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Public Utilities Street Works Bill Lords

Volume 477: debated on Friday 21 July 1950

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11.11 a.m.

Order for Second Reading read.

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

Since I have had experience of the Ministry of Transport I have found the maintenance and keeping open of the streets and highways of this country for traffic a difficult problem. At this moment, especially in the centre of London, we are experiencing that type of problem. If, in the countryside, a large section of road is up, there is only a single carriageway, and if a number of heavy lorries get in the way, substantial obstruction develops rapidly, but in our built-up areas it is much more irritating and serious.

At this time of year there is a good deal of criticism both from the Press and the public, but I would remind everyone that if the highway authorities neglected to maintain the standard of their highways, and there was deterioration, the criticism would soon be more serious than it is of the delays which occur through repairs and reconstruction. Nevertheless, in modern conditions—and I always admit the general inadequacy of our road system to cope with modern traffic—there is an added responsibility on everyone connected with the matter to do what they can to minimise the difficulties.

In view of the problem of co-ordinating the activities of a variety of important statutory bodies, I welcome the opportunity of putting the recommendations of the Carnock Committee into the form of a Bill. This appeared to be such an obvious and simple reform that I was considerably surprised when I found it emerged in a Bill of 38 Clauses and seven Schedules.

Yes. I feel that the. Bill is now fairly clear and acceptable after going through all its stages in another place, but if our discussions on Second Reading and in Committee show up any remaining weaknesses in drafting, I shall be pleased to avail myself of any further opportunity of improving the Bill. I admit that it is a technical Bill, but, provided we are satisfied that the interests of the responsible bodies have been safeguarded and that the purpose of the Bill is achieved, we need not be unduly disturbed on that account.

The purpose of the Bill is a simple one, despite the fact that it is clothed in legal and technical language. The statutory undertakings are charged specifically with providing certain services to the community, which are a feature of the past 50 or 60 years but play an important part in the life of the community today. They all want to use the highway system as a means of providing those services and, in addition, some of our nationalised industries are also involved in the problem of laying pipes and apparatus along the highways.

There are 25 general Acts governing the responsibilities of these statutory bodies and also, 4,000 or 5,000 private Acts apply. It appears to be an insoluble problem to pick out from those many private and general Acts all the relevant provisions and embody them in a Bill of this kind in order to minimise the inconvenience caused to the public in providing these primary services. During the discussions on this Bill in another place a good deal of negotiation has taken place on these points, and we have arrived at a sensible procedure by which to accommodate in this Bill all the necessary provisions contained in thousands of private Acts.

The Bill seeks to establish a uniform code to apply to all statutory undertakings when they are involved in breaking up streets to lay their apparatus. Hon. Members who may have been more concerned with this problem even than I have may recall that in 1939 a Committee of both Houses was established under the Chairmanship of Lord Carnock to examine this problem, and see what solution could be found. In these matters responsibility is often so diffused that nothing is done for a long time. I want to assure the House that, however technical the language of the Bill, we have followed generally the recommendations of that Committee.

Negotiations went on for some time between officers of my Department and representatives of both Governme4t Departments and statutory undertakers. We achieved a very large measure of agreement by the time the Bill was drafted. Consultations also took place with the county councils associations and the highway authorities for Scotland; and as I am now presenting this Bill with the very considerable—indeed, almost unanimous—approval of the bodies concerned I hope it will commend itself to this House for Second Reading today.

The Bill is divided into four parts. Part I, covering the majority of the Clauses, is designed to establish this new code for statutory undertakers in the breaking up of streets. Part II deals with the circumstances which are bound to arise when the undertakers' apparatus is to be altered or is affected by street works. That kind of thing often leads to a good deal of irritation and difference of opinion. Part III, besides dealing with a number of important matters, deals with the restriction on the breaking up by undertakers of a highway recently repaired. Part IV is mainly procedural.

Under Clauses 3 and 4 of Part I, undertakers must settle beforehand plans and sections of their proposed street works with the highway authorities. This practice, requiring undertakers to discuss their plans with other interested parties, is an important provision. It enables the other authorities to know what is going on and prevents anyone being taken by surprise. The resentment often felt by people who feel that their interests are being unreasonably treated causes a good deal of trouble. We shall avoid much of that difficulty by this procedure.

I want to emphasise that the Bill is designed to protect the bodies concerned, and yet to seek the maximum co-operation between them. At the same time, regard is had for the convenience of the general public. When one is dealing with services to the community, like gas, water and sewerage, one must always make provision for any emergency work. That is safeguarded in the Bill, and we appreciate the experience of these undertakers in dealing with emergency work. If, by any chance, any of the undertakers' apparatus or pipes are to go over or under a railway bridge, or canal, they will have to give the same facility to the transport undertaking as they do, in other directions, to the highway authority. There is also, of course, provision in the Bill for any dispute to be settled by arbitration.

Clause 5, together with the first Schedule, gives effect to what I consider was one of the main recommendations of the Carnock Committee, and represents some departure from existing practice. It will enable highway authorities to ensure that mains, pipes and cables can be laid in open land alongside the highway. It is amazing that we have neglected this in the past wherever there are verges on open land. Probably nothing is more aggravating to our common sense than to see some important stretch of our highway, after it has been relaid or resurfaced, immediately torn up for perhaps its whole length for the purpose of laying a sewer or water pipe. I experienced quite recently an example of that.

No, on the Colchester road.

Hon. Members have shown such an immediate and acute interest in this particular reference that I am making, that I might develop it a little further. On a stretch of dual carriageway we have provided extensive verges. Sometimes I think we have used too much land for these verges. In all these matters we have such a common purpose in mind that I think we shall have to give much more thought to them in the future, and develop a more commonly recognised approach and standard in matters of this description. In the case to which I am referring, pipes were laid along the verges. Yet directly the road narrows and the traffic problem becomes acute, the traffic having become discharged from the dual carriageway, the whole of the road is torn up for the purpose of laying other water or sewage pipes.

Even if we find that a Measure of this description does not anticipate all of those problems, nevertheless I feel that in the design and preparation of our roads we have to make provision to avoid a lot of these annoyances in the future. In more leisurely days it probably did not matter, but in view of the enormous capital which is invested in the vehicles which run on our roads we cannot afford unnecessary delays of this kind. Protection is given in the Bill so that the highway authorities will be able to see that the verges are used for this purpose, and I think that will represent a considerable gain to the community. If not, someone else ought to take the matter a step further.

