Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £66,846, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1928, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Ministry of Transport under the Ministry of Transport Act, 1919, Expenses of the Railway Rates Tribunal under the Railways Act, 1921, Expenses under the London Traffic Act, 1924, Expenses in respect of Advances under the Light Railways Act, 1896, Expenses of maintaining Holyhead Harbour, Advances to meet Deficit in Ramsgate Harbour Fund, Advances to Caledonian and Crinan Canals, and for Expenditure in connection with the Severn Barrage Investigation."—[Note: £60,000 has been voted on account.]
§ The MINISTER of TRANSPORT (Colonel Ashley)
Before I deal with the general work of the Ministry, it will, perhaps, be an advantage if I discuss very briefly certain figures that are contained in the Ministry's Vote, and also mention the number borne on the establishment. If hon. Members will refer to the Estimate, they will see that the gross total of the Estimate of the Ministry of Transport is £288,296, but that there are Appropriations-in-Aid to the amount of £161,450, so that the net total with which we have to deal is a sum of £126,846. I want, however, to point out to the Committee that, although that is undoubtedly the total sum which the House has to vote, yet a very considerable portion of that sum deals with items which are old or special commitments and which do not vary with the policy of the Ministry. I refer mainly to subheads G, H, J, K, L and M on page 114 of the Vote, namely, Holyhead Harbour, Ramsgate Harbour, Caledonian Canal, Crinan Canal, Severn Barrage Investigation, and Annuities under the Light Rail- 222 ways Act, 1896. The Committee will appreciate that, although these items may vary by a few hundreds of pounds one way or the other from year to year, clearly, so far as general control by the Minister is concerned, and so far as policy is concerned, they are stable quantities and do not vary very much. They amount altogether to a round sum of £35,000, so that the amount which is really within the purview of the Minister, and with which he really has to deal, is £91,000, which is being, I hope, voted to-day to carry on the work of the Ministry of Transport for the year 1927–28.
The net total of £126,846 which I am asking the Committee to vote compares with a total of £141,734 last year, showing a net decrease of £15,000. That on a sum of £141,734, is a sensible decrease. It will be to the advantage of the Committee to consider for a moment how this decrease of £15,000 has come about. Last year there was a very considerable item of, in round figures, £23,000, which came under the sub-head of Special Services and Inquiries, and, of that £23,000, no less than £19,000 was for special surveys in connection with the Electricity Bill, which was then being put through and which is now an Act. In addition, we are asking the House to vote this year a sum of £12,000 for the Severn Barrage Investigation, instead of the £17,000 of last year, so that we have another saving of £5,000, making, in all, a decrease on two major heads of some £24,000.
There is an increase under Sub-head A, Salaries, Wages and Allowances, of no less than £10,000. That is due to the Roads Department, largely owing to the increase of activities in connection with London traffic and in other spheres of that Department. There is therefore, altogether, as I have pointed out, a decrease, as compared with last year, of, in round figures, £15,000. This figure of £10,000 is not borne on the Votes of the House, as it comes back as an Appropriations in Aid, and is borne by the Road Fund. I want to make it quite clear that I am not putting forward the fact that this extra £10,000 is borne on the Road Fund as any excuse for the spending of this money, because Road Fund expenditure is subject to just as vigorous an examination on the part of my officials and by the Treasury as money voted by Parliament, but simply to indicate 223 where the increase has come about—that is to say, not in connection with railways, electricity, tramways or anything of that kind, but simply in the activities of the Roads Department.
Before I leave the subject of what I may call the headquarter staff in London, perhaps the Committee will allow me to read a question and answer with reference to the activities of the Ministry. The question was put by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) on the 12th April, and I think that the answer will, perhaps, give the Committee a fairer view of the position of the Ministry than anything else. My hon. and gallant Friend asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer, for whom I replied:If he is aware that in the Estimates for 1924–25 the staff of the Ministry of Transport, as shown in sub-head A, was 428, and the cost of salaries, wages and allowances was £193,537; and that in the succeeding Estimates the staff has increased each year, first to 464, then to 524, and this year to 553 at an estimated cost of £212,827; and whether he will explain to the House why this Department has had to be increased by over 23 per cent, since 1924, and what steps are being taken to check this increase?I see that my hon. and gallant Friend is here. My reply was as follows:The number of charwomen (29) were not shown in the Estimates for 1924–25, and the comparable numbers of the staff for that year and for 1927 are 457 and 533, respectively, an increase of 96. In addition, provision for temporary engineering and clerical staff in the Roads Department was made in 1924–25 to the amount of £25,000, but a reduced provision of £18,000 is taken in the Estimates for 1927. The increase in numbers has occurred entirely in the Roads Department, and is attributable partly to the work arising out of the London Tramc Act, 1924, which accounts for 46 additional officers, and partly to the general development of the work of that Department. The volume and number of grants from the Road Fund have considerably increased, and they are now being made for a greater variety of purposes and to a larger number of authorities. The number of grants rose from 5,503 in 1924–25 to 6,553 in 1926–27. The cost of this additional staff is recoverable from the Road Fund, and I am satisfied that no unnecessary additions have been made. There has been a slight decrease in the numbers of the staff employed in other Departments of the Ministry."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th April, 1927; cols. 188–9, Vol. 205.]I think that that answer gives a very fair picture of the position of the Ministry of Transport, namely, that, in 224 the Roads Department, owing to the increase in road activities which everyone can see, there has been an increase, but in the other Departments there has been a slight decrease.
I will now ask the Committee to turn to the last item on page 114 of the Estimate: Repayments by the Central Electricity Board under Section 26 of the Electricity (Supply) Act, 1926, £30,000. That means that this financial year £30,000 will be paid into the Exchequer by the Central Electricity Board. The history of that transaction is this: In the last two or three years' Estimates I have put in a sum to be voted in order that preparatory work for the general scheme of electrification in this country should be put in hand. This was done, so that, if and when the Electricity Bill became an Electricity Act, and the Board was appointed very soon after—as it was—the Board might not be held up in its work by lack of a previous survey. The fact that this survey was being carried out was criticised by several hon. Members in this House as being unconstitutional. I could not see why, as the amounts were put in the Estimates. But at any rate we have by this means succeeded in getting the Central Electricity Board to function at once.
The Central Electricity Board has already received one scheme from the Electricity Commissioners, namely the scheme with respect to Scotland, one with regard to central England is in an advanced state of preparation and will be ready almost at once, and there are two other schemes that are being investigated and will in due course come to the Central Electricity Board. Therefore I may confidently say there has been no delay in getting the Central Electricity Board to work and, if the anticipations which were formed when the Electricity Act was passed of the great savings in generation are achieved, that Act will be a very helpful measure to trade and commerce. The Committee, I am sure, will feel with me that the investigations with regard to the Severn barrage form a fascinating and interesting problem. If we can, by harnessing the tides, find a cheap and abundant source of power for all the industrial region of South Wales and the towns round Bristol I feel confident that we shall have done much to decrease the price of electrical 225 power in large areas. This is one of those investigations which have to go step by step. The Coalition Government, which decided on the inception of the scheme, very wisely said "We will go only step by step. We will not vote the money until it is wanted." The scheme has now reached a stage in which considerable hopes are raised that it will be a success. A model of the proposed barrage is being made and I hope it may become possible to say that such a scheme is within the range of practical politics.
May I add one word about the railways? Two things have happened with reference to the railways which should be noted. A committee has been set up, on the recommendation of the Coal Commission, to investigate all the circumstances surrounding the transportation of coal. They are beginning their work. I trust their recommendations will be helpful to the coal trade, to the railway companies and to the general public. They will lose no time in pursuing their investigations. Then at long last the "appointed day" for the new scheme of railway charges will, I hope, be declared on 1st January next. It is not absolutely sure, but all the probabilities point to it, and that will mean that as from 1st January next, definite rates will be in force under the new system on all the railways in Great Britain, and one of the chief purposes of the Railway Rates Tribunal, which was set up under the Railways Act of 1921, will at last be accomplished. I am hopeful that after the 12 months of stress and strain through which the railway companies have passed, a time of greater prosperity may come to them. The railway companies have had a very difficult time, and what with the General Strike, the dispute in the coal trade and three or four years of bad trade, they have not been able to see all the advantages of railway amalgamation come to full fruition. Criticisms are often levelled at the railway companies in this House. Like all human institutions, they have their faults but their difficulties are far greater than many Members understand. They have, after the dislocation of those 12 months, brought back their systems to a degree of excellence which I am sure would not have been the ease if they had not been in the hands of private enterprise and I hope the shareholders, now 226 that trade has taken a turn for the better, may see some legitimate return for the capital they have invested.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
That question should be addressed to the President of the Board of Trade. I hope I may be permitted to refer in a dozen words to the draft Traffic Bill which I circulated for comment and criticism some two months ago. That Bill is entirely my responsibility and not that of the Government. It is put forward in order that one might, as it were, draw the fire of any hostile criticism that is likely to come along. I sent out this draft Bill to some 41 associations and bodies interested in transport and trade. So far I have had answers from 13, all of whom, with not one dissentient, give general support to the principles of the Bill and only offer minor criticisms. So far as the lights part is concerned, it was given a Second Reading in this House on the initiative of a private Member not long ago without a Division, therefore I think I may confidentially say the principles of the Bill, so far as I am able to judge, have received general acceptance.
I will now deal with London bridges and the excellent and comprehensive Report of Lord Lee's Commission of Cross River Traffic facilities in the Metropolitan area. The Government accepted that Report in principle with two exceptions—not unimportant ones. One was that an ad noc authority was undesirable, and the other was that a loan based on the security of the Road Fund was also not in their opinion a line of financial policy which should be pursued. As far as the ad hoc authority is concerned, we think the London County Council as the improvements authority, represents a weight of opinion which it would be unwise even to attempt to ignore. As far as finance is concerned, it is obviously better, if you possibly can, to pay out of revenue rather than raise a loan and have to pay it back with interest over a series of years at great cost to all concerned. The county council cordially approves of both those reservations. On 16th March the Prime Minister made a statement in the House as to the Government policy in respect of this Commission. On 30th 227 March the county council replied, generally agreeing with the statement of the Prime Minister but asking for more precise information as to the basis on which the Government's contribution is to be ascertained, and they wanted some other details. My right hon. Friend replied on 26th April, and I think it would be useful if I read the terms of his letter. I understand it is being discussed to-day by the county council and I hope they will come to a decision upon it.I am desired by the Prime Minister to reply to your letter of the 30th ultimo.The Prime Minister is glad to note that the Council is ready to enter into negotiation with the Minister of Transport with a view to the execution of the schemes, including the Victoria Dock Road, recommended by the Royal Commission on Cross-River Traffic in London, in the hope that with the assistance offered from the Road Fund it may now be practicable to make progress with certain projects which have long been under the consideration of the Council.It did not appear necessary to the Prime Minister to make specific reference to Lambeth Bridge in his statement. The Road Fund's contribution to this scheme will fall to be met out of the total financial provision not exceeding a sum of £1,000,000 a year upon the average of a series of years indicated in his statement as the maximum commitment into which His Majesty's Government is prepared to enter in respect of all the schemes with which the Report deals, but it is not intended to depart from the offer to contribute 50 per cent. of the cost to this particular scheme (including the Road Approaches) subject to acceptance of the various conditions for which the Ministry of Transport has already stipulated in the course of negotiation.Nor is it intended to withdraw any of the grants which the Minister of Transport has undertaken to make in respect of other specific improvements in the London Area not connected with the Royal Commission's Report, but it will be recognised that the special provision now to be made in respect of the bridges and their approaches and other major schemes recommended in Lord Lee's Report will induce the requirements which the sum previously set apart was designed to meet, and consequently the amount earmarked for general improvements in London will be correspondingly reduced.Upon the questions raised by your Council as to a new bridge at Charing Cross, the position of the Government is laid down in the Prime Minister's statement. He had hopes that the Council would see its way to proceed immediately with the reconstruction of Waterloo Bridge (where, he understands, substantial expenditure on tem- 228 porary works is being incurred), on the lines recommended by Lord Lee's Report, more especially as much preliminary work prior to the commencement of actual operations upon the Bridge is no doubt necessary. The Government desire for their part to proceed at once with the suggested Inquiry into the financial, engineering and other aspects of the scheme for a double-decked bridge at Charing Cross. No reason is seen why the proposed investigation should not very shortly begin and the Government agree that it should extend to the cost of the whole scheme, including the acquisition of the property required in connection with the bridge itself and its approaches. His Majesty's Government concur in your Council's opinion that estimates should be prepared both of the gross and of the net cost of the property and works and of the expense of financing the scheme and (for their part) they are prepared to instruct the Chief Valuer to the Board of Inland Revenue to assist the engineers. The Government have no doubt that the Council will be equally prepared to arrange that the services of their expert Valuer may in like manner be placed at their disposal.In respect of that part of the approved capital cost of any agreed scheme which falls to be borne by the Council, the Government will be prepared to make a grant from the Road Fund of 75 per cent. of such amount, but the Government must not be taken as agreeing that the contribution from the Road Fund should be 75 per cent. of the gross cost of the scheme in the sense that the Road Fund would remain jointly interested with the Council in the holding and management of the surplus property until such date as realisation or recoupment might be actually secured. The eventual arrangement must in any case be that the Government contribution would be settled on the basis of the approved net capital cost of the scheme, and it appears to them desirable on every ground that their contribution should be calculated on a net basis from the outset. This would not preclude account being taken in the settlement with your Council on the one hand of any capital expense which may be involved by delay in realisation or recoupment, or, on the other hand, of any advantage (e.g., from rents and profits) which may accrue in the meantime. It appears to the Government that these are matters upon which it should be possible to arrive at an equitable arrangement when the investigating engineers have submitted their report. Approved capital cost would not include any administrative expenses whether incurred by Council or the Government.I am to add that the Minister of Transport will be prepared to make such arrangements for financing the actual cost of constructing the works as will ensure that the Road Fund's proportionate contributions is paid currently as the works proceed. Upon all these matters it will be convenient if, in future, your Council will cause any necessary correspondence to be conducted with the Transport Department, with whose representatives they may find it helpful to confer.
§ 4.0 p.m.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
I do not think there is any difference of opinion between the Government and the county council. The county council are going to answer that letter very shortly, and the only point now in question is how to arrive at the basis of the net cost, and on that amount the Government will provide 75 per cent. Until this matter has been further discussed, the committee of engineers and valuers, who are to be selected by the county council, the Southern Railway and the Minister of Transport, cannot get to work. Immediately that point is settled, they can get to work, and the whole matter can be proceeded with at once without delay, and I anticipate no delay.
§ Mr. SMITH
The point I wanted to get at was this: The county council, obviously, in writing their letter, had some doubt as to the intention of the Prime Minister as to what was to happen at Charing Cross Bridge. The House is not au fait as to their views, and surely the House is entitled to have those views as contained in the correspondence from the county council.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
The only point, really, which they want cleared up, and which has still to be cleared up, is on what basis the 75 per cent. will be estimated.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
The intention was this. You must have your committee of experts and engineers to go into the matter before you can commit yourself or the county council in a matter which may cost £12,000,000. We are all agreed that the Road Fund is to find 75 per cent. of the cost of the proposed reconstruction of Waterloo Bridge, and the building of the bridge at Charing Cross, should that prove a practicable engineering proposition. The only question now is exactly how you are to define the net cost, of which the Road Fund is to find 75 per 230 cent. The difficulty is that the Government do not want to go in for a land holding transaction to this extent. It may possibly be that the county council may have to buy land for the building, and then have to hold it for a considerable number of years. We want to be able to say, "That is the amount we will find towards the cost, because you will have to hold this land, possibly, for a certain number of years."
§ Mr. GOSLING
Can we get from the right hon. Gentleman whether the Government are going to join with the county council in the whole of the bridge schemes before they come to the conclusion as to what they are going to do in regard to Victoria Dock Road?
§ Colonel ASHLEY
I was going to deal with the Victoria Dock Road in a moment. There are three really major matters in the Lee Commission's Report which have to be dealt with. The first one is the reconstruction of Waterloo Bridge and the double-decker bridge at Charing Cross. The others are the Victoria Dock Road and the rebuilding of Lambeth Bridge. I will take Lambeth Bridge first, because that is practically settled. Even before Lord Lee's Report was issued, the Minister of Transport, with the London County Council had agreed on the building of that bridge, and we have promised to give them 50 per cent. of the cost of the bridge and of the approaches. That is a matter which is now settled and done with. Moreover, I understand, tenders are being asked for by the London County Council to proceed with the building of Lambeth Bridge. I have dealt with that first, not because it is the most important, but because it is a matter which is settled. Now we come to the reconstruction of Waterloo Bridge, and the proposed double-decker bridge at Charing Cross, which are bound up together. The Road Fund has promised to give 75 per cent. of the net cost of reconstructing Waterloo Bridge, and 75 per cent. of the net capital cost of the building of the double-decker bridge at Charing Cross, should it prove to be a practical proposition after the engineers, the valuers and experts have gone into the matter. The only matter which holds up the proceeding is the decision as to exactly how you can define the cost which the Road Fund is to bear.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
That is a matter for the county council, but they want this matter cleared up. I do not anticipate that it ought to take us more than a fortnight. Directly that matter is settled, which I anticipate will be almost at once, then I can approach the county council, and all the other local authorities concerned, with regard to the Victoria Dock Road. At any rate, part of the Victoria Dock Road is not in the county council area, so that we have to negotiate with all the authorities concerned.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
I am glad to hear that; it will make the project much easier. We will find from the Road Fund 75 per cent of the cost. May I say one word about London traffic? There has been a good deal of justifiable alarm about the number of fatal and other accidents in London. I am not the least surprised, but it is much easier to state that it is deplorable than to know how to avoid them or to make things better, because these things so largely depend on the pedestrians' views, and what can be done for their education. The House will remember that the London Traffic Advisory Committee held many arduous, troublesome investigations into this subject, and presented to the Minister a most valuable Report on this very subject. We had a conference some six weeks ago in London of all the societies who can possibly be described as interested in accidents and in traffic. There were 300 or 400 delegates present, and my hon. Friend on the Front Bench opposite may congratulate himself that he and his Committee had a most marvellous triumph, because practically every one of his suggestions was unanimously adopted by 350 delegates, representative of so many different interests that one would have thought it almost impossible to get unanimity. But he did succeed, with his persuasive tongue, in getting unanimity, and resolutions dealing with such subjects as more education in the schools on the danger of traffic, and dealing with crossing-places, were unanimously adopted. What I thought necessary to do, and 232 what I have done, is to circulate those recommendations to all London traffic authorities to make known what ought to be done in the opinion of that great conference to minimise the number of accidents in our streets.
May I say a sentence or two about the roundabout system? I think I may claim for the Advisory Committee and myself that the roundabout system is a success, and has come to stay. Just at first it may have increased the danger of accidents, though statistics do not altogether bear that out. Still, I think there must be something in it. Anyhow, that has been occupying our very close attention, and we are doing what we can to make things safer for pedestrians by indicating the crossing places, and I hope that when they get accustomed to them, perhaps there will not be so much fear of danger. The system, after all, has speeded up traffic very considerably.
One word about road repairs in London. I dare say some hon. Members saw the letter from Lord Ebury in the "Times" about a week ago, complaining about the block at Hyde Park Corner, owing to the way in which repairs were being carried out. A very excellent letter also appeared in the "Times" in reply from the Surveyor of the Westminster City Council, and in that connection, may I pay a tribute to the Westminster City Council for the very helpful assistance they give to the Traffic Advisory Committee and myself? We have had to ask for many things, some of which place a considerable financial burden on their ratepayers, and they are always very helpful in that matter. As regards repairs, under Section 4 of the London Traffic Act, I am required to make Regulations as to how repairs are to be done, in order to minimise inconvenience and provide alternative routes. Most people say, "Why do you not do all your repairs not in summer but in winter?" The answer is, that if you did all repairs in winter you would have to contend with bad weather and shorter days, which means more expense. Therefore, you have to balance convenience with expenditure. That expenditure falls upon the local ratepayers, whom you have to consider. What we aim at is not to have any major repairs done to roads in central London during June and July. We try to do them as far as 233 possible either before or after those months. As far as the Hyde Park repairs which are now going on are concerned, I hope that these will be finished by the 16th, that is, within a week from now. They are working night and day and Sundays to get finished, and the road, therefore, will be in a good state to be used when the President of the French Republic arrives.
With regard to the question of London traffic facilities generally, all parties are agreed that the traffic facilities, especially in the North-east, East and Southeast of London are not what they should be, or what we all wish them to be. Again, it is easy to suggest a remedy, but it is not quite so easy to carry it out. Personally, I think we shall certainly be driven in this respect to the establishment of a common management and a common fund of all the transport agencies in the Metropolis. May I read a letter which I addressed to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hornsey (Captain Wallace) in this connection, who came to see me with other Members of Parliament for the areas concerned. It states the present position, I think, as clearly as it possibly can be stated under the circumstances. It says:To fulfilment of the promise I made the other evening when you and other North London Members of Parliament came to see me with regard to the travelling facilities in that area, I am now writing to you on their behalf to explain the present position as I outlined it on that occasion.You stated at that time that your constituents were disappointed at the apparent shelving of the recommendations made by the London Traffic Advisory Committee as a result of their inquiries into this matter, particularly those relating to the extension of the Piccadilly Tube to Manor House and thence to Wood Green or Southgate and the electrification of the London and North Eastern Railway Company's lines.As the Committee explained in their Report, the great difficulty in the way of the provision of further facilities of this nature is to get anybody to find the necessary capital—
§ Colonel ASHLEY
in the face of the acute and wasteful competition between the various passenger transport agencies operating in the area. In their view the only solution of this difficulty is to be found in the co-ordination of 234 the various services and the establishment of a common management and a common fund.I understand that it is on these lines that the Committee has been pursuing its investigations, and I would ask you to believe that these are being pushed forward with all speed. Preliminary negotiations of this kind are of necessity somewhat lengthy and entirely confidential, and this may have conveyed an erroneous impression of inaction.I hope that the Committee, though this does not give any very definite information, will understand that private negotiations between important interests may be going on and have reached a very definite stage of agreement, and yet the Minister may officially have had no knowledge of such negotiations. Any agreement or tentative agreement would first of all, very properly, come to the Advisory Committee. I do not know whether it has come but I can say that a scheme, be it good or be it bad—as I have not seen it I cannot say—is, I understand, coming at once into the hands of the Traffic Advisory Committee, who, I am sure, will give it very prompt consideration. They will then put it up to me and I can consider what action will be taken in the matter.
§ Mr. R. MORRISON
Can the right hon. Gentleman give us a little more information? He says a scheme has been discussed and is in an advanced stage. By whom?
§ Colonel ASHLEY
I have given the Committee all the information I have. I can say nothing officially.
§ Mr. MORRISON
Surely, in view of the fact that the proposals are very important from the point of view of millions of people living in London, and to their conditions of travel, we might know at least at this stage whether negotiations are taking place between the London County Council, the Combine, and the main line railway companies, and whether there are any other interests concerned other than those who have promulgated this scheme.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
I say there are most important interests concerned with London traffic who have had this conversation. I cannot go further. All I want to impress upon the Committee is that the matter is not simply in abey- 235 ance; they will, I am sure, pass it on to me with their comments at the earliest possible date.
On the question of rural roads, last year for the first time a sum of £1,400,000 was made available for unclassified roads in rural areas for maintenance purely and simply, and that worked out at about 20 per cent. of the cost of maintaining those roads. I was very pleased that it was possible to do that out of the Road Fund, and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and myself are very proud of our generosity. The same generous treatment will be extended to the rural roads this year, and that, I think, will be of material help to local ratepayers and prevent the Agricultural Committee of the House of Commons from meeting so often to discuss the means of getting more money. For the improvement of important roads in rural areas there will be, as hithertofore, a sum of £1,250,000, of which £1,000,000 goes to England and Wales and £250,000, as last year, goes to Scotland. I would point out to the Committee that during the last five years, including this year, no less a sum than £10,300,000 will have been specially allocated out of the Road Fund to rural roads in Great Britain, and that is not an inconsiderable sum.
If the Committee will bear with me for a few moments longer I should like to say something on roads generally and then have one word to say about the very remarkable and interesting letter which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Central Edinburgh (Mr. W. Graham) contributed to the "Times" on co-ordination of road and rail a few months ago. The trunk roads reconstruction programme is going on and is about half carried through. The London to Holyhead Road has been dealt with in the Midlands, and practically from Bristol down to Plymouth, the whole of that large length of road is under reconstruction. We hope to have the Blair-Atholl to Inverness Road finished by August or September, with its two big bridges, and the contracts, I think, have gone out, or have been asked for, for part of the West Highland Road through the Pass of Glencoe. As hon. Members well know, it is almost impos- 236 sible to go there without damage to their motor cars or possibly damage to their limbs as well.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
I cannot say exactly how much is being spent, but I think that tenders have been asked for in regard to the first section, which includes Glencoe. I will let the right hon. Gentleman know later on. There are three things which we always try to visualise when dealing with new roads. If you cannot afford to make the road at once, you may possibly be able to buy the land at once, though it may not be necessary to make use of it for 10 or 15 years. If you do not buy the land such land may be much more expensive in 10 years time. If you can buy it and not interfere with the occupation of the present tenants, you have the land available for use whenever you want it.
We encourage building lines as much as possible by local authorities who are given power to deal with that matter under the Act of 1925. There again, if you impose a building line, you safeguard the public against paying exorbitant prices if they want to widen the road afterwards. We work with the Ministry of Health in all town-planning schemes, so that we have our roads properly mapped out in the town-planning schemes. There is a notable instance in Kent where a large scheme of town planning has taken place and the main arterial roads for the future have already been marked out. We are doing all we can to eliminate blind corners. That is a matter for local authorities, but I think if hon. Members go about the country and keep their eyes open they will agree that a great many blind corners have been eliminated. In the case of first-class roads we pay 50 per cent. of the cost of the elimination of blind corners, and in the case of second-class roads 25 per cent.
