§ [15TH ALLOTTED DAY] [SECOND PART].
§ Considered in Committee.
§ [Captain BOURNE in the Chair.]
§ CIVIL ESTIMATES, 1937.
§ CLASS VI.
§ MINISTRY OF TRANSPORT.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £130,942, 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, 1938, 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, the London Passenger Transport Act, 1933, the Road and Rail Traffic Act, 1933 and the Trunk Roads Act, 1936; Expenses in respect of Advances under the Light Railways Act, 1896; Expenses of maintaining Holyhead Harbour, the Caledonian and Crinan Canals; and other Services."—[Note.—£142,000 has been voted on account.]
§ 11.21 a.m.
§ The Minister of Transport (Mr. Burgin)
Civil Estimates, Class VI, page 129, deals with the Ministry of Transport Estimates, and page 144 deals with matters relating to the Road Fund. Perhaps it will best assist the Committee if, in opening this matter, I give a little explanation of the Estimates themselves at the commencement. The expenses of the Ministry of Transport are estimated at £927,682 gross, a figure which will be found on page 130, and £272,942 net. The Estimates are under eight subheadings, which are set out on page 129, and under certain of those eight subheadings there are increases above the figures of the preceding year. The most substantial increase is under heading A, dealing with salaries. Of the total increase of £126,263, £100,000 is under the heading of salaries. Provision for extra salaries has been necessitated by a number of causes, very largely because of an increase in the duties of the Department. The chief developments which have caused this very large increase in salaries under sub-head (A) are the creation of an entirely new Road Division for the North-Western area of the country, with 750 its headquarters at Manchester, as from 1st January of this year, but the Committee will understand that by far the greatest reason for enlarging the staff of the Ministry of Transport is found in the passage by Parliament of the Restriction of Ribbon Development Act and the Trunk Roads Act. There is an immense variety of additional tasks placed upon the Minister of Transport by rendering the Minister the highway authority for some 4,500 miles of trunk roads throughout the country, and staff not only have been necessarily increased in regard to that task but will be increased still further.
Then, the Road Traffic Act requires for its administration constantly increasing staff; 41 additional traffic examiners, and 30 additional office staff have been appointed. In order to carry out the Crofter Counties programme, 46 additional staff have been engaged. I think I need not trouble the Committee any further on these points, unless the detail arises, except to say that the balance 6f the staff is made up by, for example, accident officers. A most important development in connection with the administration of road traffic has been the appointment of accident officers in each of the districts, having as their duties the logging of accident statistics, under certain arrangements with local authorities, and the ascertainment of causes, with a view to prevention and to remedial measures being taken.
The essential matter having been touched upon and the broad grounds for the increase having been given, we find other headings under which there have been special services, inquiries and incidental expenses, and other matters, and I do not think that the different headings need be discussed in detail. Headings G, H and J provide for expenses in connection with certain undertakings which are vested in the Minister, such as Holyhead Harbour, the Caledonian Canal and the Crinan Canal. Then we have provision with regard to the Menai Bridge and other matters.
Perhaps what is rather more important in connection with the Estimates of the Department is that the Committee should have prominently in their mind the effect of Section 33 of the Finance Act, 1936. I may, perhaps, remind the Committee that that Section provides that the cost of administering the Roads Act, 1920, the 751 London Traffic Act, 1924, the various Road Traffic Acts from 1930 to 1934 and the Restriction of Ribbon Development Act, 1935, is no longer to be borne upon the Road Fund. Consequently, there is no recovery from the Fund in the current year, as there was in past years, to cover the cost of the Roads Department and certain part-time services. Had there been no change, the sum recoverable in respect of that expenditure would have amounted to rather over £750,000. The Finance Act, 1936, provides that the fees payable to the Traffic Commissioners and to licensing authorities and payable in respect of driving tests shall be appropriated in aid of the Ministry of Transport Vote, which bears the cost of the services for which the fees are charged, instead of those matters being credited to the Road Fund. The reason why the Estimates are in a different form this year is the passage by Parliament of the Finance Act, 1936. Broadly what happens now is that the Minister determines the amount that shall be provided for those services.
With regard to roads, if I may take the Committee from page 130 to 144—
It would possibly meet the convenience of the Committee if we did discuss these two Votes together, and I must ask the Committee to remember that these are quite separate Votes, and that they will have to be put separately from the Chair.
§ Mr. Burgin
I am very much obliged to you, Captain Bourne. I ought to have commenced by asking for the agreement of the Committee to deal with the Votes in that way, which I am sure will be for the convenience of the Committee. I am obliged to you for allowing us to handle them together. I would ask the Committee to turn to page 144 of the Estimates to Class VI, 15, which is an estimate of the amount required in the year ending 31st March, 1938, for a grant-in-aid of the Road Fund and for reimbursing the expenses of collecting motor licence duties. The sum asked for is £15,500,000. That Estimate is presented in pursuance of Section 33 of the Finance Act, 1936, which provides that, as from 1st April, 1937, the revenue of the Road Fund shall be derived from moneys provided by Parliament. The total provision for the Fund in the 1937–38 is estimated at rather over 752 £15,145,000. I am now referring to subhead A, to which must be added a sum a little exceeding £5,000,000 which represents the balance in hand on 1st April. The estimated payments out of the Fund in respect of grants to highway authorities amount to £15,065,000 and in respect of direct expenditure on trunk roads a total of £4,750,000, making a total of just under £20,000,000. This sum compares with a figure just under £15,000,000 for comparable purposes during the financial year 1936–37.
The Committee would probably like a word of explanation as to the £5,000,000 increase in the expenditure and also, I imagine, an explanation of why the expenditure is not very much greater. I would like to deal with both points. The increase of £5,000,000 is due to the fact that the expenditure on the five-year programme of improvements, inaugurated in 1935, is approaching its peak, and that the whole cost of maintaining and improving the trunk roads will fall on the Road Fund instead of only 60 per cent. in respect of maintenance and 75 per cent. to 85 per cent. in respect of improvements and developments. The Committee will remember that under the Trunk Roads Act, 1936, as from 1st April in England and as from 15th May in Scotland, the entire cost of those trunk roads passes to the Ministry, because the Minister becomes the highway authority in place of the county council for those 4,500 miles of road. The details of the various purposes for which grants will be made of expenditure incurred on trunk roads are given in Appendix I, which the Committee will find on page 146.
There is a good deal of detail under that sub-heading, and perhaps the Committee will allow me to go back to the expenditure on trunk roads in the latter part of the explanation which I am desirous of making. For the moment, in opening the estimate, I should like to go through the sub-headings, just calling the attention of the Committee to the major points. Then perhaps we might deal with the expenditure under that more general review with which it is customary to accompany the submission by the Minister of the Estimates for the first time.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon
Could the Minister relate the standard expenditure of £15,000,000 to £20,000,000 before- 753 hand of the Road Fund to the promised expenditure of ioo,000,000 promised at the General Election?
§ Mr. Burgin
Certainly; I shall be very glad to do that; but what I should prefer to do, if the Committee will permit me, is to take it at rather a later stage, so as not to ask the Committee to pass from figures that are in front of them to figures which I shall have to communicate to them. I am entirely in the hands of the Committee, but I think it will help if I go through the printed document in front of me, and then reveal to the Committee a great deal of information which it is my desire that they should possess.
Sub-head B of the Roads Vote provides £52,000 for the Menai Bridge; Sub-head C provides for the expenses of collection of licence duties on motor vehicles; and there are other sub-heads, the details of each of which are available; but I think that perhaps it will best serve my purpose, in opening the Estimates, if I give to the Committee a broad general view. The Ministry of Transport Vote shows an increase of a little over £170,000, largely for salaries, and also because of increased functions. Under the Road Fund the accounts are submitted in a different way because for the first time we have in operation Section 33 of the Finance Act, 1936. When accounts are submitted in a new form for the first time, comparable figures are not easy to give, because we are not comparing like with like. The information is available to the Committee in the printed Estimates at. the pages I have indicated, and any detailed questions which may arise in the course of the debate might perhaps be dealt with by my hon. and gallant Friend the Parliamentary Secretary when he comes to reply.
I should like to take the occasion of the selection of this Vote for discussion on a Supply day to give something in the nature of a general review of the work of the Department, endeavouring to select such subjects as I believe and understand to be of particular interest to hon. Members, and offering, of course, to supplement the review with details in any respect that the Committee may desire. The Ministry of Transport is of statutory origin, and a number of the questions which are asked from time to time in the House appear to lose sight of the fact that the Minister has only such powers 754 as are expressly given to him by an Act of Parliament. The Ministry was formed in 1919 by a Statute of that year. Various Acts of Parliament have been passed at subsequent dates, and by those subsequent Acts differing powers and differing responsibilities have been transferred to the Minister. The Minister has charge of the main line railways, of the docks and harbours, of electricity, and of everything having to do with road transport; and also, under recent Acts, of the maintenance of the whole trunk road system of the country and that very difficult question, the restriction of ribbon development. Apart from coastal shipping and civil aviation, transport in all its phases is dealt with by the Ministry.
It requires very little imagination to realise that the problems of transport, widely conceived, are enormous. There is nothing fixed and static about them; they are likely to increase. Conditions are moving in a way that daily creates new problems connected with traffic. The increase of urban population, the increase in the number of mechanically-propelled vehicles on the roads, a rise in the general well-being of the community. a lowering of the cost of the mechanically-propelled vehicle—all of these factors intensify the problems of transport. The immense problem of how to deal with millions of people congregated in a relatively small area is one which will call for increasing consideration by the Minister, the experts, and the committees that advise him. I shall deal a little later with questions of overcrowding on suburban railways, and with methods of exit from and approach to urban areas, but I want the Committee at the outset to understand the tremendous nature of the problem when office hours appear by convention all to begin at the same time, when the entire population appear to desire to take their lunch during precisely the same interval, and when the time at which they all desire to return to their homes is broadly speaking the same. This sudden arrival at the centre of a town of all the people who desire to go to their offices, their exit from their offices to obtain refreshment in the middle of the day, and their pouring into the streets at rush hours somewhere between five and seven at night, produce a problem that has not yet approached solution in any of the metropolitan areas of the world. That is not to say that it is not a problem 755 which requires very considerable attention in our own country.
Before going into details on any of these road matters, I should like to say a word about safety. I would preface the observations I wish to make by remarking that the Minister of Transport, rightly conceived, is, as I understand it, the authority whose duty it is to provide as far as possible for appropriate traffic conditions; I regard it as much more the duty of the Minister to see that the roads themselves do not provide a cause of accidents, than to minimise the effect of accidents when caused. Perhaps I express myself badly, but what I am endeavouring to point out is that the function of the Ministry is much more to provide facilities than in any particular way to prevent. I hope I shall interest the Committee by giving them certain statistics. The object of road construction, of the regulation of traffic using the roads, and of restrictions or recommendations to those in charge of vehicles and cycles and to pedestrians, must be as far as possible to remove from those matters which are under the control of the Ministry anything which might be a cause of accident. I believe that it is not beyond the skill of road engineers, road designers, town planners and others to provide a situation in which it would not seriously be stated that the roads themselves were contributory causes of the toll of accidents. No doubt there are great improvements that might be made, and I do not think anyone can say that the present conditions are satisfactory and that nothing further need be done, but it ought to be the aim of the highway authorities to remove from their transport media the causes of accidents on the roads. But underneath all that there is the human element, and the difficulty of the Ministry confronted by these appalling totals is that so much could be done by an increased standard of care—such appalling consequences flow from even a momentary lapse. However you improve your roads you will not do away with the human element. Improve your human element and you will do away with a great deal of the perpetual dangers of the road.
I have been very struck by the information which is flowing into the Department, not so much as the result of prosecutions for wrongdoing as from observation of what is done. Increased 756 attention is being paid all over the country to logging carefully the habits and conduct of motorists, pedestrians, cyclists, casual users of the road, school children and others. The figures are very startling. The 12 months ending 31st December, 1936, is the most convenient recent period for grouping statistics, though I have figures up to the end of June if anyone is particularly interested. During the last calendar year, according to the returns issued by the Home Office, there were killed on the roads of Great Britain 6,561 persons. How many of those were pedestrians, how many pedal cyclists, how many were involved with regard to a motor cycle? The Committee will be surprised to hear that 3,068 were pedestrians, 1,498 pedal cyclists. 1,187 riders of or passengers on motor cycles—5,753 cut of 6,561 can be grouped among pedestrians, pedal cyclists or those driving or riding on motor cycles. Anyone faced with figures of that kind, while redoubling the attention that he would give to matters relating to motorists, will obviously have to extend his observations very much further, because five-sixths of the trouble can be located among three classes of road users. The evidence would seem to dictate that part of the remedy lies in asking for a higher standard of care among those three classes. [Interruption.] I hope the hon. Member will not merely think that the provision of footpaths and cycle tracks by itself is the answer to the problem. That will not do. It is a lamentable fact that a great many accidents happen where there are good roads, good drivers and good vehicles, where it is broad daylight, but they happen through some lowering of the standard of care or insufficient allowance for a possible breach of the standard of care on the part of some other road user.
At any rate, for the moment I am content to give the Committee those facts, and to tell them that officers trained in the observation of people and their habits are now stationed at a number of prominent places, such, for instance, as the arrivals at and exits from the Metropolis and at certain well-known crossings, in order to observe the attitude of the travelling public to measures which are intended to improve their travelling safety. The Committee will be very 757 interested, on some occasion when it is convenient, if the facts can be given to them of the number of pedestrians who ignore measures taker for their protection and the way in which cyclists appear almost obstinately to go contrary to measures intended for their greater preservation, and of the number of infractions of the Highway Code committed by all and sundry up and down the country. It really is rather distressing to find the very large percentage of breaches of one or other of the elementary provisions of the Highway Code that are frequently committed by a large number of users of the highway.
It is not my business or my wish to-day to impute blame. My desire is to invite the co-operation of all who use the roads to realise that this is not a pro-motorist contra-pedestrian problem. It is not a pro-pedestrian contra-motorist problem. It is a matter of mutual interest to all who believe that the roads are in some way connected with their liberty and with their enjoyment of a fuller life. I am hoping that, by giving attention to the result of these loggings of facts, the public will become increasingly alive to the advisability of greater care. In the olden days the driving of a motor car was a matter of some intricacy. The old gate change meant that one did have to understand the mechanism of a clutch and the use of a gear lever. But nowadays, with perfection in manufacture, with the possibility of noiselessly swinging the gear lever about at any of the angles of the 360° and altering your pace accordingly, a great many people are in charge of mechanically propelled vehicles with very little knowledge of their potential danger to other users of the road. I think these facts have to be made widely known, and the co-operation of all users of the roads has to be invited in an endeavour to bring down these totals.
I want the Committee to understand one other fact. It is established beyond all contradiction that the taking of remedial measures reduces the number of street accidents. The time will shortly come when the speed limit itself will come up for review, but, leaving on one side all questions of speed limits for the moment, there are wide stretches of road now on which observation is kept as to the effect before roundabouts were created, before 758 refuges were put up, before street crossings were provided, before better lights were provided, and after. I say without fear of contradiction that the lesson of the whole of these measures is that remedial measures at once reduce the total of accidents on the roads. That evidence dictates the remedy, that there should be more remedial measures. I have a great deal of sub-division of these statistics showing the nature of the impact on certain roads compared with the much greater damage that is done by impact on certain other roads. The traffic problem is exactly commensurate with the density of the population. I was much interested in a tour of the trunk roads of Scotland recently to find that in certain areas there is no traffic problem at all. The reason is to be found in the fact that there is very little population either. Immediately you come South of a particular line to a particular city, your accident figures go up in the proportion in which the population has risen. So that we are beginning to be faced with a large number of factors, many of which were at one time unknown, and some of which are now beginning to be capable of being expressed. I make the point that greater care is required in all these matters, and I make the further point that remedial measures, taken in time, reduce the statistics of road accidents on a particular road.
There is no ground for complacency as to what has happened this year up to date. Both in killed and injured, there is an increase, and the increase is most marked among pedestrians. There are 150,000 more motor vehicles on the roads than there were at this time last year, and, in terms of percentage, that is nearly six per cent. more vehicles on the roads of this country. Most of the accidents are preventible; there is only a very small part of the accidents that is not preventible. During the first half of 1937 41 per cent. of the pedestrians killed or injured were under 15, and the graph of the fatal accidents which is kept in my Department shows that a very pronounced peak occurs at the age of about five; five is the age in children at which the largest number of accidents occur. The reason seems to be that immediately a kiddie is old enough to use the street alone or under relaxed control, and before developing traffic sense, that that is the moment at which that child is exposed to the greatest danger.
§ Mr. E. Dunn
Will the Minister give us the figures for the first six months in exactly the same way as he gave us the figures to the end of December, 1936, in order that we may compare them?
§ Mr. Burgin
Perhaps the hon. Member will allow me to have them calculated in the particular way he wants, and perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary might see if that information can be given in his speech a little later. I have not got the sub-division before me, although, no doubt, it is available in the form in which the hon. Member asks. The point I am trying to make at present is that the largest class are pedestrians, 41 per cent. of the pedestrians are children, and a great number of children are under five.
§ Mr. Burgin
I will try to do so. The total number killed in the first six months was 3,018, and I have said that the largest class of those were pedestrians, and that 41 per cent. of the pedestrians killed or injured were children, and that a great number of children were under five. It is obviously a matter of calculation, and perhaps the hon. Member will allow me to find it out.
§ Mr. Watkins
I think that it would make the right hon. Gentleman's figures rather more interesting—he says that 41 per cent. of the accidents and deaths on the roads occur to children of 15 and under—if he could tell us what percentage of the total population are included in these ages? Then we should know of the likelihood of death or accident on the roads to the young lives in proportion to the total population.
