HC Deb 31 July 1934 vol 292 cc2525-42

2.8 p.m.


A Scotsman has the same problem to face as has been raised by the hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris). I, too, have drawn the attention of those concerned to the case of these teachers, and it is welcome news that the matter is now under consideration and may soon, one hopes, reach some kind of settlement. I rise to draw attention to another subject, namely, the proposed road bridge across the Firth of Forth. It almost seems to be the fate of new Ministers of Transport to have this problem thrown upon them in the first weeks of their appointment. It is becoming a kind of mental stimulant to them in their Ministerial teething stage. Something like three years ago, at about this time, my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Sir J. Pybus) was confronted with precisely the same question within a few days of his taking office, and the new Minister now is having a similar experience. The only difference that one notices is, that whereas the hon. Member for Harwich three years ago returned to the. House from the great ocean, whence he had been summoned by wireless message, the hon. Member who is now Minister comes to us, or I hope will come to us, from more humble but no less exciting adventures on the streets of the East End of London. I hope his experiences there will not in any way damp his ardour for other adventures further north.

The raising of this matter arises out of the action, or the want of action, on the part of the Minister's immediate predecessor, who is now the Minister of Labour. It is a pity that the right hon. Gentleman is not here to defend himself, but things move so quickly in transport these days that it is very difficult to know who is at the head of the Department at any particular moment. One issues a challenge to one Minister, and it is replied to suddenly by another. I selected this particular afternoon to suit the convenience of the new Minister of Transport, but I shall not be in the least bit surprised if some entirely new figure turns up to answer for him. I do not know what it is about the Ministry of Transport that makes its political head so reluctant to stay. Whether it be that the pace over there is too fast and there are no islands of refuge, or that the other offices look too ravishing through the windows of Whitehall Gardens, I cannot say. I am very glad to find that my hon. Friend the Minister of Transport has now actually turned up. Certain it is that we have had three Ministers of Transport in three years, and each one of those who have gone has gone to higher fields. When the present Minister goes, which seems inevitable, I am sure we all hope that he too will step to a higher place. But I hope he will linger just a little before changing his 'bus, in order to grant the one simple request that I shall address to him this afternoon.

The question of the road bridge across the Forth has been before Parliament and the country for at least 10 years in active form. There have been innumerable questions asked and answers given on the subject in this House. At the direct request of the Minister of Transport, the Corporation of Edinburgh has in the past called conferences of local authorities to consider the matter. There have been official inquiries and investigations, and the Scottish Press has written at great length and with much enthusiasm upon this subject over that number of years. Recently there has been formed in Edinburgh a very powerful and representative Promotion Committee with the object of promoting the building of such a bridge. Therefore, it is no flash-in-the-pan idea that we are here raising, nor, as my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich suggested when he knew very little about the subject, some Puddleton-in-the-Mud scheme that is not worth serious consideration. I want to emphasise to the new Minister of Transport that this is a matter of first-class importance and interest to Scotland, and it simply cannot be pooh-poohed in the manner of his predecessor as something quite out of the question.

When the late Minister of Transport received a deputation of Scottish Members, he apparently thought so little of the project and, it seemed almost, of the Scottish representatives that he did not even trouble to ascertain the facts of the situation. In an effort to sustain a case for doing nothing, he quoted figures which were at least six years out of date. I hope the new Minister of Transport—indeed, I am sure of it—will not emulate those efforts. You simply cannot treat great corporations like the City of Edinburgh and the local authorities round about, not to mention Scottish Members of Parliament, in that cavalier fashion.