Clause 7 contains another important provision which enables the highway authorities themselves to have the right to reinstate their roads at the expense of those who have broken them up. I think that in a good many cases the highway authority concerned is likely to restore the road to its previous standard more rapidly and probably at less cost, and with more consideration for the public, than the undertakers who, of course, are specialists in laying their pipes and apparatus but are not exactly highway authorities.

Clause 8 is mainly protective. It places upon the undertakers a responsibility to guard or light or fence their works on the road, for the safety of pedestrians, and, I suppose, primarily for the safety of road traffic.

May I put a question to the right hon. Gentleman on that point? Suppose that the highway authority exercise their powers under Clause 7 and give notice that they will reinstate the service. From the date of giving that notice will they be responsible for lighting and for the condition of the hole in the road?

I could not answer that point at the moment; I should like a little time to look into it. It is an important point. I certainly see the necessity for safeguarding the matter, if it has not already been safeguarded. It would not be right for the local authority to impose obligations unless on the other hand, they too accepted a similar responsibility. I should say that a matter of that kind would have been safeguarded in the discussions, but for the moment I am not able to give a clear and specific reply. However, as I say, they would not only have the responsibility of guarding and lighting, but they would have to clear away the rubbish and the obstruction as quickly as possible. These heaps are not only unsightly but they can also become a source of annoyance and danger.

The provisions in Part II are mainly designed to establish a procedure when undertakers' apparatus is affected because of the alteration to a road or a bridge which carries it or goes over it. In this respect there has been considerable dispute in the past. The Carnock Committee gave very full and deliberate consideration to these matters, and one of their major recommendations was to the effect that the cost of moving or altering the apparatus should fall on the party carrying out the road or bridge alterations. If we can get that firmly and squarely established as the responsibility of those who are carrying out the alteration, it will represent a considerable improvement.

When I was explaining Part I of the Bill I deferred dealing with Clause 15, which brings me back again to the problem of what is alleged to be a complex point in this Bill, namely, the fact that it deals with so much retrospective or past legislation. Clauses 15 and 24, with the Fifth and Sixth Schedules, are linked together for the purpose of dealing with this problem. I am assured by the draftsmen that we now have a very satisfactory solution of the matter, and that is the method by which we propose to arrange for this code to supersede the relevant provisions which apply in these other Acts of Parliament.

So far as the general Acts are concerned, they do not present a lot of difficulty. In the Fifth Schedule they are dealt with in the form of straightforward amendments of the provisions which are affected. But in dealing with the thousands of private Acts, all of them having some reference to the matters which are sought to be dealt with by this street code, some other method had to be adopted, because, quite clearly, it was an impossible task to search through the whole of those private Acts with a view to making the necessary amendments. I do not see how we could ever have got this Bill to its present stage if we had followed that policy.

By a process of cesser provision we had to over-ride all these relevant provisions, but quite clearly one had to anticipate that in some agreement or in some other provision these cesser provisions were not completely adequate. It was desirable, therefore, that if any defect of that kind was disclosed the Minister should have power to rectify it. There is no desire here to take away any of the existing powers of an undertaker. There is no desire to supersede any decision of Parliament. What is desired is to bring the matter into relation to modern conditions and preserve it in a sensible way.

While these cesser provisions, in a general way clear, the whole of these thousands of private Acts out of the way, and replace them with this new street code, nevertheless powers are given to the Minister, in the Sixth Schedule, to deal with any defects either by an express amendment or by an order for the purpose of restoring that right if it is not clearly expressed. I do not think I have clearly conveyed what is the purpose here but perhaps I may say that, generally, it is to see that if any right has been removed by the cesser provision, then the Minister has power to restore it.

Part IV makes this procedure apply generally, as it is adapted to Scotland and London. London, in particular, has had certain advantages in the past and these are now made general. The Bill applies not only to statutory authorities like gas and water and sewerage authorities, and to bodies like the G.P.O., but also to the Ministry of Transport, which is also a highway authority as far as the trunk roads are concerned.

All of these bodies have been consulted continually during the process of this Bill and I should like to acknowledge as fully as I can the co-operation which we have received from their representatives. Many of the interests involved tend to conflict and I do not think we could have brought this Bill forward so rapidly had I not secured a very large degree of co-operation from all those concerned. It has represented a process of give and take, in the very nature of things, and it is an excellent example of commonsense compromise. Everyone who has taken part in the discussions has recognised that the main purpose of the Bill is not to interfere, limit, restrict, or remove any of the existing rights of undertakers, but to see that, in carrying out their public responsibilities for limited services, they do not create a larger disservice to the community by coming unnecessarily into conflict one with another.

I think every one has recognised—and it has been recognised particularly in another place—the co-operation of the county councils and the Scottish highway authorities, which has enabled me to present the Bill with a knowledge that a good deal of the laborious discussions are out of the way and that we have before us a fairly well drafted Measure, with most of the matters having been thoroughly considered. I do not see that there should be objection to my asking for the full co-operation of both sides of the House in giving the Bill a Second Reading. If, when we reach the Committee stage, we find that there are further defects, then they can be dealt with, for it is in the interests of everyone that we should make a Bill of this kind as free from difficulties and confusion as possible, as its main purpose is one of clarification.

11.44 a.m.

I think the House will agree with the Minister's first words, in which he said that the Bill could not have been brought forward at a more opportune moment. Those of us who live and work in London have seen this summer some of chaos which can be caused by the breaking up of roads. As the House knows, the Government have asked local authorities to try to complete, or to advance as far as possible, their major road projects this year rather than next year so as to be in readiness for the Festival of Britain. The result has been, and is now, that movement in the centre of London has become very difficult indeed.

I found an example of that coming to the House this morning from my office in Essex Street, because half the Strand is up and buses are being sent round by the Embankment. That is a sensible thing to do but, unfortunately, the position is also somewhat complicated by work on the Bailey Bridge at Charing Cross, so that the congestion there is considerable. I think everyone is familiar with the true story of the practical joker who dug up Piccadilly outside the Ritz Hotel "on his own" one evening. Nobody did anything about it for quite a long time. That happened before the First World War. When this Bill has been passed I think such procedure will become impossible; someone will say, "If this is being done by an authorised undertaker I should have been given notice."

