HC Deb 31 January 1949 vol 460 cc1434-55
Mr. Renton

I beg to move, in page 27, line 17, to leave out "(a)."

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

It might be for the convenience of the House if this Amendment and the consequential Amendments on the Paper were taken together.

Mr. Barnes

Might I raise a point for consideration? All these Amendments have been agreed to. I therefore wondered whether the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton) wishes to put any particular case. We might take the remainder of the Amendments formally.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

In that case it would be in Order to take the whole of the Amendments together.

Mr. Renton

All the Amendments cover one small and simple point. In meeting that point, all the consequential Amendments would have to be made. The effect of the Amendments is to divide into two classes what at present is one class. As the Schedule stands, Class I is very comprehensive indeed. It includes under paragraph (a) all ordinary motor traffic, including heavy motor traffic. Under paragraphs (c), (d) and (e) we find various kinds of abnormal and special traffic. As a matter of pure administrative convenience it appeared to some of my hon. Friends and to myself that it would be very much simpler if those two types of traffic were put into two separate classes.

I am happy to say that the Amendments are being accepted, as a result of constructive suggestions on the part of the Opposition and courteous consideration on the part of the Government. I should like to acknowledge the fact that after we had put down what we thought were the essential Amendments, the first four, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport was good enough to suggest to us consequential Amendments which were necessary to tidy the matter up. We accordingly put those Amendments down also.

Mr. Joynson Hicks

I beg to second the Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Consequential Amendments made.

6.7 p.m.

Mr. Barnes

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."

All that it is necessary for me to say on the Third Reading is to express my appreciation to Members on all sides of the House for the assistance and help which they have given to me for improving the Bill. The main principles were agreed, and our discussions have strengthened and improved the Bill.

6.8 p.m.

Major Sir David Maxwell Fyfe (Liverpool, West Derby)

I would first apologise to the House for my late arrival today. Urgent business strikes us all at some time, and I can only throw myself on the mercy of the House, and ask hon. Members to excuse me for what I am sure they will accept as being uninten- tional rudeness. I say that specially to the Minister because I think he knows my interest in the Bill and in these matters. Before we leave the Bill I should like to say a word about what has been inserted in it through the efforts of the Committee and of the House today, and one or two sentences about its general purpose and effect in its present form. There is satisfaction on this side, and I think in every part of the House, in regard to the Amendments which were secured on the Committee stage. I am very glad that my hon. Friends have given such attention to securing their coming into law.

There are four points on which we on this side are especially glad that Amendments have been made. The first is that there is now a specific requirement that local and national planning, including agricultural planning, shall be taken into account in the framing of these schemes. On the Second Reading I ventured to put in a short and somewhat tabulated form the problems of agriculture. On reflection I think that I stated them accurately and with a just balance between the needs of that great industry and of the problem which is being dealt with in the Bill. It is a relief to many engaged in agriculture that the requirement which I have just mentioned has been inserted.

The second matter of which I am glad is that there is now a guarantee that alternative routes will be available not later than the stopping-up of existing roads, for the purpose of the special roads. This was a problem which exercised many minds when we first saw the Bill and we are glad to think that some steps toward its solution have been taken. The third matter is the extension of the rights to compensation for damage consequent upon the making of a special road, particularly that damage suffered by a tenant or the owner of any interest in premises to which access is stopped up or limited. That can now be compensated. It is one of the difficulties of government that those who exercise it are always inclined to sacrifice the means to the end. The end appears with a greater effulgence and glory when one is in office than when one is not and those in office are inclined to look a trifle lightly on the difficulties which people will have to meet if their scheme is brought into effect. In this case these difficulties have been regarded, and I am glad to think that the rights to compensation have been extended.

The fourth matter is one which is historic and invariably arises in this House, and it is the requirement for an affirmative Resolution for any variation in the user Clauses of the Bill. You know so much about affirmative and negative Resolutions and have heard so much more about them than even you know or would care to know, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that you would be the last to welcome any large excursion on my part into that thorny subject tonight. But from the point of view of private Members and from the wider point of view of Parliamentary control of the Executive, which is the interest of us all as Members, wherever we may sit, I believe that any occasion when we can get an affirmative Resolution should be taken. It is important that on matters of this stature the Government should have to find time and hon. Members should not be placed in the difficult position of having to find sufficient hon. Friends to keep a House in order to sustain a Prayer. I have quoted these examples because they demonstrate clearly the care which has been taken with this Bill and the improvements which have been made.

