for carrying out the works of the Commission, that the Commission would conform to such rules as can be enforced for securing the minimum inconvenience to the public and expense to the highway authorities.
Clause 15 of the Bill seems, if one reads Part I of the Third Schedule which goes with it, to end the right of the public, except on foot, to use a great many level crossings in a number of counties. One imagines that until the specified date—in fact, it must be so—these are level crossings which could be used, at any rate with bridle paths, and possibly for wheel traffic as well. It seems to be a fairly wholesale closing of public rights of way. I would like assurances that the public will not be seriously inconvenienced and that someone has considered alternative routes which are open to people on bicycles, or with motor vehicles and that no great damage is to be done to them.
I should be happier about the Bill if I were reassured on some of those points.
§ 7.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Holt (Bolton, West)
It would be a pity if the House agreed to the Amendment, although I have a lot of sympathy with the views expressed by the mover and seconder of the Amendment. The hon. Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell), following my interjection, said that this matter could be held up for a few months, or even a few years, and that then something might be arranged. The House has to face up to that kind of thing.
We have put upon the Commission the job of making both ends meet, and that has been emphasised by the 1953 Act. It is not the job of this House to prevent the Commission doing that by urging it to maintain unremunerative enterprises for one day longer than is absolutely necessary. I do not know how long this Haddiscoe Cut argument has been going on, but from the first moment it was mooted it would have been far better, if those interested had endeavoured to get together the interested bodies—like ratepayers and river boards—to see if any group could be arranged to take over the expense of keeping the Cut open.
If the House can agree this evening on the lines on which we ought to proceed in all these matters, we shall have done something useful. It would not be wise of us to ask the Commission again to look at this case of the Haddiscoe Cut and say to the Commission that in the next few years we should like it to keep it open to see if an arrangement could be made.
§ Mr. Holt
The fact of the matter is that the railways have kept open many enterprises over the last 100 years which were unremunerative. It is not sufficiently realised that by the 1953 Act we have brought about a revolution in the operations of the railways, and that they are now open to the fullest competition of all kinds. It is just unrealistic to expect the Commission to keep open unremunerative enterprises and to make both ends meet.
I am an amateur yachtsman of very little experience. Although I have not operated on the Broads, I should like to do so on some occasion, and I am sure it would be wiser for me to go through the Cut rather than to take the nine-mile route.
§ Mr. Edward Evans
I should like to take up the hon. Member's point that we ought to have got together before we raised these objections. It is only a few weeks ago that I first saw the Bill and only a short time ago that these proposals were published. As the hon. Member knows, it is very difficult to get together a whole group of people without some sort of machinery for doing it.
§ Mr. Holt
I accept what the hon. Member says on that score and withdraw any imputation on his activities which I might have indicated.
I suggest that the proper procedure for all who are interested in this matter is, with great urgency, to find a way of keeping this Cut open, and to end putting the onus on the Commission. If the proposition is that the British Transport Commission gains something by having it open, then perhaps the Commission can be induced to pay its fair share of the cost. But that is a matter which can be considered.
I earnestly suggest that the House should make it quite clear tonight that it does not consider that the British Transport Commission has a duty to keep this Cut open when it is apparently agreed that that would be a completely unremunerative enterprise for the Commission to do so.
§ Mr. Garner Evans (Denbigh)
The point is that the legal duty is on the Transport Commission at the moment. The Commission has to "carry the can "for this Cut. If I correctly understood my hon. Friend the Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell), he says that it is the responsibility of the Commission to find other people who might together offer to take over the financial burden. But we should not be asked to find some nebulous bodies to get together. The responsibility is on the Transport Commission.
§ Mr. Holt
The responsibility for making both ends meet is also placed on the Transport Commission, and the reason why it is trying to remove these obligations is that this kind of obligation prevents it from carrying out the other. There will be more and more examples of this sort of thing being brought before the House with a view to our agreeing that these obligations should be taken away.
1358 Having passed the 1953 Act, I suggest that we must meet this position fairly and squarely, and it will be very interesting—if, in fact, it is possible—to try to find people who are interested enough and consider Haddiscoe New Cut of sufficient value to the income of that area to make it worth while keeping it open. After all, it is no new thing for ratepayers to take on obligations in order to attract people into their area.
To take an example near my own area, Blackpool Corporation has spent thousands of pounds of ratepayers' money to develop Blackpool and to make it attractive in order that people might go there. The ratepayers thought that it was worth their while to do that, and the money was spent.
If the argument is that something is done to the Broads which will attract people to them, will improve their holidays, and will be an attraction to them to go again, then, surely, that is quite a proper obligation to place upon the ratepayers of Norfolk. On the other hand, if there is some matter in which the river boards are interested, such as looking after the water levels, and so on, they may be able to accept part of the obligation, but the House should make it quite clear tonight where it considers the obligation should lie.
§ 7.42 p.m.
§ Mr. T. L. Iremonger (Ilford, North)
I wish to support the hon. Members who have moved and seconded the Amendment, and to oppose the Motion for Second Reading.
Those hon. Members have made a specific objection to this Bill, and I want to associate myself with their objection in connection with the Haddiscoe New Cut. I have received many representations from constituents of mine who are yachtsmen; and, as one of my hon. Friends has said, these representations have not been made as the result of a nationally organised campaign, but have come to us because people have noticed something which affects their interests and their lives, and have written to their Member of Parliament about it. My constituency is far removed from the scene of this dispute, and yet constituents have taken the trouble to write to me about it, and I wish to associate myself with those who are objecting to this Bill on those grounds.
1359 I have very great personal sympathy with those yachtsmen who object to the closing of the Cut. I think that those who spend their time" messing about in boats" spend it a great deal better than some of those who spend their time messing about in other ways. I would remind the House of the fact that the Army of our Kingdom was brought back from the beaches of Dunkirk by gentlemen who spend their time in that way and in learning the ways of the sea.
I also wish to raise a specific objection on a point which concerns my constituents in Ilford, North, and which, indeed, concerns the citizens of the whole Borough of Ilford. It is an objection on which I know I have the support of my colleague the hon. and gallant Member for Ilford, South (Squadron Leader Cooper). I refer to the Fifth Schedule to the Bill, which details lands which are to be acquired under Section 23. One of these parcels of land is to be acquired to provide a railway depot. The proposal is to build this depot on land which was leased by the Ilford Borough Council to the Seven Kings and Goodmayes Allotment Holders' Society, so that the members of the society might use that land for allotments.
I believe that the proposal to include that land in the Schedule is highly objectionable. I think so because, first, this land was leased by the borough council on a long lease to the society in good faith. In the second place, it is land which is protected by the Town and Country Planning Act, and was to be reserved as agricultural land. Thirdly, it is good agricultural land in an area starved of such land, and no suitable alternative land is to be found in the neighbourhood. On behalf of the members of the society, I want to support their objections.
Personally, too, I feel very strongly about the matter. I have been an allotment holder myself. When I was an undergraduate—
§ Mr. Iremonger
I am prepared to make full confession of my antiquity.
I only want to indulge in what I think is a reasonable reminiscence, namely, 1360 that, when I was an undergraduate at the Mother of Universities, I followed the advice of the philosopher Voltaire, who, having surveyed the whole scene of human endeavour in his "Candide," came to the conclusion that the best advice he could offer to mankind was "cultivate your garden." Perhaps I took him a little too literally, for I did, in fact, lease an allotment from the Oxford City Council. [Interruption.] I defer to my Scottish hon. Friends who believe that St. Andrew's is the Mother of Universities.
I believe hon. Members opposite may also sympathise with me in my agricultural interests. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), who I am sorry to see is not in his place, with his broad acres, would be only too glad to support this objection, to say nothing of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kongwa, with his interest in enterprises in Tanganyika. [HON. MEMBERS: "That is unnecessary."] Quite seriously, if I have given any kind of offence to the susceptibilities of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, I hope they will accept a handsome apology, and I hope that I have not impaired their sincerity in supporting my objections to this Bill.
Seriously, I put it to the House that the members of this society, who are cultivating their gardens in this way, are a valuable and useful part of our national life. The rights of allotment holders should not be lightly brushed aside in the way they are—lightly and arrogantly brushed aside—in this Bill.
On general principles, too, I think this Bill shows an objectionable and dangerous tendency. It raises the question, which I think this House should face, whether this rapacious and arrogant Commission should be treated as a kind of sacred cow which may browse unchecked in everybody's gardens, and whether those who stand in its way should be treated in the way in which the Soviet Government treated the kulaks. I suggest that this House should show the Commission the red light by refusing to give a Second Reading to the Bill, and I believe that the grievances of my constituents afford the House a very good example of the grounds upon which it should do so.
§ 7.49 p.m.
§ Mr. E. L. Mallalieu (Brigg)
I think we can leave to the judgment of the House which is the more arrogant—the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) or the Commission of which he spoke.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) found himself in a very accommodating mood this evening. He did not want to fight with anybody. I do not know whether any birds have been saying things in his ear about the fate of the matter in which he is particularly interested this evening, but I must confess that I feel not at all accommodating; in fact, most belligerent.