This is a major Bill of the Session. It has a mention in the Gracious Speech. It consists of 38 Clauses and seven Schedules, and I agree that that is probably inevitable. I would also remind the House that it was found necessary in the first stage of the Bill, in another place, to insert no fewer than 146 Amendments. I see that there are two more Amendments on the Order Paper of this House, even before the Bill has been given a Second Reading. I gather that it is not intended to rush the Bill through within the next week, but to take the Committee stage when we return after 17th October.

I should like, as a further preliminary, to ask the right hon. Gentleman why there is no explanatory memorandum. It is a most complicated Bill and nearly every Bill which we have before us has an explanatory memorandum. I think the custom has grown up that when a Bill comes from another place the explanatory memorandum is omitted and in this case, in its place, we have a Financial Memorandum. I ask the Government. when they bring forward Bills—and particularly Bills of this complexity—to give us an explanatory memorandum, for at least that helps us to understand what the Bill is about. I believe that one is promised when the Bill becomes an Act, but that is not much use to us today, although, of course, it will be of assistance to those who have to implement the Act. I hope that in future, particularly on complicated Bills, we shall be given an explanatory memorandum so that we can easily see to which matter each Clause refers.

I want to say a few words about the Financial Memorandum, because one extraordinary point emerges which may have escaped the notice of hon. Members. The most important paragraph is paragraph 5, which says:
"The sums involved cannot be estimated, but, generally, disbursements and recoupments under the Bill are expected roughly to balance and it is unlikely that the Bill will result in any substantial increase in the expenditure to be borne by the Road Fund or by the Exchequer."
This must be the only Bill brought forward by the party opposite which has cost and will cost nothing at all. I congratulate them on that.

I want to say a word or two about the proceedings which made this Bill possible—in other words, its history. I say this because the only criticism or objection or opposition to the Bill that I have heard has come from people who, having seen it come out in its present form, begin to doubt whether, because of its complications, they will be able to carry out its provisions.

The right hon. Gentleman started off with the Committee of Lord Carnock, but I think he will find that the history of this Measure starts considerably earlier. There was the Committee set up under Sir Henry Maybury in May, 1925, which formed what was called a Joint Negotiating Committee. That committee was the first one to try to bring all these undertakers and others interested together to try to get some form of agreement. Their negotiations, as the House must realise, were prolonged. In fact, they did not end their labours until 1938. They were set up in 1925, so they certainly had plenty of time; but their negotiations were not prolonged because they did not take their work seriously or apply themselves to it, but because of the number of people who had to be consulted, and because they were desperately anxious to obtain agreement on every point, if possible, before finally reporting.

Then, we come to what the right hon. Gentleman said himself, and that was the setting up in December, 1938, of the Carnock Committee—the Joint Committee of both Houses. I think he will find that they found their work very much easier, and, although set up only in December, 1938, were able to report in June, 1939, because of the work of the joint negotiating committee which had been sitting for so long before. I put that point forward because when people quail at the complexity of this Bill they must realise what an enormous amount of work, in an endeavour to get an agreement, was involved, and how, when we get agreement, perhaps by some form of compromise, it usually means that some Clauses are complicated. The war, of course, prevented the recommendations of the Carnock Committee being carried out before the present time.

Further, one of the reasons why this Measure has been so difficult to draft is, as the right hon. Gentleman himself said, because it is taking the place of no fewer than 25 general Acts—the whole of those are set out in the Fifth Schedule—and, I am assured, 5,000 special or private Acts—not 3,000 or 4,000 as the right hon. Gentleman mentioned. This has caused considerable complication in the Bill, because it was found impossible to try to repeal or even to find some of the provisions of some of those old private Acts. They are dealt with, as the right hon. Gentleman said, in Clause 15 and onwards and, in one respect, in the Sixth Schedule.

Naturally, in spite of the fact that general agreement has been obtained between all the parties concerned, there may be still a case of difference; and, in that case, under Clause 30, we have the procedure or, straight-forward arbitration. An arbitrator has to be appointed by agreement if possible, and if that agreement cannot be obtained he has to be appointed by the President of the Institute of Civil Engineers for the time being.

There are two abuses, of a great number which have been brought to my attention, which this Bill, I hope, will prevent in future. I have had brought to my notice the case of a small gas company a long time ago which, in order to get a Private Bill an unopposed Second Reading in this House, made an agreement that it would move its mains at its own expense should the highway authority at any later date decide to widen or divert a road. Hon. Members of this House know that Private Bill legislation is by no means cheap; and, therefore, some small company would go a long way to obtain agreement to avoid an opposed Second Reading and all the consequential expense. That, obviously, is unfair; and it is unfair that a gas company—which would now be nationalised should be put to expense of that kind, or feel itself compelled to agree to something of that kind—an indefinite commitment in the future which might be extremely expensive. Then, I am told, there have been difficulties, too, and injustices with regard to indemnities provided under Section 153 of the Public Health Act, 1875, which have often proved inadequate.

There are just one or two provisions of the Bill which I should like particularly to commend to the House. I think all of them have been mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman. The first is that very important provision that a highway authority may now insist on what I call "filling up the holes" themselves and charging the undertaker for so doing. That is under Clause 7 and the Third Schedule. We have all suffered from the "hole in the road," if I may call it that, that has been inadequately dealt with by a gas or water or electricity company, which has dug it out, another put something on the top making it look like a sort of grave, or else has let it sink, so that a person in a car bumps into it and then bumps out again on the other side. It is definitely laid down that if a highway authority wishes to avail itself of this provision it may do the work itself properly and charge the undertaker responsible.

There are just two points on that. One was raised in an interjection by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northants, South (Mr. Manningham-Buller). It is a question of time in both cases. I do not believe—it is a very complicated Bill, and we can deal with this in Committee—but I do not believe that it is laid down that there is any particular time at which the highway authority must carry out the work if it has opted so to do. We do not want a gap between the time when the undertaker has finished his work and the time when the highway authority takes over. Then there was the point raised by my hon. and learned Friend as to what period the highway authority, having opted to do this work, becomes responsible and the undertaker not. My hon. and learned Friend mentioned, I think, the question of lighting, fencing and so forth. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman will look into the matter. It is, of course, a Committee point.