§ Mr. Burgin
I am much obliged to the hon. Member and what very much delights me is the obvious interest of the Committee in the points that I am raising, and this will obviously not be the only occasion upon which one can deal with such matters as the statistics for which the hon. Member is asking. I am presenting them in a way which, I think, will perhaps graphically draw the attention of the Committee, and, later on, the country, to certain specific deductions, which seem now to be clear from the statistics, over a longer period of time. I will make every endeavour to give the information for which the hon. Member asks.
760 I want to pursue this thought a degree further. I have pointed out the high percentage of children and the fact that in pedestrians the age of five is the danger spot, and I have ventured to state that, in my judgment, that was because it was at the moment when they were first able to go with relaxed control, and that it was at a time before they acquired traffic sense. Exactly the same is true with regard to pedal cyclists. It is rather curious to find that the peak period of danger for pedal cyclists is 14 or 15; in other words, just when boys and girls are for the first time beginning to use pedal cycles on the road. I think that it is significant that this relaxation of control prior to a full appreciation of the danger of being on the road at all is the moment at which the maximum number of accidents occur.
§ Mr. Gallacher
Is there any Board of Trade regulations concerning boys of 14 employed by small business people using cycles? For instance, I know of the case of a boy who was out with a cycle with no brake of any kind and one of the pedals broken off, and there seem to be no regulations for giving control and preventing cycles being used by boys in that way.
§ Mr. Burgin
I think that there are provisions as to the state of repair that cycles should be in, but I will look at the question of the hon. Gentleman and see if I can find the actual answer a little later in the day. The point I am endeavouring to make at the moment is that the Committee on Road Safety Among School Children who made a report on this matter in 1936, evidently were impressed by the sort of figures that I have given to the Committee, and they said that they thought parents should not allow children under 7 to be on the highway unless accompanied by someone competent to see to their safety. I think that parents have that obvious responsibility in the matter, and I wanted to give the Committee some information in that regard.
May I quite shortly pass to a review of some other matters, because I am aware that Friday is a short day, and that a number of hon. Members desire to speak and I do not want to monopolise the time. It is obvious that the transfer of 4,500 miles of trunk roads from the county councils to a Government Department is a matter of the greatest signifi- 761 cance, and it is quite apparent that an enlightened trunk road policy must be worked out and carried into effect. The functions of transport, that is, the possibility of the distribution of people and goods to all convenient places at reasonable speeds, without blocks and without so slowing down as to amount to a negation of transport, is obviously a very important matter. There are great works in hand in connection with trunk roads and trunk road development. The problem is enormous, and the expenditure is terrific. You cannot have these main loads maintained, improved, straightened, their bottle-necks removed, their bridges improved, their short cuts altered, and their railway crossing disposed of—you cannot have matters of that kind dealt with without running into enormous figures of expenditure, and the Committee will realise that expenditure of that kind can, and must be, a gradual matter spread over a period of time, and that what the Ministry is always faced with is really competing ideas of priority. There is no doubt that unlimited money and unlimited time would be required if all the major improvements that are wanted in our transport system were to be capable of remedy. It is a question of the reasonable and practical pursuing of an enlightened policy, with due regard to other considerations, and I think that I rightly express it when I say that the matter is really one of competing priority.
The hon. and gallant Member for Wallasey (Lieut. - Colonel Moore-Brabazon) asked me whether I could relate the expenditure on the five-year programme to some programme of construction. Programmes have been submitted of an estimated total cost of £127,500,000, and commitments have been entered into in respect of almost exactly half that amount—£66,000,000. The Road Fund's share of the cost of the total programmes submitted would be £76,000,000, and its share of the commitments to date is just over £40,000,000. About half the programmes have been approved. Further schemes during the course of this year are expected to be approved amounting to about £21,000,000, and the balance of the programme, about £40,000,000, is expected to be approved in the course of the next two or three years. Road Fund commitments of just over £40,000,000 had been liquidated, at the end of March, 1937, 762 to the extent of about £6,000,000, equivalent to a total expenditure of about £10,000,000. A further expenditure of £10,000,000 is expected this year, and thereafter the rate of expenditure should rise so as to enable the balance of the present commitments to be liquidated in three to four years' time. About £60,000,000 of work exists to which we are not yet committed. Broadly speaking, in about four years' time the whole of the programme should have been approved. Details of these different works are to be found partly in the Estimates of the Department, and they can be dealt with partly by way of question and answer.
My difficulty in dealing with such an enormous topic as the transport facilities of the whole country on the lines I have indicated, is rather a matter of selection. I am wondering whether the next topic on which I might say a few words is one that will be of interest to the Committee. I refer to the overcrowding of suburban trains, which has formed the subject of Questions and Answers in the House. I propose to deal in particular with the Morden Line. The Committee will understand that Parliament deliberately placed the responsibility for suburban trains upon the London Passenger Transport Board, and not upon the Minister. The Minister's power in this matter is confined to the making of certain recommendations, and does not include the questions of facilities or fares. The London Passenger Transport Board is subject with regard to facilities and fares to having its suggestions capable of being criticised by a Tribunal. It was the expressed determination of Parliament to place these matters under the control of an independent tribunal rather than under the control of the Minister. Again, I come back to a sentence that I used in my opening remarks, namely, that the answer to a great number of questions, a great number of comments, and a great number of articles in trade journals with regard to what the Minister does and does not do, is that the Minister's powers are statutory, and are limited by the terms of the Act giving him certain powers.
The number of trains that can be run on a tube railway is governed by three or four elementary considerations—the speed at which a train can be run, the efficacy of its brakes and the straightness of its tunnels. Broadly speaking you come to 763 a time at which you are running your trains as fast as you can, you are braking them as sharply as you can and you have straightened your tunnels to such an extent that you will find that you very nearly have reached capacity. In the earlier stage of my observations I suggested that employers should consider the propriety of staggering the arrival, the luncheon interval and the departure of some of their staffs. Although that may not be an immediate problem, it is one which in any large aggregation of population requires attention. The plain fact is that so long as everybody wants to travel at the same time serious overcrowding is almost inevitable, unless additional tube lines are made to deal with the peak loads, a proposition which is financially impracticable.
The increase in traffic overcrowding on the Morden line, to which the hon. Member for Seaham Harbour (Mr. Shinwell) directed attention the other day, is to be regretted. The increase of traffic in ten years has been remarkable. All kinds of additional signalling have been introduced, and the line is now carrying the maximum number of trains, 40 an hour at peak times, and carrying 1,500,000 passengers during the peak hours. In these circumstances the only possible method of increasing traffic capacity is by reconstructing the trains, and this is being done. With higher acceleration, improved braking and additional capacity, it is hoped to work a service exceeding 40 trains an hour, but what the maximum number may be must depend on practical engineering experience. Additional platform staff is a matter kept under constant consideration by the Board, and additional men have recently been appointed to the platforms on this particular line. A further extension of platforms and trains is a matter which is likely to create difficulty amounting to impracticability wherever tunnelling difficulties are involved.
My points are two. The London Passenger Transport Board are themselves the authority, but there is a Tribunal, and the local authorities have a locus in order to make representations should they so desire; but the Minister's power in the matter is somewhat limited. The overcrowding on this particular railway is a matter which is being very closely looked into. I have particulars of the London 764 Passenger Transport Board's proposals for lessening overcrowding on their tubes, dealing with such line as the Edgware-Golders Green and other lines. Their main proposals consist of extending their Highgate tube to the London and North Eastern Railway, doubling the London and North Eastern Line to Edgware, linking the Bakerloo line at Finchley Road with the old Metropolitan line to Stan-more, relining the track between Finchley Road and Harrow, and the provision of new and improved rolling-stock. I want the Committee to gather from these details—and I apologise for giving them to the Committee in such quantities—that this is a problem daily and hourly under review. I should not like the Committee to think that London traffic conditions are matters that can be easily dealt with. No Minister of Transport could ever pretend that London's traffic requirements are not matters of major consideration the whole time, and almost defy solution.
The aim and object of the whole of the administration of this Department is to endeavour to give to the travelling public the facilities to which they are reasonably entitled, to ask the concurrence of the travelling public in observing reasonable regulations for maintaining the safety of these traffic routes. I, personally, am hopeful that much can be done by way of appeal and encouragement, and I am anxious as far as possible not to have to resort to a series of restrictive regulations. One of the difficulties of dealing with transport is that every man and woman imagine themselves to be experts in this particular problem. My post-bag contains an immerse number of suggestions, nearly all of which are, "Please say that someone may not," and nearly all these recommendations come from people who would not themselves be affected by the restrictions which they suggest placing upon others. These are matters which have to be dealt with in due course by administration, but I ask the Committee to accept the statement that the aim and object of the Ministry is to provide such conditions as will, with reasonable use, permit of the greatest possible facilities for the travelling public, whether by rail or by road, for the users of the road, whether owners, occupiers, drivers, pedal cyclists, motor cyclists or the ordinary and humble pedestrian.
§ 12.18 p.m
§ Sir Percy Harris
I do not object to the time taken by the Minister in explaining these Estimates. We have listened to a very complete survey of the work of the Ministry. There is no subject that more intimately affects the lives of the people and in which the public are more interested. I think the speech itself was a justification of the Liberal Parliamentary party in selecting Transport for discussion upon a Supply Day. I remember that when in 1919 the Ministry of Transport was created by the foresight and genius of the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) there was considerable criticism at the creation of another new Department. I remember that during the economy campaign there was a suggestion to sweep the Ministry away as unnecessary. But the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs has been justified, for the growth and increased importance of transport in modern life make the Department absolutely necessary. We have listened to a very fluent and almost brilliant speech, but if the Minister will allow me to say so—I speak in no criticism of himself, because after all he is new to his office—I think the time for talk has gone by and the time for action has come. There has been plenty of propaganda by the Ministry. The situation has now arisen that we want action, active work to deal with this very important problem.
I am going to concentrate mainly on the question of the roads, and those of London in particular. It must not be thought that I am underrating the importance of goods traffic. I was rather surprised that in his survey the Minister did not once refer to the industrial side of transport. Cheap transport is vital to modern industry. High railway rates may ruin and in some cases are seriously injuring some of our industries especially heavy industries. One of the tasks of the Minister of Transport is to see that commercial transport is not strangled by the destruction of competition. There is a feeling, especially among many of the companies employed in road haulage, that the railways are being allowed to strangle this new and vital industry. I have heard that in some country villages, owing to the monopoly now obtained by the railways, it has been found practicable to go back to horse haulage, and that many an old cart has been brought back 766 into service in order to provide cheap transport for the country villages. In a debate of this kind we should not sweep aside as unimportant the commercial side of this very big industry.
It is not necessary to emphasise the tremendous increase in the number of motor vehicles. The last figure I had was 2,750,000. I do not know whether the Minister has a later figure, but I suppose it is now getting towards the 3,000,000. Half a million of these vehicles are commercial. A large proportion are private cars used for pleasure purposes. It is interesting to note that Great Britain has more cars per mile than any other country in the world. Our number is 14 per road-mile. The United States, notorious for the number of motors, is a bad second with eight per road-mile. Of course that is due to the close concentration of our population, the closeness of our towns and the smallness of our territory. But it means that the problem is of great urgency and requires bold constructive measures. While the number of vehicles is increasing the roads in the greater part of the country remain still winding lanes connecting the villages, in spite of the construction of the great arterial roads. Since 1910 the number of vehicles has increased 19 times but the road mileage has increased only 1.5. In other words the roads are not keeping pace in any degree with the increase in the number of vehicles.
Continental countries are tackling this problem on very big lines, and it is interesting to note that a number of Members of Parliament interested in road transport are going this summer to Germany to study the methods of the Germans in dealing with this question. Germany also has a five-year plan. For some reason the idea of a five-year plan, which originated in Russia, seems to be imitated in all European countries. Under its five-year plan Germany proposes to construct over 4,000 miles of double tracks, and 650 have already been constructed. Something similar has been done in Italy where during the last seven or eight years a series of experiments have been made with what is known as the autostrada. Those experiments do not appeal to this country, but it is interesting to 767 observe that while we are doing comparatively little other countries have made progress.
The present Prime Minister when Chancellor of the Exchequer—it was during an election when Ministers are more verbose than they are between elections—stated on 4th November, 1935, that the Government were embarking on a five-year plan involving the expenditure of no less than £100,000,000. That has already been referred to by the Minister, who tried to explain that 100-year programme. [HON. MEMBERS:"£100,000,000!"] I made a slip, and perhaps it was justified, for it seems that we shall be somewhere near the never-never land before we reach the end of that £100,000,000 programme. The figures of the Estimates are by no means clear. The right hon. Gentleman tried to explain the difference between the £16,000,000 and the £20,000,000. I will take it at £20,000,000. Are we to understand that the £100,000,000 programme includes this £20,000,000, or is it in addition to it? The public understood that the £100,000,000 programme was an additional programme spread over five years, but, as far as I can gather, that £100,000,000 is not to be expended in five years. The actual expenditure will be spread over a much longer period.
§ Mr. Burgin
I tried to give the hon. Member as much information as I could. In another four years commitments will have been made covering more than £127,000,000 of work.
§ Sir P. Harris
Those are commitments. The Prime Minister no doubt unconsciously misled the public and road authorities because he gave the impression that the five-year programme meant an expenditure during the five years of £100,000,000.
§ Mr. Burgin
There is a lag between the commitments and the actual expenditure of the money. There are a great many difficulties in acquiring land. I can assure the hon. Member that one of the difficulties of administration in regard to road development is to get the programme of actual expenditure commensurate with your commitments. The delay is in acquiring the land, getting your tenders, letting your contracts and getting your contractor at work. The commitments in the 768 next four years should be followed by a commensurate expenditure during those four years.
§ Sir P. Harris
I think the Prime Minister should have known that when he made his statement. Probably he was misled by the Department, certainly he misled the public, and the fact is that there is to be no large increase in expenditure on road improvements during the next four years. It is to remain static, between £20,000,000 and £25,000,000. If you take the year 1935–36, the expenditure was £20,000,000, and in 1931–32 the actual expenditure was £28,000,000. All this talk of a big programme is mere moonshine; there is going to be no particular forward policy. This is just using the words "five-year programme" because it is the fashion. I know it is said that these are difficult times, and that we cannot afford a large expenditure on road improvement. It must be remembered that this industry provides the money for its own public service. It pays in taxes and licences £72,000,000, and that is added to year by year as the industry expands.
I agree that as we are embarking on a great rearmament programme there are great demands on the public purse. It would have been better to have spent this money during the depression when it might have saved a lot of broken hearts, and helped us over the bad cycle of unemployment. The question of road improvement cannot be entirely divorced from national defence. In the case of war there must quite clearly be a free movement of goods and population. An attack on London would mean evacuating not only the population but moving the centre of transport Roads, then, are a part of national defence, and it cannot be regarded as an extravagance to embark on this cost.
§ Mr. MacLaren
Has the hon. Member ever contemplated the cost it would entail to pay the landlords to get these great, wide roads?
§ Sir P. Harris
That is a question which is not quite in order on this Vote. It can be discussed on another Vote. There is, of course, the safely of the public. As far as I can understand from the interesting public lecture to the public by the Minister of Transport. the present attitude is rather to push the responsibility on 769 to the public in order to avoid any constructive programme. The right hon. Gentleman was able to explain that the 6,500 fatal accidents were largely due to the personal factor. Of course the personal factor is important. The old and the young, who form a large proportion of the victims, are not able to keep pace with modern transport, but that does not absolve local authorities and the Ministry of Transport from having a constructive policy. The late Minister of Transport made his great gesture to the public in the Belisha beacons. There they are, a monument to his period of office, but they have not proved a serious contribution to a solution of the problem. It was a brave effort, but has been more or less a failure. Something more constructive is necessary.
I hope that sooner or later in the centres of our big towns we shall have a system of pedestrian automatic traffic lights which is far the most effective, although more expensive, method in the prevention of accidents at important crossways. Then there are subways which provide safety for the public, but which again cost money. It is necessary for the Ministry to make its contribution to these proposals. About 40 per cent. of the accidents occur at crossroads. Some experiments have been made on some of the arterial roads by providing flyovers, and that is a kind of contribution which the Minister might well make, or stimulate and encourage local authorities to make, by providing the necessary financial contribution towards the cost.
§ Sir P. Harris
I am glad to have the right hon. Gentleman's approval. He holds the purse-strings, and if he provides the money, no doubt local authorities will do the necessary work. But I want to concentrate on London where you have, perhaps, the most complicated and difficult transport problem in the whole country. There is a population of 9,500,000 concentrated in one more or less continuous urban area. This size is possible because of the electrification of railways and the development of the petrol engine. Actually, the population in the County of London is decreasing, it is going outwards, but the increase in the outer area has been intensified by emigrants from Wales and the North. We have had a Committee appointed to 770 deal with the location of industry. Meanwhile, the traffic problem remains to be dealt with. Travelling has actually increased in the London area at an even greater rate than the population. In 1911, 1,800,000,000 journeys were made in the London transport area, and they increased in 1935 to 4,000,000,000—an increase of 170 per cent. That increase is going on, and it has been intensified by the increase in the number of private motor cars. There are 250,000 privately-owned cars registered in the London traffic area. Of course, they do not all come out on week days. If they did, the congestion would be much worse than it is to-day. Anybody who goes round London on a Sunday can see the stream of traffic there is on the main roads.
