Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £45,984, 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, 1933, 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 Rams-gate 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 (Mr. Pybus)
I have given some thought as to how I could best meet the wishes of the Committee in the form in which I present for the first time the Estimates of my Department. I am anxious that the scope and range of the activities of the Ministry of Transport should be properly understood, and therefore fairly judged. I, finally, came to the conclusion that one course I might adopt would be to carry my mind back to this period last year, when the Estimates were being presented to the Committee, and recall what I, as a private Member, then wanted to know about any particular Department. First of all, I wanted to know what it did— to hear in broad outline what were the range and scope of its work. Secondly, I wanted to know what it cost, in order to be sure that the taxpayer was getting good value for his money; and then I found invariably, on looking through the Estimates, that there were certain points which were not clear to me and on which I desired some explanation.
1438 I thought I could possibly best meet the wishes of the Committee, some of whom have not heard the Estimates of this Department presented, by adopting the course which I have outlined. I, therefore, propose, first of all, to review very shortly some of the multifarious duties which fall to me and to my Department to supervise or to discharge. As a result of that review and a consideration of the Papers before them, the Committee will, I hope, agree that we do cover a very wide range of activities, and they will appreciate in addition that certain of our assets are not of our own choosing. For instance, the Crinan Canal and one of the harbours which Parliament transferred to us from other Departments are not really very profitable assets. In fact, some of them resemble very closely what I have sometimes seen described in the catalogues of the great departmental stores as "surplus or bankrupt stocks." Next I shall propose to give to the Committee in round figures the costs which appertain to the work of the Department divided into one or two major groups. By this means I hope it may be possible, to present a broad picture of the work of the Department and its cost.
Then I will try to anticipate, if I can, certain questions which will arise in the minds of hon. Members regarding figures in the printed Papers which appear abnormal and may need explanation. In the main, these abnormal figures will be found, I believe, to be connected with new developments or changes of policy which do require explanation if they are to be properly understood. I hope I shall carry the Committee with me in this method of approach the more readily, because this year the Estimates of the Ministry have been specially selected by the Estimates Group of the House, under the chairmanship of my hon. and gallant Friend the member for the Chelmsford Division (Sir V. Henderson), for detailed examination, which examination has' lasted several days. We have, therefore, this year the definite assurance that the Estimates Committee, composed as it is of hon. Members specially selected for their financial and business knowledge, have examined these Estimates now before us, and will report in due course to the House.
1439 I will now deal with the first two or three points. First, what does the Department do? In the great field of transport, whether by rail or by road, we are entrusted by Parliament with the administration of Acts of Parliament for the control and supervision of transport undertakings in the public interest, including the public safety, a subject of daily increasing concern and anxiety. We supervise canals and harbours; we even own one or two canals. We did not, as I said at the beginning of my remarks, seek out these canals of our own accord. I understand that those who first formed this Ministry were not in the least ambitious to own them. They showed no desire to take them over from the other departments—the Board of Trade and others. I believe, as a matter of fact, that Sir Eric Geddes was most magnanimous about other persons having them; nevertheless, despite all our kindness, they were found one day on the steps of Whitehall Gardens like a couple of abandoned babies—the canals which i have just mentioned, and the harbours, which turned out to be greater in history and tradition than in real earning-power
The responsibilities of the Ministry of Transport on land are, I believe, more generally known than are our canal and maritime activities. I propose to deal at a later stage with the assistance which we give to the highway authorities in the maintenance and improvement of our elaborate network of 177,000 miles of public roads, and also to say a word about the regulation of the traffic which uses them. Some of these roads and regulations are new, and others are in replacement of powers held under earlier Acts which were embodied in the Road Traffic Act, 1930. Now, what is the gross expenditure on these services which I have broadly outlined, and how much of this cost is met directly from the Exchequer? If we turn to the Estimates, and take first the administrative Subheads A to F we see that to the nearest thousand pounds the gross expenditure is about £423,000, of which nearly £358,000 is covered by Appropriations-in-Aid (Subhead N), and does not fall upon the Exchequer. Sub-heads G to M, which relate to harbours, canals, and the Severn Barrage inquiry, involve a gross expenditure of about £46,000, from which must be deducted £5,000 recovered in 1440 appropriations-in-aid. Taking these two groups together, we have an estimated total for the current year of £469,454, from which we must deduct Appropriations-in-Aid of £363,490, thus leaving a net figure of £105,964 which is the amount the Committee is asked to vote to-day on the Ministry of Transport Vote. That figure of £105,964, compared with £163,522 which was voted last year, shows a net reduction of £57,558.
I might possibly, for the sake of clarity, express the allocation of this expenditure in percentages. Of the gross expenditure of the Department, no less than 77½ per cent. is recoverable in various ways, and if the cost of the undertakings such as the Holyhead Harbour and the canals is excluded, the percentage is about 85 per cent. In emphasising this high percentage of recoverable expenses, I should like to say that it in no way diminishes the stringency of control which is now exercised, and which will continue to be further exercised by the Ministry and the Treasury over the expenditure in question. I have done my best to indicate, in broad lines, the many duties and activities of the Ministry, and I have tried to show the course and net cost of this work. I have endeavoured to set this out in terms which would be understood by the expert Parliamentarian as well as the business men who may be members of the Committee.
I will now proceed to explain these Estimates in a little more detail. First, let me explain how the reduction of £57,558, as compared with the Vote for last year, is obtained. It is secured by a reduction in salaries and wages, and in the cost of special services of £29,000, after allowing for an increase in Subhead B, which deals with travelling expenses, and by certain savings on the undertaking of £18,500, which, together with an increase of nearly £10,000 in Appropriations-in-Aid, produces the total reduction of £57,558. The increase under the two Subheads is largely for travelling and incidental expenses incurred by the area traffic commissioners to which I will refer later. I will give later, if I am asked to do so, some detailed explanation of the expenditure on the Crinan Canal and the Severn Barrage investigation. I feel sure that the Committee would wish me to give a few figures concerning this great contraction of works on roads and bridges 1441 which, as a result of a definite Government policy, I have put into operation. While my predecessor was urged to increase the capital expenditure on roads and bridges, I am charged with a more difficult task. I am charged with the duty not only of stopping works which were contemplated but not yet started, but also of suspending and curtailing works which in many cases had already been commenced. In short, my duty was not only to stop the engines, but, where possible, to reverse them.
When, therefore, we hear that there is a decrease in the number of persons employed on roads and bridges, that will be regarded as quite a simple illustration of the maxim that you cannot have your cake and eat it. If we do not spend money on roads and bridges, people, obviously, cannot be employed upon them. The policy really means that no longer is the road to be regarded as a convenient object for which schemes designed to alleviate unemployment can be put into operation. It is still true that if one or more schemes, as regards traffic value, were practically alike, and only one could be proceeded with, the number of persons directly or indirectly employed would become the governing factor in our decision. May I put this contraction of works into a few figures? Last September, when I took office, the commitments of the Road Fund in respect of capital works at the end of September amounted to £52,000,000, and this total had been reduced by the end of March last to about £20,500,000, a reduction of £31,500,000.
This reduction was brought about by the normal process of liquidation, as work proceeded, to the extent of approximately £6,000,000, and by terminating offers or promises of grants under powers conferred by the Economy Act of last September to the extent of £25,500,000. These figures make no allowance for the local authorities' share. When that allowance is made, the total reduction exceeds £40,000,000. The inevitable result has been, of course, a reduction in the number of men directly employed on schemes of a capital nature from 40,000 in the middle of last summer to 23,200 in the middle of March, but I have no hesitation in saying that, in my opinion, with the information at my command, every week establishes more 1442 clearly that the policy of restriction of great capital works was the only right and proper course to pursue. After all, more than 23,000 persons are directly employed on these schemes.
Now I come to the question of the administration of the Road Traffic Act, 1930. As I propose to deal later in the day with any points which are raised regarding this phase of our work I will, at this stage, deal with only the financial aspect of the 13 bodies of Area Traffic Commissioners which have been set up under the Road Traffic Act, 1930. In the initial years of an administrative change of this magnitude, many questions must arise to be settled and which, as time goes on, and as both operators and the public settle down to the new conditions, cease to demand so much time and attention. In point of fact, I believe that it will be possible eventually to reduce somewhat the number of areas and the expenditure under this head.
I have no doubt that later in the discussion points will be raised concerning the functions and work of the Traffic Commissioners, some of whose decisions, as I have gathered from Questions addressed to me in the House, have troubled the minds of certain hon. Members. I hope in my reply to deal with this question, and to answer as far as I can any individual complaints, and also to give a few figures concerning the work of the traffic commissioners during the first year of their operations. This side of their work is, I think, at the moment too little understood. In transport, as in all progressive services or industries, we cannot stand still, but this new development in the administration of passenger carrying vehicles, designed to bring about order and co-ordination on the roads, has now, as far as I can gather from recent statements in the Press and from speeches in the country, become overshadowed in the minds of many people by the ever-growing problem of road and rail competition for goods transport.
Personally, I am of opinion that the interest which these problems clearly arouse, not only in the House of Commons but in the minds of the public at large, is all to the good. We must think clearly, and understand the real facts, if we expect to act wisely in the 1443 future in matters concerning these two great public services. I greatly appreciate the work of various bodies, both in the House and outside, who meet for the purpose of better informing their minds on the facts of this great problem. The informal committee of the House over which my hon. Friend the Member for Central Wandsworth (Sir H. Jackson) so ably and, if I may say so, so genially presides, is doing a very useful work in enabling the various interests concerned with transport to state their views informally and in an atmosphere which I think compels moderation and fair play.
The Government are very definitely concerned with this problem, the urgency of which they recognise, and, after mature consideration, I came to the conclusion that my best preliminary step would be to invite leading representatives of the goods transport industry on the rail and on the road side to sit under an independent chairman at the same table, and endeavour to smooth out their own difficulties and formulate for our guidance the points which in their opinion would call for action by the Government or by Parliament. This preliminary inquiry is largely economic, and, with the assistance of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, I was fortunate in securing the services, as independent chairman, of Sir Arthur Salter, whose impartiality and ability to handle conferences of this kind are nowhere, I take it, disputed. I have given a most categorical assurance that, before any conclusion or decision is reached, every interest concerned will have the fullest opportunity of putting their views before the Government. This assurance, I would add, covers not only the local authorities and the great associations of traders, but all branches of the motoring community and, of course, the representatives of labour employed in that great and growing industry.
I thank the Committee for the way in which they have received this opening explanation. I expect that questions will be raised on many aspects of our work— for instance, the work of the Electricity Commissioners and the Central Electricity Board, with which I have not dealt, and, possibly, the recent judgment of the Court of Appeal concerning the question of wayleaves for the columns upon which the 1444 overhead conductors of the grid and the overhead lines of electricity undertakings in general must pass through the country. Before I sit down, I feel that I must touch on one point which is ever present in my mind and in the mind of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, and, I am sure, also in the mind of every Member of this Committee. That is the appalling record of loss of life and often desperate injury on the highways of this country. The total figures of this ghastly record are not the end of the story. Those figures to anyone with imagination, convey something else. They convey the fact that this tragedy spreads far beyond its immediate surroundings, and one's mind at once turns to the relatives, and often to dependants, of the victims. Fortunately, public opinion, which is one of the strongest forces that can be brought to bear on this problem, is now being awakened. Many advocate, as the only solution of this tragic problem, new legislation involving the imposition of still more severe penalties on the careless and dangerous driver. Whether such action may eventually prove to be necessary is not for me to say, but there is in our hands a most effective weapon, and one which can be immediately applied, namely, the more proper observance of the law and the more rigorous enforcement of the penalties for which it provides.
§ Mr. PARKINSON
The hon. Gentleman has presented this Vote in a business-like way which will be very acceptable to the Committee, although I must point out that there are many features with which he has not dealt. He said, however, that he expected to reply later to questions which might be put to him, and we shall await his further statement. Among the matters to which he referred was the question of the Ministry's liabilities in connection with the Crinan and Caledonian canals. Those canals have been liabilities for a long time, and, from what I know of the Department, I take it that they are likely to continue to be liabilities. Whether there is any possibility of turning these canals to better account, I am not prepared to say at the moment. Ramsgate Harbour, also, has been debated for many years on this Vote It seems to me to be a very heavy liability, and, although there 1445 appeared to be prospects some time ago of disposing of this harbour, I understand that for the moment those prospects have disappeared, and that the position is that the Minister of Transport will have to await the running out of the leases in connection with the harbour, after which it will be possible to undertake its reorganisation.
Several regrettable questions have arisen during the last 12 months. One of the most regrettable has been the reduction of the work on the roads and of the number of men employed thereon. The late Minister of Transport worked very hard to get along with the schemes which were presented to the House, which were considered and approved by the Treasury. He worked hard to try to find employment for people who had been cast on the employment market. But with the change of government great changes have taken place, and the roads and bridges and harbours of this country are now in the same position in which they were before the great effort which was put forth after the year 1929. Whether that is right or not, we shall have to wait and see. I do not believe that it is right; I am certain that the time will come when we shall need roads which are not now being dealt with. Then there will have to be a rush in order to put these roads into a position to do the work they are required to do. Many large schemes have been dropped in London, but traffic is increasing and there are particular points that must be dealt with in order to relieve the congestion that is so common in the City. I should like to ask what has been done in connection with the Dartford-Purfleet tunnel, and whether it has been definitely dropped or not. It would certainly relieve congestion to a very great extent, and, I am sure, if it could be put through, it would at least meet the requirements of a great linking proposal between two counties. It must not be lost sight of that where work is postponed and the line of route or the property marked out for demolition, whichever it may be, are made known to the public, there will be a tremendous lift in the value of this property. Where work has to be done, even though it is postponed, I think the whole of the property should be secured.
There is the question also of the Elephant and Castle scheme. Sanction was given to it by the House, and I 1446 understand that the London County Council is to do the work. That has now been postponed indefinitely, as also has the scheme dealing with Vauxhall Cross, which is one of the most dangerous and congested traffic points in the whole of London. Is it likely that any of this work will be carried on in the near future in connection with the County Council, because it cannot be done without the cooperation of both. I also want to ask what is being done in connection with the Forth road bridge and the Humber bridge. I understand that they are postponed, but I want to know whether it is only for a limited time or whether they have been definitely cancelled and that no further consideration will be given to them. We ought to know whether they are definitely cancelled or simply postponed awaiting the opportunity of financial assistance. I remember putting a question to the Minister on 10th February as to the number of schemes that it had been decided to curtail or postpone, and I was informed that something like 1,000 schemes had been postponed or cancelled which entailed a capital value of £30,000,000. Can the Minister give us a detailed statement as to the number of schemes which have been definitely postponed or cancelled, in order that we may understand the present position? There are something like 7,000 roads that are stated to be inadequate for the work they have to do, or unsafe. Is anything to be done with them or are they going to be postponed till the period of prosperity that the Government have promised comes along? Roads will be required to carry much heavier loads than they do now.
§ Mr. PARKINSON
Roads as well as bridges. There are thousands of bridges in the same category, and both, in my opinion, ought to be dealt with, either strengthened or rebuilt, in order that, when the much vaunted prosperity arrives, we shall be able to deal with it from a national point of view. Further, when we have heavy downfalls of rain, as we saw last week, there is a tremendous number of roads in the Severn, Avon and Upper Thames valleys which cannot be used by motor traffic, and something ought to be done. It may be said that it is drainage work. I do not know to 1447 whom it belongs, but people who have vehicles ought to be able to travel along the roads.
§ Mr. PARKINSON
Then we had better give him notice. I should like to ask whether the five years' programme has been dropped entirely, or whether they are going to carry on with the work envisaged during the last two years. We were told in last year's Debate that there was work to the value of £21,000,000 which would be carried out by the end of March, 1935, and schemes to the value of £9,000,000 were authorised for commencement or were in progress, and schemes to the value of another £9,500,000 had been approved in principle. More than 9,000 men were actually engaged upon those works. In view of the curtailment of the amount to be spent on these roads, and the cutting down of employment, I should like to ask it this is the right thing to do, in view of the present circumstances of the country? We have been told all about the financial crisis, but my opinion is that it is being carried much too far. We are leaving undone work which really ought to be done in the interests of the nation, and which later on we shall probably have to pay for very dearly.
At the end of May last year, the estimated total cost of the proposals was £27,500,000, works to the value of about £14,000,000 were in progress, while approval in principle had been given in respect of work to a further sum of £12,600,000. The number of men directly employed in August last year was 42,000 and the direct employment of one man finds employment for at least another, which would make directly and indirectly upwards of 80,000. I am satisfied in my own mind that this curtailment of work is going to be detrimental to the interests of the nation, and the Ministry ought to put up a stronger fight to obtain grants to carry on some of the work that is being held up, so that we may be ready for whatever may occur in the future, and we shall at least have the roads and men employed in making them so as to relieve one or other department of the State. Can the Minister hold out any hopes of the reinstatement of this work? 1448 Whether he does or does not, it will not alter my opinion that it ought to be done. I do not say that we should carry on with the full programme, but there ought to be a careful selection of the most necessary work, and it ought to be put into operation.
