§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The MINISTER of TRANSPORT (Colonel Ashley)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
993 The origin of this Bill is rather quaint. The year before last, when I had the honour of being Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport, it was brought home to me very forcibly that these new roads which had been constructed, and were being constructed in the vicinity of the Metropolis, however excellent they might be from the transportation point of view and however useful from the national aspect are extremely ugly. I think the House will agree with me that a great wide stretch of road surface, in most parts bounded by concrete posts bound together by iron wires, is not a very graceful or grateful addition to the landscape. So I went into the matter rather fully, and came to the conclusion that, if proper trees be planted alongside some of these great roads, it would, at any rate, in a few years take off the bareness of the aspect and replace many trees which had had to be cut down when these new roads were made.
In my preparation I included an estimate of £10,000 or £12,000 for capital expenditure: on planting trees. I consulted Kew, I consulted the Forestry Commission, and, indeed, had mapped out what sections of the roads and what particular trees should be planted. All went well until a vigilant officer in my Department discovered that I had no power to do anything of that sort, nor to apply any of the Road Fund to what I considered this very excellent purpose. The Minister could construct the road, drain the road, maintain the road from the Road Fund, but the one thing he could not do was to beautify the road in any way at all. I then promised to bring in a Bill to do away with what I considered the defects of the law, and while I was doing so it occurred to me that other things might be added. We were spending, and are spending, £42,000,000 every year in keeping up our roads, and I think the result is that we have better roads than any other country in the world; but neither the Ministry of Transport nor the local authority has power to spend money in experiments in order to see which form of road is the best, and what road surfaces ought to be used. I think it a very absurd and very uneconomic position to be in, to spend these huge sums of money every year, and yet not allowed to spend £10,000, £20,000, £30,000, or £40,000 994 in experiments by which we might probably save £2,000,000 or £3,000,000 a year. Therefore, I attached that provision to the Bill.
Owing to circumstances over which we had no control, another Government came into office and my hon. Friend the Member for Whitechapel (Mr. Gosling) became Minister of Transport. May I say we are, I am sure, very glad to see him back again with us after his absence owing to ill-health and I hope he will be able to say a word or two on the Bill this evening. Well, he, I think, agreed departmentally with his political adversary, and endorsed both the tree-planting and the experimental items, and he added one or two items of his own to which I agree, namely, to use money from the Road Fund in order to free the roads from tolls. At present local authorities can use money for freeing roads and bridges from tolls, but no money can be given from the Road Fund for that excellent purpose. There may be exceptional circumstances where tolls may be imposed for a limited number of years, but I submit that tolls should be done away with and that all bridges should be freed from toll. He also added power to use the Road Fund for putting milestones and sign posts and placing direction posts in various places.
That, I think, is all the Bill contains. It is a very small Bill, but I maintain quite seriously that in this Bill there may be the germ of considerable economies In the administration of our roads, and if for no other reason than that we are allowed to spend money upon experiments, I do, in my considered judgment—and I hope it is the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Whitechapel—think we may save hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, ever year in the construction of new roads. I, therefore, submit we should give this important Measure a Second Reading. My hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth (Sir E. Iliffe) has a Bill which he introduced which is printed and which seeks to do away with blind corners. Blind corners are extremely dangerous things. I need not stress that matter. I think if we can do away with them we ought to. To my mind this is a matter which should be done on a national basis. It should not be done on a basis of allowing local authorities to adopt this and that Clause in any 995 Local Government Bill. If the House thinks some means ought to be taken to do away with blind corners that ought to be done by the country as a whole, and we ought not to allow each local authority to take it or not as they think fit.
I am not sure that I agree with everything that is in the Bill of the hon. Member for Tamworth, in that he has made in that Bill no provision whatever for compensation. I think this House ought to hesitate very much before it inflicts very considerable loss on a person without compensation at all. Very often where two second- or third-class roads meet, there is a very good building site fur a public-house or petrol station or fur a shop, and to say, as it is said in my hon. Friend's Bill, that practically no house should be put up for a certain distance from the point of intersection of the two roads without any compensation goes further than this House has ever gone before, and further than I personally should like to go. But having said that, I would like the hon. Member to do me the honour of coming to talk with me in order to see if we could agree to some Clause which we might introduce in Committee, and if it then commends itself to a sense of fairness, I shall be glad to consider it favourably. I am sure we are anxious to do away with blind corners if at all possible.
There is only one other matter about which I have to say a word. I see that some hon. Friends of mine have put down a reasoned Amendment to this Bill in the following terms:That this House, while approving of the power to conduct research and experiments on road construction and on the freeing of roads from tolls, cannot sanction expenditure on those objects out of the Road Fund until all rural roads upon which there is motor traffic receive a fairer proportion of the said fund.I am not misrepresenting hon. Members who put that down, in saying that I think they do not object to the Bill as a Bill. That being so, I hope that they are not now going to use the speeches they have prepared for another occasion. But be that as it may, I make no complaint. It is quite right to put down this reasoned Amendment if they entertain very strong feelings about the money being allocated for the roads, and I welcome any discussion on that point under the Rules of 996 Order which you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, lay down from the Chair. It is a little hard that I should be the Minister who should have to stand the fire of my hon. Friends. In 1923, when I was Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport, in charge of that Department, I was the first person to make a proposition in regard to this matter. Having lived a good deal in the country, and having been a member of one of those local bodies, I know their needs, and I am fully aware of the very pressing burden that is now placed upon the local rates. That is the reason why I proposed grants amounting to £1,500,000 for the repair of rural roads used by such a large number of motorists.
I know it is very hard indeed in cases where the poor rural ratepayer has to find the money for the repair of these unclassified roads. As far as classified roads in rural areas are concerned they receive 50 per cent. for first-class roads and 25 per cent. for second-class roads. Therefore the only roads we have now to specially to consider are the unclassified roads. What the House ought to bear in mind is that the Road Fund is a national fund instituted for the purpose of maintaining and improving the main communications of this country. Above all, I hope my hon. Friends will bear in mind that the Fund was not instituted to relieve local rates, but in order to improve and maintain our main communications. Having said that, I am perfectly willing, if I find that I am able to do so, to help these rural roads in order to have them put in as good a state of repair as possible.
I would like to point out to those who are putting forward the Amendment to which I have referred that, roughly, for the last three years the total revenue of the Road Fund was £42,000,000, and before 1923 not one single penny was given to unclassified rural roads, but during the three years I have mentioned, the sum of £5,000,000, if what I hope to give this time is included, will have been devoted to rural roads, both classified and unclassified. I think if you have an entirely new service, and the income is £42,000,000, and I give £5,000,000 to unclassified rural roads, which do not bear the main stream of traffic in the country, I am not behaving ungenerously to the rural roads.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
It was given for several purposes. One purpose was to enable a road which was a class one or a class two road to be put into such a state of repair that it could be mained through the county council system, would be taken over by them for maintenance from the rural district council, and then the charge for upkeep would be a county charge and not a charge on the rural district. This means a very considerable relief to the burden of that particular rural district area, because the country would bear the whole of the cost.
Another object in making these grants was to enable unclassified roads in the rural areas to be put into a proper state of repair. One condition was that such roads should be placed in a state of repair suitable to the motor traffic of to-day. For the local authorities simply to fill in the pits and mend the roads here and there was a sheer waste of money. This kind of expenditure has been a great burden on the local ratepayers, and there has been no advantage from it. Therefore, part of this £5,000,000 is to be spent in order that those roads, with the assistance of the local rates, may be put into a decent state of permanent repair.
For these reasons, I commend this little Bill to the House. I do so on the ground that we ought to try and do something to make the new roads an efficient means of transportation and as beautiful as possible. I am perfectly convinced that it is a good thing to spend a few thousand pounds a year in experiments, and if we do this I feel sure that in two or three years we shall possibly save millions of pounds in the upkeep of our roads. Those are the two main objects of this Bill, and I hope the few words I have said will ensure the passing of the Second Reading.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
I think this is a Bill which we shall all welcome. We shall probably press the right hon. Gentleman to get on with the work of tree planting a little more quickly. If the right hon. Gentleman carries out the principle of this Bill thoroughly, in regard to the planting of trees on the new roads, I hope he will also be able to carry 998 the same principle a little further, and plant trees along some of the old roads as well as these new arterial roads.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
Power is given under this Bill to the county councils to plant trees on the old roads on the land which is vested in them.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
I hope the local authorities will receive the same assistance for this purpose as the other authorities are receiving in the case of the new roads. I hope the Minister of Transport., when he comes to have the planting of these roads determined, will not merely have a row of trees planted at regular intervals, but will have some of them planted on the embankments, and in some places I would like to see the trees planted pretty thickly or in double lines, because this would lend enormously to the amenities of the roads, not only for traffic purposes, but also for the convenience of the people in those districts who would like to have access to open woods on the road sides. Those hon. Members who have travelled along the roads on the Continent will have observed that in many cases they have fruit trees on the roads which are open to all.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
Yes, abroad the fruit is available for the people, but anyone who has gone through Kent in the month of April or May will realise enormously the beauty which the fruit blossom adds to a tour in that county.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
Kent is better than Worcestershire in this respect, and it has the advantage of being near to our door. If we could extend this cultivation of trees over the countryside I think we should be conferring a great benefit on the whole of the community. With these few remarks I will now pass on to the question of spending money upon experiments, and I cannot imagine why we have not had provision of this kind before this in Acts of Parliament. I should think we have spent about £100,000,000 on our roads, and hitherto we have never had power to experiment as to what kind of surface is the best for our roads. Anyone accustomed to motoring must have 999 realised that the various local authorities have been trying their hands at experiments as to which is the best way of getting a permanent surface. I hope that now that this fund is available for genuine tests on measured stretches of road we shall be able to determine what is the most economical and permanent roadway we can get. A provision of this kind is long overdue, and the sooner it is embodied in an Act of Parliament the better.