On the question of new bridges, I am very anxious, extremely anxious, that in 200 years' time our descendants shall not make disparaging remarks of the new bridges we have built during these few years. After all, we have some extraordinarily fine bridges handed down to us and it is up to us to see that the next generation has bridges worthy of us. 237 Anyone who has been to Berwick-on-Tweed will see a very fine bridge rising there of reinforced concrete, with a span of 365 feet, the biggest concrete span in the country, which will be opened I hope in November or December and which will be, I think a landmark, and a beautiful landmark, across the river which divides England from Scotland.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
Further south we have the great steel structure between Gateshead and Newcastle, which will be finished very shortly afterwards. It has one steel span with lifts going up on each side. The bridge on the Ouse is being built, and will make a great difference to travellers from East Yorkshire to the North, who will also be able to avoid a toll-bridge. What I have always insisted on is, that in these major bridges, and even in the comparatively Minor bridges, a competent architect shall be engaged in order that the design shall be worthy of the situation. It is a small extra expenditure and for it you do get a good design. It is possible in regard to the smaller bridges made with reinforced concrete, for the concrete to be so tinted as to harmonise with the natural landscape and not be of that cold grey colour which reinforced concrete has been during the first few years. There is one other new road to which I should like to refer—it is not only a road but a work of social reform—and that is the Inter-Valley Road which the Glamorganshire County Council are constructing to intercommunicate the Rhondda Valley with other mining valleys in that area. As hon. Members know, there are in Glamorganshire a considerable number of narrow valleys running up into the hills where the miners live under conditions which are not at all agreeable. There is very little sun and there are no grounds available for any of their games. Whenever they want to go to the neighbouring valley they have to go 30 or 40 miles round in order to get there, whereas the valley, as the crow flies, is not more than two or three miles away. The county council, with very considerable help from the Road Fund, is carrying out, not only a good road scheme, but a scheme which benefits the whole of the miners of Glamorganshire and the rest of the population. When this 238 road is completed, not only will it enable transport to be much quicker than heretofore, but it will give an opportunity for the whole of those populations to go into the highlands 1500 feet up, where they will have fields acid places for recreation generally. I hope that the area will be safeguarded not only in regard to water as it is now, but by some means through the National Trust, if possible, as a playground for all time for those people.
§ Major CRAWFURD
The Chancellor of the Exchequer during his Budget Statement said that, in spite of his appropriation of the £12,000,000 from the Road Fund, all existing commitments would be honoured. Will the right hon. Gentleman explain exactly what "all existing commitments" mean?
§ Colonel ASHLEY
"All existing commitments" mean all existing commitments, and they will be honestly carried out. I cannot say more than the Chancellor of the Exchequer said.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
Before the right hon. Gentleman finishes his swan song, has he not a word to say about the greatest county in England, Yorkshire, especially the East Biding.
§ Mr. J. JONES
Will the right hon. Gentleman deal with the biggest scheme of all, the Victoria Dock road scheme?
§ Colonel ASHLEY
If the hon. Member had been here, he would have heard me deal with that at some length.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
In reply to the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) I may say that I have made a reference to Yorkshire. I had the advantage this morning of having a conference with the representative of the great oil companies about those extremely ugly petrol stations which are being put up all over the country. We are all agreed that many of them are extremely ugly. They are an eyesore to the traveller and a detriment to this country, because visitors who pass up and down our roads see these ugly erections. If anything can be done to diminish their ugliness, I am sure we shall all be delighted. The great 239 oil companies, who are largely concerned, have very properly expressed their desire to do all they can to help, though one must understand that their position in the matter is rather limited, as these petrol stations are mostly owned by private people. I am hoping to meet the Motor Trade Association, which represents the owners of these garages and petrol stations, to ask them to co-operate with the Ministry of Transport to see what can be done in order to diminish this eyesore. We will suggest some better design, and I trust something will come out of it. The Committee will agree that it is very painful, when the Advertisements (Regulation) Act has done so much to clear away ugly advertisements, and in the towns so much has been done, that in the country districts the local authorities have not any power to regulate these erections, which are springing up on all sides. I am sorry that time has not allowed me to deal with other points.
§ Mr. B. SMITH
Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us the exact position of the Road Fund at the end of the financial year with regard to any surplus, and the commitments of that Fund?
§ Colonel ASHLEY
I do not think that arises on the Vote. I answered a question recently with respect to the balance in the Road Fund on the 31st March. I cannot carry the figures in my mind, but if that is what the hon. Member wants, I can easily get the information for him.
§ Mr. R. RICHARDSON
Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us what he proposes to do with regard to the new road in the county of Durham? He will remember that a deputation came to see him in regard to the matter, and he said that what money he had was earmarked, and he could not allow us anything more.
§ Mr. GOSLING
We heard with regret of the proposed abolition of the Ministry of Transport, and as we realised that we should not have an opportunity of hearing about the work of the Ministry of Transport again, we thought we had better take advantage of the opportunity to get the right hon. Gentleman here to tell us something of what 240 he has been doing in the past year. I had hoped that he would have come here in a much more defiant way, in regard to the decision which is going to expel him, more particularly after the valuable work which he has told us he has been doing. One great advantage which the Minister of Transport has in moving his Vote in this House is that he can talk about all the useful work he is doing, and tell us nothing about the things that are neglected. My hon. Friends, like myself, want to put a number of questions to the right hon. Gentleman. I have risen mainly for the purpose of congratulating him upon the work that has been done. Whatever one's feelings may be about the Ministry, one must admit that it does excellent work. I can speak with some authority on the matter. What is most important is the fact that the work of the Ministry is real business and not polities. That is what makes it so much more pleasant. I wish to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman upon the report he has given of the Severn barrage scheme, and to express the hope that nothing will happen to turn down that work. I hope that it will proceed at top speed, because it does look like serving a very useful purpose when the investigation has been carried through.
Last year I raised the question of the Victoria Dock Road, and I wish to raise it again. I am not at all satisfied that we are through the wood there. It is a pity that the letter from the county council was not read, because one cannot help knowing that there is a feeling in the county council that they will be let down if they are not very careful to get all their bridge schemes agreed to at the same time as the Dock Road scheme. There is a feeling that if the money which they are expected to find is found without a guarantee from the Government that the Government will act as generously in regard to the other schemes that come forward, they may be let down. Their object is to make sure that the questions of the bridges and the Victoria Dock Road are considered as one whole problem. I say this because in the city and on the Port of London Authority there is very great anxiety about the delay that has been caused in putting the dock road scheme through. I was a little scared to-day when the Minister said that he is going round to the local authorities. I did not gather from him 241 for what purpose he was doing that, but it struck me that he was going round for money. If he is going round to the local authorities in the East End of London and asking them for money, he is wasting his time. What money they have got they have uses for it in other ways.
We never shall get the Victoria Dock Road unless the Government and the county council foot the Bill and get on with the job. That it would be a remunerative undertaking there can be no doubt in the opinion of anyone who knows anything about the docks. The former Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport the hon. and gallant Member for Chatham (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon) was so converted by his experience, after close touch with the necessity of that road, that he told me that there could be no question about it that it must be done in the future. When I heard the Minister of Transport talking about taking a view ahead for 200 years, I was rather afraid of his long shots. I want to get much nearer to the moment. I am very anxious, and so are those who are interested in the great work that has been done in the Port of London and the tremendous improvements that have been made at the docks, and the complete method of transport from the docks, whether it be to the other side of the world or to the other side of the channel, that the transport should be cut short at the docks here, where very often you waste as much time in the last few miles of the journey as you do on all the other parts of the journey, having regard to the dock improvements on both sides of the ocean. Therefore, I do press upon the right hon. Gentleman that he should not go in for any pettifogging scheme of trying to get money out of the local authorities who have not got it, but that the Government should act generously in this matter and get on with this dock road as quickly as possible.
There is another matter of importance, and that is with regard to the £2,000,000 scheme for the West Highland Road. The reason I mention that is that when the Labour Government were in office I and my right hon. Friend the Member for West Fife (Mr. W. Adamson), who was then Secretary for Scotland, were able to convince our own Chancellor of the Exchequer that this was a scheme for which money should be found, and he agreed with us to find £2,000,000 242 for the purpose of that road. I should like to hear, before the Debate is finished, whether there is any likelihood of the good work we began going on. In addition to that, the Secretary for Scotland at that time and myself were considering, with the officials and other experts, the making of a road between Lairg and Lochinver. This road would be wide enough to permit of a light railway being laid alongside to open up that part of the country and to give to the local folk better opportunities of transport. It would be very interesting if the Minister would tell us what has happened in those two cases. I have nothing more to say, except to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the history of the year's work that he has given to us, and sincerely to express by regret at the fact that this will probably be the last opportunity he will have, as Minister of Transport, of moving this Vote.
§ Captain WALLACE
Anybody who has listened to the speech of the Minister of Transport Must have realised the multifarious activities of the Ministry of Transport, and I should like to associate myself with hon. Members opposite in deploring the fact that this is probably the Minister's swan song. I feel that the abolition of the Department will be only a small economy, and I certainly hope that we shall be able to get its functions adequately performed, under some other Department. Of all the subjects upon which the Minister touched, I wish to dwell upon only one, and that is the question of the North London travelling facilities. It is now 18 months since a public inquiry was instituted into this matter, and whatever progress may have been made in the necessarily prolonged and probably confidential negotiations which must precede any action, the bare and simple fact remains that the travelling public in North London is not a penny better off than when the inquiry was instituted. I want to make it clear that in any criticisms which I propose to offer, either upon the adequacy of the Report presented to the Minister or upon his action or inaction in dealing with it, I am not reflecting in any way upon the Minister himself. I should like to acknowledge his unfailing readiness to see Members of Parliament and deputations. I believe he knows from personal experience the 243 appalling conditions under which people travel to and from the City, and I am sure he is sincerely anxious to put them right. The mere fact that he read out the letter which he addressed to me on behalf of several other Members shows that he is taking an interest in this problem.
The whole question of transporting the vast numbers of people who go into the City to work and who go out again to the suburbs to sleep is so very complex that any criticism which an ordinary person, without exhaustive study or profound technical knowledge, makes upon this Report must be made with very considerable reserve; but there is another legitimate field of criticism in which any ordinary layman can properly engage, and that is the delay on the part of the Ministry in taking any action, at any rate any action that we can see, to implement the Report of its own Committee. The mere fact that the Minister of Transport set up a Committee to conduct a public inquiry into these travelling facilities has made the Government, at any rate by implication, accept a certain amount of responsibility in the matter, and I feel, and I think many of my colleagues on both sides of the House feel, that either the Minister must definitely adopt the concrete proposals made to him by his own Committee, or he must explain the reasons which prevent him from doing so.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
I have not received any concrete proposals, so that I cannot either adopt, modify, or reject them.
§ Captain WALLACE
I am not referring to the proposals which the Minister has said are in the air. I am referring to two concrete suggestions made by Sir Henry Maybury's Committee. That Committee was a very strong body, which spent no less than 10 days on a public inquiry taking evidence, and they made two perfectly concrete suggestions in their recommendations. First of all, they suggested that the London Electric Railway Company should be invited to consider the question of extending the Piccadilly Railway to Manor House and should provide an interchange station, and secondly, that the same railway should be further extended to Wood Green or Southgate. Without wishing to comment on the adequacy or otherwise of these 244 two proposals, I think it is a fair question to ask the Minister whether he did invite the London Electric Railway to consider these suggestions, whether they have considered them, and, if so, what answer they have returned. So far as Wood Green is concerned, there is no doubt that there is an ample field for a further tube. The Company themselves admit that there is an average there of 85,000 passengers a day or, in other words, 25,500,000 a year.
In addition to these two definite proposals, Sir Henry Maybury's Committee suggested three or four other lines upon which they would like investigation to be pursued. The first was the electrification of the suburban section of the London and North Eastern Railway, the second was the provision of a physical connection between the Great Northern and City Railway and the London and North Eastern Railway at Drayton Park, arid the third was that they should investigate the possibility of extending the Highgate branch of the London Electric Railway to meet the London and North Eastern Railway at Finchley. Perhaps when the Minister replies at the end of the Debate he will be able to tell us whether this Committee have actually got any further information upon these points, and what it is. Lastly, I think the most important of all the recommendations of this Committee was the suggestion that they should be empowered to go somewhat outside their original terms of reference and examine a proposal which was put forward by Mr. Frank Pick on behalf of what is popularly known as the omnibus combine. I am very glad to know from the letter which the Minister has read out that the Committee were apparently empowered to pursue these investigations, and that they are doing so. Mr. Frank Pick's proposal, as I expect most hon. Members know, was that there should be a common pool, a common fund, and a common management of the whole of the transport agencies dealing with the suburban traffic in London. I think that is obviously, as has been said, the ultimate solution of the problem, and the only question is whether it is going to be supported by hon. Members opposite if it is done by the State or whether it will be opposed by them if it is handed over to private enterprise.
245 I quite understand that the Minister may find some difficulty in giving categorical answers to my questions. We all realise that the mere fact of setting up a Committee and investigating the problem has raised a very natural and human hope in the transport companies. We know the difficulty of providing capital for further extensions, and we believe that the various companies concerned are waiting to see whether by any possible means they can get some assistance out of the Government or the taxpayer before laying out any more capital themselves. The population in this area has increased by 23 per cent. between the years 1901 and 1921, and it is estimated that at the present time it is certainly 25 per cent. over the 1901 figure. Part of the evidence given at this inquiry went to show that if you took the comparatively thin figure of 15 persons per acre, there is still room for another half-million people in the area under consideration.
Therefore, the Committee will no doubt realise that whatever the problem is now, if the development of this very attractive part of the country goes on at the normal rate it will be very much worse in two or three years' time. The fact is that no mere co-ordination of existing facilities can really settle the problem. More tubes are required, and though, no doubt, we shall hear from different Members different suggestions as to where those tubes should actually be put, the fact remains that they take time to construct, and if the electrification of the London and North Eastern suburban system is going to be put in hand, that will take a long time too. Therefore, I submit that there are very urgent and pressing reasons why the Minister should carry on with the recommendations of this strong Committee, or explain the reasons, be they reasons of policy or of finance, which prevent him from doing so.
Finally, may I turn for a moment to the wider question of the adequacy of the proposals made by Sir Henry Maybury and an hon. Friend opposite? I realise that in attempting to challenge the recommendations of this Committee, I am treading on very dangerous ground, and I certainly should hesitate to do it on my own responsibility. But there is a body which is known as the North 246 London Travelling Facilities Committee, which is not merely a collection of properly disgruntled citizens who object to the conditions in which they travel to London, but it is a duly authorised Committee composed of elected representatives of local authorities. I think it is a body to which the Minister himself attaches a certain amount of importance, and it is on the opinion of that body that I base myself when I say that the proposals of Sir Henry Maybury and my hon. Friend opposite are not capable of dealing with the present situation and are totally inadequate to meet the reasonable expectations of the future.
Interchange stations, which appear to be very largely recommended by that Committee, are really of very little use, because they do not give any additional travelling facilities, and the whole trouble, as I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for North Tottenham (Mr. R. Morrison) will tell the Committee, is the fact that passengers have now to interchange and that what is required is the provision of further through facilities. If further through facilities can be provided in the way suggested by the Committee, there will be the difficulty that these through tickets are only available on the Combine undertakings. They will, therefore, tend to eliminate the independent omnibuses. I do not think I am exaggerating if I say that the independent omnibuses at present are the sole salvation of many citizens of North London, and there is nobody who wants to see them disappear. We realise that if this common management and common pool are started, they may have to disappear, but we do implore the Minister to see that he does not drive these independent omnibuses off the street until the new facilities are actually ready to take their place.
The Minister may say that I have done nothing but criticise without making any constructive proposals. Therefore, let me, with all deference, make one small suggestion. I do not believe that the various railway companies and transport companies concerned have yet been called together round a table and asked collectively to face their responsibilities. I think the situation at the moment is that none of them are willing to take the initiative. The traffic is there, the field 247 for development is there, and I think that, if the Minister would call these companies together and explain to them their opportunities and their responsibilities in the matter, we really might get something done. I do not suppose that any of these transport companies wish to see this problem solved by hon. Gentlemen opposite by means of a gigantic experiment in State Socialism. I believe that such a solution will bring in its train just as bad conditions, and probably far worse evils, than exist at the present time; but, unless those great private enterprise companies will realise their responsibilities, I can quite see that an exasperated public may finally force the Government of the day to take over the whole system, a step which the Government, the railway companies and the public themselves would, in my humble opinion, live to regret.
§ Mr. J. JONES
I would not have intervened in this Debate but for the fact that there is one road in which I am particularly interested. It is all very well to have a nice road to Scotland. I would like to have a nice road to Heaven. There is one, but I will never get there. In the district which I represent, we are interested in one road and one road only; that is the road to the docks, the road to the Empire. The Victoria Dock Road leads all over the world. During the past 20 years, since the Port of London Authority has been established, £40,000,000 has been spent on improving the river-side, the docks and the waterways, but the roads have remained practically the same as before. We are a poor local authority, and we cannot afford to spend enormous sums of money on the improvement of dock roads. The result is that we have every day a great congestion of traffic in this area. What is the good of spending money in building great docks, in providing better accommodation for ships coming to London, if the roads are congested and the people cannot get to and from the docks because the traffic is always in a state of chaos? Although we are a poor authority, we have done our best, and we have volunteered to pay our share. We are not as rich as London and Westminster. A penny in the £ in West Ham raises only £5,000, whereas Westminster can raise £30,000. Therefore, we 248 have to levy a rate of 6d. to raise the same amount as Westminster can raise with a penny. I would like to ask the Minister if this scheme of ours, the Victoria Dock Road scheme, is going to be made part and parcel of the London County Council scheme for the bridges in London, and whether our position is to be contingent upon what the London County Council may do. Although we are outside the area of London, a large proportion of the trade of London is carried on from our place, and we do not get much advantage from it. A new dock is now being built. Will the Minister give us a declaration that the Victoria Dock Road scheme is independent of the London County Council schemes in regard to bridges?
§ Colonel ASHLEY
If I may be permitted to make a statement now. I think it might clear up the situation. The Victoria Dock Road scheme is quite independent of Waterloo Bridge, Charing Cross Bridge, Lambeth Bridge or anything else. It is one of the recommendations contained in Lord Lee's Report. The hon. Member may not be disposed to give credit to the Ministry of Transport, but I think it was the Ministry of Transport's engineers who, in their investigations, started the idea of the scheme. I had, before Lord Lee's Report came out, taken considerable steps in getting some definite conclusions on these points, and this is the situation. We are hopeful that in a very few days, or possibly in a week or two, we will come to close grips with Waterloo Bridge and Charing Cross, and directly that is out of the way, I propose to approach the London County Council and other local authorities interested in the dock area, and to say that we will provide 75 per cent. of the cost if they will pay their proportion of the remaining 25 per cent.
§ Mr. JONES
I thank the right hon. Gentleman very much for that statement. Unfortunately, in the district from which I come, certain candiates for Parliament who have no hope of success by any other method come and say that we are responsible for this road scheme not being carried into effect. If the right hon. Gentleman has any historical knowledge of the situation, and I believe he has, he will know that this has been a burning question in West Ham for many years. But there is a young gentleman 249 who is only 32 years of age who has been appointed as a candidate against me. He did not know 12 months ago where West Ham was, and he discovered it only because he has a motor car. He has been telling the people that he is responsible for the road schemes being carried into effect.
§ The CHAIRMAN (Mr. James Hope)
If he is not responsible for the road scheme, the Minister of Transport can hardly be responsible for him.
§ Mr. JONES
Whatever our politics, we have always agreed that, so far as the development of the trade of London is concerned, we are all one; but I only wanted to point that out in passing. We are anxious that this scheme shall be carried into effect at the earliest possible moment, and I wish to ask the Minister if he can tell us when this job is to start, because we have been talking about it, as I know as a member of a local authority, for 22 years. My constituents and all the people in the area of West Ham are very anxious about it, and it affects not merely us but the whole of London. There is no good in talking about roads that motor cars can run along. What about the development of industry? Here the development of industry is being stopped because there is no proper road accommodation. It takes longer to get a cargo delivered in London when it is landed in the docks than it takes to get it up from Tilbury by rail, and everyone knows what the railway charges are. This road scheme would make it possible to prevent the terrible trouble which now takes place when we have half a mile of traffic held up three or four times a day. As far as we are concerned as a local authority, we are willing to do our bit, and I hope it will not depend upon the ipse dixit of the London County Council before we are allowed to deal with it. The London County Council is a very autocratic body when it is dealing with outside local bodies, and I hope the Minister of Transport will put his foot down while he has his left foot left; I hope he will not allow the London County Council to say what is to happen. If we are willing to pay our share, we ought to get a chance of saying what shall be done. When we make the sacrifice that we are willing to make, we ought not to be called upon to 250 make any more. A poor local authority ought not to be called upon to bear more than a fair share of this expenditure, and I hope the Minister will be able, before he goes out of office, to bring pressure to bear on the other authorities to have this scheme completed.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HOWARD-BURY
The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Transport, in his swan song, raised various points, and I want to deal with some of these, more specifically regarding London. We do hope that, although his Department is moribund, still the Roads Department will be carried on in the same way that it has been in the past. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, the other day, gave an assurance that this would be so; but we would like to have a further assurance from the Minister of Transport, because previous Chancellors of the Exchequer have given assurances that the Road Fund would not he touched, and we would like an assurance that the Roads Department will still be carried on as one single Department. It is due to them that in the past we have had a successful Roads Department. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether there is a policy, and what kind of policy is being advocated generally, with regard to the roads in this country. At first, it seemed as if he looked upon the widening and alteration of the roads more as a cure for unemployment than anything else. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to look forward, not 200 years but 20 or 30 years, and have a well-thought-out scheme of what the roads are likely to be then and what kind of traffic is likely to be upon them. There is one road I know which to some extent bears out that idea; that is the Great West Road. It is broad in conception, it can carry a great number of lines of traffic, but it is about the only really wide road we have, and on Saturdays and Sundays it is already more or less congested. Two or three thousand new motors come on the roads every week—perhaps more, it may be 4,000. Last week-end we saw the congestion there was on some roads, and unless some definite scheme for widening the main roads is adopted we shall have such an appalling state of congestion that it will be almost impossible to travel upon them.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
Already there is a scheme, and we are dealing with 500 miles of the most important main roads at the present moment.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HOWARD-BURY
I am glad to hear that. I want to make this suggestion to the Minister. We have to look not only to the motorist but to the foot passengers and the cyclists as well, and I would suggest that on one side of all main roads there should be a definite footpath for pedestrians, and on the other side be a track for cyclists. It is done in many parts of the Continent, and I do not see why something on the same lines should not be done on the great main roads in this country. We have to look after the safety of everyone on the roads, and with the number of motor cars increasing, and the increasing pace of the traffic, owing to the fact that the speed limit is abolished, the roads are becoming more and more dangerous for ordinary pedestrians and cyclists. There should also be along all the main roads an extra bit of land on which horses can be ridden. They can barely stand up on some of the new main roads because the surface is so slippery.
I ask the right hon. Gentleman to look forward to the future and take sufficient land on either side of new roads in order to make footpaths for pedestrians, a track for cyclists, and a track on which horses can be ridden. It is necessary to look ahead. The right hon. Gentleman has taken powers to plant trees on the road side. Two or three years ago I raised the question of planting fruit trees on the road side, and those who have motored in France know that it is most beautiful to motor in the springtime for mile after mile along a road on which apple and cherry trees are planted. I do not see why it should not be done in this country. In certain villages on the Continent they sell the fruit from these trees and the proceeds go towards the upkeep of the road. We should have more vision in this country. We could do the same as they do in France. I ask the Minister to look to other countries for new ideas and not be altogether too insular. We are not accustomed to much shade in this country because we do not get the same amount of sunshine—
§ Lieut.-Colonel HOWARD-BURY
They are very uninteresting trees, the elm, a few chestnuts occasionally, and a few plane trees. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will have a little more vision and plant a greater variety of trees in order to make our roads more beautiful. Only last Sunday when motoring through Hertfordshire I was horrified at the number of blind corners there were. The right hon. Gentleman has the power to remove these blind corners. He has the power to advance money on main roads up to 50 per cent.—
§ Lieut.-Colonel HOWARD - BURY
I suggest that the Minister of Transport or whatever Department it may be should have powers to remove these particularly dangerous corners. This is a very important point. The Minister should have much more power in this respect. The hon. Member for Silvertown (Mr. J. Jones) referred to canal bridges which are holding up the whole of the traffic. If the Minister has no power I would suggest that he should introduce a short Bill and take the power, so that where a canal holds up the making of a new road he should have definite powers to take over that particular piece of land. It is the same with dangerous blind corners. I hope he will consider this proposal seriously, because I know many of these schemes are being held up for want of these powers.
Then there is the question of warning signs. Every county has its own warning signs. They are all different. We have to go back to the old Highways Act of 1835. Times have changed very much since then, and surely it is time to bring out a new set of rules and regulations which, although they may not be enforceable in law, would tell the driver on the road what is right and what is wrong. The Safety First Committee has brought out various rules and regulations, but I suggest that it is the duty of the Ministry to do this. They should make definite rules and regulations so that everyone on the road 253 —and there are thousands of inexperienced drivers on the roads to-day—will know what is right and what is wrong. These inexperienced drivers do not know the rules and regulations and the first thing that happens is an accident, or else they are in the Police Court. That is how they get their knowledge at the present time. With regard to these warning signs, every county has a different one. Surely they could be standardised so that everyone who comes to a cross-road will know that it is a cross-road. There should be a priority sign, showing which is the main road. It would mean only two signs, and the cars on the main road would naturally pass first. If this was brought home to all motorists when they get their licences, if instructions were issued by the Ministry, it would help to prevent accidents.