The Minister has mentioned the Severn Barrage. I should like to ask whether this work is to be dropped this year, because I see there is a reduction in the grant for it. I have been wondering whether, in view of the withdrawal of the money, the Government were determined not to proceed with anything but the preliminaries during the present year. What progress is being made by the Sub-Committee of the Economic Advisory Council in regard to the Severn Barrage? The Vote has been reduced by over £7,500, which, in itself, shows that they are not intending to do very much work this year. Is the work of the Council to be stopped? I know that the Minister understands that the late Minister of Transport was very keen on the inquiry and that he satisfied himself that it should go forward, and gave it all the help which could be given by an enthusiast in that connection. The inquiry was originally instituted on the authority of a Conservative Prime Minister, the present Lord President of the Council, by the Committee of Civil Research, many years ago. We of the Labour party are as keen now as we were before that the Work ought to proceed, and we ought to do everything possible in order to ensure the work being completed in the interests of the nation as early as possible.
I should also like to ask the Minister what progress has been made with regard to the national grid under the Central Electricity Board? Is it proceeding satisfactorily? It is very seldom that we hear mention of it in the House of Commons. It is a very interesting project, and ought to be given close attention. The work of the Board has been well conducted so far, and we are not complaining about the work which has been done. I think that everybody will agree that they have done very well indeed, but it must not be forgotten that the Central Electricity Board is a public corporation, and the way in which it has done the work has proved that public corporations are more, rather than less, efficient than ordinary private companies. I do not think that there will be 1449 a speaker in this Debate who will have fault to find with the work which is being done by the Central Electricity Board; at the same time, we think that the Minister ought to make a statement as to the progress of that work.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I think I am right in saying, that although the Minister of Transport is responsible in the House of Commons for matters connected with the Central Electricity Board, it is not possible on this Vote to criticise the work of the Board.
§ Mr. PARKINSON
I am not criticising their work, but asking for a further explanation of their activities.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
May I ask which Department has responsibility and is answerable in respect to questions connected with this matter? We have always understood that the Minister of Transport has a very great deal to do with it. I remember having travelled with him to some works in Sussex, and I thought that it was under his Department as far as Parliament was concerned.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The question is how far the hon. Gentleman's Department is responsible for the action of the Central Electricity Board, and there are certain actions on the part of the Board with regard to which the Minister is not responsible.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
May we ask him? My hon. Friend does not wish to discuss the work of the Electricity Commissioners but only to get a statement from the Minister as to the progress of the spread of electricity throughout the country.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Parkinson) raised this question, and I thought that it was only fair to warn him that there might be a limit to the reply which should be given.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
I should like to know exactly what the ruling is on this matter, and whether, Sir Dennis, you have considered it in detail. I am very well aware of the time when the Electricity Bill went through the House. The point was put that we should have control over the actions of the Central Electricity Board 1450 in that the Members appointed to it are appointed by the Minister of Transport and removable by him. Therefore, the Committee are entitled to obtain an account from the Minister of Transport as to what is being done by the Board, otherwise the matter is taken entirely out of the control of the House of Commons. While I agree that their Estimates are not submitted, and that we cannot have the same detailed control over the Board as over other Departments, I submit that the Committee are entitled to receive from the Minister of Transport an account of their policy, and to raise any questions of objection.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I do not think that what the hon. Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee) has said is inconsistent with what I have said.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The Minister, of course, knows his powers, but I wanted to warn the hon. Gentleman, and indeed the Committee generally, that there are limits to the extent to which the work of the Central Electricity Board can be discussed on this debate.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir VIVIAN HENDERSON
Is it not a fact that the work of the Electricity Commissioners is not covered in the Estimates of the Ministry of Transport, and that therefore it would not be in order to discuss their activities except on a Motion for the Adjournment?
§ Mr. PARKINSON
My questions were with a view to eliciting information. In former years, the question of electricity supply has been debated on the Ministry of Transport Vote. If I am wrong, of course, I accept your Ruling, Sir Dennis. I want to ask only two further questions on the matter. They are not in any way in the nature of criticism or of condemnation of the actions which have been taken. I wish to ask the Minister—if it is out of order, I am willing to accept your advice—if he is satisfied that the consolidation of generation being carried 1451 out by the Central Electricity Board is sufficient, and whether national consolidation of the distribution side of the industry should not now be considered. My next question is whether he would be prepared to encourage the vigorous development of the sale of electricity under the low tension order for the development of industry and for the supply of electricity in the homes of the people? Those are the only points I desired to raise on electricity. I am sorry if I have in any way gone beyond the limits of debate, but I am as sure as I am standing at this Box that in former years the question has been debated on the Ministry of Transport Vote.
I am sure that there can be no objection to my asking a few questions with respect to the Road Traffic Act. The Labour party desire that justice shall be done to the little man, the big man, the corporations and the cities. We believe that the traffic commissioners appointed by the late Labour Minister have done their work in most difficult circumstances in a manner which is to be commended. I do not think that we can find very much fault with them. Every hon. Member in the Committee to-day who was in the House when the question of the appointment of commissioners was debated will remember that the late Minister of Transport was very definite in having his own way with regard to the appointment of suitable people, men of character and ability, to carry on this work. The Committee will agree that there should be no political appointments or anything of that kind, and that the best men it is possible to find should be given this work to do. I do not think that there is very much complaint to find in that direction.
We, have, however, at the moment a little doubt that the Minister is weakening in regard to some points in connection with the work of the commissioners. The commissioners ought not to be interfered with, but we have doubts that there is a kind of interference with their work or their impartial efforts. Whether our doubts can be justified definitely or not, I do not know, but there is a spirit abroad that the Minister is giving a little latitude to certain Members of the House in regard to some of the questions which are being brought before the commissioners in the interest of 1452 certain owners of cars, and that some of the lines are receiving a little preferential treatment. If they are receiving preferential treatment, or if anything is being done to interfere with the commissioners in granting licences, it ought to be stopped. The Minister should regard himself and his position as being above political interference and should give whole-hearted support to the commissioners in the very difficult task which they have to perform. It is no sinecure to be a traffic commissioner. It is a very hard job. There are so many conflicting interests to be served. If there is any weakness showing, it ought to be firmly eradicated, and that immediately. The successful administration of the Act depends upon fairness, consideration and firmness, qualities which were being firmly upheld by the Labour Government, and I hope that the Minister of Transport in this matter will show his impartiality, which I know he can do and is willing to do, in order that this service shall not be interfered with or contaminated in any way.
§ Mr. PYBUS
As regards the question of impartiality regarding my administration of the Road Traffic Act, the outstanding point is that when criticisms have made they have come from all sides and all interests. Therefore, I think it is fair to assume that when interests large and small, every kind of interest, occasionally feel that you have not administered the Act with fairness to them, that must be some test of one's impartiality.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
On a point of Order. The hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Parkinson) is making all kinds of vague charges. If he has any specific case on which he is basing these vague charges, he ought to table his case and then we could consider it. It is improper to make charges in a vague way.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I do not think the hon. Member was guilty of any breach of order. This is the proper occasion on which the Minister of Transport is present to answer criticisms in regard to his conduct.
§ Mr. PARKINSON
I can assure you, Sir Dennis, the Committee and the 1453 Minister that I have no desire to put the Minister on the penitent form, and I have much less a desire to take advice from the hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten). If one wanted an expert in insinuation, I think he is the best man in the House. We are faced with the difficult problem of motor congestion in central London, and the Minister has appointed a committee to help him with this work. Is it necessary to appoint all these committees? Is it absolutely essential that whenever work has to be done by a Minister that he should hand it over to a committee? This particular committee has been appointed, with Lord Amulree as chairman. I should have thought that that work would have come within the sphere of the Department without the necessity of calling in an outside committee. The Minister would then have been able to give more immediate advice and to take more direct responsibility in connection with the work. These committees remove the responsibility from Ministers. I do not agree that a Minister of any Department should run away from his work, if it is something that devolves upon him, by appointing committees. Of course, it is one of the things that the Prime Minister is very fond of doing.
I should like to refer to Part V of the Road Traffic Act. Is the Minister lending encouragement to the municipalities in extending their services outside their areas or co-operating and working along with the motor companies in order to give an efficient service, not to remove the smaller men from the road but to prevent them from butting in and overcrowding the roads with omnibuses? We want to see fair play between the small men and the large men, and between the corporations and the private interests. We recognise that it will take a long time to do this, before it is efficient and satisfactory. Is the Minister giving that consideration to the co-ordination and development of road services which ought to be given? Such co-ordination and development ought to be encouraged in order that we may get rid of many of the difficult problems that face us. The next point with which I should like to deal is the road-rail inquiry. This is a matter of great magnitude which will have to be settled sooner or later, and the sooner 1454 the better. It is so large a project that it will take a considerable time before it can be completed. In this case also there has been a committee appointed, with Sir Arthur Salter as chairman. The appointment of Sir Arthur as chairman is a very good one. His outstanding ability eminently fits him for the position and I am sure that his appointment will be welcomed by every Member of this House. Why has the Minister definitely excluded from this committee representatives of the public authorities and organised labour? Both these bodies have a right to be consulted in matters of this kind.
The Committee has been set up without any regard to these two interests. I would ask the Minister to give further consideration to this matter. He has said that everyone will have an opportunity of laying their case before the Committee. They may have that opportunity, but in these two cases their interests are so large that they ought to be protected and they ought to have representatives on the committee. The appointment of committees seems to be infectious and every Department seems to have contracted the disease. It may have started with the Prime Minister. Nearly every head of a Department in the present Government is going along with a number of Committees. The Government twitted us that when we were in office we appointed a number of committees, but they are going to be a record-breaking Government in this direction. [Interruption.] We may have lost the championship belt, but we shall regain it sooner or later. The appointment of so many committees drives one to wonder whether by the appointment of committee it is a case of the least line of resistance being taken by a Minister in order to avoid something that ought to be done in his own Department, or it may be that it is a backstair method of getting over a difficulty.
There is a further point in regard to the Road Traffic Act, namely, the hours of working, to which I would draw attention. Section 19 lays down the hours that shall be worked by the people who are in charge of the omnibuses. I am informed that very flagrant breaches of this part of the Act are taking place, not merely in one part of the country but ranging from north to south and from 1455 east to west. I am told there are flagrant breaches of working hours in connection with a large number of motor services. In many cases there have been prosecutions, but a prosecution, unless it carries with it a heavy penalty, does not count, because the cost of the prosecution is recovered immediately by continuing in the same manner. I have in my possession particulars of a large number of cases, which the Minister may have if he desires, showing that the law is being flagrantly thrown to the winds, where there is not the supervision which is necessary. These cases ought to be dealt with as early as possible.
There is also the question of dangerous driving. The Minister mentioned that matter in connection with the accidents that are occurring all over the country. I wonder whether some collaboration could take place between the Minister of Transport and the Home Secretary with a view to suggesting to benches of magistrates that where a case of dangerous driving is proved, the punishment should be heavy. There is no doubt that a lot of this kind of thing is going on. People are wilfully and wastefully running their cars here, there and everywhere, and when a case is proved they get off with a small fine or the cancellation of their licence for a short period. The penalties should be increased, and the Home Office in conjunction with the Ministry of Transport, should notify magistrates that these accidents are growing at an alarming rate. A great number of pedestrians are damaged in these accidents. In this connection it must be remembered that there are a large number of roads without any parapet or footpath. When the Minister of Transport is sanctioning schemes for the widening of roads or giving grants for road improvements, I hope he will pay some attention to this matter. There should be a parapet to every road; it is essential in the safety of pedestrians.
I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman has power to order the removal of signs on the roadside? Many of them are too glaring, and seem to have been put up without the authority of anyone. They attract the notice of drivers and may easily lead to accidents. The glaring advertisements which are disfiguring the 1456 countryside are also a possible danger and should be removed. There is no doubt that a tremendous number of people are killed and injured in these road accidents, and there is a large number of accidents which are not reported. I do not know what steps the Minister proposes to take, but something ought to be done to insure the lives of our people. I do not say that unlimited speed has anything to do with it. Last year, after the operation of the Traffic Act, the number of accidents was considerably less, but there seems to have been a renewal of these accidents, whether it is because of careless driving, or whether pedestrians are getting a little more brave and bold in their attempts to cross the road, or whether it is dangerous driving in narrow roads, I do not know, but every year 100 pedestrians are killed and over 2,500 injured by motor vehicles mounting footwalks. It is evident that there is carelessness on someone's part.
I want to say a word in connection with the people who are injured and taken to hospitals. It is becoming a burning cry from every hospital in the country. Injured people are taken in sometimes for a few days, sometimes for weeks and sometimes for months, but the hospitals get no remuneration for the expense to which they are put. That is a matter which the Minister should consider. Is it possible to have a kind of lifeguard in front of omnibuses which run in congested areas which would pick up the person who was hit and not run over him? I do not know whether it is possible or not, but I think the Minister should do all he can to lessen the abnormal rate of these accidents, and that he should make his Department as efficient as possible by taking a somewhat stronger line of action than he has probably done in the past. The hon. Gentleman has great powers, and I hope he will exercise them in the interests of national safety and make the Traffic Act a really effective Measure. Where he finds inefficient roads and bridges, I hope that he will proceed with the work of restoring them rather than postpone it, because inefficient roads and bridges result in a number of calamities. Next year when we debate this Vote again I hope we shall be satisfied with the progress that has been made, and that the Ministry of Transport will have more than justified itself.
§ Major GLYN
The Committee has heard with great interest the speech of the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Parkinson), who was for a time Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport. This is the first occasion on which the present Minister has presented the Estimates for his Department, and I should like to congratulate him on his appointment to the office. He had a difficult man to follow. Many of us who had associations with the late Minister of Transport, while not agreeing with some of his political views, could not but admire the admirable and efficient manner in which he conducted Bills through this House. The hon. Member for Wigan has suggested that what omnibus drivers call fool-catchers should be placed in front of omnibuses. I hope the Minister will be very careful before introducing any such regulation, because anything in front of an omnibus adds to the difficulties of the driver. Yon want to have the front wheels free, and every London omnibus is provided with a sweeper, so that if a man is knocked down the rear wheels do not pass over him. Experiments made by the London General Omnibus Company have been most satisfactory, and it would be rather dangerous to put anything in front of the front wheels. They are easily movable, and it is possible to dodge an object with the front wheels. Drivers do not desire anything in front of the omnibus.
In regard to sidewalks and footpaths, it is usually believed that you are safe on a footpath. It is one of the greatest delusions of modern life. Local authorities will not make the footpath as smooth as the road, and women who are pushing a perambulator generally leave the footpath entirely empty and proceed, if there are two of them, to occupy as much of the road as a motor ear. It is no use spending money on sidewalks unless they are in such a condition that women will walk upon them. They should be in such a condition as to encourage people to walk on them, and not in the road. That is a very difficult job for the Minister of Transport. It seems to me that it is more a question for the Minister of Health when schemes are being discussed in regard to the building of houses and town planning. I want to draw the attention of the Committee to the difficult position in which many parts of England are placed by a cessation of work on 1458 roads. I agree that it is impossible to continue expenditure on roads at the rate at which it has been going on, but there are other schemes which I hope His Majesty's Government will consider, which would provide a great deal of employment in the coming autumn and winter. They are schemes of a productive nature and non-competitive with any other organisation.
I refer to the question of canals, the Cinderella of transport. The efficiency of transport is measured by its reliability and cheapness. Those are the two essentials of transport to-day. Sometimes those of us who are associated with other means of transportation, railways and so on, are apt to forget that if it is possible to transport goods by water we can eliminate all friction and all wear and tear, and that just as the internal combustion engine revolutionised traffic on the roads, so it is going to revolutionise traffic on the canals. The railway companies are often accused of having behaved very badly to the canals. At the time when the railways were started they had to compensate the canals at enormous prices, and to this day various railway companies have to make up the dividends of various canal companies. That is a most ridiculous position. The railway companies were forced to take over the canals and to spend every year well over £1,000,000 in ordinary maintenance. I have here the figures for the traffic which moved by private canal and by railway-owned canal in 1922. It amounted in the one case to just under 2,000,000 tons, and other than railway-owned traffic to something like 13,000,000 tons. In the last figures available, those for 1930, it is seen that the traffic has fallen, railway canals about 1,693,000, whereas other than railway-owned 11,500,000 tons. There is a grand total of 30,250,000 tons at present being moved by water.
