Monday, 4 August 2014

Canal Cuttings (39)

This is just one of a series of around fifty old newspaper articles that I have been reading. I have been researching from old newspapers and magazines. Covering the last 200 years or so of life on the inland waterways. With particular interest in the major issues of the day that were effecting the canals. The most active periods for evaluation and change, has always been just prior, during and shortly after the two world wars. It should be remembered that between the wars the ownership of some of the canals changed hands as the railway companies bought up the waterways to get reduce competition. What is not clear is the effect this early form of asset stripping had on the viability of the inland waterways. Its good to take a look back at what people were saying and doing in the past. Most surprising of all are some of the problems that beset the canals back then - are still prevalent today. Reading old newspapers can throw up some rather interesting stories. Here is what we would call today a public interest story.

Caveat: Some of the articles are difficult to read and even using modern electronic  scanning and text conversion methods. The odd punctuation, word or character may have been transcribed in error. 

Daily Herald
26th May 1947
Storm In Britain Over Transport Bill

The British Government's Transport Bill, at once the most far reaching and the most controversial of its many revolutionary measures, entered its final legislative stage during the week when it reached the House of Lords. Its passage through the lower House had been stormy-more so, probably, than that of any other bill in recent years, with the possible exception of the National Service Bill which followed it is possible that fresh squalls he ahead.

The House of Lords, which so far, despite its huge majority of traditionally Conservative peers, has abstained from seriously altering the Labour Government's legislation, may this time force amendments which may even negative much of the bill's purpose. It is known that many members of the House of Lords are alarmed at the slipshod way in which the bill was first drafted, later necessitating some 300 amendments by the Government, and at the haste with which it was rushed through the Commons.

Actually, although the total time spent considering the bill, either by the Commons or by the Standing Parliamentary Committee, was nearly 128 hours, the use of the "guillotine," the Parliamentary device which limits debate, prevented discussion of many of the clauses and even some of the schedules setting out the extent of the bill's application

Wide Campaign

Discussion of the bill has not been restricted to Parliament. Its opponents have waged war upon it throughout England Ever since its publication last December, long letters have been appearing regularly in the Press attacking or defending its principles and methods and supporting or refuting the arguments of the Minister for Transport, Mr Barnes. There have been public meetings by shareholders and transport owners, who claim forthrightly that they are being "robbed ' by the bill's financial clauses.

Petitions have been signed, hundreds of letters have been written to members of Parliament on both sides of the House -the member from one of the "doubtful" constituencies even complained that there had been an attempt to intimidate him by letter-and all over Britain there arc huge hoardings exhorting the people to demand the withdrawal of the bill "You have had one crisis-do you want another?" the posters ask

When it becomes law-for the Government will brook no radical alterations by the Lords according to one Minister. Aneurin Bevan the Transport Bill will nationalise practically the whole of Britain's inland transport It will profoundly affect the commercial and the private life of the whole nation

Points In The Bill Briefly, it entails the following

1 The appointment by the Minister for Transport of a British Transport Commission of five members to control national transport They will be chiefly concerned with policy They are directed to see that the Commission "pays its way

2 The appointment of five executives, consisting of from four to eight members, to manage railways, docks and inland waterways, road transport, London transport, and railway hotels

3 The taking over by the Commission on January 1, 1948, of the four main line railways, including all then ancillary undertakings such as road vehicles hotels, docks and ships, and 56 other railways, the undertakings now managed by the London Passenger Transport Board (the London tube and underground systems and the London buses), 17 canal and inland navigation systems (such as the famous Manchester ship canal), and about 600,000 privately owned railway wagons

4 The beginning at the same time by the Commission to acquire all road haul age undertakings which, during 1946, were predominantly engaged in road haulage work for a distance of more than 40 miles from their operating centres Exempted from this are undertakings engaged m furniture removals and in the transport of certain classes of goods such as liquids in bulk, meat, and livestock

5 The requirement, in addition, that all road haulage undertakings obtain a permit from the Commission if they wish to operate over a distance of more than 25 miles If the Commission's decision on this application involves interferences with the undertaking's business the owner can require the Commission to take over the whole concern

6 Provision in other clauses for the acquisition of passenger road transport and ports, if this is considered necessary for area transport co ordination schemes

7 The basing of compensation for the acquisition of railway and canal under takings on the average market values of the securities concerned at certain dates Road transport compensation will be based on the net value of assets, plus, some times, a certain sum for loss of the [ business

8 A Transport Arbitration Tribunal to deal with disputes about the value of compensation. If the legislation goes through, the new Commission will operate the' greatest single monopoly in the country. Its employees will number about one million, 6 per cent, of the working population of Britain. It will acquire undertakings for which more than £.1,000,000,000 will have to be paid. It will operate 52,000 miles of railway track and about 2,000 miles of canals. It will own one and a quarter million railway waggons and 45.000 passenger coaches; 20,000 locomotives ' and about 140,000 road transport vehicles; and more than 50,000 houses and hotels.

When the bill was first published, the Government and its critics joined battle immediately. the critics soon had allies from unexpected quarters. Sharp criticism by the London Stock Exchange Committee of the clauses covering compensation to railway shareholders hardened opinion against the bill generally.

The opposition became even more widespread after Mr Barnes's second reading speech in the Commons just before Christmas. The objects of the bill, it had been stated, were to promote greater efficiency by, and cheaper costs of, the national transport services. Mr. Barnes made little attempt to show how nationalisation would produce these results.

Several papers and journals which previously had either supported the Government, or else had adopted an impartial attitude toward its policy - the Liberal "Manchester Guardian," "The Times," and the "Economist," for example commented irritably on Mr Barnes's apparent assumption that nationalisation, because it was nationalisation, was the cure for all present ills.

Other criticisms were that there was no definite plan in the bill to co-ordinate trans- port, as had been promised, anti that again and again the last word in vital policy matters rested with the Minister.

The bill, a huge measure of 127 clauses and 13 schedules, was committed to a Standing Parliamentary Committee on February 4 and there for a total of 70 hours spread over nearly three months, the Opposition fought each clause tooth and nail.

Biggest concessions by the Government were the withdrawal of clauses nationalising "transport operated by private firms in the conduct of their own business, and the "exemption of privately owned docks from nationalisation under "area schemes."

"Guillotine" Used

In the latter stages of the committee sittings, the Government sought and, for the first time in British Parliamentary history, obtained permission from the Commons to "guillotine" discussion in committee. When the bill was re-committed to the Commons, in the report stage, 92 Government and 204 Opposition amendments still had to be dealt with.

The use of the "guillotine" in the Commons "report" debate provoked one of the greatest demonstrations the House had ever seen. While Government members jeered and shouted, a small body of back bench Opposition and Independent members, led by Independent Sir Alan Herbert, sought to obtain a division on each and every amendment which they were prevented from discussing. They desisted only as midnight approached.

The bill was finally read a third time with' many of its most vital provisions still undiscussed as individual items. Now its opponents are making their last ditch fight in the Lords. If the Conservative Lords majority fights as a whole the Government may find it has a first-class constitutional crisis' on its hands, for the bill has gone too far now for any substantial withdrawal.

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