The next part of the Bill to which I wish to call particular attention is that dealing with controlled land, namely, Clause 5 and the First Schedule which, I think for the first time, empower highway authorities to authorise undertakers to execute their works on land adjoining the street. If that had been done before we should have been very much better off than we are. Throughout the country there are road verges which have been taken over by highway authorities for ultimate widening, and it will now be possible to do this work there. The Ribbon Development Act, passed some time ago, which now prevents the building of houses on the verge of a road without permission, will also assist in carrying out this valuable provision.

Clause 28, which I think the right hon. Gentleman did not mention, provides that, except in an emergency, a highway must not be broken up again within 12 months. That will commend itself to those of us who are motorists, who are maddened by seeing the same street broken up twice within 12 months because of electricity works, gas works, water works, sewer works, and everything else. This Clause lays down that 12 months must elapse before any other work is carried out, except, of course, in emergency.

What has always proved a great bone of contention in the past has been the question: Who is responsible when an alteration is made in a road or bridge—particularly a bridge—for removing or altering the undertakers' apparatus? Part II lays down that when apparatus has to be removed or altered because of highway alterations it should and must be the responsibility of the highway authority. It is provided that whoever is responsible for the alteration should be responsible for all the work necessary. That, I think, will get rid of a great many disputes which have taken place in the past. Above all, the Bill makes this great change: that undertakers who observe the code now have a statutory right to lay their apparatus in the road provided they give the necessary notice; they are no longer there on the sufferance.

There are just one or two general observations I should like to make before concluding. In carrying out this work, the convenience of the public should be paramount and everything should be planned to that end. We have often heard the phrase "The customer is always right," although if that dictum is obeyed slavishly it is inclined to bring great injustice, or it may do so. Nevertheless, it is not a bad adage to adopt. When works are being planned, the general public who are using the road should be considered first, and the undertakers and the men who have to do the job second, wherever that is possible.

My second observation of a general nature is this. Railways, including the underground, are able to do most of their work at night. I realise that all the road work could not be done at night, particularly in residential areas, but I wonder whether at least some of the works covered by this Bill could not be done at night, or even over the week-end, so as to avoid the appalling congestion which sometimes occurs in the middle of cities like London, Birmingham and Manchester, when work which has to be done takes some days in completing.

Great care should also be taken when a street in a built-up area has to be closed or partially closed and a diversion takes place that the road to which the traffic is diverted is not itself obstructed. The obstruction at the Charing Cross Bridge is not particularly great, but I did notice that the diversion was due to take place some fortnight earlier, which would have come at the very time when the final section of the Bailey Bridge was being slid into place. They did avoid that, but if they had waited a little longer still it would have been more convenient. I am sure that in the rush hour there will be great congestion where the Embankment and Northumberland Avenue meet by the Charing Cross underground station.

Undertakers should think and plan ahead, and should take advantage of the street being up for repair when laying their services. An attempt is made to cover that in the Bill, but they may have to think well ahead. When building a row of cottages or houses there may be uncertainty when the licence will be obtained, and there may be a year's delay. If it were possible for the necessary undertakers' works—electricity, gas, telephone lines, and so on—to be laid beforehand it would probably save a second breaking up of the roads. Incidentally, now that electricity and gas are nationalised it should be—I do not know that it will be easier to get agreement on these matters. I know that all the nationalised services try to make their undertakings pay, and we on this side of the House are always urging them to do so. Nevertheless, as they are all under the general direction of the Government this sort of planning ahead ought to be easier than it has been in the past.

My last general observation is this. As little of the road as possible should be blocked when work is being done, even if that causes some inconvenience to the people doing the work. This is dealt with in Clause 8 (1, d). Most hon. Members must have seen sites where a line of flags or fences has been pushed just that extra foot out to give the workman plenty of room to put down his tools, and so on, thereby causing a much more serious blocking than was necessary, and where with a little forethought the obstruction could have been considerably minimised.

We on this side welcome this Bill as a much needed reform in our highway administration, but we should have preferred it to have been accompanied by another Bill. In 1938, the Highway Law Consolidation Committee was set up. In this Parliament we have had two highway Measures, the Cattle Grids Act and now this Bill. The legislation is getting more and more complicated. The war prevented a consolidation Bill being brought forward, and I am told that in the last Parliament, from 1945 to 1950, the draftsmen were too busy with various nationalisation Measures to do anything else. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman if the time has not now come when it may be possible to consider bringing in a Measure of general consolidation of the law as regards highways. It would not be a controversial Measure, and I do not think that we would have great difficulty in getting it through the House. There may be some difficulty in drafting, but I gather, because I was not here, that the draftsmen are not as busy as they were between 1945 and 1950. We feel, however, that the provisions of this Bill are much needed and that it should be passed through all its stages in this House without more delay than proper examination demands.

12.11 p.m.

I was relieved to learn from the remarks of the hon. Member for Lewisham, North (Sir A. Hudson), and the gesture of assent which those remarks elicited from the Minister, that there is no intention of further stages of this Bill being taken before the Recess. The granting of time for dealing with a Measure so long and complex will, I am sure, assist the Minister to fulfil his very plain and frank undertaking today to do all that he can to improve the drafting of the Bill and other points before it becomes law. By way of contribution to that process at this stage, I should like to refer to three matters which, I think, may well be dealt with at later stages, but which, in a general form, are perhaps not inappropriate to a Second Reading Debate.

One of the main objects of the Bill is to ensure that the breaking up of highways occurs as rarely as possible and that the effects when it does take place shall be as completely as possible made good. I do not feel that the machinery embodied in this Bill at present is fully adequate to ensure either of these objects. The co-ordination which there must be between the various types of statutory undertaker if the occasions of breaking up streets are to be minimised is obtained under the Bill at present in a purely negative way, by imposing upon would-be breakers-up of streets the prohibition against doing so within a given period; and the notification that a breaking-up is intended is obtained indirectly through a third party—the street authority or manager. I wonder whether, by either administrative process or some legislative change, more positive co-ordination between the undertakers concerned cannot be secured or promoted, which would enable all the undertakers concerned with a particular street or road to get together and decide at what time and how best they could utilise for a common purpose a single act of breaking up.