The Minister, in his Road Traffic Bill, makes no allusion to any of these points, and I would suggest that he should issue Rules and Regulations brought up to date, and that the signs should be standardised throughout the country so that we may know exactly where we are in regard to main and side roads. A great deal more might have been done with regard to level crossings. There was plenty of money in the Road Fund. The right hon. Gentleman might have built bridges over level crossings which are bottlenecks and hold up the traffic, and bridges might have been built over canals. I know the right hon. Gentleman says that he has no compulsory powers, but I think this was a way of spending more of this money which the Chancellor of the Exchequer is now removing out of his power.
There is one more point, and that is with regard to tolls. There, again, I think the Minister might have done more with the Road Fund. Tolls are an obstruction. The unfortunate motorist has not only to pay his horse-power licence, but also for the use of the road. There is nothing more tiresome to a motorist than to be suddenly pulled up by a toll. Motoring in Switzerland is a most unhappy experience because you are pulled up constantly by tolls. And in England and Wales there are a great many of them. I remember being held up four times in Wales when coming from Holyhead, and I got rather annoyed at 254 the fourth toll and asked, "How many more are there on the way to London." The man said, "Oh, you are out of Lloyd George's country now." I hope my right hon. Friend will pay some attention to the points I have raised. I hope the Ministry of Transport, in a final effort, in its last kick, will draw up Rules and Regulations for motorists in order to add to the safety of the users of the roads. I hope also he will look forward to the future and prepare great schemes of road radiating from London and the large towns, wide enough to take the traffic they will have to take in 20 or 30 years time.
§ Mr. R. MORRISON
I am glad the hon. and gallant Member has made the speech to which we have just listened. It is typical of hon. Members of his party who are beginning to worry about the consequences of the stunt they have indulged in during the past few months, which has encouraged the Chancellor of the Exchequer to pronounce sentence of death on the right hon. Gentleman so far as his Department is concerned. Having achieved this, hon. Members opposite are now eloquent on the wonderful schemes which the Ministry of Transport could carry out, and were discovering a number of blind corners throughout the country. They are in full chase in order to try and prevent the Department being abolished. The answer is that you cannot have your cake and eat it too. That is exactly what has happened, and I am glad that there is some indication in this Debate that some hon. Members opposite realise that what they are doing is only to save the right hon. Gentleman's salary and make the work of his Department much more difficult to carry on, under conditions when it is much more likely there will not be the same enterprise shown as there is at the present time. The Minister of Transport is himself largely to blame for finding himself in the condemned cell though not yet beheaded. Hon. Members ought to have spoken out more plainly a year ago when the right hon. Gentleman so humbly allowed the Chancellor of the Exchequer to come along and take a few million pounds out of the Road Fund without protesting, and told him that he was laying up trouble for himself in the future. The trouble has descended upon him.
§ The CHAIRMAN
This is really more relevant to the Budget Debate. I take it the Minister of Transport is not responsible for this money going from the Road Fund.
§ Mr. MORRISON
The one thing for which the Ministry will be remembered is the lack of policy that has characterised its administration during the past two or three years. The right hon. Gentleman in giving us details of all the ramifications of his Department has not given the faintest indication that there is any policy behind it. There is a lack of appreciation of the importance of transport to our future as a nation. We are simply drifting along anyhow. Take some of the figures which are before us to-day. The Press this morning states that there was a decrease of 7,614,000 in the number of passenger journeys, excluding season ticket holders, made on the railways during February, as compared with the corresponding month of last year and the receipts from passengers, excluding season ticket holders, show a decrease of £331,668. Side by side with those figures we find in the Press this morning a statement by the general secretary of the Commercial Motor Users Association to the effect that 4,000 commercial motors were employed in this country in 1906, and that last year the number was 355,000. We are told that this industry now employs considerably more workers than all the railways. The total staffs employed by the railway companies on 27th March, 1926, was 689,000, compared with a figure for all grades of road transport workers of over 800,000. We have thus, despite the optimism of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman a decrease in the number of passengers travelling, a decrease in the railway receipts and a tremendous increase in the number of commercial motors in the country.
Surely, the Ministry can devise some policy upon this matter and give us some indication that they are grappling with this important question. Incidentally I notice that one of the newspapers pointed out yesterday that 4,000 new cars are appearing on the roads every week. Everybody can see that, owing to the rapidity of the development of motor traffic, matters will reach a crisis very soon. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman referred to the question of acci- 256 dents. Last year 4,886 people were killed on our roads, or over 13 per day, and 133,888 were injured, or 366 per day. Lack of policy on the part of the Ministry of Transport is largely responsible for these appalling figures. The hon. and gallant Member for Chelmsford (Lieut.-Colonel Howard-Bury) referred to dangerous crossings. There is not a town or village from Land's End to John O'Groats which has not widening schemes, but it is now impossible to carry out those schemes. A Roads Improvement Act was passed about two sessions ago, but what has been done under it? Has anything been done under it? So far as my locality is concerned the district council, always anxious to be helpful, has scheduled the blind corners, but of what earthly advantage is that if nothing more is done? We have now a complete schedule of the blind corners in the district but accidents can go on happening just the same as a result of the existence of the blind corners, and the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is not showing any energy in pressing on local authorities to take some steps to abolish these blind corners.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
Has the hon. Member's local authority put up a scheme for the abolition of the blind corners and announced that they are prepared to find a certain sum for the purpose?
§ Mr. MORRISON
I do not think my local authority has got to that stage yet, because they feel that it will be time enough to do so when the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has sanctioned other schemes which they have put up years ago. One of these was referred to in the House yesterday afternoon. It refers to a place where a disastrous accident occurred, namely, the Ferry Lane crossing, and probably one of the hon. Members for Walthamstow will refer to that later on. That scheme has been hung up for years. The same remark applies to other schemes, and, consequently, the local authorities are getting into their heads that there is no use piling up proposals with the Ministry when no money is forthcoming. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman knows that the whole of the Road Fund has been taken by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and it seems to me that the Ministry's lack of policy means either that the work will not be done at all, or else that it will be done from the local rates
257 The Minister referred to the Road Transport Bill produced by himself, and he was careful to point out that this was not the Government's Bill at all but simply a Bill produced in order, as he said, to "draw fire" and to ascertain what objections existed to it. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman said he had sent the Bill round to a large number of bodies interested, and that the replies which he had already received showed differences of opinion only on minor details and that the main principles were accepted. Could not the right hon. and gallant Gentleman take us a little further in the matter? Having got to that stage, will he not give us some indication as to when the Bill, as a Government Measure, and not as an experimental and kite-flying Bill, is going to be introduced? This Bill has been promised for many years. Cannot the Minister say whether it will be introduced this Session or in the autumn? Is it merely going to be eye-wash? The Bill having been sent to a number of bodies in order to obtain information, is nothing further to be done, while in the meantime the Ministry is going to die out? The hon. Member for Silver-town (Mr. J. Jones) raised the question of the Docks Road. The only comment I make upon the hon. Member's excellent contribution is to ask this question: Is not legislation required before this docks road scheme can be carried out?
§ Colonel ASHLEY indicated assent.
§ Mr. MORRISON
In that case, can the right hon. and gallant Gentleman say whether the negotiations are likely to proceed with sufficient rapidity to enable that legislation to come along this Session or at least in the autumn of the present year?
§ Colonel ASHLEY
It depends on the attitude of the local bodies, who have to find 25 per cent. of the cost. I find 75 per cent. of it and the London County Council and the other local bodies have to find the rest. It is a question of whether they will provide that proportion or not.
§ Mr. J. JONES
That is a question which I intended to put to the Minister, and I am sorry to have forgotten it. We in West Ham are prepared to pay our proportionate share, and I wish to know 258 if it depends on the action of the London County Council whether the scheme will be carried out or not?
§ Colonel ASHLEY
The hon. Member knows that if the Government are prepared to find three-quarters of the cost and if the local authorities are to find the rest of it, the matter depends on the action of the local authorities. Whether we can go on or not depends on whether they will find the 25 per cent. or not. I cannot go further than that.
§ Mr. MORRISON
It appears that once again the hon. Member for Silvertown must return to West Ham disappointed. We are still a long way off this scheme evidently. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman built up our hopes by telling us that this docks road scheme was almost ready, and we had a model of it placed in a room of the House of Commons to show us what it would be like, about two years ago. Now we find that legislation will be necessary, and it seems to me we are as hopelessly far off it as ever. The hon. and gallant Member for Hornsey (Captain Wallace) raised the question of the traffic position in North London. I am not going to deal on this occasion with the question of travelling facilities in North London, but I hope the Minister will not think that feeling in the locality on this subject has cooled down. As a matter of fact the situation is very much worse. I do not know if the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is aware that within the next week or two there is to be started in Harringay an enormous dog-racing establishment with accommodation for 40,000 people. If this dog racing is to take place three or four times a week in the evenings, thousands of honest working people who live in North London are going to be held up and handicapped more and more in the effort to get home from their work.
This dog racing is to be held in the early evenings. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman has seen for himself what the congestion is like in North London. Let him picture what it will be like when this dog racing is taking place on three or four evenings of each week. What on earth a respectable locality like ours has done to have dog racing inflicted 259 on it, I do not know; but it is going to have the same effect on certain week evenings as the football matches have on Saturday afternoons. When there is an important football match the travelling facilities are so inadequate that hundreds if not thousands of my constituents, particularly young women employed in offices, have to lunch out and waste part of their half-holiday because they cannot get home until the football crowd has got into the football grounds. This congestion is now to be repeated on three or four evenings a week and it makes the whole problem much more urgent.
The hon. and gallant Member for Hornsey pointed out that three inquiries had been held into traffic in North London, East London and South London, and he asked what these inquiries had achieved. I think he answered the question himself—that they had achieved very little up to now. As far as I have been able to follow these inquiries, two points have been established. The first is that there is now almost universal agreement that the passenger traffic of Greater London should be operated as one coordinated service. I think there is no disagreement—at least I have never heard of any—that the present-day traffic of Greater London should be operated as one co-ordinated service. The second point which these inquiries have established is that new services, such as tubes, are not likely to be undertaken in the existing chaotic conditions. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman said that the subject of co-ordination is now being explored, but the information given us has been very meagre. Before this Debate closes the representatives of the public here as well as the public themselves outside, ought to know exactly what is happening.
We do not ask to be taken into the Minister's confidence. We do not want private information, but this matter has been going on for months and there are some points on which the London public ought now to be informed. The first is: Are the present negotiations taking place exclusively between the London County Council and what is generally known as the Ashfield Combine? The second is: What is the position of the main line railways and are they concerned in these negotiations? The right hon. and gallant 260 Gentleman in the letter which he read and which was sent to the hon. and gallant Member for Hornsey, indicated that nothing could be said and that these matters were all very secret and confidential. But, he said, we were not to imagine that the matter had been lost sight of; on the contrary, he asked us to believe him that matters had reached an advanced stage. If that be so, there are some points on which the Minister can give us information and one of these, as I have said, is whether the main line railways are included in the proposals for a co-ordinated system under a common management. He might also tell us whether the proposals which he says have reached an advanced stage, will require legislation.
May I introduce a reference here to the small omnibus owners? There are about 400 omnibuses now owned by small owners and the Minister has had a lot of trouble with them. He has been engaged in a good deal of litigation. Is the litigation with the small omnibus owners finished or is there more litigation to come on, and if so, how much longer is it likely to last? Has he given any consideration in connection with any scheme of co-ordination which is under discussion, as to whether there will be any place at all for the small omnibus owners? Lord Ashfield tried to buy them all up three weeks or a month ago, but the small proprietors were not to be bought out. They decided that they would keep on as they were. I hope, and I am sure every Member, irrespective of party politics, hopes, that in the co-ordinating proposals which, according to the Minister, have reached an advanced stage, some place may be found for the small owners. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I am glad to find that sentiment meets with assent from all parts of the House. If there is to be a place for these small owners in this scheme, if they are not to be snuffed out of existence, surely they ought to know as soon as possible what part they are expected to play, so that they can make arrangements accordingly.
In answer to the hon. and gallant Memfor Hornsey (Captain Wallace), who threw out practically a challenge as to the attitude that we on this side of the House would take up in regard to proposals for co-ordination and common 261 management, which are likely to come to the front within the next three weeks, I think I am speaking for every Member on this side when I say that while we do not desire to express any opinion in advances we have laid down certain definite principles and we will not be satisfied with any proposals which fall short of them. The first is that there should be complete co-ordination by the merging of the passenger services into one public service; the second is that any proposal to hand the publicly-owned tramways of London over to a privately-owned combine will meet with our strong opposition, and the third is that in our opinion the undertakings should ultimately he owned and operated by a public authority. The London Traffic Act expires within the year, and the Minister of Transport will probably expire within the year—only as the Minister of Transport, of course; I do not think anybody understood that I meant it in any other sense. The powers of the Minister of Transport so far as London traffic is concerned might very well be transferred to a joint municipal traffic authority, under which the London Traffic Advisory Committee could continue its useful work.
§ Mr. MORRISON
That is our objective. Probably hon. Members opposite will not agree with me. The hon. and gallant Member for Hornsey says that on their side of the House they do not agree with public enterprise taking on this work, but he remarked that the exasperation of the people over the dilatory methods of private enterprise—and I think when he said that he must have had in his mind the London and North Eastern Railway Company—was such that probably the people would be driven to the remedy which we on these benches have been suggesting for so long.
§ Captain WALLACE
May I assume from what the hon. Member has said in answer to me that his party will be definitely opposed to London traffic being taken over by any organisation but a. State-owned concern, even if it were done efficiently? Suppose an efficient combine took it over and gave a good ser- 262 vice under private enterprise, would he oppose that?
§ The CHAIRMAN
What one hon. Member says, the other may answer, but this discussion about State ownership cannot go on.
§ Mr. MORRISON
I will accept your decision, Mr. Hope, and will merely say to the hon. and gallant Member for Hornsey that I was only laying down the principles which we thought should actuate a scheme of publicly-owned passenger-carrying transport in London, and that we should not be satisfied with anything which fell short of that. We deny that in the year 1927 any system of a privately-owned combine to control the passenger-carrying transport of London is an ultimate solution for the troubles from which we suffer. I would like to thank the Committee for the patience with Which they have listened to me, and I will conclude by asking the Minister, if he proposes to speak again in this Debate, to give us some indication of the policy of the Government in view of the acute transport problems developing all over the country, the rapidity with which motor transport is growing, the increasing difficulties with which the railway companies are being confronted, and the vital importance of a cheap and efficient transport service to the trade of the country.
§ Lieut.-Colonel MOORE-BRABAZON
I have some regrets that I am not still sitting by the side of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport, but when, during the speech of the hon. Member for North Tottenham (Mr. R. Morrison), I realised that it would have fallen to my lot to answer it, I felt a little pleased to think that that speech will have to be dealt with by my right hon. Friend. The hon. Member strolled over a very comprehensive series of questions, and to answer him in detail would require a speech of more than an hour-and-a-half's duration. Reference has been made to the political demise of the Minister of Transport. I cannot believe that the Ministry qua Ministry can ever be killed, even by an autocratic Chancellor of the Exchequer; and I hope that the political death of my right hon. Friend will at any rate be alleviated by the employment of a silken rope. I think a personal explanation is wanted relative to the question of the disappearance 263 of the Ministry qua Ministry, and I cannot hope to discuss that question qua question now, but I do want to assure the House that when I left the Ministry I had no thought there was any idea of the Ministry of Transport being abolished. If I had thought for one moment that that were going to happen, I would have stood side by side with my right hon. Friend to fight the Chancellor of the Exchequer to the end.
It is a matter of regret, I think, that in this Debate we cannot talk about the two subjects which really are of importance; one is the abolition of the Ministry of Transport, and the other, of even more transcending importance, the question of the taxation of motor cars. The policy to be adopted in regard to the taxation of motor cars has a great bearing on industry in this country, yet what will happen is that about 4 o'clock in the morning, on the Committee stage of the Finance Bill, someone will move a Resolution to alter the present method of taxing motor cars, everybody will be tired, the whole Debate will lack interest, and it will collapse in about a quarter of an hour. Really, however, it is a question which needs very serious consideration, for it has ramifications in every direction, and I should like to have a really first-class Debate on this system of taxation which is going to bring in about £25,000,000 a year.
§ Lieut.-Colonel MOORE-BRABAZON
I might be unlucky. There are two points only on which I wish to speak to-day. One concerns research. Largely owing to my right hon. Friend we have an Act which gives us power to spend money upon research with respect to the roads, and I am certain that research is going on as well as it can go on. But the fact remains that while we spend some £40,000,000 a year on the roads it is only within the last 10 months that we have ever been able to spend a shilling on finding out which is the best type of road to lay down. There are three big warring interests on the roads. There is the gas interest concerned with tar, there are pitch and asphalt roads, with all the resources of oil behind them, and the concrete roads, with all the resources of the 264 Portland Cement Company at their backs. It is very difficult to ascertain what is really the most economical and best road under the different and varied conditions to which our roads are subject. It is important to build a thoroughly efficient road from the beginning. Very little is known, also as to what damage individual vehicles do to the roads. We have very little restrictive legislation upon vehicles to-day. We see very heavy lorries going very much faster than they are allowed to go by law, and doing a most enormous amount of damage to the roads. There is no doubt that you must give up any idea that we can build roads to withstand every form of traffic. Traffic will always beat you in the end, however hard, however thick, however heavy you make the roads; and I feel that action must soon be taken by the government to impose definite restrictions as to the form of our vehicles, so that the roads may be saved. I see a type of vehicle creeping on to the roads which has only about a 14-inch wheel. A wheel of that size can get into any inequality in the roads and increase the potholes, doing damage to the roads much more quickly than any other form of vehicle: and yet we have not ruled them off the roads. Slowly they will build up a good will against us, and it will be very difficult to take action later. This type of vehicle should be nipped in the bud—wiped straight off the roads in the beginning. That is the only way to deal with it.
Another question to which I wish to refer is that of the Severn barrage. I was chairman of the Committee appointed to go into that question. To tell the truth, I do not quite know whether I am or am not still chairman of it, though probably I am not. The question of obtaining electricity from the tides is one that appeals to the popular imagination, especially in an island, where there is so much waste power round the coasts. As is the case with all electrical problems, the problem of getting power from the tides is really one of pounds, shillings and pence. The position to-day is that a model of the Severn is being made. In that model it is sought to reproduce the tides of the Severn and to get an exact replica of the sand deposits in the river itself. There is a model of what the river was 60 years ago: the tide is sluiced in and 265 out for a certain period to correspond with 60 years, and that gives the position at the present time. Then you go on for another year—which corresponds to another period of 50 years—and then you ascertain what depth of sand you have in the lower parts of the river.
So far as I can remember, the cost of the Severn scheme came out at about £8,000,000 roughly. It was said that whether it would ever prove a commercial success would depend entirely on the price of coal. If in future coal were to be more than 17s. a ton it would be a commercial success, but if coal were going to be less than that, the scheme would not pay on account of the huge capital cost. When my right hon. Friend comes to reply later, I would like him to tell us who is to take the place of the Ministry in controlling the electricity side of the work. Nobody controls the Electricity Commissioners, who are a curious body with their own powers; they are almost a judicial body and not responsible to a Minister, although a Minister is responsible to Parliament for them. I should like the right hon. Gentleman to give us his own idea as to who will be responsible in the future for this Department.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
I am rather sorry that I shall have to divert the attention of the Committee from London roads to the country roads and bridges of our provincial areas. I listened very carefully to the statement of the Minister of Transport, and, while he dealt very carefully with the difficulty of the Metropolis, little or nothing was said with regard to country roads, and the need for more bridges in all parts of the country. The right hon. Gentleman made one observation which seemed to apply to the particular case which I want to bring to the notice of this Committee. I want to deal with two particular points, both of them more or less of a local character, and one has a bearing on the making of roads. My first point is with regard to the proposed erection of a new bridge at Thorne. This question has been before the county council and the South Yorkshire Navigation Company for the past five years. This district is peculiarly situated, and it is impossible to get in and out of Thorne by road, except by crossing one of the bridges 266 owned and maintained by the South Yorkshire Canal Company. In 1922, this company intimated that in future vehicles weighing over five tons would not be permitted to cross the bridge, and this more or less tended to isolate this town from all the neighbouring towns and boroughs. It meant not only isolating this town, but retarding its normal development, and it certainly was a setback to housing, and destroyed a great deal of the potential trade.
The Minister of Transport and the Committee will better understand the position if I describe what is bound to take place, and what has been taking place for several years. First of all, I should like to intimate that, as far back as the 27th March, 1922, the Thorne Rural Council informed the county council of the serious consequences of this difficulty to the town unless a new swing bridge was commenced almost immediately. The situation is that houses are being erected at a fairly rapid rate, and they ought to be built at a rapid rate, because of the development of a new large colliery which has been opened within the last year or two. At the present time bricks cannot be taken over this bridge in the ordinary motor lorries. Consequently, horses and carts have to be chartered because of the weight of the heavy lorries, and the lorries have to be unloaded. Anyone removing furniture to this district finds that the motor lorry must draw up by the swing bridge and unload, and then a dray must be chartered to convey the furniture over the bridge. If the rural district council want to take their steam roller outside the town of Thorne, they must sent it by rail, because it is too heavy to cross the bridge. Steam-ploughing tackle used by agriculturists in this district has to be taken on by train, because it is not allowed to cross this bridge. Heavy lorries and threshing machinery must be transported by train, even though it is going to be used only half-a-mile from the centre of the town.
I know the right hon. Gentleman and his Department have rendered all assistance possible by way of conferences, and placing at the disposal of the local authorities a certain grant, but the net result, after five years of negotiation, is that the Thorne people are still without a bridge. From 1922 to 1924 numerous 267 inquiries and conferences were held, and I put questions on this subject to the right hon. Gentleman as far back as 1923, and I repeated them in 1924, 1925, 1926 and 1927. It is true there was one proposal to erect a permanent bridge by the county council, but that would not meet the immediate requirements of the district. Certainly, a permanent bridge should be erected, but for the immediate alleviation of the traffic a swing bridge is necessary, and should be erected immediately, and the permanent bridge ought to come later on with a by-pass road which would side-step the very narrow streets. Even that proposal was laid on one side. Further conferences and inquiries took place, volumes of correspondence passed between the rural council and the county council and the Yorkshire Navigation Company, and still nothing has been done.
In 1925, the rural council were informed that the county council had under consideration plans and estimates for a swing bridge. Apparently, they are still under consideration, unless they have failed to agree with the South Yorkshire Navigation Company as to the working of the bridge. We are told the bridge is to be built on terms which have, apparently, been arranged. We have now reached 1927, and the situation of this township can be best understood when I mention that, notwithstanding the extraordinary situation of this very poor township, the population in 1921 was 6,076. In all the questions I put to the right hon. Gentleman I informed him how fast houses should be erected, and I showed how the population figures for 1926 had increased to 9,486, and the estimated population for 1927 will be at the end of the year, 11,286. Therefore, the increase from 1921 in the population of this isolated district has been no less than 83 or 84 per cent. Moreover, the owners of this new Thorne colliery are going to erect 1,000 houses, but they are embarrassed to such an extent by the present state of things that, obviously, the building of houses must be greatly retarded as a result of the failure to build this bridge. In the year 1921, there were 1,312 houses, and, in 1926, 2,108, with 396 in course of erection, making a total of 2,504 at the end of the year. So that the number of houses built during the 268 last five years has practically doubled, and I think this justifies the clamour of the Thorne Rural District Council for the right hon. Gentleman's intervention in order to set aside this apparent barrier which prevents the erection of this bridge.
I suggest, without inferring that some sort of legislation ought to be introduced, that the Minister of Transport should have the power to intervene where it is found that a county council and any company similar to this navigation company fail to agree over what is, after all, a minor matter compared with the comfort of a district of some considerable size. In this case the rural council first wrote to the county council. They asked if they would agree to the terms of the navigation company. The rural council then wrote to the navigation company, and they replied that they could not agree to the terms put forward by the county council. Year after year this kind of thing has continued, and it seems to me, that unless the Minister of Transport is able to use his influence to a far greater extent than has been the case up to the present, the people of Thorne are not likely to have their bridge built during the present century. They have waited for five years, and the rural council has fallen between the two stools of the county council and the Sheffield Navigation Company. Now their patience is exhausted, and it is time for the Minister of Transport to demand that this district shall be isolated no longer.
I should like to deal now with a question affecting another authority in my own area. This question is of such importance that the whole nation may very well take note of the action of the Electricity Commissioners during the past few months. I refer to the application made by the Mexborough Urban District Council for sanction for a loan under Section 11 of the Electricity Supply Act, 1919. This application was made in the ordinary course, and, after lots of correspondence and a subsequent inquiry, the application has been refused. I suggest to the Minister of Transport that this decision affects the whole country, and it is well that we should examine this case and see if the Minister concurs with the Electricity Commissioners. The application has been refused, and, we contend, wrongly refused. The basis for 269 the repayment of the loan is wrong in principle, and conflicts with the Act of 1922, and is scarcely consistent with Section 14, Sub-section (3) of the Act of 1926, as I shall show presently.
The council obtained a Lighting Order in 1899, and they were supplying electricity as early as 1900. As the demand of the district increased, they continued to extend their plant, and in 1921 the demand had increased to such an extent that further extensions were necessary, and the ordinary application for a loan was made to the Electricity Commissioners. In deference to the wishes of the Electricity Commissioners, the local council agreed to accept a bulk supply from the Yorkshire Electric Power Company, and they continued to receive this supply until some time in 1925. During that time they were purchasing power from the Yorkshire Electric Power Company and generating a portion of power themselves, and the supply they generated themselves was produced at a price much less than the price they were called upon to pay to the Yorkshire Electric Power Company.