With regard to tolls, I realise the enormous advantage of getting rid of them, and I remember that Mr. Gladstone conferred an enormous benefit in 1882 by abolishing turnpikes. I hope, however, the right hon. Gentleman will not feel himself forced to free every toll at the price fixed by the owners to-day. Do not let us be driven into accepting any bargains which are offered in this respect. There are many tolls charged on bridges which prevent a free access to certain roads, and those bridges were very often erected by the owners of the land on the other side of the river. If we free those bridges from tolls the inevitable result will be that there will be a very largo rise in the value of the land opened up by the toll-free bridge.
May I remind hon. Members of the time when Waterloo Bridge was freed from tolls in 1878. Previously everybody had to pay d. for crossing Waterloo Bridge, and the London County Council went to great expense in freeing the bridge from tolls. It is recorded that owing to the fact that a large number of the people living on the south side of the river had to cross the river to get to their work in the Strand and Fleet Street they had to pay 6d. a week for crossing the river, and the immediate effect of freeing the bridge was to raise the rents on the south side of the river precisely by 6d. per week. We do not want to spend large sums of money freeing some of these bridges merely to benefit the owners of the land on the other side of the water. I hope, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman will bear this inevitable result in mind when he is making a bargain with the owners of these toll bridges.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
The initiative must always come from the local authority. 1000 They are the people who initiate the negotiations and carry them through. They only come to me when they want more money.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
In every case they will come to the right hon. Gentleman for approval, and he will have to find the bulk of the money. I hope that he will watch these cases and see that an excessive price is not paid, when the payment of that price will primarily result in improving the value of the property of the people who own the bridge at the present time. Then we are given some prospect, which I hope is going to be realised, of getting embodied in this Bill, when it goes to a Committee, a Clause which will enable the right hon. Gentleman and the local authorities—but, the right hon. Gentleman in this case has an initiative—to abolish blind corners. I am very glad that that is so, but I was rather shocked by one reference to this question in the right hon. Gentleman's speech. The blind corners which it is proposed to safeguard are those corners where a first or second-class road cuts a country road.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
I have not a copy by me at the moment of the Bill of the hon. Member for Tamworth (Sir E. Iliffe), but I think it is a junction between a first-class and a second-class road.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
If that be so it only makes my case the stronger. My impression was that at the intersection between one of these main roads with a country road. This Clause, as I understand the Bill of the hon. Member for Tam-worth, will, if embodied in this Bill, prevent anyone from building houses within a certain number of yards of a corner—in other words, it will interfere with his absolute right to do what he likes with his own. It will, in effect, be of the nature of a by-law restricting building within a certain distance of the junction of these roads. The right hon. Gentleman said he was a little doubtful as to whether we should impose this restriction on a man's right to do what he likes with his own, without paying him compensation. The Bill of the hon. Member for Tam-worth, as I understand it, provides no compensation, and I hope that that principle will be carried through and that we shall not see compensation paid for preventing a man from building within a 1001 certain few yards of the junction of two roads. It would be very unfair to pay such compensation, because everyone would claim compensation, although they might never want to build at that particular corner at all, and the demands for compensation would make it almost impracticable to get these blind corners properly safeguarded.
If the right hon. Gentleman will look at this question from the point of view of a bye-law rather than from the point of view of acquiring property, I think he will be taking the right point of view. To-day we lay it down definitely that people are not to build more than 40 houses to the acre, and we lay it down definitely, in many town-planning schemes, that houses are to be even more thinly put upon the ground. That is a definite interference by the State with the right of a property owner to do as he likes with his property, and we might extend that principle, which is generally accepted as being in the interests of the community and as not being unjust, to this question of blind corners, and lay it down definitely to apply where main roads intersect. Indeed, I would go further, and say that, where these new arterial roads cut across country roads, no building should be allowed to be erected within a certain number of yards of the junction, which can obscure the view and thus lead to an accident.
I take this earliest opportunity of urging the right hon. Gentleman not to introduce the question of compensation into this matter of blind corners. If, as he suggests, it is only a question of main roads, I would point out to him that really the owners have less case there for claiming compensation than in the case of country roads, because, where these very fine arterial highways are made at the public expense, the local property owners are relieved from the heavy charges which come upon them to-day in the way of making up their road frontages if they lay out their estates for building purposes. We know that at the present time building is going on along these new roads at a very rapid rate, and one inducement that is held out by the owners of property, when they are asking people to buy their land at enhanced prices, is that there will be no charge for frontage—that, the State having put in order the main road in front of the houses, there 1002 will be no charge levied upon people who purchase plots for housing purposes for making that road good. In other words, they escape a very heavy charge which would naturally fall upon property owners who lay out their property for building purposes. That seems to me to be a sufficient reply to any demand for special compensation for a denial of the right to build at corners. If property owners are injured in any sort of way by being prevented from building at corners, they can set off against that the enormous advantage of having their road frontages made up for them at the public expense.
That leads me to another question. I was wondering whether the right hon. Gentleman, when he is seeing this Bill through Committee, could not introduce into his legislation—into this Bill, if possible, or, if not, into some future Bill—some measure of recovery for the public of some of the enormous advantages that come from the making of these roads. The other day I went down to Southend, where the new arterial road, which is costing, I think, £1,250,400, opens up a vast residential area which would never have been residential had it not been for the making of that road. On the station platform I noticed a large advertisement of an estate for sale which has been bisected by this new road. It is called the Oak Hill Estate, I think, and the main Southend road cuts right through it. It is on high land, and is, perhaps, the most desirable residential site near Southend. It is obvious that the making of this road has made the value of that estate, opening out, by cheap and easy communication, what is now, no doubt, a very valuable residential property on both sides of the road. Would it not be possible to adopt for our general legislation some sort of principle such as applies, I believe, in Liverpool to-day? The Municipality of Liverpool long ago, in some private Act of Parliament, obtained powers to recover from frontage owners the cost of making the road as soon as those frontage owners developed and sold their property.
It seems to me only reasonable that, when we spend millions of money in making roads, we should take some steps to recover for the community the enormously enhanced value of these riparian lands along each side of those roads. This value is at present going into cer- 1003 tain private pockets, and it is not fair that individuals should get this enormous benefit from the expenditure of public money. If we could embody for general purposes the principle that applies, and has now, I think, applied for 20 years in the case of Liverpool, we should not only be acting in accordance with justice, but should also be making it much easier for the right hon. Gentleman to make more of these roads and to develop what is bound to become the new system of transportation throughout the world. It is with no desire to criticise or carp at the policy of the right hon. Gentleman that I make these suggestions. These problems have been facing us all, and we have to think them out. I hope we shall see within this Bill, before it leaves this House for another place, provisions which will enable the country to be beautified, and which will enable this road-making to be carried out on the most permanent and the most economical lines, together with that provision for additional safety which the abolition of blind corners alone can give.
§ Brigadier-General CLIFTON BROWN
I beg to move, to leave out from the word "That", to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the wordsthis House, while approving of the power to conduct research and experiment on road construction and on the freeing of roads from tolls, cannot sanction expenditure on these Objects out of the Road Fund until all rural roads upon which there is motor traffic receive a fairer proportion of the said fund.I hope the Minister will not think, after his courteous visit to us in the Agricultural Committee, that this Amendment is moved for any reason except that those of us who live in the country have very grave doubts as to how this Bill is going to help to improve the roads. As the right hon. Gentleman himself said, his great idea was to beautify the roads; and I am quite sure that, having himself, as we know, beautiful gardens, he must wish everyone to have the same beautiful views. If the new Bill had been called the "Beautification of Roads Bill," that would have been nearer to the meaning of its first two Clauses than the improvement of roads. Where I join issue with the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel 1004 Wedgwood) is with regard to the trees and gardens that we are to have on the sides of the roads. I have been on the roads committee of a district council for some six or seven years, and I am also the unfortunate possessor of some woods and trees alongside a road. I have never once been asked by any road authority to plant trees, but I am asked year after year if I cannot cut down a tree here or a tree there, or clear a wood away, in order to let the sun and air get on the road.