In his reply to the deputation, the late Minister said that he could do nothing and intended to do nothing until the new bridge which is about to be built at Kincardine and the new ferry service at Queensferry had had time to show results. I have the greatest possible respect for the Noble Lord who was responsible for these two enterprises. He was confronted with the alternative of something or nothing in the way of an improved crossing over the Firth of Forth, and I suppose he accepted the something. The Kincardine Bridge when it is built will be an excellent thing for the merchants of Glasgow, who will get a free run into Fife at Fife's expense and at the expense of merchants in Edinburgh. But nobody can pretend that the Kincardine Bridge will make any contribution to the problem of crossing at Queensferry, which, as everybody agrees, is the real problem with which we are faced. The Kincardine Bridge, 'as many of us feared, seems likely seriously to prejudice any chance of the bigger project ever being carried out. We do not need to wait, as the Minister suggested, for two, three or 10 years to see how that bridge is going to function. We know now that we are going to make a bridge not running into a new highway to the North of Scotland but into a range of hills—and that is not much of a contribution to the problem of that part of the country.

Nor can the new ferry service be considered adequate or satisfactory. Thanks to Lord Elgin the service is very much better than it was, but scarcely a day passes without one of the two steamers breaking down, through mechanical, or tidal, or pier troubles. Who is there in this House or the country to-day who will say that that old-fashioned system is the way to deal with modern transport? Neither the Kincardine Bridge nor the new ferry service is adequate; yet a greatly improved means of crossing the Firth of Forth in the vicinity of Edinburgh is urgently needed both from a national and a local point of view. I do not think that anybody outside Whitehall Gardens disputes that. Indeed, I would quote on this subject the predecessor of the present Minister of Transport, who on 9th January, 1930, sent to the Corporation of Edinburgh a letter in which it was said: The Minister is satisfied from the representations made to him that the present facilities are inadequate so far as vehicular traffic and foot passengers are concerned. I would go further and say that not only is a bridge needed at the Forth, but it is needed, for completion of the route, across the Tay. I am leaving it to my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee (Mr. D. Foot) to deal with that branch of the subject. With regard to the Forth crossing, the only question we have to face is whether the new bridge at or near Queensferry would be justified on economic grounds. It is that question that the local authorities in Scotland have been asking for the last 10 years. It is that question that it is in the power of the new Minister of Transport to answer. There are at least three proposals in the air at the present time. First, there is the bridge at Queensferry, which was estimated some time ago to cost about £6,000,000. Later there was a scheme for a suspension bridge at Rosyth, which would cost something like £2,500,000. I have just recently heard of another scheme prepared by the firm of Blyth and Blyth, of Edinburgh. That, I am told, is a reasonable proposition, but I have no further knowledge of it. At the recent meeting with the Minister of Transport the Member for Central Edinburgh (Mr. Guy) seemed to favour the first of these three projects, that for the £6,000,000 bridge, and he made certain proposals for financing it. I should like to say here how much we are indebted to my hon. Friend for the trouble he took in arranging that deputation. He is responsible really for this new urge, which is welcomed throughout Scotland. As he knows, however, I do not share my hon. Friend's views about the £6,000,000 bridge.

I do not ask the Minister of Transport to support the building of any one of the three bridges now or to take any steps in that direction. For my part, I believe that a bridge there or somewhere near there is necessary, but without the full facts and figures, without a full report on the practicability of the scheme as regards cost and the possible economic effects, traffic development and so on, I think it quite impossible to come to any proper conclusion. I ask the Minister of Transport for such a report. I do not ask any more at this stage. The £6,000,000 project was examined properly some years ago by a firm of experts. No doubt the figures need some amendment now in view of the changes in costs which have taken place, but we have there something to go upon.

But the alternative £2,000,000 scheme at Rosyth has never been fully examined. Those Members who were here in 1931 will recall that a survey was started in the spring of that year, but was stopped at the time of the financial crisis. The Minister of Transport at that time told the House that it was going to cost only £5,000, and it was announced that Edinburgh Corporation and Dunfermline were prepared to meet 25 per cent. of the cost of the survey. That survey has never been completed. That is the reason why the local authorities up to now have refused to pay their contributions. They say, and I think rightly, "If you complete the job you undertook we will pay our 'whack'; otherwise we shall not do so." I am told on good authority that such preliminary borings as were made in the Forth at that time showed that the Rosyth Suspension Bridge scheme was a perfectly practicable proposition. The Edinburgh Corporation, the local authorities concerned, the Scottish Members of Parliament and the Scottish public want to know the facts about that scheme.