This constituted an annual loss to the district which they felt they ought not to bear any longer. Consequently, on the 22nd December, 1925, they sought sanction for a loan for an extension of their plant.
A good deal of correspondence passed between them and the Electricity Commissioners, but one could see running through alt the letters of the Electricity Commissioners that they had pretty well made Up their mind that they were going to persuade, or, if they could not persuade, they were going to compel the Mexborough Urban District Council to continue to purchase their bulk supply from the Yorkshire Electric Power Company. They went into the whole of the figures in connection with their local generating plant, and satisfied themselves beyond a shadow of doubt that they could produce much more cheaply than they were able to purchase from the Yorkshire Electric Power Company; but, for further security, they called in a consulting engineer, who went into the whole of the figures with the members of the local council and the local engineer, and was satisfied that the local council, situated as they are, in an extraordinarily favourable position, ought to continue to 270 generate their own power. Under Section 13 of the Act of 1922, the local council, as long as they can prove that they can generate at a price lower than that at which they can purchase from some outside body, are entitled to receive the consent of the Electricity Commissioners. Section 13 of the Act of 1922 says:Provided that the Electricity Commissioners shall not (a) refuse under Section 11 of the principal Act their consent to the establishment of a new or the extension of an existing generating station to any authorised undertakers if it is proved to the satisfaction of the Commissioners that, having regard to all the circumstances of the case, the undertakers are, or will if the consent be given, be in a position to give a supply of electricity adequate in quantity and regularity to meet the present and the prospective demands of their consumers at a cost not greater than that at which they could give a supply if they obtained a supply from other sources.As far as that Section is concerned, the local council are convinced beyond any shadow of doubt that they can generate at a price much less than it costs to purchase a bulk supply from the Yorkshire Electric Power Company. The exceptional position of the district alone enables them to do this. There is a further Section in the Act of 1926, with which, I think, the decision of the Commissioners is not at all consistent. Subsection (3) of Section 14 of the Act of 1926, referring to the closing down of stations when the new schemes are brought into being, declares as follows:In calculating for the purpose of this Section the cost of production of electricity generated by the authorised undertakers, no account shall be taken of capital charges in respect of capital expended on the generating station.That seems to be perfectly clear, and, so long as a local authority can satisfy the Commissioners that they can comply with these conditions and still outbid the big company who are prepared with a bulk supply, I think the Electricity Commissioners ought not to withhold their sanction.
This particular district is in a unique position. The local authority can purchase coal cheaply, since they are in the centre of at least half-a-dozen of the most prosperous coal mines in South Yorkshire, and they proved at the inquiry that, for the year ending 31st March, 1926, they purchased coal at an average price of 11s. 7d. per ton, or 4s. 1d. Per 271 ton less than the price paid by the Yorkshire Electric Power Company. That in itself is a fairly clear indication that, unless some extraordinary incident occurs, the local people have a distinct advantage as regards the cost of coal. As to capital charges, were they excluded, the estimated cost of production by the local council would be approximately 0.4d. per unit, while the cost per unit purchased from the power company would be 0.68d., or, as the demand increased, the price charged by the power company would be nearly double the cost of generating locally. As the output of the station increases, the loss entailed upon the local authority in purchasing a bulk supply will be increased, and, even before 1931, will reach a considerable figure, well over £2,000. This station is excellently situated as regards both water and coal supply, and it enjoys the same condensing facilities as Sheffield, Rotherham and Doncaster. For three years they have been purchasing from the Yorkshire Electric Power Company, and in each of those years they have proved conclusively that they generated power more cheaply than they were able to purchase from the Yorkshire Electric Power Company, and it seems to me that, unless some extraordinary reason could be adduced, the Electricity Commissioners ought not to have withheld their sanction to this loan.
While it may be admitted, and I should be the first to admit, that in certain cases a bulk supply can easily be shown to beat local generation, it is contended in this case that the facts were proved before the Electricity Commissioners, and that, were it not that the Commissioners had reduced the period for repayment of the loan by at least 50 per cent., the local generation would have been distinctly advantageous. The effect of refusing sanction for the proposed extensions is to place the council in the unfortunate position of having to accept a much higher price, under Sub-section (1) of Section 14 of the Act of 1926, than they would have had to pay if they were generating more cheaply with the more modern plant, proposed. Had it not been that this urban district council required their extensions immediately, even when the scheme for the South Yorkshire area was completed, unless the Electricity Commissioners could 272 prove beyond any shadow of doubt that the bulk supply was cheaper than the locally generated power, they would not be in a position, under the Act of 1926, to close down that station. I want to suggest on behalf of the local council, and, indeed, on behalf of many other councils that will be in a similar position, that the attitude of the Electricity Commissioners on this case has placed a bargaining power in the hands of this large electricity company which they ought not to have had, and they are able to charge a higher price than would be the case had the Electricity Commissioners not reduced the period for the payment of loan charges.
The right hon. Gentleman to-day, in replying to a question that I submitted to him, said that the period for repayment of the loan was quite a normal one, but the reply continued that the fact that these smaller stations are likely to be superseded by some bigger power company in a way justified the Electricity Commissioners in taking the point of view that they did. If that be the point of view of the Minister, and if he is going to concur in these decisions of the Electricity Commissioners, it is going to mean for the whole country that, where we have small but highly efficient generating plants, they are going to be handed over lock, stock and barrel to the big electricity companies without any compensation whatsoever, and local authorities who can produce power more cheaply than the other people are going to be compelled to accept their power at any price that these large companies care to impose upon them. That, I think, is a contradiction of the Act of 1926, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman is going to give us some further guarantee that, in cases similar to this, the large power companies are going to be compelled either to supply power to a local authority at a price as low as that at which they can generate themselves, or that the local authority is going to be permitted to continue generating power, serving itself at a much lower price than that at which the power companies are able to supply. That, I think, is a very important point.
There is just one other thing that might be said. If it goes forth to-day that the Electricity Commissioners who, I know, have pretty full power to determine the 273 period over which repayment of loans shall be made, are going to be permitted so to arrange the repayment period as to change the financial situation altogether, then in no case, no matter how efficient local stations may be, will they be able to continue generating power. The Act of 1875, I believe, gave power to the Local Government Board, in agreement with the local council, to determine the loan period. That power, presumably, is now in the hands of the Electricity Commissioners. Twenty years is regarded as the normal loan period for a plant of this description, but, if a period of 10 years is going to defeat a local council to-day, five years may be used to-morrow to defeat a local council and in defeating that local council to rob them of what, for a quarter of a century, they have been working for. To grant power to these big companies to sell at their own price is a contradiction of all that is progressive, and a contradiction of the real intentions of the Act of 1926; and I think the Minister of Transport will do well to re-examine this latest case before he gives his final consent, so that the nation shall at least feel satisfied that legitimate cases will be truly considered, not in the light of some future scheme that may or may not be brought into being, but in the light of the efficiency of the local generating plant and in the light of the cost at which the local people can produce, so that districts, and particularly those which have been really progressive and which have done well for themselves, shad not be robbed of the value of a quarter of a century's work.
§ Mr. RHYS
I am glad that we have an opportunity of discussing the Ministry of Transport Vote, because, although possibly I am not in the position of being able to invite the attention of the nation to the question that I want to raise, it is One that affects some hundreds of thousands of people, and very shortly will affect millions. T do not propose again to cover the ground that was covered in the Debate on the London, Midland and Scottish Railway Bill a few weeks ago in this House, because the position was then very fully gone into, but I should like to approach the question of traffic towards the eastern side of London from another point of view. For some time now we have been pressing that steps should be taken, ether by investigation or in other 274 ways, to see what can be done to cope with what is going to become a very serious problem indeed; and I am glad to say that more than a year ago the Minister responded to our supplications and set up the London Traffic Advisory Committee. I think I am right in saying that the last committee which investigated conditions in the south-eastern area reported some months ago. The Minister was extremely guarded in his reference to what is going on at the present time. The people in these areas are beginning to wonder whether or not the reports are suffering the fate of many reports, and reposing in a pigeon-hole at the Ministry of Transport—
§ Mr. RHYS
The fly-under. My hon. Friend reminds me of certain very important work which we should like to carry out, but for the moment I will confine myself to the broader aspects of the Report. For the first time the Minister has lifted the veil of secrecy, and we are given to understand that certain negotiations are actually going on to see whether some arrangement with the big London combine cannot be arrived at; but we should like to press him, if it is possible for him to do so without giving away matters which obviously should not be given away at this stage, to give those areas a little more hope, a little more help, by undertaking, or asking his successor to undertake to use his influence to see that some conclusion is arrived at with reasonable speed. I do not describe the situation in too strong language when I say that it is getting inexorably worse every day and every week, and that before long it will have reached such dimensions that it will require legislative efforts on a scale of which we do not dream to-day. I have often said in this House that I do not like to prophesy, but I do prophesy this, that within 20 years from now there will be a population of 200,000 people living between the East End of London and Southend.
§ Mr. RHYS
I am putting it at a conservative estimate. In my own constituency, the London County Council have an estate on which houses are being occupied at the rate of 75 a week. That 275 is on one estate alone. Most of these people have to work in London; and that is being multiplied right up to the east coast. I would like to urge the Minister to give us some assurance that he is keeping a watchful eye on the negotiations that are going on, provided that he agrees, as I believe he does, that the combine is a necessary solution.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
May I interrupt my hon. friend to say tins, which will, per. haps, relieve the Committee as well as himself? I can only repeat, as I indicated in my opening remarks, that we have, I hope, passed the stage of what is called vague consideration, or even consideration that is sympathetic without being effective. We have reached the pint that two of the largest partners in this matter have been in conference for some considerable time. It is not an easy question to solve, but they have reached general agreement, and that general agreement is being placed before the Advisory Committee, who will at once deal with it and forward it to me for my comments and such action as may be necessary. What action I can take I cannot say until I have seen the scheme, but I want to assure my hon. Friend, and other hon. Members who are intimately concerned with this terribly difficult problem, that we are reaching some stage of decision.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
I think my hon. Friend must not press me further; I do net think I can go any further than what I have said.
§ Mr. RHYS
I should like to thank the Minister for the statement he has made, because I think he has gone further in it than he indicated in his speech. I am very satisfied with his answer to my question, and I am very much obliged to him for telling us how far the matter has gone.
Before I sit down, I should like to turn for a moment to the question of the roads. We have in the last fortnight experienced a severe act of God in the shape of a heavy frost of 15 or 16 degrees in the fruit-growing area, and I am afraid we are going to find that market gardeners and fruit growers will have 276 been, unexpectedly, very severely hit again this year; and in those districts, where the road rates are now up to 6s. in the £ it is going to be even more difficult for them to meet those rates. I do hope that one act of the Minister wilt be to see if he cannot in some way or another urge the Chancellor of the Exchequer to give them an increase, even if it be only on second-class roads. These districts are crying out for some relief. I am not in a position to know whether the Minister is able to take any steps in that direction, but I sincerely hope that he will bear in mind the ever-increasing burden that is being put upon those roads, and that he will do all that he possibly can to alleviate the position in the agricultural districts.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
I should have liked, perhaps, to follow the hon. Member who has just sat down in addressing myself to the urgent question of transport in West Essex. I am a resident in that district, and I fully realise, with him, the very serious condition that has grown up in that area. I rise for the purpose of reinforcing the point made by the hon. Member for the Don Valley (Mr. Williams). It may seem a comparatively small point, but it is on that question of the length of time allowed for loans for municipal electricity undertakings. I am strongly in favour of the concentration of generation in capital stations. I know very well the difficulty in attempting to close down obsolete stations, but I think one must hold the balance fairly in any question of generation in local stations and capital stations. Under the 1926 Act the whole question of capital charge is left out of the question. What we are dealing with is the interim period before the 1926 Act takes effect. What we are having to-day is a request by the Electricity Commissioners that local authorities, or indeed small supply companies, instead of increasing their plant should take a bulk supply generally from a power company That is always met by the small company by showing the costs of their generation and pointing out that there is going to be an increased cost if they take a bulk supply. A company is not hampered in any question dealing with the taking of a bulk supply by the question of loan charges, because there is nothing laid down with regard to the period for loan charges except in certain 277 areas like London, but I gather that the period has usually been something like 11 years. It now being cut down to 10 years, which makes a very heavy addition, because capital charges are practically 50 per cent. of the cost. You are going to increase that 50 per cent. by a half, and it makes a comparison between the cost of local generation and the cost of taking a bulk supply very difficult.
I agree that inefficient stations should be closed down. I agree with the general principle of trying to concentrate the load in a few well-equipped stations, but the position is very difficult at present, partly through the fact that some of the big companies are not playing the game. I am not dealing with any particular company—not with the Yorkshire Electrical Power Company, which has been mentioned, or with any London company particularly, but some of these companies take a very short-sighted and narrow view. They do not offer sufficiently attractive terms for bulk supply. They do not offer as cheap terms as they very well might do, and their rather stupid and short-sighted attitude is militating against the whole success of the 1926 scheme. If the Minister approves of this reduction of the period for loan charges from 15 years to 10, he is not really benefiting the progress of schemes under the I926 Act, but he is really weakening the bargaining power of local authorities and small supply companies to get reasonable terms of bulk supply from the big power companies, and what he should aim at is to get those companies to give reasonable terms. But whatever may be the desirability, it is rather loading the dice against the small undertaking to change the period from 15 to 10 years. You may be able to support it on the technical opinion that plant will be superseded by that time. The change is made rather suddenly, but that, after all, is on the idea that somehow or other it is going to be superseded.
We do not know at present how soon districts like that referred to by my hon. Friend are going to get a bulk supply, and how soon they are going to have the benefit under the 1926 Act of getting their supply at cost price. The difficulty is the intermediate stage, in which undertakings are obliged to put themselves in the hands of the only available authority 278 giving a bulk supply, with whom they cannot bargain on fair grounds, in some cases, at all events, and they find themselves actually having to pay a higher price and passing that on in higher costs to their consumers, when they know that for a considerable period of years they could generate it more cheaply. I think this is a case that the Minister should look into very carefully, and see if the effect of it, so far from helping the scheme, is not actually militating against the linking-up of stations and the concentration of bulk generation.
§ Mr. G. PETO
I should like to thank the Minister for his promise to grant rural roads the same sum of £1,400,000 that we had last year. That grant materially assisted the agricultural industry. It reduced our rates, or, at any rate, prevented a further increase. In fact, so successful is the grant that we had even hoped this year it might have been increased. However, I suppose we must be grateful for what we have received, and what we are going to receive this coming year, and we must hope, under more favourable conditions, to receive larger sums in other years. I want to raise the point of the definition of a rural road. As I understand it, a road is considered to be a rural road when the population of the district is less than one person per acre. I suggest that that figure should be somewhat increased, or, at any rate, that greater elasticity should be shown, because a hard-and-fast rule like that certainly produces hardship in certain individual cases. Perhaps I might mention a case I have particularly in mind, because it is a fair example of what is going on all over the country, and that is the Urban District Council of Midsomer Norton. It is quite a small district. The whole area of roads is only 27½ miles and 20 miles are unclassified district roads. Because the population amounts to 1.96 persons per acre, these 20 miles of unclassified district roads do not qualify for any grant from the rural road grant, and the whole of the maintenance has to be carried out by the district council. If the Minister went there, and drove through that area with me, he would not he able to distinguish the roads of the urban district council from those of the neighbouring rural district council. They are, to all intents and purposes, exactly the same. 279 Midsomer Norton is a charming village with wide streets, but it is not even a market town. Its population is raised to this figure merely because it has groups of miners' houses dotted about the area.
There must be many other urban district councils in the same condition in the country. I think the idea of the Ministry in regard to an unclassified district road which is urban is that it is suburban. There are small roads in the suburbs of London and other large towns where you see rows of prosperous villas, and very likely the roads are only used by the inhabitants of these villas and the tradesmen who go there. The road upkeep is very properly borne by the comparatively rich community on the outskirts of a large town. You get other classified district roads in the outskirts of a large market town or something of that sort, but in this case and in similar cases you do not have the high rateable value of the large towns and you do not have the benefit of a number of people going into shop, but you have, especially in the case of Midsomer Norton, a very large char-a-bane traffic from Bristol and Bath and other large towns to visit the beauty spots of Somerset. I would urge the Minister to reconsider his definition of rural roads, and see if he cannot make it somewhat more elastic, taking into consideration the character of the district with which it has to deal. If he does this, he will remove a considerable feeling of injustice in various parts of the country, where one small urban district council cannot understand why it cannot receive grants on the same basis as a rural district council.
§ Major CRAWFURD
I should like to pay a tribute to the unfailing courtesy the Committee have already experienced, and Members of the House always experience, in their dealings with the right hon. Gentleman. I have a right to say that particularly for myself, because in the last few weeks I have had a fresh example of the consideration he has always given to those who have approached him. But courtesy and consideration do not solve the traffic problem, and I wish to make again a criticism as to the way in which the Department handles, or rather fails to handle the enormous problem with which it has been entrusted. I 280 remember last year, or the year before, when claims were being made, as they always are made, on the right hon. Gentleman, he said that if he had been gifted with the purse of Fortunatus he might have met all the claims and satisfied all the claimants. I said on that occasion that the trouble about the right hon. Gentleman was that he had been endowed with the purse of Fortunatus, but that he had strayed in places where dubious persons congregate and had not been mindful of the exhortation to look after his pockets. My warning was more than justified when the Chancellor of the Exchequer expounded his Budget. I should have thought one warning would have been enough. I remember some years ago attending a place of amusement in the Metropolis, and I remember a lady of not inconsiderable charm and of considerable bulk who favoured us with a song which has always stuck in my mind. The last line was "Never let the same bee sting you twice." If the right hon. Gentleman had as vivid a recollection of that moral as I have, he would have remembered his lesson of last year and taken care that his colleague, who, he now knows, is on the look out for people with bulky pockets—
§ The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Lieut.-Colonel Spender-Clay)
I think this would be more appropriate to the Budget.
§ Major CRAWFURD
I regret if my reminiscences have led me to stray from the straight and narrow path. The point I was trying to make, using the word in the nautical meaning of "arrive at," was this. If the right hon. Gentleman had used his opportunities of administration during the last three or four years, as he might have used them, and as the needs of the country demanded that he should use them, both the transport of the country and the work of the Ministry, and indeed the need of the unemployed persons, might not have suffered as they have. The investments and assets of the Road Fund in 1919 were £4,000,000. In 1920, they were £9,000,000; in 1921 nearly £13,000,000; in 1922, £16,000,000; in 1925, £18,250,000; and in 1926, £19,250,000. What a temptation in the way of people who are looking out for money, and what a confession of the way in which the Ministry has failed to meet the transport 281 needs of the country! There has been some discussion already with regard to London and London traffic. Every year when the transport Ministry Vote has been discussed, we have had the spectacle of that complacent body known as the London Traffic Advisory Committee indulging in a chorus of mutual admiration as to what they have done. But I am much more concerned with what they have not done, and my view is that with regard to London, as with regard to the country generally, the London Traffic Advisory Committee and the Government have totally failed to take a long view of the duties with which they have been entrusted. The right hon. Gentleman earlier to-day, looking forward to a time when even the present Government will be out of power, said he hoped that in 200 years' time people would look at the bridges that are now being constructed all over the country and would think we had put up structures worthy of the artistic sense of the generation in which we live. Cannot the right hon. Gentleman look forward in the same way, and wonder if those of a future generation will not look back upon this period and say we have neglected our opportunities of dealing with what was, obviously, one of the most increasingly difficult problems the administration has to fact, that is, the problem of traffic? There is no need to argue the urgency of the problem. I saw a statement the other day that one British firm had last week produced a record out-put of motor cars. Every week adds to the urgency of the problem, and brings it more and more before the people of the country.
The right hon. Gentleman quoted an opinion that a loan raised on the security of the Bond Fund would not be a sound proceeding, because it would be better to pay out of revenue as you go along, and have what you pay for. No doubt it would be better. Hon. Members will no doubt agree it would have been better to pay for the War out of revenue as we went along, but in some cases you cannot pay out of revenue. I am utterly at a loss to see why it should he right, for example, for the City Council of Liver-pool to raise £1,500,000 for the construction of the Mersey Tunnel, and pay for that not out of revenue, but by means of interest and sinking fund, and be given 282 permission by the Government to spread repayment over a period as long as 80 years, which is obvious proof that the Government themselves realise the enormous wealth-producing value of work of that kind. It does not seem reasonable that a local body should be allowed to raise a loan of that kind, and that we should be told that to do anything of the sort with regard to money contributed by the Government would be bad finance or a wrong method of procedure. I have always thought that the present years through which we are passing, with the enormous amount of unemployment with which we are contending, have given just that opportunity which should have been used by the Government—and not only by this Government but by different Governments of the day—to raise large loans on the security of the Road Fund, in order to indulge in large capital works which would do two things: not only would they help towards the ultimate solution of this enormous traffic problem with which we are confronted, but they would also provide a great deal of work, not only for those men who are actually engaged in the construction of the roads, but to others who are brought into employment in the supply and transport of materials for that construction.
The right hon. Gentleman will agree that for the last two years he has lost to his colleagues £27,000,000 belonging to the Road Fund. I have estimated that with £5,000,000 or £6,000,000 earmarked from the Road Fund you could raise £80,000,000 or £90,000,000, and if hon. Members wish to know what I would do with it, I would do this kind of thing. I would, first of all, complete and hasten the programme of road construction which has already been settled, but which is being delayed and hampered—I do not know whether by the right hon. Gentleman or through the interference of the Treasury—I assume it would not be in order to discuss that at the moment, but, at any rate, the administration which is made effective or ineffective through the Transport Ministry has been delayed, for one reason or another, and this programme of work which has been actually agreed upon and sanctioned has not yet been carried out.
Let me give an example—the Kingston by-pass road, the construction of which was begun in 1923, and the finish of which, I believe, is estimated for the 283 autumn of this year. That is four years. In that four years the amount of traffic which is borne by the present road to Kingston has doubled in volume and weight, my point being that even with your best efforts, you can scarcely keep pace with the growing demand of the traffic on the roads. If you are not going to put forward your best effort, but to be slow and dilatory, then it is obvious that this traffic problem is going to become almost impossible of solution in later years. We ought then to have hastened to complete our programme of road construction. But there is far more in it than that. I am not satisfied with the present programme of road construction. I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he should take advantage of the fine weather, and cross to Paris for a day or two, and, in the very middle of Paris, in one of the busiest streets in the world, yon can see to-day an example of exactly the kind of courageous and far-seeing town planning and town improvement of which we in London and in this country stand in need. It is a work which shows the most marvellous power of imagination, where in the middle of that great city an enormous road has been opened up, and the Boulevard Hausmann has been finished and brought into the main line of boulevards. It will have an enormous effect. [An HON. MEMBER: "It was planned 50 years ago!"] If it was planned 50 years ago, and has only just been brought to fruition, then we ought to start planning now. I would point, again, to an example like Oxford Street. It seems to me to be nothing less than a civic crime that Oxford Circus should have been allowed to be rebuilt on exactly the same site as before. Then you go to the other end, and you find the corner of Tottenham Court Road, where you have a monstrous condition of affairs day after day and week after week. You have dozens of these ganglions. Take another case, that of Kensington High Street, where there ought to be a large and courageous measure of town-planning carried out, but which the right hon. Gentleman has not carried out, and now the means of carrying it out has been transferred and voted for another purpose.
There has been a great deal of discussion to-day about the traffic needs of 284 London. I happen to represent that section of the north-eastern part of London which is probably worst served for traffic than any oilier part of the Metropolis. I have heed making efforts of a weak and ineffective kind, as being the only kind of effort which a private Member can make, to get the particular railway company concerned to move in the matter. Here we have got thousands of people every morning, winter and summer, travelling to London, 14, 15 and 16 and more per carriage. I do bring this to the attention of hon. Members, because this is not a question of having a street finished in time for the arrival of the President of the French Republic. It is a question of the daily comfort and happiness of thousands of poor men and women and young persons, and I am assured that it is not an uncommon thing at one particular station for young girls to faint in these carriages, and to be brought out on to the platform for treatment before they can complete their journey to London. That is the kind of thing with which, I think, the Ministry of Transport was brought into existence to deal. I believe there have been discussions in the past as to the possibility of carrying the Tube in that direction, but it seems almost impossible to move the railway companies. It is not only a question of the comfort of the people travelling, but also a question of the comfort and convenience of the staffs of the railway itself. I can give a case—though I do not particularly want to quote any particular station—of a railway station in a position particularly exposed to wind and weather of all sorts, where the accommodation for the station staff is literally not fit to house a dog, and, in spite of the protests I have made, apparently nothing can be done to remedy that.
It was only yesterday in regard to the same area a question was addressed to the right hon. Gentleman about the conditions of the road in Ferry Lane. That is just the kind of problem that I have in mind, where you have two large centres of population, Walthamstow, on the one side, and Tottenham, on the other side, and in between you have the Lea Valley. It is true there is a large arterial road being constructed to the North, but it is much too far away to be convenient for the daily use of the hundreds and hundreds of workmen and 285 work-girls who walk backwards and forwards to their work. One-half of that road has been improved, but at the ends of the improvement, there are two definite bottle-necks, and, as an hon. Member, who is not in his place, said in the House yesterday in a supplementary question, there is not room for two motor cars to pass. I say it is the business of the Minister of Transport to inquire into these cases and to see that there is a remedy, because it is only two years ago that there was a fatal accident at this very spot, when two cars, in trying to pass each other, came into collision, and if resulted in the death of two or three people. But apart from an incident of that kind, which, happily, is rare, there is the daily inconvenience and addition to the strain and toil of these people who have to walk a mile or a mile and a half to work. There is also the congestion of the streets for the pedestrians, and the congestion for motor traffic, and there is the complete failure of the Minister, whose business it is to look after these things and to take a long and comprehensive view of the matter.