I wish to appeal to the Minister. I believe that the time has come when we ought to improve the depth of the canals. I do not agree with the Royal Commission's report, which said that we ought to broaden the canals. That report is a very able document, but it was composed in the spacious days when we had not realised the value of the pound or what a million of money meant. It is utterly impossible to carry out the recommendations of the Royal Commission. For 1459 instance, in many congested areas factories are built flush with the banks of the canal, and in such cases to talk about widening the canal is utterly unpractical, because it would be necessary to compensate the owners and move back the factory buildings. But if we dredge the canals to the proper depth of 4 feet 6 inches, and use concrete and steel, as has been done in the reconstruction of the Grand Union Canal, it would be possible to employ barges with high-pressure internal-combustion engines, and these barges could convey goods at a cost per ton-mile infinitely less that that at which goods can be conveyed by road or rail. The actual figures are, for a return load per ton-mile, 49 of a penny. That is infinitely the cheapest form of transportation in existence in the world. The tonnage at present being conveyed in a pair of boats on the Grand Union Canal is only 60 tons. That is because in certain parts of the country the linking canals are not sufficiently dredged. Naturally the limit of tonnage conveyed is governed by the minimum depth of the system through which the boat passes.
This is a matter with which this year we can do something in this House. There are very few occasions when Members of Parliament can see the results of their work. That is reserved to local authorities. But occasionally there are things which we can do, and I would ask the Minister, not to set up another committee or another Soviet, but to take steps to inquire how we could make an inland waterway corporation. I certainly do not want to see it in the hands of the Government and managed by Government control, but I suggest something on the lines of the 1921 Railway Act. We have ample evidence that the new Grand Union Canal, which absorbed, in 1929, several constituent canal companies, has been able to attract from the public over £1,000,000 of money in public subscriptions, without coming to the Government for a penny. There is evidence that factories which are being erected are deliberately choosing sites along a waterway.
I believe it is absolutely essential, in the interests of railway shareholders and of British traders, that there shall be brought about an amalgamation of railway-owned canals and privately-owned 1460 canals. It would mean the employment of a large number of people in cementing the sides and bottoms of the canals. Unless the sides and bottoms were concreted, if internal combustion engines were used on the barges, the suction of the screw would bring down the banks and that would add to maintenance costs. The actual cost of such work to the Grand Union Canal, as disclosed by the Chairman in his annual speech, is something over £3 per yard. This work would mean the employment of an enormous number of people, spread throughout the country. It would lead to the benefit of the railways by eliminating from the track a great deal of traffic which could perfectly well be conveyed by water. Some of us must get into our minds that we ought to cease calling ourselves railway companies. We ought to call ourselves transport companies. I very much welcome what the Minister has done in setting up a committee to bring road and rail interests together. There ought to be no distinction between the two things; both forms of transport should be used for the benefit of the public and the trader. The only things that matter are efficiency, reliability and economy in operation.
It is absolutely essential that road, water and rail interests shall work together, not to despoil each other or to increase the amount paid by the ratepayer, but by simple and ordinary common-sense methods to use the three methods of transport for the benefit of the public. That is not being done today. It is a great misfortune that water transport has been left out so long. One man said to me in this House the other day, "I cannot understand your being interested in canals. Look how slow they are." If one wants to get a cargo of bricks to London on a Wednesday, it does not matter in the least when that cargo starts, provided it gets to London on Wednesday. The bricks could be made three or four days earlier and put on the barges so that they arrive in London in time. Furthermore, tremendous progress has been made with containers, and experiments are now being made with floating containers which can be raised with ramps.
I put this proposal to the Committee, and I hope it will have the consideration of the Minister. Government Depart- 1461 ments are slow sometimes, and railway companies are certainly slow, not in their traffic, but in their methods. Some of us who are very keen about this subject believe and know that those responsible, the executive officers of the railways, are most anxious to see this scheme carried out, but it will need the sympathetic aid of the Minister, and it will need something more, namely, the co-operation of privately-owned canals in order to bring the whole thing into one comprehensive scheme. If this is done, I firmly believe we shall see a large number of men employed in the improvement of the transport service of the country, and something done to help in the recovery which we all hope to see in trade in the near future.
§ Mr. LLEWELLYN-JONES
I wish to ask the Minister one or two questions on the administration of the Road Traffic Act. Does he propose in the near future to consolidate all the regulations, to issue a consolidated code of all the regulations under the Road Traffic Act? There is now a very large body of these regulations. They are not merely regulations which members of the legal profession have to be acquainted with, but they are regulations which concern a very large number of other persons. It may perhaps be difficult to consolidate these regulations at the present time, but I am certain that it would be of enormous benefit if it could be done at an early date. The second point which I wish to put to the Minister is as to what progress has been made by the Committee which is dealing with traffic signs. The hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Parkinson) has pointed out that there exists a great many traffic signs of various kinds all over the country, causing great confusion to motorists. The sooner action is taken under the pertinent Section of the Act the better for the public. Some of the regulations which are contemplated under that Section should be brought into operation in the interests of safety.
The hon. Member also referred to the part of the Act which deals with compulsory insurance. We have only had a comparatively short experience of the working of that part of the Act, but I am rather apprehensive in regard to it. The Act provides for complete third party insurances as far as personal injury is concerned, but I am far from satisfied that all the policies which are now issued 1462 comply with the requirements of the Act. It may surprise many hon. Members to know that on the 27th October last quite a number of us, it may be inadvertently, were committing a breach of that part of the Act. I took out my own policy as a comprehensive policy for all purposes, but I was surprised on looking into it to find that it was very doubtful whether that policy covered the user of my car for taking electors to the poll. I also discovered that the case was the same with a large percentage of my friends in the constituency who were prepared to lend me cars. The only thing which I could do, and which I was bound to do in the interests of myself and my friends who were lending me cars, was to go to the insurance company and ask them to cover the risk in respect of every car used on election day. Probably most hon. Members took the same course, but I am satisfied that if we look into our policies we shall find that a car may very occasionally be used for some purpose which is not covered by the policy and that we are, so to speak, breakers of the law and liable to penalties in that respect.
I should like now to deal with the question of safety on the roads. This week has been, not merely in the House of Commons, but in the country, a "safety first" week. On Tuesday last a great deal of the Debate on the Estimates for the Mines Department dealt with the question of safety in the mines, and very few Members who took part in that Debate did not refer to that aspect of mining. The perils in the mines are perils to a certain class of the community, and it is satisfactory to think that those perils are being greatly reduced, but here we are dealing with perils which every person in this Committee to-day, and every citizen of this country, young and old, has to face. As the Minister has said, the present condition of affairs is a tragedy, and it is a tragedy not only to the persons who are actually killed and injured, but to others, because deaths or accidents affect many people indirectly. In this connection I have had some experience probably not shared by other Members of this Committee. During the last quarter of a century I have held about 350 inquiries into fatal accidents on the road. I must say that in a very large proportion of these eases it is extremely difficult to 1463 say that the driver of the vehicle concerned has been guilty of gross or culpable negligence. We must remember that very few inquiries have to be conducted with such care or with such detailed investigation, as inquiries into road fatalities, because, for years, the coroners court has been used for the preliminary stages in the consideration of questions of civil liability and often has the assistance of counsel on both sides.
After all these investigations, I have been driven to the conclusion that you do not find culpable negligence or recklessness on the part of drivers in the vast majority of these eases. I doubt whether, in a large number of these cases, it would be possible even to prosecute the driver for careless driving. In a great many cases these accidents arise from pure errors of judgment. It is nearly always a matter, not of a minute, but of seconds. The driver of a car has to decide perhaps in a second what course he is going to take. But I believe that there are certain factors in a great many accidents, fatal and otherwise, which might be dealt with if the highest degree of care were always used by drivers. have no doubt, whatever other hon. Members may say, that speed is a factor in connection with accidents on the road. The hon. Member for Wigan referred to the fact that accidents have not increased since the passing of the Road Traffic Act, 1930.
§ Mr. PARKINSON
I referred to the year following the application of the Act, when they were down—last year.
§ Mr. LLEWELLYN-JONES
I think everyone realises that although in the earlier years of motoring there were many prosecutions for exceeding the speed limit, yet for nearly 20 years now there has been practically no speed limit in operation in this country. That was one of the great points which was made by the Minister of Transport in this House and in Committee in advocating the abolition of the speed limit, that it had absolutely gone, so far as the practice of motorists was concerned. There is another factor. Very frequently the owner or driver of a car has not got his brakes acting as they should do. Occasionally also there are other slight defects in the car, such as the absence of a wiper 1464 on the front screen for use during rain, that have on more than one occasion resulted in accidents, and the neglect of small precautions such as those is a point for consideration by the driver of the car.
I am rather disposed to think also that in many cases road authorities are responsible, owing to the condition of the roads, where you find the centre of the road carefully macadamised and treated with tar and perhaps on the side of the road, where one car in passing another has to traverse, due care has not been taken to see that it is in proper order. Accidents do not happen at those bends which everyone regards as dangerous. It may sound paradoxical, but very often what are considered the most dangerous parts of the road are the safest, for the reason that everyone exercises a greater amount of care there, and I am not sure whether, in the construction of some our by-pass roads and new roads, due care has been taken by local authorities or by the Ministry of Transport, which sanctions these schemes, to see that in doing away with what has been regarded as a dangerous corner something even more dangerous to the public is not placed there.
The Minister has power under the Road Traffic Act to investigate accidents and to hold inquiries, and I would make a suggestion which might be fruitful in this connection. The Minister might take some section of the country or a certain road, say, the road from London to Brighton or the road from London to Portsmouth, and make an investigation as to all the accidents of a serious character on that road over a certain period. I was interested a few months ago to read in a French periodical two or three articles on the accidents which had taken place on the road from Paris to Deauville, one of the roads in France over which there is a very large amount of traffic. All the factors connected with those accidents were as far as possible analysed in that inquiry—the day of the week, the time of day, the character of the vehicle, and so on—and it struck me that there was an enormous amount of valuable information contained in that report. A similar inquiry with regard to one of the roads in this country where there is a large number of accidents would, I am sure, be of great value.
1465 Reference has been made to the position of the pedestrian, and the Home Secretary, speaking yesterday at the Royal Automobile Club, used these words:It was not always a question of motor drivers. Pedestrians had been disgracefully careless.I think that is quite right, but to-day it is the adult who is careless. There was a time when the motorists were more afraid of children than of anyone else, but in some way or other the children have learned more caution than their elders, and there are comparatively few accidents to children to-day. What have we done for the pedestrian to ensure his safety? Section 58 of the Road Traffic Act was adopted clearly with a view to ensuring that the pedestrian should be as safe as possible, but I want to ask the Minister what has been done to see that that Section is being put into operation all through the country. These are the words of the Section:It is hereby declared to be the duty of the highway authority to provide, wherever they shall deem it necessary or desirable, for the safety or accommodation of foot passengers proper and sufficient footpaths by the side of roads under their control.Of course, that is merely an expression of opinion, saying what is the duty of the local authority, but are the local authorities performing this duty? In most cases magnificent roads are to be found, and yet in the case even of many roads which have been constructed within the past few years, either there is no footpath at all, or it is such that the pedestrian is practically forced to walk on the surface of the road. I feel certain that the Minister might do a great deal to encourage, not merely the laying down of footpaths, but the keeping of old footpaths as they should ho kept. The local authorities also, in the widening of roads, in case after case have actually taken the grass verge and brought it into the macadamised portion of the road, and I trust that the Minister will take some steps in this connection.
I should like to know from the Minister whether he is satisfied that the Highway Code is receiving the publicity that it ought to receive. If every motorist and every pedestrian were to read and observe the regulations in the Highway Code, I am certain that the toll of 1466 accidents on our roads would be very largely reduced. It is a short code, it is clear, and it contains recommendations and rules which, if observed, would ensure the safety of all the users of the roads. I am not satisfied that even every person who holds a driving licence has had a copy of the code. It means, I know, a certain amount of expense. It is being sold at ½d. or 1d. per copy, but something worse might be done than to hand to every person who takes out a driving licence for the first time, whether he asks for it or not, a copy of the Highway Code, and to urge him to see that the rules in it are observed.
§ Mr. LLEWELLYN-JONES
Another point to which I wish to refer deals partially with the question of safety on the roads but it also deals with amenities of the countryside. It is the extent to which the Minister has found it necessary or desirable to avail himself of the provisions of Section 46 of the Road Traffic Act, that is, the power to restrict the use of vehicles on specified roads. I appreciate that the Minister cannot, on his own motion, take action under this Section, but he has power to restrict the use of vehicles on specified roads on the application of the local authorities after public inquiry, if that is thought fit. Large numbers of motor omnibuses and other wide motor vehicles travel over narrow roads which were never intended for traffic of that kind. A few months ago I was on the border of Merionethshire and Monmouthshire when I saw a fleet of three or four motor omnibuses going along a road, and it was impossible for any other vehicle to go along it as well. These omnibuses were not only hampering the ordinary traffic, but were a danger to other users of the road. If applications are not being made by the local authorities to the Minister, I trust that he will do something himself with a view to pointing out to the highway authorities the powers that he possesses under the Act in this connection.
One of the greatest nuisances from which the countryside has to suffer, particularly on Saturdays and Sundays, is the large number of motor cyclists who go for reliability trials. I appreciate that it is essential that reliability trials should be held for motor vehicles of 1467 various kinds, but the beautiful countryside, the lanes and the hills, are not the proper place for these trials. You find on Sunday afternoons in remote parts of North Wales, even near churches and other places of worship, 100 or 150 motor cycles passing through small villages and up country lanes, causing a nuisance and a certain amount of risk to the inhabitants. I am not quite certain whether it is competent for the Minister, on representation from the local authority under the terms of this Section, to make an order prohibiting such traffic, but I trust that he will find means to do so. Apart from that, I do not know whether it is legal for organisers of these trials to spread on the roads at different points coloured matter to indicate the routes. A few minutes ago the Assistant-Post-master-General was here, and I wanted to call his attention to the fact that the organisers of these trials very often deface the telegraph and telephone poles to indicate the direction of the trials. I trust that the Minister in conjunction, so far as that is concerned with the Postmaster-General will do something to discourage trials of this character. I am certain if he does, his action will be greatly approved in the rural parts, not only of my constituency, but of all parts of the country.
I have dealt mainly with the question of safety on the roads. It is not possible to exaggerate the importance of this aspect. Through the Press and various other ways an appeal is being made to motorists to drive with care and caution, and to respect the other users of the roads. When the speed limit was statutorially abolished two years ago, more than one hon. Member said that unless motorists were prepared to drive carefully after the limit had been taken away, there would ere long arise a great outcry for the restoration of the limit. If, as the result of an outcry of that kind the speed limit is restored, I am sure that the public will insist upon it being observed. I trust that as a result of this Debate the Minister may be able to do something to safeguard the interests of the public who use the roads.
§ Mr. TINKER
I always listen carefully to the hon. Member for Flint (Mr. Llewellyn-Jones) when he speaks on this matter, for he speaks with authority, and 1468 his information is always very useful. His position as coroner brings him into touch with many road accidents, and one can appreciate the difficulty with which he is faced in deciding who is to blame. Magistrates have a similar difficulty, for the motorist who is brought before them always seems to be a man who has tried to do his best, and they are diffident in convicting a motorist who does not seem to have had any intention of doing harm. There is one point in which I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. He blames the pedestrian too much.
§ Mr. LLEWELLYN-JONES
I do not think that I blamed the pedestrians; I blamed local authorities for placing pedestrians in a position in which they ought not be placed.
§ Mr. TINKER
I withdraw that remark, but I was under the impression that the hon. Gentleman was hard on the pedestrian. Like the Lord Chancellor, I am a pedestrian. When I ride in a motor car occasionally I seem to want to blame the pedestrian who is trying to cross the road, but when I am walking and want to cross the road I blame the motor car for rushing on. There are thus two points of view in this matter, and, human nature being what it is, prejudice enters largely into it. Life is always important, and the pedestrian will not run into danger if he can avoid it any more than will the motorist. The purpose of this Debate is to appeal to commonsense people to realise the difficulties on both sides.
The Minister of Transport has dealt with the Vote with commendable brevity, and has left hon. Members to bring up other points. The point upon which I want to touch is the Severn Barrage. In the Estimates there is an item for only £300 as against £7,950 last year. When the question of trying to utilise the barrage for power purposes was first brought before the House it struck one's imagination as a great thing. Whether it would prove of utility was another matter. I would like the Minister to go fully into the matter and let us know the position. When the Minister spoke of the cutting down of the grants for roads and bridges I was sorry to hear the many shouts of approval from his hon. Friends behind him. I question whether it is a wise economy. Roads and bridges require the 1469 greatest possible attention, if only for the purpose of ensuring the safety of people on the roads. To cut down the grants by over £30,000,000—and when the local authorities' payments are included the total will be over £40,000,000—means a reduction by a big sum in a way with which I cannot altogether agree.
Another point that I wish to bring to the Minister's notice is in relation to road accidents and consequent grants to hospitals in certain circumstances. I have had figures given to me in regard to the treatment of injured people, and the cost last year is put at more than £300,000. Hospitals complain that they are not getting anything like what they think is a fair return. I have had a letter from a hospital in my constituency. Hon. Members will remember that last night the President of the Board of Trade stated that the duty of a Member of Parliament was to deal with matters from his own constituency. I had this letter from my constituency this morning. I put a question to the Minister of Transport a few days ago, asking him if he would give me information on this matter. I do not object to the answer he gave me that it was difficult to get the information, but I would now like to impress upon him that it is necessary that something should be done about it. The constituency that I represent is one with an arterial road passing through it, upon which people are occasionally injured by motorists. Humane treatment of these cases leads to their being taken into the hospital from which I have secured these figures. The hospital is not a large one. Last year it cost that institution £694 to deal with accidents caused by motorists.