I have always taken the view that the responsibility for the cost of building such a bridge across the Firth of Forth must be borne in considerable measure by the local authorities. I am sorry to see that the chairman of the new promotion committee, at the opening meeting, said: It is not really our business to deal with that aspect of the question. —meaning the aspect of finance. For my part, I should have thought that was the most important question to which they could possibly have set their minds. I think it quite unjustifiable to expect the Minister of Transport, whose energy we are all admiring, at a time when he has to meet special expense for the saving of human life on the roads and streets, to make a grant of anything like 80 per cent. to 90 or 95 per cent, for this bridge in the East of Scotland. A tunnel was built under the Mersey the other day, and I am glad to see that the "Scotsman," that most influential newspaper in Scotland, gave full details of the financing of that scheme—because it is a contribution more along those lines that I have in mind for the Minister of Transport and the local authorities in connection with this Firth of Forth Bridge. But though these contributions would appear to local authorities large at the beginning, they need not be permanent and impossible contributions, because the whole service of the funds required could be met by a system of tolls. Such a system has been practised with similar bridges in this country and abroad. I read only yesterday of a great new bridge being built in America, that modern up-to-date country, which is to be financed for 20 years by a system of tolls. They are no hindrance to motorists and take up no more time than the red light in traffic signals.

It is useless to expect the local authorities to formulate any scheme or suggest any contributions to the cost of the bridge until the surveys have been completed. It may be that the boring operations for the smaller scheme will show that it is impracticable. If that be so, I am prepared to abandon the idea. It may be that a still wider survey into the whole economic condition of the surrounding country, into the possibility of trade development and of population changes, and into traffic developments, would show that the scheme was not justified. I am prepared to accept the findings of such a survey, but let us have the facts so that we may dispose of this matter once and for all, one way or the other. The request I make is not big. It is not expensive. I understand it will not cost the Minister, when he gets in the contributions from the local authorities, much more than £1,000 to complete these borings. I would remind him of the pledge of his predecessor on this point. Answering a question in the House exactly three years ago to-day, the Minister of Transport made this announcement: At the request of the local authorities concerned, a grant is being made from the Road Fund towards the cost of a preliminary engineering investigation into the possibility of constructing a road bridge across the Forth at Rosyth …I hope that the borings will very shortly be done."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st July, 1931; col. 2649, Vol. 255.] There was reasonable cause for stopping that survey during the time of the financial crisis, but we are told that the finances of the country are now restored. The Minister of Transport, in one of his last speeches when he was at the Treasury, rightly claimed that the credit of this country had been re-established. That being so, I ask him to abide by the bargain of his Department and to carry out and complete that survey. I should not have thought that for £1,000 it was worth while breaking the promise made three years ago.

Scotland is entitled to have this enterprise properly examined. Taken as a whole, Scotland has not gained much from the national recovery. In my part of the country, in Fife, we have gained considerably by the new coal agreements, but other parts of the country are as derelict to-day as they were three years ago. Since the National Government came into power there has been a reduction of unemployment in England from 20 to 15 per cent. In Scotland unemployment is still 25 per cent., which is some 50 per cent. higher than it is in England. In addition, industries are year by year drifting south away from Scotland, and capital is leaving the country and going mostly to London. Some stimulus is needed to restore the industrial vitality of Scotland. Therefore, this is a very much bigger issue than the mere building of one or two bridges.

The Minister of Transport has it in his hands to do something great, courageous and imaginative to bring new life into the derelict industrial areas of Scotland. I often thinkȔit may be because I am patriotically prejudiced—that if the Firth of Forth had been in England this particular work would have been done years ago. Because it happens to be north of the Tweed, and we are so modest that we do not press our claims like hon. Members from Durham or South Wales, nothing is done. It is a punishment for our modesty. Unfortunately, the Minister of Transport has not the privilege of being a Scotsman, but he is the next best thing. He is a very shrewd and sensible man, and he knows that you cannot maintain the balance of a country's economy if one part of the country is allowed to go by default. The Firth of Forth bridge might have profound effects for good upon the industrial and social life of Scotland. I ask the Minister, and I believe I am supported by the great majority of Scottish people, to let us have the facts so that we may know what we are doing.