I want to raise a question on Clause 34, which deals with a bridge over the River Trent about nine miles above its confluence with the Humber, and about 17 miles north of Gainsborough—the Keadby Bridge. This bridge is a road and rail bridge over this very considerable river, and it is the only link with the West which Scunthorpe, a very important borough in my constituency, has.
Scunthorpe is probably the largest single steel producing area in the country. No less than 100,000 tons of coal have to go into Scunthorpe every week and about42,000 ingot-tons of steel come out of it. It is obviously a matter of vital concern to Scunthorpe if the bridge is to be closed. Under Clause 34, the Commission asks us to relieve it of its statutory duty to maintain this heavy, lifting bridge. It is like Tower Bridge, which is also a lifting bridge in that boats can go through the gap when the bridge is lifted without lowering their masts and funnels. It is obvious that if something is done to the bridge which closes it, the position becomes serious for Scunthorpe.
The Commission asks power to keep the bridge permanently closed. Apart from the Scunthorpe aspect of the matter there are certain villages along the banks of the river between the bridge and Gainsborough. I am not claiming that these are thriving ports. In fact, there is no navigational activity in them; but who is to say that they will not be developed in the future? We have seen all sorts of developments take place in this country, particularly with the transportation of oil. I am informed that it is by no means beyond the bounds of possibility that these small and, from the navi- 1362 gational point of view, insignificant villages might become very important.
Then there is the interest of Gainsborough itself, a place which has a considerable river traffic. Up to the beginning of the Second World War, Gainsborough had a considerable coastwise traffic. Ships were able to come up to Gainsborough, because there was this lifting bridge over the Trent. Vessels of 9 feet or 10 feet draught are able to get to Gainsborough. During the war, when commerce was dislocated, and even after the war, these conditions remained. The result was very little coastwise traffic with Gainsborough.
Having regard to the lifting of restrictions which has taken place, not only just recently but for a considerable time—these restrictions have been progressively lifted since the war—the pattern of Gainsborough's trade has shown a distinct turn back to normal. If the bridge is to remain closed there will be an immediate effect upon the coastwise trade of Gainsborough.
One must not let one's imagination have too fanciful a flight, but one ought to consider that the Commission is asking us for power permanently to close the River Trent to coastwise traffic, or to all the parts of it that cannot take down their funnels and masts. What would be the cost if ever this country were involved in war again? I imagine that most hon. Members would come down on the side of dispersal rather than of concentration of port facilities. The smaller ports might again be of very great value. It is worth while to notice that aspect of the matter.
The Commission has a statutory duty to keep the bridge in good structural repair and to keep it as a lifting bridge. It has a duty not to delay shipping, let alone stop it altogether. It has allowed matters to slide—either the Commission or its predecessors; both, it may be. Now the Commission comes to the House and says, "This bridge needs repair. If we are to repair it we must shut the bridge for four months." That is the threat held over the local people living round about and in Scunthorpe. The Commission says, sweetly, "Ah, but if you will relieve us of the statutory obligation to maintain this as a lifting bridge it will be all right."
That is barefaced blackmail. If that bridge is closed for only one week, the borough of Scunthorpe and its steel works will be brought to a standstill. It may 1363 come as a surprise to the Minister to hear that Scunthorpe, with its enormous steel works, employing 17,000 people, can be brought to a standstill if coal is not allowed to come in for the period of one week; but that is a fact. I am only stating what I am informed is true. It is impossible to alter that situation because it is not possible to find storage in sufficient quantities in the borough for fuel to maintain the steel works for a longer period than that.
This is plainly the holding of a very considerable pistol to the head of the community, when the Commission says, "We must close this bridge, or else—". We should take a very firm line. The Commission has a statutory obligation to maintain the bridge in repair and in such a state that it will work as a lifting bridge. Why was not repair carried out over a period of years? Why are we left to the last minute until we are told that the bridge must be shut, with the consequences to Scunthorpe which I have been relating?
My information—and I give it as information because I am not an engineer and have not been able to investigate the information as thoroughly as I should like to do—is that it would be necessary to keep the bridge shut only for a week or ten days to do the necessary repairs. My information is from a very good source. The bridge is like a forearm and pivots, as it were, from an elbow and it is at the elbow that the bed plates are worn. These bed plates can be removed by easy stages and the work done in a week or ten days, I am told.
I do not know whether that is true, but, if it is true, it seems to me odd that the Commission, whose honesty I would not impugn, says that four months are necessary. These people ought to get together. The Commission ought to find out how this work can be done so as to leave Scunthorpe unstrangled and so that the riparian interests and those of Gainsborough are preserved.
§ Mr. William Shepherd (Cheadle)
What percentage of the barges—I assume they are barges—passing through the bridge have funnels and what percentage do not have funnels?
§ Mr. Mallalieu
I am not referring to the barges. There are many barges which 1364 go under the bridge without the bridge being raised at all. The bridge was raised only fourteen times last year, but it used to be raised very much before the Second World War. The bridge stops coastwise shipping going up the Trent unless it can be lifted.
§ Mr. Shepherd
Surely Scunthorpe did not depend upon only 14 vessels which went through the bridge last year.
§ Mr. Mallalieu
I am sorry my remarks were unclear to the hon. Gentleman. We are talking of two different things. There are the navigation interests under the bridge that we have to protect, but that has nothing to do with Scunthorpe. Then there is road and rail traffic across or over the bridge which has to do with Scunthorpe particularly because of the railway which crosses the bridge. That is where the 100,000 tons of coal a year has to go.
Navigationally, this matter has nothing to do at all with Scunthorpe. My submission is that some means ought to be found whereby this bridge can be kept open to allow navigation to go up the Trent, and also that means should be found by which repairs can be done without preventing the coal from going over the bridge to Scunthorpe and the ingots from coming across the bridge in the other direction.
I believe that this could be done. The duty is laid squarely on the Commission at present to keep the bridge in good repair and as a lifting bridge. They are, of course, deriving profit from it, or should be, because they have their railways going across it. This is a much stronger case for leaving the onus on the Commission to find a solution than in the case of the Haddiscoe Cut, of which we have heard so much tonight.
There are, for instance, such things as stop weeks in Scunthorpe when the works are stopped, and weekends when there is not so much traffic, although there is a continuous working week in the steel works. I believe that if it were found necessary—to take an extreme case—this work could be done by easy stages, on Sundays only: and even if it meant keeping the repair men idle in mid-week, that would be a better way of doing it than to risk this impossible-to-contemplate injury to Scunthorpe by closing it for even a week on end.
1365 I hope that the Minister will see to it that something is done about this matter. It is not common sense, in my submission, permanently to prevent coastwise shipping from going to Gainsborough or to the other places on the Trent; nor is it sense to allow Scunthorpe to be strangled when it is responsible for such an immense production of steel. I believe that accommodation could be found, and until it is found I am bound to say that I feel particularly belligerent.
§ 8.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Kenneth Thompson (Liverpool, Walton)
I do not share the intensity of view evinced by my hon. Firend the Member of Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) about the British Transport Commission. On the contrary, I have a great admiration for the Commission and for the work which it has been doing, particularly since it has had the opportunity, in times of greater freedom, to manoeuvre and to show what is can do. For example, what a revelation it has been to many of us to discover that it is possible for railway meals to be produced that are fit to eat, and to enjoy them under conditions and with a quality of service which show that the British Transport Commission is not to be condemned out of hand.
Nevertheless, I agree that almost all that has been said this evening in connection with the various matters raised by this Bill gives one a certain amount of cause for disquiet. The Haddiscoe Cut is a notorious example of what I have in mind. I share the views of the sailors who are here this evening, although I reserve my position as one who does what little sailing he is able to do in a real boat and on real water at the coast. But I have no wish to trail my coat or to exacerbate the feelings of those who prefer to take their nautical pleasures in quieter backwaters. They are engaged in a perfectly honourable pursuit, and I view them with great respect and regard.
It seems to me, as it seemed to the mover and the seconder of the Amendment, and to other hon. Members who have spoken, to be a perfectly dreadful thing that the British Transport Commission, controlling this waterway, and knowing, as of course it must, the great importance of the part that it plays in the use of the Broads as a whole, should one day, in a document published, so far as I can see from the printed mark on 1366 the back page, on 24th November, 1954, announce that the Haddiscoe Cut is to be closed with all that involves.
We have just had a dissertation about the Keadby Bridge. Here again, as we just have been informed, is a bridge which plays a vital part in the life of the country, and which has an importance almost as great as that of the Cut, I imagine, as the hon. Gentleman described it. It is certainly of very considerable importance, and its importance ought not to be overridden by the arbitrary decision of the British Transport Commission.
Paragraph 15 of this document refers to the operations that the Commission proposes to carry out in respect of certain level-crossings. The Schedule describes which are these level-crossings. Here, again, the Commission, as in the case of the Haddiscoe Cut and the bridge of which we have just heard, and in the case of almost every one of these level-crossings, is pursuing its perfectly proper activity of looking after the interests of its commercial operations.