I want to say one or two words about the position of the Bill as it leaves this House. I believe that it is a useful thing that the planning of this Measure has been done now. People know what type of roads will come and they know that it is not merely to be a tinkering with existing roads, and, although, as the Minister told us, the roads must take their place in the capital investment queue and must be considered along with other matters, his Department can go on with its planning and the people of the country can plan their own lives and the future of their farms or other activities with that knowledge clearly in mind.

Finally, despite the testing period of Committee and despite the discussions today, I am still convinced that the suggestion incorporated in the Bill is one that must, in time, be brought into force if our country is to receive the benefit which our people deserve. All who are present at this Debate know that it is no mere platitude—it is one of the vital factors in industry today—that transport comes into the costs of industry at every moment of time from the arrival of the raw material at the ports to the turning out of the order for the consumer. I will not again detail the reasons which I placed before the House on Second Reading, but we believe that great economies can be made and great improvements created. It leaves even in the future—I merely mention the problem; I should not dream of trespassing on your latitude, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, by going into it in detail—the great problem of co-ordination of road and rail, because the mere fact is that the better the roads we produce, then the more urgent that problem becomes. We have not so far seen any sign of its solution, and its urgency remains a matter which must fill the minds of all who are interested in transport in this country. Even so, this plan is a good proposal and I take my part in sending it on from this House with the general good wishes of myself and my hon. Friends.

6.18 p.m.

Mr. Janner

I rise to offer the congratulations of many hon. Members on my side of the House to the Minister for having introduced this Bill and having carried it through in the way he has done. The House is also indebted to all parties for having contributed towards producing an effective Third Reading as speedily as possible. I hope that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be convinced that the time should not be very far distant before an opportunity is given for the provisions of the Bill to be put into effect because they are of considerable importance to the economy of the country. It would be false economy to delay the implementation of the provisions unduly. All sides of the House have acknowledged—I think the few critics have been convinced that they were wrong—that the provision of roads of this nature will be of considerable value to the transport needs of the country. Even those who raised points about difficulties which have been or may be experienced in agricultural districts, will readily admit that the provision of these roads in addition to the present road system, will be of considerable value to the farming community in enabling them to transport their products speedily.

The country realises that for many years we have not had the necessary funds for properly maintaining the roads. and it is strange that although the number of motor vehicles has increased considerably, not a single road has yet been built specially for motor traffic. This Bill presents an opportunity which should be grasped as speedily as possible, and I am sure I am speaking on behalf of all hon. Members in wishing it every success.

6.21 p.m.

Mr. Renton

My own feelings in considering this Bill have been rather like those of one dreaming what a heaven it will be when, one day, we have won our economic independence, with the aid of the United States and the Dominions. We know that what we say this afternoon will be on record and perhaps one day some of us and others will turn up what has been said by way of constructive suggestion. May I, therefore, make one or two suggestions which I hope will be borne in mind in the course of time?

One of these I know the Minister agrees with—that there is great scope for converting obsolete railways into special roads, and there are places where they would make good roads. I have expressed the view, based on experience of continental motorways, that where possible, it is good to have broad grass verges to special roads because these greatly improve the amenities. On the other hand, one has to face the fact that in a country the size of ours, that is a great luxury which most probably we shall be unable to afford, however we may regret it. It so happens that the Great North Road and the old North Road both go through my constituency and play a great part in the life of the constituency and of the county. They bear perhaps as heavy traffic as any roads in this country and I hope that those roads will not cease to be general purpose roads because, if they do, it will disturb greatly the life of my constituency, along the full length of which these roads run.

As the Member for the County of Huntingdon I cannot forbear from pointing out the irony of the friendly Debate we have had today—the nearest Debate to the 300th anniversary of the execution of Charles I. On this friendly occasion we should perhaps acknowledge the fact that we have been able to profit by the sacrifices made by both sides in those far-off days and, indeed, have been able to profit also by their mistakes.

6.24 p.m.

