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New Clause—(For Mutual Protection Of The Company And The Cor Poration)

Volume 463: debated on Tuesday 12 April 1949

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For the mutual protection of the Company and the Mayor Aldermen and Citizens of the city of Worcester (in this section referred to as 'the Corporation ') notwithstanding anything contained in this Order the following provisions shall unless otherwise agreed in writing between the Company and the Corporation apply and have effect in the added limits:—

(1) Subject to the provisions of this section the Company may alter the position of any apparatus of the Corporation in or under any street which may interfere with the lawful exercise of the powers of the Company under this Order and the Corporation may alter the position of any apparatus of the Company in or under any street which may interfere with the lawful exercise by the Corporation of any powers in relation to that street conferred upon them by virtue of any agreement entered into by them under the Public Health Act, 1936* with respect to the supply of water outside the city of Worcester.

(2) Not less than twenty-eight days before commencing any authorised work the Company or the Corporation as the case may be (in this section referred to as the operators') shall give notice in writing to the other of them (in this section referred to as the owners') together with a Van section and particulars describing the manner in which it is proposed to execute the authorised work and shall upon being required to do so by the owners give them any such further information in relation thereto as they may desire:

Provided that where it is necessary in emergency to execute an authorised work and the authorised work is not exclusively any such alteration of the position of apparatus as is referred to in subsection (1) of this section the foregoing provisions of this subsection shall not apply but the operators shall give to the owners the longest possible notice of the intended execution of such authorised work together with (when practicable) such a plan section and particulars as aforesaid.

(3) (a) At any time within twenty-one days from the receipt of such plan section and particulars the owners may by notice in writing to the operators intimate their disapproval of the proposed manner of executing the authorised work or make reasonable requirements with respect to such plan section and particulars and if it is reasonably necessary to so do the owners may require the operators to support the apparatus of the owners and to substitute temporarily or otherwise other apparatus in such manner as, may be reasonably necessary and to lay or place under any apparatus cement concrete or other like substance (all such works in connection with any apparatus of the owners being hereinafter referred to as protective works');

( b) If the owners do not within the said period of twenty-one days give any such notice in writing to the operators they shall be deemed to have approved the plan section and particulars as submitted and if within that period the owners give such notice the matters in difference shall (if not agreed between the operators and the owners) be settled by arbitration;

(4) The operators shall not execute any authorised work except in accordance with the said plan section and particulars as approved by the owners or settled by arbitration.

(5) Every authorised work and all protective works shall save as hereinafter provided be executed or done by and at the expense of the operators but to the satisfaction and under the superintendence (if after reasonable notice in writing to the owners such superintendence shall be given) of the engineer of the owners and the reasonable costs charges and expenses of such superintendence of the engineer of the owners shall be paid by the operators;

(6) Not less than fourteen days before commencing the execution of any authorised work the operators shall give to the owners notice in writing of the time at which they intend so to commence and if at any time within seven days after the receipt of such notice the owners give to the operators notice in writing that they intend themselves to execute any alteration of their apparatus shown on the said plan and section and described in the said particulars or any protective works which may have been agreed or settled by arbitration as aforesaid the owners and not the operators shall proceed with all reasonable dispatch to execute such alteration in accordance with the said plan section and particulars as approved or settled by arbitration or (as the case may be) such protective works and the reasonable expenses incurred by them in so doing shall be repaid to them by the operators;

(7) If any interruption in the supply of gas or water (as the case may be) by means of any apparatus of the owners or any loss of gas or water of the owners shall without the written authority of the owners be in any way occasioned either by reason of the execution of any authorised work or by the act or default of the operators or of their contractors or agents or the workmen or servants or any person in the employ of them or any or either of them in connection with the execution of such work the operators shall pay to the owners reasonable compensation for such loss and shall indemnify the owners against all claims demands proceedings costs losses damages and expenses which may be made or taken against the owners or which the owners may incur consequent upon such interruption;

(8) The reasonable expense of all repairs or renewals of any apparatus of the owners which may be rendered necessary by reason or in consequence of—

  • (a) the execution of any authorised work or the act or default of the operators or their contractors or agents or the workmen or servants or any person in the employ of them or any or either of them in connection with the execution of such work; or
  • (b) any subsidence resulting from the execution of any authorised work whether during the execution or within twelve months after the completion of such work;
  • shall be borne by the operators and paid by them to the owners;

    (9) If the operators make default in complying with any requirements of this section they shall make full compensation to the owners for any loss damage penalty or costs which they may incur by reason of such default;

    (10) Any difference which may arise between the Company and the Corporation under this section shall be referred to and determined by a single arbitrator to be agreed upon between the parties or failing agreement appointed on the application of either of the parties (after notice in writing to the other of them) by the President of the Institution of Civil Engineers and subject as aforesaid the provisions of the Arbitration Acts, 1889 to 1934, shall apply to any such reference and determination;

    (11) In settling any question under this section an arbitrator shall have regard to any duties or obligations which the owners may be under in respect of their apparatus and may if he thinks fit require the operators to execute any temporary or other works so as to avoid interference so far as possible with any purpose for which the apparatus is used;

    (12) In this section—

    'apparatus' includes mains pipes valves and works;
    'street' means any street within the meaning assigned to that word by the Gasworks Clauses Act, 1847, in the added limits;
    'authorised work' means any such alteration of apparatus as is referred to in subsection (1) of this section and any work which the Company or the Corporation as the case may be in the exercise of the powers referred to in subsection (1) of this section may require to execute over under or within three feet of any apparatus of the other."—[Mr. Robens.]

    10.11 p.m.

    I beg to move, in line 7, after "addition," to insert "and modification."

    I think it would be convenient, Mr. Speaker, if we could discuss with this Amendment the other Amendment on the Order Paper also in my name and the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Evesham (Mr. De la Bère), in page 23, Third Schedule, to leave out paragraph (a).

    Yes, I agree that it would be more convenient to consider both Amendments together.