2.32 p.m.


I endorse the eloquent appeal that my hon. Friend the Member for East Fife (Mr. H. Stewart) has made to the Minister of Transport as to the importance of a road bridge scheme across the Forth. It is not merely a local question, but a question of considerable national importance. If the scheme went forward, it would be of importance to the iron and steel industry in the west of Scotland. From the transport point of view, it would affect all tourists by road coming from the south of England. I would remind the Minister that the main artery into Scotland, the road which is known to the Ministry as Al, which connects the two capitals of London and Edinburgh, stops at Edinburgh. We in Edinburgh do not wish tourists coming from the south to consider that city as the end of their journey, and we would like them to have the alternative of going west to Glasgow or to Stirling, or north across the Forth into the kingdom of Fife, or further north to Dundee and Aberdeen. At present, travellers who come from the south are, when they arrive at Edinburgh, faced with the estuary of the River Forth, and they have the alternative of either taking the ferry or going round by Stirling. Even when the new bridge at Kincardine is completed, visitors will have to make a considerable detour to get north.

The next point I want to emphasise is the local value of this bridge. I would remind the Minister that in Edinburgh and the Lothians there is a population of 600,000. In Fifeshire there is a population of 200,000, and the main communications between the two counties at present are very limited. It is true that for the last 50 years there has been a famous railway bridge crossing the Forth, but many people prefer to travel by road, and they are entitled to all reasonable facilities for the completion of their journey. As things are now, the River Forth forms a real obstacle between the inhabitants of Fife and those of the Lothians.

As to the demand for the bridge, I can speak for opinion in Edinburgh, and can assure the Minister that for the last 10 years there has been a steady demand for a road bridge across the.Forth. It is not a party question, because Liberals, Socialists and Conservatives are united in the demand for it. There is one point on which I would like to correct my hon. Friend. He said that at the recent deputation to the Minister's predecessor I came down in favour of the £6,000,000 at Queensferry. He explained that the complete survey for a bridge at Queensferry was made in 1929. At that deputation we were mainly concerned with the general case for a bridge and did not go into details regarding one place or another. It is true that I did not give up altogether the idea of the larger bridge at Queens-ferry, and for a particular reason, namely, that the survey for the bridge at Rosyth has never been completed. When the borings have been taken it may be found that a bridge there is not regarded as practicable, and if we had abandoned the larger scheme and then the smaller scheme had been held to be impracticable we might have lost the whole case for the bridge; but in the light of facts which have come to our knowledge I would say to the Minister that if when this incompleted survey is finished it is found that the Rosyth bridge is a practicable scheme I do not think any of us will bother very much about the larger scheme.

Much could be said in favour of the more expensive scheme, but we have to be reasonable and I feel that most people would be quite satisfied with the more modest alternative. If the Minister would complete the survey for the Rosyth bridge he would make it very much easier for the local authorities to prepare a scheme and submit figures to him for his consideration and, I hope, acceptance. They are not in the position to do that now because they have not all the relevant facts to enable them to make up their minds. I agree with my hon. Friend that it is surprising, considering the strong case there is for a bridge across the Forth, and the demand for it, as reflected in the local and the national Press in Scotland, that the bridge has not been started before now. One would almost think there were some bogy connected with it. Whenever the time has appeared to be ripe for starling the bridge some very attractive red herring has been drawn across the trail—either an improvement in the ferry service, or the idea of the Kincardine bridge to distract the attention of people from the question of this bridge. But although the ferry system has been considerably improved, and although the Kincardine bridge will have a certain local value, it is obvious to all who have considered the subject that the only solution of the problem of cross-river communication will be a road bridge at either Queensferry or Rosyth. It is very seldom that anybody comes into the open to say that a road bridge would be a mistake. I understand, however, that certain railway interests are rather opposed to this bridge. They would like to have the monopoly of traffic across the river, and they have the idea that their railway traffic might be affected by the road bridge; but that is a profound mistake, and for this reason. If I am right in what I said earlier about the lack of communication between Fife-shire and the Lothians, and the lack of a vital link in the road communications for those coming from the south and going to the north of Scotland, a road bridge would stimulate the general traffic between Fifeshire and the Lothians and in the long run the traffic by rail across the river would not be materially affected but might be increased. In any event, in a matter of this sort any question of commercial profits is a minor consideration in the face of the public interest, and I ask the Minister to regard this question from the broad point of view of the needs of the travelling public, and I would press upon him to take the first step in a work of considerable value by completing the survey for the bridge at Rosyth.