Mr. York

I cannot say that my views of this Bill have undergone any modification in the course of our long discussion, and after another place has had an opportunity to amend and rectify the omissions which we have pointed out to the Minister, and which he has decided they should rectify, this Bill will become law and then the planners' paradise will start. These planners will get out their pens and, instead of having a few hundreds of acres of England with which to mess about, they will have the entire country from Land's End to John o' Groats on which to slash these extraordinary excoriates. That may be in the minds of some hon. Members a slightly exaggerated picture of what will happen, but let the House be reminded that it is a possibility within the Bill as it now stands, and I sincerely hope that it will not happen.

First, I am completely in agreement that what we require in this country for our main arterial ways are dual track roads, and I have some experience in my own native county of them. I believe that they are fully adequate to deal with all traffic problems of the modern age without forbidding the use of those roads to all and sundry. I am not convinced by the argument of the Government that in total they take up more land than special roads. I will not argue the case now, but taking it in total, the amount of land taken for these new roads will be more than would have been taken had we retained the old principle of the dual purpose road, utilising those sections of the old roads which were capable of improvement into the dual purpose type.

Another argument that has not convinced me is that there will be fewer accidents on special roads than on the double track roads. There is no proof of this so far as the intensive traffic conditions of this country are concerned, and it is not fair to compare the conditions here with conditions on the Continent where traffic is much lighter. What we shall get now, in effect, are race tracks on which traffic will be tempted to go faster than either the vehicles or drivers are capable of with safety. It is no good putting a 20-mile an hour limit on the back of a vehicle because, even on our present main roads, where there is a straight stretch, we get the heaviest lorries travelling at 30–40 miles an hour even though they are plastered with such signs. It is encouraging vehicles to go faster than their technical make-up entitles them to go with safety, and in getting excessive speed on the roads we induce accidents.

Secondly, we shall get an almost impenetrable barrier to rural amenities where these roads run. One might almost call it an iron curtain were it not for the magnificent fly-overs, cross-overs, and so on. If it has been my custom in the past to take my evening pint at the next village to the one in which I live, and there happens to be a special road in between. From a practical point of view I shall be forced either to go double the distance to find one of these crossings, or else patronise another pub. That is one illustration of the way in which the ordinary people in this country will have their amenities curtailed so that these race tracks can be built.

Thirdly, disorganisation will be caused in the normal local traffic routes. Wherever there is one of these roads the normal traffic routes must be diverted. To that extent, there will be an increase in the amount of transport which is necessary to maintain normal communications in those areas which will suffer the misfortune of having special roads running through them.

Fourth, I am not satisfied by what I have heard from the Government that the real core of the traffic problem will be tackled first. One of our main difficulties with communications is that towns are so congested that traffic is held up. I should like to think that the first action of the Minister when he starts, not working out the plans, but doing the work, would be to construct by-passes around those towns. I might then be able to think somewhat better of the Bill; but I have seen sufficient of the activities of road authorities to realise that if a job is difficult, they shelve it and do the easy part first. We all know that the Great North Road has been a very bad example of arterial communication. Acres and acres of land have been acquired to improve those parts of it which run through rural areas, but how many by-passes are there on it between Edinburgh and London? The only ones I can think of, apart from the Barnet By-pass on the outskirts of London, are those around a few villages which, although very good in their way, do not solve the hard core of the problem of traffic congestion.

I have, at any rate, one hope. While I prophesy nothing but ill of this Measure, while I think it will be decaying before we can divert the capital from our meagre resources to indulge in these extravagances, I hope that the first job to be tackled when the Ministry of Transport begins operating the Bill will be the provision of by-passes round towns and that the easier and less expensive part of the work will be left until after their completion. I cannot say that I wish the Bill well. What I can say is that I hope it will be very many years before it is implemented.

6.33 p.m.

Mr. William Shepherd (Bucklow)

I should like to begin by apologising to hon. Members who have been closely connected with the passage of the Bill. Although I was a member of the Committee I was also, unfortunately, a member of the Committee which is considering the Iron and Steel Bill, and the call of duty in that other direction prevented my attendance. I have, however, read the reports of the Committee and I agree that it was conducted in a most reasonable and co-operative manner. The outcome is that we now have a Bill which is greatly improved since its first presentation to the House.

I certainly do not agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Ripon (Mr. York). I had hoped that by the time this stage of the Bill was reached he would have repented, but we can see that his position is exactly the same as it was on Second Reading. I do not think he really believes all he has told us this afternoon.