    Thank you, Sir. This order is promoted by the Worcester New Gas Light Company, a private enterprise undertaking authorised to supply gas to the City of Worcester. The order seeks to make three main provisions. First, it transfers to the Worcester New Gas Light Company the Droitwich undertaking which is at present owned by the Droitwich Corporation and is situated in that town. Second, it extends considerably the area within which the New Gas Light Company may supply gas. Third, it empowers the Worcester New Gas Light Company to manufacture and store gas, and to work up and convert the residual products arising from the manufacture of gas, upon three quite separate sites—first, the existing site in Worcester; second, the existing site at Droitwich; and third, upon a new site in the middle of Worcester of approximately 19 acres.

    Upon this new site the Worcester Gas Light Company propose to build a gas works producing 6 million cubic feet of gas a day and a gasholder to store 4 million cubic feet of gas. That is a very large gas works. I understand that the object eventually is to close down the existing Worcester works and the existing Droitwich works, and to concentrate on the new works. Paragraph (a) of the Third Schedule, which the second Amendment seeks to leave out, lays down the position of the new site on which it is proposed to erect this very large gas works. The Worcester City Corporation, the Worcester Trades Council, representing some 5,800 trade unionists, and, indeed, the people of Worcester as a whole take the strongest possible objection to the erection of a gas works on this particular site, for reasons which I shall try to show as briefly as possible.

    In March, 1943, the Worcester City Corporation, together with other corporations in the country, received a circular from the Ministry of Health asking them to get out plans as soon as they could for a one year's building programme, so that they would be in a position to start their programme without delay, as soon as conditions allowed. Accordingly, the Corporation selected an area of some 16 acres in a position ideally suited to housing purposes, and approval was obtained from the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Town and Country Planning and the Ministry of Agriculture. Severel conferences took place with representatives of those Ministries upon the actual site which had been chosen, and eventually, in December, 1945, tenders for the road and sewer construction were approved by the Ministry of Health and work on them was begun.

    On this estate of 16 acres, which is known as Newtown No. 1 estate, the council have already completed and let 194 permanent houses, accommodating 898 people. Before long there will be 228 houses on the estate, accommodating 1,100 people, and the ultimate expenditure on it will be £346,000. The site on which it is proposed to erect this large new gas works is less than 100 yards from that housing estate. In August, 1945, a further circular was received from the Ministry of Health advising the local authorities to secure further land for a long-term housing programme of building. Consequently, the city council bought two more estates, known as Newtown No. 2 and Newtown No. 3, and these were also approved by the Ministry of Health and the other Ministries concerned.

    Newtown No. 2 consists of 50 acres on which 84 houses are already completed and occupied by 375 people. A further 152 houses are already under construction, and eventually a total of 540 houses will be built on this estate at a cost of £770,000. The new gas works which we are discussing tonight will be less than 500 yards from this estate and, because the ground rises considerably, the chimneys of the gas works will be level with the houses on the estate. Newtown No. 3 will provide 170 houses at a cost of £352,000. It is less than 250 yards from the proposed new gas works. Therefore, we have a total of 938 brand new houses, accommodating some 5,000 people, on which will be spent £1,500,000 and on which more than £600,000 has already been spent. If this order is approved as it stands, all those houses will be effected to a greater or lesser extent.

    These are not the only ones, for several years before the war an extensive slum clearance programme had been in operation in Worcester. Many old houses in the city were demolished, and the inhabitants were re-housed in new council houses on the rising ground to the East of the city. The large Tolladine estate comprising 1,100 houses and still being enlarged, is barely 1,300 yards from the proposed new gas works site. Many of the houses on that estate are owner-occupied, the owners having sunk their life savings in buying them. Nor is it only dwelling-houses that are affected by the order. Immediately to the Fast of Newtown No. 1, which is only 100 yards from the proposed gas works site, there is an area upon which provision is made to build two primary schools, one of which has already been started. They are to cost £136,000. There are also two hospitals affected, one of them the great Ronkswood hospital with 400 beds, which is owned by the Ministry of Pensions. This is only 700 yards from the proposed gas works' site. To these must be added the shops, theatres, churches, and everything else that go to make up what I understand is known nowadays as a neighbourhood unit.

    There is just one further point. Immediately adjoining this proposed gas works' site, and on one side of it, is a natural, wooded open space—the famous Perry Wood, from which Cromwell's troops advanced upon the City of Worcester in 1651. This space provides an ideally situated amenity for the housing estate close to it. Indeed, the corporation were hoping to extend this amenity by providing a recreation ground on the exact site on which it is now proposed to build a gas works. This particular piece of land lies in a hollow, and while it is unsuitable for housing purposes it would make an ideal recreation ground.

    The approximate level of this site above ordnance datum is 110 ft., but the land to the north and east of it rises to 250 ft. Therefore, if the chimneys of the gas works are to be 110 to 115 ft.—which I understand they are to be—that would bring the tops of the chimneys level with many of these houses, the schools, and the hospitals. The prevailing winds in Worcester are south and south-west, and the records show that on 113 days every year the wind will blow all the grit, dust, smoke, smells and fumes from this gas works straight in the direction of these new housing estates. In short, the placing of a large gas works upon this particular site—the piece of land described in this Third Schedule—would, we contend, completely destroy the amenities of these houses, and affect the lives and happiness of thousands of working-class men and women.

    I have been told by the Ministry that modern gas works do not emit offensive smells, dust, and so on. But at the public inquiry held in Worcester in July, 1948, evidence was given by Mr. George Pearson, who is a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, of the Institution of Gas Engineers, of the Institute of Fuel, and is Engineer-in-Chief of the Birmingham Corporation Gas Department—in other words one of the greatest experts upon gas in the whole country—who said on that occasion:
    "I think it most desirable to site this gas works elsewhere. It seems to me preposterous to put a gas works in the midst of that housing estate, where a good many houses are built and in the course of construction, when the space is required by the inhabitants as an open space to benefit the amenities. It is a preposterous idea when it is possible to obtain another site."
    That comes from an expert on gas. Mr. Mitchell, the managing director of the gas company, himself admits that there will be a very nasty smell from these chimneys, at any rate for the Newtown No. 2 estate. He also admits that he has trouble on his present site with coke dust blowing from it; and I. see no reason whatever why there should not also be trouble from coke dust on the new site.