The roads of London have never been adapted to the new forms of transport. During the last 25 years attempts have been made to overcome the inadequacy of the streets by developing the tubes and driving the public underground. I wish to testify to the efficiency of the tube system. The genius of Lord Ashfield and his colleagues has made our tube system the envy and admiration of the world. There are various ways of making it more efficient and of overcoming the over-crowding. The right hon. Gentleman himself suggested one or two ways. There is, for instance, the abolition of first-class compartments, and although that does not apply to the tubes, which already have only one class, it applies to the District Railway and to the local traffic on the main lines. That, I believe, is a small contribution that we might make to the horrible overcrowding in the early morning when the population goes to work and in the evening when it returns home. But that would be only a very small contribution, and I hope that the public would not allow itself to be fobbed off with a small thing of that sort.
A few days ago I asked a Question in the House about the construction of double tracks. No doubt it would require legislation to enforce it on the railway companies; but I was sorry that the right hon. Gentleman dismissed the proposal as impracticable. I think that would be the only way of making the underground system tolerable to the great population of London. The outer railways have been extended and are now carrying far more people, 771 but the central lines have remained more or less the same. It would be quite easy, and would present no serious engineering difficulties, to double the track from Earls Court to the Mansion House. Already there is a tube from Hammersmith to Earls Court under the existing District Railway, and it would be quite a practical proposal to continue it to the Mansion House or, alternatively, to double the ordinary District line from Earls Court to the Mansion House. However, I submit to the Committee that the construction of railways would not solve the London traffic problem, for the congestion on the streets would still remain.
Various attempts have been made to relieve that congestion. First of all, an Act was passed by the Labour Government in 1924, when the London and Home Counties Advisory Committee was set up; and it will be remembered that it was proposed to limit the number of 'buses plying for hire in the streets and to fix their routes. We were assured that with the setting up of the Committee and with the new powers given to the police, the congestion in the streets would disappear, but after two or three years' experience, it was found that that was not a remedy. Accordingly, in 1931 another Act was passed, under the joint parentage of the Labour Government and the National Government. A complete monopoly of London traffic was handed over to a new authority; that authority was given control over the Underground, the District Railways, the 'buses and the trams, and even power over the local lines to London of the main line railways. We were assured that there would be a better service, cheaper transport and a more contented staff, but none of those things has eventuated. The congestion remains as bad as ever; there are still as many vehicles on the streets, still as many traffic blocks, and still as much grumbling in the early morning and late at night. The monopoly, which has now been functioning for some five years, has not proved a remedy. It may be that it has stopped some overlapping and given some central control, but the problem is still unsolved.
During the passage of both those Acts, I insisted that it was unwise to divorce responsibility for the roads from responsibility for the traffic, and I maintained that as long as the roads remained in- 772 adequate, no matter who controlled and managed the 'buses and trams, there would still be congestion, overcrowding and delay. People are crowding into the tubes and trains. Why? Because of the delay and uncertainty of travelling on the roads. London wants a bold system of replanning. The arterial roads that have been constructed all round London during recent years have increased the congestion of the streets at the centre. London acts as a magnet; the more the surroundings grow, the more people are driven to the centre, with a greater congestion and overcrowding of the streets there. The only great street improvement that has been made during the last 25 years has been Kingsway. It is true that various schemes have now been approved by Parliament, such as the continuation of Cromwell Road and Brompton Road, but the only complete new street improvement has been Kings-way. We need a replanning of the centre of London. Many years ago I advocated the clearing away of Covent Garden from the centre to some more convenient situation near the railways or the river. If that were done, there would be a splendid opportunity for a broad new street, on the lines of Kingsway, from East to West.
Our bridges system is recognised as being completely out-of-date. True, Waterloo Bridge has been pulled down and is to be rebuilt. There may be a better bridge, but it will not be a contribution to the traffic problem, for the approaches to the bridge will remain the same, and all that will happen if the bridge is broader is that more traffic will be thrown into the already congested Strand. Nor will there he any improvement on the South side of the River. That new bridge has been given good publicity, thanks perhaps to the House of Commons and to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison), but although it may be a beautiful bridge, a better modern and broader bridge, it will not be a serious contribution to the traffic problem of London. We want new bridges at different places; more bridges, and not old bridges reconstructed.
There has been a very long controversy about Charing Cross Bridge. Every few years a new commission is set up to consider it, and makes a report, but we are no nearer to a solution of that problem. 773 If there is a new Charing Cross Bridge, I suggest that it must be part of a replanning both of the South side and the North side of the River, for it is of no use building new bridges unless there are proper approaches and the traffic can go to and from the bridges. A Ministry of Transport worthy of the name should take the initiative in these matters. I understand that some years ago a committee was appointed under the experts of the Ministry to survey the whole of the road problem of London and its surroundings. Surely the time has come for that Committee to report.
§ Sir P. Harris
My right hon. Friend tells me that it will report at the end of the year. We have waited for a very long time. Now is the time for action. The right hon. Gentleman's predecessor and the Department ought to have brought forward by now a real scheme for replanning the whole of the streets of London. The Ministry, I agree, has to operate in conjunction with the local authorities, but the Ministry has great power to stimulate local authorities to action because of the money which is at its disposal. Last year the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, now the Prime Minister, decided to divert the Road Fund to the general Exchequer account. He fixed a certain sum for road purposes, and claimed the surplus for the Treasury. Some of us resisted that change and pointed out that the Road Fund had been initiated in order to stimulate the adaptation of our road system to modern requirements. But the Government having taken that step, and the Ministry of Transport having acquiesced in it, the Ministry has now a special responsibility to see that our road system is not starved for lack of funds. London ought to have a chance to adapt itself to modern requirements. Considering the ever-increasing irritation caused by travelling in London, I sometimes marvel at the extraordinary patience of the travelling public. The daily fight to get on omnibus, tram or tube-train is a strain on the nerves of the vast majority of people, and every year that we delay to deal with this matter the strain continues. The Minister has a grave responsibility to work out schemes, not small schemes or palliatives but schemes which will find a remedy for the present state of affairs, and enable London to become a modern 774 city adapted to new forms of transport and the needs of the travelling public of to-day.
§ 12.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Parkinson
The Minister has made a very clear statement on the position of his Department, but whether we agree with him or not in all that he has said, is another question. He has made several statements which call for further examination, and on which I hope he will be able to give more information at a later stage. I was particularly pleased to hear that he had set up a sort of local headquarters of his Department in the North to take particular charge of the development of new roads and the improvement of existing roads in that part of the country. I was also pleased to hear of the steps which he is taking to appoint accident officers throughout the country with a view to helping in the great work which has to be done in trying to prevent accidents on the road. I am sure that those two developments are in the right direction, and can do nothing but good, provided they are carried out in the proper manner. The Minister did not forget to remind us that his Department had taken over 4,500 miles of trunk roads. We heard about that a long time ago, but as yet we have not seen much in the way of development or improvement of the roads. I suppose these roads came under the control of the Department only this year, but one would imagine that experiments in alteration and improvement would already have been taking place.
There was another statement of the right hon. Gentleman with which I think everybody will agree, namely, that we must see to it that the roads are made safe. But are we going to make the roads safe, and can we anticipate the building of new roads which will be safe unless the money is available for dealing with the roads on a national scale? I do not propose to follow the hon. Baronet the Member for South West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) in his remarks on the London problem. That is a subject on which he is an expert, and I propose to deal rather with the state of the roads in the country. I believe that a large number of the trunk roads to-day are inadequate for the purposes for which they were created, and also that the regulation of traffic at the present time leaves much to be desired. In the North 775 there are many roads which, I am sure, the Minister himself would agree are inadequate for their purpose. They are not wide enough, or strong enough, or straight enough to warrant any sense of safety on the part of those who have to use them. The number of accidents is far greater than it ought to be, but I shall probably return to that subject later.
I was struck by one point made by the Minister, a point with which most of us will agree. He referred to the importance of the human element and said that increased care was the greatest factor in promoting safety on the roads. I agree, but how are we to get the human element to exercise that degree of care which is necessary? How far was the human element responsible for the accidents in which those 83 per cent. of pedestrians already referred to were involved? In a large number of cases people in closed cars are so close to the pedestrian when they see him that they cannot exercise the requisite degree of care, and the pedestrian is either brought to a standstill and nonplussed by the approaching car or is not able to get along as quickly as the driver expects, and the result is an accident. I agree that the human element will have to bear a great proportion of the responsibility in the future, but how are we to compel the people in charge of vehicles to exercise that care which is so necessary for the safety of the community as a whole? That is one point into which, I hope, the Minister will go more fully later. We cannot afford to allow people who are brought before benches of magistrates all over the country and charged with motoring offences to get away with small fines all the time. It will be necessary to impose some real punishment on those who have been guilty of offences.
The Minister mentioned that the returns showed that 6,561 persons had been killed on the roads last year. He pointed to the number of pedestrians, pedal cyclists, and motor cyclists now on the roads and asked for a higher standard of care. A higher standard of care is all right, and care ought to be exercised to the extent of 100 per cent. by pedestrians, cyclists and drivers alike, but we must not forget that there are thousands of miles of roads in this country without footpaths, where there is nowhere for people to walk except on the roadway along which vehicles 776 are being driven. We must also realise that pedestrian crossings are not a feature of ordinary life all through the country, and that people everywhere have not arrived at the stage of experience when they will walk 50 yards farther in order to make use of a crossing, instead of crossing the road at any point where they happen to be.
There is also the question of the nonobservance of the speed limit. It is common in many restricted areas to see cars going at high speeds. I know there is a difference of opinion whether de-restriction should take place or not. Personally, I am against derestriction, and think we ought to exercise the greatest possible amount of control over machines on the road. I do not know whether the provision of pedestrian crossings is going on all through the country or whether the work is at a standstill, but I would urge that there should be more of these crossings in every part of Great Britain and that the intervals between them should be reduced as far as possible. I think the Minister mentioned that 41 per cent. of those killed or injured were under 15 years—
§ Mr. Parkinson
—and the most dangerous age for cyclists was between 14 and 15 years. There is a large number of children who meet with accidents simply because ordinary elementary school buildings are placed on the roadside and there is nothing to prevent the children leaving school and walking straight into the road. It should be urged on every local council and every county council in the country that they ought to make it difficult for children to walk straight out of school premises on to the broad highway. There ought to be some method of checking them, because we know the exuberance which is displayed when the schoolmaster says that it is 12 o'clock or 4 o'clock. They all want to get out as quickly as possible.
To turn to another question, I want to point out that the road deaths in my county, Lancashire, have increased in 1937 over 1936, and I want to know what is going to be done about it. In Lancashire we have long stretches of good roads, but, on the other hand, we have congested areas where restriction is in operation but is not altogether observed, 777 and in my opinion it is due to the nonobservance of the restriction of speed that we find a large number of these troubles. I hate to think that any county's death-rate is going up, because our purpose is to try to make the roads of the country safe for the whole community, but we have not made very rapid progress in that direction during the past few years. The question of derestriction was the subject of a conference in the Caxton Hall, Westminster, on 20th April, when the hon. Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson) made a speech which, I think, voiced to a large extent the mind of this House. He said:The wishes of the local authorities should not be overridden by the Ministry, except in cases where was clear that their decision had not been reached in good faith on a fair examination of evidence. The cause of most accidents to pedestrians was speed, i.e., vehicles travelling too fast to be able to pull up in time.I agree entirely with that point of view. We have evidence of a case where a person was killed on the North Circular Road, and the driver admitted that he was going 50 miles an hour. It was reported in the "Palmers Green Gazette," which says:The next witness was George Frederick Flanagan, builder, of 86, Cambridge Terrace, North Circular Road, who said he was working in his front garden at the time of the accident. When he first saw the car, which was in his sight for 50 or 60 yards before it struck Mrs. Barr, it was travelling nearer to its off-side of the road than the centre.Coroner: Could you judge its speed? —I judged it to be between 60 and 70 miles an hour.Are you a judge? —I am a driver.What is the normal speed of cars on that road?—Anything from 50 to 80 miles per hour.Witness added that it was not unusual for cars to do 80 miles an hour on that road.That is a flagrant case of disregard of the regulations.
§ Mr. Parkinson
He was, but he ought to be serving five years. That is the only way you will cure them.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Captain Austin Hudson)
Perhaps he was not guilty.
§ Mr. Parkinson
Anyhow a woman was killed, and she did not ask for it, did she? However, if we are not going to 778 put safety first for the whole of the roads of this country we are not doing our duty to the people. Safety first ought to be the first charge and to apply every one of its principles ought to be the sacred duty of everybody using the roads of the country. With regard to the new trunk road programme, at the General Election of 1935 the present Prime Minister made it quite clear that the Government were embarking for the first time on a five-years programme which would involve £100,000,000 expenditure. From time to time probably some schemes may have been adopted, and from time to time questions have been raised in this House as to what progress was being made with them, but I am rather afraid that we are not getting on quite as quickly as we ought to be. It has been stated this morning, and almost proved by the hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris), that nothing more than the ordinary contributions from the Road Fund for the year had been made towards this programme of £100,000,000 over five years.
In May of this year the hon. Member for Newport (Sir R. Clarry), asked the Minister of Transport what was the total amount of payments by way of grants to highway authorities in respect of their programmes under the five-year plan, from the commencement, in 1935, to 31st March, 1937, and he replied that under trunk road schemes £741,152 had been advanced, while under schemes on other roads £5,710,629 had been paid, making a total of £6,451,181 in all. I think the Minister will agree that that is not making the progress which we should expect. He said this morning that a certain amount of work had been approved, and according to the figures which he gave there is very little progress being made, and today we are something like 18 months in arrears with the work which we have to do. When is the five-year programme to commence? Is it to be regarded as commencing now or from the time when the statement in regard to it was made by the Prime Minister? If the latter is the case, we are a very long way behind with the work. We have it here that less than £10,000,000 has already been spent, and there are not many more commitals. We want to know where the road works for which approvals have been given exactly are, what is going 779 to be done, and whether the Minister intends to carry out the programme within the specified time, because it is no use having a five-year programme if it is going to be eight years before it is completed.
The right hon. Gentleman's predecessor said that £130,000,000 would be spent "in the next five years," in a speech which he made at a luncheon at the Mansion House of the Transport Association on 8th May, 1936, and in another speech at Boconnoc, Cornwall, in July, 1936, he said the Government would spend £140,000,000 over the next five years. That rather lends colour to what I say, that the £100,000,000 is not going to be surplus to the ordinary amount which we are spending on the roads, but that it is going to be merged and dovetailed into it, and that there will be a kind of hybrid amount as between what ought to be £200,000,000 and £100,000,000. I want to ask the Minister whether he considers that the development work of the country is going on sufficiently fast. I do not. We have now only spent about £2,750,000, and we have commitals up to about £7,000,000. That is not keeping faith with the country. When a responsible Minister makes a promise it ought to be carried out, and I do not think it is being carried out. If this money is not to be spent on development and new roads within the specified time, the Government are not living up to the promise they have made. I make bold to say that a large number of new roads are required, for you cannot patch up the present old roads to carry the present day traffic. It is impossible to do it in the congested areas, and by-pass or other new roads will have to be made so that there will be sufficient roads in case of necessity and for the well-being of the nation as a whole.
As to the question of ribbon development, I do not know whether the Minister is taking any strong stand. I think that he ought, for the way in which ribbon development is being carried on is becoming rather flagrant. With regard to the northern counties and Scotland, are we lending ourselves to the development or the building of roads there which are essential to meet the national demand? In Lancashire we are supposed to be having a new by-pass road from Warrington to Preston and from Preston to Lancaster. 780 Not very much has been done, but if it is on the cards to be clone and it is carried out, it will help the county very much, because we have a large number of old boroughs and towns in which the roads cannot be developed. What is being done about the North road from Edinburgh to Dundee? There are no road bridges yet over the Forth or the Tay. What is to be done there?
§ Mr. Burgin
The hon. Member says that there are no road bridges over the Forth, but a new one was opened at Kincardine only last year.
§ Mr. Parkinson
I am sorry; I withdraw that remark. On the other hand, there is a great need for more bridges. What is being done about the Humber and the Severn? Are any bridges to be built across those rivers? There is also the question of the main trunk roads from Preston to Penrith and from Doncaster to Darlington. These are vital roads which will probably be required in the near future. I hope that they will not be needed for the purposes I am suggesting now. Another point I want to raise is about the consolidation of all the laws and regulations in connection with the Ministry of Transport. I understand that there are something like 2,000 offences to which road users and motor manufacturers are liable. I want to suggest that the Minister should make them more simple so that people may understand their meaning. As things are at present we are getting complaints about magistrates and the laws, but there is no complaint about the Ministry in not trying to bring their laws up to date. There must be a large number of these offences which are redundant. What is the Traffic Advisory Committee doing on the question of the co-ordination of all forms of transport? I am afraid that it is not going along as quickly as it ought to do. I know that it is a big subject which requires mature consideration, but even after the Committee has reported it will take a long time to put any recommendations into operation. We ought not to allow the question to stand still.
With regard to the £100,000,000 programme, I would like to know the amount which has been allocated or approved, how much work is in hand and how many people are employed on new roads and development work. How many level crossings have been abolished 781 during the last year or two? It is one or two years since I raised this matter and went into it thoroughly, but there are still a tremendous number of level crossings which are a positive danger to transport and the public as a whole. How many bridges have been replaced during the last 12 months, and is this question still receiving the active consideration of the Department? There are a large number of bridges which have a weight limit and the time has come,; for the sake of the safety and convenience of the public, when they should be more actively dealt with. What is the present position of pedestrian crossings and beacons? Are the Government pursuing an active policy in this direction, and are they encouraging local authorities to do all they can to provide them so as to prevent more accidents? I want to see that work expedited. In congested towns similar to the one in which I live, one often sees old people wondering how they can cross the road, and the policeman is often generous and holds up the traffic. If there were more pedestrian crossings it would not he necessary for that to be done.