Mr. York

The hon. Member is wrong.

Mr. Shepherd

The need to provide for increased motor traffic is something we cannot possibly ignore. Too long have we refrained from building new motorways and spent far too much money upon the maintenance of existing roads. The Bill, therefore, is a step in the right direction.

I wish I could share the hope—or the fear, in the case of my hon. Friend—that vast areas of the country will be slashed with motorways. That is the last result which we may fear from the right hon. Gentleman, because all kinds of individuals will get him to see that the Bill never materialises. The Railway Executive, for example, whose traffic is languishing, would look very ill upon a proposal to provide still more facilities for motor transport. They will keep the right hon. Gentleman in his place.

The Minister is not really a fit and proper person to have charge of the Bill; he is not a fit and proper father for this child and does not want it to grow up into a strong, lusty adult. What the right hon. Gentleman will do, after a discreet interval has passed, is to wring its neck or, at the very least, to see that it is imprisoned in the tower of State monopoly. I have grave feelings that the right hon. Gentleman will have no inclination to see that the Bill becomes a reality. My only consolation is that within a very short time a Government of a different complexion and a Minister of a different name will be called upon to carry out what the Measures requires to be done.

6.37 p.m.

Mr. Woods (Mossley)

We have heard in this Debate an almost remarkable sequence of appreciation and of recognition of the need for a Measure of this kind. I have great pleasure, therefore, in congratulating the hon. Member for Ripon (Mr. York) upon being the sole representative of the old Conservatism, of the historic attitude that what is, is good enough. In spite of the revolutions which have taken place in transport, and the fact that the road system in many parts of the country is utterly inadequate and causes considerable expense as well as tragic loss of life, there is still at least one lone voice which is not appreciative of the Bill.

The speech of the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) seemed to be not only an appreciation of the Bill but an attempt to convey to the country the impression that if it is a good Bill it is due mainly to the fact that hon. Members opposite have put down so many Amendments to it that it has been made into a good Bill which can, therefore, be glorified. The fact is that a Bill of this nature should have been on the Statute Book 20 years ago. Our present-day experi- ences and the tremendous cost of the roads which are contemplated, could have been obviated, many thousands of human lives saved and millions of pounds less expended by industry on transport costs.

Many hon. Members will have travelled on those Continental highways which were used exclusively for high speed traffic. One of the earliest of these was that between Florence and Pisa. It was obvious that such motorways were necessary to facilitate through transport, yet successive Governments which boasted of their super-patriotism, their concern for industry and for reducing economic costs, failed completely to put on the Statute Book a Measure of this kind to make such roadways possible. During the tragic slump our three million unemployed could have been used on such a project, instead of being condemned to idleness, and could have helped to increase the economic wealth of the country by making the roads which we are still contemplating even now and which the hon. Member for Bucklow (Mr. W. Shepherd) still fears may be delayed.

6.40 p.m.

Mr. Joynson-Hicks

One thing about this Bill is that it has not aroused any party controversy, and therefore I think it safe to assume that had it been introduced 20 years ago, it would not then have aroused party controversy. It is, therefore, rather unusual that we should hear the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Woods) so condemning activities of his party in that he wishes the Bill had been introduced 20 years ago. His party had every opportunity of introducing it then for his party were in office——

Mr. Alpass

But not in power.

Mr. Joynson-Hicks

There was no controversy and they had every opportunity of introducing such a Bill if they so desired, but probably they did not think about it.

I did not expect to agree with anything which my hon. Friend the Member for Ripon (Mr. York) said, but it came as somewhat of a shock to find that there was one thing he said which I should like to emphasise, particularly to the Minister. That is a danger which might arise if and when these roads are built. Very likely the right hon. Gentleman has traveled on the German autobahnen in recent months. If so, he will have seen at all too frequent intervals, wreckage on the side of the road of small German Völkswagen. When I inquired about them, I found that usually accidents had occurred because these vehicles were normally built for a speed of about 30 miles an hour, but they had been driven at a speed up to the maximum to which they could be adjusted to go. Very often they were driven at 70 or 80 miles an hour and they had special adjustments inside them for that purpose. They were not constructed with that idea in mind and the result was that they could not hold the road, but went off causing considerable damage and loss of life and injury.