    Since these sites were approved in the first place by the Minister of Health, the House may well ask what view the Ministry of Health has been taking about the erection of these gas works, particularly as hospitals in the area are affected. In a letter, dated 24th January, 1948, to the town clerk of Worcester, the Ministry of Fuel and Power say this:
    "The Minister of Health' has been afforded 'the opportunity of reporting on the order applied for by the Worcester New Gas Light Company, and we are informed that he has no observations to offer."
    In other words, he could not care less. It is apparently a matter of complete indifference to the Minister of Health whether the amenities of these working-class homes are ruined or not, or whether the health of the patients in the hospitals is affected. The letter goes on:
    "The Ministry of Town and Country Planning has no objections in principle to raise in regard to the land described in paragraph (a) of the Third Schedule, provided all possible steps are taken to reduce any nuisance that may be caused."
    In other words, they do not take much interest either, but merely express the hope that it will not cause too much nuisance. In neither case is the slightest attempt made to inquire whether there may not be an alternative site available.

    This is a matter of extreme importance from the Town and Country Planning point of view. If it is not, then I do not know what modern planning means, and I certainly do not know what the object of the Ministry of Town and Country Planning can possibly be. I find it most difficult to understand the attitude that the Ministry of Town and Country Planning have adopted throughout the whole of the discussions. This is not merely a question of extending an existing gas works site, as in the Oxford case. This is a chance, a unique chance, of taking up an entire gas works and putting it down somewhere else. This is a planner's dream. What an opportunity for using the imagination and foresight which must be the basis of all sound planning. What an opportunity to show that modern town planning really means something and is really progressive. But what happens? They take up this gas works and propose to put it down right alongside a large new housing estate in the middle of a beautiful cathedral city. Is that modern planning?

    Ever since this was first suggested, when the first unofficial intimation came to the local planning authority in July, 1945, that authority has vigorously opposed the idea of putting the gas works where it is proposed to be put, and they vigorously opposed it with the regional officer of the Ministry of Town and Country Planning in Birmingham. I have a letter from the city and town and country planning officer, in which he says to the Ministry of Town and Country planning?
    "I am still of the opinion it is not desirable to commence the gas works on the southwest side of the new housing scheme."
    Ever since the city council got the first official knowledge of this scheme, which was considerably later, they have implored the Ministry of Town and Country Planning to intervene with the Ministry of Fuel and Power in the interests of sound planning. I myself went through the plans with the Minister in detail and begged him to do something to stop this, but apparently the Ministry of Town and Country Planning have been content to sit back and allow themselves to be overruled by the Ministry of Fuel and Power. I cannot understand why.

    The Ministry of Health have apparently taken no interest whatever, although it was they who originally approved the site on which these houses are being built. As for the Ministry of Fuel and Power, they made up their mind two years ago that they were not going to stand any nonsense from anyone. In a letter, dated 12th April, 1946, and addressed to the managing director of the gas works, they say:
    "The Minister is satisfied that the Newtown site is the only one of the two possible for development purposes for the gas works."
    Fifteen months before any public inquiry was held, they had already made up their minds. The Ministry of Fuel say, "It is all very well to talk about planning, but your own planning experts have selected their site. What about the book 'Worcester Plan,' in which it is recommended that the gas works should be sited in that very spot?" But my answer is that it is called "An Outline Development Plan" and is not intended to be anything else. It is not intended to be binding upon the city corporation. If these plans are held to be binding, no corporation will ever produce another plan. The preface to this plan, written by the present Mayor of Worcester, says:
    "The proposals set out in this report and the accompanying plan have not yet received the approval of any of the Government Departments concerned, and do not, therefore, constitute a statutory town planning scheme. This fact should be borne in mind, as it may well be that alterations or amendments will be necessary before the proposals are approved."
    That disposes of that argument.

    The Ministry of Fuel also say there is no other site which is technically suitable and available, but there is a site at Black-pole, farther to the north, which in many ways is more suitable technically than the proposed site. For example, it has a canal near it, which the other site has not. But that site has been turned down, I believe, by the Ministry of Town and Country Planning on the grounds, first, that it is not all contained within the city boundaries—part of it is in the county—and secondly, that it is scheduled as a green belt. This is a central government problem. It is a question of priority for the central government to decide, and not a question which should be fought out between the county council and the city corporation. Fifteen acres of green belt—is that so very important compared with the lives of many thousands of working-class men and women in Worcester who are affected by this scheme? I do not think it is.

    The Ministry of Fuel have said that if the corporation can find yet a third site, even at this late hour, they will consider it. I understand that the city corporation are anxiously wondering whether they ought not to abandon their airfield for flying purposes and site the gas works near by. I submit that it is not the business of the city corporation to go rushing round their area to try to find a site for the gas company. It is a fundamental town and country planning problem and the only question to be decided is whether it is right or wrong to allow the gas company to put their works right up against a large new housing estate. If it is wrong from the planning point of view, then the Minister must say to the gas company, "I am sorry, you cannot put it there: you must find somewhere else to put it. We will help you find another place, whether in the county or the city, and if you approach the corporation and the county council in a friendly and co-operative spirit, I have no doubt that they will also help you to find an alternative site."