How many faulty vehicles have been reported and how many prosecutions have taken place during the past year? My opinion is that there are a tremendous number of faulty vehicles on the road. I hope I am wrong, but I have an idea that there are a large number that ought to be suppressed. Is the Ministry forcing the Highway Code on the attention of the public? I am afraid that there is a tendency for that to be left outside the observation of the authorities. I want to know the amount of money which the Department will spend in development, and whether the £100,000,000 is to be allocated entirely to the building of new roads, or whether it will be spent on the development of the present roads to make them strong enough to bear the burden of the traffic of the day. Traffic is growing by leaps and bounds and we have to make provision to meet all that is required in that direction. At the time the statement was made about the trunk roads a huge map was prepared. That points to one thing only—there were so many contacts with the sea that it struck everybody as being something in connection with the Department of the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence, that it was a kind of lay-out of what was 782 expected to be done in case of the unfortunate occurrence of war. I am sure that our roads are not ready to meet anything of that kind, and if they were to be made perfect it would not be money ill-spent. The future of the nation depends so much upon road transport that it would be money well spent, would prepare the way for increasing the trade of the country and give us a valuable asset.
My last words are that I hope that every Member of this House will lay himself out to reduce the number of accidents on the roads. The death rate on the roads is appalling, certainly higher than it ought to be, and certainly higher than it would be if all used their best endeavours to reduce it. Every casualty on the roads brings suffering and heart-burning to some home. We are here with a view to trying to make things as safe as possible for the whole of the people, but I am afraid that we are not getting on very fast with that work. When we read in the Press of a colliery accident, or of a ship going down, or of other disasters in which a number of people are hurled to death at a moment's notice it makes an impression on us, but deaths on the road are occurring minute after minute and hour after hour. Surely by a really constructive policy the Minister, through his Department, can do more than has yet been done to increase the safety of the roads.
§ 1.17 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon
The hon. Baronet who spoke for the Liberal party complained a little because the Minister had occupied an hour of our time, and it is true that we have only a very short time in which to deal with a very important subject, and yet, although I listened for an hour to the Minister, I felt that he had only just touched on the fringe of the subject. His Department butts-in in so many walks of life, all of which are interesting, that I cannot see how we can solve the problem of getting an adequate discussion of its activities. It is not only a question of the roads up and down the country; the Ministry of Transport are the traffic authority for London; and, further, we have not had a word about electricity, which is quite an important subject. The Minister has spoken for an hour, and the hon. Baronet complains that it is an hour 783 out of a very short time allotted to this Vote, and yet the Minister has not been able to deal with all the problems.
We are very much indebted to the Liberal party for having brought forward this particular Vote. The Liberal party are very much associated with the road problem, and the Ministry of Transport in particular, because it was the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) who introduced what I thought, and still think, was the admirable plan of the Road Fund, which was a fund growing according to the amount of traffic upon the roads. That funds was always opposed, first of all by the Treasury, who hated the idea of money being earmarked for one particular purpose; and there was also the difficulty that the Treasury qua Treasury were always against expenditure on public works. Those two forces together have in 16 years extinguished the Road Fund, and for the first time we see this grant-in-aid of £15,000,000. The amount of it has to be decided every year by the Treasury. During the Minister's speech I asked how the £100,000 stood relative to this figure. I do not think anyone will be satisfied with what the Minister said in reply to that interruption.
The Minister told us that a lot of the casualties on the road were due to the physical defects of the roads, that they were not entirely the fault of motorists, and that as the number of cars on the roads increased, so the responsibility of making roads safe increased for the Ministry. We were given a pledge at the General Election—it was on the wireless. The present Prime Minister said:We are embarking on a five-year plan which will involve the expenditure of a sum of no less than £100,000,000.When he said that, we thought he meant that the Government were going to spend £100,000,000. What else could it mean? If he is not going to spend £100,000,000 because of national difficulties and of rearmament, let him tell us so. We shall quite understand that the Exchequer will not stand it. We quite understand the difficulties we are in nationally, and if we cannot have an expenditure of £100,000,000 we shall have to put up with it, but the Government should not trick us into thinking that they are going to 784 spend it when they are not doing anything of the sort. It is an absolute lie. Look at this particular Vote.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon
It was intended to be extra. Look at this grant-in-aid, now £15,000,000. If they were going to spend £100,000,000 over five years, they must either add £20,000,000 per year or, on the basis that the work accumulates towards the end of the period, spend £40,000,000 or £50,000,000 at the end of that five years. Anyhow, if that statement about the expenditure of £100,000,000 on the roads meant anything the grant-in-aid should have been £35,000,000 to-day. I hope that point will be cleared up. As I say, I do not blame the Government if they cannot afford it, but they should let us know. Let them not pretend to do it if they are not going to do it. The grant towards new works before this was about £8,000,000. The Minister knows quite well that an increase upon that £8,000,000 by a large amount has got to be shown if he is to get up to his £100,000,000 in five years.
I must say that I did welcome some of the remarks made by the Minister, because they seem to indicate that he is tackling the road problem from rather a new angle. After all, our last Minister was all gas attack and no guns. Here we have a Minister who is looking at the problem from quite a new angle. He told us—and it was the first time I have heard such a statement from a Minister of Transport for a long time—that he did not take the view that all motorists were manslaughterers. That was extraordinarily good news. I have always been accused practically of being one. The Minister said he did think that some of the accidents were clue to defects of construction in the roads. Really, what an advance in thought. In that connection I would remind him of the Hartford Bridge Flats, a road so narrow and so straight, which costs the nation 50 lives a year. Tile land each side is so cheap. Could rid we save those 50 lives by making that road a little broader now that it is a charge upon the Ministry?
There was another thing he said which, I confess, astounded me. He went into the figures of casualties, and actually contended that the position was not wholly the fault of the motorist. I have 785 scarcely got over that statement yet. He showed clearly that where most accidents occurred they were due to irresponsible people. There was the poor child of five years old and—the worst form—the boy of 14 riding a bicycle. Those are the cases we have got to deal with, which we have got to prevent. There is an enormous onus of responsibility not so much upon the motorist as upon these particular two classes of victim, who must, as the figure show, impose an undue risk upon motor vehicles. But there is always this to be remembered, too, as regards the position of the motorist—that as he is protected by virtue of the protection that he has through being seated in a car, he must be more careful than anybody else. On the other hand, where you are running along the side of the kerb, if a child suddenly darts out into the road it does not matter whether your speed is only three miles an hour, you are bound to have an accident, and until we get separation between the kerb and the road we shall have that type of accident to young children. I think it behoves the local authorities and the Ministry of Transport to see that all exits from schools are well protected from the road. Anything else is not fair to the child or the motorist.
I would like to say one word about London traffic. I am not a London Member, and there are not a lot of us here, but the Minister is the traffic authority, and I think he ought to defend us against some of those great jams that are going on, and with which people bear with a forebearance which is quite astounding in the ordinary Londoner. If you look at the north and south roads of the Park over the Serpentine, you see that every night the traffic extends for half a mile, both north and south. I am told that the Ministry is to reorganise the north, but what is the good of that if you do not at the same time reorganise the south? You only make matters worse. I am told that we are to have a roundabout one day. I know we shall all be dead before that day. I have for years been asking about the traffic reorganisation of the Park, but when you get the local authority, the Ministry of Transport, the Home Office and the Office of Works, which has been far the stickiest, you never get anything done at all. Something ought to be done in our day, even if it is only to double the width 786 of those gates; they are not particularly beautiful, only iron gates. In any other capital of the world if they had not been broadened by now, they would have been knocked down. How the English public stand it, I do not know. We cannot advocate here knocking down those gates.
There is one other thing about the traffic laws. The late Minister of Transport—now thank goodness, he has left the office—
§ Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon
Well, he has gone to the War Office, and what was the first thing he did? He entirely congested and jammed the traffic of London twice for a rehearsal of the Trooping of the Colours. Everybody likes the Trooping of the Colours, but I do not see why we should have the traffic of London jammed twice for a rehearsal of it. One of the most successful of the rehearsals of the Coronation procession took place very early in the morning, and if we are to have a rehearsal of the Trooping of the Colours why can we not have it early in the morning, or on Sunday? I do not like to see the military becoming unpopular because an ex-Minister of Transport is at their head, starting to jam the traffic of London.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon
I wish I might get a word in reply from the Ministry about electricity. I butted into electricity some years ago, in conjunction with the Ministry of Transport and it was never thought that that was the end of the problem. We butted into the generation of electricity and what we did at that time was a great step forward, which could not have been taken at a later time. There are difficulties about this question of electricity, and although the Labour party think it will be well to nationalise the industry, there are strong local feelings about electricity. Many of the local authorities are against the bigger plan to nationalise. Distribution is, as everybody knows, much the more important part of electrical development in this 787 country than generation. It costs more. That just because there are certain rumblings about the reorganisation of that side of electricity the Ministry should throw over the idea of a Bill, is a very sad affair. I hope the Minister will remember that if he butts into electricity organisation he is taking on one of the greatest vested interests in this country, and that we have taken them on before, have broken them and gone right through them, and set up a most astonishing organisation.
We can go further. I can pledge him that there are many hon. Members on this side of the House gravely dissatisfied with the state of electrical organisation to-day. There are some great power companies whose only view of electricity is what issues they can put upon the City, and it got to such a state the other day that one of the greatest of these electricity companies had to be forbidden by the Electricity Commissioners to make an issue, because it was not wanted. Private enterprise is all right when your heart is in the subject and you want genuinely to develop your enterprise, but if the Board of Directors are stockbrokers whose only outlook is the issue of more money, it is high time that these great works should pass to other hands. That is not true up and down the country, but there are glaring examples of it which will occur to the mind of everybody who knows about electricity in this country. It is high time that we grappled firmly with this thorny thistle again. As long as a thing is big, as long as there is not too much private profit to be made and it is linked up with the betterment of the conditions of the people and with general prosperity, I am prepared to back the new scheme to the best of my ability.
§ 1.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Dingle Foot
As I listened to the very eloquent speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Wallasey (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon) I could not help regretting that he was not sitting on this side of the House. If he could say all that he did about a Minister, I wonder what he could really achieve if he had the good fortune to be in opposition. I want to ask whether something more can be said in this Debate about the future policy of the Minister of Transport regarding 788 works of capital development. I think we all agree that in the next two or three years we must accept a falling off in trade and employment. We have had a warning from the Unemployment Insurance Statutory Committee and from various Ministers who sit on the Treasury Bench. The trade cycle is bound sooner or later to go against us, and is likely at that time to be accompanied by a slackening in the rearmament programme. I was glad to read in this morning's newspaper that this was in the mind of the Prime Minister when he addressed his followers yesterday, because he said:It must not be thought for a moment that the Government is not considering even now what measures it ought to take by way of public works or otherwise to provide employment when the output of our factories begins to be relaxed.If and when that is carried out, the responsibility will very largely devolve upon the Ministry of Transport. There is a feeling in all parts of this House that it is not enough to contemplate the desirability of public works when the slump comes, but that we ought to be prepared with works of national development which we shall be able to put into force immediately the need arises.
In this debate there has been a good deal of discussion about the problem of London, but I should like to refer briefly to a problem which affects Scotland. I have been anticipated in this matter of the road to Dundee and the proposed road bridges in Scotland by the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Parkinson). I was grateful for his assistance in this matter, and I am not sure whether I ought not to return the compliment by making a speech about the road to Wigan Pier. However, I resist that temptation. In Scotland, as I think the Minister must know, the members of all political parties are agreed as to the urgent necessity of building the proposed road bridges over the Tay and Forth, and there is a general feeling that, if only those two rivers had been some 300 or 400 miles nearer London, the bridges would have been built many years ago. Last year a number of questions about these proposals were put to the Minister's predecessor, and on 5th November, 1936, in answer to a question by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Mathers), the Minister of Transport said:His Majesty's Government have examined the case presented for new bridges over the estuaries of the Forth, the Severn, and the 789 Humber. They have felt bound to have primary regard to the overriding importance of the National Defence programme and the demands which that programme will progressively make upon the national resources. His Majesty's Government have come to the conclusion that they would not be justified in embarking upon the execution of these public works at the present moment, but this decision does not exclude the reconsideration of these projects at a later date."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th November, 1936; col. 267, Vol. 317.]That was with regard to the proposed Forth bridge and one or two similar projects in England, and on 25th November the Minister informed me in the House that the same considerations applied to the proposal for a bridge over the Tay. We all appreciate that when, rightly or wrongly, we are spending such very considerable sums on the rearmament programme, other services must be more or less starved as a result, but the present position is unsatisfactory from the point of view of the local authorities immediately concerned.
The local authorities concerned with the proposed Tay and Forth bridges have gone to a great deal of trouble in preparing plans, which they have submitted to the Ministry of Transport, and not only has the decision been postponed, but it is impossible for the local authorities interested to tell whether those plans are satisfactory to the Ministry or not. They cannot tell whether in a year or two, when the Government once more undertake projects of public works, they will be called upon to go ahead with those plans, or whether ultimately those plans will not be approved. It is a matter of great concern to them, because, whether it is a case of a road bridge over the Tay or over the Forth, the local authorities will be expected to make a substantial contribution out of the rates, and at present they cannot tell whether they will be expected to make that contribution or not. While we have to accept this decision that all works of this kind must be postponed while the rearmament programme is in process, surely we might ask the Ministry of Transport to express some view about the plans that have been put before them. Would it not be possible, in a case like this, which involves projects that are not simply of local interest, but are of national interest to the whole of Scotland, to accept the plans in principle and to say that the schemes which have been put 790 forward are sound—if that be the view of the Ministry—and that they are prepared to go forward with them as soon as circumstances and finance allow?
There is another point which I want to raise, and which I think has not yet been referred to in the debate. It relates to the operation of the Road and Rail Traffic Act, 1933. That Act has now been in force for something like 3½ years, and I think it is felt in many quarters that the currency period for hauliers' licences has proved to be too short. Recently the Road Traffic Act, 1937, has been passed, and the Minister will know that a certain latitude in the matter of the currency period of licences is given by Section 2 of that Measure, which provides that, at the end of each provision in Sub-section (1) of Section 3 of the Act of 1933 determining the duration of the licence—two years in the case of an "A" licence, one year in the case of a "B" licence, and so forth—there shall be added the words:or such longer period as may be prescribed.These words seem to me to be rather obscure. It might be a little difficult to tell whether the longer period is to be prescribed by the Ministry of Transport or by the licensing authority. I should take it that it would be prescribed by the Ministry of Transport, and I am glad to have the Parliamentary Secretary's assent to that. I know that that was the intention of those who brought in the Bill a short time ago. The Act received the Royal Assent only three days ago, and I think it would be relevant to ask the Minister what use he intends to make of these powers. It is a matter of considerable concern to the whole haulage industry of this country. After all, a good many of the original purposes of the Act of 1933 must by now have been fulfilled. The period of claimed tonnage is over, and we have reached the position that every road haulier's licence, whether "A" or "B," must have come up for revision by this time, so that, if the railway companies or competing hauliers wanted to object on the ground of redundancy, they must have had an opportunity of doing so in every case. That means that, if in any area there has been any really considerable redundancy in the matter of road haulage facilities, that redundancy must by now have been removed.
791 That being so, surely we can move forward under the powers conferred by the recent Act, and can reasonably ask that road hauliers should be given a little more security of tenure, if I may so express it, than they had during the past year or two. A man who has got a licence may have had some difficulty in getting it; he may have got it in the teeth of considerable opposition; and there may be great uncertainty as to whether the licence will be renewed in a year or two's time. In such circumstances it is very difficult for a road haulier to build up anything in the nature of goodwill. I would ask the Minister to tell us something about the use that is to be made of these powers, and at the same time I would express the hope that he will take the opportunity of extending the currency period for both "A" and "B" licences.
Finally, I should like briefly to reinforce, if I can, what was said a few minutes ago by the hon. and gallant Member for Wallasey. There has been a good deal of discussion about the five-year plan, and it is obvious that the Minister anticipated criticism of it, because he was very anxious to tell us about all the commitments into which his Department had entered. This five-year plan figured very largely at the last General Election, and its importance was largely confined to the last General Election. If the Committee will bear with me. I would like to remind them of the actual words that were used by the Prime Minister on that occasion. In his broadcast on 2nd November, 1935, he said:Mr. Lloyd George does not choose to remember that early in this present year Mr. Hore-Belisha sent out an invitation to local authorities to prepare a programme of road improvements, not only for one year, but for five years"—I would emphasise the word "improvements."Their proposals have now been mostly received, and it happens that I am in a position to tell you to-night for the first time that we are now embarking on a five-year plan which will involve the expenditure of a sum of no less than £100,000,000. In addition to the normal grants payable, special assistance will be given from the Road Fund to ensure the improvement of trunk roads, the provision where necessary of a dual carriageway and cycle tracks and the elimination of weak bridges and level crossings.There are two operative words in that sentence, firstly the word "now"—we 792 are "now" embarking on a programme—and secondly that the programme will involve an expenditure of £100,000,000. It means that the pledge, on which great emphasis was laid throughout the last General Election, conveyed to the minds of the public, and was deliberately intended to convey first of all that £100,000,000 was to be spent on roads in the next five years, and, secondly, that it would involve a substantial increase in the allowance normally spent on road improvement and construction. That interpretation was borne out just after the Election when on 17th September, 1935, a question was put to the then Minister of Transport, who replied:The figure of £100,000,000 represents the estimated cost of the works embraced in the five year programmes of road development and improvement put forward by the highway authorities at the request of the Government. The Road Fund's contribution to the programme is in addition to the grants usually made from the Fund towards the cost of maintaining classified roads in counties and for certain other purposes and the payment towards the General Exchequer Contribution under the Local Government Acts and to certain long term schemes."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th December, 1935; col. 1567, Vol. 307.]There, again, the words to be emphasised are the words "in addition". What has happened? It seems to me that the disingenuousness of the pledge given at the General Election was only equalled by the disingenuousness of the defence that we have heard from that Box to-day. The Minister said that in another three or four years' time the whole programme would have been approved. The operative word there is the word "approved." But even approval of the scheme is not going to be complete within the five years that was contemplated at the Election, and the Minister himself said there was a considerable time lag between approval and actual expenditure. Then he gave a number of figures. He said that the programme submitted amounted to £127,500,000. That does not carry the matter very much further, because "programme submitted" does not even go so far as "programme approved." He went on to say that there were commitments of £66,000,000. What is the use of telling us that, unless we know over what period of time that money is to be spent? Is it to be spent over five, ten or 20 years? It is no defence of the record of the 793 Government to say that they have commitments of £66,000,000 without mentioning any period of time.