I suggest that when the time comes for classes of traffic to be considered, the Minister, in the light of traffic at the time and motor construction at the time, should consider whether or not it would be advisable to put a limit on the motor traffic which can use these roads, in addition to other kinds of traffic, in order to ensure that only such traffic shall use them as can benefit from them in safety and to the advantage of the community as a whole.

Mr. Sargood (Bermondsey, West)

Is it not a fact that many of the recent accidents in Germany to which the hon. Member has referred, are due to the defective surface of the roads as a result of hasty repair following bombing by Allied Air Forces?

Mr. Joynson-Hicks

It would be going somewhat far from the subject to answer that in detail, but the answer is in the negative. We ask whether or not the Government have the technical knowledge and ability to create a surface to these roads such as that of the autobahn which successfully stood up to the wear and tear and usage of the war.

I thought my hon. Friend the Member for Ripon was going to raise a most important question, but he did not. It is the subsidiary question of the connection between these roads and traffic centres, the means of access from the special roads to centres of population and centres of traffic circulation. My hon. Friend dealt with by-passes round cities and traffic centres. That is important, but a road is of no use unless one can get from somewhere to somewhere else by it. We want to ensure that, having saved a couple of hours on a long-distance journey by travelling along a special road, we do not waste a couple of hours owing to traffic congestion and slowing down of traffic on leaving a special road to go into an urban area. On Second Reading, the Minister said that the Government had that question in mind, but they had not produced any specific way of dealing with it. I hope that in the course of their planning, which is likely to take a considerable time to develop, they will give particular attention to this matter.

It has been said that it is unlikely that the terms of the Bill will be implemented and the roads constructed within the next decade. That is quite likely, but that is no objection to the passing of this Bill at the present time. When the plan was drawn up during the war for a policy of full employment, it was emphatically laid down, principally by the party now in Opposition, that during periods of full employment the Government should prepare schemes such as this scheme so as to have them ready and available to put into practice at a time when there might be a slump in employment. That is what we are doing this afternoon. We are preparing a scheme and enabling it to be ready and available to put into practice as soon as the anticipated slump in employment begins to take effect from the unhappy policies of the Government.

Existing pipes and wires occupy consideration in several Clauses of the Bill. I trust that in creating these roads, particularly when taking over existing roads and converting them into special roads, the Government will use every opportunity of diverting pipes and wires away from underneath the surface of the roads. Nothing is a greater hindrance to the efficient use of a road than having pipes and wires running under it requiring the attention of one statutory authority after another coming in succession and invariably in unco-ordinated connection, to dig up the road in order to chase the pipes and wires, year after year. Before the new surfaces are laid to these roads, I hope everything will be done to divert these pipes and wires away from the surface of the road itself.

There has been very little reference to the financial provisions of the Bill, but I hope they will not exclude the practice, which I believe it is still open and available to statutory authorities and the Government of utilising the provisions of Section 13 of the Development Act, 1909, in the raising of money by charges on the Road Fund. That is a useful provision in case the Treasury should at any time decline to sanction the use of the money, because under this Bill the Minister has the whip hand. If the Minister desires to proceed with a road without recourse to the Treasury, he will have power to do so under the 1909 Act. I commend that alternative means to his attention.

My main complaint about the Bill is that it gives too wide and arbitrary powers to the Minister. It is a common failing with most Government legislation at present. It is certainly in keeping with what has been done in other Acts of Parliament but that does not make it a good provision. I sincerely hope that the Minister will find some way, in the interests of good legislation, of curtailing the excessive width of the powers which the Government are giving to the Minister under certain provisions of this Bill.

I wish to say a word about the general effect of the Measure when it has been passed and implemented. We in this country inaugurated the fashion in road usage many years ago. We were the forerunners and developers of road transport, but for many years we have lost the prestige and the advantage which we held, and have been outclassed in more modern means of road development and road user by many other countries. We have suffered from that, and are doing so particularly at present. Of recent years we have seen how the necessary development of road traffic on the production and design side has had to follow the out-of-date type of roads which we have had in this country. Our export market in motor vehicles has consequently suffered. We are still finding that the cars which we are necessarily having to manufacture in this country are small and fail to compare with other cars. I hope that if we can improve our road system sufficiently by virtue of this Bill it will also enable manufacturers, whether of motor cars or heavy vehicles, to conform more closely to the type of vehicle which is useful and valuable not only in this country but in other countries. In no case is this more important than in agriculture.