When the Road Traffic Bill was going through the House of Commons, I was one who, with other hon. Members, pleaded that something should be done to enable hospitals to recover their expenses in. treating accident cases. I thought we had gone a long way towards a solution, but this letter states that the hospital has just received £100, or about one-seventh of the total cost of dealing with the accidents. I am wondering if the Minister of Transport is doing anything to strengthen the Act in this particular. This matter is important, not only in my constituency, but all over the country. I believe that not more than one-tenth is 1470 recovered by the hospitals, which we know are kept up by voluntary contributions, and people in the localities who have to provide the money arc feeling that they have a grievance in having to meet this cost. A further point I wish to to impress upon the Minister, emphasizing what has has been said by several other hon, Members, is that footpaths ought to receive greater attention. I am a pedestrian, and I know how valuable footpaths are if they are in good order. I do not know whether the Minister of Transport will be able to do anything, but it is well from time to time that we should bring to the notice of Ministers things that are uppermost in our minds, in the hope that something will be done.
§ 1.0 p.m.
§ Mr. MICHAEL BEAUMONT
I wish to start my remarks by congratulating the Minister on the figures of economy which he has given us this morning. I want to ask him to give us an encore next year. The figures of economy are admirable, but I submit that they are still not high enough. I disagree entirely with an hon. Member opposite, who said that these cuts in the expenditure upon roads and bridges are a false economy. It is in every way an admirable economy. We have boasted in the past about our having the best roads, certainly in Europe, if not in the world. To a certain extent that boast has been true, but I submit that we have better roads than are necessary, and certainly a higher standard of roads than our financial position justifies. Much has been said of the toll of the roads. A contributory cause of the toll of the roads is, without any question, the great racing tracks that have been built at the public expense, enabling people to race at 40, 50 or 60 miles an hour all over the country. Much has been said, too, of the evil position into which the railway companies have passed, owing to the competition of road transport. One of the contributory causes of that is that the railways have to pay upkeep, after the laying down of their permanent way, while the motorist has his permanent way, the roadway, kept up for him by the State.
§ Mr. BEAUMONT
The hon. Member says he has not. I do not know how many motor-car owners there are in this 1471 country, but I should think they were about 2 per cent. of the whole of the population. The other 98 per cent. assists in paying for the roadways while the motorist pays a very small proportion. That is a point that it is well should be borne in mind. Every taxpayer and ratepayer, whether owning a motor-car or travelling in a motor car, has to pay a quota to the upkeep of the roads, but has not to pay for the upkeep of the railways. I cannot conceive that a racing track is in fact a good road. I have a particular case near my own home where cross-roads were made. The hedges of the contributory roads were cut down, and a large open space was made and fences and signs were put up. To the best of my knowledge—and I lived there for 12 years before the alteration was made—there had never been an accident at those cross-roads. Within nine months of that improvement, for which the public has paid, there were at that place six accidents, of which four were fatal. I submit that that appears to support the point made by another hon. Member, that some of the so-called improvements, besides being extravagant, are positively dangerous.
I appreciate the point of view of hon. Members opposite, that they do not believe in economy. They have never believed in it, and they acted on that principle for two years and very nearly broke the country. Their point of view is perfectly understandable, but I think that it is utterly wrong. I appeal to hon. Members on this side, when they are talking as they do in their constituencies on the Finance Bill and the urgent need for economy and reduction of expenditure, to face up to what it means. When we get a Vote like the one we are now discussing, we have not to find good reasons why special expenditure for our own particular areas should be sanctioned, but to realise that all economy means doing without something which we very much like and that we have got to face a sacrifice that we will not enjoy. I urge on all hon. Members, and upon the Minister of Transport, that the policy of economy must be pushed still further. I do not hold for one moment that this expenditure on roads and bridges is of the slightest use to secure work for the unemployed. Listen to the figures that the Minister gave us this morning. We 1472 have spent £40,000,000 less by the reduction of works and 17,000 fewer men are employed.
I submit that if that £40,000,000 is allowed to go back into industry by the remission of taxation, it will find employment for a great many more men than the 17,000 who have been put out of employment. I well remember that the late Minister of Transport forced upon the local authority to which I belong a scheme on which £50,000 was expended and which found employment for 100 men. To my mind, that is not a sensible way of dealing with the unemployment problem. As was said in another connection yesterday, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. From the minute the five-year plan referred to by the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Parkinson) started the unemployment figures began to go up, and the minute it stopped they ceased to go up. One may or may not care to relate those facts, but nevertheless they are interesting, and they bear consideration.
Having paid that tribute to the economies which have been made, and which I hope will be made in the future, I would ask the Minister to bear economy in mind when dealing with local authorities. I was delighted to hear, just before I came here this morning, that a colleague of his in the Government, who has a very narrow road by his house which he has been trying for years to get widened, has heard that the widening is to be postponed by the county council as the Ministry of Transport had turned the scheme down. I hope the Minister will pursue that policy, but, unfortunately, that is not the policy which is always adopted by his Department. A case occurred during the term of office of the late Minister of Transport to which I wish to call attention. The local authority of which I am a member was asked, in fact almost compelled, to embark on work on the London-Oxford and London-Holyhead roads. They did not want to undertake those works, regarding them as extravagant, unnecessary and expensive, and I was a member of a deputation which waited upon the late Minister to discuss the matter. Finally, we were bribed to go on with those works by an 80 per cent. grant.
When the change of Government came and the Economy Act was passed the Minister had the right to abandon those 1473 commitments. I am not complaining for one moment that his commitments in regard to the 80 per cent. grant were not carried out; if he had rejected them altogether I should have given him my support, and if more money from the rates had been necessary to finish off the work then done I should have paid my quota with such cheerfulness as my bankers would have permitted. What I complain of is that he has not cut off the grant but tacked on to it a condition that the local authority shall spend more money on a scheme which has nothing to do with the roads, namely, shall assume the liability or a portion of the liability for compensation for a western area plan. It may be argued that the London—Oxford road is somewhat, if remotely, connected with the western area, but the London—Holyhead road does not come within 30 miles of it, and could not have anything to do with it. It may be a good thing or a bad thing that that money should be spent by the local authority, but I submit that it was an unsound policy to make grants to those roads conditional on an expenditure which has nothing to do with them. I very much want the Minister to give attention to this matter, but I must apologise in advance for the fact that I shall not be here to hear his reply. Nothing but a very important engagement would take me away, but I know he will appreciate the importance of it when I tell him that I am going down to try to get the local authorities to refuse the conditions and to leave the thing in the air if he does not give us the money. I know he will appreciate my point that a matter so intimately connected with the work of his Department must claim my attention even in preference to hearing his reply to my remarks.
There were one or two other points raised in the Debate on which I wish to touch. One is the operation of the Road Traffic Act and the length of time it takes to settle cases and to hear appeals. I have here a list, collected haphazard, of cases which strike me as particularly, shall I say, unfortunate. In the case of services between London and Windsor appeals were registered on 11th December and 29th February, and nothing has been heard of them, though it is now May. In the case of an Aylesbury to London service, an appeal was registered 1474 on 11th December and nothing has been heard of it. In the case of a service between Windsor and Aylesbury an appeal was lodged on 21st December and nothing has been heard of it. All this time the people who live in those areas have to go without services which they need. I know that in one of those cases delay arose because the service was turned down owing to an illegality on the part of the contesting company. The Minister of Transport felt that they had been flying in the face of the Traffic Commissioners and defying the law; anyhow, they could not at that time grant them their licence. That is all very well. The law must be upheld, and the dignity of the Traffic Commissioners must be maintained, but the vital question is the needs of the people who live in the area. I quite appreciate the point that at the outset of the operation of this Act the number of appeals places an intolerable burden on the machinery and that the position will be eased as things straighten out, but I ask the Minister to use every means in his power to hasten the hearing of these cases, particularly when there is no service plying, and let these people have the omnibus services they need.
I wish to add my appeal to the remarks made by the hon. Member for Wigan and the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) regarding the burden which road accidents throw upon our hospitals. I have considered the matter very carefully, but I do not know what solution to suggest. It is an extremely difficult problem, and many of the suggested solutions are, for various reasons, impossible, but unless something is done to ensure that hospitals get some remuneration for the accident cases which they have to treat a great many of the smaller hospitals will have to close their doors, and that is a prospect which no Member of this House can face with equanimity. I know that I have the complete sympathy of the Minister in this matter, and I ask him to explore every avenue to see whether anything can be done, within or without the ambit of the Road Traffic Act, to secure for the hospitals the assistance they so badly need.
§ Mr. ROSS
I take part in this discussion because I have had an opportunity of seeing the operation of Part IV of the Act, and I have been able to observe 1475 closely the imposing structure which has been described by the hon. Member opposite. First of all, I would like to deal with certain minor points in connection with the administration of Part IV of the Act. I support what has been said as to the need for a consolidation of the regulations. The hon. Member for Flint (Mr. Llewellyn-Jones) wrote a book dealing with the regulations, and this was no sooner published than the Minister of Transport altered the regulations. There are several minor points I would like to touch upon in regard to the work of the traffic commissioners, who seem to have no power over those who appear before them except as regards the form of the licence. If the applicants do not observe the orders, or incur additional expense, the commissioners have no discretion as to the costs, because that power still is vested in the Minister of Transport. That makes it very difficult for the Traffic Commissioners to deal with applicants.
I would like to refer to the sittings which were held last year under the Road Traffic Act. Last year we were administering a new Act, and there was a tremendous rush of work, but in some areas the traffic commissioners sat for a tremendous time at a stretch, and I know one commissioner who sat for over 10 hours with only a very brief interval for refreshment. In these conditions, I do not think that satisfactory results can be expected. In some areas near London, as, for instance, the south-east, which is the one with which I am most acquainted, the commissioners had a practice of sitting in country towns. Of course, that was not at all convenient for the applicants, 90 per cent. of whom came from London, and it was rather absurd that those people should have to travel to a country town, when it would have been much more convenient to carry out the work in London. I know the difficulty about costs and the intervening holiday periods.
With regard to the general results of the road traffic commissioners this year, there have been considerable complaints as to the hardship in the case of small operators. I have seen a lot of this work, and I do not think that the small operators have suffered very much. The practice in the past has been that the larger organisation will come down on the small operator and flood the road 1476 with vehicles before and behind him until the competition of the small operator with the big operator becomes almost impossible. The small operator will then sell out to the big company at a knockout price, and suffer very seriously financially. One would think the big company would gain in this way, but they do not, because some other man may come along, and the same thing happens. I think that that practice has now been largely stopped and the small man is protected, and should not be liable to the same perils as in the past. As regards competition between the larger operators, it has become almost lethal in character, and it is as much as one's life is worth to go on the public roads. Of course, it must be recognised that a big industry like this cannot be controlled without interfering with somebody's business. There is the case of the seasonal operators who own perhaps from 10 to 100 vehicles which run to the seaside. Their position is peculiar, and they only come in when the traffic is at its best during the summer, and they turn off their employés in the winter. In the past they have had but scant sympathy from the small operators, whom they bring to their aid when they are protesting against this Act.
As to the general question of road against rail, it would be impossible to deal with that question on an occasion like this, but I would ask the Minister of Transport whether this Act is intended to be of serious assistance to the railway companies. It is of great value to the road users in regulating the conditions of the roads, but I very much doubt whether it is any assistance to the railway companies. I know it is of assistance in some degree, but so far there has been no attempt made by the commissioners to co-ordinate the traffic between load and rail, leaving to the rail that traffic which it can carry best, and confining the service of the road operators to short distance work. At present the tendency of the Ministry of Transport is rather to diminish the assistance which the Act should give to the railways; it also hampers them, and so do the operations and decisions of the various commissioners.
Recently a series of directions has flowed from the Ministry of Transport to the various area commissioners. One of those directions dealt with intermediate 1477 areas, that is to say, areas in which the journey of the vehicle carrying passengers did not begin or end. As regards those areas, a direction has been sent out that the number of vehicles may be the same as that granted on the primary licence. Of course if the Minister came out firmly into the open and said that the number must be the same as the number granted on the primary licence he would be transgressing the Act, because the commissioners would have to follow his directions. The Minister has, however, with considerable art, used the word "may" in his Order, although it is clear that any commissioner reading the Order would assume that he must follow the course laid down. The result is that the Commissioners in those intermediate areas lose to that extent control over the traffic which has to pass through their areas, and everything rests upon the number of vehicles allotted to the operators by the Metropolitan Commissioner, who, however, is chiefly interested in the prevention of congestion of traffic in London and the provision of stopping places, and has not time to trouble himself with the problems of countryside traffic. Then there is a somewhat arbitrary rule, which I think the Minister has issued recently, with regard to tickets, in which a period of six months is laid down, and which seems to me rather to take away from the Commissioners the powers which were granted to them by the Act to hear and determine cases.
I agree, however, with the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. M. Beaumont), that one of the most serious criticisms of the operation of the Act is in regard to the handling of appeals, but I do not agree with the hon. Member as to the result of delay, because, as the Minister is aware, normally the operator who is appealing against a decision of the traffic commissioners can go on running under the transitory provisions until his appeal is heard; and not only does he go on running under those provisions until his appeal is heard, but may go on running without any sort of regulation being applied to him. If his licence has been granted, and if he is appealing against certain conditions, he has to run under his licence, and is so restricted until his appeal has been heard; but if it has been deferred, he runs under the transitory 1478 provisions, as he always has done, untrammelled by the decisions of the Commissioner. Much the most important group of appeals is that dealing with the Green Line cases, and I think it is of the first importance that the Minister should give his attention to this matter.
Most Members of the House are probably aware of the history of the arrival of the Green Line of traffic operators near London. It has been the most important development of traffic near London in the last couple of years or so. They began to appear in 1930, and came on rather like a flood in increasing numbers until 1931. I would not for a moment attempt in any way to prejudge the merits or demerits of this development, but it undoubtedly affected everyone connected with that kind of operation. Its competition affected both the large and the small operators, and the railways. In the zone in which it operated, up to about 30 miles, it affected everybody who dealt in transport. It has hit especially the excursion transport of the smaller operators in London. These services were considered by the Commissioners in the various areas outside London, as well as by the Metropolitan Commissioner, and I think that in most of the cases the hearing was rather late in the year. The services were to be very largely curtailed, but, so far, those decisions have had no effect at all, because where the licences have been refused the Green Line management have appealed, and have, as they are perfectly entitled to do, continued to run pending the appeal; and they have continued to run without any restrictions. I know of one case in which a rival service had been granted a licence, and the Green Line service had not. The rival service is now being run off the road by the Green Line, because the Green Line is not controlled in any way, while the people who were granted their licence were restricted considerably as to where they should pick up and so forth. They had to go back to the Commissioner and ask to be released from those conditions, and the Commissioner had to release them. Every day that these services run makes their position more secure, and, if the decisions of the area commissioners are upheld, matters will be made much more inconvenient for everyone if they are finally removed. Incidentally, it is extremely 1479 hard luck for their competitors, if the original decision was right, that they should be exposed to this intense competition. The main point that I would urge, however, is exactly the same as that which was urged by the hon. Member for Aylesbury in a. contrary sense, namely, that these appeals should be disposed of as soon as possible.
I do not know whether the system alluded to by the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Parkinson) is going to be adopted in the country areas, as it has been, I believe, by Lord Amulree's Committee as regards the Metropolitan area. I think it is a most questionable practice. I very seldom agree with the hon. Member for Wigan, but I agree with him that it is a very questionable practice to set up these special tribunals to deal with particular cases. Either the ordinary machinery of appeal is good, or it is bad. I do not see why the big operators should have a special tribunal. If the machinery which is available for trying the appeal of the small operator is satisfactory, why should not the big operator be dealt with by the same machinery? If it is not satisfactory, why should it exist? It seems to me to be very strange and very unsatisfactory that, in a matter of this kind, special ad hoc tribunals should be set up to deal with cases of special importance, and, in particular, that the setting up of these tribunals should involve unusual delay in the hearing of appeals. Perhaps in future it may be possible to eliminate them, but the present situation is extremely unsatisfactory. I am precluded from alluding to the means by which matters might be improved in this respect, because the scope of this Debate is limited, but I hope that the Minister will give very serious consideration to this matter. I have had some little experience in connection with it, and have tried to look at it as impartially as I can. It is a very serious flaw in the present operation of the Act.