It would be wrong for us to quarrel with it for doing that. After all, the railways have grown up in this country over a century or more, acquiring their rights and responsibilities by a multitude of Acts and the most confusing legislation that it is possible to conceive, and carrying with those rights certain responsibilities which were accepted by them from time to time in order that they might get the concessions to operate their commercial enterprises. These were the quid pro quos which were garnered about these railway enterprises over a long period of years.
We are now coming to a point where one statutory authority, the British Transport Commission, undertakes the cleaning up of this complicated mass of legislation in order to enable it to put its commercial operations on a sound basis, and what it is trying to do is to hive off all the "quos" in order to keep its hands on the "quids." I hope that is clear.
§ Mr. Thompson
One hundred years is a long time, and no doubt all sorts of considerations have played their part in arriving at the situation which we find today.
I have no quarrel with the British Transport Commission for getting rid of the things which hamper it in conducting its commercial operations in an efficient way. But it seems evident, from all the speeches made about the Haddiscoe Cut, the Keadby Bridge, and the railway level-crossings, to which I have referred, that there ought to be some machinery, apart from this annual debate in the House of Commons, whereby the public interest in all these matters could be consulted.
It is not good enough to publish a document some time in November, for a debate to take place in this House some time in February, which is the usual pattern of this business, and then for an hon. Gentleman to say that if the Haddiscoe Cut is to be kept open to suit the convenience of yachtsmen for a limited part of the year, or if a bridge has to be kept in an operable condition for a different purpose from that of the use by the railways themselves, then the interested parties should have an opportunity of getting together before the Bill appears in this House. It is wrong to say that, because it simply could not be done.
It seems to me that the British Transport Commission itself would be very wise, in the interests of its own public relations with the great mass of the people, if, before it brought such a Bill before the House—it may have done so already; I do not want to condemn it out of hand—it consulted all the interests it knew would be hurt or outraged or affected, to try to reach a compromise.
For instance, it could try to sell the interest in the Haddiscoe Cut to the X.Y.Z. Yachting Club Ltd. or a joint committee of the local authorities on either side. There are a thousand and one ways in which the public interest in these matters could be preserved, and I very much hope that what has been said tonight, and what to my recollection has been said on other occasions on the occasion of the Transport Commission's annual Bill, will be taken to heart by the Commission.
I say this in no spirit of carping, nagging criticism but because the Commis- 1368 sion, like ourselves, ought to be concerned with the broad public interest in all these matters. I hope that before the Commission brings before us a Bill next year, containing no doubt similar provisions, it will have satisfied our constituents, the people of this country, that none of these things are done mischievously or carelessly, but are done having due regard to the wider interests of the general public.
§ 8.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke-on-Trent, South)
Mid-20th century needs demand that man should approach his problems in a big way, and I thought that the Transport Commission was beginning to approach its problems in a big way. But in my view the Bill should have been entitled, "Bill to empower the Transport Commission to construct works in London and the South of England." Why has the Commission confined its proposals to these limits? Why has it not introduced a more comprehensive Bill? What will be the total cost of these development works if the Bill becomes on Act?
We have just parted with a Bill, which will become an Act within a few weeks, which empowers the Commission to increase its borrowing powers from £275 million to £600 million, and about £70 million of that is to be used for modernisation purposes. As this Bill is being introduced within narrow limits, the expenditure upon the works proposed in it is bound to come out of the money which the Commission has already been voted empowered to borrow. On behalf of the largest industrial area in the country, I want to ask some questions, therefore, in the hope of getting answers from the Minister about that part of the country, in view of the fact that London and Glasgow are being given such preferential treatment in the proposals that are being made.
First, I wholeheartedly welcome the proposal to increase the borrowing powers, and I congratulate the Commission on at last adopting a policy of railway modernisation. Those of us who have advocated this policy for just over 10 years, and whose working lives have been spent in large-scale industry, know that it is no use advocating the maximum efficiency inside industry if there is a lack of efficiency as soon as we get outside the works. 1369 British railways have been very much out-of-date for many years. The men in all grades on the railways have rendered great service, and my observations make no reflection on any of them. The railways made a great contribution in two world wars, so let it be quite clearly understood that any observations which we make on the Bill are no reflection upon the men. Their conscientious service deserved the grant of more capital expenditure to modernise the service than has been granted so far, and that is something which is to the everlasting discredit of all hon. Members and those outside who have acquiesced in this lack of development for so long.
All kinds of works are proposed here, but there is not one Clause in the Bill, nor has any statement been made, about the immediate effects of modernisation. I welcome modernisation because I come from one of the most efficient industrial establishments in the world, which, with two other concerns in this country, as is admitted, has been producing the finest diesel-electrics, diesel engines and gas turbines for many years. We have made our contribution to revitalising industrial countries all over the world, but have not been allowed to work for our own country.
Now, when at last we are to be allowed to work for our own country, we find that the development which is to take place is generally in the South of England and, in the main, in the London area. In spite of the fact that for years we have worked perfecting diesel engines, diesel-electrics, and modern motive power, even now we are not to be allowed to work for our own areas, but London, Glasgow, and the South of England in particular, are to receive preferential treatment. I will return to that point in a moment or two, but, first, the men who will be affected by the Bill and by modernisation are entitled to answers to some questions.
Any one who knows anything about the manufacture of diesel-electrics and diesel engines knows that these are complicated pieces of machinery of the most modern kind. We are relying upon generations of accumulated skill—the most highly-skilled men in management and among technicians—for the production of this new motive power.
When some smart people ask questions about aircraft, I often think they have 1370 never made a contribution towards anything of a productive character. Talk is so easy; it is when we come to translate the talk into concrete realities such as the manufacture of aircraft and railway apparatus that we are put to the test and real manliness is brought out.
The men who have for so long been employed in the railway workshops, especially at such places as Crewe, North British in Scotland, the Gorton Tank, Swindon etc., are beginning to wonder how they will be affected when Bills of this character are implemented. As there is to be so much compensation in the London area, one would have thought that before such a Bill was presented to the House a definite statement would have been made from the Dispatch Box to allay the natural, uneasy feeling of the men who have spent their working lives in places such as Crewe, Swindon and others I have mentioned.
We cannot transfer the manufacture of modern motive power from the most highly-efficient plants in the world to other places without a good deal of consultation. I therefore want to ask the Minister whether that consultation has already taken place. Is the Minister sure that there will be the fullest possible collaboration between those who have this background of skill, as a result of manufacturing for the whole world market, now that they are to turn to manufacturing for the home market? Are the men employed in the railway workshops to have their skill and experience utilised in collaboration and co-operation with the managements who have for so long been turning out this new motive power?
If my memory is correct, there are nine Clauses covering London. I take second place to no one in my admiration for the capital of Britain, but London does not cover the whole country. To a very great extent this country depends on the large industrial areas, especially that in which I was born, live, and belong to. In that area 11 million people are working. They have made a great contribution in two world wars and are producing the most modern motive power, yet in the modernisation of British Railways London and the South are to get preference.
I therefore ask that before we part with this Bill the Minister will give considera- 1371 tion to the need for paying early attention to this industrial area, where the density of population is greater than in any other area in the world. It has been my privilege to work with great men at Trafford Park, where 70,000 are employed. The transport facilities for those workers are really disgraceful and have become out-of-date long since. That area ought to have had preferential treatment and super-priority.
I am speaking for an area within a 50-mile radius of Manchester, extending to Crewe and Stoke-on-Trent, to Chester, Blackburn, and Preston. That great area is producing relatively more for the export trade than any other area of the country. It is time we began to speak out for these areas. For far too long have we acquiesced in this kind of development.
To reach the large industrial establishments in Trafford Park men have to travel from Stockport on one side and Wigan on the other. It is common for them every morning and evening to travel 10, 15, 20, or 25 miles. They have to change trains several times or transfer from one bus to another in all kinds of weather, in pouring rain, sleet, fog, and "smog." For far too long have we allowed needless suffering among people who serve the country so well. They have contracted colds and other illnesses needlessly owing to the lack of travelling facilities. I ask the Minister for an undertaking that an immediate survey shall be made of the area to see what steps can be taken to modernise transport there, and to introduce more efficiency of the same kind as that which the workers are called upon to display in their everyday employment.
Many transport facilities in that area overlap. There are very few through services from one city to another—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris)
I do not want to interrupt the hon. Member. I think he can make the point, as he has done, that the scheme does not apply to his area, but I do not think he can go into the detailed provisions for that area.
§ Mr. Smith
Thank you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker; in view of your Ruling I shall limit what I have to say.
I should like the Minister to consult the Minister of Labour to see if there 1372 cannot be more efficient transport facilities introduced to save man-hours and to avoid needless suffering and ill-health. It is generally accepted among people of all political thought that a large amount of needless suffering is caused when people have to stand in long queues waiting hours for buses and other transport facilities.