I do not know that it is an occasion at this moment—for I do not want to detain the Committee too long—to give figures, but there are plenty of figures to show that, even the restricted programme agreed upon has not been carried out. Progress has been dilatory and slow, while all the time we have, on the one hand, the needs of the public, and, on the other, the more pressing needs of the unemployed men. There is this £27,000,000, to which I referred just now, and which should have been devoted to the uses for which it was intended. I would like to remind the Committee again, in the presence of the right hon. Gentleman who was the father or grandfather, or, at any rate, a, remote ancestor of this Fund, that this Fund has always been said, by its father and by successive Ministers, to be earmarked for the purpose of the roads of the country. It has not been just a scrap of paper on which that was written, but an agreement which has been honoured by Government after Government until the present Government came along. This £27,000,000, which has been diverted, would have given work to 80,000 men for 12 months, engaged on the actual work alone, and to untold thousands more who would 286 have been supplying material for the work. In conclusion, my view of the failure of the Ministry of Transport is this—and I include the London Traffic Committee as well. Their failure has been that they have been too ready to be satisfied with doing a certain amount, and have failed altogether to take a farsighted and long view, which is the only possible one if the transport problem of London is adequately to be dealt with.
§ Mr. RAMSDEN
I want to intervene in this Debate to raise very briefly two matters. The first is with regard to the provision of signposts along our main roads. I was very glad to hear the remarks of the hon. and gallant Member for Chelmsford (Lieut.-Colonel Howard-Bury) in which he said that it would be very useful to most of us if we could have some sign which indicated not only the cross roads but also the particular roads on which the traffic should have priority. It appears to me as one who drives a car from time to time that most of the signposts that we see along our main roads, particularly at the cross roads, are not by any means as useful as they could be. If further signposts that are erected in connection with new schemes of road development could be placed at such a level that the light of the motor car could shine on them they would certainly be very much easier to see than is the case now. I hope that this matter can be considered by the Minister and his Department. I do not think that the cost would be any more, in fact it should be rather less, because the actual height of the signposts would be reduced. The next matter I want to refer to concerns the very large number of motor omnibuses, chars-a-bane and other motor vehicles of this type that are used to such a large extent at the present time. I have regretted—as I am sure hat all the other members of this Committee do—that accidents during the past year have become more and more numerous, and unfortunately many of them have been fatal accidents. I have raised from time to time the question as to whether it would not be advisable that any motor vehicles carrying 10 or more passengers should be compelled to carry a first-aid outfit of some kind or other. It should also be necessary that someone, either man or woman-if a woman— happens to be the driver of 287 the car—should be able so use this first-aid outfit. I could quote case after case to the Minister of accidents that have happened on very lonely roads to vehicles of this kind where the passengers have had to wait for some considerable time after the accident for a doctor or other help, and their sufferings have consequently been considerably increased. It is very difficult to state particular cases, but I believe there have been occasions where, if such an outfit had been provided on the motor omnibus or motor vehicle, life even would have been saved. Something of this kind, which would be by no means costly, would certainly make motoring very much safer to the very large number of people who use motor omnibuses and motor chars-a-banc. I do hope the Minister will pay attention to this question.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
Perhaps it will be for the convenience of the Committee if I answer some of the points which have been raised.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
I thought that it would be better that I should clear off some of the points that have been raised and deal with other points later on in the evening. The first point that I would like to say a word about is with reference to what was raised by the hon. Member for Stepney (Mr. Gosling) as to the West Highland Road. He wants to know what the position is with regard to that road. I told him that as far as the east was concerned practically the whole of the road from Blair Atholl to Inverness would be finished by August or September—I hope August. With regard to the Western Highlands part of the road, there has not been nearly so much progress. As he knows, the land has been mapped out and surveys have practically been completed for the whole line, but as far as the actual work- is concerned, all that I can report to the Committee is that the Glencoe section has been put up to tender, and one hopes that the work on that section will be begun as soon as possible. As regards the Lairg to Lochinvar section, that is still in the future. What I had visualised was, as soon as the east and the west roads had 288 been reconstructed, joining together at Inverness, is the east road going up by Perth and Blair Atholl to Inverness, and the west road going by Ballachulish and Fort Augustus to Inverness—when these are completed we can consider the Lairg to Lochinver Road. Until these two roads are completed no further work can be undertaken on the further extensions.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
I am afraid that that is the position at the present time.
With regard to the point raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hornsey (Captain Wallace)—whom I do riot see in his place—with reference to the traffic proposals with regard to the North-Eastern, Eastern, and South-Eastern areas, and London generally, as I indicated to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Bromley (Lieut.-Colonel James), all I can say is that definite proposals put forward by certain responsible people concerned in the London traffic problem have now been provisionally agreed upon and that they are going at once before the Traffic Advisory Committee for consideration and for their comment. I am quite sure the. Traffic Advisory Committee will lose no time in putting the proposal up to me with such remarks as they wish to make so that I can have an opportunity of considering it. Until the Advisory Committee put up these points obviously I can say no more. The hon. and gallant Member for Chelmsford dealt with a, variety of subjects. He wanted fruit trees to be planted. [An HON. MEMBER: "Sweet and refreshing!"] Rare and refreshing fruit. Of course the idea of fruit trees is attractive but, as I said in my opening remarks, it is only on the main, broad new roads or the reconstructed roads that it is really possible to plant any large number of trees, because on the old-fashioned roads the width is not sufficient to enable that to be done. As fruit trees are generally small, it seems to me that, except in exceptional circumstances, 289 they are not really very suitable for planting on 100 or 120 feet roads, and therefore local authorities and myself, when we have gone into the tree-planting programmes, have selected a large number of forest trees which will, in 30 or 40 years time, really be a fine addition to the landscape and in proportion to the road which they grace. The hon. and gallant Member also wanted to know why more level-crossings had not been done away with. I am afraid the sordid financial consideration is the cause. In my own county we are doing away with two level-crossings, but it is only when you can get the local authority and the railway company to co-operate with the Ministry of Transport that this is possible. It is always necessary to get some contribution from the railway company before a level-crossing can be done away with, because they obviously benefit by the abolition of a level-crossing. They are able to do away perhaps with a signal box and the salary of one or two men, and often they gain to the extent of six or seven hundred pounds per annum. Therefore it is necessary to get contributions from the railway company before we can do away with a level-crossing, but that is not always possible. No one will be more pleased than myself when they are all done away with, as no greater impediment to traffic or inconvenience to industrial life can be imagined than a level-crossing inside a large town. There again the initiative must rest with the local authority. The local authority are the people who must make the first move in the matter. If and when the local authority come to the Ministry of Transport and say: "We have entered into negotiations for the closing of a crossing, we have come to an arrangement to buy it out for X pounds, we will contribute so much, what will you give," then I am always willing to come to close grips with them. Until local authorities come with that proposition to the Ministry I can do nothing. I must impress this upon the Committee, that the initiative must come from the local authority, and when they come up to me and ask for a contribution, if I have the money, I shall be very much inclined to help them if I possibly can.
§ Mr. J. JONES
On a point of Order. May I ask the right hon. Gentleman what proportion of the expense of abolishing 290 level-crossings and swing bridges is he prepared to find?
§ Colonel ASHLEY
I cannot bind myself to any sum of money until I know the conditions involved. First of all, I should ascertain what the railway company would be likely to save by the abolition and then I should be able to come to a conclusion as to what I should be able to say on the matter. The hon. and gallant Member for Chelmsford very rightly raised the question of footpaths. The policy of the Ministry with regard to footpaths is, that whenever a new road is made or any very considerable amount of reconstruction of old road is undertaken, we should, if at all possible, make a footpath on one side at least of the road. Criticism is often made: "Well, it is quite true you have made a footpath, but it is such an uncomfortable footpath to walk upon that everybody still walks on the road." I agree that that very often is so, but I do not think it is so in urban areas, where, I think, footpaths are nearly always made so that they are pleasant to walk upon. But I do admit that in rural areas footpaths are not in a fit state, very often, to be walked upon. I would put this to the Committee, that one should have a little. sense of proportion. It is desirable that we should have footpaths wherever possible, but right out in the country districts where money is so much needed for other and absolutely necessary improvements, it is desirable at first, to outline your footpaths but not to expend a large sum of money in dressing those footpaths as though you were in an urban area. Therefore, you have an outline of a footpath, with the local authority gradually bringing the footpath up to the standard we should all like to see. I think the hon. and gallant Member for Chelmsford also raised the question of conserving trees besides planting trees at the side of the road. The preservation of trees is a matter I have very much at heart. If you widen the road and you have got trees on either side you have often got to remove them. Take the question of the chestnut trees at Deepdene, Dorking. with regard to which there was some controversy about 18 months ago. When the new road was being widened between 291 Dorking and Reigate, those wonderful old chestnuts in the Deepdene Park were involved. Some people say that they date back to the Conquest. At any rate, they are many hundreds of years old, and it was originally intended to destroy them. I was able, by the courtesy of the Surrey County Council, to go there and to inspect the spot and to see the officials of the Surrey County Council, and as the result of conversation we found that by a little contriving it was possible to save the majority of these trees. They are safe now, I hope for all time. That was done by a little extra expense and a little wangling of the road. On these lines I hope that whoever has charge of the roads of this country in future will always proceed. We have spent a considerable sum in widening the road between Basingstoke and 'Winchester. I see that the hon. Member for Leith (Mr. E. Brown) nods his head. Probably he has been down Chat road. The policy pursued there in the widening of the road has been to take a few more yards on each side of the road than was absolutely necessary for the road, and that has enabled a beautiful belt of trees to be preserved on each side, so that when the country there is built up we can have a footpath running amongst the trees along a fine road.
The hon. Member for North Tottenham (Mr. R. Morrison) asked me when the Road Traffic Bill will be introduced. I might say that we had better wait and see; it its a matter of surmise. Even if it were a Bill which the Government had decided to introduce at the earliest possible moment, I do not think I could give an answer now, because I have sent out communications to 41 different bodies asking for their opinion, and so far only 13 have replied, as I indicated in my preliminary remarks. Obviously, until one has heard the views of the other 28 one cannot say anything without knowing what their conclusions are. Until I hear from the others it will be impossible for me to give any indication when it will he possible for us to introduce the Bill.
I think the hon. Member for North Tottenham criticised the fact that I had not mentioned the relations between road and rail all over the country. I am 292 sorry that the right hon. Member for Central Edinburgh (Mr. W. Graham) is not here this afternoon. I understood that he was to have been here and that he would have raised what I am sure would have been a very interesting Debate, on the lines of his letter to the "Times" in February, in which he dealt with the necessity of some coordination between road and rail, not only in the big urban areas, though that as the first step, but practically all over the country. Those who read that letter must have come to the conclusion that the utterances of the right hon. Gentleman were statesmanlike, moderate and deserving of the careful attention of all who take an interest in this subject. His conclusions were—I hope I am not misrepresenting him—that it was suicidal for both road and rail to go on for long with the competition which now exists, that it was wasteful from their point of view, and that it was harmful for the community. Although he did not venture to outline what his proposals were—perhaps that was wise because it is an extremely difficult question—he said that it was a, matter which ought to occupy the careful consideration of not only the Government but all thoughtful Members of the House of Commons who are interested in the subject.
I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman. I think it is a subject that ought to be considered by everyone; but surely the first effort in that direction ought to be the London traffic. As far as London traffic is concerned, I have hopes that after the conferences which have been held and the advice which may be given to me by the Traffic Advisory Committee, the conclusions which I am able to reach may offer, very likely, a solution of the London traffic problem. When we have reached that stage of being able to visualise in a concrete proposal the London traffic, with a possible solution in the not distant future, we shall then have a very valuable lesson in exploring the problem as it affects the country as a whole. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman has not been able to be here, because I would have liked to have heard his views more fully explained. I hope that on the next occasion on which traffic can usefully and property be discussed, the right hon. Gentleman will give us the benefit of his 293 experience and advice. Perhaps the Committee will allow me to deal with the other questions which have been raised later in the evening. If some of the questions which have been raised have not been answered in my second series of remarks, hon. Members will understand that I will answer them later.
§ Mr. B. SMITH
It is not part of my duty either to defend the Ministry or to defend the Traffic Committee in regard to the remarks of the hon. and gallant Member for West Walthamstow Major Crawfurd. In regard to the right hon. Gentleman's statement, I think I shall be reflecting the views of hon. Members on this side when I say that the Minister has said not too much but too little, and that his Department has done not too much but too little. In speaking of the question of traffic co-ordination, the right hon. Gentleman said that it would be a very useful thing to get a perspective of the scheme that was first tried out in London. I remember a few months ago when a certain Bill was before the House, he said that what he wanted for The purpose of co-ordinating the traffic of the whole country was an inquiry into the whole question. Up to now nothing has been forthcoming in that direction. If the right hon. Gentleman's statement meant anything to-day, and if the criticisms of the Ministry have meant anything, they mean that the present policy of the Ministry of Transport is a wrong policy: a policy that has to seek advice in so far as the London Traffic Committee is concerned, a policy under which the Ministry has to be approached by local authorities in regard to road improvements in their vicinity, and having considered these questions, and made his recommendation, the Chancellor of the Exchequer refuses his recommendation. The position might aptly he put in this way, that the local authorities or the London Traffic Advisory Committee propose, the Minister blesses and the Treasury disposes. That is, roughly, as I see it.
The arguments of the right hon. Gentleman have proved conclusively that what is wanted for the purpose of traffic co-ordination is a national policy for road construction to meet the demands, both rural and urban, and as far as the larger cities are concerned. If one studies the traffic conditions and the road position of 294 the country with any care, we shall find that whatever is being done in the way of road construction or maintenance is not by any manner of means keeping pace with the development of traffic. In 1926, motor vehicles numbered something like 1,600,000, and I think it is a fair estimate to say that in 1927 they will approximate to 2,000,000. One has only to read the Press of last Sunday to see that the approaches to London, as far out as Dorking, were congested to such an extent as to hold up half a mile of vehicles for 15, 20, 30 and 40 minutes. I mention this because the Minister has been very careful to assure us that, while he is willing to do certain things, sordid finance comes into it, and yet I remember that, for two years running, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has raided the Road Fund surplus to the tune of £19,000,000. The point I am making is that it is no use sitting down and saying that we have the best roads in the world when we have a road policy which is piecemeal 'and hotch-potch when it comes to dealing with the roads of the country.
With regard to the mileage on classified roads, the vehicles per mile of classified roads in 1922 were 26.2, and they are now 42.06, showing the great development of traffic on the roads. The traffic density has doubled in many cases during the last three years, and multiplied five times in 20 years. If we take Warrington, at Sankey Bridge we have a case in point of traffic density. In 1911 we had 650 vehicles; in 1922, 1,875, and in 1925, 3,345. One has only to go to Warrington to see the necessity for road improvement there, Whatever is done cannot meet the development of traffic that is taking place.
The right hon. Gentleman began to-day by telling us very little about a very great service. Take the question of the Severn Barrage. Last year a sum of £17,000 was set aside for the purpose of investigation and this year £12,000, or a total in two years of £29,000. That is not the beginning of the expenditure. When Sir Eric Geddes was Minister of Transport, I think he first instituted the question of the Severn Barrage, and it must have gone on for, approximately, eight years. The Minister has failed to tell us what developments have taken place as a result of these investigations. Is the Severn Barrage likely to become a prac- 295 tical proposition in the near future, and if not, are we to go on spending these sums of money, winch in a period of years represent a large sum? In two years they amount to £29,000, and I imagine that similar sums have been expended in preceding years. What are we going to get for this expenditure? Is the Severn Barrage scheme to go on? Are we likely to get a Report from this Committee of investigation in the very near future? One cannot wonder that Switzerland and Italy, who are developing their electricity supply, are leaving us standing, while we are going on with Committees of Inquiry and considering, for instance, whether there is the possibility of any potential use in the Severn Barrage.
The next point is that of the Road Traffic Bill. The right hon. Gentleman says that he has circulated 40 odd bodies and that 13 have replied with minor comments which, nevertheless, are favourable. What was the object of circulating the Bill unless it was the intention of the Government to bring it before this House and get it supported and carried? These are days of economy. If there was no intention of that Bill coming before the House on the responsibility of the Government, why, in Heaven's name, are we wasting thousands of pounds in printing that Bill and circulating it, to discover, as I believe by some arrangement, that Clause 2, "Lights on Vehicles," has been lifted out, and the remaining three portions, I presume, are not to come before the House at all.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
May I answer that point at once? There is no question of thousands of pounds. If the Government find that a Bill receives general agreement, they will be much more likely to bring it in than a Bill which does not receive general agreement, and having found not only general agreement, but some very enthusiastic support, it makes the prospects of the Traffic Bill far more rosy.
§ Mr. SMITH
That would be very estimable advice had it been given to the Government on the Trade Unions Bill, but I am precluded from discussing that. The fact is that Departmental Committees have sat for a period of years, and the results have been embodied in four Sections of the Road Traffic Bill 296 being submitted to the various authorities. Section 4 has been lifted out of it, and nobody has been able to extract any promise from the Minister that the remaining three Sections, which are the results of close investigations over a period of years, will actually ever come before the House of Commons. The next point is in regard to cross-river traffic. A letter was read from the Prime Minister to the London County Council. I am sure that we, on this side, regret very much that we were not placed in full possession of the facts that led up to that reply. Why did the London County Council doubt the bona fides of the Prime Minister and his Government? Why are they writing in the way that they are writing? Surely the Committee is entitled to that information. There is evidently some real doubt in the minds of the London County Council that they will land themselves in some sort of political or economic mess by their dealings with the Government as a whole. They have written some form of letter to the Minister, arid we have been given the privilege of hearing the reply of the Prime Minister, but not a word has been said as to the type of complaint that came from the Council.
The Minister said it was proposed on the cross-river traffic scheme to spend £1,000,000 per annum for certain projects. What are those projects? Is that £1,1000,000 to be only for the Victoria Dock Road and the Lambeth Bridge? Is the sum of £1,000,000 to cover only the questions that the Government have accepted on the Report of the Lord Lee Commission, or is it to cover the whole of the suggested improvements that are essential for the development of traffic and for the safety of pedestrians in London? I remember the Chancellor of the Exchequer saying the other day that he was prepared to meet the whole of the commitments of the Road Fund, but he did not say anything about future policy, when, I presume, it will become a question of Treasury grants. Does the Minister mean by that. £1,000,000 that the whole of the commitments are going to be met for all of London, or only the question of the bridges? Quite frankly, otherwise, the usefulness of the Traffic Advisory Committee will be seriously lessened. What has happened to the North Circular road? There are 81 miles still to be completed on this road, and 297 until it is completed the 9½ miles that are already there are practically useless for the purposes for which the road was built. Then there are the Watford by-pass, the Barnet by-pass, Eastern Avenue, the East Ham and Barking by-pass, Purfieet-Tilbury road, Dartford-Erith road, the Bexley Heath by-pass, the Old Kent Road to Catford and Bromley by-pass, the Sutton by-pass, the Kingston by-pass, the New Chertsey Road, and Western Avenue. Are the costs of those roads to come out of that £1,000,000, or are there going to be any other means of carrying them out? I would like the Minister to answer those points. I could quote what has been said about each one of those roads in his Report, but although a year has elapsed, nothing has been said to-day as to the development of those road improvements.
While the right hon. Gentleman was dealing with the London and other bridges, he did not tell us what had happened to the Sunderland and Wearmouth bridge, the Duntocher and Wansford bridges and those on the Perth-Inverness Road, and what is likely to happen with the Menai Suspension Bridge, where you have been spending money for the repair of the bridge, but the bridge itself ought to be dealt with. Coming back to London, I want to ask what has happened to the recommendations of the Traffic Advisory Committee with regard to alternative routes. That Committee recommended an alternative route to Oxford Street at a cost of £1,500,000, and they also recommended at the Elephant and Castle a scheme which would cost £340,000, which we had an idea would clear up a good deal of the traffic mess that exists there. In passing, I notice that the hon. Member for Central Southwark (Colonel Day) asked a question of the Minister last week as to what was happening there, and the right hon. Gentleman replied that he had had no advice on the question. I feel it is my duty to call the attention of the Minister to the fact that that was the very first scheme with which the London Traffic Advisory Committee ever dealt. There were two schemes put up, and I am sure the Minister must have omitted to refer to the Reports of the Committee to have made such a statement.
The proposed route from Tottenham to the docks could be used, the Committee 298 reported, without waiting for certain street improvements which would become necessary as soon as the route was generally recognised. Details of the improvements would involve an expenditure of about £40,000. What has the Minister done with regard to that recommendation? The Traffic Committee have been assailed in this House by the hon. and gallant Member for West Walthamstow (Major Crawfurd) for not doing anything, but there are certain definite recommendations made to the Minister having for their object the alleviation of traffic congestion, and yet nothing has been done. The cost of that scheme would be £40,000, and yet there is still the raiding of the Road Fund to the tune of £12,000,000, the argument being that there was no use for that money. In regard to Eastern Avenue, Bayswater Road, the use of the alternative route, said the Committee, would relieve traffic on a number of congested streets, including Oxford Street and Marylebone Road, and the cost would be £140,000. Has the Minister accepted that advice Is there to be a special sum set aside to meet those commitments, or is that money to come out of the £1,000,000 already referred to? Is that £1,000,000 to cover the whole of the necessary improvements to London, with a population for the traffic area of something like 10,000,000 And yet, when one comes to discuss rural roads and maintenance, a sum of something like £2,800,000 is to be set aside out of a total of £17,500,000.
The Minister dealt with accidents, fatal and non-fatal, in London, and I think these figures ought to be known more fully than they are. Accidents in London and Greater London in 1926 totalled1,020 killed and 48,227 killed and injured. In 21 years, in London alone, unless there is some relief of this congestion to the elimination of danger, upwards of 1,000,000 people will be killed and injured. If you take the national figures, in 1921 there were 62,621 people killed and injured, and in 1926 the total was 138,774. In dealing with his Department in his Report, the Minister makes this statement with regard to the Road Improvement Act.This Act confers valuable new powers both on highway authorities and on the 299 Minister of Transport. Valuable powers are conferred upon highway authorities under Section 4 to control the height and character of walls, fences, hedges etc., and to restrict the erection of new buildings at corners or bends on highways where it is necessary for the safety of road users that an adequate sight-line should be secured.The Minister passed over that very lightly to-day by saying that the beneficent effects of the Act are beginning to show themselves. People who know certain landmarks find a certain blind corner has been altered so as to give a sight-line, but what is the Minister doing to stop new buildings that are going up and thus blinding corners In what way has he exercised his powers both as to the existing blind corners, bends in roads, and such like, and to check new structures or obstructions going up at street corners to blind motorists and pedestrians? It is not good enough to say that this is a beneficent Act and that already things are happening. The Act has been there since 1925. What has been done under the Act? Has anything practical been done, and could the Minister tell us in how many cases people have been killed and injured in the period of five years that I have mentioned at spots where the turnings are, in fact, blind? One wants to know, because, after all, motor drivers—and I happen to be one—do not exist for the running down of pedestrians or for the killing of people, but if there are physical conditions which render roads dangerous both to motorists and pedestrians, and if the Minister has powers to do away with those dangers, we want to know why he has not exercised those powers to the fullest extent. He has power to make grants just as he does for Class I and Class II roads, and could he not have used these apparent surpluses that have been taken from him by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and spent them both wisely and well to the benefit of the motorists and the safety of the pedestrians?
With regard to rural roads, the Minister told us that £1,400,000 was for maintenance only, while £1,250,000 was for road improvements. What, in Heaven's name, is the use of spending £1,400,000 on the maintenance of rural roads as rural roads, when in fact they will never be fitted to bear the weight 300 and burden of traffic that will be put on them? Surely it would have been far better to have put that total sum of £2,656,000 definitely down to road improvement, and not to the mere maintenance of rural roads, in order to improve those roads so that they may bear the stress and strain of modern traffic.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
I would remind my hon. Friend that £500,000 of the £2,650,000 is definitely allocated to the improvement of important roads in rural areas, in order that they may be put in a satisfactory state of repair with a view to being taken over a s main roads by the county council.
§ Mr. SMITH
That is not my point. I am dealing with the sum of £1,400,000 which is for maintenance only, and I am saying that it would have been far better to have put the two sums together and to have allocated them to improvement of the roads so that they should have been able to bear traffic. Had that been done, a good deal of heavy traffic on the Class 1 and 2 roads to-day could have been diverted on to these roads, which could have been brought into use. To-day they are quite unfit to be used for that kind of traffic under the mere system of maintenance.