§ Mr. RHYS DAVIES
I think that Members of the Committee who have heard the whole of this Debate will agree with me that it has been a very interesting one from the beginning. I only want to dwell upon two or three small aspects of the problem, because I do not claim to be an authority on any of these subjects. I 1480 would, however, like to cross swords with an hon. and gallant Gentleman who has now left the Chamber, and who rather complained that we have spent too much money on our roads, and should have economised more than we have done. I wish he would take his car into two countries which I have visited recently. I feel sure that, if he had to travel over the roads over which I had to travel in those two countries, he would never again complain against any road taxation. The two countries to which I refer are Poland and Iceland. In most parts of Iceland there are no roads at all. I wish the hon. Member would take his car there. Then he would not complain of taxation of roads. One point above all that has emerged in the discussion is that there are so many road accidents. I have been told that the number of accidents, fatal and non-fatal, in one year in this country is greater than the total casualties in the recent war between Japan and China. I do not know whether that is true but, if it is, it is, indeed, a very serious state of affairs.
With regard to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) in connection with payment to hospitals, I am not so sure that cases are not being sent to hospitals to-day—not necessarily these particular cases—which were ordinarily being treated by the medical practitioner himself before the National Health Insurance scheme came into operation. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health probably knows what I am suggesting. Since they have had a reduction of 1s. per annum in their panel fees, that may be an additional argument for the proposition that I am suggesting. I will leave it there, except to say that it seems to me rather curious, with regard to accident cases sent to hospitals, that the Automobile Association cannot take up this question of payment to hospitals in respect of their own members. My hon. Friend and I were once coalminers, and I remember deductions being made from our wages on a poundage system towards hospitals. If a member of the Automobile Association comes into conflict with the law, they meet the legal charges, pay solicitors' fees and all the rest of it, and, if they can do that from their annual contributions, they ought to 1481 contribute something towards the medical and hospital charges of their members as well.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
It is not the members of the Automobile Association; it is the people who may be injured who are not members of anything.
§ Mr. DAVIES
Surely, if a member of the Automobile Association driving a car strikes an ordinary pedestrian who is not a member of any society, the Automobile Association ought to bear part, at any rate, of the medical charges, whether the person injured is a member of the Automobile Association or not. Surely the hon. Gentleman knows the law better than to argue with me about these things. It is not the miner's coal that hits the coalminer. It is the employer's coal that falls on him. But I must not get into a legal argument, because I know who will get the best of it if I do.
Let me come to something that affects my own Parliamentary division. I should like the Minister to take note of the serious situation with regard to the Black-rod by-pass road. For reasons of economy, the Government have decided apparently that the road shall be stopped. It is about two miles long. In some parts the old road cannot be more than 10 or 12 feet wide. I wonder whether I have sufficient oratorical power to impress him with the fact that he ought to proceed with the job.
§ Mr. DAVIES
The hon. Gentleman must not talk about money to me. Arguments have been adduced to show that the Government are right in economising in connection with expenditure on roads. A great amount of money has been spent on this road, but I cannot for the life of me see what economy it is to spend a large sum of money to make a road within about 70 per cent. of the whole of the job and then to stop. It will be destroyed very much more quickly than other roads that he has under his control. It is at the foot of a hill, and water coming down the hill will very soon destroy all the work that has been done. I appeal to him to look into it, and see if anything can be done. The old road is very dangerous. As far 1482 as I remember, it is an old Roman road and, if he saw the traffic over it at weekends, I am convinced that he would proceed with the new job.
I understand that something has gone wrong with the Mersey Tunnel since this Government came into power. I do not know whether the Government are responsible for the difficulty, but perhaps the hon. Gentleman will enlighten us as to what has happened. I understand that the estimate has been overspent already. Will he also tell us if all is going well with the Manchester to Liverpool road? He will know the bottleneck at Warrington, half way between Liverpool and Manchester, and the terrible congestion of traffic in that town. I trust he will be able to tell us that the job is proceeding satisfactorily. I should be glad if he would enlighten me on one point that has always interested me. I sometimes wonder whether, from the total fund that is spent on these roads, each area is having its fair proportion in the matter of new roads, repairs, and so forth. Hon. Members always picture England as if it were London, and London Members in particular conceive that the whole of the country is London. Nothing of the kind. Lancashire has a population almost equal to that of London, and it would be interesting to know whether London is getting a greater proportion than Lancashire. I should be glad, of course, if Lancashire got more than London.
May I make a suggestion with regard to accidents on roads? I wonder whether we could not prevent many of them by a very simple method that I have seen in America, where all the traffic must stop dead when a tramcar stops, either to pick up or to unload passengers. I know the difficulty in. this country because of this fact. If Manchester and Salford secured power from Parliament to make a by-law to stop all traffic when a tram-car stops, you would have the difficulty that, when the driver of a motor car passing through those cities goes to Bolton, the by-law may not apply and he may be in difficulty right away. But I should like to know whether it is not possible to make a start, because I have seen some very terrible accidents at points where tramcars stop, especially if they are at cross-roads. Is it not possible for the hon. Gentleman to tell us 1483 whether anything can be done in that connection?
A point has been put to me which I must submit to the Minister. I will ask the Minister the question as it is written: "Will the Minister make provision for the local authority, who know best the local conditions, to express themselves before the inspectors when appeals are being heard affecting local services and licences?" I do not know much about this matter, but I have been given to understand that local authorities have not the power to appeal to the Commissioners to the extent which some local authorities think they ought to have. I am ignorant upon the matter, but perhaps the hon. Gentleman will be able to look into it.
The work of the Central Electricity Board has been touched upon, and I am going to venture to repeat one or two questions to the hon. Gentleman which were put by a Conservative ex-Minister of Transport from this side of the Committee to a Labour Minister of Transport, and in doing so I feel sure that I shall be in order. They are not my questions, but the questions of a Conservative ex-Minister of Transport, and, if he could put those questions, I feel sure that I shall be able to repeat them. He said that he should like to know, so far as the Central Electricity Board was concerned, how finance was developing? He also said that he was responsible for the Act of 1926, and that he gave figures which his technical advisers said were the most reliable that could be given. On the question of finance, there is undoubtedly a great deal of silence—I do not say secrecy—about the operations and the administration of the Board. I feel sure that when the hon. Gentleman gets up to reply he will be able to tell us something of the work of the Central Electricity Board. I am very pleased, in travelling round the country, to see the results of their operations and the huge apparatus for carrying the wires over the country. It is very pleasing to see that electricity is going into the countryside and is being accepted by farmers and by cottagers on a very large scale. It will be very interesting, therefore, to hear what is being done in that connection.
1484 I return to the very terrible problem of accidents on the road. I was very pleased to see the attitude adopted by the hon. Gentleman at a Conference which he addressed this week. I assure him that there is a strange turn of the mind when a man who has been used to walking starts to drive a car. He seems to have altogether different conception of things. But the vast majority of the people in this country are pedestrians. If the hon. Member will judge the signs of the times he will notice that the right of the pedestrian seems gradually to be losing its place. The right of the driver, never mind whether he is a pedestrian for most of the day, is becoming paramount. I feel therefore—and this is not a partisan question; it does not belong to party politics—that the hon. Gentleman in pursuing his policy of safety for the pedestrian, is expressing in his office the best mind of the nation.
§ Mr. SMITH - CARINGTON
The Ministry of Transport Vote covers a very large diversity of subjects and a large number of them have already been touched upon, but I wish to confine my remarks to an aspect, which though it has been mentioned, has not very largely been dealt with up to now. I intervene on behalf of the small owners of motor omnibuses plying in the country districts. These men have been enterprising. They have had a little capital, have put it into the enterprise and have worked up a pretty useful business. Primarily, of course, they did it in order to get a livelihood for themselves, but they have also fulfilled a very great and important public service. I am not speaking of the class of small owner who comes along the congested streets at the peak time of the day, but solely of those small owners who ply in the country districts. They furnish services from the various villages to the market towns on various market days, they fill a very useful gap in enabling the people from the smaller towns to get out into the country on early closing days, and also create facilities for the villagers to visit their relatives in hospitals and so on. They have, in fact, fulfilled a very useful public service, and they deserve the gratitude of the locality in which they operate.
1485 The position in recent times has become an extraordinarily difficult one because of the constant invasion of the larger companies into the areas in which they run their omnibuses. The competition—I do not say an unfair competition—is carried on under unequal conditions because the large companies, having a fertile field of work elsewhere, can afford out of the proceeds they make there to undercut, and even to run their services on the particular country routes at a loss, at any rate for some length of time. Perhaps it is inevitable, but somehow or other the impression has rather gained ground in the country districts that circumstances favour those larger bodies rather too much at the expense of the smaller bodies. The small man undoubtedly works under considerable difficulty at the present time, not only because of the inspection of omnibuses and various requirements, but new gadgets, and this, that and the other thing have been thrown upon him. I do not complain of that, but it adds to his difficulties. He is also constantly having to attend the district offices far away from where he operates, and this all means expense to him and possibly putting his service to greater cost to run by reason of his absence. Time-tables are even arranged in a way which put up his expenses and make it still more difficult for him to carry on.
The purpose of the Ministry is to secure the best possible services for the public, but I would point out that the ultimate result of running those small owners off the road under the heel of the larger companies will be to raise fares. When a monopoly has been established and the competition has been cut down, it will not be very difficult for those operating the route to be able to impress upon the commissioners that the timetables which are demanded of them make it impossible for them to run at the fares they are at present charging, and the net result of stifling competition from the small owners will be that fares will almost certainly be increased.
Up to now I have spoken from the point of view of the travelling public. I should like to say a few words in regard to the small owners. They are worthy of every possible consideration on the ground of hardship, which is undoubted. In many cases they have embarked the whole 1486 of their capital in the undertaking. They have even borrowed money from members of their family, and they have had difficulty in establishing their service. For a time they were successful in getting a pretty good living out of the business, but to-day they see that living slipping away from them. They have given some of the best years of their life to the work. They were men of enterprise and energy when they began, but they are beginning already to feel that under this grinding competition they are having their energies sapped. Apart from the question of personal hardship, the result of their experience upon their neighbours is most depressing. Nothing is more depressing to a neighbour than to see that a fellow villager, who has been perhaps a little more energetic than others, has fallen on bad times.
These men have rendered great service. They have been the pioneers of these motor services. They are the people who created the demand. When they began no services of this kind had been run. They started them, they did the pioneer work and they got the people into the travelling habit. Not until they had built up that position did the large companies descend upon their Naboth's vineyard and take the fruits from them. I know that the Minister has shown consideration in these cases, and I would ask him to show still more. I would ask him, if possible, to make some pronouncement of policy which would relieve the position and settle the anxieties under which a very large number of these people are now suffering. It is a question whether we wish to maintain competition or not. It will be possible to maintain competition only if the small companies and the single owners are treated with more consideration than they are being treated at the present time. Or is it the policy to let these people be driven off the road and let the whole thing slide into the hands of the big companies? If the latter result happens I am sure that the fares will very speedily go up. If it is to be the policy to extinguish these small companies, then something ought to be done to secure for them the best terms possible. I do not ask for unfair terms, but I think I might ask for generous terms upon the ground of the goodwill that they have established, the business they have created and the results to the public of their initiative. Without that initiative, the 1487 public would not have had the services which they have to-day, and there would have been little encouragement for the big companies to go into these districts.
§ 2.0 p.m.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
One or two points have been raised in the debate with which I should like to deal. One hon. Member suggested that it would be better if we had more pavements. The late Mr. Kennedy Jones prepared a special report for the Minister of Transport in 1918, in the preparation of which I had the pleasure of assisting him, and we went into these matters with great care, with the result that I have always taken a great interest in transport questions. A great deal of information was supplied to us and the opinion that we both formed was that there was nothing more dangerous to pedestrians than a pavement. That may sound a little paradoxical, but it is true. The reason is that the foot passenger keeps to the right and the vehicle keeps to the left. On a narrow road where there is no pavement you instinctively keep to the right, because if you go to the left the traffic comes sweeping by you so closely that you feel uncomfortable. Therefore you keep to the right and you meet oncoming traffic. The on-coming traffic sees you and you see it. But where there is a pavement you keep to the right of it and it may happen that there is a puddle on the pavement which makes you step off the pavement from the right, with the result that the oncoming wheel traffic, which is properly on its left side, gets you.
Far more accidents happen in consequence of pavements than from almost any other contributory cause, owing to people stepping off the pavement. If there is no pavement, people walk on the right side of the road and meet the traffic safely by obeying the rule of the road. A pavement is, I repeat, a perfect trap. If hon. Members would test the matter when they are walking in some of our country districts they would see that what I have said is a sound proposition. Therefore, I strongly urge the Minister of Transport not to listen to the appeals for more pavements. It is a different matter where there are very clear and broad roads and you can make broad pavements, but as a general rule we are better off without 1488 pavements from the point of view of public safety. The ideal thing would be, if you are to start making provision for pedestrians, to take pedestrians and cyclists off the main roads. It would be more economical. We are putting down great solid roads for the heaviest traffic and we have pedestrians walking on them. They do not need a road of that sort.
The whole system of transport in this country is in a very mixed condition. We have on the same road motor traffic, human beings, cyclists, cattle, sheep and animals of all kinds. Every bit of that transport is contradictory of the other. When we originally started motor transport on the roads in 1896 we established a 12 mile speed limit. When we allowed high speed vehicles on the public highway we ought to have laid down not speed limits but other very strict conditions. In this respect one might quote the case of Fletcher v. Rylands, the reservoir case, which laid down the principle which is illustrated by saying that if a man chooses to keep a tiger it is no use, if the tiger has killed someone, the man coming along and saying: "I had the very best cage that I could buy for the tiger." The answer to that excuse is: "If you keep a tiger, you must take the consequences." So with motor cars. When they were allowed on the roads a law should have been made that the motorist was liable in the event of an accident unless he could prove that the foot passenger was definitely committing suicide. Vast numbers of people are absent minded. Perhaps hon. Members go along thinking of the speech that they are not going to have the opportunity of making in the House. They go along in a brown study. Are they to be killed because a motor car comes along?
It might be very desirable, if that was to be the position, that motorists should not be able to insure themselves in the maximum figures, because there is no doubt that there are again and again motorists who think that when they have paid a substantial sum for insurance they are entitled to go about the country in a reckless fashion as if they felt that they were getting back some of their premium. If they were not insured they would probably be a good deal more careful than they are. I speak with some considerable experience as a motorist, I 1489 have driven tens of thousands of miles on the wildest roads in Scotland and I have never once had the semblance of an accident. That is due to careful driving, some people may say too careful, for I have indeed been reproached by motorists behind be for driving at too moderate a pace. That is one alteration which should be made. When railways came into being this Imperial Parliament, this House of Commons, said that so dangerous a thing could not be allowed to fly all about the country and that if there were to be railroads then they must be fenced in in order to ensure that people were not killed.
A railway train is infinitely less dangerous than a motor omnibus. You have only to keep off the rails and you will not be killed, whereas on the roads you have no guarantee of safety at all. A motorist may swerve, lots of things may happen. In fact, no person should go out on to the King's highway unless he makes a mental resolution every morning that when he goes on to the streets and highways of this country he must remember that there are some people, quite a number of people, who are determined to kill him if they can and that he is going to dodge them. There must be ceaseless vigilance on the part of the pedestrian. Everyone knows how anxious one is in finding of an evening that one member of the family is late. You know that motorists are about, you never know what is going to happen, or when any member of the family may be slain.
More people are killed annually on the roads than were killed in the period of the Boer War, and far more people injured. If the railway companies of this country had killed one-tenth the number which motorists kill what an outcry there would have been. Think of the sensation which is caused when a railway accident takes place and 10 or 15 people are killed I The whole country is shocked, the details are written up, questions are asked in Parliament, and a special inquiry is held and a report made. More than that number are killed every day on the roads, but because they are killed in various parts of the country it does not shock the country so much. There is one way which would limit the tremendous spread of motors and average up the discrepancy between road and rail. I think 1490 railways are finished. The new invention of the explosive engine has put an end to the steam engine on land and on sea. The motorship has made obsolete the steamship, and it is the same on land: the explosive engine has put an end to the steam engine. One way to deal with the matter is this: At the present moment we have a horse-power tax on motors—a foolish and arbitrary tax. One man using the same horse-power motor is paying the same tax as another man who may be using the roads hundreds of times more than the other. Why not put all the motor taxes on the petrol?
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Captain Bourne)
That would require legislation, and cannot be discussed on this Vote.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
I accept your Ruling. All I say is that the taxes are badly adjusted, and I hope that the Minister of Transport will be able to make an appeal to the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the nature I have indicated, because if this were done it would tend to limit the volume of road traffic and it would level things out for the railways, because those who use the road most would pay the most, that is, the charabancs, 'buses and lorries. Many private owners would be more careful in going about joy-riding because of the cost of petrol and who do not consider the horsepower tax once it has been paid. There is another matter which I suggest the Minister of Transport could investigate, and it would not require legislation. When the railways were instituted, they were instituted as toll roads. Why should not the Minister of Transport investigate the possibility of making all the railways into motor roads, toll roads? It would be a great achievement. He could then make all heavy transport travel along these roads, taking a ticket at the point of entrance and giving it up at the point of exit. It would relieve the highways of an enormous amount of transport and would redeem the railway capital. I would not allow heavy transport on the ordinary roads. I would say that they must go on to the enclosed highways, and I think that if the hon. Member would investigate this matter he would find that there is not only a solution of the heavy transport on our roads but also waiting a redemption of railway capital.