I should also like to submit my experience, with which I am sure every builder will agree, that, if you have big trees near to houses, even within 10 yards, their roots will go right underneath the walls and cause cracks. Although the Minister gets his advice from Kew and from other forestry experts, I should like him to get advice about planting trees by the road from someone who knows how to make roads and what is the effect of trees thereon. Local authorities will not value the power to plant trees by the roads, but they will value very highly the power, with appropriate compensation and on reasonable terms, to cut down trees, and especially to prevent the formation of blind corners. I wonder that the Minister, in bringing forward this Bill for the improvement of roads, has not brought forward the principle enunciated in the Road Improvements (Blind Corners Prevention) Bill of the hon. Member for Tamworth (Sir E. Iliffe). That would have made his suggestions of some use, and that is what the local authorities require, namely, power reasonably to better the conditions as regards blind corners where country roads cross large roads. It would have been well to take proper precautions now in good time, before building and planting, or whatever may be going on, has commenced, to prevent the formation of these blind corners. It is not only these powers that are needed, but exactly the opposite powers to what the Minister is trying to take, of planting gardens and trees along main roads or any other roads.
Further, I do not think that at the present time any extravagance is justified until the rural roads are made better. The Minister said he was being the best friend to the rural road, but the rates on these rural roads are higher week by week and year by year, so that they are 1005 becoming worse rather than better than before. We want to see it made possible for light trade lorries to go to the cottage door and deliver bread and so on. We cannot have these rural roads made up for heavier traffic, but it is absolutely essential that they should be able to carry light motor traffic if you want to get people to live in the countryside. Unless these rural district councils are given more facilities for their unclassified district roads, more roads will be shut up than is the case at the present moment. I will read a Resolution from the Hungerford Rural District Council, and I suppose the right hon. Gentleman has received similar resolutions from many of the 591 district councils affected:That the attention of the Ministry of Transport be called to the burden placed upon ratepayers owing to the increased cost of maintaining district roads which are not classified. This Council is strongly of the opinion that the Ministry, in spending large sums of money derived from motor taxation for new arterial roads, is deflecting such revenue from its legitimate purpose. The existing roads of the country should be built up as a first charge, and an annual grant should be made to district councils for this purpose.The Minister of Transport has stated that the big arterial roads will help the housing question. Certainly they will, but I would point out that the district council which passed the resolution I have just read are very poor. They have no rich ratepayers, and it is a very hard thing for them to deal with the roads and also to provide houses. They have a desperate situation as regards houses, and they have adopted the 1924 Act, which is the only Act which would enable the people who have to live in those houses to pay the rents. It is impossible for a council like this particular council to meet their liabilities with regard to the roads and to proceed with their housing schemes. That is the reason why the resolution was sent to me and to the Ministry. The council in question are responsible for a very old town, and the people there are the class of steady people who ought to be helped; but they cannot be helped unless the district council is assisted more generously with regard to the expenditure upon the roads. The council cannot afford housing and roads at the same time.
The high rates which obtain under these district councils are more due to the cost 1006 of the unclassified roads than anything else, and the high rates are doing more to stop houses being put up in those districts and the districts being developed than anything else. In connection with one district council of which I am a member, I asked last week how many miles of roads had been closed to heavy traffic in the last three years, and the reply was 161 miles. That is in regard to only one of the 590 district councils. I would like to know how many of the 590 district councils have closed, say, 10 miles of roads to heavy traffic. Would the Minister of Transport state how many miles of roads have been closed by district councils in the last three or four years? If each council has closed only 10 miles, that would mean over 5,000 miles closed to heavy motor traffic. The number of miles closed represents two or three times as many miles of new construction roads that have been opened.
I submit to the Minister of Transport and to the Government that if they want to get people to live in the country, the first thing they must do is to help them with the local roads. A resolution sent to the Minister from Nantwich suggests that a certain percentage of the fund arising from the taxation of motor vehicles should be set aside each year and allocated to the district councils at an agreed rate for the miles of roads maintained by each council, based upon the classification of the respective roads in their particular districts. The Minister has made much of the millions of pounds he has given to the unclassified roads. He stated the other day, in answer to a question, that 317 out of 579 rural district councils had received grants. That means that 262 received no grant at all. The millions of pounds which have been distributed ought to have been evenly distributed. It is most unfair that the principle of distribution should be that of first come first served. Why should not the grants be evenly and fairly distributed?
Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. Hope)
These remarks would appear to be a criticism of the administration of the Ministry of Transport. I understand that the Ministry have a discretion in the administration of the Fund. Therefore, the proper place for this criticism would be when the Estimates are under dis- 1007 cussion. At the present time, the hon. and gallant Member is free to talk about legislation but not administration.
I apologise. I will try to keep in order. The Minister said that he had been the best friend of the rural roads. I wonder why he has changed his policy?
Brigadier - General BROWN
I am very glad to hear that the right hon. Gentleman has not changed his policy. Therefore, I hope that we shall get a fairer distribution of the grants to unclassified roads. I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that two years ago, on the 27th February, 1923, he said at the close of a Debate in this House on rural roads:It has come to us, and to our Ministry, that in the rural districts undoubtedly some local roads are used by motor traffic coming from a distance, and we are searching out some way whereby, without diminishing the grants to the first and second-class roads, we can assist the third-class roads."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th February, 1923; col. 1914. Vol 160.]The right hon. Gentleman stated that two years ago. Since then he has had nine months out of office to think things over, and he is now in office again. After these two years, is he still unable to find any way to assist the third-class roads? I ask him to hurry up and find a way.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
The Minister of Transport in the last Government and myself have carried out that policy by giving in three years some £5,000,000 to unclassified roads in rural districts. I think that is not an ungenerous contribution out of £42,000,000 available from the Road Fund.
Brigadier - General BROWN
Some 50,000 miles of unclassified roads have not received any grant at all. I was pointing that out, when I was called to order. Two years ago a Resolution was passed in this House that grants should be allotted from the Road Board Fund in respect of all roads, whether classified or unclassified. The Resolution further stipulated that this Fund should be earmarked in future for the maintenance 1008 of existing roads only and should not be applied to the construction of new roads or for any other purpose. This Bill vitiates every principle of that Resolution. When that Resolution was passed, the Road Fund was only getting £11,000,000 to £12,000,000, and it is now getting £15,000,000. Why has not the Minister of Transport given the extra £3,000,000 to help the unclassified roads which they were so anxious to help two years ago? Instead of doing that, they have brought in a Bill which operates against the roads of these rural district councils, with the result that the rates will be increased and the development of the countryside will be checked. The Minister of Transport stated the other day that he was not allowed to spend more than one-third of the road grants on new construction roads. I asked him then, and I ask him now, to give a guarantee that any money which this Bill takes out of the Road Fund shall come out of the one-third which is allowed by this House to be spent on new construction. Will he also give a guarantee that no money that this Bill costs will come out of the two-thirds which ought to be spent on the classified and unclassified local roads? In that event £10,000,000 would go to the classified and unclassified local roads, and £5,000,000 for new construction. At the present time, £10,000,000 does not go to the local roads. If he were to give a guarantee, there would be a chance for the local authorities to get the money that is due to them instead of the money going into the maws of the Ministry of Transport.
We Conservative Members were returned to oppose Socialism. A Bill like this shows Socialism from beginning to end, and there is no wonder that hon. Members on the other side support it. Conservative Members of Parliament should see that the local authorities are not done down by a big, strong Ministry here. The money would be much more helpful to the country and much better spent if the House would say that the local authorities should have a certain definite sum, year by year, allocated to them, which the Ministry of Transport cannot seize by bringing in Bills of this kind and taking money, which ought to go to the local authorities for road purposes. I think that the Government which two years ago passed the Resolu- 1009 tion, which I have read, should now be willing to carry it out. Although they have £3,000,000 more available in the Road Fund, they are not keeping the promise.
§ Mr. HURD
I beg to second the Amendment, but I do not do so because I do not agree with the Minister that this is an excellent Bill—at any rate, in all respects but one. I do not think that anybody can look at some of the exits of London without realising what an appalling mess our ancestors and ourselves have made in connection with many of those exits. You have only to go to the Archway Road (running from Highgate to the North, the Great North Road) to see an object lesson in ugliness. If the present Minister a Transport had been in office when that road was constructed, and been able to bring in a Bill of this sort, we might have had something which would have compared with the amenities of the exits from towns like Frankfurt or Dresden. I hope that we shall see not only more trees and grass margins but something else. If you go to Dresden, you find the acacia tree and other trees, such as the catalpa, an August-blooming tree, which we have on the Embankment. There are other trees besides the eternal plane tree, of which the Minister of Transport and other tree planters seem so fond. I am glad the Minister of Transport is seeking expert advice in regard to the trees to be planted, and I hope those experts will give us a little more variety than we have had in the past.