I want to wind up as I started, by asking the Minister if he will tell the House what are the commitments of the Road Fund as a whole at this date. In the last report on 31st March, 1926, the balance of the Fund was £19,512,122 10s., but if my figures are correct the total commitments of the Fund on that date amounted to no less than £30,174,000. If that is the correct figure, can the Minister tell us how it comes about that he has a surplus of £12,000,000, and if he has not in effect that surplus and if those commitments are there, what is going to happen to the Road Fund if the commitments are to be met by the Treasury Grant which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has promised? We have no knowledge as to any future policy in regard to the improvement of roads, and the abolition of blind corners or traffic conditions generally, and it is future policy that we want to know from the Minister. On this side of the House we all regret that it should be even contemplated that such an important Department as the Ministry should be within measurable distance of 301 going out of existence. We feel it, to be a disgrace that an important Department, which affects the life of practically every individual in the community, should, on the plea of an economy that will probably save the Mnister's salary, be abolished; that an entity that has been created and that, in spite of criticisms which I and others may have made, has done some very useful work during its period of life, should be broken up, just when that entity is reaching the period when its work would have been far more effective, because the Department was just getting into line. But, coming back to the commitments, it is not a question of any saving of the Minister's salary, but of meeting the commitments of the Road Fund if the whole of that Fund becomes Treasury property. For every improvement that is wanted, the people concerned have to go, cap in hand, and ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the money. That is the thing we have to face. I was hoping that when the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Chatham (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon) was speaking he would have inspired the Minister to attack even the Chancellor of the. Exchequer and, if necessary, the Prime Minister on the virtues of his office, with a view to retaining that office at least during the period of the life of the present Government. In regard to the report of the Minister, I said that it was subject to criticism and I maintain that the Government could have done better. The Minister had the money to do better. He could have done well in well doing, arid yet, instead of that, he has been building up a surplus when he ought to have been following up a national policy, a comprehensive policy, on all phases of transport. If that had been carried out with assiduity and with care there would have been no surplus, and the Ministry would have been a far more important Ministry and the Minister would have been a far more important Minister in the eyes of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
The figures of the last speaker in regard to the number of accidents are very appalling and I cannot help agreeing with him that, as time goes on, they will become more appalling. I do not know if there are any statistics in regard to blind corners. I would like very much to know 302 whether any statistics can be got as to how many accidents happen to people in cars that collide with other cars, and how many happen to pedestrians.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
Then I should very much like to have them, because those statistics may help motorists, and accidents are liable to happen to motorists as well as to pedestrians. It is a very extraordinary thing that the British Parliament, which took such elaborate care when the railway system was started, should not have taken similar care in regard to motorists, because there is this to be said for the railway train, that the train has to run on rails, but, in motoring, people are all over the road, and they can never feel quite safe. One would like more information on that, and I want to impress upon the Minister that it is all very well to talk about making footpaths, but there is a definite limit to the value of those footpaths because of the rule of the road. Foot passengers keep to the right; vehicles keep to the left. When a foot passenger steps on to the road off the pavement, he is liable to be knocked down by the oncoming traffic behind him, but when there is no footpath the tendency of the foot passenger is to rely less on the pavement, and he goes into the road and he crosses to the left side and therefore in the case of oncoming traffic he is very much safer. That is a difficulty to be considered. Of course, the really safe position is on the other side of the hedge, and that is what might very well be done in regard to both cyclists and foot passengers. They should be out of the stream of motor traffic altogether, and the roads will never be safe until something of that kind is done.
With regard to the arrangements made for co-ordination in London, and for co-ordination with the railways, my view is that when you get co-ordination you get large combines, either municipal combines or combines of private enterprise. Whenever I hear the word "co-ordination" I am always afraid that the public are going to be victimised. I always believe that the object of such combines is to prevent proper competition. I am one of those who believe that the London Traffic Act was a very 303 great mistake, and that it simply meant handing over power to a large combine. I do not say that that combine has not carried out its duties satisfactorily, but I do say that those duties could have been better performed by an independent body. I am told that the real motive behind that Act was that unless this traffic was largely in the hands of a combine, then the tube traffic could not have paid, because the omnibuses were carrying the tubes on their back. There is only one thing I would urge on the Minister, that is, that he should not give any countenance whatever to supporting the obsolete tramway system of this country. There is no doubt that the tramway systems are entirely out of date, and, if they were all in private hands, they would probably have been scrapped. It is one of the evils of public control that it is retrogressive, and reactionary. If a new system comes along, instead of giving the public the benefit of the newer scientific improvement, public authorities want to hedge it about with deputations. I gather that some hon. Members of the party above the Gangway on the other side of the House say that no private enterprise transport should be allowed within five miles of any—
You ought to have been upstairs this evening at a private meeting of your party.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
Hon. Members would say that no private enterprise should be allowed because it competes with public undertakings. I wonder how long the London County Council is going to be allowed to go on losing £250,000 every year and how long the ratepayers of London are to suffer. In the benighted East they are scrapping all their tramways and are running with a railway system. In two towns in Malay they have doubled the number of passengers, because the railway trolley pulls up at the pavement's side. That is a part solution of the difficulty. That system has not been completely pole-axed by the greater superiority of the modern omnibuses, but even that system will not survive, because in the future omnibuses will be put on the roads that will carry as many passengers as are carried in a tramcar. All these tramway systems should be encouraged by the Minister of Transport to cut their losses and get out, 304 because they cannot stand up against scientific improvements. It is much better, indeed, that they should be all private concerns. The reproach which is levelled against the private-running concern is that it is out for profit. That may be so, but it is also out for loss, and the only difference between public and private control is that when the private citizen loses his money, he does not squeal, but he goes away privately and tries to forget it. But if a municipality loses money, it calls up the wrath of Heaven and the Houses of Parliament to protect it by protective legislation.
I was very much interested to hear the speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) on the shortcomings of the members of the Electricity Commission. The Electricity Bill was greeted with just about as much enthusiasm on the benches opposite as it was by lack of enthusiasm on the benches on this side of the House. I was not one of those who believed in setting up that body at all. I did not believe that it would assist in the development of cheap and efficient electricity in this country, but I was amused to listen to the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Don Valley. He has apparently now discovered what most of the Members on the Back Benches on this side of the House could have told him before the Act was passed. He suggests now that the Minister of Transport might upset the Electricity Commissioners; that they should be overturned, but does he think that the Electricity Commissioners deserve to be overturned? They are men specially appointed for the duty that they have to carry out. They are supposed to take a long view of the future, and it is impossible to do what the hon. Member has suggested. We have got these Electricity Commissioners for good or ill. I do not say that the Bill was wise. I do not think it will do much harm, but I doubt very much whether it will do much good, but it is a useful lesson to hon. Members opposite who should remember that they should not believe so readily that whenever you appoint a Committee you will get something out of it.
I was talking to an American the other day who told me that the roads of this country were perfectly marvellous compared with those of the United States. He said that in no part of the United 305 States had they anything like the same continuous good surface. He was quite genuine.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
We have certainly given them a considerable contribution during the past few years. We in the North of Scotland and in the Highlands certainly feel that we are not getting fair play at all from the Road Fund. In some places there are no roads at all—
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
We should have population there if we could get there easily. The English come up there in large numbers.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
I do not know that it is altogether on account of the shooting. Of course, we get grants for some of the roads, and perhaps they are about as liberal as one can expect under the present system, but when you get a large area like the county of Argyll, where a penny rate brings in only £160, what can you possibly do towards the maintenance of long stretches of roads? You cannot possibly do anything. The rates there are extremely high and the number of inhabitants very sparse. The number of motorists who travel on these roads is very large because of the choice beauty spots which abound. They come there from the congested parts of great cities in considerable numbers, particularly to one hill in the Dunoon district of Argyllshire which is known as "Rest and be thankful." The road was built, I think, by General Wade, and when you get up it you look down upon an enormous valley. It is a tremendous climb, but it is one of the most beautiful runs possible and hundreds of motorists come there every week-end. The road is in constant repair, and this highly-rated district, this very sparsely populated district, has to pay for the upkeep of this particular road. We have had grants from the Ministry of Transport, but I think that 99 per cent. of the cost of its repair should have been paid by the Ministry of Transport.
306 Scotland, as a whole, does not get her fair share of the money. She never has. The money is taken from us but it is spent in England; and when we get to a road like the Glasgow-Inverness road, what happens? A number of English surveyors went over it and about £15,000 has been spent in surveying it, but no money has been spent in making it. I think the Ministry ought to devote some attention to the completion of that road. There is a strong feeling in the Highlands that this matter has not been fairly considered and that we shall be let down in the matter; that the road will possibly never be proceeded with. There is another matter which really ought to be fundamental in any consideration of road transport by the Ministry. All round this coast, which is full of fiords and lochs, a great deal of the transport is done by steamer. People come to the Highlands and pay fares for crossings, in a ferry boat or bridge, and I certainly think some assistance ought to be given towards the upkeep of piers. In the old days the land owners or chiefs were in a position to keep up these piers, but they are unable to do so any longer. A pier ought to be considered as part of the road, and it should be kept up by the Ministry of Transport.
Some assistance should be given to put them in order, and then legislation should be passed to hand them over to the county council. In some cases piers have been closed down and it will take a large sum of money to replace them. Some allowance should certainly be made in respect of piers because they are undoubtedly part of the transport system of the country. Indeed, the whole transport system in the Highlands needs revising and overhauling. I do not intend to deal with this matter now, but I hope to raise it again on another occasion. I urge again that our sparsely populated districts, which are the holiday areas for the more densely populated cities, should get much more consideration than they do from the Road Fund. Money can be granted for the Mersey Tunnel to the amount of £1,000,000, for a great and wealthy city like Liverpool, but if you take the case of the Connell Bridge at Loch Etive, in Argyllshire, you find that if a motor car goes across it is charged 10s., that is for running over the bridge on its own petrol. If you take a drove of sheep across they charge you ½d. per 307 sheep. You are only allowed to take one sheep across at a time, and you are charged 2d. for coming back in order to take over the next sheep.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
Very private enterprise. They do it for the purpose of bringing pressure to bear on the authorities in order that the bridge shall be taken aver. They do not want the traffic. The railway companies say "you should have come across in one of our trucks." The railway system is a monopolist system, and that is why I say we should get on to the roads. The Ministry of Transport should have prepared for this. The Ministries of Transport which prevailed during the War should have been ready for this. They should have had the whole country surveyed and mapped. Everybody uses the roads, and gets their share of them. In South Africa they are actually pulling up railways in many cases and laying down roads for motor transport. That is a thing which should be taken into consideration. The Transport Ministry should consider whether it would not be advisable and in the public interest for a great many of the short distance railways to be scrapped and motor roads laid down. It would save an immense amount in the cost of transport and in addition you would have door to door delivery. Fm all short-distance transport, say up to 50 miles, the motor is infinitely the cheapest, and it is rather a pity that one of our own Dominions should be giving us this lesson and that we should not be taking advantage of it.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I beg to move to reduce the Vote, by £100.
The speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman who has just sat down has made me wish to be in his constituency trying to hook a salmon, instead of being here trying to carry out the ancient privilege of the Commons of England—that of bringing forward grievances before voting money for the King's uses. We had this privilege before Scotland had a Parliament. This Debate has been extraordinarily interesting and it has shown once more 308 the utter uselessness of Supply Days, either for economy on the one hand, or for forcing a change of administrative policy on the other. Every Member who has spoken, irrespective of party, has been critical, and every one has regretted the impending blow on the Minister of Transport—who has now gone out for some much-needed refreshment. Perhaps the hon. Baronet the Comptroller of the Household, who has taken his place, will convey to the Minister the matters which I am about to put before the Committee. When I heard the Minister saying that the great improvements which are demanded can only he undertaken when the local authorities move, I could hardly believe my ears. He said the initiative must come from the local authorities, and that, in the matter of level crossings, for instance, the local authorities and the railway companies must agree, and that then the Ministry will help. That may fool all the Committee some of the time, and some of the Committee all the time, but it is a travesty of the facts, and I propose to quote the case of my own constituency in support of that view.
I know that Newcastle has had a grant, and that Liverpool has had a grant, but that many other districts where the same troubles exist have not received any grants, and I do not wish to pick out my constituency for special treatment. In this matter the whole country should be dealt with in the same way. The history of transport is the history of civilisation; and the progress of this country is bound up with the improvement of its means of transport. I, therefore, only take my own constituency as an illustration. With regard to roads, what is needed in this country is a Minister with the spirit of Napoleon, who, apart from his military campaigns, is remembered for the benefit conferred upon mankind by the wonderful roads which he drove across France. They were, it is true, made for horse transport, but their straightness and excellence have never been equalled, and after the Romans Napoleon ranks as the great road-builder of Europe. We are still in the ox-wagon stage in this country.
To return to the particular illustration which I wish to give, we are cursed in Hull, not by two or three level crossings 309 but by a number of them. All the main approaches to that very important port—the third in the Kingdom—are hampered by these level crossings. Thousands of pounds are lost every week in delays. The city is growing and the traffic is growing, and if such losses are incurred at a period of trade depression, what will happen when trade booms again in this country I do not know. The congestion will be worse than ever. Negotiations have taken place between the corporation, the Ministry of Transport and the railway authorities, and an agreement was reached with the railway authorities. It was not a case, as in the instance of Silvertown, of the railway demanding money for the abolition of the level crossings. The railway company offered a large area of valuable land free and £100,000 towards the cost. The total cost of the abolition of the level crossings in Hull was to be £1,250,000. The Corporation proposed to find £317,000 and the Ministry of Transport was required to find £812,000. Hon. Members heard the Minister to-day say that in the case of London the Road Fund will provide 75 per cent. of the cost of bridge improvements and other improvements in London. In the case of Hull it would work out at only 66 per cent., and it is to be remembered that this scheme is not one which affects Hull alone, but affects everyone who sends goods to Hull for export or otherwise. London gets 75 per cent.; we ask for 66 per cent., and we do not get a shilling. The scheme was fully examined and money was spent on engineering surveys and on estimates. In 1926 we had the whole matter out with the Minister. All the Members of Parliament for the city and surrounding districts, irrespective of party, supported the application. The Minister was courteous and sympathetic—and we did not get one shilling. Therefore, what does the Minister mean when he says that the initiative should come from the local authorities and that when the local authorities and the railway companies are in agreement he will be only too pleased to help? There is a case in which those conditions were fulfilled and nothing at all has been done.
The Minister spoke about the beautiful bridges which were being built in various parts of the country. I put in a plea once again that serious consideration 310 should be given to providing a better means of crossing the Humber. That great estuary with its strong tides and shifting sandbanks runs deeply into the land. On the opposite side from Hull, in Lincolnshire, is the rapidly developing district of Scunthorpe, with its rising industries, which have been made possible by modern motor transport. For communication between this district and Hull and the East Riding of Yorkshire, we have only an antiquated steam ferry, which has been in use for generations and is unsuited to the conveyance of modern motor vehicles. I am reminded, also, that it frequently sticks during fogs, and it is slow and cumbrous, and a disgrace to a modern industrial State with the wealth of this country.
This is not only a local question but a question of the communications in the whole of Eastern England. It is all very well to say that we have been through a period of depression when these impediments to trade have not been so noticeable. Now, when trade is beginning to revive and when it must revive if we are to continue as a first-class Power, we will not have the great reservoir of unemployed labour to draw upon to make these things good, and the inconveneience of doing them will be worse than ever. We want either a bridge across this great arm of the sea or else a tunnel underneath it. In France, Italy, Switzerland or Germany you would not find such a state of affairs. In those countries some better means of communication would have been provided long ago. I have seen what those countries have done since the War in putting such things right. We lag behind in these matters, and afterwards we wonder why we cannot compete with other countries in the world's markets. When heavy traffic has to be sent miles round in order to cross by the bridge at Goole or elsewhere, it adds to the cost of shipping goods going abroad, and in that way the export trade is hampered. I apologise for raising what may sound a local question, but it is only symtomatic of a national question. As I have said, we want a Napoleonic conception of the traffic problem.
With regard to the roads, T do not want to go over the ground covered by the hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten), but he said a 311 very true thing when he said that the paths alongside the roads ought to be placed beyond the hedges. Even the present roads we are building are hardly wide enough; and the amount of work which is being done is only nibbling at the problem. In 50 years' time all the centres of population in this country will be joined together by concrete roads, specially made for motor traffic and avoiding all the villages; but between now and then we shall suffer a great many hindrances and a great many accidents. This new and wonderful method of locomotion, which might create a social revolution in this country, especially in the rural life of the people, is being hampered in its developments by our lack of efficiency and the scandalous raiding of the Road Fund. To the other things that have been said about the roads, I want to add only a plea for special tracks for cyclists. Some of the new roads have the space but the money has not been available. What is needed is a footpath beyond the hedge, then the cyclist track, then a belt of trees, amt then the wide road itself, with room for six large motor cars running abreast, to carry the traffic of the big cities. [An HON. MEMBER: "And then you wake up."] If the hon. Member will look at the roads he will see that the land is there but the Chancellor of the Exchequer has taken the money for the making of the roads; we have only the centre track, and that is cluttered up by cylists and foot passengers and accidents occur. It is not a question of waking up but of never having gone to sleep.
There is one other question affecting my constituency I would like to raise. During the consideration of the Bill for the amalgamation of the railways in the days of the Coalition Government, when there was a tremendous fight in Committee upstairs, the Hull Members resisted the taking away of the independence of the Hull and Barnsley Railway. The Minister of Transport at that time, Sir Eric Geddes, who I thought was going to be a great Minister of Transport, but who, after bringing about the amalgamation of the railways went into the city, promised us that our grievances would always be attended to so long as there was a Minister of Transport. At the present time Hull traders are suffering 312 very much from a shortage of trucks. Even at this time of ordinary or slack trade we cannot get enough trucks to carry the goods away. I want to know what are the powers of the Minister of Transport in a matter of this kind. The grievance is admitted. What can he do? The Ministry of Transport, which costs a quite respectable sum, has a large staff, and I want to know what they do in these cases. Have they no means of bringing pressure to bear on the railway companies? Railway managers are busy men and have their shareholders and their Boards of Directors to consider. I thought the Ministry of Transport was to be placed above the railways in some way so that it could bring pressure to bear upon them. I see that £126,846 a year is spent by this Ministry. I admit they do a great deal of good work in respect of the roads, but what do they do as regards the railways? Are they trying to meet the grievances of traders who are prevented from carrying on their business by railway delays and shortage of rolling stock? I am told there is the same trouble over the shortage of coal trucks. I do not think it is of any use for us to talk only, we must vote against the Government, and therefore, I am moving this reduction.
§ Mr. MARCH
In this interesting discussion on the Ministry of Transport every speaker has brought forward complaints about the Department's neglect of work. It is astonishing to see how deeply interested the Tory Members are in this matter. For about two hours there were six of them present, now we have two; they are to be congratulated on staying here to listen to the complaints about the action or inaction of the Ministry. For my part, I want to ask the Minister chat is being done with regard to the inquiry which was made into East London traffic facilities. Many complaints were brought forward from the district I represent. When the inquiry was being held we had a service of trains running from Fenchurch Street to Poplar. The congestion was very bad when that service was running, but after the inquiry was held—very little notice was taken of in fact no notice at all—and we tried to improve the service, the railway company withdrew it altogether. I am glad to say, however, that the discussion which was raised in the 313 House a few weeks ago when a railway Bill was under consideration has induced one of the railway companies to see the advisability of providing some accommodation. I do not suppose we should have got that accommodation had we not objected to the London, Midland and Scottish Bill, which though it dealt with some other part of the country, provided us with an opportunity of bringing pressure to bear on the company. In the result they have improved the service from Poplar to Broad Street. That, however, does not relieve the congestion in the Commercial Road, which is what we are chiefly concerned about.
I also want to ask the Minister when we are likely to be rid of the hay market in Whitechapel and the fruit and vegetable stalls there. I understand some arrangement had been made with the Minister of Transport and the London County Council to get a change made there, and that would very considerably help the traffic to get through from the City to the East End of London. I want to know whether there is any probability of reviving the whole question of making the by-pass road from the Tower Bridge to the Commercial Road. Twenty years ago it was on the tapis that we were going to have a by-pass road from Tower Bridge through Royal Mint Street and Cable Street to Commercial Road and down Whitehorse Street and Whitehorse Lane into the Mile End Road to relieve the cross traffic which has now to go down the Commercial Road. If the Ministry of Transport were to look round they could find ways and means of relieving the congested traffic in the Commercial Road.
The hon. Member for Silvertown (Mr J. Jones) has been speaking about the Victoria Dock Road. I want to know if it is intended to put another bridge over the Bow Creek to carry that traffic. The iron bridge there now carries the heaviest traffic of any bridge in Great Britain, and therefore we claim, if we are going to make fresh and better facilities for the traffic to be brought up from the new dock which is being made, it is necessary to have another bridge over the Bow Creek to relieve the present bridge. In Poplar we are bearing a very heavy expense, although I admit we are having the assistance of the Minister of Transport out of the 314 Road Fund, but still a big burden is being placed upon us to pay our 50 per cent. to keep the new roads in ordinary repair. So heavy is the traffic that the vehicles go down one of our second-class roads and then through roads which are not classified at all. The result is that motor traffic and steam wagons going down those roads throw a burden upon the district which we should not be called upon to bear, and in regard to which we ought to have some assistance from the Minister of Transport.
I am always glad to hear of hon. Members representing rural areas getting together to consider this subject. The Ministry have decided to grant sums to the rural areas so that it is no longer necessary for the representatives of those areas to come forward with their deputations to ask for more money. Unless you can get up a large and responsible deputation with power and weight behind it you do not get much consideration in regard to these matters. That is how it comes about that some of the areas around London do not receive the attention which they ought to get. Another point raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) was that these maters of blind corners are a matter for the local authorities to deal with. For about six years Poplar has been asking the Minister of Transport to consider the very bad turning out of Garford Street into Bridge Road, and we were told it was not suitable and that we should have to get more of the roadway so that it might be widened. The council had made every effort with the people who owned property at that corner, and after the railway company had been approached to see if they would consent to have the footpath put further behind the pillars of the railway bridge which crosses the road we got their consent, we came forward with suggestions to the Ministry of Transport, but our proposal was turned down because they said that they were short of money.
We know that that is not exactly true. They may not have had money to spend upon the improvements which we put forward, but that was because someone else had got his hand on a part of the money, and would not allow the Minister to consent to this improvement being brought about. My belief is that the Ministry of 315 Transport is being abolished because of the Minister's actual and real sympathy with local authorities who come to him with genuine grievances and schemes. We know that he visits the places and satisfies himself that improvements are required before he consents to them. The engineers of the Ministry of Transport all help in that direction because they desire to see improvements carried out, and they want to see their department carrying out the work for which it was established. Because of their sympathy in this direction the Cabinet come along and say ''These people are showing too much sympathy; they are prepared to give too much support to these people in regard to improvements and therefore the Ministry must go." In future we shall have difficulty in getting our questions upon transport matters answered and we shall miss the sympathy of the right hon. Gentleman. We recognise that the Ministry of Transport has done good work but there is a lot more work which ought to be done by that Department and the money which is extracted from the motorists every year ought to be utilised for the benefit and improvement of the roads. That was the intention when the Road Fund was started, and the money should not be diverted in the manner in which it has been diverted.
It is no use trying to make people believe that our roads are perfectly sound and safe for the traffic and for our people to use. We have only to look at the returns and you find that accidents are occurring from day to day. The traffic is getting more congested, and all these difficulties increase the cost of the carriage of merchandise. The Chancellor of the Exchequer increased the taxation on motors, and although they are having increased taxation imposed upon them they are getting less consideration in regard to the improvement of the roads than was the case before. We want the Minister of Transport to see that our first and second class roads are kept in good order, and that some relief should be given to the unclassified roads. In the division that I represent we have three large goods railway stations. We have also five docks in our district, and we have a tremendously heavy commercial traffic which is frequently being held up and this imposes a heavier cost upon the 316 carriage of merchandise. The result is that complaints are continually arising. We hope the Minister of Transport will convey these complaints to his Department, and I trust he will be able to see them attended to before he leaves his present office.
§ Mr. NAYLOR
I desire to raise a question which I have raised before in previous Debates on the Ministry of Transport Vote. I want to know from the Minister, if he will be good enough to tell us, what are the most recent steps that have been taken with regard to the prevention of street accidents? Those of us who have read the valuable Report issued by the London Traffic Advisory Committee cannot but be appalled at the way in which street accidents are increasing, not in London alone, but all over the country. Last year the number of fatal accidents was greater than ever before, and, according to the return that has been made for the first quarter of this year, we are apparently still to be faced with further increases in the number of accidents. I would like to draw the attention of the Minister to the figures given in the annual return relating to accidents. During last year, in Great Britain, there were 124,287 separate accidents, and, arising out of these, there were fatalities to the number of 4,886, while the number of persons injured was 133,888. As I have said, these accidents are increasing year by year, and I think we have a right to know from the Minister of Transport what steps he is taking with a view to obviating the increase that is now taking place.
I do not know whether his attention has been drawn to reports that have recently been made on inquests held in cases arising out of street accidents. Dr. Waldo, the coroner for one of the larger divisions of London, namely, Southwark, has drawn attention to the great danger of the street, especially in London, and more especially in South London, and worst of all, to the large number of accidents among little children, who in many districts of London have no playgrounds, and are forced, therefore, to play in the streets. Little or no attention, apparently, is given by the Ministry of Transport to the preservation of the safety of the children and of the adults who meet with these accidents. I am not saying 317 that the Minister is unsympathetic. I know that he is sympathetic, and desires to do all that is in his power to prevent this appalling increase in the number of accidents, but what I want to know is what practical steps have been taken to bring about a change.
Dr. Waldo has made certain suggestions. I presume the Minister of Transport has seen those suggestions, and I believe he has taken steps. I believe that that credit is due to him. I understand that to a certain extent the suggestions of Dr. Waldo were adopted, after consultation between the local authorities and the Ministry of Transport, and, therefore, I want to give credit to the Ministry for doing what they have done. But they certainly have not set about the work in a systematic way. It is not enough to have a few official crossings in a certain district of London merely because the local coroner has made a request to that effect. What is wanted is a general policy for the prevention of accidents, applying, not merely to one district, and not merely to London, but to the whole of Great Britain.
In Southwark, in my own division, comprising something like 200 acres of land, there are from 60,000 to 70,000 people living, and there are 20,000 children in that area, in a triangle which is bounded by main roads, so that the children are practically confined to that limited area because of the danger of the main roads. But the danger follows them into the by-streets as well, and the number of children who have met with fatal and other accidents in South London is, I believe, greater than the proportion in any other part of Great Britain. I do expect the Minister of Transport, even though he may be shortly retiring from the stage, at least to give an indication that he will hand over to his successors in some other Ministry the proposals that he may have in his mind, based on his experience in his office, with a view to the adoption of some general policy.
