§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. R. J. Taylor.]
§ 11.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Bing (Hornchurch)
I am sorry to see that the majority of hon. Gentlemen opposite are going to leave the House because I am about to deal with a question raised at the Conservative Conference at Blackpool, the question of housing, of private house building as it affects my constituency, Hornchurch, and what is the concomitant—the roads of Hornchurch, which a large number of these private builders had promised to build and have failed to build. One cannot speak on the particular points I want the Minister to deal with, nor deal with the question of the roads of Hornchurch, without saying that the whole of my constituency is filled with unmade and unlighted roads.
Major Hicks-Beach (Cheltenham)
Can the hon. and learned Gentleman clear up one point? I understood him to say that the private builders promised to build roads in Hornchurch. Can he give us any details?
§ Mr. Bing
I am glad to find that one hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite does not know how private enterprise works. The private builders entered into agreements with the house purchaser that when the whole street was completed, and if the owner-occupier paid a certain sum, they would then complete the road.
I accept the fact that possibly private builders did enter into agreements, but surely the onus is on the tenant to make them complete the roads. As a member of a learned profession, I hope the hon. and learned Gentleman knows that the remedy lies with the tenants.
§ Mr. Bing
That is the problem of the local authority in Hornchurch which is controlled by the Conservatives at the moment. It is faced with this legacy of private enterprise—streets unlighted. In one area of South Hornchurch we have many roads largely unlighted, possibly because if one had lights, they might, by shining on the water lying in the streets, lead astray ships on the Thames.
But the points I want to raise with the Minister of Transport deal, not with this general issue, but with two particular roads—the Southend road, and the road known as Lee Gardens. The Southend road is an historic link in my constituency, joining the old northern part to the southern part of the former parish. It is the most convenient way between the working-class half of the constituency and the other half; it is the only way people who live in the working-class part can reach the cinemas and general amenities; and it is the only way, incidentally, to the "Good Intent" public house, unfortunately tied premises but still one of the leading public houses of that area.
During the war this road was temporarily closed to prolong slightly the runway of the aerodrome. Since the end of the war that runway has no longer been in use, and it has been my custom every year to write to the Ministry in regard to the re-opening of the road. I will not burden the House at this late hour with reading the whole of the correspondence. I will start in 1948.
§ Mr. Bing
In 1948 I had this reply from the Under-Secretary of State for Air:I am so sorry you should have had to write again about the re-opening of the road across Hornchurch airfield.2659I have made inquiries to see what has been holding things up, and I am told the station has been waiting for supplies of the wire fencing which is required to fence off the airfield before the road can be re-opened. Although you say there is plenty of fencing available on the station, it appears that Dannert wire was required for this particular purpose, and supplies of this wire had to be specially ordered. The wire was delivered to the station on Saturday, and instructions have been given that the fence is to be put up immediately. The job should be completed and the road opened in a matter of days now.That was in September, 1948. In September. 1949, having written again to my right hon. Friend himself, he replied as follows:You wrote to me again on 10th September about the restoration of the closed section of Southend Road, Hornchurch.My engineers have only recently received from the County Surveyor preliminary details of the widening work, and there are several points yet to be cleared up, before the scheme can be finally agreed.Should the County Council, for any reason, not be prepared to carry out the improvement work or if for financial reasons I find myself compelled to withhold grant towards its cost, I will certainly authorise the restoration of the road to proceed without further delay, but for the reasons stated above I do not want this to happen if it can be avoided.I want to ask my right hon. Friend, first, if he will do something to place the responsibility for this delay. It is one of the few roads the neglect of which is not due to private enterprise.
§ Mr. Bing
No. Whose responsibility has been this long delay? Has it been the county council, has it been the urban district council, or has it been the Ministry? Let us first fix the responsibility for the delay. Next, there is now a promise, I understand—it being October, 1950—that this work is almost due to commence. My right hon. Friend will excuse me if, having had so many promises in the past that this is just about to happen, I ask for a really firm assurance from him now that something will be done.