As I said during the Second Reading Debate, notwithstanding the depredations on agricultural land which this Bill is bound to cause, and notwithstanding the inconvenience which is bound to be caused to individual farms as a result of the special roads being driven through the farms, nevertheless it will, on the whole, be of the greatest benefit to agriculture. That is because agriculture, more than any other industry, depends on an efficient and available road transport service. I believe that on the whole the Bill will do good. It is being introduced at a good time, and I look forward to its implementation by my party when we sit on the other side of the House.

6.54 p.m.

Mr. Alpass

I desire to express my warm and sincere thanks to the Minister for having introduced an Amendment in Clause 3 which will allay the fears of, and give satisfaction to, a large number of my constituents. During the Committee stage I raised a point about the provision of alternative roads when highways were being stopped up because of these new roads. By the Amendment to which I refer the Minister has made that certain. I should like to thank my right hon. Friend on behalf of my constituents for having conceded that important point.

6.55 p.m.

Mr. Orr-Ewing (Weston-super-Mare)

I was interested in the closing remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Joynson-Hicks). When I first saw this Bill I had the greatest fears about its effects on agriculture. Having followed the proceedings in detail as carefully as I could, I still feel considerable apprehension as to the sort of damage that may be done to the type of transport necessary for agriculture, unless this Bill is carefully administered. It is one of those matters upon which it would be most rash either for those who wholeheartedly support the Measure or those who oppose it, to attempt to prophesy what the results of this Bill will be on transport of all types for supplying farms, taking produce away, etc., if these roads become a reality.

I do not think we can prophesy but the whole system of farming is changing so rapidly that I believe that the growth, the speeding-up of mechanisation on British farms, which is essential, will be jeopardised unless the powers contained in this Bill are used by the Minister not only wisely, but after the closest possible consultation and contacts with all those engaged in the supply and production of agricultural produce. It is vital that any Minister who is handling this Measure should be in the closest possible contact with every branch of the agricultural industry. Unless he is, he may, quite unwittingly, and with the best will in the world, do irreparable damage. These matters cannot always be dealt with by protest meetings, objections and formal discussions.

Intimate knowledge of the effects on agriculture in each district and area through which these roads pass will be absolutely essential to the right hon. Gentleman's Ministry. I press him to give some sort of assurance that when this Bill becomes law, he will immediately set up a special department in the Ministry if he means to go ahead with this Bill —the sole duty of which will be to study the effects of this Measure on the agricultural industry. I urge the right hon. Gentleman to take that step.

Although I agree in principle about the need for this Measure I feel that it is not nearly imaginative enough. Not a word has been said to lead us to believe that those in charge of planning these special roads yet appreciate that this Bill is, on the whole, a rather tinselly imitation of Continental and United States methods of dealing with the problem. Our problems here are different but only lip service has been paid to that consideration by those who have been handling this matter. The Continental and United States problem is entirely governed by the long distances which separate big centres. That is not our problem, which is how to get in and out of existing centres and to get into quick through ways to other centres, which are not at great distances, but the way to which is through highly congested areas.

The problem is fundamentally different. I have not seen or heard of one suggestion that it is possible to separate by three, four, five or six miles the up route from the down route. It is assumed that the two must be close, side by side. That is the sort of consideration which might have been in the minds of some of those who have been dealing in this matter.

I would reinforce the plea which has been made—I am assuming that the Minister means to go ahead with the implementation of this Measure—that because this Measure is on the Statute Book, it will not mean that vital improvements to existing roads which are badly needed not only from the point of view of danger to life, but from every conceivable angle will not be undertaken. In spite of this Measure being on the Statute Book the Minister must push ahead with the improvement of the existing road communications. He has probably already heard of particular cases in my own constituency, in fact I sent him a letter on the subject. There is that vitally dangerous point. I feel perfectly certain that he will pay attention to it, and will not say—as there is shortly to be a big special road running from Bristol to So-and-so and So-and-so, and a tremendous divergence of traffic— "We really cannot be bothered with dangerous bridges and bends and so on. Wait for two years and see how the traffic is relieved as a result of the special road." That simply is not good enough. But unless he is very strong, I am afraid he will find that there will be a tendency to put off all the good work necessary until the great wedding day comes along, and the local authorities and everybody else can be invited to a great opening, and sweep up in hundreds of motor cars, and have a champagne luncheon, and be told what a wonderful thing has been done by the Socialist Government.