    There is no disagreement between any of us that the gas works must be re-sited. Gas is an important public utility which we all need and want to see efficiently and economically produced. But what the Worcester Corporation and the Worcester Trades Council and the people of Worcester say, and I say, is that it is a monstrous proposal to put this gas works right up against and to the windward of a brand new housing estate. It is a wicked and retrograde act. The people of Worcester are very proud of their city. Worcester has led the way in the field of town planning. They bitterly resent this proposal, and if it is allowed to happen they will not forget that it was a Socialist Government which approved it. So I ask the Minister to accept this Amendment. It will not affect the remainder of the order, and when a suitable site has been found he can easily add it to the Third Schedule. I submit that this is the only fair and reasonable way to deal with this problem which so vitally affects the lives of the good people of the faithful city.

    10.36 p.m.

    I beg to second the Amendment.

    At this late hour I shall not detain the House unduly, but I must support the very eloquent speech which my hon. Friend has made. No man could have made a better speech. It was full of eloquence, and told us all the facts which we wanted to know. Clearly all three Ministers have made a bungle of it. That is no surprise. The expert said that the proposal was preposterous. He spoke the truth. My hon. Friend said it was monstrous. "Monstrous" is a word after my own heart. It is both preposterous and monstrous. The faithful city of Worcester and its people are being threatened by this wholly unnecessary and disastrous gas works which would endanger the building estate and the hospital, and would do no good to them at all.

    Clearly none of us wants to go home tonight until he has had an assurance from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power. I speak with a full measure of conviction and assurance that the people of Worcester will be safeguarded against this bungling by the Government. My hon. Friend was much too kind to Members of the Government. I am not going to be so kind. They have bungled this matter and have mishandled it; and have done everything they should not have done. I want an assurance that they will walk backwards and put right the things they have done wrongly. The people in the faithful city will not forget. They do not forget this Government, and I know that they will insist that something practical be done.

    I have hopes that something will be done. I am looking at the Parliamentary Secretary and I see a kindly smile coming across his face. I must have prevailed upon him, and therefore I shall spare the House the great eloquence it might have heard from me had it not been for the smile I have received from the other side of the Chamber. I want the hon. Gentleman to give me an assurance that this matter will be reconsidered and that the faithful city and the residents therein will be spared the abomination with which they are now threatened.

    10.38 p.m.

    It is not my intention to detain the House, but I want to add my plea to that made by the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Ward), and I hope that the Minister concerned will really give consideration to the appeal which has been expressed. May I take this opportunity of congratulating the hon. Member for Worcester upon the fair, just and equitable way in which he stated the case?

    I am speaking as one who is familiar with the whole locality with which the hon. Member dealt. I speak in the main on behalf of those working-class people who will be occupying the houses which will be built in the not-distant future, the plans for which and the layout of the site of which, were passed by the Ministry of Health in 1945. As a result of that, development began to take place immediately. When that development is completed it will have cost £1,500,000 and will house something like 5,000 people. It is also contemplated that a school will be built, and, as the hon. Member for Worcester said, there are two hospitals adjoining. So it is a real housing site, and when it is completed it will be a centre of happiness and contentment.

    Is it to be assumed for one moment that, permission having been given and the plans having been accepted by the Ministry of Health for this delightful feature in Worcester, it was contemplated that at a later stage this gas works would be forced upon the locality? The Worcester Trades Council—and let me say here that representatives of trades councils are always fairminded people with a broad outlook—most emphatically protested against this proposal. It is their plea which I want to emphasise. It is a plea coming from ordinary working men, who claim that the people who will inhabit these houses on this particular site, which has been approved by the Ministry of Health, should receive from any individual or Government Department the same consideration as would be afforded to a residential area in any town or city if a similar thing were contemplated. These people have a right to say that the general amenities will not be improved by a gas works being stuck right in the centre of this housing estate.

    The alternative site of Blackpole is ideal in every way. It may be we shall be told that there will be some little additional expenses in connection with this site, but the one outweighs the other in the sense that industrial development in Worcester is in the direction of the Blackpole site and is likely to be considerable, which makes it an ideal place for this works.

    I do not want to detain the House any longer, but I make a most emphatic and personal plea to the Minister to reconsider the whole situation. I hope the Minister will not say that the decision having been come to in this case, he cannot retract it. The people of Worcester view this proposal with considerable alarm and concern. I have tried to put a fair case and for once I am supporting hon. Gentlemen opposite. I feel justly entitled so to do, because I am in close association with the City of Worcester. I ask the hon. Gentleman to give every consideration to the pleas which have been made from so many sources. All those sources have a right to put their opinion to the Minister, and in this case it is that we should like further consideration to be given to this matter with a view to a new decision being come to so that this piece of so-called planning will not be proceeded with. The people of Worcester ask for justice and fair play, which is a part of Socialist policy and doctrine. If that is accorded, the Government will earn the respect and esteem of all the people of Worcester—and rightly so.

    10.45 p.m.

    I hope the House will forgive me if I add my own word to the pleas put forward from both sides of the House. My limited understanding of the Rules of Order lead me to suppose that I should not be allowed to talk about the Oxford gas works, but I wish to reinforce the plea put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Ward) with regard to the faithful City of Worcester, bearing in mind that some of the considerations he put before the House in a very persuasive and non-partisan spirit are all more than of particular application to cases of this kind. It disturbs me a little that, despite our institution of a Ministry of Town and Country Planning with a considerable staff—

    —an enormous staff at their disposal, a Debate such as this should be necessary. Why should we have a Ministry of Town and Country Planning if we have to do the job ourselves? We were led to suppose—and I am not making this as a party point, nor as a point against the Minister, with whom I have had pleasant personal relations for a number of years—that when, in the last Parliament, we established the Ministry, with, I think, the approval of both sides of the House, some of the methods of development common in the past would not be allowed to continue in the future. If one had been asked in 1944 to state the objects of the Ministry, one would surely have given as an example, that gas works should not be allowed to be planted in the middle of a town or housing estate. That would surely have been a very good example of the objects of the Ministry. But in 1949, without any protection from the Ministry, we are discussing a proposal to do that very thing.