The Minister said, interrupting my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris), that in another four years' time commitments will have been made covering £127,500,000 worth of work. Again we get back to the word "commitments." It is impossible to tell what the rate of progress will be. The commitments may take many years to carry out. They may be simply shadow schemes. They may simply mean some kind of promise that, if certain work is to be put in hand, they will make a contribution towards it, without any definite undertaking on either side as to when the work is actually going to be commenced. This figure of commitments bears no relation at all to the five-year plan. We have already been reminded by the hon. Member for Wigan that so far the total amount spent is £6,451,000. The Minister to-day forecast a further expenditure of £10,000,000 this year. That brings us to a total of, roughly, £16,000,000 in about three years, leaving a balance, if the election pledge were to be carried out, of £84,000,000 to be spent within the next two years. What prospect is there that that is going to be done? There is not the slightest prospect that so much work as that is actually going to be carried out before the end of 1940. So it appears to me that all the strictures that have been passed on the delay in this road programme are entirely justified. But it seems to me that the matter goes further than that. Surely, if there are difficulties in carrying it out, due to rearmament or any other reason, they must have been perfectly well known by the Minister at the time that he made his broadcast speech at the Election. There is really only one conclusion that we can draw, that the Government policy upon roads was of the same character as their policy upon collective security. It was not intended to be carried out in the next Parliament, but was intended simply for the purposes of the Election.
§ 1.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Anstruther-Gray
Like most Scotsmen, I look forward to the time when we can see the road bridge over the Forth begun, but I am satisfied that the Governments' decision to postpone it at 794 present is correct, and that the claim on the National Exchequer for national defence must come first. The few suggestions that I shall address to the Ministry have the advantage that they will cost no money, and will not interfere with the liberty of the subject. Therefore, the Minister, if he thinks fit, can carry them out without delay. I understand that it is his intention to provide most, if not all, the trunk roads that he has taken over with footpaths. I would suggest that he should take care to see that they have a good surface and are well drained, because not only in my constituency, not only where I live, but in almost every county that I go into, one finds roads which are smooth, possibly too smooth, and running along-side them soft, rough, overgrown footpaths with puddles here and there. That is never going to attract anyone wheeling a pram. It will not attract women with thin shoes or children and, short of the pedestrian who thinks of his own safety and nothing else, no one will use it and you will find the footpath nothing more or less than a waste of money. Unless the footpath is at least as well drained and smooth to walk upon as the road, it is no use having it, and I urge the Minister to see that this is carried out before he sanctions grants for the construction of footpaths at all.
My second point may seem a small one, but there is more in it than meets the eye. It is the question of square kerb stones on country roads. The present practice is to have square kerb stones about 4 inches high, and if a motor car or a bicycle should skid into these, it would overturn. I am prepared to agree that the number of cars and bicycles that actually overturn may be small, but the trouble is that the drivers of cars and the riders of bicycles know that the square kerb stone is there, and regard it as a danger area and keep clear of it. That means that, instead of driving close to the near side of the road, which you want them to do, they keep in the middle of the road. It would be quite easy to solve that problem by having sloping kerb stones which cost no more, and are just as suitable for road construction. I have put that point before, and I have always been answered, "Oh yes, but if a car skids and there is only a sloping kerb stone it will go on to the pavement and hurt the pedestrians." I want to 795 make it quite clear that I am putting this forward not for kerb stones where there is a footpath, but for kerb stones along country roads where there is no footpath on just the sort of roads where motorists drive most quickly, and where it is most desirable that they should keep on the near side and cyclists as near the kerb as possible.
The other point to which I wish to draw attention is the question of mobile police. I am not quite satisfied that the Ministry of Transport is using its mobile police to the best effect. I think that the Minister will appreciate that prevention is better than cure. We want to prevent people from doing things that may cause accidents, and not just to deal with them after they have had an accident. The best way to prevent accidents is to keep constantly before the people who are driving the risks they are running, either the risk of accident or of falling foul of the law. The most effective way to induce a dangerous driver to take care is to let him see a really beastly motor smash, but we do not want to do it that way. The next best way is to show him a uniform police patrol. I believe that if police patrols were to go in open cars or on motor bicycles with sidecars it would put far more people on their best behaviour than is done to-day by having the police in closed cars where they cannot be seen. I am not assuming that you can do without police in these closed cars altogether, because there is a type of criminally dangerous driver who will take advantage of the fact that when he can see no police he will deliberately take a chance. That type of man is restrained by the fear that each car that passes him may be a police car in disguise.
But I think that most people are agreed that the great majority of accidents are not caused by those few criminally dangerous drivers—and there are very few—but that most of them are caused by ordinary, decent law-abiding citizens who just for a moment relax their attention and become a little careless. If my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport wants to keep these people out of trouble, he must try to keep their thoughts from straying, and the best means he has for doing that is by showing them uniformed 796 police patrols as often as possible at all times of the day and at all places whether they may be expected or not.
§ 1.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Watkins
What I want to say is entirely concerned with one point. Every Member of Parliament and the whole of the community are deeply concerned about the enormous number of road accidents involving 40,000 deaths during the last six years. There is in the country a large and well-informed body of opinion which believes that this appalling total can be reduced by the compulsory use of guards on motor cars. My purpose in speaking about this matter is that I feel that the Ministry of Transport has not been giving the attention to this matter that it really ought to have given. It was in March, 1935, that Mr. West, the late Member of Parliament for North Hammersmith, asked the then Minister of Transport whether he would consider the advisability of compelling all motor cars to be equipped with guards as a means of reducing fatalities on the road. The Minister replied by saying that he intended to consult with manufacturers and road bodies on the subject.
Two years went by. and nothing more was heard of this suggested means of decreasing the number of road accidents, and in February of this year I asked the same Minister of Transport what progress had been made with the consideration of this suggestion, and I was told that the question had been referred to the Transport Advisory Committee for advice. In view of the fact that there are 6,000 or 7,000 deaths and hundreds of thousands of accidents on the roads, the Ministry of Transport, in deferring making up its mind on this proposal, is not acting in the right spirit as tar as the public interest is concerned. I do not pretend to be an expert and say that it would be practical to attach compulsorily to all motor vehicles guards for the protection of anyone who is knocked down by them. But it is a matter of importance about which the Ministry of Transport ought to have made up its mind in something less than two years. I hope that when the Parliamentary Secretary comes to reply at the end of this debate, he will give some information that will lead us to suppose that the Ministry of Transport will complete its investigation and will secure all the advice necessary, and within a short time will tell the House and the 797 public whether there is any possibility of reducing road accidents by means of this device.
§ 2.3 p.m.
§ Sir Gifford Fox
The Minister in introducing the Estimates told us the appalling figures of fatal road accidents—6,561 in the 12 months ending last December—and that the injured numbered nearly a quarter of a million. These figures are appalling, and the whole public conscience is shocked by them, and I ask the Minister to inform the Committee what steps he is going to take to keep these facts before the general public. I believe that a certain number of accidents can be reduced by the increasing care of motorists and other users of the road, and the way to make them take more care is to let them know how dangerous are certain crossings and roads. This can be done by putting up boards on the main by-passes or on roads such as the Hertford Flats, where, we have been told, 50 people a year are killed. They should be put up in big print so that motorists can see that so many people were killed and so many were injured last year on that particular stretch of road. It also ought to be done in urban areas at dangerous crossings, such as, for instance, Hammersmith Broadway. Let the pedestrians and the cyclists also see the appalling total. The late Minister of Transport has left his monument, and he will always be remembered as the Minister of Transport who introduced the Belisha beacons. I hope that the present Minister of Transport will be remembered as the Minister who introduced the Burgin boards showing how dangerous certain places are and the number of fatalities that have taken place at those particular spots.
To-day we have not heard much about the construction of road surfaces. Has the Ministry yet decided what is the ideal surface of a road? Is it to be concrete, or is it to be some other composition? We want a road surface reasonably rough to stop skidding, and yet not too rough to make vibration. The road surface should be light in colour, so that at night, when headlights are on, it can be well illuminated and easy to see. We want to know what is to be the lay-out of the main trunk roads which the Ministry intend to build throughout the country. I cannot understand why the Ministry have adopted the present lay-out of cycle tracks on the Great West Road. When 798 one goes down the Great West Road one sees cycle tracks on each side. They are some distance away from the carriage-way until they come to a crossing, when the cycle tracks turn on to the main carriage-way and direct the cyclists right into the path of travelling vehicles. The whole principle of road construction ought to be to try to keep different classes of vehicles and road users apart. Under the present system when one comes to a crossing one does not find that the pedestrian path leads on to the main carriage-way. I hope that the Ministry will carefully consider this matter before finally deciding on the ideal lay-out of trunk roads, and that they will see whether it cannot be improved.
Another matter in regard to cycle tracks and pedestrian paths is that they must have a good surface. I understand that the cyclists in some cases do not like the cycle tracks. If they keep to the main road they can get behind a slow-moving vehicle and get the draught of the vehicle, which helps them along, especially in a head wind. At the present time there is no compulism on cyclists to use these tracks. The only way to encourage them to do so is to see that the cycle tracks have a good smooth surface so that it is easy for the cyclists to pedal along them. The same remarks apply in regard to footpaths for foot passengers in country districts. In many cases the footpaths are such that it is absolutely impossible to push a perambulator along them, and people have to go on to the highway. In Oxfordshire the upkeep of one of the pedestrian paths is, I understand, far greater than the upkeep of the main carriage way. That is due to the fact that the foundation was not properly constructed originally. Another means of helping to reduce accidents is the policy adopted by Oxfordshire in regard to the junction of main roads. Where secondary roads come on to the main roads the corners have been altered so that the secondary roads approach at right angles to all Class 1 roads. This system undoubtedly has helped to reduce the number of accidents.
As far as road construction is concerned, we are many years behind other countries. When it comes to roads I believe we are nearly 10 to 15 years behind other countries. Fifteen years ago we saw the great auto-strata roads constructed in Italy. These great arterial roads go over 799 other roads by means of bridges or go underneath them. Nothing is allowed to go on to these roads unless they go through a controlled gate. Germany is doing the same. It may be said that these continental roads are military roads, but the fact remains that they are roads you can get along. In this country we try to improve the facilities for getting out of our urban areas. We have built by-passes, but after a few years with ribbon development and increasing traffic from the secondary roads coming on to the by-passes roundabouts have to be constructed until gradually the whole flow of traffic is slowed down. In many cases motorists prefer to go back to the old roads that were originally congested. They find it quicker to get along those roads. Will the Minister of Transport seriously consider making fly-over junctions on the by-passes out of London in order to speed up the traffic?
I should like to draw attention to another interesting experiment in Oxfordshire which greatly helps motorists in driving at night. Down the main roads there is a line painted along the middle. The result is that in foggy weather it is easy for motorists to get along. They know where they are on the road. Hon. Members know that if one is driving a car it is very difficult to see a left-hand curb in many cases, but if you have a line down the centre of the road you can see it easily on your right-hand from the driving seat and know exactly where you are. The result in Oxfordshire has been to reduce the number of accidents, and the motorists have been able to travel along the roads with comparative safety and ease. In America they carry this even further, and give warning of approaching cross roads. There is a line down the centre of the road 200 yards before the crossing and this enables the motorist to know that there is a junction ahead and to take care. Could not this system be extended to certain of the bypasses out of the London area by markings on the road surfaces on the road some distance, say, 200 yards from the junction to warn motorists that there is a roundabout ahead?
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
I would invite the hon. Baronet to travel on the road between Weston-super-Mare and Bristol 800 where an excellent system has been introduced of black and white markings on the kerb before you come to a junction.
§ Sir G. Fox
I am interested to hear that, and I hope that it will be successful, and that the Minister of Transport will take every possible step to give assistance of this character to motorists on the roads in other parts of the country. I was grateful to hear the Minister say that it ought to be possible to remove every cause of accident so far as the construction of the highways is concerned, and I hope that he will continue to try doing this. If so, he certainly will be known as a great Minister of Transport
§ 2.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Macquisten
I listened with much interest to the speech of the Minister of Transport, as I have listened to the speeches of other Ministers of Transport, but they all seem to go in the same way and to come out the same way. No Government—I am not speaking of this Government only—seems to have realised that the development of the combustion engine meant an entire change in our civilisation. We have no right now to be huddled up in our towns in the way that we are. Of course, I realise that other nations are suffering just as badly in this respect as we are. The railways congested the people in towns and motor transport will undo that congestion if the roads are provided for it. But the recent Transport Acts passed at the dictates of railways are meant to hinder the development of road transport. There is all this question of licences, and traffic being rationed out, just as we had coupons for rations during the War. The chairman of the London Passenger Transport Board spoke the other day, on the congestion of traffic, and said the number of buses ought to be adjusted, so many 'buses to such and such a district, as if the public themselves would not decide how many there ought to be. If the 'buses go empty long enough they will stop running. It is an absurdity to say that anyone is wise enough to decide beforehand how many 'buses are needed on a particular road.
There is no attempt to make new roads. We are continuously pouring new wine into the old bottles. One of the mysterious things is the enormous power that the railway interests have in this House and in the country. It is organised. Yet it 801 has only about one-third of the capital invested in comparison with road traffic. Why are these autostrada not made, and an immense system of roads laid down all over the country away from the towns? Why do we not have that system? Because of the fears of the railways. There would then be no cause for accidents. Such roads could be dedicated to motor transport entirely. To my mind, nothing equals the callousness of the House of Commons and of public men in regard to the awful tragedies going on continuously on the roads. What a gruesome thing it is to hear of children, of five being killed by the thousand. We have a great railway accident and a number of people are killed, but they are only a few compared with the casualties every hour on the roads. The old non-representative Parliament of the Thirties at least had the humanity to say that if you use these dangerous instruments—the railways—you must fence them in. A railway train is a safe and non-dangerous thing compared with the motor car. Keep off the rails and you are safe but when you are on the highways you never know what will happen. A doctor friend of mine with a consulting room at a 'bus corner told me that every day he had three or four people brought in and frequently a corpse. The motors ought to be on their own roads; they should not be allowed on the same roads as people and cattle and dogs.
Then there is the waste in constructing our roads. We build them from side to side of solid hard stuff. In Southern Rhodesia they do not waste money like that. They put down light tracks two or three feet apart and the motors run along them. That leaves the rest of the road for horses and other traffic. The system costs very little and you get 10 miles of road there for the price of one mile here. That is how roads ought to be developed in all our country districts. Roads can be made in concrete for about £1,000 a mile in Rhodesia. I got all the particulars from the Minister of Communications there, and I sent them to the former Minister of Transport and to a great many of the county councils. What was the reaction? The county surveyors were not going to make the change; they were all down on the proposal. Yet roads could be made for about one-sixth of the cost that is at 802 present being incurred. Farmers often complain to me bitterly about our present roads being slippery and being unfit for horse traffic or cattle.
I am just as disappointed with the present Minister of Transport as I have been with them all. The right hon. Gentleman tells his story and does his bit, but there is nothing left. A sinister influence, which is partly inertia, attacks all Governments except when they are collecting taxes. In this case the sinister influence is the already vested interests in transport. If we could come to some accommodation with the railways we could build autostradas, put them under railway management and compel all our heavy transport to travel on these routes paying a toll for the use. There need be no speed limit; they could travel at 100 miles an hour if they wished as long as they were all going the one way. When the vehicles issued from these special roads I would make their speed very slow, so that even a child of 5 would not be in danger. What we really need to-day is a road dictator to get these things done. Enormous sums are derived from transport by the taxes on petrol and power. Far more is extracted than is sent on the roads. The money was originally intended to facilitate motor transport, but the Government most immorally broke the contract and took the money from the motorist. Instead of the money now being spent generously on the roads, motorists get grants from the Exchequer as a favour from what is their own money. All this taxation on transport means taxation of the poor people of the country because they have to pay more for everything that they have.
I do not suppose that we shall ever get a Government with sufficient imagination to put this matter right. With regard to the suggestion for fly-over bridges, the German military do not seem to approve of them for war purposes because they say they can be very easily destroyed by bombs. Certainly it would be desirable in this country, especially in the south, to have two or three great main roads so that it would be possible to shift the people if necessary, and also shift the centre of transport. The correct way, seeing that we have all the railways of the country like an old man-of-the-sea on the back of transport, to put the whole of our trans- 803 port under their management. I remember an hon. Member saying to me that he was able to save more in time and money by making use of motor transport instead of rail than he ever did out of his business. You can send goods from London to Manchester and they arrive there in a comparatively few hours, whereas if you send them by rail you are lucky if you get them within 48 hours. These are the lines upon which we should develop, and the whole money which is derived from road users should be devoted to road improvement. It is not a question of £100,000,000. A far larger sum is required, but it must be spent with care. I hope that some scheme will be carried out in succeeding years to put a stop to the awful tragedy of the slaughtering of our children in our streets and roads.