In the London area there is only one transport authority. As a result, arrangements can be planned and the whole picture can be seen at a glance. In the area of which I am speaking, I should say from memory there are at least 50 authorities. The result is that we cannot get an overall picture of the situation. Yet, where the concentration of population is greater than in any other part of the world, there is overlapping. Therefore, I feel that the time has arrived for the Minister to consider consulting the whole of the transport authorities in that area with a view to doing there what has been done in London. For that reason I thought I should be lacking in my duty if I had not taken advantage of the opportunity presented by this Bill to put forward these points.
§ 8.27 p.m.
§ Mr. William Shepherd (Cheadle)
I do not propose to follow the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) in his rather wide discourse on the railway and transport facilities in our part of the country. There may be another occasion, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, when we would risk your displeasure less than we do today. I would say, however, that the transport facilities of Lancashire and Cheshire are very inadequate and one hopes that fifty years will see a great improvement.
§ Mr. Shepherd
I rise to express a point of view very different from that of my hon. Friend the Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell) and other hon. Members. We have listened tonight to a number of speeches by hon. Members who did not realise the new obligations placed on the Transport Commission, or seemed to ignore the whole effect of the 1953 Act.
I am well aware that in the manner in which these Bills are presented, there may be some cause for public offence. I readily agree that perhaps the Transport 1373 Commission is not sufficiently sensitive to public opinion and does not consult people as much as it ought to do. One has to sell these changes to the community—it is an undoubted necessity to do that—and, no doubt, the Commission will draw some lessons from what has proceeded here tonight. Having said that, however, I hope we will realise that as Members of the House of Commons we have an obligation to the Commission and an obligation particularly in the light of its new status under the 1953 Act.
Much has been said tonight about the various means by which the previous obligations were laid upon the Commission and the railways. Of course, those obligations were not always of the railways' seeking. Consider, for example, level crossings, which we all regard as being rather a nuisance. It was not the wish of the railways of those days to institute level crossings. There was the option of providing either bridges or level crossings, but as most traffic in those times was horse-drawn, the farmers and others in the area plumped all the time for the level crossing. That is why we are paying for these frightful anomalies now.
It is also true—I say this in defence of the railways—thatthe railway system was laid down in such haste and, from many aspects, in so unseemly a manner that many things were done which ought not to have been done and which have reflected upon the system from the start. Hon. Members, therefore, should not say that because these obligations have been laid upon the railway system, they must remain there for evermore. They were wrong in the first place, they have been suffered for far too long, and we have every right to get rid of them now.
I have had probably as many letters as anybody in the House from constituents about the Haddiscoe New Cut. I did not know that so many of my constituents went to the Broads for their holidays. I have replied to them in very firm terms that it is not the duty of the Transport Commission to provide holiday facilities for people in my constituency. It is the job of, say, Mr. Butlin to provide holiday facilities, and certainly not the job of the Commission.
§ Mr. Shepherd
That is true, but I do not think it runs excursions to Blackpool down the Haddiscoe Cut. I hope, therefore, that as Members of the House of Commons, we will realise our obligations and responsibilities.
The railway system is hopelessly excessive. There are far too many railways and canals, and we have to decide what we want the Commission to do. If we want it to be a sort of free and gratis Butlin, all well and good, but we cannot have an arrangement whereby it has to provide all kinds of amenities for the population and pay its way at the same time. We have to make up our minds whether we want the Commission to be the provider of amenities or to pay its way. That is the point I wish to stress tonight.
My own view is that the railways ought to be made to pay their way. If they are to pay their way, they must hive off the uneconomic elements within themselves. It is all very well hon. Members saying that if the railways were nice about it, they would get their own way without any difficulty, but it is only necessary for the Commission to say that it will close a branch line which is losing thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of pounds a year, and numbers of hon. Members get up and shout about it in chorus.
We must make up our minds what we want the railways to do. If we want them to have thousands of miles of uneconomic rail and to run hundreds of miles of canal which will never have any value in terms of economics, all well and good; let us say that and tell the Commission that we no longer concede that the making of a profit or a loss in its accounts is of consequence. If, on the other hand, we take the view that the railways ought to pay their way, let us take our part in standing up against opinion which is narrow in its outlook and which is limited entirely by what I may consider to be selfish considerations.
§ Mr. A. C. Manuel (Central Ayrshire)
I am generally in accord with what the hon. Member has been saying, but I think he would agree that if there were too strict an interpretation, all over our railway system of the principles which he is describing, there would be undue hardship. I am not talking about the 1375 small uneconomic lines but am thinking of main lines running to the Highlands of Scotland, which are completely uneconomic. The hon. Member could not clear them all off simply because they were uneconomic.
§ Mr. Shepherd
I know that we have to place Scotland in a special category in all these things. Most of the economic activities of Scotland have to be carried at the expense of England and Wales. [Interruption.] Nothing that I said previously was in any way an attempt to evade that obligation. We realise that we have to keep Scotland at the expense of the resources of England.
§ Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South)
Does my hon. Friend not know that the English export trade is sustained by Scotch whisky?
§ Mr. Shepherd
My hon. Friend's knowledge of whisky is much more intimate than mine. Therefore, I do not quarrel with him in anything he says about the whisky trade.
I want to return, as I want to finish my speech, to the fundamental point that we must bear in mind all the time what we intend the Commission to do. We have a right to expect that it will conduct its public relations in the manner best calculated to make these changes practical. That we have a right to expect. On the other hand, however, we have the obligation to accept these changes if no alternative arrangements can be made. For example, if it is impossible for the Haddiscoe Cut to be taken over as a financial responsibility by the local authority or the river board or by a special organisation, clearly this mileage must be closed, because it is not a practical proposition for the Commission.
Therefore, I ask the House, whilst not supporting the Commission in everything, to take the view that it has a difficult job to do, and that it has hundreds of miles of useless canals and hundreds of miles of useless railways and a great assortment of branch lines which are economic liabilities. We have to get rid of them if the system is to pay. We have the duty to explain some of these facts of life to our constituents.
§ 8.36 p.m.
§ Mr. E. G. Gooch (Norfolk, North)
This debate has enabled a number of hon. Members to raise most interesting matters arising out of the Bill. In the very few minutes that I shall detain the House I want to bring right hon and hon. Members back to what those of us who support the Amendment and who are so intimately associated with that part of the country had in mind when we put it on the Order Paper. We wanted an opportunity of protesting against the closing of Haddiscoe New Cut.
I share the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans). I had hoped that long before this the Broads would have been declared a National Park. A decision to have made them one would have helped enormously in dealing with the problems that arise from time to time. I am a member of the Broads Advisory Committee in my constituency, and I am familiar with many of the problems. One of the main problems in connection with the Broads is that of keeping many of the waterways open. A few years ago I accompanied the Vice-Chairman of the National Parks Commission on a tour of inspection of some miles of the rivers and broads of Norfolk. He had not seen them before, and I think it is true to say that he was charmed with all he saw. The tour was, of course, arranged with a view, and I have not yet given up hope that Broad-lands may one day be designated a National Park.
Unlike many of the hon. Members who have spoken, I have known Haddiscoe Cut for many years as both a frequent passenger on trains which run beside it and, in my younger days, as a very amateur yachtsman. Of course, Haddiscoe Cut, as hon. Members who have been along it will know, does not compare in natural beauty with the charming stretch of the Bure below Wroxham Bridge, but I would emphasise that Haddiscoe Cut is a part of Broadland, and that, in addition to being used by a number of cargo vessels every year, it is used by many thousands of people from far away. I want that to continue.
I wish to emphasise that providing for the enjoyment of the very large number of visitors who come to Broadlands every year on holdiay bent has become a Norfolk industry. Harm will be done to 1377 the industry if the movement of visitors is restricted, and their movement will be restricted if this Cut is closed.
As hon. Members have indicated, during the last few weeks those of them who did not know that the Haddiscoe New Cut existed, now know that it does. I assure those hon. Members who have come to discover it, that there is real alarm, not only among those visitors who come from far and near to sail upon it but also in the County of Norfolk itself, at the possibility of the Cut being closed. As has been emphasised, it is an important link between the Norfolk Broads and rivers and the Suffolk waterways. In the opinion of the Horning Sailing Club, which is in my constituency and represents no fewer than 700 members, the closing of the Cut would restrict the already congested waterways of the district.
I like one description of the Broads and the rivers of that part of the country as "the healthy playground of so many thousands." Indeed they are, and I, with many others in the County of Norfolk, want them to continue to be so. That description in itself is a very strong reason for keeping the Cut open. Reference has been made to the number of organisations and local authorities which are in opposition to the closing.
Norfolk County Council has been mentioned. As vice-chairman of the council I have to say that the council is not petitioning against the Bill, but that the county planning committee and the appropriate sub-committee of the highways committee have recommended that, as far as practicable, the county council shall support the move that has been and is being made to prevent the Cut being closed.
I hope that the volume of evidence, and indeed of opposition, will lead the Commission to think again and to exhibit a spirit of willingness to negotiate with the interested parties. I agreed with the hon. Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell) when he said that it would have been much better if, before proceeding with the Bill and particularly before putting forward the Clause to close Haddiscoe Cut, the Commission had discussed the matter with the local authorities, the river board and the Yarmouth Port and Haven Commissioners.