    An odd thing—and I speak with bitter personal experience of some of the arguments put forward by Government Departments—is that, in facing an issue of this kind, one is met with exactly the kind of argument which was typical of private enterprise at its worst; and I have no doubt that hon. Members opposite will understand that point. We are faced with arguments about cost and all sorts of things which are supposed to have characterised the age of laissez faire, with technical and financial considerations placed uppermost in the minds of people. It was just this sort of thing which we thought we had left behind when we entered on the new realm of public planning, when we got away from all the bad things which are supposed to have characterised that era. I beg the Minister to listen to this plea.

    There is only one other comment I would make. It is of more general application than to the City of Worcester. I was not a little disturbed to learn from the speech of my hon. Friend that once again a local public inquiry appointed by the Minister—and I think it was the Minister of Fuel and Power, although I am not certain—reported secretly, as they ordinarily do, and has proved to be another farce. When we introduced this scheme—

    If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me interrupting, I should like to say that I hope he is not casting reflections upon the competence and impartiality of the person appointed to conduct the inquiry—a person appointed by the Minister of Fuel and Power.

    I am not casting reflections on anybody. What I am saying is that the system has proved to be a failure and a farce. We find again that all the hopes engendered in the promises of these local public inquiries have been frustrated and we find that absolutely nothing ever comes of them; whatever the inspectors report—and we are never allowed to see what they report—the result is that there is only another firm refusal from the Minister. That is all they yield, and we find that all the time and money spent on them has been wasted.

    I would remind hon. Members that we have left the order in a general sense. We are now discussing the first Amendment, which includes the second. The latter covers a certain area; that is, the area of the Worcester Town Council, and nothing else.

    10.50 p.m.

    I rise to support the plea that has been made by my hon. Friend, and to ask the Parliamentary Secretary sympathetically to consider it. I think the Parliamentary Secretary knows that I am no enemy of the gas industry, and last year I spent, with others, a considerable time in trying to protect it. I think he will appreciate that I would not wish to impede any legislation which might—unlike that to which I refer—bring benefit to it, unless I felt that other citizens of the country were being grossly prejudiced, as I believe the citizens of Worcester are under this order. What real need is there for these gas works to be in the centre of the city? If the City of London is taken as a comparison, it will be found that the great gas works are placed at a considerable distance from the centre. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether, from his recollections of the many gas works which he has visited, he would not agree that close proximity to gas works in these modern days is a great disadvantage to a housing estate?

    I believe that the smell of gas is deliberately intended to make people avoid it—it is unpleasant so that people should not be asphyxiated without knowing what is happening. That might happen if it were without smell, like some other gases. The dust from gas works is particularly abrasive, and I believe that substances such as carborundum are formed from coke. I am reminded that sulphur seems to play a considerable part in gas works, and that there is generally a strong smell of sulphur. That is not a pleasant smell. From quite early days of our civilisation it has always been associated with the most unpleasant prospects that can be held out to human beings.

    I suggest that the edge of a town is a much more suitable place for a gas works, particularly in a rapidly-expanding area, because it is easier to expand them if necessary. There is excellent rail communication to both the alternative sites. For these reasons, I believe that the Parliamentary Secretary should seriously consider abandoning the idea put forward and consider the alternatives.

    10.53 p.m.

    I understand that a local inquiry was held in this case, and I gather that inquiry was held by the Ministry of Fuel and Power. The Ministry of Fuel and Power are interested in producing gas. One can hardly expect them to have any greater interest in amenities than a butcher would have in meatless days. I ask why the Ministry of Town and Country Planning have apparently taken not sufficient interest in this matter to hold a local inquiry of their own. The Ministry of Town and Country Planning, as my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) said, was set up for the purpose of protecting the amenities of this country. If there is one sort of case in regard to which one would expect the Ministry of Town and Country Planning to take an interest in the protection of amenities, it is in the cathedral cities of England, which are one of the greatest glories of this country.

    10.55 p.m.

    The argument that we are having really concerns the site for these new gas works at Worcester. I do not think there is any disagreement between the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. N. Ward) and ourselves on the need for the new gas works, in view of the increased demand in the area. Before I go on to talk about that, perhaps I ought to deal with the point raised by the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling) and by the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) as to why the inquiry was held by the Ministry of Fuel and Power. It was held under the 1920 Gas Act which this House passed. If I remember rightly, the passing of that Act can hardly be laid at the door of a Socialist administration. In fact, it was a Tory-dominated Coalition at that time. Therefore, the Ministry of Fuel and Power was merely carrying out its statutory duty and obligations.

    I do not deny that, but does the hon. Gentleman deny that the Minister of Town and Country Planning has the power, and certainly the duty if he thinks fit, to hold an inquiry into this matter?

    I do not think that the Minister of Town and Country Planning had a duty to hold a public inquiry into this matter unless he was satisfied that such an inquiry was necessary. On the general question of the siting of gas works, consultations take place with the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Town and Country Planning, and agreement is reached by Departments in the ordinary administrative way. The same procedure was followed in this case.

    Now let me get back to the real point at issue—the site. I can assure the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Tolley) that in my association with trades councils and the Labour Party I have had some experience of a city council and of a town planning committee, and I have all the interests of amenities at heart. There is no difference between the hon. Member and me in wanting to prevent a nuisance or in wanting to mitigate a prospective nuisance. In this matter of the Worcester gas works—as the hon. Member for Worcester will be the first to admit—I have spent some considerable time in an endeavour to find some alternative to the proposals now before the House in this order. I do not want to make debating points, but I think one or two matters of fact might be put right. I think it is a slight exaggeration to say that the works will be 100 yards away from the housing estate because, in point of fact, as a result of the inquiry, which did show its usefulness, the area to be used for the gas works was considerably reduced. As a result, there will be a belt between the actual buildings of the gas works and other land—a belt of sports fields and things of that character, a belt in which there will be no smoke emission and no fumes.

    The area has been restricted from 29 acres to 19 acres, but as it is a long shape that elongated 10 acres makes a very narrow strip.