1491 There is a further point. You go down to a rural area, or a semi-rural area, and you put down a very fine arterial road, like the London Tube company when they put a tube to Golders Green. What was the result of that? It has meant a colossal improvement of the property in that area. There is a provision in the Transport Act, 1909, that people who spend money in this way should get some of the increment value. They can, of course, do that by buying the land; and that is the way in which the Canadian and Pacific Railway was built. Why should not the Minister of Transport, when he is laying down new roads and thus improving the value of land, be entitled to say "I am going to take over this block of land at the present day valuation, plus 10 per cent., 25 per cent., or 30 per cent., and then when I have put down my road, these new transport facilities, it will be worth 200 or 300 times that amount"? Why is not that section in operation?
If that were done a great many new roads could be made for nothing. They could be paid for out of the increased value of the land which surrounds them. [Interruption.] It is not a Socialist proposal; it is a good Conservative proposal. It is only fulfilling the words of Holy Writ, that what a man sows that shall he also reap. If a little intelligence of that kind was applied it would be good business. I listened with great sorrow to the speech about the small charabancs. There is no doubt that the Road Traffic Act passed with that exuberance and faith in legislation, regulations and restrictions which possessed the last Government, and which I am afraid possesses all Governments, has hit the small men. There is nothing worse than constant regulation, restriction and legislation. The art of government to my mind is to leave people alone. There may be a little trouble and confusion for a while but things will right themselves as a result of individual's essential righteousness. If you are constantly interfering by regulations and restrictions you only prolong the period of chaos, and delay the period when they are really put right.
The Minister of Transport is making the best job he can of a thoroughly evil Act. It has been a most undesirable and dangerous Measure, and it certainly has 1492 extinguished the small man all over the country, just as various regulations in regard to shops have extinguished the small man in the retail trade for the benefit of the big co-operative stores and the multiple shop-owner. The same causes leave the same effects here. The reason is simple. The small man has little or no capital. He spends all, perhaps, in one char-a-banc. His case comes up before a tribunal. He cannot afford to employ skilled legal assistance, and the big combine beats him every time. The big combine can promise more and it manages always to persuade the Traffic Commissioner that the continuance of the combine is in the public interest. Possibly that may be right, but the procedure is extinguishing the small man and always will. All the talk about the small man coming in at the peak hour and taking the cream of the traffic is humbug. I was largely responsible for the starting of the independent 'buses in London. My man told me that he could go to a route where there were no 'buses. Immediately he did so he was followed and hunted. Then he would go to another route.
This Act has squeezed out the small man. How different things are in Italy. A friend of mine who was recently there has told me he was very interested in the tremendous fostering of the small man by Mussolini. The hotel at which he stayed had no 'bus. He was told that Mussolini did not allow hotels to run 'buses, but told them to run their hotel and let other people's businesses alone. There were plenty of small men who ran taxicabs. This Act has not had that effect. Administrators always want to deal with large units. That is the danger of all this restrictive policy. It prevents the development of the small man. I come from a race who do not believe in having a master. I believe that if you want to make a healthy and sound community, the more individual men there are working for themselves and standing upright with no one to boss them, but doing their job thoroughly, the sounder you make the community. That is why I regret the passing of the Road Traffic Act.
§ Major-General Sir ALFRED KN0X
I would like to endorse all that the hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten) has said about the Road Traffic Act of 1930. My constituency of 1493 South Buckingham has probably suffered more from the administration of that Act than any other constituency in the Kingdom. I endorse what the hon. and learned Gentleman has said about the shutting out of the small man. I will give two instances that are within my knowledge. The first case is the case of a man called Victor Jones, who had three omnibuses running on a route from Princes Risborough, just outside my constituency, to High Wycombe. He was not a pioneer on this route but his service gave great satisfaction, because he ran very early omnibuses and very late omnibuses. The service was particularly convenient for workmen and children going to school. He started in October, 1930. When he applied to the commissioner for renewal of his licence he was refused. His application was opposed by powerful combines which wanted to get the traffic into their own hands. The traffic commissioner of the Southern area in his decision noted that the service apparently existed only on a price-cutting basis. If the service was run on a price-cutting basis why was it that Mr. Jones went to the expense of an appeal in order to get back his licence? He has told me that he has lost something like £40 a month. If the fact were established that he cut prices, is that a sin or crime against the community? There are people in High Wycombe and Princes Risborough who cannot afford expensive omnibuses. Why should they not have the benefit of a cheap service? This small man kept his own accounts, drove an omnibus himself, and naturally cut expenses. Why should not the public get some of the benefit of that?
The other case was that of a Mr. Warwick, who ran a line of omnibuses, on a pioneer route—he started in September, 1929—from Farnham Common, through Slough to Windsor. He was an ex-service man who had driven an omnibus in London and had saved a little money and probably raised more money on mortgage. When he started this service his only competitor was the Great Western Railway Company, who ran a line of omnibuses in conjunction with their trains at Slough. Mr. Warwick ran his omnibuses more frequently; I think he had a half-hourly service. He charged lower fares and his service was instru- 1494 mental in forcing the railway company to cut down their fares. He did a public service in that. When he came up for his licence it was refused. He was allowed to run his omnibuses from Farnham Common to Slough, but the commissioner remarked that there were already too many omnibuses in the bottle-neck from Eton to Windsor, and he would not allow Mr. Warwick to take his service there. But the commissioner allowed another omnibus service, which ran partly over the same route and which started at Farnham Royal, to go through the bottle-neck to Windsor. That service had started four months later.
Then there was the Amersham and District Traction Company, with a line from High Wycombe to Beaconsfield, Farnham Common, Farnham Royal and Slough to Windsor. That started eight months later than Mr. Warwick. The company was given a licence. What is the reason for this discrimination against Mr. Warwick? The Commissioner in his judgment said that Mr. Warwick had been a most unwilling witness. Why was he an unwilling witness? Here was an ex-service man, an ex-omnibus driver, who was asked tricky questions by a number of learned counsel employed by the big combine. What chance has the ordinary soldier or the ordinary omnibus driver in answering tricky questions like that?
But that is not the whole story. There may have been a certain amount of justification for denying this man a licence to run his line through the Eton bottle-neck, where there is considerable congestion, but I claim that if discrimination was exercised by the commissioner it ought to have been exercised in his favour. The London General Omnibus Company, which was the chief competitor at the time when Mr. Warwick's application was refused, asked for an extension of their service through the Eton bottle-neck. The commissioner very properly refused this application and said there were sufficient omnibuses on that route. The London General Omnibus Company appealed to the Minister. After all, the Minister of Transport and the Southern commissioner, are they not one and the same? The Chairman of the Traffic Commissioners is appointed by the Ministry. It is not a political appointment; there is no contention of that sort. But the position was that this unfortunate man had 1495 to appeal against the decision of the commissioner to an official in the Ministry, though nominally to the Minister. The official heard his case and rejected the appeal. The commissioner had turned down the application of the General Omnibus Company for an extension of their service through the Eton bottleneck. On appeal to the Ministry the Ministry allowed the company's appeal. There you have the ridiculous and scandalous position that my friend Mr. Warwick is refused permission to continue his service through the Eton bottleneck, but the Ministry upsets a decision of the Southern Area Traffic Commissioner and gives an extension to the powerful combine to extend its service through this very congested route. Is there any justice in that?
§ Mr. PYBUS
I understood the hon. and gallant Member to suggest in the early part of his remarks that, as the Minister appointed these commissioners, therefore the commissioners would operate under the orders of the Minister. That was the inference from his earlier remarks, but he is now showing that in this case the commissioner, having given a decision, the Minister reversed that decision, which I think is a very good example of the independence of the commissioners and of the Ministry.
§ Sir A. KNOX
In this case, if the Ministry showed its independence it also showed its want of a sense of justice. If they had gone into the whole case regarding the Eton bottle-neck, they would have seen the circumstances in which this small man has been refused his application, while an extension of service has been granted to the big company, and I think it would have been recognised as a rank injustice.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
Did this man Warwick appeal also to the Minister, or was he content with the decision of the commissioner?
§ Sir A. KNOX
He appealed to the Minister. In all these cases of which I have spoken the men appealed to the Minister. It is extraordinarily difficult for small men who cannot afford to engage counsel to do so. They have also the expense of coming to London and it must be remembered that these are people who do not understand these 1496 matters and who are ignorant of the methods of procedure. They are people who have put all their little capital into these ventures, and there is a rankling sense of injustice all through my constituency at the way in which they are being treated.
§ Sir A. KNOX
I hope that the Minister is going to reply. It is with the object of getting a reply from him that I am making these statements. I have raised these matters many times at Question Time in the House. I have written to the Minister and interviewed him, and have also interviewed officials of the Ministry, and have done my best, as is my duty, to my constituents. The Minister very properly said in this House at the beginning of December that he was in favour of the small men, especially the ex-service men, and wished to see them getting a fair deal. He issued a circular to the traffic commissioners to that effect. Then, my friend Mr. Warwick, appealed again, but now he has been turned off the roads and has not had the chance of going back. I put those cases to the Minister, and I hope that he will be able to explain them to my satisfaction, and show what he can do to protect these small men who have been pioneers in this business, and who demand some justice in this matter.
§ Captain HAROLD BALFOUR
I was rather disappointed at the opening remarks of the Minister in which he referred to Ramsgate Harbour among the "surplus or bankrupt stocks" held by the Ministry.
§ 2.30 p.m.
§ Captain BALFOUR
May I then accept the assurance of the Minister that Bamsgate Harbour is not included among the "surplus or bankrupt stocks"? This harbour, which is in the keeping of the Ministry, is a harbour of refuge and has a tradition among harbours of which many others would be proud. But in these Estimates we are asked to provide a sum of. £1,350 in respect of Ramegate Harbour 1497 —an increase of £1,090 on last year—and I wish to state that we have there a Government representative, the harbour master, piling up the dues, increasing the charges, and pursuing a pin-prick policy obviously with the support, and quite rightly with the support, of his headquarters and the Ministry, while on the other side we find diminishing revenues and the administrative offices of the Harbour being extended considerably. I think the Minister will confirm my statement that during the past year this harbour, which is to cost us an increased sum and is losing its traffic through increased dues, is extending its office accommodation. There may be an excuse for some of the work which is being carried out there. But I submit that no excuse is adequate for carrying out a policy which I would call that of bureaucracy entrenching itself in my constituency in a manner which is going to cost the taxpayer over £l,000. I know that the Minister has not himself been at Ramsgate. I should be very glad if he would come there and enjoy the beneficial air, and I should be delighted to conduct him round his own harbour, which he has not seen yet but which I know well. He will there find a typical example of Whitehall controlling from London a harbour about which it knows nothing. It has not even an experienced mariner as harbour master, but a gentleman, no doubt of estimable qualities, but without seafaring experience. It is a typical example of that sort of government from the centre which I think we ought to avoid.
The next point which I wish to raise is one which I mention with considerable regret, because I have no wish to make an attack on any individual. Nevertheless I feel that it is in the interests of every Member of this Committee that I should raise this matter. It concerns the position and the actions of the Chairman or Traffic Commissioner for the South Eastern area, Mr. Harker, K.C., a distinguished gentleman, whom I have not had the pleasure and honour of meeting, but who appears to be assuming to himself a position above all representatives in Parliament. He has taken upon himself the onus of rebuking a witness who wrote to his Member of Parliament, of asking that witness for an explanation of his conduct in doing so, and then weighing the scales of justice and, accepting or 1498 rejecting, according to his own decision as to whether it was right or wrong for that witness to have written to his Member of Parliament. We in this House are the guardians of the privileges of every constituent of ours, and any constituent, in any circumstances, ought to be able to write to his Member of Parliament without having to account for it to the traffic commissioner of the South Eastern area.
I shall review briefly the facts of this case. May I say at the outset that the witness concerned is not a constituent of my own, but a constituent of one of my colleagues? Mr. Harker, nevertheless administers an area part of which I have the honour to represent in Parliament, and therefore I feel that anyone of my own constituents might equally be subjected to the conduct and this form of cross-examination of which I complain. I think every Member here would like to see his constituents guarded against it, and if it is allowed to pass in the South Eastern area the commissioners in other areas may commence to do the same kind of thing. It is up to us to see that this procedure is not allowed to go any further. At Tunbridge Wells on 22nd January of this year a witness came into the witness box before the traffic commissioner. I shall not mention his name and constituency, but I have the permission of the hon. Member who represents that constituency to raise the matter. The witness was under various misapprehensions and was ignorant of the standing of the traffic commissioner. He had written to the commissioner about a particular matter of the passing of an omnibus, which is really irrelevant to the main issue. He had also written to the Ministry of Transport. Then he wrote to his Member of Parliament. Through the courtesy of the Minister I have here a transcript of the evidence in the case, and would like to thank the Minister now for so kindly extending me that facility. According to these minutes Mr. Harker said to the witness:I wondered why you thought it necessary to write to the Member of Parliament for your division?The witness said:Because I understood it was the Minister of Transport, and the proper thing to do to get anything from a Minister was to send it through your Member of Parliament. I did not know anything about 1499 the Traffic Commissioners at all, and I daresay 999 out of 1,000 country residents do not know anything about the Traffic Commissioners.That was a very reasonable statement, because I think the vast majority of people do not understand anything about the Traffic Commissioners. Then Mr. Harker questions this gentleman and puts him right as to the standing of the Traffic Commissioners—a perfectly legitimate thing to do. He says:Do you know that that is wrong?The witness says:Yes, because it was understood—at least I understood—that the Traffic Commissioners were part of the Department of the Minister of Transport,Q. Did you ever ask (your Member) about that?—A. No; I have never seen him.Q. He would have been able to tell you different?—A. Of course. If I had gone through the regular channels. I am very sorry to have trodden on anyone's corns; but I understood the Traffic Commissioners were part of the Department of the Minister of Transport.Then the Chairman says:We accept your explanation.Is the Chairman of the Traffic Commissioners to take unto himself to accept an explanation? What would happen if he rejected the explanation of a constituent writing to his Member? The Chairman goes on:But on the face of it it did look a little as if some attempt was being made to bring political pressure to bear on the Commissioners?The gentleman replies:No, not at all. Thinking it was the Minister of Transport, that he was the Minister, we naturally—I could not go to him myself, so I sent it to the Member of Parliament and asked him to pass it on.Then Mr. Harker concludes:I wholly accept you explanation.The fact that the gentleman wrote under wrong circumstances, that, he stated his case wrongly, that he should have known the standing of the Traffic Commissioners is quite irrelevant. Any single person should be able to write to any one of us, however wrong he may be in his facts. That is for us to find out, and I submit that Mr. Harker is called upon for a public explanation as to why, when an an elector has written to his Member, he has taken unto himself the position 1500 of accepting or rejecting the explanation of the constituent and of rebuking him for writing to his Member by talk of "political pressure." I submit that we in this House should take a very strong line when a Traffic Commissioner, a K.C., with powers of jurisdiction, if you like, takes unto himself the right of saying whether our constituents are to approach us in their troubles, even though they may be misguided in their belief and wrong in their facts. We are the guardians of their rights, and we should retain those rights against any encroachment by Mr. Harker or any other Traffic Commissioner.
§ Sir CHARLES OMAN
I will not add to the 65—or is it 67?—questions which have already been laid before the unfortunate Minister of Transport for his further consideration, nor am I about to ask him for any money. I have only two suggestions to make to him, and I felt myself bound to intervene in this Debate, if the privilege were given to me, for the reason that the motor blight is at present very high or very deep at Oxford. We had three fatalities only last week, and it is as representing the population of the constituency in which I live that I wish to bring our grievances to the Minister of Transport. The first is that of congestion. We used to be considered a fairly easy-going, lightly-trafficked place, but at present we are the centre of a cross-country traffic from the extreme north to the extreme south of England, which blocks everything. It may be that you must not allow vehicles of enormous size to go through towns at all, and I think that when they appear in fleets of six, seven, and 10 they should be absolutely prohibited from going through towns. It is no use talking of by-passes, because they do not get finished, and at present we are facing a crisis.
One day last month I saw seven enormous vehicles, about 20 feet high, that looked into the windows of the first storeys of the houses in front of which they were passing. They were all of enormous length, about the length of a railway carriage; they were going head to tail, seven of them—it may have been eight—and they were labelled with some such label as "Direct North and South Traffic." Through our narrow streets this fleet was directed, blocking everything. It was absolutely intolerable. All 1501 the local traffic could not get past, and when it reached the crossing place at the junction of the streets, the traffic on the other line was held up for long minutes while this procession defiled across it. I can only compare it with the sort of dislocation that used to occur in ancient days, or in my own early youth, when Sanger's Circus or some procession of that kind paraded through a country town. The length of this thing was intolerable. That one very large vehicle should go down, a street might conceivably be pardoned, but a fleet of seven is absolutely a hindrance to the King's lieges. It makes the ordinary life of the town impossible. One elephant can be tolerated, but anybody who took a procession of elephants through Palace Yard, for instance would be highly reprehended, I am sure by all those in authority.