1378 Reference has been made to the fact that keeping open the Cut will involve a financial burden on the Commission. I should not like it to be thought that I cannot see this business from the point of view of the Commission. The Commission is faced with a costly scheme in maintaining the banks of the Cut and it can very well do without the cost and the Cut. Many people and organisations are concerned to keep the Cut open. I share the view which has been expressed earlier tonight that the financial burden involved in keeping the Cut open can be shared. Why should not the Commission, at this stage, call the interested parties and the local authorities together and ascertain what progress, if any, can be made towards this end? For the time being, until we have reached that stage, I as one of the Members from Norfolk must oppose the closing of the Cut.
§ 8.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Garner Evans (Denbigh)
I entirely agree with everything that has been said by the hon. Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Gooch), but the crux of the matter is who will bear the responsibility for keeping the canals open? It has become quite clear, not only from tonight's debate but from previous debates, that the Transport Commission is not only unwilling to keep the canals open but is finding every opportunity to try to close them down. That is the real issue. The legal responsibility rests upon the Commission and we must keep it there, because as yet there is no alternative.
I asked earlier, when interrupting the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Holt), who was going to "carry the can" for the Cut. The Transport Commission will not do it. I do not see why it should, but, generally speaking, those of us who are concerned with keeping open the inland waterways are much more concerned with the amenity or pleasure value than we are about carrying "spuds," coal or iron ingots in and out of Scunthorpe. I hope that the Minister will not only say that he will help to keep Haddiscoe Cut open but will also look into the problem of how to keep our inland waterways open, how we can develop them and how we can enjoy them.
§ 8.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
We have had a very interesting debate on the Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell) and seconded by 1379 my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans), and I must congratulate them upon the zeal and energy with which they have dealt with the interests of their constituents during the few days we have had in which this matter could really be effectively dealt with.
I would say to the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Holt) and the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd), if they were here, that, before passing all the strictures they did on the opposition to this Measure, they ought to have asked what action had been taken by the Transport Commission. Let me describe what happened to me in the matter. As soon as the Private Bills for the Session were deposited I wrote to the Private Bill Office and asked that I might be supplied with a copy of each of them. They came during the Christmas Recess, and on 28th December, having disposed of the necessary attention to my great nephews and great nieces, I turned my mind to public affairs.
The first thing I did was I read the Transport Commission's Bill and particularly Part III and the Fourth Schedule, when, for the first time, I learned that there was a whole list of canals in the Fourth Schedule which it was proposed to close. We have heard a lot tonight about yachtsmen. I want to say that I am no yachtsman, but I have a 20-foot motor cabin cruiser and I took it on the Grand Union Canal last Whitsun. I was most courteously and efficiently treated by the Transport Commission, and even when my dynamo went wrong they provided me with the most efficient workman I have yet met who put it right straight away. Therefore, I have no complaints about the way the Commission run the canals that they mean to keep running, though I must add that they might keep the gear on the locks, even on the Grand Union Canal, in a much more efficient condition than they do.
While I was there, a bargee wanted to get his barge into the lock and I had placed my cabin cruiser in a certain position approaching it, under the orders of the lock keeper as harbour master, so that it might not interfere with the flow of traffic. However, the bargee, having to get by my cabin cruiser, asked, in language that you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, would not allow me to repeat, even as a 1380 quotation, how he was to get his barge into the lock while lying near that—yacht. If you had heard him say that word "yacht," Mr. Deputy-Speaker, you would never want to be confused with yachtsmen again.
I want to make that point with reference to the Haddiscoe Cut. It is not yachtsmen who are the main users, as the word is usually understood, but the small cabin cruisers, hired vessels, in which a man of limited means takes his wife and two or three children to spend a holiday together in healthy, adventurous circumstances; and I think that the more this is done in the country, the better for all classes of the community.
I want to say that about transport. Does it matter whether I go to Oxford by road or rail or water, since I am being transported by somebody? Yet a hint is occasionally dropped—we have heard it tonight-—that the canals have nothing to do with transport. They have. The hon. Member for Cheadle was very indignant about people writing to him because they wanted to use the Haddiscoe Cut. He said that the Transport Commission were not out to provide transport for pleasure. And when I asked the hon. Gentleman whether the Commission do not run excursions to take his people to Blackpool, he seemed to think that he would stop the Commission doing it if they took them by way of the Haddiscoe Cut. We can be sure that his constituents would stop that all right.
Until this Bill was deposited no one knew that this proposal was under consideration. That is the first thing we complain about. Let us admit that this is not a very good case on which to fight the issue of the canals, because the Haddiscoe Cut is a small connecting link between two rivers which was only established because the old Yarmouth Harbour Commissioners would not keep the River Yare drained.
§ Mr. Fell indicated assent.
§ Mr. Ede
The hon. Gentleman himself has admitted that. I agree that the people responsible are long since dead and will not vote against him at the next General Election. We are all willing to condemn the sins of our ancestors, even the Conservatives who fight to keep us in our ancestors' ways.
As I have said, that was the first we knew of it I knew it on or about 28th 1381 December, and on 29th December I started to write to people who might be interested. The various interests concerned got together as far as they could. They instructed Parliamentary agents. All this had to be done during the Parliamentary Recess. By 27th January a very large number of Petitions had been presented against the Bill. However, the Commission made no move towards any of them. In fact, it was not until Tuesday last week that the Commission asked my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft, whose name heads the list of hon. Members supporting the Amendment, to meet them with some of his hon. Friends to discuss the matter. So we went there, and the Commission objected to our bringing a lawyer with us. Fancy, on a Bill of this kind being asked to meet the Commission, with its engineer, its lawyer and one or two mouth-pieces, and not being allowed to bring our own lawyer!
§ Mr. Ede
My hon. Friend must not get me into trouble with my right hon. and learned Friends who sit beside me on this Bench.
That is not the way for a public body like the Commission to treat people, some of whom, such as the boat owners, are dependent for their livelihood, and large numbers of others for their pleasure, on the maintenance of the waterway.
The Royal Yachting Association, which represents people ranging from those who race in the great competitions at Cowes and elsewhere to humble people like myself who are very glad to be allowed to enter such respectable company if only for a few minutes, at once presented a Petition in which it said that it was willing on behalf of yachting interests, covering the whole group, to consider the payment of some fee for the use by them of the waterway. Other interests—I need not detail them, because they have been mentioned from time to time during the debate—have also intimated that they are willing to enter into discussions. We were recently reminded by the Prime Minister that there is a difference between "discussions" and "negotiations," and, therefore, I use what I understand to be the milder word of the two. These interests are willing to enter into talks to consider what can be done.
1382 I think that that ought to have been done before the matter was brought before the House, because, except for the vigilance of my hon. Friend and others of us who are interested in the maintenance of internal waterways, this matter might well have slipped through. Many things have been killed by Private Bills in this House just because nobody happened to spot what was being done. I understand that next year—this is all I am going to say about next year—when a similar Bill comes up, the equivalent of the Fourth Schedule will be much longer. The Commission has already announced that it is going to close the Kennett and Avon Canal. That has appeared in the Press. In fact, the Commission has written letters to certain people who desire to use the Kennett and Avon Canal to say that this is so.
There is also the Oxford Canal, from Oxford to Napton. It is an important waterway from the pleasure point of view. It does not get one from Blackpool to Cheadle, but it does take one from Oxford to Napton. I never go to Oxford without wanting to get out of it—[Laughter.]—yes, my affiliations are elsewhere.
The canal runs through some of the most delightful country in our land and arrangements have been made by one of the hire-cruiser companies to have a fleet of cruisers on that canal. I hope that before anything of that nature comes before us next year a very different scheme of negotiations will have been carried through by the British Transport Commission. I am not promising much support, but I am promising the Commission plenty of trouble unless something on those lines is done.
May I say that all of us who are interested in this owe a debt of gratitude to the Parliamentary Secretary, who invited us to meet him on Thursday? On Tuesday, an effort was made to scare us, but some of us have been in this kind of trouble before and we do not scare easily. I very much resent the way in which some of Tuesday's interview was conducted. When my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft was making a final appeal to the representatives of the Transport Commission to be reasonable, one of the persons there audibly said, "Take them to the Commons."
1383 That is not the way to talk to Members of Parliament. After all, we come to the Commons and we might take other people, but other people cannot take us. When the Parliamentary Secretary asked us to meet him, I said to him, "I should like to bring one of the lawyers," and he said, "Certainly, of course you can bring one of the lawyers." Under his guidance we had a great deal better treatment than we had before. Although the future is not without difficulties—and I want to make that quite clear—I think that he would be able—although I am bound to say we had to present our case very fully—to come towards the point where we could feel that there was a chance of reason being heard in these matters.
I sincerely hope that the result of his efforts will be that the Transport Commission will feel that they can drop for this year the proposal to close this Cut and that between now and the next Bill the Commission produce there will be time for negotiations to see whether arrangements can be made—and it does not follow that what suits this case would suit every case—in which the interests concerned can participate in the way this piece of waterway is to be kept open.