2.43 p.m.


It is quite clear that my hon. Friend who is now the Minister of Transport has taken over the duties of an office which is no sinecure. It is a position which will find employment for all the talents which he undoubtedly possesses and we all wish him well in his very important post. I intervene only to say a word in connection with the Forth road bridge. My hon. Friend the Member for East Fife (Mr. H. Stewart) has, in my opinion, made out a case for the completion of the survey, and that is all he asks for at the present time. There is a strong and influential body of opinion in Scotland which considers that a road bridge across the Forth is necessary. In my opinion the immediate prospect of the construction of such a bridge has been prejudiced for some time by the arrangement made for the construction of the Kincardine bridge. That may very well delay the immediate practicability of the bridge lower down, but I think all reasonable people will agree that the survey begun in 1930 and 1931 should now be completed.

We want an expert and inpartial examination of the position from every point of view to discover whether a bridge is desirable in the interests of transport conditions in Scotland, and from commercial and economic points of view. That is a very modest request to make to the Department. Various proposals for the site of the bridge have been mentioned—Queensferry, Rosyth and another suggested by some firm in Edinburgh. I do not wish to intrude my personal ideas in this matter, but Dunfermline is represented on this rather important promotion committee, and, if it were discovered first of all that a new road bridge were desirable, and that the proper place for the construction of that bridge on one side was Rosyth, I should be very gratified. At Rosyth, we have virtually a derelict area from the naval point of view, and if its ancient glories can be in part revived by a construction at that point of one part of the bridge, that would be welcomed by the important constituency which I represent.

Having regard to the possible cost of erecting a suspension bridge there, and to the very much lower price than that which was mentioned for a bridge lower down, I feel sure that the claims of Rosyth will not be overlooked. I suggest to the Minister that he will not be committing his Department in any way, or undertaking any responsibility for the future, if he can see his way to agree to the simple and reasonable request that I am making for the completion of the survey. I assure him that that would satisfy Scottish opinion which is, in point of fact, somewhat divided upon the subject of the bridge itself. It would settle a matter which has been agitating public opinion for a very long time, and would at the same time re-assure us in Scotland that Scottish interests are not neglected in this House. People sometimes suspect that projects of this character receive more favourable consideration in the south than north of the Tweed, but I do not believe there is a word of truth in that idea. There is very considerable interest taken in the proposal in Scotland. All that Scottish people want is an enlightened and expert inquiry, and a definite decision upon this very important matter. The first step is the completion of the survey.

2.50 p.m.


I entirely agree with hon Members opposite in regard to the proposed road bridge over the Forth. I want to bring to the Minister's attention the very similar question of a road bridge over the Tay. One has only to look at the map of the east of Scotland to realise that both projects march together. Neither of them is merely a local question, and if the Minister were to carry them out during his tenure of office, that would be national development in the widest and fullest sense of the term. The two bridges together would make a new great east coast road for Scotland, stretching from Edinburgh to Dundee land Aberdeen, and it would constitute a new artery for Scottish trade and industry.

I have always considered it fantastic that in the 20th century there should be no direct road link between two of the principal cities of Scotland, Dundee and Edinburgh, except by cumbersome and slow ferry crossings. If a motorist in Dundee wishes to go due south, he has first of all to use the Tay ferry crossing. That is a half-hour service, and he may have some time to wait on the bank of the river. Getting across takes a quarter of an hour If he be in a four-seater car, he has to pay 3s. 6d. single fare or 5s. 6d.for the return fare. If he be driving a lorry which does not exceed two tons in weight, the fare which he has to pay is 4s. single, or 5s. 6d. return. If the vehicle be heavier, he has to pay a greater amount still. When he comes to the river Forth, he has to go over a similar crossing, involving similar delay and similar charges. The only way in which he can avoid paying that tax upon transport—that is what it amounts to—is by making a very long detour round by Perth and Sterling.