With regard to the reinstatement of the street after breaking up, I share the anxiety expressed by the hon. and learned Member for Northants, South (Mr. Manningham-Buller) and the hon. Member for Lewisham, North, that there may not be sufficient co-ordination between the undertakers and the electing highway authority—that there may be a hiatus between the process of breaking up and the process of reinstatement. One wonders whether this rather sharp division between breaking up and reinstatement is really necessary. As the Bill stands, it is only in respect of reinstatement that the highway or street authority can elect. One wonders whether they could not come into the proceedings at an earlier stage, so that the whole process can go through without a break. Perhaps these two points may be looked into by the Minister between now and the next stage of the Bill.

The right hon. Gentleman said, very truly, that one of the important innovations which the Bill makes is in regard to alterations of the course of a highway, in that, for the first time, it places the responsibility for the extra expenditure occasioned to statutory undertakers upon the highway authority which initiates a change in the course of a road or bridge, as the case may be. There are, or course, certain exceptions in the Bill to the laying on the street authority of that burden, and I do not think that anyone would disagree with those exceptions. They include, for example, the case where the statutory undertakers have availed themselves of that opportunity to enlarge or improve their apparatus.

There is, however, one case where one wonders whether the burden should not at any rate be shared with the statutory undertakers and whether the recommendation of the Carnock Committee has not been neglected in the Bill. The Minister said that the Bill had been drafted firmly on the basis of the Carnock Committee's recommendations; this is, I think, a case where its recommendations have been departed from. If the Minister will look at page x of the Carnock Committee's Report, he will see that it was there recommended that when statutory undertakers availed themselves of a shift in a road to renew their apparatus, then the cost of the relaying should be shared between the street authority and the statutory undertakers. That seems to be an extremely reasonable provision, that if the apparatus of the statutory undertakers is within a reasonable period of the date in which, in any case, it would have to be replaced, then, although they may not improve it or enlarge it, nevertheless they should bear some of the cost of relaying on a new course what in any case they would shortly have to relay on the old alignment.

This question of the relaying of equipment due to the new alignment of roads will probably be somewhat assisted by the provisions in the Bill with regard to "controlled land," upon which the Minister spent some time in his speech. I think the provisions about "controlled land" will have to be looked at very carefully before the Bill leaves us. The Minister, I noticed, in the illustrations he used, referred only to the example of road verges to illustrate "controlled land." That is to say, taking the First Schedule, which defines "controlled land," the land may be such as is set out under three headings in the first paragraph of that Schedule, whereas he was referring only to the first case—namely, where the land is already in the possession or control of the street authority.

There also falls under the definition of "controlled land," however, land designated under the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, for eventual compulsory acquisition for highway purposes; and it is in regard to that type of controlled land that I would suggest to the Minister that great caution is needed. It will be remembered that under Section 5 of the 1947 Act, in any of the quinquennial plans drawn up by planning authorities land can be designated for compulsory acquisition for this among other purposes, and that designation can run on from one quinquennial period to another ad infinitum, with the sole restriction that after not less than 12 years the owner of the designated land can, by a certain procedure, enforce its compulsory acquisition. The type of case which worries me is that in the universal drawing up of town and country plans going on at present under the Act considerable tracts of land may become "controlled land" under subsection 1 (b) of paragraph 1 of the First Schedule, which, in fact, after 10, 15, or 20 years it is found are not going to be used or required for highway purposes.

In the meantime, under this Bill, statutory authorities may have been persuaded or obliged by the street authority or street managers to lay their apparatus there. Then they will be faced, when the land is eventually decontrolled, with having to shift their apparatus. I feel that "controlled land" under the machinery of the 1947 Act is in quite a different category from "controlled land" in the shape of verges, or under the Public Health Act, 1925. I ask the Minister, therefore, to approach with considerable reserve and caution the designation of land under the 1947 Act in such a way as would make it "controlled land" under this Bill.

These are three examples of points in regard to this complicated Bill which will have to be looked at during the later stages. I have mentioned them now because I feel that the Minister may like to have them in mind during the coming weeks. In general, I give my entire assent to the welcome which was extended by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, North, to the Bill.

12.22 p.m.

The discussion on this Bill has proceeded in an atmosphere of considerable harmony, which I do not want to disturb. We support the Government in bringing forward the Bill, which is due if not overdue. It contains many provisions which will facilitate the improvement of the roads, and all that is to the good. I rise for the purpose of saying that those of us on these benches who are interested in road transport have no intention of allowing the months to slip by without asking for a full discussion on transport policy as regards the roads.

Occasionally, these semi-technical Bills have been used on Second Reading as an opportunity to discuss much wider topics. I do not think there is any. disposition to do so today, but I am not at all sure that the public at this time are not extremely anxious about the condition of the roads. They notice that the Government have been good enough to dispense with petrol rationing, and they are all rushing madly on to the roads with cars that have been laid up for some considerable time. They find that many of the major roads are in a deplorable condition, notably the Great North Road. They find that traffic lights operated by the police or road surveyors are holding them up while a group of men are engaged in putting down a drain or improving a bridge at the slowest possible pace, taking months and months over the job.

I have passed recently along the Great North Road, and I have been held up for 20 minutes to half an hour by these operations which, if there was any disposition to press on with the work, could be completed in a matter of days. I do not wish to dwell on this controversial note, but it is a fact that, compared with what is being done on the roads in other countries, the time taken in resurfacing a small proportion of a road, and thus rendering fast traffic facilities for rapid movement, is greatly in excess in this country. We on these benches will, I hope, get down, at an early stage, when the House resumes after the Recess, to a full discussion on the state of our roads and the speed at which the work of resurfacing and maintenance is done. If, at that time, we can also get on to the major topic of taking up again the work which was stopped at the beginning of the war, of building dual carriageways in a big way, I hope that we shall also take that opportunity. For the rest, this is a technical Bill on which the House is broadly in agreement, and I, for my part, support it.

12.25 p.m.