§ 2.28 p.m.
§ Mr. W. H. Green
I am sure we shall all agree that we have listened to a most interesting pronouncement from the Minister of Transport. I was interested to know that he holds the view that the primary duty of the Minister is to bring about greater safety on our roads and in our general transport system. I was somewhat intrigued by his statement that remedial measures invariably reduce accidents. The right hon. Gentleman felt that one of the most appalling features of the toll of our roads is the enormous number of children who are the victims. When I heard that statment I felt that now at least there was some encouragement to believe that at last we have a Minister who is going to do something in a way that is obvious, and where the results are almost certain to be satisfactory. Many of us regard the late Minister of Transport as about the last word in the art of dodging the issue, but now that we have a new Minister of Transport—I suppose we ought to wish him well in his great task and none of us desire to add to his difficulties, which we realise to the full—if he deals as expeditiously with some of the causes of accidents as eloquently as he speaks about them our opinion of him will be a little different from that which we held of the late Minister of Transport.
My purpose in rising is to call attention to what I believe to be—I am not using exaggerated language at all—something approaching a public scandal, in which the previous Minister of Transport and 804 the present Minister are more or less involved. I refer to the question of the large number of accidents which occur to children through falling between the front and rear wheels of motor lorries. The cause of these accidents and their possible remedy have not been in doubt for years. The right hon. Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison) when he was Minister of Transport in 1931 was so convinced of the necessity of guards being provided to stop the continual deaths of children that he drew up draft regulations. That was six years ago. Something politically happened and the right hon. Member for South Hackney ceased to be Minister of Transport. The whole thing was shelved. It was raised again in 1933, and again it was shelved. Thirteen months ago, on 17th June, 1936, I asked the Minister of Transport: Whether his attention had been called to the death in my constituency of a child through falling between the two wheels of a motor lorry which could obviously be prevented by guard rails. His reply was:Regulations were proposed in 1931 but were not brought into operation. It is my intention to make them effective and to this end I have decided to circulate a draft"— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th June, 1936; col. 1005, vol. 313.]That was 13 months ago. I waited some months, and I watched motor vehicles. I naturally thought—perhaps I was a little more innocent than the hon. and gallant Member for Wallasey (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon) who earlier in the Debate accused Ministers of lying and evasion—that the Minister meant what he said. I looked at the vehicles to see if these guards were being provided. There was no sign of them. Another death occurred in my constituency of a child in similar circumstances…that was in March. Again, I asked a Question whether any action had been taken, and the reply I received was:I have recently sought the views of the Transport Advisory Council in this matter.In answer to a supplementary the Minister told me that he had transferred the matter to the Transport Advisory Council for their comments and advice. I waited another fortnight, and asked another question as the result of the death of another child in my constituency. I asked the Minister when the proposed regulations would become operative, and the right hon. Gentleman 805 replied that they were under the consideration of the Transport Advisory Council. I waited a further fortnight and on 8th July I am told that the matter was still being considered, and the Minister added—after 13 months—that he was now considering whether regulations should be made. This after his predecessor had determined that regulations should be made. I suggest that this is really approaching a public scandal. We lament the deaths of these children, we grow eloquent, and nobody more eloquent than the present Minister of Transport, about the appalling loss of life of children; and yet here is an obvious case where the number of accidents can be reduced and prevented. This Matter may loom large in my mind because of these three deaths in my constituency, but if you translate that number into the whole of the country, I wonder how many deaths of children are due to this cause. Still the Minister says supinely that some committee is considering the matter. I suggest that if the committee is not doing its duty, it is the Minister's job to see that somebody does it. I would like to read an extract from a letter I have received, not from a Socialist or a Communist, but from a 'well-placed constituent of mine. The letter is dated 7th June, and reads:I am forwarding another cutting from the local paper which contains an account of vet another poor little child killed through falling under the rear wheel of a lorry. Had Mr. Hore-Belisha carried out the promise given to you last year, this tiny mite would still be playing happily. The verdict, of course, was the) usual glib one of 'accidental death.' I feel it should have been manslaughter due to the criminal neglect of the Minister of Transport.That is how the people in the locality feel about this matter. I asked the Minister seriously to tackle it, and in view of all that is involved, I hope he will tell us that some action is to be taken immediately. The letter from which I have quoted ends with a postscript:Why is the thing being held up? What sinister influences are behind? There is a suspicion that certain motor interests find it inconvenient to spend perhaps £2 or £3 on fitting these guards on motor lorries, and as a result children's lives are weighed in the balance.I say that that is to be condemned. One can understand the suspicions entertained in the country as to why some definite action is not taken. There is another 806 matter to which I wish to refer. As the right hon. Gentleman indicated in his speech, the Ministry have very limited powers with regard to the London Passenger Transport Board, and in some cases they are confined to advice and recommendations. At the Minister's instigation, I believe, all over London, and probably all over the country, children's road safety committees have been established. Particularly in London, those committees are concerned, among other things, about the fact that on the main roads large groups of children on their way to school have to wait at tram stops because the tickets which they obtain for travelling to school are not interchangeable between trams and 'buses.
I think those committees are justified in asking that the Minister should use his influence and should make such recommendations as are possible to the London Passenger Transport Board with a view to making these scholars' tickets interchangeable between trams and 'buses. At the present time, the tickets are available only on trams. While the children are waiting for a tram to come, one 'bus after another passes, but in congested streets, groups of from 50 to 70 children have to wait for a tram to come along when they might reasonably be taken by a 'bus run by the same concern. That is a very undesirable thing, especially when the remedy is such an easy one.
Another point I want to make to the Minister is that although children under the age of five may be taken free on London trams—a very useful concession to poor people—strangely enough the same does not apply on trains or 'buses which are run by the same concern, and where the age limit is three years. Those interested in the child life of the Metropolis urge that the Minister should use his influence with a view to getting the London Passenger Transport Board to consider the advisability of making the traffic services of London more unified. One of the arguments for the establishment of the Board was that it would coordinate and unify the services, and it is a little grotesque that after the Board has been operating for nearly four years, there should be these distinctions between trams, 'buses and tubes.
Another matter which I would like to mention is that many young people starting out in life get jobs at a very small 807 wage. They live at some distance from the centre of London, sometimes on the large housing estates that are springing up on the outskirts, and obviously the best course for them to follow would be to buy a season ticket on the railway for travelling to and from London. In many instances, however, financial reasons prevent them from paying for a three months' season ticket. I suggest that the Minister might recommend the London Passenger Transport Board to consider whether weekly tickets could not be issued to these young people at a proportion of the cost of a three months' season ticket. I understand that at present they can obtain weekly tickets, but that the cost is not one-twelfth or one-thirteenth of the amount of a quarterly season ticket. Many of these young people earn only a few shillings a week, and I think it would be worth while for the Board to consider whether something could not be done on the lines I have suggested.
In conclusion, I am sure that hundreds of thousands of people who have the well-being of the children at heart would be gratified if the Minister would see that at long last the added provision for the safety of our children which I have mentioned is enforced. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I am sure, many large firms in the Metropolis have voluntarily put guards on their lorries, because they know their value and if well-disposed firms of good standing do it voluntarily, I suggest that that will be very helpful to the Minister in making compulsory the provision of such guards.
§ 2.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Keeling
The hon. Baronet the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) referred to the high hopes which were entertained when the London Passenger Transport Board was established that it would be able to reduce the congestion of the streets of London. Time after time when the formation of that Board was being discussed in this House, the argument was used that once it was established it would be able to do away with redundant 'buses. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten) rather pooh-poohed the suggestion that there were any redundant 'buses, but I think the facts speak for themselves. It is palpable 808 to anybody who goes into the streets of Central London in the middle of the day, between, say, ten o'clock and five o'clock, that this redundancy does exist.
A census which was taken by the London Passenger Transport Board itself and another taken by the Westminster City Council showed that between the hours of ten o'clock and five o'clock the 'buses in the central area were filled to not more than one-third of their capacity. It may be asked, "Why does the London Passenger Transport Board run these surplus 'buses?" The answer is that in any given street in the central area, the 'buses belong to several routes, which come in from different parts of outer London, and then converge and run along the same street. In the Strand, for instance, there are various services from different East End suburbs, running through the Strand and then diverging again to reach different Western suburbs. The service in any particular suburb may be no larger than is required, but the service in the Strand is altogether excessive. The same may be said of every other main route in the central area. It is said that in Aberdeen, when the tram fare for a particular stage was reduced from 2d. to rd., the inhabitants held an indignation meeting because they would save only 1d. instead of 2d. by walking. But I cannot believe that Aberdonians in London would object if for a rd. fare in the Strand or elsewhere they got only 10 minutes on the 'bus instead of 20 minutes.
Is there a remedy? A remedy has been suggested by no less an authority than the London Traffic Commissioner, and he stated that his scheme had the approval and support of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner and the City Police Commissioner. The Traffic Commissioner says definitely and emphatically that London Transport ought to abandon their present system of running services from one suburb to another through central London, and should establish instead bus stations at the edge of the central area, and there turn the suburban services round. They could then run much reduced shuttle services inside the central area. The London Traffic Commissioner claims many advantages for this proposal. The first is, of course, that there would be a reduction in the number of buses in the central area, to the great 809 advantage of traffic. Incidentally I may point out that it is in the central area that the strain on drivers, of which we heard so much at the time of the bus strike, is greatest. Another advantage of the scheme would be that it would ensure greater punctuality in the running of the buses. The longer the through route, the greater the delay is at any given point when the road is congested. Under the present system the Traffic Commissioner says he has seen as many as nine buses head to tail, all making for the same destination, and all more or less empty.
§ Mr. Keeling
The Traffic Commissioner claims one more advantage for his scheme. In so far as these exchange stations were placed near Underground stations people would be encouraged to travel in the inner area by Underground. Finally, he says that the difficulty of adjusting the hours of drivers and conductors would be more easily dealt with if we had this exchange system. What objections have been put forward to a scheme urged by such high authority? We have been told that there would he a difficulty in finding sites for these bus stations. I am prepared to admit that it would not always be easy, but the London Passenger Transport Board is, I think, estopped from saying that the problem is insuperable, because it is engaged at present in finding sites for turning points for its trolley buses, at such points in the central area as Victoria, Southwark Bridge and Bloomsbury. The problem of finding turning points for ordinary buses further from the centre of London is surely considerably less, especially as the problem is not complicated by the necessity for an overhead trolley. I cannot believe that the difficulty is insurmountable.
The second argument which has been used against the scheme is that passengers coming in from or going back to the suburbs will not change. I do not think that argument holds water when one considers that every (lay hundreds of thousands of people are accustomed to change at railway junctions and that hundreds of thousands of people come into London every morning by train and then change on to the buses. The Transport Board, I submit, is not justified in choking the streets and so obstructing 810 the general travelling public, merely in order to provide direct facilities for the few. It is also said that if passengers are unable to get through journeys on buses they will take to cars. I have not seen any evidence in support of that theory. I do not believe that many people who habitually use buses would use cars instead, and parking difficulties in the central area would effectually prevent that in any case. We are also told as an argument against reducing the number of buses that private cars are a greater cause of congestion. I cannot see that a tu quoque argument of that sort has any weight at all. The evil of private cars, if it be an evil, does not justify the evil of unnecessary buses. Two wrongs cannot possibly make a right.
It may also be said that the Transport Board knows its own business best. No doubt, but the Board is not primarily interested in reducing the congestion in the streets. It is not responsible for the general condition of the streets. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport has that responsibility. As he said, he only has the powers which have been entrusted to him by Parliament, but Section 62 of the London Passenger Transport Act of 1933 gives him power to relieve congestion in any London street by limiting the number of buses passing through that street. I do not suppose that it will be necessary for the Minister to issue such an order. I think it would probably be sufficient for him to use his powers of persuasion, but I would ask him to go into this matter, so important to the citizens of London and to visitors to London, and to see whether the recommendation of the London Traffic Commissioner, supported by the two Police Commissioners, cannot-be put into effect.
§ 2.52 p.m.
§ Major Braithwaite
I do not share the apprehension of some other hon. Members about the capacity of the Minister and his assistant in connection with their Department. The right hon. Gentleman has already gained distinction in other branches of National Government work, and I feel certain that in him we have a Minister of Transport who will analyse these problems thoroughly and carry into practical effect that modernisation of our road system which is required. I recognise that he has barely 811 had time to take over his new duty, but I ask him to consider most seriously getting on as early as possible with the work on the main trunk roads. The Great North Road, which probably carries more traffic than any other road in Great Britain, is a disgrace to any country claiming to possess modern civilisation. There is not a country in the world with a chief main road so inadequate to meet the demands of traffic. Down that road come the products of the North of England at all times and in all shapes. I have seen on that road the largest road transport vehicles in the world moving down a narrow avenue of fast traffic and, generally, the condition of this main artery between the industrial North and London is deplorable.
I know that claims can be made for the West and the South, but I contend that the Great North Road is the main artery of our industrial system, and however many claims may be made upon the Minister and the local authorities, the modernisation of this road should come first. I speak as a motorist of 30 years' experience, and as the owner of a large transport fleet, and I have knowledge of both sides of the problem and I say that this road is a death trap to those who use it, and is not serving its proper function as a link with the industrial area. Before any other great work is tackled I ask the Minister first to put this main artery into order and make a proper job of it. I would also ask the Minister to come and see the East Lancashire road connecting Manchester and Liverpool. It is the only industrial road we have that is a credit to the country. It is the sort of road that we would expect to have running from the North to the South, and not merely connecting two cities. We want to see the whole country linked up by great arteries of this kind along which transport can flow.
Now I want to particularise a little, and to ask the Minister whether he will kindly look at my own constituency. We have been talking for the last 20 years about the removal of a toll bridge at Selby, and I hope this Minister will go down in history as the Minister who freed the roads from toll bridges. I have made that suggestion to other Ministers of Transport, but they have not lived up to it. Let us have some speed in clearing 812 out these toll bridges. This one at Selby is a real menace. It is an old-fashioned, wooden structure carrying modern vehicles. It occasionally gets knocked down by boats coming through, and great inconvenience is caused to transport. We now have some assistance in the form of a new bridge and a new road there, but there is some confusion of opinion between two local authorities as to which of them will pay for different bits of this scheme. I hope that will be cleared out of the way and that we can get on with our job and get this road done.
There is the other vexed point, of the road from Leeds to Scarborough. Some 20 miles of it run through my constituency. We have already spent £500,000 on making the two sides of this road a real good racing track. You can speed down there—I have done it myself—at 80 miles an hour, until you come to my constituency, and then you find 15 miles of narrow road. I happen to represent the seaside resort of Bridlington, which pays one-sixth of the total rates of the East Riding of Yorkshire. This road does not run to Bridlington, but runs from Leeds to Scarborough, which is a neighbouring and rival seaside resort, but we are asked to contribute to make this racing track through to Scarborough, without any benefit to Bridlington, at a cost of one-sixth of the whole of the rates. It is flagrantly unfair, and it is a road that carries the whole of the West Riding industrial population to the East Coast, as the London to Brighton road carries people from the Metropolis to the South Coast. These arguments have been advanced before by other Members, but I ask the Minister to be pleased to look into this matter and to see whether he cannot take this road over as a main road. It carries more traffic on Saturdays and Sundays than the Great North Road carries on any day, so that it has substantial claims for help.
Then there is one other point. I travel every day on the Great West Road, and I want, as an old motorist, to tell the right hon. Gentleman that the cycle tracks that have been put on that road have made it more dangerous than it was before. Half these cyclists use the cycle track, and the other half use the road, but when they come to a junction they 813 all dash out into the road, and I have seen on that road more accidents since those cycle tracks were put down than ever before; and I travel on it every day and have done for the past five or six years. The road is not wide enough to have cycle tracks on the side of it. If you make up the whole width of the road and take in the cycle tracks, you may get some semblance of safety on it, but at the moment it is a very dangerous road on which to travel. I do not know what can be done there, but it seems to me that something ought to be done, because it is a very important road. I know that the Minister has the good will of everybody in this House in the big job that he has undertaken. He has one of the most formidable tasks in this Government in putting our road surfaces in a proper state, and I urgently ask him first to tackle the main artery of the whole country and to go on with the other details later.
§ 3.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Leslie
I can endorse what the hon. and gallant Member for Buckrose (Major Braithwaite) has just said about the Great North Road, because undoubtedly during the last 10 years vehicular traffic on it has more than quadrupled, not only in volume, but in weight. I am inclined to think that many of our arterial roads are far too narrow and that the Minister of Transport might take a lesson from what can be seen on the roads of Holland. In Holland there are more cyclists in proportion to the population than in any other country in Europe, and the great arterial roads of Holland have one section for cyclists, another for fast traffic, another for slow traffic, and another for pedestrians, with islands for safety crossing.
More could be done with respect to road making in distressed areas if more assistance were given for that purpose. The local authorities there are handicapped because of the very high rates. In my own division—and I want the Minister to take note of this, because it has been before other Ministers of Transport for several years—there is an archway in the village of Stillington, at a place that is a danger spot for children going to school. It is very narrow and it is a veritable death-trap. The council are prepared to abolish the archway and 814 to widen the road, but it is necessary to have greater assistance from the Ministry of Transport in order to do this.
