HC Deb 29 July 1935 vol 304 cc2414-9

9.16 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 35, line 17, to leave out "Restriction of Ribbon Development," and to insert "Roads Improvement."

This is perhaps an Amendment which does not appear to be very important. It merely seeks to alter the Title of the Bill. When I ventured to propose a similar Amendment in Committee, my right hon. Friend the Minister, in response to a suggestion that "ribbon development" was more or less in the nature of a catch-phrase, said that he found the words in the Oxford Dictionary. Since he made that observation, I have taken the trouble to read through the Bill, and I cannot find these words except in the Title. I hope that my right hon. Friend has not come to the House with his mind made up not to change the Title. It is true that it arose out of the phrase of "ribbon development" and out of the general resentment in the country of ribbon development, but I suggest that really the Bill as it is now completed has a much wider application. May I refer him to the Preamble of the Bill, and say that it is desirable that the Title should have some reference to the general purposes of the Bill? As it has come from another place, the Bill, in its Preamble, is described as, An Act to provide for the imposition of restrictions upon development along the frontages of roads; to enable highway authorities to acquire land for the construction or improvement of roads or for preserving amenities or controlling development in the neighbourhood of roads; to extend the powers of local authorities as to the provision of accommodation for the parking of vehicles and as to the prevention of interference with traffic; and for purposes connected with the matters aforesaid. That very admirably sets out the general purposes of the Bill. Shortly, it may be said that it is an Improvement of the Roads Bill, and, therefore, I suggest to my right hon. Friend that, while in the change proposed there is no violation of any principle, there are no administrative difficulties involved, but there would be, by a change of Title, a more apt description of what the Bill seeks to do.


I beg to second the Amendment.

Not only is there need for change of Title, but the very Title which my right hon. Friend read out is now no good, because the Minister has changed Clause 13 which is no longer the Clause for acquiring land or preserving amenities, and for that reason both titles should really now be changed.

9.20 p.m.


I have listened to the arguments put forward by my hon. Friends, and I say at once that had there been any powerful case of emotion in the House to sweep this Title out of the Bill I should not have resisted it. But now that we have made so long and so pleasant a journey together I have become rather attached to the old Title of "Ribbon Development," we realise that it connotes something in the public mind. Those two words stand for the abuse and the spoiling of the countryside, which we have together vowed to try to eliminate. My hon. Friend wishes to substitute for the Title "Roads Improvement Bill." We have upon the Statute Book a Roads Improvement Bill which is slightly different in purpose from this Bill, and I am not anxious to create any confusion in the minds of those who look to these Acts for guidance. I do not think that titles matter very much in life, or that anyone is likely to be misled by the name by which this Bill is called. Those who are voluntarily interested in it will read it and those who are compelled to be interested in it to the extent of operating it will be bound to read it. I do not feel that the House has a real desire to change the Title of the Bill. In fact I feel that those hon. Members who are not present would be rather disappointed if they came back later in the Debate and found that the Title of the Bill which they had been discussing had already been changed.

9.22 p.m.


I hope the Minister will not think that because no one has spoken beside the Mover and the Seconder of the Amendment there is no desire in any other part of the House in favour of the Amendment. I think that the Minister is losing an opportunity, after the able way in which he has carried the Bill through, of giving a concession which would really be approved and appreciated by a large number not only in this House but outside the House. People to-day may know the Ribbon Development Bill is to remove an objectionable feature in the present method of building houses adjacent to our highways, and in a very few years I hope that if this Bill is a success—and we all hope that it will be—there will be no ribbon development. People may then ask, "What does ribbon development mean?" This would cause far more confusion than that which my right hon. Friend anticipates if there were more than one Roads Development Bill. If precedents are worth anything we have a considerable number of Housing Bills of different dates, and I do not think there would be any harm in having another Roads Improvement Bill, as that is the definite object of the Bill. It would be a Roads Improvement Bill of the present date. I hope that even now the Minister will consider the suggestion and carry out what would be a very graceful and useful act and one which would undoubtedly put the finishing touch to the Bill.