Like all Bills of this sort, we have to consider it almost in the enabling category, because it is experimental. It is bound to be experimental, and these experiments, cutting right across all sorts of interests and lives and activities in this country can be extraordinarily dangerous and must be handled by a Government with sympathy and understanding—as well as being bound up, unfortunately, in miles of red tape before a quarter of a mile of road is built. This Bill being experimental, it is advisable that it should be handled by a Government of good common sense and humanity, and I only pray that by the time it comes into effect we shall have such a Government.

7.2 p.m.

Mr. P. Thorneycroft

I rise to offer one or two observations on the Third Reading of this Bill. I have spoken very often on it already, some may think almost too often. I hold a sort of middle of the road position upon it. I am less critical of the Bill than my hon. Friend the Member for Ripon (Mr. York) but unlike the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton) I do not see my way to heaven lying along a smoothly surfaced autobahn.

The Bill could make a useful contribution, but I doubt whether anything in the way of new roads is going to take place in the immediate future. It is a much better Bill now than it was when we started, I am sure that all sides of the House would agree on that. Some substantial concessions have been made. Concessions have been made to safeguard the interests of the agricultural industry, and no one has worked harder on those concessions than my hon. Friend the Member for Ripon. If it were not for the cogent way in which he has put his arguments, both upstairs and in this Chamber, those concessions would not be as satisfactory as they are. We have had concessions on the alternative route, on the question of compensation and on the affirmative Resolution. In their way they are all substantial points.

I wish to confine myself to three matters. The first point is the question of the planning of this Bill. Of course, this, in effect, is a planning Bill. No one is going to build a new motorway, however much anybody would like to do so. No one could conceive of starting one at this stage in the operation. But, as one of my hon. Friends has said, it is very desirable that the plans should be drawn up in advance so that if there should be a recession in unemployment and matters of that kind, those plans could be put into operation and capital resources devoted to that end. But it is also necessary for another reason. Until people know the type of road system to which they can look forward in this country, it is impossible for them to make their plans. I am not talking of the plans of local planning authorities. For example, a gentleman in business in Birmingham would wish to know whether it is worth while planning to build a factory down in South Wales. But he cannot make his plans in that direction until he knows whether he is to look forward to a new motorway between those two centres, because the presence or absence of that particular form of transport is vital to his costing calculations. I, therefore, welcome this Measure as a necessary contribution to helping those people to make up their minds as to their future operations.

The second point I wish to mention has been raised by hon. Members upstairs and was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Orr-Ewing). That is the question of accidents, on which very little has been said. So far, we have talked of this Bill as if it referred only to large autobahnen running up and down through the countryside. One of the most important features of a special road is its entrance to a city; whether one obtains access to the centre of a city, not by an all-purpose road, but by some road along which pedestrians, perambulators, bicycles and motor cars and lorries are not all mixed up together, as they are at the present time. Hon. Gentlemen opposite will agree, from the reports of committees studying this matter, that so long as there are these forms of traffic all mixed up together and moving in different, directions at different paces, so long will there be a very high accident rate in the entrance to the cities of this country. I would like to see an early attempt—an experimental attempt if necessary—to find what would be the result of introducing a special road in those circumstances. It would obviously be an existing road taken over as a special road at the entrance to one of the cities of this country.

We have discussed the economic side most of all in our Debates upon this Measure. I still think that the right hon. Gentleman has not yet realised what a dramatic effect the building of new motorways would have upon the transport costs of this country.

Mr. Barnes

The hon. Member is quite wrong.

Mr. Thorneycroft

It might reduce transport costs very considerably, but it is going to add to the headaches of the right hon. Gentleman in no inconsiderable measure. His representatives on the Railway Executive are complaining bitterly of the drift of traffic from the rail to the road and certainly that is not going to make it any easier for him. We should welcome a Measure of this kind, and the building of these roads, because we think that each and every form of transport ought to make its maximum contribution to the transport of this country. We think it would be wrong to spend millions of pounds in building these vast new roads up and down the country and then tell people that they cannot travel more than 25 miles along them. We should consider that a silly way of approaching the matter and a great waste of public funds. I can see the difficulties of the right hon. Gentleman in this connection, but I shall not pursue the discussion into that and other more controversial fields. So far as this Measure is concerned, it has had our general support throughout all stages. We believe we have made some contribution to improving it, and we wish the Bill well as it leaves this House.