Mention has been made of the overcrowding in the Tubes in London, but no mention has been made of the Piccadilly Tube, which runs from the West End to Wood Green. That Tube is constantly congested between the hours of five and eight o'clock. It is bad enough, when you are packed like sardines in a box, to get the stench of the perspiration of the people travelling in the Tube, but it is worse if you have to be a straphanger, and that is what constantly happens. Is it not possible to have either more carriages or more trains on that route?
§ 3.4 P.m.
§ Mr. G. Strauss
I want to make one or two comments on the speech of the Minister of Transport. He gave us a very interesting survey of the work of his Department, but I regretted that he made no reference to one Committee which functions under his Department, and I would like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether he can give us any information on this point. The Transport Advisory Council was set up about three years ago for the purpose of examining the problem of the co-ordination of transport facilities. This is naturally a matter which is of great interest to Members on this side of the House. I believe that constant questions have been asked, particularly by my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherhithe (Mr. Benjamin Smith), about the work that this Committee has done and how often it has sat, and I know that he at any rate is not satisfied with the replies which he has received up to now. I would therefore like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether he can tell us what work they have done, how often they have met, whether they are getting on with the business, or whether they have thrown the whole thing overboard.
It struck me that the Minister, anxious and eager as he was about the new task which he had undertaken, did not appreciate, at least as fully as I would like, the urgent need for big road improvements in this country, widening existing roads, and making improvements on a far greater scale than the Government have undertaken during the last few years or, as far as I can see, contemplate doing 815 in the next few years. It is almost a Platitude that we are behindhand in this country with our big through roads, and it is definitely true. But there is no reason why we should be behindhand. This is, after all, a more wealthy country than any other in Europe to-day. I cannot understand why much greater progress is not made in constructing big through roads, which would greatly facilitate the flow of traffic and, from a national aspect, be a very considerable economy if a long view of the situation is taken.
The hon. Baronet the Member for South West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) wants big improvements in London. So does everybody else. I could not understand, incidentally, why he suggested that a new bridge would be very desirable in a new place in London but that the widening of an old bridge was not of any use. He forgot to mention that the cost of a new bridge would be £32,500,000, and that most of that money would go not in road works, but in compensation to property owners. If anything on a big scale is to be done in an area such as London it is not a question of spending a million or two. If you widen and improve the through Class I and Class 2 roads it will be a question of hundreds of millions, certainly £200,000,000, to make any adequate provision for the growing traffic of London. Suppose you double the width of all the roads. Traffic increases at the rate of 6 per cent. a year, which means that in 14 or 15 years the amount of traffic on the roads will be doubled and we will have the same congestion as we have to-day. Therefore, doubling the existing roads is no final solution of the difficulty in London. It would, of course, help considerably, and the London County Council have, in the last few years, put forward a large number of schemes, and are going to put forward many more during the next year or two. In the report which is before us to-day there are schemes, which have already passed this House, on which the County Council are engaged, to the value of about £7,250,000.
The right hon. Gentleman, when speaking for his Department, naturally takes the line that the Department has done great things in making new roads 816 and bringing about road improvements. That was the line taken even more loudly and vigorously by the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor. A cool examination of the figures of expenditure by his Department, however, does not bear that out. What has particularly struck me is that the road expenditure during any year since 1933 has been considerably less than during the period when the Labour Government were in office. There was an immediate drop in road expenditure when the present Government came in. They carried out their economy programme in every direction. They cut down expenditure on roads, which meant that not only many thousand more people became unemployed. but that work on roads which urgently needed widening, corners which needed rounding off, etc., was delayed. Consequently the Government must accept responsibility—indirectly if you like—for much of the bad condition of the roads that exists to-day, and many of the accidents that have occurred.
What about the present expenditure of the Government on roads? In the year ending March, 1932, which was the year following the Labour Government, when many of their schemes were in operation, the expenditure on new roads and improvements on trunk roads was £22,500,000. The expenditure in the following years was £11,500,000, £8,500,000, £8,250,000, while in 1936, for which I have not the figure, it did not rise very much. The actual record of the Government in making improvements on our main roads is a very poor one and is nothing like as good as the Minister would desire the House and the country to think. When the announcement was made at the General Election that a five-year plan was to be launched involving an expenditure of £100,000,000, I did not believe it at the time. I know that the ex-Minister of Transport the right hon. Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison) did not believe it either. We said that we did not believe the money was to be spent, and we were rather treated as if we were doubting the word of a gentleman, and that it was not quite the thing to do. In point of fact, during the first two years, the total amount that could have been spent under the plan is in the neighbourhood of £10,000,000. If the Minister rides off and says that it was never intended that the £100,000,000 817 was to be spent in five years, but only that the schemes would be launched in five years' time, the total of which—£100,000,000—would be spread over many years afterwards, it is absolutely fraudulent, because the whole country was led to believe that the money was to be spent during the next five years. If he meant the other thing, their programme was very much smaller than the Labour programme of 1929–31.
This shows how the country's leg was pulled in this matter of transport. The pronouncement on collective security was thrown overboard the moment the election was over. There was also the promise of the Prime Minister about the limited armaments which the Government were to provide, which he wtihdrew afterwards, confessing he made it deliberately to deceive the people. Now there is this matter of the £100,000,000 which was to be spent in five years. Only £100,000,000 is being spent in the first two years, and there is not a possibility of that £100,000,000 programme being anything like fulfilled. Evidently the sins of the Government are being found out.
§ 3.11 p.m.
§ Sir Archibald Sinclair
I gladly join with those who have offered the new Minister of Transport their warm congratulations on his assumption of that office. Like other Members, I listened with great interest to the wide-ranging survey which he gave us of the business of the Department, but, like other Members who wish to confine their remarks within a fairly manageable compass, I am not going to dwell upon the points on which I found myself in agreement with the right hon. Gentleman, but come to the criticisms which I feel ought to be levelled against h is speech. I am, therefore, going to confine myself to that part of his speech about which I feel most critical, that dealing with roads and motor transport.
I do not think we ought to blind ourselves to the reality of the controversy which underlies the speeches that have been made. There is a real difference of opinion between Members—not, of course, on party lines—and not only in this Committee, but far outside, about the relative importance of the roads and the railways. Any demand for a forward road plan, for encouragement for road transport, comes up against the vested interests of the railways. There is nothing sinister about that. 818 I hear my hon. Friend the Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) saying, "Hear, hear," and no doubt feeling that there are behind the scenes sinister financial magnates using their opportunities to oppress the people. But that is not the point. There are a great many people who honestly believe—as I think, mistakenly believe—that it is important to encourage the railways, and that enough has been done for the roads. If I were a director of a railway company, or the chairman of the National Union of Railwaymen, no doubt I should take that view and I should take it honestly, and press it by every means in the House, in the Press and in my communications with the right hon. Gentleman's Department; and there are a great many people who are always pressing that view upon him. But the view I am going to put forward is the opposite view.
I think there has been general agreement in all parts of the Committee that the development of our road system is proceeding too slowly. I should not altogether agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Buckrose (Major Braithwaite) that the Liverpool and Manchester road is the only good one between two important industrial centres. I would advise him to visit my own country, where he will find a magnificent road between Glasgow and Edinburgh. At any rate, I agree with him that the development is going far too slowly at present. Growing industry is breaking through the limits of towns and cities, and to an increasing extent centres of industy are forming outside the towns, and in order to provide the communications which are required, a flexible system of road development is far quicker, cheaper and more efficient than extensions of the railway system would be. In the meantime, there are many cases in which development is being held up by the absence of good roads, particularly in the distressed areas. Some instances were quoted by the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken, and another by my hon friend the Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts) when speaking on the distressed areas last Tuesday. We know how much our tourist industry in the Highlands is being, on the one hand, facilitated by such improvements as are being made in the road system now and, on the other hand, held up by the absence of good roads in other parts of the Highlands. 819 So much for road improvement from the industrial and economic point of view. There is another point of view, and that is road safety which, I was glad to see, the right hon. Gentleman put first in the remarks which he devoted to this subject. A good road is, broadly speaking, a safe road. Very often you hear that statement disputed. There was the speech by the hon. Member for Buckrose, who described how he was travelling a week ago at 80 miles an hour along a road towards his constituency and when he came to his constituency the roads were so narrow that he had to slow down. I would imagine that some of his constituents might make a case for keeping their roads narrow rather than have their Member of Parliament charging through the constituency at 80 miles an hour. Nevertheless, speaking generally, the broad and straight road is the road on which the good and careful driver can see what is coming.
§ Sir A. Sinclair
I think he will hit it very much less often on the broad and straight road than on the narrow and twisted road. Nobody outside a lunatic asylum would suggest that you could make the Kingston by-pass safe by creating a lot of sharp curves, blind corners or steep inclines. In so far as you can get a system of broad and safe roads you add to the safety of the road.
The problem of safety is of increasing importance. The figures of accidents are appalling. I have listened to this Debate, with the exception of just short of an hour when I went out to lunch, and I have not heard quite the full accident figures quoted. I would like to give the Committee some that I have here. In 1931, the killed and wounded on the roads totalled just under 209,000. In 1933, the total was 223,500. In 1935, after the figure had gone up to a still higher peak in 1934, they had risen to 225,000. In 1936, they rose again to 232,000. I have the figures for this year, too, and I find that, in the first four months of this year, the total casualties were 61,737 as compared witth 61,125 in the same months last year, an increase of more than 600 in the first four months of this year. If you take May, the fifth and last month for which I have figures, there is actually an increase of 1,700 casualties as compared with May of last year, or 22,963 compared with 21,270.
820 The fact is that at the present time, in spite of our road improvements, in spite of the Highway Code, in spite of Belisha beacons, in spite of all these safety measures, these casualties are increasing at an appalling rate. I do not feel altogether satisfied with the account that the Minister gave us of his policy in that regard, but in one thing I entirely agree with him. He said that it was more important, and more his function, to provide facilities than to prevent accidents. I entirely agree that it is extremely difficult for him by any of these methods to prevent accidents; I think that the best way is to provide the facilities, to provide broad, straight roads for the transport. One of the things that the Minister said was, however, that he thought his best method was to improve the human element rather than to improve the roads—
§ Mr. Burgin
I am sure the right hon. Gentleman does not wish to misrepresent me. My view is that to improve the human element would be better than concentrating solely on the other method, but that does not mean that both are not necessary.
§ Sir A. Sinclair
The human element is a frightfully difficult thing to improve. We have been trying to do it for hundreds of years. It is a very slow process. I am far from saying that it is impossible, but it is a very slow process indeed. The improvement of the roads may be slow, but I cannot help thinking that the improvement of the human element may be even slower, and the more so because the right hon. Gentleman pointed out that 5,500 of the 6,500 casualties were pedestrians, cyclists or motor cyclists, that 41 per cent. of these were children under 15, and that the peak age was the age of five. Relatively more children at the age of five suffer from these casualties than at any other age. It is going to be very difficult indeed to educate these children of five to the proper use of the roads. Moreover, the right hon. Gentleman pointed out that the most dangerous age for bicyclists is 15, the age at which young boys or girls are just beginning to learn to cycle. It is going to be very difficult indeed to improve the road sense of young people like that.
Is not the right hon. Gentleman rather assuming that it is only 821 children on bicycles who use the roads? Surely the children themselves do not cause their own accidents?
§ Sir A. Sinclair
I do not think there was anything in my remarks to suggest that. I was merely dealing with the fact, which the Minister brought out, that it is among these children that the highest rate of casualties exists. How are they to be dealt with? The Minister said that we should improve the human element, and I do not want to scoff at that. It is very important, and there is a system in the schools now for educating children in this respect. It is very important that that should be persevered with, but there are other things which also are extremely important. One of these which is a little outside the present debate, is to get the children off the roads and put them into playing fields. That is one thing that is very important, though of course, it is outside the scope of the Minister of Transport. The next thing, which is more relevant to our debate, is the provision of footpaths on all main roads. That, I think, is vital.
I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will assure us that that is going on speedily. I do not know whether pedestrian railings are successful or not. If they are, I hope that that also and cycling tracks will he pressed. In short, while I do not want to scoff at the emphasis that the right hon. Gentleman laid upon the education of the human element, I do not think that that provides a solution, and I think that some of the other measures that I have suggested are even more important.
With regard to road schemes in the Highlands of Scotland, we have suffered from delay, but other hon. Members have dealt with that and there is a much more important point, and that is the labour conditions. Up till now county councils have been responsible for contracts, but under the new scheme the Minister of Transport is responsible. Under these contracts the hours of work have been fixed at 54½ a week, for which men receive 45s. less stamps and other normal deductions or 43s. net. Then they are pressed to go and live in hutments. At one time the pressure amounted almost to compulsion. As the result of protest from county councils and from myself and others, that pressure has been to some extent relaxed, but it is still very strong. The contractors say they have every right 822 to exert it because they have to provide the hutments, and have to have a certain number of people living in them, or they do not get a return on their money. But it is oppressive to compel men who may be within easy bicycling distance of their work to come into hutments where they have to pay 23s., now reduced to 21S., which leaves only 22s. out of which they have to meet their personal requirements and to send money home to their wives and family. For the sake of simplicity I have referred to that as a weekly wage, but it is an hourly wage of 10d. an hour, as compared with 11d. paid by the county councils for similar work. The men may not get 54½ hours work in a week on account of unfavourable weather or failure of material to arrive. They may not earn enough even to pay what they owe for their board and lodging in the hutments, and they may easily be left with nothing, or nearly nothing to send home.
This is a very bad system, and I do not think it ought to be run as at present. The county councils pay rid. an hour for similar work, with no deduction for living in hutments. As a result of this pressure to live in hutments, when people have refused to go there, the contractors have brought in men from the South of Scotland. Thirty men are employed in Sutherland from Endinburgh and North Berwick. The unemployment percentage in Caithness and Sutherland is 32.4. In Edinburgh it is only 11.15 and in East Lothian 9.4. Unemployment is more than three times as great in Sutherland as in these other districts, and it is wrong to have a system which compels men to be imported from distant places where unemployment is less than in the locality where the work is being given. The third point on these Highland roads is the narrowness of the roads that arc being built in some places. The Ministry is actually compelling the county council to narrow some roads from 16 feet to 10 feet, with, of course, passing places every few hundred yards, but that is a very retrograde movement. Actually we are getting now great charabancs coming from Edinburgh, Glasgow, Blackpool, and as far South as Brighton.
§ Sir A. Sinclair
They are making the roads narrower, and at a time when you 823 have men employed on the roads, surely, the more far-sighted thing would be to keep them at any rate, to 16 feet in width. I do not say that it is the regular width; it is 16 feet in some parts and 10 feet in other parts. They should maintain the 16 foot standard rather than the 10 foot. This is the main road round the north coast of Scotland.
I come to my last point concerning roads in the Highlands of Scotland—the importance of the district roads which are used by the ordinary people to go about their ordinary "work and along which children have to go to school. They are being smashed to pieces by the increased use of motor traffic by local merchants, the butcher, and the baker, and everybody has a motor van nowadays. They go down these roads which were never intended for motor traffic, and the roads are being steadily broken up. The districts cannot afford to re-make them. They are told, "If you put the roads in proper order, the county council will take them over." They cannot afford to do it. In many districts the yield of a penny rate is less than £1 and the road rate is now much heavier in the Highlands of Scotland than the public health rate or the education rate; the road rate at present is at an enormously high level. The parish councils and the district councils in the Highlands are all making the demand that the Minister of Transport should consider giving some assistance towards the reconstruction of these local roads.
Before I sit down I want to turn to another aspect of the transport problem which has been touched upon by one or two previous speakers, and that is the National Defence aspect. It is clear that in time of war we should increasingly depend upon a flexible road system not only for provisioning the country, but also for the movement of population from big centres threatened by attack. The development of road transport is the best way of meeting the menace of air bombardment of our railway communications, yet it seems to us that the Government, by their policy under the Road and Rail Traffic Act, 1933, are deliberately hampering the development of road transport in order to safeguard the railways. We cannot discuss in this Committee, and I am not going to attempt to discuss, the whole policy of the 824 Government under the 1933 Act or the 1937 Act. But I suggest to the Minister, and to the Parliamentary Secretary, who is to reply, that from the point of view of National Defence, as from the other points of view I have been arguing, it should be the policy of the Government by every means not only to improve the roads, but to encourage the growth of the road transport industry.
Under the Act of 1937 the Minister is given the power to prolong the period for which a licence is granted to a road haulier. Surely, the road haulier, in the absence of misconduct or persistent lawbreaking, should have such security in his industry as to encourage him to develop it to the utmost and to put capital into it for the provision of motor vehicles. Such security would come from the knowledge that his licence would not be arbitrarily withdrawn, and that he would not be compelled to carry on his business and exercise his calling in the constant fear that his licence might at any time be withdrawn. I suggest to the Minister that the time has come to overhaul drastically the various regulations which have been issued by his Department under the 1933 Act, some of which have inevitably, and perhaps in some cases unnecessarily, the effect of hampering road hauliers in the development of their industry. Some of the regulations should, I think, be interpreted with a little more commonsense than is sometimes shown by officials of the Ministry. I have two cases of which I could tell the Minister. One is the case of a man who was stopped three times in 20 miles for the inspection of his brakes and steering. The other is the case of a string of 30 or 40 vehicles, some of them carrying perishable commodities, which were stopped in hot weather while one after another they were inspected by the Ministry's inspectors for steering and braking tests.