The second point is not merely that of enormous size, but weight and the resultant vibration. Through our rather narrow streets some of these enormous vehicles convey weights of the heaviest. I saw one enormous lorry, with a trailer behind it, carrying some extraordinary sort of girders which must have weighed several tons. Down the little street in which my college is situated, and between my college and the Bodleian Library there was one day taken a fleet of seven of these vehicles, carrying large pieces of iron machinery, girders or something of that kind. The result was that the underground cellars of the book store at the Bodleian were cracked, and water got in, and a number of books were spoiled. It was not that the road was trespassed upon by the cellars. They were not under the road, but the vibration in the road, working through the space, ruined the books. No such weight as this should be conducted through such a street.
I may point out something that is, perhaps, a little grotesque. On another occasion a fleet of these lorries, going down the same place and making more noise even than usual, produced a modern reflection of the story of Dagon in the Book of Judges—or was it Samuel?—in this way: We have a statue in our library of Mr. Gladstone, presented to us many years ago. It is close against the wall of the street. The vibration was so great that, quite unexpectedly, the statue 1502 fell forward and broke into three fragments, like Dagon. There was considerable difficulty in mending him, but I think that on the whole he is now reconstituted, and I do not think that anyone would know that he had been injured. It is, however, absurd that a statue like that should, from mere vibration in the neighbouring street, be absolutely disintegrated and thrown down.
I can speak with some personal feeling as to a third instance of the same vibration from much too heavy traffic. I have a large bow window looking into Oxford High Street, and the transomes and mullions of that window fell into the street, and for several months I had to have that room lighted by oiled canvas. The builder said that it was entirely the result of the vibration caused by heavy traffic. Very heavy traffic and large vehicles ought not on any account to be allowed to go through the streets of towns at all. They are a perfect nuisance, and the material they carry should go by rail. It is wrong to take girders 20 or 30 feet long down narrow streets. Bypasses will not in the least prevent the trouble, because drivers will always find some excuse for going through the towns. You cannot have inquisitors far out in the country where the by-pass forks from the main road to ask the passers-by if they have any business in the town. Therefore I suggest to the Minister that he should take some measures to prevent very large vehicles going through towns at all.
We are having a terrible number of fatalities in Oxford. There were three deaths of motorists only last week, and there have been many others. I am well acquainted with the motor from both the inside and the pedestrian point of view. While I grant that pedestrians are extraordinarily careless and reckless, and that there may be accidents from skidding and so forth which cannot be foreseen, I still feel that there is perfectly reckless conduct on the part of motorists that never meets with any punishment. In some cases trouble seems to be taken to see that no harm comes to the motorist. Here is the sort of thing to which one is liable. I was in an arterial road in the car of a friend when, out of a hidden side road there dashed a small commercial vehicle belonging to the local butcher. It came at full speed out of the side road right 1503 into us. Nothing, however, happened; nobody was killed and neither of the motors was disabled, but the driver was a lad who should never have been in charge of a motor. In another case, too, drastic and dreadful punishment came to the motorist. I was on a road where a large charabanc was going at a slow pace close to a hedge on a bend in the road. Behind the charabanc was a little car containing four people, and it turned out to pass the charabanc. Under the hedge on the other side of the road came, in quite a legitimate position and taking considerable care, a large travelling car. The little car which was parallel with the charabanc and well over the middle of the road was knocked to smithereens, and the driver and the girl beside him were killed. That was drastic punishment, but it only shows how a motorist will try to pass another vehicle on a sharp curve in the road, which is criminal.
The third case is one that happened in Oxford a few months ago. An undergraduate was going out of Oxford to Thame when he ran over and killed a policeman in the middle of the road after dusk. That he had done something dreadful was obvious to him because, instead of going to Thame, he swerved off the road to Aylesbury and was next heard of at Gloucester and Aberystwyth. He was aware that he had done something criminal, for he did not wait to see what it was. The boy was discovered and arrested, and so great was the feeling in Oxford that it was ruled that he should not be tried in Oxford. He was sent to London and was acquitted at the trial. An acquittal like that is an encouragement to motorists to run over anyone in the middle of the road and to go on full speed and trust not to be detected. I wish to see the very heaviest penalties on those who, having committed an assault or murder on the king's lieges, go on without stopping. We can hardly go back to the old medieval custom of deodand, by which any instrument which had killed a man should be forfeited to the State. A far better arrangement would be that any motorist who has killed a person should ipso facto forfeit his licence and be made to sue the Minister of Transport for a renewal on his proving that he had no criminality whatever—
§ Captain BALFOUR
I happen to have been involved in a fatal accident recently. The proposal which the hon. Gentleman is making is scarcely fair. If a coroner's court and jury who investigate the accident exonerate the driver from blame, it would be unfair to put on him the obligation to sue the Minister to get his licence back.
§ Sir C. OMAN
Local courts, when the motorist is a local notability, give some curious verdicts. A licence should only be re-granted, not after a mere coroner's inquiry, but after a proper official inquiry into the whole case.
§ Sir C. OMAN
I know as much of coroners courts as the hon. Lady, and I know that local influence has been known to produce very curious verdicts in those courts. Can the hon. Lady deny that she is aware of instances of curious verdicts?
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
We really cannot conduct a Debate if hon. Members interrupt every two seconds.
§ Sir C. OMAN
I was going to suggest to the Minister that there should be some arrangement by which on the death of a pedestrian the motorist should prove to the satisfaction of the proper authority his complete guiltlessness before having his licence re-granted.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
I am afraid that that would involve legislation. The Road Traffic Act, 1930, definitely laid down that a licence should be granted and should only be taken away by a court of criminal jurisdiction. The hon. Member's suggestion would require an Amendment to the Road Traffic Act.
§ Sir C. OMAN
I bow to your decision, but I was advised that my suggestions would not require legislation, and did not conflict with what has already been done. I still stick to my general conclusion that 1505 the amount of punishment at present inflicted upon motorists who run away or who kill by carelessness is wholly inadequate, and requires to be tightened up.
§ Mr. LOVAT-FRASER
I wish to refer, as I did on the last occasion when the Transport Estimates were being considered, to the question of noise. The motor-car has introduced into our life an element that has greatly reduced the comfort and pleasure of life. It has introduced the element of noise. My hon. Friend the Member for Oxford University (Sir C. Oman) has been telling us about Oxford. Three weeks ago I spent a weekend in Oxford, and I stayed at Queens' College, which faces the principal street of Oxford, and I can entirely bear out what he said about the noise, the rattle and the shaking that went on in that city. About four or five months ago I was in Stratford-on-Avon, and the noise and racket, the row, the blowing and screeching, and the sounds of every kind very greatly detracted—I might say in my case wholly detracted from the pleasure of my visit to that beautiful town. In my own City of Lichfield, which I have the honour to represent in this House, there is a road which carries traffic through Lichfield from London to the North, and there is, especially on Saturdays and at holiday times, a perpetual roar and noise going on up and down this road all day long.
Is the Minister doing anything to mitigate this abomination? Cyclists are probably the worst offenders. Will he tell us in a word what the law is as regards noise made by motor cars and motor cycles? This is a matter that ought to be taken up. It is said, "Oh, you get used to noise. It does not do you harm after a certain time." It does do you harm. We all have 'a certain quantity of vital force, and, although we are not conscious of it, that vital force is being used up in resisting noise. I ask the Minister to give us a word of assurance that something is being done to meet this growing evil which detracts so much from the enjoyment and the amenities of life.
§ Major BEAUMONT THOMAS
Might I recommend to the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down that if he wants to get rid of the noise, from which we are all suffering on our roads, he should give his support to the suggestions which have 1506 been put before this House this morning by the hon. and gallant Member for Abingdon (Major Glyn) that we should pay more attention to the question of water transport? We have heard a great deal about road transport, and we are in danger of concentrating our efforts upon it as we have done in the past upon railway transport. We should be doing a great disservice if we did not consider very fully our vast transport possibilities of water. I consider that transport, like banking, should be subservient to the requirements of industry. I do not propose to deal with the problem of roads and railways, and I should probably be out of order if I did. The problem of transport is a much bigger one than the road and rail problem. To obtain the fullest use from the facilities at our disposal, we should have some national policy with regard to transport.
I wonder if this Committee fully realises the very great use to which water transport has been put on the Continent. Every industrial area in Europe has its canals and rivers, properly regulated and under control. It may be of interest to hon. Members to know that 500-ton barges can travel right across France from Havre to Marseilles in 15 days, at a cost which is infinitesimal, compared with what would be charged either by rail or by road. In this great City of London we have a magnificent waterway. I wonder if the Committee thoroughly appreciate that for many hours in the day that waterway is absolutely useless for all forms of transport. We have only to look out of the window of the House of Commons to see that for hours at a time no traffic of any kind is passing up or down the river. The reason for that is that there is not enough water. It is an absolute fact that only at the top of the tide can traffic pass from the East to the West of London. We have a waterway through this City capable of taking many thousands of tons of transport if only there were enough water in the river. The Minister of Transport knows perfectly well, from his experience of the Associated Portland Cement Company, which has a large fleet of motor lorries, that that company sends all its western traffic by water and by barge. It loads up at a depot in the East, and its cement is sent by barge up the river and loaded into a lorry in the West of London. He knows that 1507 that company finds it much cheaper to do that than to load cement only once and send it up by lorry.
The question of bridges is one of very great importance to river traffic and comes under the hon. Gentleman's Department. I suppose it would be out of Order for me to go into the subject of Waterloo Bridge, but, in considering any bridge across the river in the past we have only considered the question of cross-river traffic and no consideration has been given to those people who have to use the river and go underneath the bridge. It is a well-known fact that Waterloo Bridge to-day is the most dangerous bridge for traffic on the River Thames. The tide sets very strongly there, and the amount of traffic that we have on the river has very greatly depreciated as a result.
I suggest to the Minister that in any future consideration of Waterloo Bridge, or any other bridge to be placed across the river at that point, there should be included in the scheme a barrage and locking arrangement to control the tide between that point and Richmond, where, at the present moment, there is a tidal barrage lock. If that were done the water in the river would be kept at a sufficient height to enable transport to move up and down it for 24 hours out of the 24. That would greatly relieve the congestion of traffic in London, and would be of great assistance to those industries which have erected factories on the canals and waterways higher up the river. If that were done it would be a very simple matter—provided always that some of the, if I may say so, ridiculous regulations of the Thames Conservancy were altered—to send 500-ton barges right across England to South Wales by water. I hope this matter will have the consideration of the Minister's Department and of the House.
There is one other matter which I would like to put before the hon. Gentleman, and that concerns coastwise traffic. Large sums of money have been spent on some of our southern ports. If our coastwise traffic does not receive proper consideration the money spent on those harbours will have been utterly wasted. A very large sum of money has been spent on Southwick Harbour, but I do not believe it will earn per cent. interest 1508 unless something is done to see that our coastwise traffic is protected against other forms of traffic, and the facilities which the harbour offers are made use of. I am particularly glad, as I am sure the Committee are, to see that, generally speaking, the road haulage organisations have at last come together. The time has come when road transport freight vehicles should be brought under the control of the Minister's Department. Lorries ought to be licensed and inspected. A great deal has been said to-day regarding accidents. It is my experience that in a large number of cases accidents are caused by faulty brakes. Very often the brakes on these vehicles are quite useless. I have heard of vehicles used for passenger transport purposes which have been condemned being converted into freight transport vehicles. If they have been condemned for passenger transport they should be condemned for freight transport also. Where such vehicles have mounted the pavements the cause of the accident has generally been inefficient brakes.
I would like, also, to draw attention to passenger time-tables. I have investigated some of those time-tables, and find that most of them permit an average running speed of 20 to 22 miles an hour, including stops. I have been on the roads for many years, and it is my experience that you cannot maintain an average speed of 20 or 22 miles an hour without exceeding the speed limit, for those vehicles, of 30 miles an hour. It is very unfair to the driver of these passenger vehicles to force them to keep up to a time-table which means an average speed of 21 or 22 miles an hour and then to prosecute them for exceeding the speed limit of 30 miles an hour. The Area Traffic Commissioners have not given the matter sufficient consideration, it is their duty, and they are entirely to blame in a large number of cases when these drivers are prosecuted for exceeding the speed limit because they could not keep up to their time-table without doing so.
I would ask the Minister if any action is being taken with regard to the marking of main roads, as opposed to by-roads at cross-roads. That sounds very complicated but it is a very important matter. A very large number of accidents take place at cross-roads, more through ignorance than negligence and the marking of by-roads, on the understanding that a 1509 driver on a by-road gives way to a driver on a main road, is the matter of great importance. Will the Minister also use his influence to extend one-way traffic regulations, in the City of London in particular, and elsewhere. The time has come when we could well have one-way traffic round all the squares in London. There are two squares in particular which are extremely dangerous at the present time, Belgrave Square and Grosvenor Square. Anyone who has driven across those squares will appreciate the danger to pedestrians and to everybody else owing to traffic entering and leaving from all angles. It will be a very easy matter to extend those regulations to such squares and it would prevent many accidents which now occur.
I would also draw the attention of the Minister to the question of unhired taxis wandering round the streets, usually with the driver looking out for fares and not attending to his driving. They obstruct the traffic and are generally a nuisance. The time has come when the unhired taxi might well go on to the rank It is very unfair to the taxi-drivers who do go on to the rank and wait two or three hours for a fare, that these other taxis should wander about and pick up fares promiscuously.
As to roads, I am glad that a stop has been nut to the construction of new roads. The amount of money which we have been spending on the construction of new roads is absolutely iniquitous, and I hope that during the years the Minister holds office we shall concentrate more on the upkeep and repair of the roads that we have. I hope that modern methods of resurfacing, and up DO date methods generally, such as are used in some Continental countries and in the United States, will be very carefully studied from the point of view of economy. We still hold somewhat conservative ideas in all parts of the House with regard to the standards of thicknesses, of pavements, and other matters concerning our roads. The time has come when some new methods in the repair and surface of our roads might be considered.
Some remarks were made with regard to floods, and I believe it was suggested by one hon. Member that there should be more drainage. All I can say is that 1510 the town of Monmouth recently was nearly washed away for the first time in its existence, and I believe that that was purely and simply because of the drainage schemes which have been carried out in the upper regions of the Wye Valley. As a result of those schemes, water has been brought down much faster than was ever intended, there is no accommodation for it, and we have had these floods, which did not occur years ago. Although the Minister has received to-day a. great number of criticisms regarding the Road Traffic Act, I believe that on the whole the Act is looking after the small man, and that before the Act was brought into operation there was a great deal more cut-throat competition than there is today. These matters do not always work out as quickly as we should like, but I believe that in future the Act, which passed through this House almost as an agreed Measure will be of service, not only to the community as a whole, but to those whose business it is to provide transport facilities.
§ Mr. McENTEE
I should have liked to put several questions to the Minister, but, unfortunately, the time is rather late, and he will desire to reply to the many questions which have already been put to him. There is, however, one question that I should like him to answer, if it is possible for him to do so. Everyone in London is interested in the London Passenger Transport Bill, and, if it is possible for the hon. Gentleman to make any statement with regard to the position of that Measure, and the possibility of its becoming an Act within a reasonable period, I am sure that all London will be grateful to know that there is an early possibility of that occurring.
The Minister was complimented by many speakers on the fact that he had saved a considerable sum of money, and the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. M. Beaumont) commenced his speech with the word "encore." He wanted more savings, and, presumably, wanted all those things that follow savings of this kind. The Minister mentioned a sum of approximately £57,000 as having been saved, and he gave, in conjunction with it, another figure showing that the annual saving in wages was £29,000. If that proportion is carried through all the savings in his department, and no doubt 1511 it will apply equally in other departments, it means that considerably more than half the amount saved is saved on wages and salaries. That, obviously, means less purchasing power for the people who used to draw the wages and do not draw them now, and the inevitable result is that the shopkeepers will take less money, that they in turn will give smaller orders to the manufacturers, and that the manufacturers will employ a smaller number of workers. And so the vicious circle will go on, and the Minister is lending himself to it in his Department. Perhaps he cannot avoid it, because of the people of higher authority an the Government by whom he is surrounded, but the consequence will be that, instead of improving our position, it will get considerably worse, and we shall go further and further down the scale.