7.9 p.m.

Mr. Callaghan

I am sure we are all very glad to see the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) present. His name has been mentioned many times in the course of our deliberations upstairs. I hope his ears did not burn when the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft) found himself addressed as "Sir David Maxwell Fyfe" when he was called on many occasions to move an Amendment.

My right hon. Friend cannot complain at all about the general support that we have had, with one notable exception. from the Opposition and the support from hon. Members on this side of the House in connection with this Bill. It has indeed been a concerted Measure, and my right hon. Friend readily acknowledges the assistance and valuable aid he has received from hon. Members in all parts of the House. They have not been fractious in their criticisms, nor have they unduly stretched out the Debate. We have all united in trying to make this Bill the best Measure that we can. I accept the point made by the hon. Member for Monmouth that it is a much better Bill now than when it first came here. Indeed, if our concentrated intelligences could not make it better, it would be a poor reflection on us.

There are several matters to which I will refer. The first concerns the timing of the work. That matter was raised by the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Joynson-Hicks), the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Orr-Ewing), and the hon. Member for Monmouth. The latter said that he doubted whether work would be done in the immediate future. There need be no doubts about that. Work will not be done in the immediate future. What is taking place now and what will take place in the immediate future is the planning necessary before we can cut the first sod. It is that work which is now going ahead, and the timing must depend upon the allocation of men and materials made to this form of work. I noticed that more than one hon. Gentleman opposite said he expected to see the work go ahead under a Government of the party opposite. I do not know whether that means that they expect to see the onset of a slump during their lifetime and that the capital investment programme which this Government is maintaining at a very high level is expected to fall off. I do not think that they want to claim that. I think they had better leave it in the form that both sides expect that there will be a high level of capital investment for a long time to come.

I would say to the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare that, of course, special roads can take no more than their share from the other important trunk roads and the Class 1, 2 and 3 roads that exist in the country. If they were all built or taken over, they would still number only 1,000 miles out of our huge road system of 8,000 trunk miles and 160,000 classified miles of road. It must be clear to everybody that these roads cannot just pre-empt on every other type of activity in connection with the maintenance of the transport system.

Mr. Orr-Ewing

What I really had at the back of my mind was the point that when a special road comes to be built, it will be a new structure and will take more raw material and labour in proportion yard for yard, than would be the case in straightening out and making safe and more efficient an existing road. To that degree, therefore, for every hundred yards of special road that is built, is it not the case, if more material and labour are taken, that possibly 1½ miles of other road could be made right?

Mr. Callaghan

I do not think that point is proved. It does not necessarily follow that if a new road is built it uses more material and manpower and costs more than the straightening of a crooked way at present. It is a matter for opinion and judgment. I should not be positive about it in the way in which the hon. Gentleman was.

On the question of agriculture, despite the fact that the hon. Member for Ripon (Mr. York) has appeared in the guise of Cassandra through the whole piece, he will acknowledge that, through his own efforts and through the readiness of my right hon. Friend to make certain that this important industry shall not be neglected, agriculture has in fact substantial safeguards. It is certainly the intention of my right hon. Friend to continue his present practice in relation to these matters—we have had plenty of experience of this before—and there are ample safeguards for everybody.

Finally, on the economics of the matter, the hon. Member for Monmouth referred to the antagonism of road and rail. He did not use the word "antagonism": I put it in his mouth. I do not accept that. It is one of the surest signs that my right hon. Friend does not take that attitude that he has introduced this Bill. We regard these two systems of transport as complementary. We do not feel that we can make the best transport for this country if we strangle one in order that the other may survive. It is precisely because transport will be run as a public service that we can afford to take that wide view. It is precisely because we have now got a system in which transport can be co-ordinated—that will take a period of time—that we can now go ahead with confidence knowing that the Special Roads Bill as it is now framed can make its contribution to our transport problems. My right hon. Friend is most appreciative of the words that have been said in this concluding Debate and I should also like to express my own appreciation.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time. and passed.