This is a Bill to which we can all give our blessing. The unique Parliamentary situation that has arisen has given the Minister an opportunity to introduce a Measure of this kind at this stage. It is a useful Bill, and one which is long overdue, and I hope that it will have a speedy and smooth passage through the House. It has been subject to detailed examination in another place, as we have been told, and a great many improvements have been made to it already, to which I hope we shall be able to add at a later stage. It has been rightly said that this is an extremely complicated Measure. I support what my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, North (Sir A. Hudson) had to say when he reminded us that there is no Explanatory Memorandum. An Explanatory Memorandum would have helped considerably in understanding what the Bill is all about. I hope the Minister will remember that in the future.

The Bill, as it stands at the moment, does a great deal in solving a very big problem in a very good way. There are a number of points which some of us may wish to raise that would be more appropriate on Committee stage, but there are one or two general observations I should like to make at this stage. The main purpose of the Bill is to co-ordinate the activities of those who at different times have to dig up the streets and reinstate them. I think that the code laid down in various parts of the Bill is a good one. It may prove in course of time that amendments will be needed, because this is one of the things we have to judge by experience, but I would throw out one suggestion, and that is that when the Bill has passed through all its stages a clear resume of certain parts of the Bill containing the code should be made available, having statutory backing, to those whose functions and job it is to deal with this sort of matter.

We know that the digging up of a highway often causes a great deal of frustration and bad temper to anyone who has to use the roads. Motorists are often caused great inconvenience and extra wear and tear to their vehicles if they are held back or slowed down because a road has been dug up and left in an unrepaired state until some other authority comes along to complete another job, when the road can be re-surfaced. This Bill does a lot to prevent that sort of situation continuing.

There is another matter to which I should like to draw the Minister's attention. We had an opportunity a few weeks ago of considering the Highways (Provision of Cattle-Grids) Bill. During the Committee stage of that Bill, considerable attention was paid to the law relating to the liability of local authorities for damage caused to an individual as a result of a highway getting out of repair—the rule of misfeasance and nonfeasance and the liability of highway authorities in respect of it. We were told on that occasion, although the Government met us to a certain extent in connection with cattle grids, that that was not the Measure in which to go about remedying the state of law in this respect. I suggest to the Minister that this, however, is the ideal sort of little Bill in which that change in the law might be effected.

Let me remind the House of the position. Under our existing law, if a highway authority dig up a street or road and subsequently reinstate it, they are liable for any damage which may be caused to an individual if they do the job of reinstatement so badly as to cause someone an injury. On the other hand, if a highway authority allows a road to get out of repair so badly that there are potholes in its surface and a person is injured simply through their neglect, that person has no remedy at all. That, I think, put in a rather untechnical nutshell, is exactly what the law is. I suggest it is a matter with which we ought to have dealt long ago. I see the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) in his place. He no doubt will understand what I mean, and I hope that I have his support on this matter. May I say that I am glad to see him back in the House.

Does the hon. Member realise the sort of situation which could arise if anyone who twisted his foot in a pothole, or caught his toe on the pavement where one paving stone was a trifle higher than the next one, could sue the local authority? It is quite a sensible rule, although it may produce hard cases as every rule does. If we altered the rule it would be asking for a lot of trouble.

I have had a certain amount of experience, though perhaps not so much as the hon. and learned Member, in advising people who have suffered under this disability. I have always thought it to be a very bad rule indeed. If I may remind the hon. and learned Member, the origin of the rule was that in the old days the inhabitants-at-large of each parish were liable for making up the roads, and it was felt that it would be extremely difficult to charge each of the inhabitants with some proportion of the cost which might accrue as a result of someone being compensated.

In these days, when every local authority is in some way insured, and when in any event they are liable if they do the job negligently, I think that this rule to which I have referred is outmoded and obsolete, and could easily be swept away. No doubt the hon. and learned Member will have something to say on the matter in Committee, when we can consider the question in greater detail. I put forward that suggestion. This Bill is an admirable vehicle for such a change in the law, and I hope that by incorporating some change of that kind the Minister will make what is in every other way an admirable Bill even more admirable.

12.33 p.m.

I shall resist the temptation which has been put before me of entering into a discussion which would be and is very attractive to lawyers, as to whether the law in regard to misfeasance and nonfeasance in relation to highways does or does not require any change. It may be that we shall have some discussion on that matter in the Committee stage. Whether that would be in order or not is a question upon which I do not venture to express any kind of opinion.

This Bill is, in volume, the second biggest Bill introduced in the course of this Parliament. It is, as the right hon. Gentleman has said in moving its Second Reading, a complicated and a technical Bill. I welcome his assurance that careful consideration will be given to amendments proposed during the Committee stage, and I can give him my assurance that we on this side of the House will do our utmost to improve the Bill still further. It is, if I may say so, still capable of improvement in one or two respects, notwithstanding the many Amendments made to it in another place.

Although this is a voluminous Bill, technical in character, I feel that it does not do more than deal with the fringe of the problem in relation to the repair of our highways and the problem upon which the right hon. Gentleman touched—the difficulty of keeping streets open at present. I would suggest that there are three distinct problems which have to be tackled in regard to road repairs. One is the question of regulating the exercise of rights held by various undertakers to open up streets; the second is to ensure expedition in the execution of the works for which the streets are opened up; the third is to secure satisfactory restoration of the surface.

If I might, in this way, divide the problem into three parts—the Bill is divided into four Parts—I would suggest that the Bill makes a contribution towards the solution of the first problem only, namely, the regulation of the exercise of the right of opening up streets. Although its provisions are very complicated the Bill will, so far as it goes, prove of great value in regulating the exercise of those rights by the many statutory undertakers either under general Acts or under thousands of private Acts. But when one has done that, I am a little puzzled to see where, in the Bill, the sanction is—I may not have detected it—to secure the speedy execution of the works.

A procedure is contained in the Bill for informing all others interested when any excavation or the execution of any work is about to take place. Other undertakers may take advantage of the opportunity to come in and do what they have to do, but I should have liked to have seen some incentive—I think that would perhaps be the right word—placed upon the undertakers, when they come in together in that way, to execute their work as quickly as possible. My noble Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke), drew attention to this matter in his short but powerful speech today.

It is really rather extraordinary that in these days, when there is modern machinery for road making, and a great length of road, with a good surface, can be laid down at great speed—I have seen a good deal of that recently on Watling Street—all that efficiency and effectiveness can be negatived just because perhaps two men and a boy are doing a minor adjustment to some drain and holding up traffic for a long time.