He gave the savings, including those which would be made by local authorities, at £40,000,000 and the number of workmen actually saved, in other words thrown out of work and denied the opportunity of earning a living that they otherwise would have had, as 16,700. We have heard a good deal about the point of view of the average man sitting in a motor car and the average man walking across or along the street. He takes an entirely different point of view if he is a pedestrian from that which he takes if he is in a motor. Apply the same reasoning to one of these 16,700 who are thrown out of work. As long as he is in work, he perhaps thinks very lightly about the other fellow who is out of work, but the moment he gets out of work himself, and feels the consequences of it, his point of view is different, and I suggest to those who take so lightly the fact that 16,700 men have been thrown out of work by these savings, that it means very much more than just that. I wonder what they would think if they were in the position of one of these 16,700.
Most of my friends on. this side, if not all of them, have had the experience and we know just how these 16,700 men will feel when they go home day after day, perhaps to a wife, perhaps to children, perhaps to a number of children, and are asked the inevitable question which is asked by a wife of a man in that position. The first question my wife used to ask me years ago when I went home after walking the streets from 6 in the morning 1512 till 5 or 6 in the evening was, "Have you had any luck?" and these men are being asked this question day after day. We are disappointed that the Minister, when paying so much attention to the saving to the country, did not appear to think that these 16,700 men are all part of the country. Hon. Members opposite speak about these things as if the nation consisted of their class alone. The only saving that they consider is saving in money which will enable them to reduce their taxation, and apparently it matters little to them that the great muss of people are compelled to go home and meet their wives in the circumstances in which I met mine many years ago.
One thing that the hon. Gentleman said was extremely interesting to me. He said, "You cannot have your cake and eat it." I think he ought to pursue his studies a little further. Take these roads and bridges and other jobs to which he referred which are now stopped. They were partly completed but, because of the need for economy, many of them are left in a state of semi-completion. What does it mean? Obviously there is one thing that it means. It means that in their present condition they are unusable. They are of no advantage whatever to the community and to the people who would have used them had they been completed. It also means that before they can be commenced considerable tracts of land have to be purchased, and that a considerable sum of money has to be borrowed, and it means that upon the borrowed money interest has to be paid week after week or year after year. Take a small sum as an example. If £100 had been borrowed for such a purpose, at the end of a year the person who lent the money would have received, if the interest was 5 per cent., £5. At the end of two years he would have received £10, at the end of five years he would have received £25, and at the end of 20 years he would have received the whole of the original £100 which he had lent to the Minister of Transport to lie idle, with the roads left in a state of partial completion.
I am not exaggerating when I say that that particular lender of money to the Government will have had the whole of his cake in the period of 20 years. He will have eaten it, but the strange part about it is that under our modern system 1513 of society the cake remains intact. Assuming that a young man of 20 years of age lends £100 to His Majesty's Government at 5 per cent. When he is 40 he will have had the whole of his cake back again, but the cake will still be there. If he lives until 60, and the money still remain on loan, he will have eaten his cake twice over, and the cake will still be there. If he lives to be 80 years of age, he will have eaten his cake three times over, and the cake will still be there. If it is then decided that he must go to Abraham's bosom or some other such place, he can pass the cake on to his son or daughter, and he or she can go on eating the cake for the rest of their lives. It is nonsense to say that you cannot have your cake and eat it. You are doing it successfully every day of the year, and that is what the City of London, and all for which it stands, means to you. That is why you are anxious to preserve the City and the system for which the City of London stands. It enables you to live your kind of life. I am not making a charge against all of you, but many in your class of life never render a useful service to society, and still go on eating their cake, in spite of what the Minister of Transport may say to the country.
I hope that the Minister will make a reply in regard to the Dartford and Purfleet Tunnel, in which I am interested, as it concerns part of the constituency which I represent. A good deal has been said with regard to accidents, but I hope to make a few suggestions to the Minister which, if small in their way, I hope, will be helpful. The code which be has issued is very useful in many respects, and as one who once possessed a motor licence but was not able to drive a car, I read the code carefully in the hope that I might one day obtain a car and learn to drive it. The code deals a good deal with the sounding of the horn. When you come to a dangerous corner it says "Sound your horn." I do not say "blow your own trumpet." I suggest that if it dealt more with persons than with dangerous corners it might be an advantage. It ought to say: "When you see a person hesitate in the road, sound your horn." Accidents occur when a person hesitates in the road. Many motorists, according to their stories in the courts, seem to think that because they have sounded 1514 their horn they ought to be exonerated from blame. I know that the Code says that that does not exonerate them. When a motorist sees a person hesitate, he ought to slow up immediately, or stop.
There is another point of which local authorities might be made aware. The Minister may say that the local authorities ought to be aware of their duties in this respect, but many of them are not aware, and if they are they do not think it of much importance. The Minister might inform them of his willingness to consider the restrictions that he has the power to impose in their areas, if applications are made to him by the local authorities, with regard to speed limits. He has power to impose a speed limit in certain areas, but even when an application is made by a local authority his Department is rather lax in acting, although the local authority has more knowledge on the subject than has Whitehall. In my own area we have repeatedly made applications for a speed limit to be imposed in a very dangerous part of Forest Road, but we have not been able to induce his Department to give the necessary authority or to impose a speed limit.
Another point to which I should like to draw attention is the number of unauthorised signs. I do not drive a car, but I use a car a good deal. Other people are good enough to take me about the country, and from my observations I am convinced that there are far too many unauthorised signs on the roads. There are signs advertising all kinds of goods, signs in front of the residences of private people, signs warning them of cars coming on, signs of refreshment rooms, and so on. These signs are very confusing to motorists. It is difficult for them to see the authorised signs when they come to them. With regard to the authorised signs, such as direction signs, I think most motorists will agree—I have not consulted motorists, except my motoring friends—that the signs are far too high. If they were lower the motorists could see them more easily, and it might save some of the accidents that occur. Many of the accidents that occur in connection with heavy vehicles are due to the long hours that the drivers are compelled to work. I could give the Minister particulars of cases. My hon. Friend who opened the discussion from this side also informed the Minister of cases.
1515 There are particulars available of scores of cases where very long hours have been worked. It is very largely because of the sheer exhaustion of the drivers that many of these accidents occur. The Minister ought to give particular attention to this matter. There is great difficulty in securing any action by the police, or even by the drivers of these vehicles. They do not like to say anything about their long hours for fear they might be discharged. The police have difficulty in presenting evidence before the court, and there are other difficulties under the terms of the Act. When we consider that 1,400,000 people have lost their lives in the past 12 years in road accidents, this question surely merits a little more consideration than the Minister has given to it up to now. I compliment the Minister on the excellent speech which he made outside the House a few nights ago, but making speeches and drawing attention to these terrible things is not enough. He ought to take more vigorous action. He might also make some suggestion to the courts in regard to leniency in sentences. I should like to know something about the progress of the Electricity Board and how they are getting on with the grid, and when we can hope for some statement as to the real success of the Board. This is a public body, and because it is a public body I am more interested in it than I should be if it were a private concern.
I am very sorry, and so are many of my hon. Friends, that the Minister has allowed the status of his Department to deteriorate so rapidly and so greatly. His predecessor succeeded in raising the Ministry of Transport to the status of a Cabinet position and I am sorry indeed that the hon. Member has allowed himself and his Department to be reduced to a position in which he is no longer permitted to sit in the Cabinet and take part in their discussions. Transport is growing in importance, but the hon. Member seems to be suffering from a sort of inferiority complex so far as his Department is concerned. He ought to be pushing the reorganisation of transport on a large scale, as was done by his predecessor. I would much rather be able to say, as I could to his predecessor, "You are doing very well; you are giving 1516 every possible attention and effort to the reorganisation of transport and the development of electricity." I should be very glad to say that if I could, and I do urge him to make a big effort to place his Department in a higher position than it occupies to-day, and to take every possible step to develop transport, not only on road and rail but in the air as well.
§ Mr. PYBUS
I thank the hon Member for Walthamstow West (Mr. McEntee) for the term in which he has referred to the work of the Ministry and for his new philosophy regarding the cake which you can eat and still have. I am wondering if he was confusing a cake and the widow's cruse. I entirely agree, but with hopeful humility, to the suggestion he made regarding my status and that of the Ministry, alas it is not for me to decide. In the main it has been a most helpful and profitable Debate. An hon. Member has referred to the number of questions that have been asked this afternoon, but, as a matter of fact they were not really questions, but suggestions, and, frankly, I am delighted to think that when I leave the Chamber this afternoon I shall have a number of new ideas which will help me to assess properly the present work of the Department and also guide me in the bigger problems which undoubtedly face the world of transport.
The criticisms, generally speaking, have been of a very fair nature, but there was one to which I must object most strongly, and that was the criticism of the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Thanet (Captain Balfour) against Mr. Rowand Harker the learned commissioner for one of the areas. Take the facts, which, as the hon. and gallant Member says, are not in dispute. The circumstances which make this attack so unfair are that he should infer that the action either of my Ministry or of a learned commissioner should in any way undermine the age-long privilege of a Member of Parliament to do the best he can for a constituent. The inference which is to be drawn from the hon. and gallant Member's remarks is entirely unjustified. The hon. and gallant Gentleman, probably unwittingly, really misled the Committee. He seems to have been suffering, judged by his remarks in connection with this case and in connection with 1517 Ramsgate Harbour, from a form of persecution mania. If the learned chairman had in any way attempted to interfere with the privilege to which I have referred, I would be the last to uphold him. It is most important that I should hear from Members of Parliament what are the views of their constituents regarding my work. But in this case it would be a good thing if we looked at the real facts.
Two retired service officers, one a colonel and the other a naval captain, living in the village of Halland, somehow got the impression that the traffic commissioner had been preventing certain omnibuses from stopping at their village. Without ascertaining the facts at all one of these gentlemen wrote to the chairman of the commissioners at his private house, and then proceeded to head a petition to me protesting against the hardship imposed by the order of the commissioner. I ask my hon. and gallant Friend to note the words "Imposed by the recent Order." The plain facts of the matter were that the omnibus operators in question had omitted altogether to schedule Halland as a stopping place. When I further add that at this point the case had not even been heard at all, the Committee will appreciate why it was that, when the case did come on for hearing, it was stated in the court that one of the officers concerned in the original complaint had sent a message to the court in the following terms:The Colonel is down with flu and has asked me to apologise.Apologise for what? For writing to the private address of an independent traffic commissioner asking him, pressing him, threatening him with political pressure, to come to a decision before he had even tried the case. The incident is as I have stated it. It does not differ from the action of a person writing to the private residence of a learned judge and endeavouring to influence his decision before even a case has been tried. I am glad that the Committee has given me this opportunity of defending a learned commissioner who is acting fairly and impartially—a commissioner well known here and who within the precincts of Westminster had a many years' experience and a high reputation at the Parliamentary Bar.
1518 I come to the second point raised by the hon. and gallant Gentleman. He spoke of bureaucracy entrenching itself in Ramsgate. The plain truth is that bureaucracy has been trying to give away this harbour for years. The Ministry of Transport offered this harbour free of charge to Ramsgate, and the council accepted it, but the town knew better, and, as a result at a town's meeting, refused to confirm the action of the council. When the hon. and gallant Member goes down to Ramsgate and talks with longshoremen and boatmen about this harbour, he seems to forget altogether that he also represents the general taxpayer. Why, the taxpayers have paid over £26,000 in respect of losses on this harbour since we took it over, to say nothing of a little matter of £5,000 interest which is already overdue!
I have very little time left in which to deal with the large number of suggestions which have been made in the admirable speeches to which we have listened to-day, and I can only say that if I omit to refer to any of them I will undertake to consider them most carefully, and I thank hon. Members of the Committee who have offered those suggestions. There are, however, several queries which I shall try to answer. The Dartford tunnel has not been abandoned, but has been suspended, and the approaches and the expense already incurred have already been safeguarded, so that if and when it is deemed desirable by the local authorities or the Ministry or both to proceed with that work, it will be possible to do so. Then I was asked, had the five-years plan been scrapped? The five-years plan is not proceeding with the same intensity as formerly, but I dislike the word "scrapped" used in relation to any public improvement.
The hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) asked what had been happening to the Mersey tunnel. It has been discovered recently that the Mersey tunnel requires a considerable amount of extra ventilation. The Government have given as a grant to that tunnel a sum of not less than £2,500,000. That is more than has been given to any other single work which I can recall at the moment, and therefore they cannot agree to increase in any way their liability for any work which may be rendered necessary by fundamental differ- 1519 ences of opinion between nature and the consulting engineers as to how best to ventilate the tunnel. The same hon. Gentleman asked about the Blackrod Road. The answer is that we have reduced the commitment from £133,000 to £73,000 and that the £73,000 work is proceeding. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Abingdon (Major Glyn) made, I thought, a very thoughtful and interesting speech with reference to the question of canals. There are many excellent suggestions in that speech which I should be glad to go into with the hon. and gallant Member.
Then the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Beaumont) also put forward one or two interesting points, and I thank him for the testimonial which he gave to the Ministry and myself. I have no idea as to who is the hon. Member who had, he said, been trying for 10 years to get my predecessor or myself to widen a road in front of his house. The local authority, he said, had agreed, but I had turned down the proposal. I accept the hon. Member's approval with great gratitude. The hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross) stated that the commissioners last year had been sitting in August. I can assure him that it will not be necessary for them to sit in August this year. The hon. Member also referred to the fact that they were working long hours. We have had a great deal of work to do in a very short time, but we hope that the hours will be more reasonable in future. An important point has been raised with regard to certain London appeals, and although I was not here when the point was referred to, I felt a little regret in my mind if there should have been any inference that these appeals had been referred to a committee through the influence of any large group of motor coach owners. That, of course, is not the ease. The hon. and learned Member for Argyll (Mr. Macquisten), as always in fact, made some very interesting suggestions, because, having decided in one sentence that the railways were finished, he proceeded to make three or four brilliant suggestions to bring them back to life again.
Now I come to the Road Traffic Act. The estimates of my Department may be new to certain Members of the Committee, but not the conditions on the roads which preceded the passing of the 1520 Act of 1930. They were absolutely chaotic, and steadily becoming more so, and everyone knew that some great scheme of co-ordination was absolutely essential. There were no fewer than 1,300 distinct authorities with powers to give licences to operate on the highway. In the main street, a mile and a quarter long, of one town alone, 50 vehicles careered along, all endeavouring to snatch a precarious livelihood. One piece of evidence given by a police superintendent is, I think, interesting as showing the sort of "red in tooth-and-claw" competition which has been going on. In one of these areas a police superintendent stated that omnibuses did not run to a time-table, but that five or six of them stopped at one stopping place, picking up a dozen passengers between them, and then raced for another stopping place. He described it as more like "bus chariot-racing than anything."
What has the Road Traffic Act done? In one year it has put into operation a co-ordination scheme which has reduced the 1,300 licensing authorities to 13, and it has done an incredible amount of work in smoothing out the road difficulties of this country. We have heard to-day from several hon. Members of many cases where it is asserted that small operators have been thrown out of work. I ask hon. Members to believe, that for every small operator who may feel a sense of grievance—and a small operator with a sense of grievance and a good Member of Parliament has got a very handy means of making his grievance vocal—there are literally hundreds who are driving about the roads of this country with a new sense of security against the menace which has hung over them for years; the menace that the big operator or the unscrupulous, fare-cutting operator might take away their livelihood. It is well, in criticising this Act, to remember the silent, satisfied operators to whom the Road Traffic Act has given fair conditions of operating and a security which they had not previously known.
I should like to say a word now regarding electricity. I have been asked how the grid was proceeding. It has proceeded with a speed and with an efficiency on the part of both the contractors, and the Central Electricity Board, which is creditable to both. Practically the grid is complete, but it is only, if I 1521 may use the phrase, an express train at the moment. People see what is wrongly called a pylon in the air, and the wires coming from one direction and going on in another, and they wonder when, so to speak, the train will stop at their station, when they will reap the benefits of this great scheme of central electrical development in the form of supplies of cheap electricity.
That again is a very important point. We have finished the rationalisation of the high tension supply. The rationalisation of the low tension supply, which will make available in urban and rural areas electricity for the farmers and people who live in the countryside, depends on a much more rapid progress with regard to the co-ordination of distributing authorities than is at the present moment in view.
However, if I were to be asked what would most help forward the work that we all have at heart, it is that, having made this great venture in rationalising the generation of electricity, and the grid system we should at any rate see that the benefits of it are as quickly as possible made available up and down the countryside. There are no less than 600 separate and properly authorised authorities who have the right of distributing electricity, but as long as it is impossible properly to co-ordinate this low tension distribution, so long shall we be wasting capital in overlapping, in inefficient and sometimes in competitive extensions. These facts impose on us the necessity, having accepted the grid, to go one step further and deal with the distribution of electricity in an equally logical way. There is much more that I should have liked to say, but my time has gone so 1522 I have no alternative but to close, thanking Members of the Committee for the manner in which they have received the Vote.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I am not asking for a discussion on it, but my anxiety is whether there is any likelihood of it being brought forward.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again," put, and agreed to.—[Captain Margeson.]
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.
§ Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 3.
§ Adjourned accordingly at One Minute before Four o'Clook, until Monday next, 9th May.