I hope that the importance of this waterway, not merely as a channel of navigation, but as part of the drainage system in the area, may be considered by the appropriate Government Department. Apparently, one of the troubles has been—so we have learned—that when it was desired to have some part of it dealt with as a drainage matter the Ministry of Agriculture found itself unable to assist because the banks were not the responsibility of the river board or internal drainage board, and because there was some technical difficulty of that kind.
Let me make this quite clear, too. This waterway supports, or in some way affects, the land on which the railway itself is built, and the Commission will still have the problem of maintaining this land. Whatever may be the future financial relationship of the other authorities and the Transport Commission, it must be framed in the light of that circumstance.
I regret that I have had to speak with some severity about the attitude that was adopted by the Transport Commission in this matter. I am not sure—I go no 1384 further than this—that the Commission is the right body to have control of the canal system of the country. After all, the relationship between the canals and the railways over the last 130 years has had many lurid patches. For instance, the Basingstoke Canal only paid its way during the time when it brought down the material from which the London and South-Western Railway was constructed, and that railway took away its trade.
Some canals foisted themselves onto the railways, while the railways took over others. There was fierce competition, and what might have been a magnificent system of waterways has undoubtedly been proved impossible of realisation in this country because of the competition that occurred between the two and because of the different interests that were involved.
I want everyone to understand that I am speaking personally and very tentatively on this matter, but it might have been better if there had been an inland waterways body charged by Parliament with the efficient supervision of the inland waterways, their restoration, their improvement—where capable of improvement—and their future utilisation.
I sincerely hope that the Minister will tell us that he has been able to advise the Commission that these few lines in the Bill should not be pressed during the Committee stage, so that it will not be necessary for my hon. Friends to move the Instruction which appears on the Order Paper. It is a remarkable Instruction, and 67 names appear as its sponsors. That, I should think, is almost a record number of names to be attached to an Instruction on a Private Bill. It shows the width of interests all over the country that have been involved in the consideration of this matter.
In one fortnight in August of last year, 1,832 vessels in the main small pleasure craft, passed through the Haddiscoe New Cut, which gives some indication of the amount of pleasure which it has provided. There is no communication by inland waterway between Yarmouth and Lowestoft for any vessel which has a headroom of over 10 feet at low tide and of over 8 feet at high tide if this Cut is closed.
Therefore, this is a waterway of very considerable importance. I sincerely hope that the intervention of the Minister in the discussions that were taking place 1385 last week, and the helpful attitude that he adopted, will bear fruit during the coming year. I hope that we shall get, as the result of free and unfettered discussion, a solution to the problem of this waterway that next year we can unite in commending to the House.
§ 9.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Henry Usborne (Birmingham, Yardley)
Like my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Brigg (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu) I feel in a belligerent mood. I am spoiling for a fight. It happens, however, that the particular battleground upon which I intend to let off my little cannon is a different one from that which has been occupied by previous speakers in their manoeuvres.
Before I get to that point, I want to put in a word about Haddiscoe Cut. I have a letter from one of my constituents, who asked me to put his point of view in the House of Commons. I said that if I had an opportunity I would do so. His name is Mr. Holmes, and he wrote:There are so few amenities left to the people of this Island in this brave new world that I feel that the places in which we spend some of our leisure time should surely be left untouched.I very much agree with him.
I have had only one letter on this subject. I do not know whether that means that there is only one yachtsman in Yardley or whether the others do not think they have a very sympathetic Member of Parliament. Whether only one yachtsman cares about Haddiscoe Cut or not, almost every one of my constituents has, not infrequently, bought a ticket on a railway and is concerned with the cost of that ticket.
Throughout the debate we have been concerned with the line of credit which, in the first place, we are asked to vote, in order that the British Transport Commission may make its business more efficient. The Bill now proposes a number of schemes, many of which are entirely admirable, but British Railways have one habit I consider to be entirely deplorable, and it is fairly widespread. It is becoming more widespread. I cannot believe that this habit of British Railways is consistent with efficiency.
I take it that efficiency in the railway system means that it must provide an attractive travel service, together with an adequate and efficient freight-carrying 1386 service which it hopes the factories will use. In order to make ends meet, the Commission must encourage people to become its customers and must set about selling its wares. Generally, it is trying to do so, but sometimes, in some places and on some occasions, it does things which are so exasperating that I feel like saying, "A plague on the railways. I shall always travel by road."
A few years ago I lived in a little suburban area in the south of Birmingham, and I went by rail to my constituency by this branch line. I rode my bicycle to the station. There I would leave it, and being a Member of Parliament get my free ticket to Acocks Green. But on getting my ticket I was then made to pay 6d. for the privilege of putting my bicycle in the little tin shack which was there provided. Could anyone imagine anything more calculated to irritate an individual whom the railway is trying to carry?
§ Mr. Usborne
If I had left it outside it would have been taken by a policeman to the police station, where I should have been asked to pay quite a lot more.
§ Mr. Usborne
Is not the whole of this Bill, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, concerned with making the railways of this country more efficient? [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] These are surely proposals for altering the railway system of this country in order to justify the line of credit which the House has recently voted.
§ Mr. Usborne
I obviously bow to your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but I understood that we were here to discuss the efficiency of the railways, otherwise I am not clear what this Bill is all about.
§ Mr. Usborne
Would you then, Sir Rhys, kindly explain to me, in simple language which I can understand, how it comes about that we are asked to give a Second Reading to a British Transport 1387 Commission Bill, the purpose of which, apparently, is to make alterations and new provisions in the railway system, and to make the railways more efficient.
§ Mr. David Jones (The Hartlepools)
Has it not been ruled on more than one occasion by your predecessors, Sir Rhys, that when a railway Bill is before the House, seeking new powers, it is competent for Members to discuss how the existing powers are dealt with by the railway company?
§ Mr. Usborne
I am discussing a point which is most exasperating to me, and it may be possible that in my exasperation I am losing sight of the rules of order; but I still think that what I have been saying has a great deal to do with this Bill.
I have now left Birmingham, and I no longer travel to Wood End on my bicycle. Instead, I live in the Vale of Evesham, near a pleasant country town of about 12,000 inhabitants. I was delighted when I reached that town to find that there were two small railway stations. Between the stations there was a plot of ground, and outside the track a bay, where I was allowed to leave my motor car, before boarding the train for Londonor wherever I had to go.
When I first did this, I was delighted to find that there was no charge for leaving my car, and that it was part of the railway service to provide in Evesham facilities for the intending traveller freely to leave his car while he was travelling on the railway. But could this go on? Oh, no. A year or so ago, an order came from Worcester, and the station master at Evesham reluctantly had to put up a notice, saying that those persons travelling on the railway and leaving their cars at Evesham station would be charged 1s. a day, or 2s. 6d. if they left them overnight.
I discussed this with the station master, and he told me that it was with reluctance he obeyed the order, and that, in a month he seldom collected as much as £5, because so few people left their cars. I imagine that there was more than £5 of labour involved in putting the tickets on the cars, collecting the money, and 1388 giving out the receipts. This is fantastic; it is not service. This is no way to make the railways attractive or efficient. If a railway system is to make ends meet, it must attract its customers.
The brewers are good in their public relations; and from what was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), it is very evident that the Transport Commission has a blind spot in its public relations. Has anyone ever been to a "pub" in a country town where he has been obliged to pay money to leave his car or his bicycle while he went in to buy his refreshments? Who goes to a cinema, where there is a park outside, and is obliged to pay for leaving his car while he sees the film? No cinema proprietor, no publican, would dream of deliberately repelling custom and thus becoming so inefficient that he is bound to go bankrupt.
The Commission asks for credit worth £325 million and yet goes on with this trivial and exasperating habit of collecting a "bob" here and sixpence there whenever it can. I may be out of order, but I imagine that I have said enough to show the House that a great many people in my constituency, in Wood End and Evesham, and in many other country towns, feel as I do—that this deplorable habit is wildly out of order if the railways are to become efficient.
§ 9.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Jack Jones (Rotherham)
I apologise for not having listened to the whole debate, but I was called away on other important matters. I want to raise a subject which, as far as I can ascertain from my hon. Friends who have been here all the time, has not been raised so far in the discussion. It concerns Clause 19.
Incidentally, I was glad that my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields. (Mr. Ede) mentioned the Haddiscoe New Cut. I have had a Petition from my constituents about it. Rotherham is far removed from Haddiscoe, but Rotherham believes that people who work there have a right to enjoy themselves. People tell me that if I want another 60 or 100 names for this Petition it will be the easiest thing in the world to get them. These are not yachtsmen, not men who will go there by helicopter or aeroplane, but honest-to-goodness mine and steel workers 1389 who enjoy their holiday by hiring a boat to sail around a place I have never seen.
May I turn to a wider aspect of the matter? We have all talked a lot about the need for contented workpeople, and some of us try to bring that about. I want to speak for anglers, who will suffer grievously if the Bill becomes an Act. This may not be common knowledge in the House, and it is not common knowledge to those hon. Gentlemen opposite—I do not envy them, although I occasionally do a bit of fishing there when I should not—who are concerned with salmon and trout fishing. I am concerned with the 3 million fishermen for the humble perch, roach, pike and gudgeon.