There is great force in the argument that something must be done both to speed up the execution of repairs and, particularly in cities such as London, to try to time the execution of those repairs so as to cause as little inconvenience as possible. In this connection the Minister, who is no doubt a regular reader of the "Daily Express," will not have failed to notice the cartoon which it published dealing with the extraordinary planning which has resulted in all the streets being opened up immediately after the abolition of petrol rationing.

Although this Bill can regulate the opening up of a particular street by a number of undertakers, it does nothing, so far as I can see, to remedy the trouble from which London is at present suffering, when so many streets are opened at the same time, causing great inconenvience, loss and expense. While welcoming this Bill, I do not think it really makes any contribution to that pressing problem. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider whether more cannot be done to secure, in cities like London, week-end work or, in some places, work at night, because the inconvenience from which all the people are suffering is becoming intolerable.

I turn for a moment or two to the second part of the problem, expedition in the execution of the work. I fear there is a danger that if we get all the undertakers burrowing about in the same hole, if I may use the expression, it may take a great deal longer before that hole is filled up. The right hon. Gentleman may be able to say more about that during the Committee stage. I hope that this process of regulation of the opening up of streets will not mean that a street is kept open longer than it is now. There is a possibility that it will. But we can examine that on the Committee stage.

Then comes the question of refilling the hole, the restoration. This is a much more important problem, that of keeping the hole open for as short a time as possible, than has yet been indicated. The right hon. Gentleman may know—I do not—the number of motor accidents and personal injuries that result from excavations being open in the road. I am sure that it is not a small number. In his speech the right hon. Gentleman made reference to a journey he took to Colchester, no doubt in an endeavour to ascertain what the Secretary of State for War had really said. Perhaps he will therefore forgive me if I refer to a recent incident in my own constituency.

It took place in the town of Towcester, on Watling Street. Two vehicles were going in opposite directions but, finding themselves in difficulty because of an excavation, they collided. One of them went into a large, stationary, articulated van and drove that stationary van right into the front of the Post Office. It was great good fortune that no one was killed. These incidents can be multiplied, I believe. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that if we can limit the period during which excavations are kept open in the highways, and can secure satisfactory restoration, we are making a material contribution to the reduction of road accidents in this country.

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to tell us a little bit more about what powers there are in this Bill. I must confess that I have not been able to detect them, but perhaps I have not studied this complicated Bill with sufficient care. Can he tell us what powers there are to secure expedition in the execution of the works, and speedy restoration?

I ventured to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman's speech on what I think is a most important point and not just a Committee point. When an undertaker opens up a hole in the highway and leaves it there in the condition of a hollow in the ground, or as a grave with a hump, as one of my hon. Friends has said, there will probably be responsibility if injuries result from it. Under the Third Schedule, highway authorities can take over restoration of the upper surface. It is a very good thing that they should be able to do so, as we may get a very good restoration of that surface. At the same time, it would be quite wrong that the undertaker should be liable to third parties for injuries received for the condition resulting from his excavation, after notice has been given to him.

Yet if one places the liability upon the highway authority and makes them responsible for the conditions of the highway from the very moment that they give the notice, that will be a considerable deterent to highway authorities to doing the very thing which we all consider that highway authorities should do, namely, restore the upper surface. I think that I am right in saying that, as the Bill now stands, notwithstanding notices given by the highway authority, liability in law in respect of the failure to restore the property will still, under Clause 8, remain upon the undertakers. That does not seem to be right, and it cannot be equitable. This is a difficult problem, and I do not press the right hon. Gentleman for an answer to it now. I ask him to give it very careful consideration before the Committee stage. It is very important that it should be clearly laid down in the Bill on whom liability will rest for misfeasance after the giving of such a notice, so that any person who is injured from the surface being left open too long will have a remedy.

The problem of streets being kept open, of holes in the road, applies equally to the countryside as to London. It is not infrequently that one receives complaints, as I have recently had from the village of West Haddon in my division, of ditches running right across the road, being roughly filled in, and left in that condition for many months. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider what steps can be taken to ensure more speedy restoration of the surface. I do not think there is any sanction in the Bill in regard to time. That is another point which is worthy of consideration.

Something has been said about the power of laying pipes on what is called in the Bill "controlled land." I am sure we agree that wherever possible an excavation should be made alongside the highway and not in it. One has particularly to bear in mind the very heavy weights which are being carried along our main highways, and which, in themselves, are apt to cause breakage of pipes and consequent excavation. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give consideration to the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South (Mr. Powell) as to the limitation of the definition of controlled land.

There is very little more I desire to say, except a word or two about the necessity for consolidation. I do not share the opinion of my hon. Friend about consolidation of the law in relation to highways. If he goes into the Library I think he will find that one of the largest legal volumes there is "Pratt on Highways." I wish I had brought it in and showed the House the volume of the law on the subject. I do not envy my hon. Friend the task of trying to consolidate the law in relation to highways, but, at the same time, it would be of great convenience to all if that could be done. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will do his utmost to divert the attention and energies of the Parliamentary draftsmen away from unnecessary and harmful nationalisation Bills to useful Measures of this character.

In spite of the observations I have made on certain points I do not desire it to be thought that I do not regard the Bill as good, so far as it goes. It is a very good Bill. The period of gestation has been very long, but numerous conflicting interests have had to be consulted. I am sure that the time which has elapsed has not been wasted. I trust that, with the united efforts of us all, we shall be able to improve the passage of the Bill through the House. I must congratulate the right hon. Gentleman—perhaps this is due to exhaustion after last night—upon not having had the criticism which is now customary from his colleagues behind him for any Socialist Measures.

12.49 p.m.

If I may have the leave of the House to speak again, I would like to deal with one or two of the points which have been raised, although none of them has been of a controversial character. I express my gratification that the Measure has received support. That enables me to come to the matter that I want to emphasise.

Most of the points which have been raised today are Committee points. Under even the most favourable circumstances there will not be much time to deal with these problems when we return after the Summer Recess if we are to get the Measure through all its stages in good time. In the light of the general support which I have had today, I am encouraged to express the view that we should ourselves apply the spirit of cooperation and compromise which is involved in the Measure so that undue time is not taken during the Committee stage.

