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Clause 1—(Extension Of Period During Which Charging Powers May Be Continued)

Volume 154: debated on Tuesday 30 May 1922

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In the case of canal or inland navigation undertakings of which possession was retained or taken by the Minister of Trans-

port under the powers contained in Section three of the Ministry of Transport Act, 1919, paragraph ( e) of Sub-section (1) of that Section (which continues the powers of making charges directed by the Minister in pursuance of that Section) shall have effect as if for the words "for a further period of eighteen months after the expiration of the said period" there were substituted the words "thereafter until the fifteenth day of February nineteen hundred and twenty-four."

I beg to move to leave out the words "twenty-four" ["nineteen hundred and twenty-four"] and to insert instead thereof the words "twenty-five."

The effect of this Amendment will be to extend to the canals affected by this Bill precisely the same period as has just been fixed in the case of the harbours, docks and piers, and all the reasons that have been so eloquently put forward for extending the period in the case of the harbours and docks to 1925 apply equally to the canals which are subject to this Measure. With them also it is the case that private Bill legislation will have to be promoted in the Autumn of this year if this extension be not given. I confess I feel some surprise that my hon. Friend did not insert 1925 in this Bill, as he did in the previous Bill. Some fears have been expressed that the extension may mean an extension of monopoly. There is no possible question of monopoly in the case of this Bill. Canal charges are of two kinds. There are tolls and there are rates. The rates are the charges made by carriers, the tolls are the charges made by the owners of the canal to those who use them. So far as the rates are concerned they are not affected in any way by this Bill. They are controlled only by competition. So far as the tolls are concerned they are affected, but it is obvious that if the canal owners raise their tolls too high the effect must be to drive traffic off the water-way, and they are not likely to do that. In the course of his remarks upon the Second Reading of this Bill the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport intimated that it was quite possible the time limit of the Bill would be too short. He suggested that the subject might be discussed in Committee. If it has not been discussed in Committee that is only owing to the fact that I was unable to be present owing to another engagement of a public charac- ter. I have therefore taken the opportunity of responding to the hint which he dropped in the course of the proceedings on the Second Reading, and have put down this Amendment, which I trust he will accept.

I beg to second the Amendment. The reasons in favour of this Amendment have already been given by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport. It is quite clear that private Bills will have to be brought in and notices given not later than next November, in this case as in the other, if the Amendment be not accepted. I await with some interest the explanation of the hon. Gentleman as to why he put in 1924 in this Bill and not 1925 as in the other Bill.

This is an Amendment to which the Government offer no opposition. The present position with reference to canal charges is different from that in reference to the authorities we have just been discussing. The canal charging powers are those which were in operation on the decontrol of the canals. The Amendment is acceptable to the Government inasmuch as it gives power of revision at the instance of the Advisory Committee. Therefore, on behalf of the Government, I accept the Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

I beg to move, at the end of the Clause, to insert the following new Sub-sections:

"(2) If at any time during the continuance under this Act of the powers of making charges so directed as aforesaid it appears to the Minister that owing to changes in the cost of labour and materials or other circumstances affecting a canal or inland navigation undertaking, of which possession was so retained or taken as aforesaid, the powers of charging are excessive or insufficient, the Minister may and if representations are made to him by a chamber of commerce or agriculture or by any other representative body of traders concerned or by a local authority or by the undertakers, he shall refer the matter to the Rates Advisory Committee constituted under Section twenty-one of the Ministry of Transport Act, 1919, and the Minister may, after considering any report of the Committee, make an Order revising the powers of charging, so however that the revised maximum charges shall not, in the case of any undertaking, be less than the maximum charges authorised by any statutary provision in force immediately before the directions of the Minister relating to the charges of that undertaking were originally issued or more than the charges which the undertakers were entitled to make at the passing of this, Act.
(3) The provisions of Sections two, thru and four of the Harbours, Docks and Piers (Temporary Increase of Charges) Act, 1920 (which relate to the proceedings of the Rates Advisory Committee, and the employment of accountants and persons and as to costs, etc., and as to applications for an Order, respectively), shall apply to applications for and the making of Orders under this Act in like manner as they apply to applications for and the making of Orders under that Act."
This Amendment carries out a suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary on the Second Reading, namely, that the power of revision should be with the Minister, if the extension of time were granted.

Amendment agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.