I agree with what was said by the right hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) that too much importance cannot be attached to the experiments that may be made, and by which great economies may be effected. I happen to be a member of a town council whose surveyor has made experiments of the kind referred to by the right hon. and gallant Member, and they have been of enormous benefit in creating a surface which would carry modern heavy loads. It is a great thing to have these experiments extended and codified, but it will be an expensive job. Another expensive matter will be the tolls included in this Bill. Something like 130, or it may be more, of these toll barriers still remain. It is obvious that if we are not going in 1010 for a policy of confiscation we may in that respect alone be creating a very considerable item of expenditure. One toll of which I know in the south-west country yields a revenue to the present owner of £6,000 a year. If you take anything like the ordinary Treasury terms for clearing away that barrier, hon. Members will sec what a heavy charge may be landed upon the Road Fund in this one item alone with regard to tolls.
In the past, when we who represent the agricultural areas have asked the Ministry of Transport for a little more consideration for rural roads, we have always been met by the one reply, that they have no money. When the Minister of Transport to-days asks: "In what have I changed my policy?" the answer is: "In this respect. You have brought in a Bill extending the objects of expenditure for which you are making a prior charge on the Road Fund, and pushing the many claims of the rural roads a little further down in the scale." That is a very serious change of policy which I very deeply regret. We hope to see this Road Fund grow, and to see money spent in the way contemplated under this Bill, but we do not think it right, in view of the position of the rural roads, that the claims of the rural roads should be pushed further back in order to increase the amenities of the great main roads.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
As I understand, the hon. Member is rather afraid that the rural road is being pushed further back. May I remind him that in 1923 the rural roads got £1,500,000 and last year they got £1,250,000; that is to say, the unclassified roads. This year they are going to get £1,000,000, which was arranged for by my hon. Friend the Member for White-chapel (Mr. Gosling) and will come out of this year's fund, and, in addition, £1,250,000, which I hope to be able to allocate myself, so that for 1925–26 rural roads will have over £2,000,000, whereas two years ago they only got £1,500,000.
§ Mr. HURD
It is true that we are getting a little more, but we are not getting so much as the right hon. Gentle man knows we ought to get. The amount is not very much more than 10 per cent., and the roads which have not received any grant are over 96 per cent. of the whole of the rural roads. Only about 3½ 1011 per cent. to 4 per cent. have received any grant, and nearly all these roads have to carry this heavy motor traffic. I think that we can justly claim for them something more than the right hon. Gentleman proposes to give. In this matter the House of Commons has taken up a very definite stand. On 27th February, 1923, as my hon. Friend has reminded us, the House of Commons adopted by a large majority a Resolution stating that, as rural roads are now used by motor vehicles, grants should be allotted in respect of these roads, whether classified or unclassified. Now the right hon. Gentleman pushes that Resolution a little lower down, although 196 voted in favour of it and only 58 against it. I would remind the hon. Member for Whitechapel (Mr. Gosling) that four of his colleagues voted for that Resolution, and I would remind the Minister of Transport that no fewer than eight of his colleagues voted for the Resolution. But the terms of that Resolution have not been carried out.
When the last conference of rural authorities was held, and the then Minister of Transport attended, I put it to him whether he thought that the Resolution which had been carried in good faith was being carried into effect or, the lines of the House of Commons decision, and he said, "The fact that it has not been carried into effect is no fault of mine. It is for you, Gentlemen, who were the means of getting that Resolution passed, if you think it worth while, to see that effect is given to it." We feel aggrieved that the Minister of Transport should come forward to-day with a Measure which, in its financial Clauses, does push that Resolution a little further back from execution, and I second the appeal of my hon. Friend that the right hon. Gentleman should consider whether it is not due, especially in view of the Resolution, to the agricultural Members of this House, and to the whole rural community, that some definite understanding should now be come to as to a larger proportion out of the Road Fund being allocated to the districts with respect to which the House of Commons made its declaration.
No one can deny that in the rural districts the position is becoming intolerable, and that the taxes are increasing in respect of the upkeep of the roads, owing 1012 to the developments of motor traffic. In addition to the new impediment created by this Bill, we have the old impediment, which we tried to get the hon. Gentleman opposite to remove. That is the question of money spent on unemployment, which, we think, ought to be a national charge and not a charge against the Road Fund. We have asked whether, in regard to these new arterial roads, the money could be raised by loan, and loan interest charged against the Road Fund, so as to allow a mortgage to go against what they regard as delayed benefit. I agree that the right hon. Gentleman is to be encouraged in the part which he is taking in respect of the road policy of this country, but I do ask him not to add this new injustice to the old injustice from which we have been suffering for many years past.
§ Major CRAWFURD
We welcome this Bill but, if I may, I would like to press three points on the right hon. Gentleman with regard to what he has said about it. In the first place, I rather regret the turn which the Debate has taken, and I do not propose to follow the last two speakers in the role of what I may perhaps call, without offence, commercial travellers for particular constituencies. I have not, of course, any objection to hon. Members making claims on behalf of those whom they represent, but I do rather resent that, while they do that, they should decry the claims of those whom other people represent, and I would add a word to what has been said already by the hon. Member for White-chapel (Mr. Gosling) No Member who represents an urban constituency can do anything else than welcome very warmly the proposals that have been made, or are being made, to improve the amenities of urban life in this country, amenities which are very badly, almost tragically, in need of being improved. I would willingly strike a bargain with hon. Members who represent rural constituencies, and if they would admit that as much should be spent on improving the amenities of urban roads as is spent on improving the surface of rural roads then, I think, we shoud both be content. At any rate, I welcome very much the proposal contained in this Bill for tree planting and generally for the beautifying of urban districts.
1013 The second point to which I wish to refer is the question of experiments. I think that the right hon. Gentleman will receive a welcome for this Bill, which is not quite as modest as he represents it to be, because, to me, it seems to introduce three very valuable principles. This is the second. There is a very general welcome for his Bill from all those people who will be glad to know that the Government have realised that the increase and the betterment of transport facilities in all its aspects is one of the foundations on which the reconstruction of the country must be based, and I would only ask in regard to that, that if it falls to the lot of the right hon. Gentleman to administer this Bill when it becomes an Act of Parliament he will see the experiment is widespread. There is a tendency with such experiments very often for one or two experts or functionaries to have the bulk of the experiments carried on under their supervision, and the right hon. Gentleman has, of course, recognised that the whole subject of road surface of concrete roads is in its infancy, A great deal has to be done by experiments as to various forms of strengthening material, and reinforcement, and even the question of whether the roads are to be convex or concave. All these matters are in their infancy, and you want the experiments to be spread as widely as possible.
The third point to which I wish to draw the attention of the right hon. Gentleman is the question to which he gave a sort of conditional blessing. That is the question of blind corners. With all respect to the right hon. Gentleman himself, and to the hon. Gentleman who followed him, they are not completely familiar with the details of the position. The corners that have to be considered are the junctions of Class 1 and Class 2 roads with another road, and such other roads as the Ministry of Transport may consider desirable or a bend of a dangerous character in a Class 1 or Class 2 road. I particularly welcome the complacency of the right hon. Gentleman and the hope, which he holds out, of these Clauses being incorporated in the Bill, because, as I think, he will recognise from the questions which have been asked during the year in this Parliament, and the private Members' Bills which have been introduced, that there is a great deal of interest from various angles in 1014 the question of dealing with motor traffic. I do not know whether he agrees, but personally I think that the time has obviously arrived when a great deal of legislation regarding motor traffic should be reviewed and brought up to date. I would remind the House that this private Member's Bill dealing with blind corners does not propose to deal with existing blind corners. It does not propose to deal with the removal of obstructions, but with the prevention of obstructions being set up where there are no obstructions at present. It may seem to be a small thing, but it introduces a very valuable principle, and, personally, I cannot see that there will be any hardship to those who follow. The right hon. Gentleman raised rather a danger signal with regard to compensation, but I know that he will not allow that to stand in the way of getting these principles included in the Bill.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman (Colonel Wedgwood) who spoke from the Front Opposition Bench declared against the payment of compensation. I think he was right for wrong reasons. When he argued that it was not unfair to withhold compensation in these cases because property owners had the value of their property increased in other cases, he was not using a sound argument, for you might be benefiting some property owners at the expense of other property owners. He should have argued in some such way as this: If you admit the principle that to erect such a building or obstruction at the meeting of two roads as would constitute a dangerous blind corner, is a wrong thing to do, then you take away anyone's right to compensation for not doing it. To say that there shall not be placed at a particular angle of the road any building is no more arbitrary or unjust than to say that buildings shall not be erected beyond a particular line. No one should be given a reward for not doing it. Otherwise, we should all be going to the Home Secretary and asking for pensions because we did not pick each others' pockets.