Hon. Members should read last week's "Angling Times" and see what the anglers in the Kennett and Avon canal area said about it. They had a public protest meeting and raised over £100 by voluntary subscriptions to take legal advice to seek to compel the Commission to do its job properly in connection with the Kennett and Avon canal.
One of my very good angling friends, the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel)—a good trout man, incidentally—said, "Well, the water will still be there." I say that it will not be there in its present condition if the barges and locks cease to work. I am gravely concerned, because this is a very serious matter. I know that anglers look upon the closing of these canals exactly as cricketers would look upon the closing of Old Trafford or Bramall Lane or Elland Road; as footballers would look upon the closing of the football ground at Stoke or Manchester City's ground or even Wembley itself.
We can go to any canal in this country and find this problem—the Ashton-Oldham Canal, the Kennett and Avon Canal, any canal we like. The Rotherham area is too polluted. We have to move thirty miles away before we can find water in which fish can live. I say quite sincerely to this Government that if something is not done to preserve the facilities these canals give to 3 million men at weekends there will be an awful "to-do," not in the way of revolution, but in the way of quiet, contented, decent people expressing their indignation at having the sport they value most taken from them because of the niggardly attitude of someone who wants to close something. We 1390 are shutting down too many things in this country which give healthy recreation. These men are entitled to the Minister's consideration.
Britain has a fine export trade in fishing tackle. I could tell the House what it costs me to go fishing. People say to me, "Why are you a teetotaller and non-smoker?" The answer is that I go fishing and I cannot afford to do all three things. When I go fishing I can think about some of the things the Government do and some of the things my party does. I can meditate on them. There is a thriving industry in and around Redditch. Millions of pounds worth of exports are made in Britain, for we make the finest fishing tackle in the world. Those people will have something to say on this question. I could take hon. Members to three shops in my constituency which, between them, never hold less than £12,000 worth of stocks. Today, there are more men wanting to go fishing and less and less water to fish in.
This is a matter to which the Government ought to apply their minds. If the canals have to be closed to navigation, for goodness' sake keep them open for the purpose of sport. If we are beset by the things which may beset us even the canals may be of great value from a strategic point of view. I know of no reason why canal transport should pay so badly as it is made out to pay. Everyone in this House is in favour of good sport. The anglers are entitled to have their point of view recognised. Some of us would go a long way to make things hot so far as it is possible within the law and constitution.
My hon. Friend the Member for Yardley (Mr. Usborne) seemed to get away from the question of fishing rods to that of cycles. In his area there is an angling society of 50,000 to 60,000 men. There are rivers such as the Severn, the Witham, the Weaver and the Ouse, where one may see 8,000 to 10,000 men fishing on a Sunday.
§ Mr. Usborne
I have a great deal of sympathy with what my hon. Friend is saying, but supposing the Transport Commission got the canals correctly lined up and then charged fishermen a "bob" each for bringing their cycles there?
§ Mr. Jones
I was coming to that. My hon. Friend seeks recreation on his 1391 cycle. Having found it, he can easily earn that extra shilling; that goes for the angler as well. The most contented men in my constituency, the most contented in the country, are the anglers. They are very tolerant, kindly disposed, placid and meditative.
§ Mr. Jones
If the Minister seeks to get the opinions of recognised bodies in this country he will find they will be willing and ready within the law and constitution to make contributions to keep the canals open for the purposes I have described. I apologise for intervening, but someone had to raise his voice on this question. Every weekend, when possible, I get a lot of pleasure fishing in the canal near the Bickershaw Colliery, near Leigh. Warm water is pumped into it from the colliery and it never freezes over. I know the anglers will look on the Government with greater favour, if they preserve these canals, than otherwise would be the case.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. Hugh Molson)
We have had a most interesting and diverse debate arising out of the provisions of this Bill. I should like to begin by explaining my position in this matter. This is not a Government Bill and the Government are not responsible for it. It is a Private Bill promoted by the British Transport Commission under exactly the same procedure as that by which the old railway companies promoted their Bills in ancient times.
All that is required is that my right hon. Friend should give his consent to the promotion of the Bill under Section 9 of the Transport Act, 1947. The Second Reading of the Bill was moved by the right hon. Gentleman the Chairman of Ways and Means, and all that I am bound to do is to commend to the House the general provisions of the Bill in order that it may go upstairs.
A number of speeches which have been made today have suggested that hon. Members felt that if the House gave a Second Reading to the Bill, that meant that all the provisions of the Bill would necessarily become law. That, of course, is not so. All that I am bound to do 1392 is to suggest to the House that all these various provisions are the kind of matters which should be referred to a Committee upstairs in order that all the interests which may be adversely affected may have an opportunity of having their voices heard.
§ Mr. F. Blackburn (Stalybridge and Hyde)
Would not all this difficulty have been removed if the Government had taken the suggestion of the Committee which dealt with the Rochdale Canal Bill a year or two ago, when we made the recommendation that the Government should take over all the derelict canals?
§ Mr. Molson
In the course of my observations, I shall be saying something about the canals. At the moment, I am dealing with the general question of the procedure.
In the most interesting speech in which he dealt with Keadby Bridge, the hon. and learned Member for Brigg (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu) made it quite plain that, at any rate for the moment, he had forgotten the procedure upon this point. While recognising that the bridge must be repaired, the hon. and learned Member repeated to the House what he had been informed but said that he did not know whether, from an engineering viewpoint, what he had been told would turn out to be correct. He said, in so many words, "I do not know whether that is true." In dealing with all these technical matters about bridges and the closing of canals and level crossings, and so on, it is of the utmost importance that these matters should be thrashed out.
It is manifestly impossible for us to go into these matters on the Floor of the House, where we cannot follow plans and call expert witnesses. Therefore, in reply to a number of the arguments put forward by the hon. and learned Member for Brigg and by my hon. Friends the Members for Walton (Mr. K. Thompson) and Bromsgrove (Mr. Higgs), I would point out that most of the points which they raised can be fully dealt with upstairs, when those who consider themselves adversely affected by the provisions of the Bill will have the fullest opportunity of being heard. That does give an opportunity, as was mentioned in several speeches, for the people affected to get together and to discuss the matter.
I would suggest that we must regard the British Transport Commission as a 1393 responsible public body which has had very heavy burdens placed upon it by this House, and I welcomed the speeches of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Holt) and of my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd), for I think it is extremely unfair, if we ask the Commission to conduct its affairs with economy, then to proceed to oppose everything it does to discard its unremunerative functions because it treads on the corns of the constituents of some hon. Member of the House. Therefore, I do not hesitate to commend to the House those provisions of the Bill which are necessary in the interests of economy but which will not necessarily be popular.
Last year, when I discharged this duty for my right hon. Friend, we heard a number of speeches dealing with the question of canals. As a result of the speeches made dealing with the importance of keeping open attractive stretches of inland water, and if possible redeveloping them for use as a cheap and not very slow means of transport, my right hon. Friend who is now Secretary of State for the Colonies suggested to the Commission that it should appoint a committee to go into the various matters which had been raised in the House. Hon. Members on both sides of the House displayed very much the same interest in them.
As a result of that there has been a survey of the problem of the canals which are vested in the Commission, and a Report has now been presented. That is now being considered by the Government. I say that to indicate that when the House shows, as it did last year on two occasions, a very great interest in a matter of this kind, and one which is quite obviously important also from the transport point of view, the Commission is perfectly willing to take action upon the subject.
This year, the question of the Haddiscoe Cut has attracted more attention than anything else in the Bill. Under the Bill, as has been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell), it is proposed to relieve the Commission of its present responsibility for the maintenance of that Cut.
As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), in a speech which was most generous and for which I thank him, has indicated, I 1394 invited a number of hon. Members, prominent amongst those who have moved and supported this Amendment, to meet representatives of the Commission on Thursday last, under my chairmanship. There were the hon. Gentleman the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans), whose name appears at the head of those associated with the Amendment, the right hon. Member for South Shields, my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. J. E. B. Hill), in whose constituency the greater part of the Cut lies, and my hon. Friend the Member for Yarmouth. I felt that each party had a very strong case, and I also felt that there was no real reason why both of their objectives should not be attained. I felt, and my right hon. Friend agreed, that the Transport Commission was perfectly right in seeking to relieve itself of financial responsibiltiy for an inland waterway which it considers is now of much reduced importance for commercial transport.
At the same time, I sympathised also with the wish of the objectors to keep open what I understand is an attractive inland waterway, particularly as it is of great importance for the proper enjoyment of the Norfolk Broads by all those who go yachting and boating there. It seemed to me reasonable, however, that the cost of maintaining the Cut should be shared by those who use it or benefit from it.
I am glad to say that agreement was reached between the two parties on this basis. The Commission for its part is willing to propose to the Committee upstairs an Amendment to the Bill so as to omit words authorising the Commission to abandon Haddiscoe New Cut. Hon. Members who are responsible for the Amendment which has been moved are willing, for their part, to encourage the interests which I have mentioned to enter into negotiations with the Commission.