This road transport industry needs encouragement. The destruction of a few railway bridges by air bombardment might put a whole railway system out of action, but when, as Sir William Beveridge pointed out in his articles in "The Times", you have a number of fully powered long-distance motor lorries, if a road is destroyed they can make a detour quite easily. An important aspect of this problem is the road system of our big cities. It is remarkable to those who have been abroad to see in foreign cities, at 825 important road junctions outside the cities, the tunnels under which some roads go and the fly-overs on which there is another road. It is of great importance that we should develop that system around London and our other great cities. I come back to the point from which I started. Many Members in this Debate have commented on the failure of the Government to carry out more quickly the five-year plan. Only on the 6th of this month there was in the "Evening Standard", in the Citiy article, this:In Great Britain it was decided two years ago to spend £100,000,000 on the roads over a period of five years. To date, around one-tenth of this amount has been expended. The reason for this is that the Government is attempting to drive back traffic to the railways so that railway facilities may be used to their fullest possible extent.The "Evening Standard" comments "This policy is a sound one." If that is the policy, my friends and I consider it is one which ought to be strenously resisted.
§ 3.40 p.m.
§ Captain Hudson
We have had a very interesting debate, which has ranged over a wide variety of subjects, and the Committee will realise that, while I will try to cover as many of them as possible, I shall not be able to deal with every one. May I say a word in reply to the right hon. Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) as to the roads in Scotland? He knows that we have a big scheme there which is estimated to cost £6,000,000 and to cover 1,170 miles of road. We hope that the more important roads will be sufficiently wide to take two lines of traffic; there will be certain roads, one way roads, with frequent passing places. The point about making the present wide roads narrower is a new one into which I should like to inquire. Narrow bridges will be widened, gradients improved and a surface provided which will enable traffic to move with safety. The right hon. Gentleman asked how the work was progressing. The total length of road surveyed to date exceeds 550 miles, and approval has been given to the acceptance of contracts for 260 miles which involve an expenditure of approximately £1,300,000. The Ministry is to meet the whole cost. The actual expenditure up to 30th April last was £1,300,000. We consider that the rate of expenditure will not be materially different from the £850,000 per annum originally authorised. The right hon. Gentleman also raised the 826 question of the labour employed. I should like to look into that point and let him know later on.
Many hon. Members have raised questions relating to the traffic in London which are primarily the concern of the London Passenger Transport Board. The hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. W. H. Green) and the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling) particularly drew attention to this matter. All I can do is to tell them that I will study their speeches carefully, and go over with the Board the questions which they have raised, and see whether we can meet them in any way.
§ Captain Hudson
The Committee, of course, will understand that the powers of the Department in regard to these matters are rather strictly circumscribed. Many of these matters affect the Board and, therefore, it is the Board which will have to deal ultimately with those points which hon. Members have quite rightly raised. As regards road construction and the five-year programme, there seems to be a good deal of controversy as regards the £100,000,000 programme. Let me read the last paragraph in the circular which went out to local authorities in February, 1935:The National Government has decided to make provision for the next five years for grants towards works of improvement and new construction. I am accordingly inviting highway authorities to submit at once the schemes with which they are prepared to proceed immediately, and also to submit, as soon as they are in a position to do so, further instalments of their proposals, with a programme of improvements which they propose to undertake over the next five years.The difference of opinion seems to have arisen over the word "undertake." I do not think there was any pledge that the work would be completed in five years. I would remind the Committee that the rate of expenditure is very largely dependent on the highway authorities themselves. Naturally, with a programme of this kind the expense of the programme is bound to be cumulative and to rise as time goes on. Anyone who has had anything to do with work of this magnitude on roads knows what a long time surveying, buying the land, and so forth, takes before you get actual 827 expenditure, the signing of the cheque and the paying out of the money.
If I might recapitulate what my right hon. Friend has said as regards the position at the moment it is this: £66,000,000 worth of work has been approved, of which £10,000,000 has actually been spent. In addition to that, a further £60,000,000 worth of work is now under consideration. That is to say, every day as these schemes are finally passed they will be added to the £66,000,000 worth of approved work. In the Ministry we feel that the programme which was put forward at the last General Election as to the £100,000,000 roads scheme is being carried out as expeditiously as it is possible to do it. I think that hon. Members who travel about the country will see many examples of great road works being carried out which have not actually come into use because of the fact that this work takes time both to carry out and to complete.
The hon. Member who opened the Debate, the hon. Baronet the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) said that the total amount for road improvements was not rising. I have had figures given to me which show that the payments out of the Road Fund by way of grant for road improvements have been as follows during the last three years: 1934–35, £3,500,000; 1935–36, £4,400,000; 1936–37, £6,400,000; and the estimates for 1937–38 are £10,500,000. Therefore, all the time it is a rising figure.
I have to deal quickly with a large number of subjects. Several hon. Members have asked about the position of the Forth, Humber and Severn Bridges. I cannot go further than the statement that was made by my right hon. Friend the former Minister of Transport when he announced that this work was held up owing to the necessities of the armaments programme. I am afraid r cannot go further than that at the present time. Hon. Members raised the question of the possibility of getting the plans ready and the Government approving the principle. I have noted the suggestion, and my right hon. Friend will see whether that suggestion can be carried out.
§ Mr. Mathers
The hon. and gallant Member is not stating that that suggestion has been made now for the first time?
§ Mr. Mathers
He knows that it is a matter that has been pressed, and although we accept the statement in regard to the Forth Road Bridge, we certainly do not feel satisfied.
§ Captain Hudson
I merely mentioned that because I think two hon. Members raised the question and asked whether it would be possible to do something in that way. I have noted the suggestion, and we will see whether it will be possible to fall in with that wish. The hon. and gallant Member for Wallasey (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon), who told me he could not be present when I was winding up the Debate, referred in a very interesting speech to the road at Hartford Bridge Flats, which he said, quite rightly, is very dangerous. I am glad to tell him that that is in the Ministry's priority programme. It is proposed to construct a second carriageway there at an estimated cost of £10,000. Another hon. Member raised the question of the Great North Road and the great variety of widths and surfaces found thereon. That was one reason for the passage of the Trunk Roads Bill, and we hope that it will not be long before his complaint will be dealt with.
A similar point was raised by another hon. Member with regard to the Great West Road. Again, I can tell the hon. Member that plans are now being worked out for widening the Great West Road to two 30-feet carriageways, which, I think, will be a very great improvement, plus the footpaths and cycle tracks which are already in existence there. The hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Parkinson) asked me a question about level crossings and bridges. During the last two years 10 level crossings and 267 weak privately-owned bridges have been dealt with. I would remind the Committee that we give a special grant of 75 per cent. for approved road work to any local authority which replaces a level crossing. [Interruption.] If the local authorities do not take advantage of the grant of 75 per cent., it is not our fault, but many of them are taking advantage of the grant.
In dealing with safety precautions, which are most important, hon. Members have suggested fly-over crossings, pedestrian bridges, subways, additional footpaths, additional pedestrian crossings and 829 also additional pedestrian guard-rails. I assure the Committee that we are doing our very best, particularly with regard to the trunk roads that we have taken over, to see that these different safety devices are provided in ever-increasing numbers. One hon. Member asked what we thought, after some experiments, about pedestrian guard-rails, and, in reply to him, I can only say that we have not really had sufficient time to be able to give an answer, and would like a little more time for experiments. The danger to school-children, which was stressed by my right hon. Friend, is also constantly before us. I think that barriers outside school entrances are essential, and in many cases, when big roads with very much traffic pass the schools, we wish to try the experiment of putting pedestrian bridges there, because one can make children go over a bridge, whereas it is not so easy to make older people, who are perhaps not so agile, do so. Having taken over the trunk roads, we shall now have an opportunity of experimenting in that direction.
The question of the 30 miles-an-hour limit and the power of the Minister to de-restrict certain roads has been raised. Ever since the 30 miles-an-hour limit came into operation, we have been doing our best to see that it is observed and that it works. We feel that if it is put on in places which motorists feel to be unfair, on big arterial roads and so on, it will fall into disrepute, just as the 20 miles-an-hour speed limit did. The day-to-day work in this matter is done by me, and when these cases come up, I take enormous trouble to try to get a right solution, if necessary seeing the Member of Parliament for the area or the local authority, in order to ensure that we get the speed limits in the right places, and that they are properly observed. I would like to give the Committee one interesting figure. Of the total accidents, 75 per cent. take place in built-up areas, and only 25 per cent. in areas that are not built up. Therefore, I want the Committee to realise that simply to put on a 30 miles-an-hour speed limit—
§ Mr. Benjamin Smith
Will the hon. and gallant Gentleman give the proportion of traffic in the built-up areas as compared with the other roads?
§ Captain Hudson
I do not want people to think that simply by 830 putting on additional 30 miles-an-hour limits, one is necessarily going to solve the problem because one would be dealing only with 25 per cent. of the accidents. As the hon. Member said, the reason for that is the built-up areas are the densely populated ones. That is the whole point. I am not suggesting that the speed limit should be done away with, for I am a great believer in it, but in dealing with this matter we have to see what the problem is before we can decide upon the best way of dealing with it. In the non-built-up areas the proportion of fatal accidents to all accidents is twice as high as it is in the built-up areas. It is as two is to four. Therefore, it shows that when people do meet with accidents in the built-up areas they are not as severe as the accidents in the non-built-up areas. I wish the Committee to note that figure, because it is a vital consideration when we are considering the proper way of dealing with the 30 miles-an-hour speed limit.
The hon. Member for Wigan asked about the number of prohibitions of goods vehicles for defects. Last year 24,000 goods vehicles were stopped for defects, which seems to show that the examining staff are doing their work successfully. Two hon. Members have raised the question of guards for vehicles. I admit that there has been a certain delay. The matter is still before the Transport Advisory Council, and I give my assurance that I will see that the matter is expedited as far as possible. The hon. Member for North Lambeth (Mr. G. Strauss) asked about the Transport Advisory Council, particularly in connection with its investigation of the co-ordination of transport. The Committee has held 15 meetings on this subject, and we hope that it will report shortly; in fact, we expect the report this month. It has had to deal with a very big problem, and I hope that when the report comes it will be satisfactory.
One very important point regarding the Road Traffic Act of this year was raised by the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot). As he said, the Royal Assent was given to this Measure only three days ago and the Minister, I understand, received a deputation yesterday on the subject referred to by the hon. Member. All I can say, having taken the Bill through this House, is that I gave an undertaking that the reason why the Minister supported 831 Clause 2 was because he intended to make use of it. My right hon. Friend has not had time yet to see exactly in what way he intends to use it, but that pledge still stands.
I have tried to answer the various questions put to me, and I think the Committee will realise from those questions the tremendous number of subjects with which this Department has to deal. I think they will also realise, after listening to this Debate, that there is one outstanding consideration present to the minds of nearly everybody, and that is the safety of life and limb. My right hon. Friend has already dealt with the individual responsibility of every man, woman and
§ child, of all road users, be they motorists, pedestrians or cyclists. I hope that hon. Members of this Committee will in their speeches try to make those to whom they are speaking realise that responsibility. There is no other way of dealing with the problem than that of devising further measures for man's protection and we ask for the co-operation of the Committee in carrying out that difficult task.
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 59; Noes, 141.833
|Division No. 276.]||AYES.||[3.59 p.m.|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, S.)||Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel)||Ridley, G.|
|Adamson, W. M.||Henderson, A. (Kingswinford)||Roberts, Rt. Hon. F. O. (W. Brom.)|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Henderson, J. (Ardwick)||Rowson, G.|
|Banfield, J. W.||Jones, A. C. (Shipley)||Sanders, W. S.|
|Barnes, A. J.||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Shinwell, E.|
|Batey, J.||Kelly, W. T.||Silkin, L.|
|Benn, Rt. Hon. W. W.||Kennedy, Rt. Hon. T.||Sinclair, Rt. Hon. Sir A. (C'thn's)|
|Chater, D.||Lathan, G.||Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe)|
|Cluse, W. S.||Leach, W.||Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, N.)|
|Dalton, H.||Leslie, J. R.||Thorne, W.|
|Dobbie, W.||McEntee, V. La T.||Thurtle, E.|
|Dunn, E. (Rother Volley)||Maclean, N.||Tinker, J. J.|
|Ede, J. C.||MacNeill, Weir, L.||Viant, S. P.|
|Fletcher, Lt.-Comdr. R. T. H.||Mathers, G.||Walkden, A. G.|
|Foot, D. M.||Messer, F.||Watkins, F. C.|
|Frankel, D.||Milner, Major J.||Whiteley, W. (Blaydon)|
|Gallacher, W.||Montague, F.||Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)|
|Gibson, R. (Greenock)||Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)|
|Green, W. H. (Deptford)||Muff, G.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Griffith, F. Kingsley (M'ddl'sbro, W.)||Parkinson, J. A.||Sir Percy Harris and Sir Hugh Seely.|
|Groves, T. E.||Pritt, D. N.|
|Adams, S. V. T. (Leeds, W.)||Crossley, A. C.||Hills, Major Rt. Hon. J. W. (Ripen)|
|Albery, Sir Irving||De Chair, S. S.||Holmes, J. S.|
|Anderson, Sir A. Garrett (C. of Ldn.)||De la Bère, R.||Hope, Captain Hon. A. O. J.|
|Anstruther-Gray, W. J.||Denman, Hon. R. D.||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hack., N.)|
|Baillie, Sir A. W. M.||Denville, Alfred||Hudson, R. S. (Southport)|
|Baldwin-Webb, Col. J.||Doland, G. F.||Hume, Sir G. H.|
|Balfour, Capt. H. H. (Isle of Thanet)||Duckworth, W. R. (Moss Side)||Hutchinson, G. C.|
|Balniel, Lord||Dugdale, Captain T. L.||Kerr, H. W. (Oldham)|
|Baxter, A. Beverley||Duggan, H. J.||Law, Sir A. J. (High Peak)|
|Beauchamp, Sir B. C.||Duncan, J. A. L.||Leckie, J. A.|
|Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm'h)||Eastwood, J. F.||Liddell, W. S.|
|Beechman, N. A.||Evans, Capt. A. (Cardiff, S.)||Llewellin, Lieut.-Col. J. J.|
|Beit, Sir A. L.||Fox, Sir G. W. G.||Lloyd, G. W.|
|Blair, Sir R.||Fremantle, Sir F. E.||Locker-Lampson, Comdr. 0. S.|
|Bossom, A. C.||Furness, S. N.||Mebane, W. (Huddersfield)|
|Boyce, H. Leslie||Gluckstein, L. H.||McCorquodale, M. S.|
|Braithwaite, Major A. N.||Goldie, N. B.||Macnamara, Capt. J. R. J.|
|Brocklebank, Sir Edmund||Gower, Sir R. V.||Makins, Brig.-Gen. E.|
|Bull, B. B.||Grant-Ferris, R.||Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.|
|Burgin, Rt. Hon. E. L.||Granville, E. L.||Marsden, Commander A.|
|Burton, Col. H. W.||Grattan-Doyle, Sir N.||Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J.|
|Butcher, H. W.||Gridley, Sir A. B.||Mellor, Sir J. S. P. (Tamworth)|
|Cary, R. A.||Grigg, Sir E. W. M.||Moore, Lieut.-Col. Sir T. C. R.|
|Castlereagh, Viscount||Grimston, R. V.||Morris-Jones, Sir Henry|
|Channon, H.||Guest, Lieut.-Colonel H. (Drake)||Morrison, G. A.(Scottish Univ's.)|
|Chorlton, A. E. L.||Guinness, T. L. E. B.||Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S.(Cirencester)|
|Colfox, Major W. P.||Hannah, I. C.||Nall, Sir J.|
|Colman, N. C. D.||Hannon, Sir P. J. H.||Neven-Spence, Major B. H. H.|
|Cooke, J. D. (Hammersmith, S.)||Haslam, H. C. (Horncastle)||Nicolson, Hon. H. G.|
|Croft, Brig.-Gen. Sir H. Page||Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel A. P.||Orr-Ewing, I. L.|
|Crookshank, Capt. H. F. C.||Hepburn, P. G. T. Buchan-||Palmer, G. E. H.|
|Cross, R. H.||Herbert, A. P. (Oxford U.)||Petherick, M|
|Pilkington, R.||Sandeman, Sir N. S.||Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Plugge, Capt. L. F.||Savory, Sir Servington||Warrender, Sir V.|
|Pownall, Lt.-Col. Sir Assheton||Salley, H. R.||Waterhouse, Captain C.|
|Procter, Major H. A.||Shaw, Major P. S. (Wavertree)||Watt, G. S. H.|
|Raikes, H. V. A. M.||Somervell. Sir D. B. (Crewe)||Wayland, Sir W. A|
|Ramsbotham, H.||Southby, Commander A. R. J.||Whiteley, Major J. P.(Buckingham)|
|Rankin, Sir R.||Spears, Brigadier-General E. L.||Williams, C. (Torquay)|
|Rathbone, J. R. (Bodmin)||Storey, S.||Williams, H. G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Reid, W. Allan (Derby)||Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)||Wilson, Lt.-Col. Sir A. T. (Hitchin)|
|Ramer, J. R.||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Sir M. F.||Wise, A. R.|
|Ropner, Colonel L.||Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A. (Padd., S.)||Wood, Hon. C. I. C.|
|Ross Taylor, W. (Woodbridge)||Thomas, J. P. L.||Wright, Squadron-Leader J. A. C.|
|Royds, Admiral P. M. R.||Touche, G. C.||Young, A. S. L. (Partick)|
|Russell, Sir Alexander||Tryon, Major Rt. Hon. G. C.|
|Salmon, Sir I.||Tufnell, Lieut.-Commander R. L.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Samuel, M. R. A.||Wallace, Capt. Rt. Hon. Euan||Major Sir George Davies and|
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ It being after Four of the Clock, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to make his Report to the House.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.834
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.
§ Whereupon Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House, without. Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 2.
§ Adjourned at Nine Minutes after Four o'Clock until Monday next, 12th July.