    I agree; and the works will be closer to the railway. As a result of the reduction the works will be 200 yards away and not 100 yards. It is a small point, but for accuracy's sake I thought I ought to make it.

    It was really in July, 1945, that the Worcester City Council first knew about the scheduling of this land for use as a gas works, and it was not until December of the same year that their housing programme was approved by the Ministry of Health. For what it is worth, the council knew about the gas works before the approval of their housing programme, and if they got on with the housing pro- gramme subsequently it is no fault of the promoters of this Bill.

    In the same way the hon. Gentleman quoted Mr. Pearson, formerly the general manager of the Birmingham undertaking. He is no longer in that capacity and is free as an expert to go round on these inquiries and argue the case one way or another. In any case, I think I have a hazy recollection of having to meet the West Bromwich people when Birmingham wanted to put their gas works into the West Bromwich area. Those acquainted with Birmingham would not say that their gas works were in a green belt and miles away from houses, and I do not know whether Mr. Pearson's argument can be regarded as having great weight. Indeed, he admitted in cross-examination that a modern gas works would cause no more damage to amenities than any other industrial undertaking, and he also admitted that measures could be taken which would reduce dust, smoke and nuisances of that kind to an absolute minimum. The real fact is that a gas works is nobody's darling; nobody wants it, they always like to pick it up and put it on someone else's doorstep.

    The alternative site suggested at Blackpole is in fairly good agricultural land. It is in a green belt which the local planning authority has decided should be kept free from industry. If we were to choose this alternative site, we should have the same kind of representations all over again, and I think there would be good grounds. I did meet the council. A deputation came along with the hon. Gentleman, and I said to them that if they could find an alternative site—and I think it is right that a council anxious to have a gas works out of a particular area should be invited to look round and suggest an alternative site—which could be utilised for the gas works, then I would undertake to ensure, despite the passing of this order, that the area board, which will be operating by the time this matter comes into practical effect, would give consideration to that site, and indeed would go to that site if it was a practical possibility.

    Arising from that offer the council have under consideration a site at Astwood. If this site is suitable—I have indicated already that the matter has been referred to the chairman of the area board, and he is giving it his personal attention—then there will be no difficulty at all about going to Astwood and leaving this site alone. It may be said in that case, Why not accept the Amendment? That is a fair question and the answer surely is that this proposal has been on the map since July, 1945, and it has had much consideration since then. It is necessary that something should be done unless Worcester is to be deprived of the gas it needs to maintain full employment in those industries in the city which depend on gas.

    Therefore the company must have powers now to get on with something. There is the size of the site, the placing of orders, and so on. It will be six months before there will be anything done at the site physically. There is in that time an opportunity to get an alternative site. I am asking the House to approve the order tonight, and not to accept the Amendment. I give the assurance that if the Astwood site turns out to be practicable—and I have asked the area board to go carefully into it—then the Astwood site will become the site for the new gas works, and no damage will be done in any way.

    The Parliamentary Secretary has said that if the corporation can find an alternative site he is prepared to consider it. If this order goes through, what is to prevent the gas company spending £5 on developing that site and then saying "We cannot move off it because we have spent money on it"? We must have some assurance that money will not be spent on it until some other site has been decided.

    One cannot give that wide assurance that nothing will be done at all until another site is approved. What I have said is that nothing will be done for six months to prejudice using another site.

    If any development takes place, it will have to be left as it is. The hon. Member has suggested that they could come along with a technically quick trick, spend £5 on minor development, and say "We have begun to develop it, and that is that." I am saying that in that case they would have to abandon that development. I have given an under- taking that work of any great character cannot be started for six months. There is that time during which the council and the area board can get together and find out whether an alternative site is practicable. If that is found to be so, we shall not do anything on that site, but will develop the new site.

    Can the Parliamentary Secretary give one more assurance? Supposing it is impossible to find a new site within the city boundary—and it is a small area and thickly populated—will he give an assurance that there is no objection to selecting a site in the county, and that he will support any site in the county that is technically suitable?

    I cannot give that assurance. Anything outside the city is not within the area of the city council. We are dealing with the city council, not with the county council. I can only give an assurance on behalf of the area board, the Ministry and the Worcester City Council. It is given in all sincerity and very good faith. If it is possible to find a new site within the area of the Worcester City Council that fresh site will be used, and this one abandoned.

    11.10 p.m.

    I doubt if any assurance given in this House by a Minister will prove to be more unsatisfactory than the one we have just heard from the hon. Gentleman. He says it is not within his power to consult with the county council and that he can only speak to the Worcester city authorities. Of course, the Minister can speak to the county council if he wishes to do so. I hold that this is a matter of very great importance, far transcending the city of Worcester alone, because the Government seem to have a sort of passion for defacing cathedral cities. Last year the Minister of Fuel and Power assaulted Durham and Lincoln; now Worcester and Oxford are in danger. I hope that before we finish this Debate we shall hear a word from the Minister of Town and Country Planning. He is muttering but he has not spoken, and I hope he will get up and defend the Government, because we have not heard very much from the Minister to justify what is happening.

    I feel strongly about these ghastly gasometers being moved outside the purlieus of our cathedral cities. I am amazed that the Minister of Town and Country Planning can sit and listen to a junior colleague declaring that the Government are acting on the 1920 Act. That is what the Parliamentary Secretary told us. There was no Ministry of Town and Country Planning 1920, and now the Parliamentary Secretary says that the Government will disregard this futile and worthless apparatus called the Ministry of Town and Country Planning presided over by the right hon. Gentleman, and stick to the Act of 1920. I feel it is one of the most humiliating exhibitions seen in Parliament, that a Minister should be silent while the whole question of the amenities of this country, of which he is supposed to be the Parliamentary guardian, is discussed—and he just sits there. I should have thought the Minister would get up and tell us something about these matters.