This is not a new project, like the question of the road bridge over the Forth. It has been under consideration for a number of years. It first came prominently before the attention of the Government in 1929, and was very seriously considered by Mr. Morrison, the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor and by Mr. T. Johnston, who was then Lord Privy Seal and was in charge of works of national development. A survey was actually made, and it was estimated that the cost of a bridge just near the present railway bridge would be in the neighbourhood of £2.100,000. On 5th May, 1931, a Conference was held in this building between representatives of the Corporation of Dundee on the one side and on the other, Mr. T. Johnston, Mr. Adamson, who was then Secretary of State for Scotland, and Mr. Morrison. It was agreed that a conference of local authorities should be called at Dundee to consider the financial contribution that should be made, and the question of tolls if the bridge were actually erected. In August of that year the financial crisis supervened, and at the initiative of the Dundee Corporation consideration of the project was postponed.

Financial conditions are less stringent, and, now that it has been possible for the Government to advance £9,500,000 to help employment in the West of Scotland, it is felt very strongly, at any rate in Dundee, that there is a reasonable chance that the scheme could be proceeded with. Recently there was a unanimous vote of the Corporation that the bridge scheme should now be further considered. The Minister may reply that the initiative ought in the first place to come from the local authority, but it is useless a local authority taking steps, either on its own or with other local authorities interested, unless they are assured that when they have taken all the trouble the project will be considered by the Minister and his Department with an open mind. The matter has already been taken up this year with the Ministry of Transport. A letter was sent to the Ministry by the Town Clerk of Dundee on behalf of the Corporation, and a reply to it was sent on the 13th March, in which it was suggested that there should be a fresh conference of local authorities. But I would draw my hon. Friends attention to the last paragraph of the letter that was sent on that occasion. It reads as follows: I am, however, to add that, in view of the present commitments of the Road Fund, the Minister does not regard the present time as likely to be opportune for granting assistance from the Fund towards the suggested bridge. Obviously, that kind of attitude is not going to encourage any local authority. It is an intimation that, even though they may call their conference of local authorities interested, nothing is going to happen, whatever recommendation may come out of it. I hope that my hon. Friend will show a more sympathetic attitude today. I would like to make my appeal to him, because I think that these two projects, a bridge over the Forth and a bridge over the Tay, are really projects after his own heart. I have heard my hon. Friend make many powerful and eloquent speeches, both in this House and outside. One of the finest speeches that I ever heard from him was made some years ago when he came to speak in my support when I was Liberal candidate for the Tiverton Division of Devon. At that time the Liberal Yellow Book was before the electorate, and my hon. Friend gave a very powerful address advocating the proposals contained in that volume. One of the features of the Yellow Book policy is its proposal for great works of national development. My hon. Friend the Member for East Fife (Mr. H. Stewart), when he raised this subject about an hour ago, pointed out that the Ministry of Transport was, as it were, a stepping stone for those who go there, and he anticipated, as I anticipate, that my hon. Friend will not be long at that Ministry. At any rate, when he is called, and I hope it may be soon, to a higher sphere of utility—when, as it were, he once more rises on the stepping stones of his dead life to higher things—I should like him to leave behind these two great bridges stretching across the Forth and the Tay as a lasting monument of his work and of his tenure of office at the Ministry of Transport.

2.53 p.m.