The principles which are laid down in this Bill, the Private Member's Bill, are very sensible. You have to definite what your corner is. You have to lay down the amount of space or the height beyond 1015 which obstruction shall not be raised. You then have to say what roads and what corners this shall be applied to; you have to impose penalties and to make arrangements to indemnify owners who, by following the Act, are breaking some other contract. It seems to me that all that can be done in one or two quite simple but quite comprehensive Clauses. I know that it might be argued that those who use motor vehicles can themselves guard against any danger from blind corners by driving more carefully. I quite agree. But it is no consolation to the person who has been run over and had his legs broken to know that it is the fault of the other man. If you can make it less likely that he will be run over you are obviously removing or minimising some of the dangers. If the Government adopt legislation of this kind they will have with them the whole motor-using community and will be doing a great deal to improve the conditions under which roads are used, not only for motorists but for the foot passenger also. These three principles—the principles of beautifying urban roads, the principle of experiment in the construction of roads, and the principle of doing something to help to regulate the motor traffic of the country—amply justify the introduction of this Bill, which, I hope, will be pressed forward into law as soon as possible.
§ Sir HARRY HOPE
The Bill is a small Bill, but it deals with a very large problem. The traffic on our roads has been increasing enormously during the last few years, and at the present time is still increasing. We all know that from every town within, say, 20 or 30 miles, traffic which used to go on the railways is now going on the roads. Motor lorries are carrying goods of every description which formerly used to go by rail. In addition to that, we have char-a-bane traffic out of and into towns all over the country. The result is that our roads to-day are carrying a traffic which was undreamt of only 20 years ago. With that new problem in front of us, and with the task of providing funds for the upkeep of these roads, I think that people in the country districts, when they come to read the speech made by the Minister of Transport this afternoon, will be very disappointed with it, and that they will think that he does not seem 1016 to realise the gravity of the position with which we are faced.
The Minister has referred to the advantage of planting trees along our roadsides. If you look at this question from the road point of view I believe that nearly all road surveyors will say that the planting of trees, with the attendant shading caused by those trees, will be bad for the continued life of the roads, and will lead to an increased cost in the upkeep of roads so shaded. Therefore, when we see this vast new traffic passing along our roads, a traffic that is still growing, I think this contribution to the problem which the Minister invites us to pass this afternoon is a very poor and inadequate one. In Scotland we have counties with a very large road mileage and with a low rateable value, which results in an enormous burden being placed on the people in those districts. We hear about the advantage of removing any obstacle which lies in the direction of food production, but with the enormous road assessments which we have now we have one of the greatest hindrances to the cheap production of food all over the country. Therefore, if there is money to be spent, I say do not let us fritter it away.
I think that this Bill does provide for money being frittered away. Do not let us fritter it away on what, after all, may be unnecessary work, but rather let us keep it for helping the highway authorities to bear the grievous burden which is upon them now. I am sure that if our county councils—I speak for Scotland—and their county councils association were asked their opinion of this Bill, they would say, "We have many problems in front of us, the problem of finding money to carry out repairs which are absolutely necessary, and this Bill does nothing to help us." I hope that the Minister will realise that we have great need for money in our country districts, and that as the motor traffic is now going on the roads instead of remaining on the railways, he ought to do far more to enable us to bear the burden of providing roads that will carry that great traffic.
§ Mr. R. MORRISON
The chorus of approbation which this Bill has received from all parts of the House must be very encouraging to the Minister, and in the attack which has been delivered upon it from the rear he has our sympathy. The 1017 three explosive speeches delivered from the Minister's own followers, in which it was alleged that the Bill is full of prejudice, full of extravagance, and that it means money being frittered away, left me wondering how much of those speeches was business and how much was only hot air. In plain language, are the hon. Members behind the Minister merely taking advantage of the opportunity to ride their own pet horse, or do they really mean all that they have been saying, and do they intend to divide the House against their own side upon the Bill? If they take such drastic action as their brave words would seem to indicate, I am sure that Members on this side of the House will have very great pleasure in coming to the support of the Minister to save him from his friends. In directing a few re marks to the subject of the very useful little Bill under discussion, I wish at the outset to point out that the Road Fund this year will be approximately 215,000,000. Out of that sum grants are made by the Minister of Transport to the extent of 50 per cent. for Class I roads, and 25 per cent. for Class II roads. These two grants, taken together, absorb more than half the amount of the Road Fund.
§ Mr. MORRISON
The balance of the Road Fund is applied to a variety of useful purposes, such as grants towards surveyors' salaries, rural roads, elimination of level crossings, the improvement of signposting and the building of new arterial roads. This Bill would add to those objects the planting and protection of trees, shrubs and grass margins, the placing of notices and the freeing of roads from tolls. As has been said from the, Front Opposition Bench, these objects meet with our entire approval. We all realise that new arterial roads are apt to be somewhat crude at first, and it depends entirely on the amount of co-operation between the local authorities and the Government as to what these roads will become. There is, for instance, the question of co-operation to prevent the new roads from being disfigured by huge advertisement hoardings, the action taken by local authorities to impose building lines, so that the roads may be bordered by pleasant gardens, and the taking of precautions to see that the view is not ruined by the unregulated growth of 1018 slums and mean streets. I am sorry that some years ago, when these arterial roads were first planned, some steps were not taken to get into the pockets of the community the added value which has accrued to the owners of the land on either side of the road. In my own particular locality the building of a new arterial road has meant not only that the land on either side has been doubled and trebled or even quadrupled in value, but also that the owners of the land have actually been paid compensation for having the value of their land increased two, three, or four times.
Like other speakers who have praised this Bill, I want particularly to praise Clause 3, which gives to the Minister power to conduct experiments. The rapid increase in motor transport has meant the re-making of practically all the main roads of this country at an enormous expenditure. Up to now it has been nobody's business to carry out practical tests in road-making impartially and without any bias caused by the operation of private enterprise in connection with various road materials. I hope the Minister will take this power and will use it. I can foresee that in the hands of a progressively-minded Minister of Transport—and I think the right hon. and gallant Gentleman comes within that category—this power should result in a great fillip being given to road engineering in this country with beneficial results as regards both durability and cost. Some Members who take an interest in transport questions have had an uncomfortable feeling regarding the cost of these great road schemes. That uncomfortable feeling has not been allayed by the figures recently published in the balance-sheets of several of these large road construction companies, showing the enormously high dividends which they have been paying. There is also an uncomfortable feeling in the minds of many of us that these big road schemes are falling into the hands of fewer and fewer people. Some of us are not quite sure, for instance, when tenders are sought for schemes—running into a quarter of a million in some cases—as to how far there is collaboration between various firms in presenting tenders. I hope the Minister will interpret his powers under this Clause as widely as possible, so that they shall cover not only the question of 1019 durability, but also the question of cost, and the prices of road material and that, where few firms put in tenders, due regard will also be paid to the question of how far these are genuine tenders. The most important point I wish to urge is one which has not been referred to so far in this Debate, namely, the question of lighting. Reference has been made to the enormous value of these arterial roads. I submit it is very necessary, particularly in regard to those parts of arterial roads which come near to large towns, and those parts which go through the suburbs of London, that these roads should be lighted at an early date.
§ Mr. MORRISON
I am coming to that point if the hon. Member will curb his impatience, and when I do come to it, he may regard it as strengthening the case for the important Division which he and his friends are going to force against their own side. Anyone who lives in the vicinity of one of these arterial roads must realise that it is very necessary that they should be lighted at an early date. There are no pavements on these roads as we understand pavements in London. There is a sidewalk, but it is much more comfortable to walk on the roadway than on the sidewalk, with the result that 99 per cent. of the pedestrians who use these roads walk on the roadway instead of on the sidewalk. This involves danger to the pedestrian, and that is the first reason for lighting the roads. Hon. Members opposite will agree with my next point, which is that new motoring legislation may be expected very soon. Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite frequently come into conflict with the police in regard to the present motoring Regulations, and as a result of their frequent appearances in the police courts in this connection, they have of late brought pressure to bear on the Minister of Transport. At every opportunity during Question time, questions are showered upon the Minister by the latest victims who have been fined. I have little doubt that the Minister will introduce legislation very soon either abolishing the speed limit altogether or increasing the speed 1020 limit. It follows that it will then be more than ever necessary to take adequate precautions for the safety of pedestrians upon arterial roads which are going to be the happy hunting ground of motorists who love to travel at top-speed. If these roads are unlighted as those in my vicinity are, the motorists using them after dark will be compelled to employ headlights which will have a dazzling and confusing effect upon pedestrians and I believe the number of accidents will be considerable.
I have sought to prove that these roads are unsafe in their present unlighted state, and that it is not wise to allow them to remain so. In fact, if amending legislation such as I have indicated is passed with reference to the speed of motors, the public will not allow them to remain un lighted. As the law stands, the lighting authority is responsible for the initial capital expenditure on and the maintenance of lighting, and the lighting authority usually means the urban or rural district council. There are district councils in the country whose penny rate raises a very small sum; on the other hand there are enormously wealthy county councils, such as that of Middlesex, of which I lately had the honour of being a member, whose penny rate produces the princely sum of £33,000. The local authorities at the present time get no grant, either from the Road Fund or the county council, towards the initial capital expenditure or maintenance of the lighting of the roads. It is impossible to expect the average local council to light the roads in its area. How can you expect districts like Billericay, through which the Southend Road passes, or Chesham, through which the North Cambridge arterial road passes, to be able to embark upon the initial capital expenditure necessary for the lighting of those roads in their districts? Why should we expect them to do so? The hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Hurd) rose in great indignation at the very idea that this charge should come upon the Road Fund. May I point out to him that, in regard to the arterial roads which we are constructing just now, in the case of 90 per cent. of the villages through which they pass it is doubtful if 1 per cent. of the traffic passing through a particular village is local traffic. Therefore, why should the charge 1021 for lighting fall upon the local council in those cases? The Minister of Transport said we could not expect the Road Fund to be used for the relief of local rates. I agree; but at the same time we should not expect any grant from the Road Fund to be used to increase the local rates.