The purpose of the negotiations is to transfer responsibility for the Cut to some other body. The cost of maintaining the Cut should be borne by all those who use it or benefit by it. These will include the yachting interests, represented by the Royal Yachting Association and by the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads Yacht Owners' Association, the Yarmouth Corporation and all other local authorities who benefit from the tourist traffic which 1395 the Cut helps to attract. All people living in the district are concerned with the effect of the Cut on river levels, drainage and flooding, which has already been mentioned in this debate. The Beccles Petition refers to the sugar beet traffic, and the British Transport Commission is interested in the maintenance of the embankment which carries the railway line.
I was interested when the hon. Member for Lowestoft said he hoped that the Norfolk Broads would be made into a National Park, as recommended by the Hobhouse Committee In that event, it might be possible for responsibility for the Cut to be transferred to the National Parks Planning Board. Otherwise, some other body such as the Great Yarmouth Port and Haven Commissioners, or the river board, might be found willing to undertake responsibility for administration, provided that a reasonable revenue were raised by a toll or by increasing the charge which is already paid for having yachts in the vicinity.
I am only mentioning possibilities and, of course, I do not in any way prejudge the conclusions which may be reached or the interests which may participate.
§ Mr. Edward Evans
We are most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his announcement, but will he consider the point that the Commission itself is a big beneficiary from the whole of the Broads resort area, on the lines which I indicated in my speech?
§ Mr. Molson
I mentioned the Commission chiefly because of the embankment which supports its railway line. No doubt in the negotiations the hon. Member will seek to persuade the Commission that it benefits as a carrier of the tourists who go to the Norfolk Broads. I very much hope that those public-spirited Members who are anxious to keep the Cut open, and who are supported by a large body of opinion, as my postbag and probably the postbags of most hon. Members show, will be able to find a solution to the problem in the coming months.
If, however, they are not able to do so, the British Transport Commission will be free to renew its efforts to obtain release from its present obligations. The Government, which expects the British Transport Commission to conduct its affairs with efficiency and economy, would support it, 1396 provided, of course, that in our view the British Transport Commission had conducted itself in the negotiations in a reasonable way.
I am grateful for the assurances that I have been given by some of my hon. Friends supporting the Amendment that if a settlement on these lines were not reached within a reasonable period because of the failure of the amenity and other interests to shoulder a fair share of the burden, they would consider the Transport Commission justified at a later date in renewing its proposal, and they would not continue to oppose it.
I regard this as a fair settlement, and I should like to express my appreciation of the reasonable attitude of both sides. I hope it will mean that the Haddiscoe Cut will be kept open for the benefit of yachtsmen and others, and that a much valued amenity will be preserved, but that the British Transport Commission will be freed from an expense which it ought not to bear, except in so far as it needs sound foundations for its railway line.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)
I wonder if my hon. Friend would just amplify one aspect of the settlement. I understood him to say that if the negotiations broke down the Government would support the British Transport Commission in its application to be freed from the obligation to maintain this Cut. I take it that that undertaking applies only to this particular instance and is not a precedent for the general abandoning of obligations by the Transport Commission in connection with canals, and that in other instances the position will be looked at on its merits if the British Transport Commission desired to go ahead with a similar application.
§ Mr. Molson
I am dealing only with the special provisions of the Bill.
There is one matter which has not been raised to any great extent tonight, somewhat to my surprise, except by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith), in a somewhat hostile way, because of his feeling that London and the South of England were getting more than a fair share. I should like to say something about the proposed tube called Route C. Neither the Commission nor the Government are in any way committed to undertaking this great and costly project.
1397 Before it is possible to take a decision, it is essential that a survey should be made, the owners and occupiers of all the land ascertained, trial borings made, and detailed plans prepared. The reason for including in this Bill the statutory powers necessary to begin the work is to enable all these preliminaries to be completed and, if a decision is taken to undertake the work, to enable the work to be started without any further delay.
That, however, is conditional upon a favourable decision being made after the engineering and financial problems have been fully considered. In favourable circumstances the railway could be opened to traffic about five years after a decision has been made to begin the work. This procedure also enables any persons or interests aggrieved by the proposals to file a Petition against it.
Even before 1944 Lord Leathers had appointed the Railway (London Plan) Committee to consider London's postwar transport problems. The London Plan Working Party was appointed in 1948 by the British Transport Commission to work on the proposals of that Committee. It recommended two tubes, but that suggestion was considered to be too costly. The Working Party, therefore, produced something more economical, which is a combination of parts of the two tubes, and that is what is provided for in this Bill.
If constructed, that tube would run for 11 miles from Victoria to Green Park, to Oxford Circus, Euston, King's Cross, Highbury, Finsbury Park, Tottenham Hale, and out to Walthamstow. A principal purpose of the tube would be to carry traffic arriving at Victoria into the heart of the West End. At present there is no direct route across the Green Park, and consequently there is very heavy congestion at Charing Cross underground station and also on bus services going up Grosvenor Place and along Piccadilly.
This new tube, making connections with the Bakerloo Line, would be extremely valuable. There is also very heavy pressure of traffic to the north-east of Green Park. The electrification of the Enfield-King's Cross line will cause a great increase in the traffic from the north-east to the centre of London. There is, therefore, no question about the desirability of this tube from the traffic angle.
1398 The difficulty arises from the financial angle. The cost of the tube, including the necessary rolling stock, would be about £50 million, which, with interest at 4 per cent. and reasonable provision for redemption of capital, would involve an annual charge of £2 million. To this would be added working expenses amounting to substantially more than £1 million per annum at present prices.
It is impossible to make any accurate forecast, but London Transport believes that on that estimate the tube would be operated at a substantial annual loss. This means that a most desirable improvement in travel facilities in London could not be undertaken without fortifying the finances of the London Transport Executive which are already in deficit, partly as the result of the recent wage award. The House will realise, therefore, why it is not possible for either the Commission or the Government to make a firm decision at the moment as to whether the tube should be constructed or not.
That is the largest part of the Bill, and it was to this that the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South took exception. My hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove, who raised the general question of canals to which I have already given a reply, referred to Clause 7 of the Bill, and spoke about the temporary breaking-up of the roads. At present the British Transport Commission and London Transport Executive have no power to do this. In seeking power to break up streets they will then be subject, as my hon. Friend hoped they would be, to the Public Street Works Utilities Act. They are negotiating at present with the highway authorities affected about the safeguards to be observed under that Act.
My hon. Friend also raised the matter of Clause 15. That is essentially a matter which should be considered by the Committee upstairs, but the Clause only provides for closing the level-crossings to vehicles, and not to pedestrians.
The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South asked me several direct questions. His speech was, to some extent, based upon a misunderstanding. The provisions of the Bill deal only with those cases where the activities of the Commission require statutory powers for their implementation. When the hon. Gentleman spoke about too much emphasis being 1399 given to London and the South of England, he was, I think, referring largely to the introduction of diesel locomotives. He was really in error in thinking that most of the diesel locomotives were to be in London, Glasgow, and the South of England. Those are the areas with very heavy passenger traffic where it is intended to introduce electrification. Therefore, in his part of the country, which is also my part of the country, we shall have a great many of the diesel locomotives.
The hon. Member was concerned about the dislocation that might be occasioned to workers in the shops as a result of this change. If he will refer to the modernisation plan, he will find there an assurance by the Commission that it will try so to organise it that there shall be as little dislocation of labour as possible.
I cannot be sure that I have covered every point which has been raised during the course of the debate, but I hope I have dealt with the majority.
§ Mr. Usborne
What about the "bobs for bicycles" racket? Is not the hon. Gentleman going to say anything about that?
§ Mr. Molson
An earlier occupant of the Chair tonight was on the point of suggesting to the hon. Member for Yardley (Mr. Usborne) that the subject which he mentioned was hardly a matter arising on a Private Bill which authorises the Commission to carry out works. There is no Clause in the Bill providing statutory powers to erect bicycle racks.
§ Mr. Usborne
Is the Joint Parliamentary Secretary aware that an even earlier occupant of the Chair, having heard what 1400 I was going to say, ruled that it would be in order? It seems hardly fair now to say that he cannot give me a reply because an occupant of the Chair earlier ruled the subject out of order.
§ Mr. Molson
I do not think the matter really arises on the Bill, but I am willing to go into the matter in correspondence with the hon. Gentleman. I do not feel that I can give him a considered reply now about the grievance from which he suffered when he was charged 6d. for storing his bicycle at a certain railway station.
In matters of this kind we are always glad when there is a breath of fresh air and something which reminds us of the English atmosphere. I am sure we all enjoyed the speech of the right hon. Member for South Shields; it had some of the breeziness of the seaman and some of the picturesque descriptions of the lover of the English countryside.
I was very much interested to hear the speech of the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Jack Jones). We shall certainly bear in mind the importance of the canals for purposes other than transport. This is a matter which is under discussion at the present time between my Department and the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.
I hope that, with this explanation, the House will think it appropriate to give a Second Reading to the Bill and allow it to be further considered in a Private Bill Committee.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time and committed.