9.24 p.m.


Hon. Members might ask whether there was a precedent at a late stage for changing the name of an important Bill like the present Measure. The Minister of Transport may not be aware of the fact that when Sir Eric Geddes was appointed a Minister he was really, until the last hour or two, to have been called the Minister of Ways and Communications. It was not until we got to the very last stage that an alteration was made changing that very long title. It is because it was accepted on that particular occasion that the Minister is Minister of Transport at the moment. But I am not in favour of this Amendment because the Acts we have passed in regard to motor cars, traffic and roads are all so interlocked and so overlapping that it is very difficult for the ordinary layman to understand them as it is. There will be more road and traffic Acts in the future, I suppose, and though this particular Bill goes further than actually was required, for the restriction of ribbon development, it would be well to put it on the Statute Book as the Ribbon Development Act. It will then be automatically differentiated from some of the other Acts we slave already passed and from those which, I suppose, we shall pass in the future.

9.27 p.m.


This is not a matter of intense importance, but I take the view that if you have hit on something which is only slightly picturesque it is a pity to give it up. It is difficult to define "ribbon development," but by this time we all know what we mean by it; and the title is just slightly picturesque —certainly more so than a humdrum title like Roads Improvement Bill or something like that would be. There is something in a title. I remember that once in this House, I do not know how many years ago, there had been a most frightful row about something and while passions were still very much worked up the Clerk at the Table, at that time Sir Courtenay Ilbert, poured oil on the troubled waters by the mere announcement of the Bill that was to come before the House next. In his beautiful voice he said: "Summer Time Bill." That was the Bill that altered the clocks in the spring and gain in the autumn—and it might have been objected that that was a somewhat picturesque title and that it ought to be superseded by some more humdrum title. But I have always liked the sound of that title—and so I do that of the Ribbon Development Bill.

I had staying with me yesterday the head of the Canadian Forestry Service, who is on a second visit to England with one or two colleagues from Canada who have not been in England before. He desired to show them the House of Lords and the House of Commons, and although he did not know the neighbourhood of Westminster very well, he did just know where the buildings were, because he knew what the Abbey looked like from outside. He looked about for a notice-board to tell him which was the block of the Parliament Buildings and, if possible, which was the Lords and which was the Commons. And, he said, having looked up and down the street in this neighbourhood very carefully, that the only notice he could see which gave any indication of the purpose to which these buildings were applied was a notice, primarily intended, I suppose, for motorists, which read: "Dead Slow"! Nothing else could he find giving any clue to the purpose to which these buildings are put. I think, therefore, that we ought to try to hang on to anything which seems to make our business conform a little less to that description than they sometimes do at present. In the case of the present Bill I hope that the picturesque title will be preserved.

9.30 p.m.


I want to support this Amendment. The Minister of Transport asked what was in a name. I am afraid that when the Minister and I have passed from this realm to the realms above—[HON. MEMBERS: "Question!"]—somebody will want to know why this name was given to this Bill. The people we have left below will want to know why; and when they look back into history they will discover that this was the year of the Silver Jubilee, when so much ribbon was knocking about, and they will conclude that that was the reason for calling this the Ribbon Development Bill. While the last speaker was telling of the experience of some Canadian guests of his I was speaking to one of the officers of the Urban District Councils Federation, and he suggested that to make this a decent Bill we should take the "Ribbon" out of it altogether. I think that if the Minister would try to look at this Bill as it will appear in the future he would agree with that. [Interruption.] Red tape! It is red tape and blue tape, and yellow tape as well, and I think it is far better to call it the Roads Improvement Bill. When people in the future look at it they will wonder why on earth we have called it the Ribbon Development Bill. Through being upstairs on the Committee we have got some idea of its meaning, but ordinary people outside will not realise what is meant by this title of Ribbon Development Bill. I hope that the Minister, for his own sake and for the sake of the Committee which attempted to hammer this into a decent Bill, will accept this alternative title of the Roads Improvement Bill.

Amendment negatived.