My own constituency is not an extreme ease. It has not been as hard hit as many other places through which arterial roads have been made. The North Cambridge road goes through Tottenham in two small sections, and the surveyor of the local council told me only this morning that 30 lamps would be required to light those two sections adequately, and the maintenance of those lamps, leaving aside capital expenditure, would cost £520 a year if they were electric lamps, or £420 a year if they were gas lamps. It comes back to the old question of who is going to pay. As I say, the case of my own constituency is not an extreme one in this respect, and there are other districts in a worse situation in this respect, but there are no houses upon the arterial road passing through my constituency, and the local council has no revenue from it. There is very little local traffic passing along this road, and I therefore suggest that when this Bill goes to Committee the Minister should submit an Amendment or sympathetically receive an Amendment which would enable him to make some grant towards the cost of lighting arterial reads where that is found to be necessary.
I do not suggest that the burden of lighting the whole length of these roads, say, from London to Southend, should be cast on the Road Fund. I suggest, however, that the position now is dangerous to the pedestrian, and is going to be more dangerous in the event of new motor legislation; I suggest that over 90 per cent. of pedestrians using these roads walk on the roadway instead of on the sidewalk, and that it is necessary to do something for their safety. I suggest, further, that the local councils are not getting any revenue from these roads, and for those reasons I ask the Minister to consider the proposal I have made that he should take powers under this Bill—in case there may not be another opportunity of doing so for some time to come—so as to provide a grant for the lighting of these roads. We cannot expect already heavily burdened local authorities to undertake this additional 1022 charge. In my own case, we have just had an increase of nearly 1s. in the £ in the rates—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]—thanks to the operations of a Conservative council, which we hope to displace on Saturday next. If hon. Gentleman opposite divide against their own Government on this Bill, I shall have pleasure in supporting it, but I hope the Minister will receive my suggestion, which is made with a view to the safety of pedestrians and the safety of motorists, and is also made with due regard to the financial position of the local authorities.
§ Mr. HUGH MORRISON
I should like to associate myself with what is said by my hon. Friend the Member for Devises (Mr. Hurd). I recognise the sympathetic attitude of the Minister of Transport, but he will forgive me for saying that I do not think £5,000,000 out of £42,000,000 is an adequate amount to have spent on rural roads. The problem is a pressing one, because the cost of rural roads is going up by leaps and bounds, and it directly affects the interest of agriculture in this country. It was suggested by the last speaker that some of us on this side have been talking hot air on this subject. I and those who sit with me were returned to do what we could to represent the interests of agriculture. According to the last return which I have been able to get from the Rural District Councils Association, the average rate per £ represented by the cost of roads in England and Wales has gone up from 1s. 1d. in the £, which was the rate for 1904, to 2s. 5d. in the £, which was the rate in the last year for which I have been able to get the figures. That shows the urgency of the problem.
I quite agree with what the Minister says, that we do not expect to get relief for the rates from the Road Fund, but we do object to the cost of rural roads continually rising by leaps and bounds. I find that in the last 15 years the cost of roads has risen by something like £26,000,000, and for the last year given in the Road Fund Report, the year 1923–24, I find that the Road Grants amounted to over £13,000,000. I should like to press on my right hon. Friend, who, I am quite aware, is sympathetic, that he ought to do more for the rural roads during the coming year. The first 1023 charge on the Road Fund ought to be for the improvement and maintenance of the existing roads, and the cost of the new arterial roads, such as the one that was opened to Southend the other day, with a great flourish of trumpets, ought to be borne by loan and the payments spread over a term of years. Agriculture is in a by no means flourishing condition, and the cost of rural roads is very heavy. I, therefore, confidently appeal to the Minister to do what he can to help our great national industry.
§ Mr. GOSLING
I should not have intervened in this Debate but that I wanted to assure the Minister of Transport that, although we have changed our seats, we have not changed our minds, and we are as heartily in favour of this Bill to-day as we were when I had the honour of introducing it last year. With regard to tree planting, I had an experience at the Ministry of Transport which rather meets an objection made by one hon. Member that you want some variety in the trees planted. I remember that at the time when the Bill was introduced last year, there was considerable criticism of the placing of fruit trees on the roads in some places, and it was suggested that mischievous boys would steal the fruit. I was reminded of my own experience when I was a boy. At that time people did not plant flowers in parks as they do now, for the reason that they might be "pinched," but that has all gone, as we have got used to having them. So I feel that, even if we should put fruit trees on the road sides, we should very soon get used to them being there, and respect them. If you see the behaviour of children in our parks now, it is much better, because they have been taught much more than we were taught when we were children.
Another point that was pressed upon me very early in my experience at the Ministry of Transport was the large amount of money that was being spent, without adequate means of discovering whether or not it was being properly spent: and it struck me, with such business instinct as I had, that where £40,000,000 or 45,000,000 a year was being spent, one at least ought to make sure that every bit of it was being laid out after proper investigations had been made as to whether or not it was being 1024 well and truly spent. It is true that experiments have always more or less been made by the officials of the Ministry, but never with any proper co-operation. What is really wanted is that a grant for all experiments that are made should be available for the whole of the country. It was felt—and I think there is no answer to it—that if you are going to spend all that money, you at least ought to have your laboratory, or whatever is wanted, to make sure that the money is well spent. I cannot imagine a big industrial undertaking, with anything like the turnover that there is in the way of making roads, which would not make that one of their very first thoughts.
With regard to tolls, I think the intention is only to be able to remove tolls as it is found possible. There are some remaining tolls that ought to be swept away. I went to the Ministry with a strong prejudice in favour of sweeping away all tolls, because I happen to have been born between Waterloo and Charing Cross, on the south side of the river, when there was no means of getting across the river, if you had not the money, unless you went over Blackfriars Bridge or Westminster Bridge. I think that, perhaps, what brought it to a head more quickly than anything else was that, when I was a small boy, I had a ticket given me for what was then the Alhambra Theatre, and my father gave me the money to buy some oranges, so that I might have a very fine night out. I did not mind walking over Westminster Bridge to get there, because it meant one more orange, and then, like most boys with a little money, I had done it all in. I thought, "Well, never mind, I will go home before the show is over," but the show was so interesting that I could not leave it till the finish, and I had to walk back again over Westminster Bridge in order to get home, and it rained all the way! I am not going to pretend that I said to myself, if ever -I became Minister of Transport, what I would do, but I think I thought there was a screw loose somewhere, and that these tolls ought to be abolished. That has always been in my mind, and I know, having been brought up on the south side of the river in this great city, what a difficulty it is for people who want to get about when they are met with tolls from time to time, and have not the 1025 money. It is bad enough if you are riding, but at least we ought to have the right to walk on the main roads without being interfered with by tolls. Therefore, I had great pleasure in having the opportunity to introduce that question into this Bill when it was my job.
There is one point which I see has gone out of the Bill, and it may be there is good reason for it. But another experience of mine was that it was very soon borne in on me that, with all the accidents that occur—and there are quite a lot of serious accidents on the roads—there is no power for the Minister of Transport to hold an inquiry to find out the cause. It never struck me as being needed so much for the purpose of punishing anybody as to try to find a means of preventing the accident occurring again. Something like this happens, as far as I know: There is a fatal accident, and the coroner holds an inquiry. He has no technical experts with him, and the Minister cannot do more than write to the coroner and say: "I shall be pleased to put So-and-So at your disposal, if you care to have him." The coroner may say "Yes," or he may say "No." But the Ministry has no power at all, and it seems to me that a great Ministry like the Ministry of Transport. should have the power, and should ask for the power, to enable them to hold inquiries in such a way as would enable them to get at the reasons for these serious accidents, and thus, perhaps, be able to prevent them 'An the future. There may be some reason why that Clause is out of the Bill now, but it was in, and I am sorry to see that it has gone.
With regard to the general opposition to the Bill, so far as I can tell—and I have looked at the same gentlemen from that side over here—there is nothing in it, and they are either playing for time, or wanting to show that they are looking after certain interests. At any rate, the party to which I belong were heartily in favour of this Bill being introduced, and are very anxious that it should not be delayed any longer. We, therefore, give it our very best blessing, and hope it will go through without opposition.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HORLICK
I wish to say a few words on behalf of what appears to me to be a most excellent Bill. I think everybody realises the gravity of the state of the unclassified rural roads, but there is one point of view which has 1026 not yet been put forward, and that is that the great majority of motorists—and it is the motorists who find the money for this Road Fund—come from urban districts, and for the main part they use first-and second-class roads. I do not think it is just that money should be found by a certain class of the community and not by the community as a whole, and it seems to me that if fresh money is required for the rural roads, it will have to come from some other fund. A sum of £15,000,000 is now found by the motorists, of which, I understand, some 75 per cent. is used on the first and second-class roads, and a large sum already subscribed to the rural roads. Hon. Members who have spoken have said it would reduce the cost of freights and so on, but the motorist when he puts his money down is doing it toward improving the roads, and I think the money should come from the community as a whole.