The MINISTER of TRANSPORT (Mr. Hore-Belisha)

I begin by repelling the attack which was so unjustifiably made upon my predecessor by way of exordium to this discussion. I will content myself with saying that, if I can reach my predecessor's high standard of ability and sound judgment, I shall be well content. The matter which has been raised is a simple one, although it would be difficult to gather that from the speeches which have been delivered. Fair treatment has been asked for on behalf of Scotland, and that fair treatment I and every other Member of the Government would be willing to concede—in fact, we should find it impossible to resist—on this as on every other occasion. But, surely, it is a far cry from fair treatment to preferential treatment, and, unless my hon. Friends are asking for that, they will have no cause to be dissatisfied with the reply that I am about to make. I realise the deep local interest in these matters, whether native or acquired, and I congratulate my hon. Friends on the ability with which the case has been argued. They began with a request for one bridge, but my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee (Mr. Dingle Foot), not content with one bridge, asks for two, and he says that no expenditure would be too great, because they would be a monument to my tenure of the office which I now hold. The procedure is quite simple, and applies in every similar case. It is not the Government that is to be charged with inactivity. If any authority interested in any project will put it before the Ministry, I can assure him that it will receive the most equitable and sympathetic consideration. But there is only one Road Fund, and I desire it to be spent to the very greatest advantage. I recommend those authorities who are interested in this subject to put their proposals forward in time, if they have any proposals, so that they may be considered with the rest.

Some years ago, investigations were made for the improvement of the road transport facilities across the Forth. Three possible locations for bridges were considered, one just east of the Queens-ferry Bridge, one about three miles higher up the river at Rosyth, and one 14 miles further up at Kincardine. The last-mentioned bridge is now being built. The local authorities knew their own minds; they came with specific proposals, and it is hoped that this bridge will be completed within a reasonable time. With regard to the Queensferry Bridge, all the facts are in our possession. A full investigation was made, and we know every detail down to the price, which, I agree with my hon. Friend, is a fluctuating item depending upon the cost of labour and materials at any particular date. The facts, however, are fully known. With regard to the Rosyth proposal, here also we have a full memorandum of investigations, complete in every engineering detail except that the foundations have not actually been proved. I am asked whether that investigation can be brought to the point of completion, but the only action that I am required to take is to place the facts at the disposal of those interested—


To complete the borings.


To complete the borings. The cost of completing the investigation, including the sounding of the foundations, would be about £13,000. That is not a vast sum of money, and, if it is going to lead to any practical result, I am willing to complete the borings upon the condition that I shall presently mention to the House. I could provide Londoners with about 200 more pedestrian crossings from that sum of money, so I do not want to throw the amount away, as I am sure my hon. Friends, with their economic instinct in all matters except, perhaps, in this instance with regard to the taxpayers' money, will agree. Therefore, I make this statement to my hon. Friends, which I hope they will consider to be satis-factory. If the local authorities were to indicate, as they never yet have done, that they would themselves be prepared to find a substantial portion of the cost of constructing the bridge at Rosyth and accept their fair share of responsibility for maintaining it—I understand from the hon. Member for East Fire (Mr. H. Stewart) that that is what he would recommend them to do—I will then consider whether I am justified in agreeing to the completion of the investigation, and I will pay 75 per cent. of the cost of completing the investigation. I should, of course, expect the local authorities to pay at once their fair share of the costs already incurred, which they have under taken to pay but have not paid, doubtless upon good grounds. I cannot make any promise of a Government grant, but that is the offer that I make, and it is exactly the same offer that applies to any other local authority. The offer is universal, and I hope my hon. Friends will consider it satisfactory. I do not think they will expect me to Say any more, because they have not asked for more, but if this Debate has helped to clarify the situation, as they desire a clarification of the situation, my hon. Friends will have rendered a useful service, particularly the hon. Member for East Fife who so painstakingly and fully laid the case before the House.


The hon. Gentleman has not dealt with the point that I raised about the Tay Bridge. Will he consider with an open mind the question of proceeding with the. Tay Bridge?


We suggested some time ago a regional conference to investigate the financial aspects of the project. I have not yet heard the result, but I assure the hon. Member that I will consider any proposals that are made with what he is pleased to call an open mind.


At the same time the Ministry of Transport said they thought the time was inopportune. May we take it that the hon. Gentleman does not think that the time is inopportune?


I have given the hon. Member a perfectly fair answer to his question, that I will consider the proposal with an open mind when it is made.