Then I want to draw attention to the handicap and disadvantage that are suffered by pedestrians on the country roads. I have been informed that quite a, large number of country roads are without any footpaths at all, while, in 318 the case of many of the roads, certain portions are without footpaths. I am pleased to see that the Noble Lord the Member for South Battersea (Viscount Curzon), who is an expert motorist, is now on the Front Bench. I have no doubt that he has motored along many a road where there has been no footpath for pedestrians. That is not the fault of the motorist and he is riot to blame if, perhaps, in the dark, he does not see the pedestrian and runs him down in consequence. But that does not excuse the Ministry of Transport from carrying out its duties in that respect. When we have the Chancellor of the Exchequer making a raid on the Road Fund, mainly because there is a, surplus in that fund for which, apparently, no use can be found, I would suggest that a very good use could be made of the money that is in that fund by making sure that every road in the country has its footpath for pedestrians—a footpath properly made and suitably raised to give the utmost possible safety for men who like to take their country walks, as Nature intended them to do, without being overrun by men riding on machines that Nature never intended to be used. I hope that some serious attention will be given to this question. What we want is a general policy for the obviation of accidents as far as that can possibly be attained.
§ Captain STREATFEILD
I desire to raise in this Debate the question of rural roads, a subject that is peculiarly interesting to me as a representative of a rural constituency. I hope that at this stage I may be in order if I pay a great, but none the less sincere, tribute to the Ministry of Transport, which is shortly to be done away with. As I represent a rural constituency, I have had a certain amount of personal experience with that Department, arid I have always got, I will not say the greatest of help but certainly a very great deal of help from an administrative point of view. The Minister himself has been more than kind, and his staff have been very helpful. The staff have shown that they have in their hearts every sympathy, and I believe their hearts must sometimes have bled in unison with mine when I left the portals of Whitehall Gardens without any extended contribution of 319 cash towards the road coffers of those whom I have the honour to represent.
A great deal, so far as I have had the privilege of listening to this Debate, has been said about highways and main through roads. Apart from what has been done in regard to main highways, we have some very fine through roads and some very fine bridges in one part or another of the country, and we have had implemented big tunnel schemes, and so forth, which are all very useful and very nice in their way; but, in the constituency of Galloway, which I have the honour to represent—a rural constituency in Scotland—we are rather like Gallio, and care for none of these things, or for very few of them. It is perfectly true that they are useful in their way, but I submit that an equivalent expenditure would be very much more effective if it were placed on the spot where it really would be of concrete use to the community, namely, on rural roads. After all, a farmer or a farm labourer does not very much care if people round about big provincial towns, or round about this Metropolis, go running about joy-riding on roads that would make a billiard table turn from green to pink with envy. The farmer's job is to put his agricultural produce on the market at competitive rates, and also he wants to put that produce on the market at such rates as will enable him to pay his ploughman or his shepherd or the other hands that he employs about the farm, good wages.
The rural roads, especially in Scotland—and I want to make special reference to the state of rural roads in Scotland—are generally speaking in a shocking state. I often wish that I could get some of the powers that be into my own constituency. If I were allowed to take them out over some of the roads, there might be a good deal more money spent in that very desirable direction. I sometimes feel tempted to think, and I sometimes do think, that rural questions—not only that of roads, but other questions—do not receive quite the amount of attention from Government Departments that they might receive. Because they are tucked out of the way, they seem to be considered of rather secondary importance, but they do exist. I would urge that point: and one of the main points in that connection is that they exist because they 320 carry the all-important industry, in this country, of agriculture; and agriculture suffers, and suffers grievously, because of the state of rural roads. I know cases where farmers have been getting manures for their land delivered at their farms in large motor lorries. The state of the roads has been such that the lorries have broken through and have got stuck and the farmers have had to take men away from other work and harness horses into carts and transfer the load to get it to its destination. That kind of thing, which has happened in more than one case enormously increases the cost of producing agricultural produce. We were told last year that we were going to get an increased expenditure on roads of £3,500,000. A good many representatives of rural constituencies were very glad to hear that news, but all my pleasure has been very grievously stripped away. £20,000 has been taken away from the grant which was given to the Eastern District Committee of the Kirkcudbrightshire County Council. They had their schemes arranged but they have had to be indefinitely postponed. That is not the end of the story by a very long way. That has resulted in the cancellation of contracts between this Eastern District Committee and the important granite quarries of Dalbeattie. The result is that there is now in Dalbeattie a tremendous amount of unemployment that need not and ought not to exist.
But there are other sides to this question of rural roads. There is the more general question of the relation of the expenditure on the roads to local rates. Rural districts are not in such a powerful rating position as urban districts. In rural districts there is a very much longer mileage of roads per rate paying head to keep in a state of repair because the population is much more scattered. That makes the burden per rate paying head very much greater. From that point alone it seems to me that the repair and upkeep of rural roads should receive a great deal more consideration than it does. The result is that the road rates in these rural districts almost rival the aces in the Royal Air Force for records of height. In one district in my constituency we pay 5s. 2d. in the £ for the roads, and it is very difficult to imagine that agriculture, labouring under a burden of that nature, can possibly thrive. The Government can legislate on 321 an overtime basis and pass laws for the assistance of agriculture indefinitely, but all their Measures are completely useless if the industry is to be allowed to stagger under the intolerable burden of the rates as it is at present. That is a pretty strong consideration for more money to be spent upon rural roads. Agriculture does not want much legislation. Far better for agriculture than a wonderfully big crop of legislation is relief from the burden of taxation and rating, and one of the ways we can get that relief is by applying money where money is most needed, not in the town districts but in the rural districts where the agricultural industry, the most important in the country, is staggering under this huge burden of rates. I plead for very special consideration for relief to the agricultural industry by a more even distribution of the money applicable to roads so that agriculture can be given the assistance of which it stands so sorely in need.
§ Mr. TAYLOR
I fear very much I shall be compelled to vote for this Motion to reduce the right hon. Gentleman's salary unless he can give some indication of repenting the error of his ways. We are given to understand that he has not very long to live and we hope that, not exactly his last hours but his last months of office may be such as to ensure his future welfare. I was astounded to hear him suggest that the question of toll bridges should only be dealt with by local authorities taking the initiative. I understand there are some 24 toll bridges on main roads and something like 20 on secondary roads, and the amount charged for taking motor cars and other vehicles over those bridges varies considerably. The lowest charge is 2d. whilst the highest is something like 2s. 6d. It is obvious that these obstructions cause a great deal of public inconvenience and delay and are altogether out of date as far as the conditions of modern roads are concerned, and the only way to deal with the problem satisfactorily is for the Government to tackle it as a whole. The right hon. Gentleman has been appealed to to adopt something like an intelligent policy in relation to this matter, and to set up a Committee, or alternatively to call a conference of those authorities who are interested in these toll bridges. Earlier in the year I urged upon him the neces- 322 sity of setting up a Select Committee. I want to refer to the principle involved in the matter. The Department has had under consideration a proposal from a certain local authority to take over one of these toll bridges. It was built under an Act of Parliament giving the right of incorporation in 1787, and the total cost was £12,000. The right hon. Gentleman has actually assented to a proposal that the rights in the bridge and everything appertaining to it should be bought out by the local authority and his Department at a total cost of £130,000. The right hon. Gentleman is to find 50 per cent. of that sum. It is very questionable whether there is actually a. legal right to charge the tolls that have been charged for a number of years for the passage of motor vehicles. Certainly, prohibitive charges have been made of 1s. 8d. for a motor car, and from an interest earning point of view, this has been a very profitable source for the owners of these rights, but it was never contemplated by Parliament, when these powers were given, that this company should have the right to extract these tolls from the enormous amount of traffic that now crowds the modern roads, and if the Ministry is going to solve the problem along these lines, what is virtually involved is that these individuals or companies who have profiteered and fleeced the public are going to be bought out on the basis of the unreasonable charges they have imposed, whereas the measure of compensation to those who have imposed a reasonable charge will be very much less. Therefore, I hope the right hon. Gentleman is going to treat this problem as part of the national road problem, and is going to tackle the problem of toll briges as a whole. In this matter Scotland is very much ahead of us. In 1878 she got rid of all her toll bridges, so far as main roads are concerned.
Another matter to which I want to draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention, and one upon which I have to thank him for the consideration he has given to previous representations I have made to him, is that of the level crossings in Lincoln. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) brought forward the case of the proposals that have been made by the Hull Corporation and the railway companies, which I understood 323 the Department had not treated very sympathetically. At any rate, if there was plenty of sympathy there certainly was not any money to help those proposals to fruition. But in this case the right hon. Gentleman has already made some representations which I believe will remedy some of the minor grievances connected with these crossings. This is a case where the congestion is really very bad indeed. The level crossing is right across the middle of the main street in the very busiest part of the city and, with the continuous and enormous increase in motor traffic, the congestion is getting most serious, both from the point of view of safety and of the convenience of the public. In 1924 the London and North Eastern Railway Company secured Parliamentary powers for the construction of about three-quarters of a mile of new railway, including a new bridge, and the widening of about three-quarters of a mile of the existing railway. If that had been done, it would have enabled the London and North Eastern Railway Company to take all the heavy mineral traffic, which causes the major portion of the delay, over an avoiding line to save the necessity of its having to pass through the City.
I would like to ask if the Minister's powers would permit him to consider a contribution from the Ministry of Transport to this particular scheme, because the railway company argue, with some justification, that, while the new additional avoiding line would be a commercial advantage to them if things were normal and commerce was expanding, as things are, with the depressed condition of trade that exists, it is quite impossible for them to embark upon this expenditure. On the other hand, I believe that the Lincoln City Council, possibly with some assistance from the Ministry, might be able to devise a little alteration of that scheme, which would embody, in the main, the construction of this avoiding line. Would the Minister be prepared to consider giving any assistance of a financial character in a matter of that kind? He has already made, certain representations, but they have not been very successful. We would like to enlist his support for the solution of our level crossing problem with more success than Hull. We would not ask so much from him, and perhaps that would be a stronger 324 recommendation of our claims. We feel the time has arrived when the Ministry should tackle this problem.
With regard to the present system upon which grants are made to local authorities, the right hon. Gentleman must realise the iniquitous character of the present basis of the grants made by the Ministry. For instance, the grants are confined now to the Class I and Class II roads, and 50 per cent, is given in the first place and 25 per cent, in the second. For the unclassified roads the local authorities are receiving no grants at all, yet those unclassified roads amongst the urban population are being used to an increasing extent by motor traffic for which the Government Lake the revenue. In my own city the amount expended by the local authority on unclassified roads has increased from £4,000 in 1913 to £13,350 this year, or about three and a-half times as much as it was before the War. For that extra expenditure, rendered necessary mainly by the increase in motor traffic on the roads, we do not get a penny piece in grant from the central Government. So far as the unclassified roads are concerned the average amount of grant works out at about 40 per cent. It has not increased in anything like the same proportion as the proportion of increase in the volume of traffic. We took some census figures of the traffic of our local roads and we discovered that, so far as the main roads are concerned, taking the most important road in the city, since 1922 the volume of traffic had doubled, while the weight of traffic actually on the road was three times as high even as it was in 1922, only three years before. The number of licences issued locally has doubled in those three years, but we do not get anything like a proportionate increase in our grant from the Government.
Perhaps one of the most important problems that local authorities have to face and one that is giving them a great deal of anxiety, as it is a direction in which their expenditure is going to be enormously increased, is this question of road maintenance. I hope, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman, although he is condemned to political extinction so far as his Department is concerned, will use his influence to secure a review of the present basis upon which grants are made and also to impress upon the 325 Chancellor of the Exchequer that this question of road development is not a minor question, but is a great national question needing a great national policy if we are to solve the problems that are now arising. So far as unemployment is concerned, it is probably the most important direction in which a great contribution could be immediately made to the solution of that problem. All those who have had to do with the devising of unemployment relief schemes have realised the enormous value of road schemes as a means of helping to alleviate the problem. It is a kind of activity where about 50 per cent. of the expenditure goes directly in wages and another 25 per cent. in materials that are manufactured by British workers. It is one of the directions where a great proportion of the expenditure goes actually in the form of wages, and if the Chancellor of the Exchequer had left the money at the disposal of the Ministry of Transport to carry out schemes that were already approved—I mean the £7,000,000 that he took last year, the £12,000,000 he has taken this year, plus the two years' proportion of motor tax which he has definitely absorbed into the national revenue, which we understand was about 31 million last year and will be an increasing sum this year—those schemes would have provided employment for 80 or 90 thousand men for a considerable time. I hope, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman knowing as he does the problems of this particular Department— whatever may happen to him in the future—will use his influence with the Chancellor of the Exchequer to cease the raiding of funds that really are needed for the development of the country and for the provision of employment.
§ Rear-Admiral BEAMISH
I suppose it might be said that the Minister of Transport has sung a swan song that he has sung a good many times before. I think, myself, his song this evening has been both tuneful and efficient. I do not join with Members on the opposite benches in their rather strong criticism of the activities of the Ministry of Transport. We have every right to be thoroughly proud of the achievements of the Ministry. They have not achieved perfection but they have gone a long way towards it. The hon. Member for Rotherhithe (Mr. B. Smith) remarked that the surplus from the Road Fund had been snatched by the 326 Chancellor of the Exchequer with the excuse that there was no adequate reason for retaining it as it was not wanted. I have not heard that thought suggested at all. I am quite confident that everybody agrees that if the money had been retained in the Road Fund it could have been used to very good purpose. My own constituency has certainly suffered to some considerable extent from the inadequate sums which have been available for making the roads' better. I should like, if I may, to quote one or two instances. We have one level-crossing at least—we have had several other cases of level-crossings mentioned this afternoon—and that level-crossing is nothing but a nuisance to all the road users. They have a road in Peacehaven which has been crying out for years for widening. There is another road which would not require a great deal of money to put, right. It leads into the town of Seaford. It is nothing but a danger at the present time. It is swept by the sea and if often as much as a foot deep in shingle where the sea has washed over it. I feel that seine of the money which has had to be taken by the Chancellor of the Exchequer might well have been spent in making improvements in the particular instances I have given. I have another small point which I wish to refer to connected with the licenses for vehicles. I realise, of course, that a change in the licensing system would entail legislation. At the same time, I should like to appeal to the Minister to see whether he can make the necessary representations. There are unquestionably hardships when there are transferences of licenses. It might be possible to increase the surrender values of licences and decrease the cost of making changes from one vehicle to another. At the present time it is a very definite hardship in a good many instances.
The number of accidents—there is no getting away from it—is appalling. There was a time when I used to comfort people, or try to comfort them, by pointing out that more people were killed by road accidents in London every year than were killed in all the air raids which took place during the War. But one has ceased now to make that comparison, and the number of fatal accidents we have annually has grown to double what it was at that time. There is no wonder in it 327 at all. The wonder to me is that there are so few accidents both in London and in the country when one thinks of the dangers of the road and the foolishness of the people who use the roads, both those in motor cars and those on foot. Cyclists think nothing of riding two or three abreast in contravention of the law. We shall never get things any better until we get some sort of feeling into the minds of both pedestrians and motorists that they must co-operate. The pedestrian still seems to think that the motorist has no right on the road, and the motorist is quite positive that the pedestrian has no right there at all. Until that attitude is a little changed, I do not see how we are going to get improvement. But there are many other contributory causes of accidents which appeal to me very much and I would like to mention them to the Minister. One of them is the question of telegraph poles. It is quite likely he might say that telegraph poles have nothing to do with him, but I would like to mention them. I know of instance after instance where telegraph poles are within two or three inches of the road surface, so that on the slightest suggestion of swerve on the part of a heavy motor car and before the driver knows where he is, he is trying to knock down a 9-inch or a 12-inch telegraph pole. I should like to know whether it is possible to bring about co-operation between the Ministry of Transport and the General Post Office and insist that telegraph poles should be placed further back from the road.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
We are doing that rather extensively, especially when road widening is taking place. The Postmaster-General is very helpful. We are taking away the telegraph poles from the edge of the road and, sometimes, actually placing them inside a wall so that they do not protrude on to the road.
§ Rear-Admiral BEAMISH
I am much obliged to the Minister, because it is really a matter—some Members may not have noticed it—which has come to my notice, not because I have run into a pole, I hope I never do. There is another very fruitful source of accidents—and I speak from the point of view of a motorist again—the glare of head lamps. I am not sure that the Minister is in a position to issue Regulations in 328 that respect, but the number of brilliantly lighted lamps which one passes at night is enormous. They make it almost impossible to pass other cars without real fear of an accident. I would like very much to see the issue of some Regulations whereby the glare of head lights could be considerably reduced. One more word on the subject of this question of accidents. We have a terrible toll of life taken every year on our roads. I do not hesitate to say that we should have fewer accidents if the people walked on the railways. I do not suggest that they ought to walk on the railways. I only want to bring to the notice of the Committee that the fact that so few people are run over on the railways is because they are not allowed on the railways. Until we realise that people must be kept off the road and given adequate pathways on which to walk, we shall continue to have this terrible toll of life. I do not see the least reason why, when the Road Fund gets back to its normal stature, more money should not be spent on improving the conditions which I and other hon. Members have described, thereby reducing the terrible loss of life that we experience every year.
§ Mr. MacLAREN
I do not know whether we should spend our last few moments with the Minister of Transport in criticising or denouncing him for being harsh to us. I think the moment is opportune when we should deliver encomiums on his past services and enlarge upon his fine qualities, and commiserate with him on the fact that he has been brutally discharged from his duty, and robbed to boot. The Debate this afternoon is reminiscent of many Debates one has listened to in this House. The Minister is expected to do a thousand and one things when he is under review. He is asked why he is not actually spending more money. He is told that he is cringing, cribbing and stingy one day, arid the next day the critics who are talking like that are prepared to go into the Lobby on some economy stunt and pass a Vote of Censure on him. These incongruities and inconsistencies of the House of Commons would be tragic were it not that there is a good measure of humour mixed up with them.
329 We have been told that what we want is new roads, and the example was cited of the large and spacious roads in Italy, Germany and other parts of the Continent. Those roads were brought into comparison with our roads. It is true that a little vision used on the improvement of road development proves to us at once that we are not treating this road problem in the manner in which it ought to be treated. As I listened to one hon. Member discoursing about the road of the future, in which there would be a motor track, a cycle track, trees running up the centre and then a pedestrian track, I wondered where we were going. There is nothing more interesting than to listen to the ramifications of the idealist who closes his eyes to harsh economic realities. I have no doubt that in this country we could have the finest roads in the world. I can visualise those roads. Being a bit of a draughtsman, I could draw them; I could put in the trees, the tracks, the traffic. It all would look very nice on paper. [An HON. MEMBER "All red!"] Yes, and a few daubs of blue might neutralise the effect. But when it comes to translating your ideas into facts in this country, what do you find?
One hon. Member said that what we require is a new dictatorship of transport in this country. Someone would assume tremendous powers of a Napoleon spreading roads, East, North, South and West in Great Britain. He has just come from Leith, I am told, I would welcome the dictatorship, and would ruthlessly carry through his designs of road construction in Great Britain; but what would be the main difficulty? I have a suspicion that roads are made upon land and that before you can make a road you must procure land. Although there has been much talk about road development and much has been said about the Ministry not having more first class roads, more second-class roads, and so on, the fact of the matter is that in a country like Great Britain, where the landowner has been there first, all the vast funds which the Ministry had before the present Chancellor of the Exchequer got hold of them would sink into insignificance if we were called to foot the bill in so far as the landowners were concerned, in regard to the snaking of proper roads in this country. The reason why they have finer roads on the Con- 330 tinent is because in Italy, for instance, Mussolini showed little consideration for the owners of land when he wanted to carry out certain improvements.
In this country, hon. Members opposite have an historic deference for the old fallacy called landlordism, which makes the first charge upon any effort carried cut in the form of development. So long as we are under that stupid obsession, we shall find that this great monopoly will make road development in this country impossible, or almost impossible. [Laughter.] It is no laughing matter: it is a fact. I would like those who seem to think that this is a joke, to find out the actual facts and to disprove, if they can, what I am saying. We have been spending millions on roads, on the old argument of giving work to the unemployed. That always reminds me of the Greek who used to go to the top of a hill and to roll down inside his own tub. When he was asked why he was doing that, he said that everybody was so busy, that he was making a job for himself. This House is obsessed with the idea of finding work for somebody, and the first thing that they think of is work on the roads. Millions of pounds have been spent on road making in this country and the net result of that expenditure has been to intensify the demands of the monopoly interests, so that the Minister of Transport is caught at every angle in the attempts of development of road making. What will happen when the present Minister disappears and his Department is put under the greater bureaucratic control of some other Department, I do not know.
I come from, perhaps, the most famous division in the country. All round the Potteries we are hemmed about with railway crossings. The other day, we attempted to solve the problem of unemployment by inducing a simple-minded foreign firm, the Michelin Company to make tyres in the Potteries. They are going to absorb 10,000 people in their workshops. They have started to cut out a new road, and they are actually making a railway crossing there. All round the Potteries you find main streets traversed by railway crossings. In the Burslem Division—I have insisted upon this not only locally but in devious ways to the Minister—we have a crossing which traverses the centre of a hill. The street rises pretty steeply, and we have a tram- 331 way going up and down the hill, where antiquated trams are still running under the name of tramways. They go up and down the main street and this railway crossing traverses the centre of the street. On one occasion a tram ran right into a goods train.
We have appealed to the Ministry and we have appealed, possibly, to all his officials to get something done, but whenever we make any appeals the Minister sends down certain gentlemen to make inquiries. Who these gentlemen are one does not know. They come and look round, and in a few weeks we are told that nothing can be done. Something ought to be done in regard to these railway crossings. If inquiries have to be held, they ought to be more public than has been the case in the past, so that those of us who know something of the actual conditions surrounding these railway crossings can submit our evidence, instead of the inquiries being conducted under more or less private conditions. We are told that if we want anything done we must get the corporation to undertake a large amount of expenditure, because the railway companies stand adamant and will not move. Therefore, the whole obligation and the cost of changing these railway crossings, or submerging them under the roadway, must fall upon the local authorities. Something should be done to compel the railway companies to contribute a little more than they do towards these developments.
In the Potteries, and I daresay it is the same in most parts of the country, we have had the historic conflict going on between tramways and motor omnibuses. Fortunately, we, as a corporation, do not own either the tramways or the omnibuses. The tramways belong to a private company, and the omnibuses also belong to private people. We are anxious to have the most efficient omnibus service in the Potteries. Our conflict has been raging between the so-called statutory tramway company, who are running the trams in the Potteries, and these omnibuses, which are in the hands more or less of private individuals. I do not think the Ministry have been quite as straightforward as they might have been as far as we are concerned. We find this conflict going on in the 332 Potteries, with their narrow streets and railway crossings, and we find these private omnibus owners seeking new licences, and the statutory tramway company trying to transform antiquated trams into omnibuses and appealing to the corporation for licences for omnibuses to run under their name, and we are faced with this difficulty. Being a member of the corporation of Stoke-on-Trent, I am stating the case from their point of view. We know the difficulties and the congestion, and we know the dangers to traffic, the railway crossings, tine narrow streets, and the severe angles on the ma-in thoroughfares, and when we attempt to stem the demand for licences, on the part of the tramway company, the Potteries Electric Traction Company, for omnibuses, they take advantage of a particular Section which allows them to appeal to the Minister over the heads of the corporation. We have had long and expensive inquiries held by the Ministry, and on one occasion, when, I am sorry to say, I was not present at the inquiry, which might have gone the other way if I had been there, we had the Ministry of Transport rather encouraging the audacity of this tramway company by conceding to them the demands they were making for further licences.
I would ask the Minister before he leaves his office at least to put in an appeal to the officials whom he will leave behind that the considerations put forward by the corporations shall not be treated as secondary but as of primary importance when inquiries are held by the Ministry, because if the best-intentioned official comes from the Department to these areas, he cannot possibly get into the local atmosphere and understand the local difficulties so well as those who are there governing the local affairs. Therefore, in all future inquiries I claim that the expression of local opinion and the evidence submitted by those responsible for the administration of these areas ought to be treated with greater sympathy and consideration than, I am afraid, they have been treated in the Potteries in the past. I only hope that when the Minister of Transport leaves his functions he may pass into happier activities. I know he will carry with him the good wishes of those of us who sometimes did not like his actions, because we felt they were too Conservative or too Radi- 333 cal, but he goes out of office with good recommendations behind him, and we think a good deal of him, although we did not like his politics very often.
§ Sir HENRY JACKSON
On this occasion, as in former Debates on this Vote, London has loomed large, and there has been a tendency to criticise the action of the London Traffic Advisory Committee, either on the ground that it has not clone anything at all or on the ground that it has been too meddlesome. I hope I may be allowed to point out something of what that Advisory Committee has has done, thanks to the constant desire of the Minister himself to crystallise into action what we have ventured to advise him to do, and I would remind the Committee that, after all, we are an Advisory Committee. We have no executive powers and no money, and all that we can do, therefore, is to use what good offices we can with local authorities to bring about some change. One of the very first things we did was to report to the Minister strongly advising him to do all in his power to create the Victoria Dock Road. That is over two years ago, and the Minister and the Committee from that day to this have been doing all in their power to achieve that splendid ideal. I think the facts that the Treasury have now agreed to give 75 per cent. of the £3,000,000 estimated to construct this road and that we are very hopeful that the London County Council will take a great view of Greater London and contribute largely to the rest, are at any rate something of which the Advisory Committee may be proud.