One great point in the Bill is that dealing with experiments, and there is still vast matter for fresh experiment and for improvement in existing road manufacture. I should like to point out that at the present moment the colouring of these new roads is practically black, and at night it is extremely difficult to see on them, unless one has very powerful head lamps. If one could only get them made of a lighter colour, as they are in the United States of America, it would be much easier to see more clearly than one does at present and with much dimmer headlights. Again, there is the problem of skidding, which has not yet been tackled at all. A great number of these new roads are extremely skiddy when it has rained for a few moments, and that is another problem which requires a great deal of experiment. The effect of heat and cold on road surfaces is another matter which requires much experiment.
I would like to say a few words with regard to the question of lighting, mentioned by the hon. Member for North Tottenham (Mr. R. Morrison). As a practical motorist of some 20 years' experience, I believe that, unless roads are really brilliantly lighted, it is safer to drive on roads without any lights at all. I do not think there are any more dangerous streets in the world than those which are dimly lit on the outskirts of big cities, where it is neither one thing nor the other. The light from these dim 1027 lamps just counteracts the light from one's headlights, and to obtain the brilliancy required to light long stretches of these arterial roads, the cost would be prohibitive.
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HORLICK
In conclusion, I would just like to put in a plea to the Minister on the question of blind corners. It was mentioned by one hon. Member opposite, and, of course, it is obvious that the blind corner is one of the chief causes of dangerous accidents, and the fewer we can have the better. In the United States they have gone so far as to have large notices put on any roads coming into arterial high roads—"Arterial High Road. Stop"—and you are responsible by law for stoping before you come on to such a road, whether you can see up or down on each side or not. If there be an accident at one of those corners the car which comes off the byroad is automatically held to be the guilty party. This particular Measure would merely prevent any further blind corners being built up. I would therefore ask the Minister if he can see his way to insert this in the present Measure.
§ Major Sir ARCHIBALD SINCLAIR
The hon. Gentleman the ex-Minister of Transport (Mr. Gosling) and the hon. Member for North Tottenham (Mr. R. Morrison) suggested that hon. Gentlemen opposite were not serious in the Amendment that they moved. They talk about it being hot air. I cannot understand what purpose is served by making such innuendoes. It is absurd to insinuate that hon. Gentlemen, with the eyes of their constituents upon them, are going to trifle with the importance of this matter to the communities living in agricultural districts. It is obvious that no other course is open to them unless we get some satisfaction from the Minister, but to divide the House. I will support them in doing so. The right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill spoke, as we 1028 know he is, like a Progressive, generous, fair-minded bureaucrat but I would ask him to take a different view of this question than merely the bureaucratic view. He speaks about contributions towards the upkeep of rural roads. I would ask him to remember the heavy burden that the policy of the Government in insisting on the building of these Class 1 and Class 2 roads up to a standard lit for motorists, has imposed upon the people at the present time. In the Highlands of Scotland, where I come from people are staggering under the burden of rates. There is the education rate. You get something for that, the education of your children. Then there is this great heavy deadweight of the road rate. In the county of Sutherland it is no less than 4s. 6d. in the £. The right hon. Gentleman will say, when he replies, that he has treated the county of Sutherland very generously. That is quite true, within the limit, of his present policy, but I say it is wrong that you should place this burden on the poor people of that county in order that the roads should be maintained in a state fit for motorists.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
The hon. and gallant Member says "within the limit of my present policy." Is he suggesting that, I should increase the tax on motor vehicles?
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
How the right hon. Gentleman should get the money is a matter for the Government to decide. It certainly is not for me to decide, unless the right hon. Gentleman invites me to become the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It is a matter for the Government to decide whether it comes from taxes or additional taxation imposed on the motorists. In any ease I say, without fear of contradiction from the right hon. Gentleman, that it is not fair to place the burden upon the local people. In Sutherland, the road rate before the War was 1s. It is now 4s. 6d. For the purposes of agriculture, for the purposes of those people who live there, the roads are not so good as they were before the War. They do not like these slippery surfaces for the horses. They are paying more than four times the road rate and getting a worse article, from the agricultural point of view, than before the War. The people who are paying are poor fishermen and poor people living in the towns 1029 and villages. In Golspie I know a man who paid 7s. 6d. for his road rate before the War. He is now paying over £2. The right hon. Gentleman said it is very hard. It is much more than very hard. It is an intolerable burden. The people who get the benefit of these stretches of fine roads are the people who come from the big cities. Whoever it is should pay this money—it is not the local people. It is the people who use the roads; the people who come from the cities—by additional taxation on motor cars or by taxation in some other way—should pay.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for West Walthamstow (Major Crawfurd) talked just now about the amenities which were so tragically lacking in the great cities. In these parts I am referring to it is the necessities which are lacking. Poor fishermen, who cannot even get a harbour in which to shelter and from which to prosecute their calling, have to pay rates of 4s. 6d. in the £ to keep up these luxurious roads. The county of Sutherland has to keep up 670 miles of roads on a valuation of £84,000, and then we read in the papers that the right hon. Gentleman is building a road from Glasgow to Edinburgh to cost £1,000,000. That is the reason why we say we want more money for the upkeep and maintenance of our rural roads, and less spent on these extravagant new roads. The right hon. Gentleman is building a road from Perth to Inverness. The effect of that will be to bring fleets of motor cars on this new road, and they will come along our roads in the North cutting them up worse than ever. I ask him if the construction of this great arterial road from Perth to Inverness does not give the Northern counties a claim for a higher share of grants. Then when we want roads for our local affairs, for the crofting town ships, to enable the crofters to carry on their agricultural affairs, we cannot get the money, and these men who are paying this enormous rate of 4s. 6d. in the £ are unable to get grants to obtain the roads required for their own needs.
I make to the right hon. Gentleman three suggestions. In the first place, I would say that the county councils, especially in the Highlands, should have some control over the weight and speed of the great lorries which come on our roads. These lorries are brought in by 1030 the Shell Company, and people like that, and, travelling at great speed, they cut up our roads. Then I would say that the only fair way to free these poor counties and to put them on a level with the wealthier districts, is to have a flat rate levied all over the country and let the Government find the necessary money to keep the roads up to the level necessary for motorists. Finally, if he does not like that, then I say the main roads ought to be nationalised. The right hon. Gentleman talked of a national fund.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
I am very sorry. I was led away through trying to help. This puts a heavy burden on the rural districts. It is not for their needs; it is for the needs of people who come from the big cities, and it is unfair that we in the rural districts should pay more than four times for the upkeep of the roads than we paid before the War. It is deplorable that the right hon. Gentleman should come to this House and suggest he should go in for expenditure on the lines suggested in this Measure, depleting the Road Fund before we get the urgent requirements of the rural districts met. I, therefore, hope the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Newbury (Brigadier-General Brown) will not fail to divide the house if we get- no satisfaction from the Minister.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
I am rather diffident and shy at interfering with Scottish affairs, and I think I can leave the county council of Perthshire and the great Corporations of Edinburgh and Glasgow to deal with the speech of the hon. and gallant. Gentleman to whom we have just listened. In effect, he says, "I object to the-road between Glasgow and Edinburgh, which was enthusiastically supported by the two great corporations; I object to the reconstruction of the road between Perth and Inverness, which has the enthusiastic support of the county council of Perthshire; and I do not want any of those fandangoes contained in the new Bill." I know what his wish is. I know he does not think that there should be any milestones or signposts on the roads.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
I am very sorry if I failed to make myself clear. I stand by the wording of the Amendment which I 1031 have supported, which says that this Measure should not be proceeded with until we receive from the right hon. Gentleman an assurance that we shall get a stronger measure of financial assistance.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Whitechapel (Mr. Gosling) asked me a very important question, namely, why there is no provision made in the Bill so that the Ministry of Transport can hold inquiries into accidents. I was anxious not to overload the Bill. I knew that the more I put into it the more opposition there would be, and the Government hope, if time can be found, to have a proper Vehicles Bill, which will embrace a large number of subjects, this Session; if not this year, at any rate next year; and I propose to put in that Bill power to the Ministry of Transport to make those inquiries. There have been very shocking accidents. It is only right and proper that there should be some proper authority which should have power to inquire into those matters.