I should like to make a general offer to hon. Members in all parts of the House to convey to me during the Recess any Committee points which they desire to raise on their own behalf or as a result of representation made to them by statutory or other bodies. A great deal of agreement can then be reached beforehand about the type of Amendment which may be necessary. That procedure has been adopted hitherto, and if I can get that co-operation we may be able to conclude the remaining stages of the Bill in good time.

Some of us will have other things to do during the Parliamentary Recess, but I and my hon. Friends will endeavour to give the right hon. Gentleman notice of what appear to us to be defects in the Bill in an effort to shorten the Committee stage of this desirable Measure.

I thank the hon. and learned Gentleman very much. All the points raised today will be very carefully examined. The hon. and learned Gentleman spoke about the liability of the undertaker ceasing when that of the authority commenced. I believe that that is already covered with regard to fencing and lighting, but he has raised fresh points about accidents and matters of that kind and the discussion has rather foreshadowed that those problems may be introduced on the Committee stage. As to my attitude to the matter, I shall be only too pleased to examine anything for the purpose of clarifying where responsibility and liability fall, but I should be loth to land myself in the kind of controversy which I could see developing between the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Hay) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget). That warned me that if I introduced a subject of that kind into the Bill, there would be very little prospect of getting the Measure through all its stages. However, I undertake to give the other matters very serious consideration.

Hon. Members have said that the Bill is limited with regard to many of the problems of highway obstruction. No one is more conscious of that than I am, and I should certainly welcome an opportunity—it is not possible on a Bill of this description—for the House to discuss problems of the movement of traffic, maintenance of roads, road construction, types of road, the amount of land which we have used in the past and whether it was necessary, and different types of traffic. All these problems should be dealt with in circumstances where the present restrictions as a result of the rules of Debate do not apply.

I have been grievously disappointed with circumstances which have not enabled the Minister of Transport to deal with the more fundamental problems of our highways from which so many consequences flow. I have at least endeavoured to use my period in office to equip Ministers with the powers which are essential if they are to grapple with these problems, and I have introduced a few Measures which represent limited improvements and for which in the normal way, Parliament might not have had time. Getting those Measures out of the way clears the ground for consideration of the major matters.

Once or twice I have suggested that, while there is often individual interest, there is not the collective interest in Parliament in the solution of some of these problems which we display in other directions. I always contend that the highway is at the root of grave social problems in the same sense that health, housing and such matters are. I have been in the House for 25 years and I have never seen the House display the same collective interest in transport problems as it has in some other social matters. Springing from the defects, we have a casualty problem which is greater and more continuous than some of the most disastrous diseases which affect the community today. For that reason, I assure hon. Gentlemen that I should welcome a Debate on this subject, and I believe that it would be welcomed in all parts of the House.

The hon. Member for Lewisham, North (Sir A. Hudson) delved into history even deeper than I did. Those of us who have been in the House since the Ministry of Transport was established recognise how much we owe to the drive, personality and interest of Sir Henry Maybury and the work which he began in those early days. I am not a bit surprised to discover that he was at work on this problem before the Carnock Committee made its recommendations. It is clear to me that it might have been his early interest in the problem which influenced both Houses in establishing the Carnock Committee. If Sir Henry Maybury's Committee finished in 1938 and the Carnock Committee was appointed in 1939, I do not doubt that that represents the continuity of examination desired by Parliament.

I am greatly indebted to hon. Members for the support which the Measure has received. I will look into the points which have been raised and if any of them have to be embodied in Amendments, perhaps we can get agreement in the meantime and shorten the Committee stage.

Will the right hon. Gentleman say a word about the absence of an explanatory memorandum?

I am very sorry that there is no explanatory memorandum with the Bill. It does not arise from a decision by me. It is a matter of procedure. I will look into the matter and see whether we can remedy it at a subsequent stage. It will be quite easy to circulate an explanatory memorandum if that will meet the convenience of hon. Members.

The right hon. Gentleman may be aware that attention has been drawn to this in respect of two other Bills. I did it myself. There seems to be a practice to omit any explanatory memorandum when a Bill comes from another place. I am sure it will be of great assistance and will be welcomed by all hon. Members if that practice could be varied and an explanatory memorandum attached to the copies of the Bill.

I will certainly undertake to look specifically into that point in relation to a Bill of this kind, and if I myself can circulate an explanatory memorandum to any hon. Member interested, I shall be glad to do so. It is just a matter of procedure, and I will see that it is raised in the proper place.

1.0 p.m.

With regard to an explanatory memorandum, may I make the suggestion that a separate White Paper might have been circulated at this stage? It is not without precedent that an explanatory memorandum is not contained in the Bill, and I recollect one occasion—that in connection with the National Health Service Act—on which there was no explanatory memorandum and on which a separate White Paper was issued at the same time.

May I say that I agree, regrettably, with the right hon. Gentleman in his reference to the lack of collective interest in this House in matters concerning the roads, but I think he will concede that, as far as the Opposition in this Parliament and the previous Parliament have been concerned, we have helped him a very great deal when dealing with road legislation. The Minister will no doubt recollect the help given by the Opposition over the Cattle-Grids Bill and the Special Roads Bill, and we shall, of course, be only too glad to join with him on future occasions in introducing legislation which will improve both the roads and the administration of road laws.

With regard to this Bill, I have only one small point to make. The clerk to the county council in the constituency which I have the honour to represent has written to me about this Bill. He does not express himself as being in disagreement with its principles, but he does say that the drafting of it is so technical and so complex that he is very much afraid that, unless we get it simplified somehow, the Bill, far from simplifying the task of the officials who do the work for the highway authorities, will add to their task, because they are greatly puzzled by it.

May I therefore implore the right hon. Gentleman, between now and the reassembly of Parliament in October, to consult with his legal advisers to see whether it is not possible to make some really substantial Amendments which would simplify the Bill without altering its principles? I make that plea very sincerely, and not merely with the idea of adding to the work which the right hon. Gentleman and his Department have to do in these matters. I take very seriously this point made by a very experienced clerk to a county council, and I feel that we should pay attention to this matter of the drafting, so that those who are dealing with the administration of the Bill, who for the most part will not be lawyers, but officials in the county surveyor's department, and who are very busy people, may have their task made easier by using a simple structure of draftsmanship and plain phraseology. By doing so, we shall indeed be doing an even greater public service.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[ Mr. Sparks.]

Committee upon Monday next.