The second thing we have been working at, and which is now almost within realisation, is the removal of the hay market and the street stalls in Aldgate. Quite early on, we strongly urged the Minister that this was a constant menace to the traffic in the East End of London, and we have been using our good offices with the London County Council and with the Stepney Borough Council and, as the Committee probably knows, that hay market and stalls are now to be removed, the London County Council having agreed to put it into its General Powers Bill this year. Again, the round-about system of traffic, which is sometimes the subject of mirth, has really been of great advantage as a 334 method of dealing with London's traffic. It is now in existence in various parts of London, and it has justified itself in many ways. It has been justified on the ground that we have reduced stationary traffic very much indeed. The periods during which those long lines of traffic now halt are very much reduced, and we claim equally that we have in no way increased the danger to the pedestrians, as the statistics of Scotland Yard show. Another thing I would like to impress on the Committee is that the roundabout system of traffic is going to have a great bearing on the question of road development. We now believe that it is far better to spend money at some focal point where a roundabout system can be introduced, and by that means get that fluidity and rapidity of traffic which puts an end to long stationary traffic, rather than to spend money in costly street widenings. You can reduce to a minimum the cost of street widenings if you will see to it that on every possible occasion you introduce the roundabout system at a focal point.
Again, in the matter of providing parking places for motor cars, I think the Advisory Committee has done well. In the ever-increasing number of motor cars, the larger number of which are owner-driven, which come into the centre of London, whether for business or pleasure, and require somewhere in which to be parked, the Committee has had to face a very difficult problem. There are two sides to the problem. There is, first, the side I have mentioned, the need of the owner-driver for somewhere to place his car, and, secondly, there is the natural reluctance of local authorities for their streets which are costly to make and maintain are to be used as garages. As a compromise, the Minister has allowed certain places to be used for a limited time for the parking of cars, but obviously this can only be in the nature of a temporary remedy, and the time must come when proper garages should be built and used, and the motor owner and driver must not look to the streets of London as places in which they can get free garages for their motor cars.
One of the things which is not very well known to the public, but which have taken a large amount of time of the sub-Committees of the Advisory Committee, is the gradual organisation and systematisation of traffic in London, and I would 335 say to the Committee quite seriously that if it had not been for the labours of the Advisory Committee in the last two years, the congestion and chaos in the London streets to-day would be very much greater than they are. I would rather like to deal with the bigger problem of the future policy as regards London traffic. I have had the pleasure of being on each of the three inquiries which have dealt with the problems of North London, East London and South East London, and also, if the Minister will allow me to say so, of trying to co-ordinate the views which those Committees have given to him. As a result of these inquiries, we have learned that there is a need for further travelling facilities in those great areas of London. While you have the tramways in a very grave financial position yet, in spite of what has been said by hon. Members, it is our deliberate opinion that the tramway is an essential part of the traffic system of London. Conditions being what they are, there is little hope of any further tube development in London. Tubes are very costly to build. They cost something under £1,000,000 a mile to build, and, until there is a change in the policy of London traffic, there can be little hope of the tubes being extended. In the next place, we have heard much about the heavy toll of life, and accidents and casualties as a result of congested streets. Finally, we have had very much impressed upon us that the acute congestion in the London streets is leading to an enormous expansion and extension of road development. The problem will get worse.
The story of urban London and its traffic is a very interesting one. In 1925 there were no less than 3,252,000,000 passengers carried by local means of locomotion, and we confidently believe that in 1930 there will probably be something like 10,000 per cent. more than there were 70 years ago. Yet, side by side with this problem, we find that only one-third of the seats in tramways, omnibuses and tubes are occupied, and so we have to confess in each of our reports that, sooner or later, some system of co-ordination, if this waste is to be avoided, must be adopted. I ventured in a former Debate to point out this fact, that if you could take the cost of an omnibus and a tramway car and a tube—the cost of making 336 it, the cost of maintaining it, and the receipts you get—and if you could mould that into one economic figure, and set the economic value of a seat in an omnibus at 100, that of the tramway would be 21, and that of the tube 15. Therefore, it is obvious that, if you allow unrestrained competition between tramway, omnibus and tube, the omnibus must kill the tube and the tramway. Sooner or later, those who have to find the money for those two kinds of locomotion would have to give up the struggle, and the omnibus would be left victorious. We believe that all those three kinds of transport are necessary, the omnibus and the tramway for short distances, the tube for express and long distances. And so it is quite clear that unrestrained competition has got to be changed.
There are two alternatives. We can either go to monopoly, on the one hand, or to what some of us venture to think is a solution, some kind of co-ordination of these services, on the other. There are two kinds of monopoly. There is the monopoly of a single private ownership, and there is that thinly-disguised monopoly which is called nationalisation. It is quite clear that neither on the lines of monopoly nor of unrestrained competition can the problem be settled. What does co-ordination mean May I say for myself, and I speak only for myself, it does not mean that all transport facilities must be under one ownership; it does not mean that it must all be under one management, but it means that there must be some kind of authority to ensure that all those systems shall be united into one common system. Furthermore, it is quite clear that in any system of co-ordination there must be some kind of control. That control must not be interested in any one transport organisation. It must look at this problem from a single point of view, and have no interest in one or the other. It may be that that control will be ultimately some kind of statutory authority based on election, but it must be detached from the ownership and management of transport. In the next place, the transport authorities must be self-supporting. They must neither look to the State for subsidy, nor to the municipality for help. They must be in such a way that the needs for each one shall be met from some common fund.
337 Finally, in any system of co-ordination, whoever invests their money in any transport organisation should be able to look for a reasonable return on their capital. There should be, in this co-ordinated system, that guarantee and that security which one associates, shall we say, with Government stock; otherwise you can never get a constant flow of capital into the industry unless it is secure. The Minister has told the Committee this afternoon that he has asked the Advisory Committee to consider this problem. Eighteen months ago, the Advisory Committee set up a small sub-Committee to deal with this complex subject of coordination, and I have had the pleasure of being a member of that sub-Committee. The problem is a deep one, and a very vast one, but I feel confident that the urgency of the problem will cause a solution of it, and I am quite hopeful that very soon the Advisory Committee will be able to report to the Minister some agreed scheme which he will be able to scrutinise and consider. If and when we do settle the problem on some lines of this kind, I hope that that will be a pattern on which the transport problem of Great Britain may be settled. The area of London traffic has a radius of 25 miles from Charing Cross, and it may well form a regional pattern for the rest of the country to copy.
§ Mr. BATEY
London has claimed a large share of the Debate this evening, and I want to switch it now to the North of England. I am glad of this opportunity to ventilate a grievance which the Durham County Council has against the Minister of Transport. The county surveyor has prepared an instructive memorandum dealing with the traffic problem in the county. In this statement he shows that the amount of traffic in 1913 on the main north road was 777 tons per day, and that it had increased in 1926 to 7,460 tons per day. The increase in that traffic has been mainly due to motor omnibuses, heavy motors and tractors. In 1913 the motor omnibus traffic per day was 5 tons, but in 1926 it had increased to 1,866 tons per day. In 1913 heavy motors and tractors were responsible for 169 tons per day, and this had increased in 1926 to 3,472 tons per day. The increase in expenditure is rather startling, and it shows that the 338 Durham County Council has not had that consideration from the Ministry of Transport to which it is entitled.
In 1914, according to this statement, the gross expenditure upon county roads was £82,245, and in 1926 it had increased to £424,671. In 1914, when the expenditure was £82,000, the Ministry of Transport paid £10,250, but in 1926, when the expenditure was £424,000, the Ministry of Transport paid only £154,415. That left the county to obtain from county rates £270,256 in 1926, and in addition to that expenditure they had to pay £115,333 for redemption of loans, making the total which had to be found by county rates, in 1926, £385,589. The surveyor makes this suggestion, which I hope the Minister will consider. Taking the figure of £150,000, which the county surveyor suggests is the basic amount which the county rates should be called upon to bear on the mileage of main roads, and placing it against an assumed loss of annual expenditure of £450,000, he says:It will be seen that the grant from the Ministry of Transport should be £300,000, or an approximate percentage to the gross expenditure of 66 per cent. as against an average of 43 per cent. at the present time.The county surveyor suggests that the Ministry, instead of paying £115,000, should be paying £300,000 towards the maintenance of the roads. I also draw the Minister's attention to the district roads. The increased expenditure on the district roads is rather startling. In one district, Auckland, in 1918 the highway rate was 7¼d. and that had increased in 1926 to 1s. 10d. In Chester-le-Street the rural district council in 1918 levied a road rate of 7¾d. and that increased in 1926 to 3s. 6d. In the Durham Rural District the road levy in 1918 was 4½d. and that increased to 5s. 3¾d. in 1926. The surveyor in summing up says:I am of opinion that the county of Durham because of its peculiar economic conditions has a claim for special consideration in the way of increased grants, more especially as during the last four or five years the county council has carried out a progressive policy in regard to main road maintenance and reconstruction and improvement work and, except in the case of the bridge scheme, has carried out these works with the assistance of 50 per cent. grants from the Ministry.339 The county council in dealing with that report say:Repeated efforts have been made by the county council to obtain from the Minister of Transport larger grants than the usual 50 per cent. towards the cost of the maintenance and repair of the main arterial roads in the county of Durham, and attention is particularly drawn to the case of the Great North Road which runs through the county from south to north. If you will be good enough to refer to the Ministry of Transport traffic census for 1925, you will see that this stretch of road is, with the exception of the length within the Metropolitan area, by far the heaviest traffic length of the Great North Road between London and Edinburgh, and very little of this traffic is what may be termed local traffic. In spite of this very heavy and rapidly increasing volume of traffic using the Great North Road, the county council of Durham are still called upon to find 50 per cent. of the cost of its proper maintenance and repair and, in their opinion, grants-in-aid of the cost of the maintenance of this road, among others in the county, should he much larger than they are at present.The Minister has been starving the county council. He ought to have been giving larger grants to county councils like this and had he done so, he would not have such a big surplus but the counties would have been in a much better position.
Dr. VERNON DAVIES
I wish to refer to the question of road accidents. We hear about the tremendous number of accidents, fatal and otherwise, but I do not think anything has been said about the treatment of these accidents. No reference has been made to our first-aid service. We know that in the larger towns and cities this work is admirably done by the police forces, as is also the case in our smaller towns, but in the country we find that there is a very great difficulty and that is the difficulty of getting medical men. The essence of the matter is that aid should be procured quickly and I would like to ask what is being done at the present time in this respect.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I do not understand what is the responsibility of the Minister of Transport for these medical services. Has he any?
That is what I am trying to find out. Either the Ministry of Transport or the Home Office should have some responsibility and I wish to find out who is responsible for this very serious duty.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I am afraid, if the Minister of Transport is not already responsible, it can hardly be raised on this Vote.
In that case, having the accidents on the roads, I think it is the duty of the Minister to see that these people are removed off the roads.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I allowed the hon. Member to put the question, but I think the answer of the Minister of Transport will be in the negative, and the matter cannot be further pursued to-night.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
I think it will be convenient if I deal now with the various points which have arisen since my second speech this evening. I apologise to the Committee for intervening again, but as I have to carry on single handed I have to make these speeches. An hon. Member raised a question as to what rural districts could legitimately demand a grant for their unclassified roads. The position is, broadly, this, that we give a grant to an unclassified road if it is situated in a rural district council area—or, rather, that fact makes it eligible for a grant—and the question of the number of the population per acre only comes into operation when the road is in what is called an urban district area, which is, of course, in most cases, thickly populated. The grant can be given when the road is within the jurisdiction of an urban district council if the population is not snore than one. per acre. The next point was raised by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Rotherhithe (Mr. B. Smith) who wanted further information as to the effect of the £1,000,000 per year from the Road Fund which is to be allocated for purposes arising out of the Report of Lord Lee's Commission. He wanted to know how that £1,000,000 would affect the grants which have already been indicated in the last two years for general London improvements. This £1,000,000 a year for an indefinite number of years—until notice of its discontinuance is given—has been promised by the Government for the purpose of putting through the projects recommended by Lord Lee's Commission. In the proposals of the 341 Lee Commission were certain undertakings which had been visualised independently of that Commission's recommendations, and which the Government had it in mind to carry through. Where the Government have already made promises in respect of any of these projects, those promises will, of course, be honoured, and the money will be found for them; but there are some which are altogether outside the purview of the Lee Commission, and therefore money will be found in addition to this £1,000,000 to enable other minor, though important, London improvements to be carried out. What that actual sum will be I cannot say at the moment, but it will obviously be, to some extent—it may be to a large extent or it may be to a small extent—less than the £400,000 which has been previously allocated.
The hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten), I understand, complained that Scotland was not getting its fair share from the Road Fund. That may be his opinion, but it certainly is getting more money out of the Road Fund that it puts info it, and if that be so, I think hon. Members will agree that in this matter Scotland is being treated generously. The hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) raised two questions, one about level crossings in Hull and the other about the insufficiency of timber wagons provided by the railway companies. In regard to the first point, I admire the hon. and gallant Member because he is large minded, and has a considerable vision, but may I remind him that the level crossings he refers to would cost anything between £800,000 and £1,000,000, and to ask for £1,000,000 for level crossings in one city is rather a large order. I would also like to point out that no really definite and well thought-out plan in regard to these level crossings has been put before the Ministry, and until I have some definite and agreed plan for their abolition, it is impossible for me to go into the matter with that consideration which I should like to give to any project put forward by the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that a large sum of money was spent by the hull municipality in preparing an engineer's report on this scheme which was 342 agreed to by the railway companies, and we went to the Ministry of Transport with an agreed scheme which was considered by the right hon. Gentleman's experts
§ Colonel ASHLEY
It was quite impossible for the Ministry to consider that scheme, and the hon. and gallant Member must realise that it was quite impossible to find all that money out of the Road Fund.
§ Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY
Nothing of the sort. You offer London 75 per cent. of the cost of large undertakings, and for Hull we were only asking 66 per cent. for level crossings.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
I am afraid we differ on that point. As regards the provision of more timber wagons by the railway companies, I take it that the timber trade is a seasonal trade, and the demand for these wagons is not the same all the year round. If the railway companies provided wagons which would meet the peak demand for two or three months of the year, then they would have these particular wagons lying idle for the greater part of the year, and therefore this is a demand which it is rather difficult to meet. I promise the hon. and gallant Member that I will communicate with the railway companies in order to see if some further accommodation can be arrived at which I admit is very important for the trade of that city.
The hon. Member for South-East Southwark (Mr. Naylor) raised two points, one about street accidents, and the other as to footpaths on rural roads. I think I have already, in a previous speech, dealt with both of these subjects, so I will only briefly say, so far as these accidents are concerned, that I deplore them as much as does the hon. Member. We had this conference six weeks ago, where 350 delegates were present, and unanimous resolutions were passed endorsing most of the suggestions put forward by the Traffic Advisory Committee; and I am circulating to all the local authorities the recommendations of this conference, which one hopes may reduce the number of accidents. I do not think it would be possible for me to 343 do more. As regards footpaths, whenever we build new roads, or reconstruct to a considerable extent old roads, we nearly always now put a footpath at the side, and, when the footpath is made we endeavour as soon as possible—not always at once—to put it into a really efficient state. It takes a lot of money to get a footpath such as the hon. Member or myself would like to walk upon, say in London, and it is only gradually, in the country districts, that these footpaths can be really got into proper condition.
The only other point of real importance, I think, with which I am called upon to deal, and which was raised by the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. Taylor), and I think the hon. Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren), was the question of unemployment. It is often asked, why do not the Government relieve unemployment by continuing their work on roads? I would point out to the Committee that a very large sum remains to be spent under the unemployment programme, not only of this Government, but of the late Government and of the previous Conservative Government. We have spent in the last 4½ years, from the Road Fund and the Exchequer, £21,500,000 on road schemes promoted for the relief of unemployment, and the local authorities have contributed £12,750,000, making a total sum spent in the relief of unemployment on road schemes in the last four or five years of nearly £34,500,000. It may be said:
"That was very helpful in the past, but we have still a large number of unemployed and what are the Government doing to deal with unemployment at the present time?" My answer is that the programme which is still to be carried through, and which will be carried through, is very considerable and substantial. There is still £13,000,000 to be expended under the unemployment schemes from the Road Fund, and the local authorities have promised to spend a further £5,000,000, so that there is still £18,000,000 to be spent.
§ Mr. B. SMITH
Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether in fact there has been any other allocation for unemployment grants this year?
§ Colonel ASHLEY
These are schemes which have been sanctioned, and the 344 money is available, either from the Road Fund or from the local authorities, for carrying them through; and that is going on constantly day by day, month by month and year by year. It is the total programme which this Government and other Governments have sanctioned. About two-thirds of the money has already been expended, and one-third remains to be spent. That will carry us on for a very considerable time—I cannot say how long, because it depends upon the rate at which the local authorities, who are the people actually carrying out the works, put through their plans. Some of the schemes may fall out through the local authorities dropping them, but there is that sum of £13,000,000 from the Road Fund, and £5,000,000 from the local authorities, earmarked and ready to be spent on works up and down the country for the relief of unemployment.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
New applications will have a chance, but, of course, not at the same rate as the old 75 per cent. The old 75 per cent. of this Government, and former Governments has come to an end, and it will be necessary to negotiate, if the money is available, so that the proportion to be found by the local authorities will be greater, while the proportion found by the Road Fund, that is to say, by the Government, will be less. To my mind, however, a good, sound road scheme, which at the same time will help unemployment, ought certainly, if possible, to have a preference over other good road schemes which would not help unemployment. I want to make it quite clear to the Committee that they must not run away with the idea- that, so far as the road programme is concerned, nothing can now be done for unemployment. This large sum of £18,000,000 is still available, and will be used as and when the local people are able to go on with the work which they have already promised to do.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
Can the right hon. Gentleman give me any reply to the statement with regard to the action of the Electricity Commissioners as affecting the Mexborough Urban District Council, and can he also say something with regard to the proposed erection of a new 345 bridge at Thorne, which has been on the stocks for five years, and which, apparently, the people are no nearer having than they were before?
§ Colonel ASHLEY
I am afraid I cannot give the hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey) very much comfort. If you once begin to increase the amount you are giving to first-class roads, by raising it from 50 per cent. to 60 per cent. or 70 per cent., you do two things. First of all, you very largely increase the drain upon the Road Fund—it runs into millions; and then you come up against the very big principle, which will have to be faced some day, as to who is to be really responsible far the roads; because, if you once give more than half the total expenditure to the people who are responsible for the roads, you have the anomaly that the people who are responsible for the roads find less than half the expenditure, and the people who are not responsible find more than half. Those, therefore, are two big propositions which will have to be faced before any exceptional treatment could be given to Durham. I have been there lately, and I quite admit that Durham has been hardly hit during the last two years, owing to the coal trouble. That I know from talking with members and officers of the county council. As regards the question of the bridge at Thorne and the electricity scheme, I apologise for having left that out. I saw the hon. Member was not here, and I hoped to escape having to answer his question. The New Bridge is going to be built.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
I understand almost at once—not the swing bridge, but the New Bridge on the far side. I admit that will not meet most of the hon. Member's objections because it takes the wayfarer out of Thorne in the opposite direction to that in which the hon. Member wishes it to proceed for his constituency. I have been there and I quite appreciate the need of a proper swing bridge over the canal. It would be a great convenience to the town but I am in the position of having no compulsory powers. I understand the county council and the Navigation Com- 346 pany have come to an agreement as to the rebuilding of the bridge. The point of difference is that the Navigation Company insist that the county council shall find the money for operating the bridge, which the county council think unreasonable and that it ought to be found by the Navigation Company. There the difficulty remains. I have no power to compel either body to change its opinion. I wish I had. I have quite clear ideas on the subject but, having no power, all I can do is to say I have exhausted my powers of mediation and that is as far as I am able to go. As regards the electricity scheme, I cannot alter my decision not to interfere with the finding of the Commissioners. The Electricity Commissioners have given the greatest consideration to the case. It is not an unusual thing for 10 years to be given. Ten years have been imposed at least three times in the last two or three years and that is the basis on which the Commissioners think the probability of the useful existence of that station can be estimated. It probably will not he a selected station and probably the electricity it supplies will in the not distant future be supplied by one of the super-stations. Although I should like to, I cannot meet the hon. Member.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
In similar cases. could it not be understood that, where they can prove beyond any shadow of doubt that they can generate cheaper than the price at which a bulk supply is offered, there should be no barrier to their continuing to generate, otherwise the large companies will be encouraged to charge a higher price, where there happens to be a small but efficient station, than would be the case if the Electricity Commissioners would insist upon allowing a continuance of local generation unless the price offered for the bulk supply was as low as the price at which the local people generate.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
That is just where the hon. Member and I differ. My information is that the Yorkshire Power Company would be able to supply current cheaper than the corporation, and the. Commissioners have decided against the corporation.
§ Mr. PALIN
I will try to follow the example of preceding speakers and deal as kindly as I can with one who is 347 about to come to a melancholy end. He has certainly given himself a most excellent testimonial, and perhaps that will be considered when the matter is finally to be decided. While one could say a great deal about the courtesy and the very nice way in which the right hon. Gentleman always meets us, his policy has been most disastrous with regard, to public authorities and, so far as road transport is concerned, it is in a greater pickle now than it has ever been, and it is likely to get worse. He very kindly says, when you complain, that he realises that the tramway has a very definite place in the passenger transport carrying industry, but he causes every local authority to grant as many licences as possible to omnibuses in order that the municipal tramway system can be killed. While he very kindly says he has made up his mind that something will have to be done with regard to co-ordination and control of the road transport system, it is only one of this series of fine words which is intended to soothe us for another 12 months. Possibly he will not be here to answer for the sins of the next 12 months. And so we go along. But certainly it is tragic to contemplate the large sums of public and private capital which are being wasted upon our transport system where a little foresight would have avoided it and we should have had a more efficient system to boot. I am very much concerned with regard to this matter and I trust it is not too late, whoever takes up the duty, to see that something is clone. I am not very optimistic, because with all the very efficient gentlemen who have been serving the Ministry of Transport since its formation, it has always appeared to me to lack someone with practical experience of the traffic side. The Minister would have been better advised on these problems had he had a man with knowledge of the management of a passenger-carrying concern. The Ministry has always seemed to lack practical experience being brought to bear on the handling of these problems. The result is that the control of the streets is being taken away from the local authorities by the right hon. Gentleman, while he has done nothing too to reduce the dangers which his own botching and bungling have brought about.
348 With regard to accidents, the first thing to be done is for the Ministry to make an investigation as to those danger spots on our roads which are the principal cause of accidents. We cannot hold the Minister responsible for the number of fools who are licensed to drive motor cars. Possibly some day Parliament will pass legislation demanding that a person shall be reasonably sane and possessed of his faculties before being allowed to drive. In the meantime, a general survey of the country ought to be made and all the danger spots recorded, and, before any more roads are made across Glencoe Pass to provide sport for millionaires in Scotland, all those danger spots ought to receive attention. Even on our country roads you can have spots pointed out by the hundred where not one but a great many fatal accidents have occurred. Those spots should be placed on a list and ought to have the first claim on the Road Fund before any more trunk roads are made. I am not complaining of the trunk roads, but let us deal with first things first, and human life stands before the convenience of millionaires who are going to kill grouse. That is all these roads are used for. In winter time you will not see a soul upon them. It is only in August there is congestion upon them. So long as little kiddies are being killed it is quite obvious that improvements can be made to save human life.
The hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull was congratulating me on the fact that the right lion. Gentleman has made a grant to Newcastle to build a bridge. The bridge was certainly overdue, but what is going to happen when this bridge is built'? It will increase the congestion in the centre of Newcastle. It seems a grave reflection on his Department that they did not see to it that the road which will carry the traffic going North and South should avoid the main and already congested streets in the centre of Newcastle. Instead of avoiding the congestion, it will be made much greater than it was before. I am sure we can all join in the congratulations with regard to the attempt made to deal with the disciplining of the traffic within the Metropolitan area. We can all see the great improvement that has taken place by means of the roundabout system, and we must wish that something similar could be done elsewhere. As a matter 349 of fact, in some of the provincial cities the chaos with regard to vehicular traffic is as great as it was in London before the right hon. Gentleman and the London Traffic Advisory Committee took the matter in hand. It certainly would be of great advantage to the provinces if the experience already gained in London could be afforded, as soon as possible, to those places where it is so badly needed.
There would be a great future before the Ministry of Transport were it allowed to continue its work. It does seem to be a very great shame that, after the large amount of money which has been spent upon the Ministry and a very large expert staff has been gathered together, the Ministry should be more or less wasted for the sake of saving such a compartively small sum of money. It is not because there is no work to do. I here are plenty of problems for the Minister to tackle. I regret that we can get no satisfaction as to when the Road Bill is going to be introduced, or as to whether it ever will be introduced. We have received no promise with regard to that. It is simply a sort of will-o-the wisp that we are chasing, but I am convinced of this that such legislation as is foreshadowed in the provisions of that Bill is very necessary. It would make our roads safer and would give us an opportunity of seeing to it that the roads of this country were made as safe as our railways are. It does seem to me to be absurd that a third of the traffic of our main streets, for instance, should be under very severe restrictions with a view to public safety and the other two-thirds allowed to proceed pretty well as it likes. Take, for instance, the state of affairs in a main street of my own town. A tramcar when it is approaching a road that crosses at right angles must, according to the regulations laid down by the Minister, come to a loll stop before it proceeds across that road. A motor omnibus, the driver of which has as many lives in his charge as the driver of a. tramcar, is under no restriction whatever. We have inspectors, very skilled men, men who know their business, men to whom we owe a great deal, going about inquiring into accidents that happen on the railway. As a result of their inquiries, railway travelling has been made much safer than 350 it used to be. But as far as street accidents are concerned, it is very rarely—unless it is something which attracts unusual public attention—that the Minister is constrained to take any notice of them. I am convinced that we ought to press for the Ministry to be given more powers rather than less powers. I hoped that when the Ministry was formed it was going to be a veritable godsend to the various local authorities. The chief difficulty which local authorities are faced with is the difficulty of being able to engage the expert assistance which they require to deal with their roads and with their traffic problems. A big municipality can get a first-class road surveyor, a first-class city architect and all the expert assistance they require, but the smaller authorities—
§ It being Eleven of the Clock, the Chairman left the Chair to make his Report to the House.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.