    It is indeed a sad thing that the Ministry of Town and Country Planning, of which we had great hopes, should now become an appendage to the Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Fuel and Power, who told us tonight that he cared nothing about the Ministry and, so far as he was concerned, the Government were proceeding under the Gas Act of 1920, which, he said, was brought in by a Tory Government. All I can say about this particular justification of the Minister is that it is very wrong and is a very great slur on his colleagues. We hope to hear from the right hon. Gentleman tonight, if we can persuade him to get up. I know the Whips want to go to bed, but they must show some respect for the Minister.

    I want to sum up the defence of the Parliamentary Secretary, which I thought was extremely funny. He said there was a competent inspector.

    A competent and impartial inspector. I should have thought that a competent inspector was also impartial. Later on the hon. Gentleman said he was a technical expert. The competent inspector, Mr. Pearson, who is a technical expert, gave him a report.

    The right hon. Gentleman has it all mixed up. I forgive him for that, because he is making a Sid Field speech tonight. Mr. Pearson was a witness. The competent and impartial adviser belonged to the learned profession of the right hon. Gentleman.

    I may have misheard the name of the person, but I am willing to rely on the hon. Gentleman's tributes to the competent inspector and technical expert. However, that is not enough to justify bringing gasometers into the middle of a housing estate. I feel very strongly about this, because sooner or later we shall deface, I suppose, the rest of the cathedral cities in this country. Surely the Minister must realise that Worcester is not merely a local question. Worcester is one of the glories of England.

    Gasholders already exist in Worcester. When the new works are built, the old ones will be abandoned. There will be no more gasholders in Worcester.

    I should have thought that the Minister would say that they will be bigger and better. Otherwise, what is the good of pulling down the old ones? The Minister has given us a sort of tentative promise. I suppose he has to consult with his more senior colleagues. He has given us a tentative promise that there is a sort of six months period of grace allowed to the local authorities and his own Ministry to provide a more appropriate site for these gasometers. I should like to ask him about this. Could I have the Parliamentary Secretary's attention? The Minister of Town and Country Planning does not speak often in this House, but he apparently talks a lot with his colleagues. What does this promise amount to?

    Does it mean that there is a clear period of six months for the local authorities in consultation with the Ministry of Fuel and Power, and, as an act of grace, with the Minister of Town and Country Planning, to have an opportunity to try to find another site? If that be the case, I think it may make some impression upon the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Ward)—[Interruption]—There is an interruption from a much too vocal Whip. If he wants to interrupt, why does he not get up and say something? This Caledonian gentleman does not realise that Worcester is a matter of some importance to this country. It is a national possession. I ask whether we have an assurance that no commitment of any kind will take place within the period of six months and that if the local authorities, plus the two Ministries, can come to an agreement, they will not put the hideous gasometers in the middle of the housing estate but will find some other site? Am I summarising accurately what the Parliamentary Secretary said?

    We will have it right, seeing that it is an assurance, in my words and not in the right hon. Gentleman's words. I say that if the House passes this order, it will be at least six months before any work of any character upon the site can be started, but during that six months if the company, up to 1st May, and the area board after 1st May, arrange for a suitable alternative site, this site will be abandoned in favour of the new site which will be proposed by the corporation.

    The company will be responsible up to 1st May. After the vesting day, it will be the area board.

    The company is going to be wound up, and responsibility rests with the Minister, through the authority he exercises over the area board, so we can eliminate the company from the guarantee. Now, the area board is subject to the direction of the Minister. Therefore, the Parliamentary Secretary is voicing the opinions or decisions of his master. It is for the Minister of Fuel and Power now to give us a guarantee, because the company with the rugged principles of private enterprise is eliminated. The next thing is the area board, which is subject to the Minister's direction. Do I understand that the Minister is going to give directions to the area board that for six months a real effort is to be made to find an alternative site? Do I summarise accurately what the Parliamentary Secretary says?

    The Minister is going to give no direction to anyone. I have al- ready spoken to the chairman of the area board and I give the assurance with his authority, and I would advise the right hon. Gentleman at this stage, instead of playing around with this matter, to accept the assurance.

    I must say that I am very sorry for the Minister. He has a too aspiring assistant. He says the Minister will give no direction. The Parliamentary Secretary says that he talked to the chairman of the area board. He has not given us any information as to how the conversation finally shaped. All we know is that he had this conversation. I do not think my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester is going to accept that sort of guarantee. The Minister has the fullest power to give directions, but the Parliamentary Secretary will not give us any adequate guarantee. It is quite obvious what we must do; we must divide.

    With the permission of the House, I should like to say one word. In that case, I withdraw the assurance that I have given.

    11.21 p.m.

    This is highly unsatisfactory. It looks very much as if the fate of Worcester is to be settled owing to the personal pique of the Parliamentary Secretary. [Interruption.] I withdraw that, if it is resented. There are merits in this case. My hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Ward) thinks the merits are in a certain direction and other hon. Members say the merits are in other directions. It is unworthy of us that the merits should be neglected for the reason—I do not wish to repeat the expression which was resented before—that we called a Division, or perhaps that a certain assurance, which at best is rather nebulous, is not accepted. The hon. Member for Worcester has a perfect right to take what line he thinks right as to whether a Division should be called or not. I do not think that the fate of Worcester should depend on that.

    Question put, "That the words 'and modification' be there inserted."

    The House divided: Ayes, 37; Noes, 181.

    Division No. 99.]


    [11.23 p.m.

    Agnew, Cmdr. P. G.Drayson, G. B.Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H
    Aster, Hon. M.Drewe, C.Lloyd, Selwyn (Wirral)
    Baldwin, A. E.Foster, J. G. (Northwich)Mackeson, Brig. H. R.
    Barlow, Sir J.Fraser, Sir I. (Lonsdale.)Maitland, Comdr, J. W.
    Bossom, A. C.George, Maj. Rt. Hn. C. Lloyd (P'ke)Marshall, D. (Bodmin)
    Bowen, R.Hare, Hon. J. H. (Woodbridge)Molson, A. H. E.
    Boyd-Carpenter, J. A.Henderson, John (Cathcart)Nicholson, G.
    Bracken, Rt. Hon. BrendanHogg, Hon. Q.Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.
    Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W.Hollis, M. C.Studholme, H. G.
    Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.Joynson-Hicks, Hon. L. W.Turton, R. H.
    Clarke, Col. R. S.Keeling, E. H.Willoughby de Eresby, Lord
    Conant, Maj. R. J. E.Kendall, W. D.
    Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C.Lancaster, Col. C G.