§ Mr. R. MORRISON
I take it that, the power would include power to hold an inquiry regardless of whether fatalities occurred.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
I think that would have to be left to the discretion of the Minister. May I thank the House very cordially for the praise it has given to me over the introduction of this Bill. I do not think in any quarter of the House there has be-en any serious criticism at all about the Bill as a Bill. One or two hon. Members have stated that they would like a few more things. The only opposition has been from my hon. Friends representing the rural areas, who say, "We will support the Bill, but, as we are talking about roads, let us take the opportunity of putting forward our claims for further assistance for our areas." Any assistance I can give out of the Road Fund I am anxious to give, but I would impress these two points: First, that this is a national Fund and, secondly, that this is a Fund which was instituted for the maintenance and improvement of roads. Subject to those two great principles, I have done, and intend to do, as much as I possibly can for the rural roads.
I said at the beginning of my speech I had every sympathy with the rural 1032 roads, because I know their needs, having been a member of a rural district council, and I am paying extremely high rates for the upkeep of rural roads in my own county. But it is impossible for any Minister to give more out of a fund than he has in the fund. Perhaps I may point out that I initiated this system of giving grants to rural roads two and a-half years ago, and £5,000,000 will have been given by myself and my successor over and above anything given before for the assistance of these unclassified roads in rural districts; and the whole income of the fund is only £41,000,000. I think, therefore, the House must agree that we have not made an ungenerous start in this matter. I do not want to raise the question of town and country. I am sure the question will not be asked, "Are you giving enough to the towns?" or "Are you giving enough in the interests of the motorists who are finding the money?" I hope hon. Members will have confidence in me. I am trying to do my best to help all parties. Everyone naturally desires to get all the money possible for his own particular aspect of the question. I think I may leave it at that, and assure my hon. Friends and the country that I have gone as far as I have been able to go, and I am certain they will not find a more sympathetic Minister of Transport than myself.
§ Mr. RHYS
I only propose to bring up a point in connection with these roads which has not yet been raised by any hon. Member in the Debate. But before coming to that point, I wish to say I have considerable sympathy with the Minister in wanting to beautify these arterial roads. These roads run very largely through undeveloped rural districts. Some are new, some are improvements of old country roads, and in hardly any case has any consideration been given to the question of horse traffic. The horse is not yet by any means an obsolete form of trans, port in this country, and very many serious accidents have taken place owing to the slippery nature of these roads. While these roads are, in many cases, an improvement on the old roads, I would like to urge on the Minister that some siding might be left to give a foothold to horses, especially on slopes. At the commencement of the new arterial road to Southend, I am glad to say a space has been left, but elsewhere along the road no con 1033 sideration has been given at all, and the road runs through what still is a very undeveloped rural district.
That road I am taking as an example, as it is the one I know best, because it runs through the middle of my constituency and has only been half completed. I do not know when the Ministry intend to make the other half of the road, but, presumably, in the meantime they are asking for powers in this Bill to make grass margins, and I believe it is their intention to make the road look presentable. On one side of the road is the pedestrian path, and the engineers object very strongly to horses being taken along it, though the horses cannot get a foothold on the new road. If the uncompleted half of the margin, which is at present rough clay, is to be laid down, and horses cannot be taken along it, a horse track should, if possible, to made alongside the road, which would go a long way towards meeting the objection of many horse-owners, not only in the district, but many other districts as well. I think the horse has served us very well in the past, and we might well, without any added expense, as powers are being taken to make a grass margin, see to it that horses may be taken over it, and whether it is possible to get a siding along the road itself where a horse in harness could secure an adequate foothold. I hope the Minister will bear this in mind, and give it due consideration at the proper time.
§ Major WHELER
This is not a case of Members wanting to get up and voice the views of their own constituency. It is a far bigger question than that. While I know the Minister wants to do all he possibly can, it is a question to Which, I venture to say, he and his hon. and gallant Friend beside him must devote considerable care if they are to do something for the countryside. It is a bigger question that the road itself. While we admit the Bill does not involve a very large sum of money, yet the state of agriculture and the rural districts through which these roads run is such that they grudge—and rightly grudge—seeing any penny spent when they realise that their burden is getting heavier day by day. Let me give an instance of one of the most serious costs of a rural district. It is the case of a rural district council in Essex. They say that their outlay for highway purposes in 1034 1913 worked out at 1s. 6½ in the £. It went up in 1921 to 3s. 11d. At the present time it is up to 4s. 0¾d. and in the coming year they expect it to be higher. They say these sums do not include the highway rate for other highway purposes, and they are not receiving any grant from the Road Fund towards the keeping up of unclassified roads.
That is the sum total of our case as exemplified by a single instance. That is the burden the local authorities have to bear. It is because of that burden that they ask for their case to be put in this House. We realise that the Road Fund, from which these moneys are being granted, is a Road Fund which is increasing, and what I would ask my right hon. Friend is this: Can he give us some undertaking that as that fund increases he will allot a definite proportion to help these rural districts I What is going to happen in the next two or three years? Every one of these unclassified roads is getting on it more and more motor traffic, and they are not getting a penny towards the maintenance. I admit to the full that when the Minister gave us, as he did, an hour in Committee upstairs answering questions, he behaved absolutely fairly, and it is not because of that that we are delaying the Bill to-day. It is because the cry of the rural districts is exceedingly urgent, because they sec no escape from this tax, while they see an increasing fund collected, owing to the increase by leaps and bounds of motor licences, and they ask that the Minister of Transport should endeavour to allocate a definite proportion of the amount collected year by year, so that they may know more where they are than they do at the present time.
That is why we are taking up time now. It is not because we want to play off rural authorities against urban authorities. We want to see the urban authorities receive all to which they are entitled under the scheme, but we want, also, to see the rural areas receive adequate consideration. I am not quite clear whether the Minister is prepared, wherever a good case is put up for the lightening of a toll, to relieve it, but I can give a case where every motor going over a certain route has to pay 1s. 6d. each way, and that is a second-class road. I would like to know whether that sort of thing is going to be 1035 relieved by the Minister of Transport, if, as I agree is absolutely essential, the local authorities on both sides have come to a common agreement as to what they want and are backed by the county council. If the right hon. Gentleman is going to give help from the Road Fund for this purpose, he will be doing extraordinarily good work for many of our roads in different parts of the country. In conclusion, may I once more urge the Minister seriously to consider the situation, and ask him whether he can give us some indication that some proportion of the money will be allotted in future, so that rural authorities will know how to work their own expenditure in years to come.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HENEAGE
I do not propose to occupy much of the time of the House, because the case for the rural constituencies has been very fully laid before us. But there is one class of vehicle that really does affect rural roads, especially roads that are not fully made, and that is the heavy type—the omnibus type, or the heavy goods type—and if the Minister could find some way of improving that type, he would earn the gratitude of all the rural district councils. I suggest to him that experiments might be carried out in multi-axle vehicles. It is believed that six-wheel, or even eight-wheel vehicles, are much lighter on the road than four-wheel vehicles, and I suggest that experiments in that direction would mean a great saving of money to the Road Fund Then, I think, it is most important that material should be cheaper. In a district in a county I know, one-third of the cost of material is due to railway rates and railway demurrage. I suggest that if the right hon. Gentleman can find some means of easing the railway rates and reducing the time the trucks remain at wayside stations, he will also be helping the rural authorities. To sum up, the best way of helping rural councils is, first of all, by experiments for reducing wear and tear on the roads by heavy vehicles; secondly, by cheapening material; and, thirdly, possibly by giving a mileage rate to every unclassified road.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question again proposed.1036
§ Sir DOUGLAS NEWTON
There is just one point I should like to speak upon for a moment or two. I feel, having regard to the enormous importance of the roads of this country, that we do not get as much opportunity as we ought to have to discuss our roads. We are now spending a matter of many millions—this is au ever-increasing sum—on the maintenance of our roads, and we have a few hours every year in which to make reference to this important question. There is one point which I do not think has been touched upon in this Debate, and to which I should like to call the attention of the Minister of Transport. That is the need of prescribing a building line along our roads and highways, especially where they are not very wide. One can see houses going up every day, and we know quite well that in a short while, in the course of a very few years, the public will be called upon to put their hands deep into their pockets to find compensation for the roads to be then laid out and widened. I do very strongly urge the Minister to take power to deal with this matter, because it is unfair in this way to mortgage the future out of the pockets of the people. There is another matter to which I wish to allude, and that is the question of tearing up our roads in which to lay cables. The Post Office, I think, is a considerable offender in regard to that matter.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Gentleman is travelling outside the scope of the Bill These matters were dealt with in the Traffic Bill a year ago, and therefore do not come at present under review.
§ Sir D. NEWTON
I thought that the scope of the present Bill was sufficient to allow me to include some sort of reference to these important matters, because the matter really is one of urgency to the public. If power could be taken by which the aggressions could be stopped it would be much in the public interest. However, Sir, after your ruling I shall not further direct my remarks to those particular points. I venture, however, to draw the attention of the Minister to the building line, and to suggest that we should ask for further powers to deal with the breaking up of the surface of the roads and for the laying of cables so close to them that they have to be lifted again. I raise these two points, and in view of your ruling I shall say no more.
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put and agreed to.
§ Bill react a Second Time, and committed to a Standing Committee.