    Mr. Ward and Mr. De la Bere.


    Adams, Richard (Batham)Hannan, W. (Maryhill)Rhodes, H.
    Anderson, A. (Motherwell)Hardy, E. A.Robens, A.
    Attewell, H. C.Hastings, Dr. SomervilleRoberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire)
    Awbery, S. S.Henderson, Rt. Hn. A. (Kingswinford)Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)
    Baird, J.Henderson, Joseph (Ardwick)Robertson, J. J. (Berwick)
    Balfour, AHerbison, Miss M.Robinson, K. (St. Pancras)
    Barton, C.Hewitson, Capt. MRoss, William (Kilmarnock)
    Bechervaise, A. E.Hobson, C. R.Royle, C.
    Benson, G.Holman, P.Segal, Dr. S.
    Berry, H.Holmes, H. E. (Hemsworth)Sharp, Granville
    Bing, G. H. C.Horabin, T. L.Shawcross, C. N. (Widnes)
    Binns, J.Houghton, A. L. N. DSilkin, Rt. Hon. L.
    Blenkinsop, A.Hoy, J.Silverman, J. (Erdington)
    Blyton, W. R.Hudson, J. H. (Ealing, W.)Silverman, S. S. (Nelson)
    Boardman, H.Hughes, H. D. (W'lverh'pton, W.)Simmons, C. J
    Bowden, Flg. Offr, H. W.Hynd, H. (Hackney, C.)Skeffington, A. M.
    Braddock, Mrs. E. M. (L'pl. Exch'ge)Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)Smith, C. (Colchester)
    Bramall, E. A.Jeger, G. (Winchester)Smith, S. H. (Hull, S.W.)
    Brook, D. (Halifax)Jenkins, R. H.Snow, J. W.
    Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.Jones, D. T. (Hartlepool)Sorensen, R. W.
    Brown, T. J. (Ince)Keenan, W.Soskice, Rt Hon. Sir Frank
    Burke, W. A.Kinley, J.Stross, Dr. B.
    Butler, H. W. (Hackney, S.)Lang, G.Stubbs, A. E.
    Chamberlain, R. A.Lavers, S.Swingler, S
    Collins, V. J.Lever, N. H.Sylvester, G O.
    Comyns, Dr. L.Lewis, T. (Southampton)Symonds, A. L.
    Cove, W. G.Lindgren, G. S.Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)
    Crawley, A.Logan, D. G.Thomas, D E. (Aberdare)
    Cullen, MissLongden, F.Thomas, I. O. (Wrekin)
    Daggar, G.McKay, J. (Wallsend)Thomas, George (Cardiff)
    Davies, Edward (Burslem)Mackay, R. W. G. (Hull, N.W.)Titterington, M. F.
    Davies, Haydn (St. Pancras, S.W.)McLeavy, F.Wallace, G D (Chislehurst)
    Deer, G.MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)Wallace, H W. (Waithamstow, E.)
    de Freitas, GeoffreyMacpherson, T. (Romford)Warbey, W N.
    Delargy, H. J.Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield)Watkins, T E.
    Debbie, W.Mathers, Rt. Hon. GeorgeWebb, M. (Bradford, C.)
    Driberg, T. E. N.Mellish, R. J.Weitzman, D.
    Dye, S.Middleton, Mrs. L.Wells, P. L (Faversham)
    Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.Mitchison, G. R.Wells, W. T (Walsall)
    Evans, Albert (Islington, W.)Monslow, WWest, D. G.
    Evans, S. N. (Wednesbury)Morris, P. (Swansea, W.)Wheatley, Rt. Hn. J. T. (Edinb'gh E.)
    Farthing, W. J.Mort, D. L.White, H. (Derbyshire, N.E.)
    Fernyhough, E.Nally, W.Whiteley, Rt. Hon W.
    Fletcher, E G. M. (Islington, E.)Nicholls, H. R. (Stratford)Wilcook, Group-Capt. C. A B
    Follick, M.Orbach, M.Wilkes, L.
    Foot, M. M.Paling, W. T. (Dewsbury)Willey, F. T. (Sunderland)
    Fraser, T. (Hamilton)Palmer, A. M. F.Willey, O. G. (Cleveland)
    Freeman, J. (Watford)Pargiter, G. A.Williams, D. J. (Neath)
    Freeman, Peter (Newport)Paton, J. (Norwich)Williams, J. L. (Kelvingrove)
    Ganley, Mrs. C. S.Pearson, A.Williams, Ronald (Wigan)
    Gibbine, J.Peart, T. F.Williams, W. R. (Heston)
    Gilzean, A.Perrins, W.Williams, W. T. (Hammersmith, S)
    Glanville, J. E. (Consett)Popplewell, E.Willis, E.
    Goodrich, H EPorter, G. (Leeds)Wills, Mrs E. A.
    Grey, C. F.Price, M. PhilipsWise, Major F J.
    Grierson, E.Proctor, W. T.Woodburn, Rt Hon. A.
    Griffiths, D. (Rother Valley)Pursey, Comdr. H.Woods, G S.
    Gunter, R. J.Randall, H. EYates, V. F
    Guy, W. H.Ranger, J.Younger, Hon. Kenneth
    Hale, LeslieRees-Williams, D. R
    Hall, Rt. Hon. GlenvilReid, T. (Swindon)


    Mr. Collindridge and Mr. Wilkins.

    Main Question put, and agreed to.