I turn to Lee Gardens. This short piece of road, some 200 yards in length, is actually the property of my right hon. Friend's Ministry. It was bought by one of his predecessors with the idea of incorporating it in an arterial road. Then 2660 it was decided not to construct the arterial road. Unfortunately, it remains the only entry to a large working-class estate.
On a point of order. I understood from the opening of the hon. Member's speech that he criticised the administration of private builders in Hornchurch. Now he appears to be directing his argument entirely against the Ministry of Transport.
§ Mr. Bing
I regret, and I think everybody else in the House regrets, that when one is trying to deal with a serious point of view in the ordinary lives of the ordinary people in one's constituency, Conservative and Labour alike, one should be subjected in the short time one has to facetious observations from the benches opposite.
Now, if the House will allow me to continue, this road, as my right hon. Friend well knows, because we have had a great deal of correspondence on this, is the property of his Ministry. It is the only entry to a large estate. It is in an appalling state—three and four inches deep in mud, no surface on the road—and it is impossible for any vehicle to enter the estate. While the inhabitants have paid for a comparatively narrow footway, vehicles have been allowed to drive over it and that has broken it down. A new school is to be situated off this road. This is the Hornchurch County High School, which is the responsibility of the Essex County Council. It is of great importance to the people living there that we should have some determination of who is responsible and that some action should be taken as soon as possible. I should like to read to the House the various letters I have had from my right hon. Friend's late Parliamentary Secretary, now the Parliamentary and Financial Secretary to the Admiralty. He wrote on 9th November, 1949:You wrote to me again on 5th October about Lee Gardens, Hornchurch. When the County Surveyor took up the question of the link road between A.127 and A.13 "—two trunk roads both running to Southend——incorporating Lee Gardens—with our Divisional Road Engineer in 1948, we asked the County Surveyor to give a full justification of the proposal on traffic grounds and to let us know his Council's views on it.2661We are still waiting for the Surveyor's submission, and as soon as we receive it we will examine it without delay. Until then, there is nothing we can do. We have recently asked the County Surveyor to speed up his report.Thus according to my right hon. Friend's Ministry the fault lies with the county surveyor who had not sent in his report. But the Urban District Council of Horn-church wrote me on 22nd November, 1949, quoting from a letter of 8th August, 1947—three years ago from now—which they received from the Clerk of the County Council:I have to inform you that this scheme has been submitted to the Divisional Road Engineer, Ministry of Transport, for approval in principle, and the Ministry's reply is at present awaited.So that, on one hand, the Ministry are saying they are waiting to hear from the County Council and the County Council are saying they are waiting to hear from the Ministry.
Finally, I circulated the correspondence generally to the Council. On 25th January, 1950, the Council replied to me in part as follows:This Council have made representations to the Ministry from time to time in the hope of obtaining their assistance towards securing an amelioration in the condition of Lee Gardens Avenue, but the Ministry are not prepared to meet the cost of even temporary repairs. The Ministry refuse to accept any liability in respect of the road and, in doing so, refer to the provision contained in the contract under which they purchased the land forming the site of the road, that the vendors should, at their expense, be at liberty, at any time before the commencement of the construction of the approach road, to construct a temporary road on the land. This council is not prepared to enter into negotiations for the acquisition of the land forming the site of the road, unless and until the scheme incorporating the site of the road is approved in principle by the Ministry.I want to make this appeal to my right hon. Friend. Every day that this road is left in its present condition, and there is a failure of these three authorities to get together, people are suffering in health, inconvenience and in the initiative with which they approach their work because they have to live under these miserable conditions. Therefore, I ask that these two roads should be restored and reopened. They are only some 350 yards in length. It is not a terrible task in either case to secure the construction of a such small length of road. In their physical distance these roads are very short, but if one measures them in terms 2662 of human discomfort, suffering, frustration and ill-health, they reach from Horn-church to Westminster.
§ 12.6 a.m.
Major Hicks-Beach (Cheltenham)
I do not propose to deal with the criticism the hon. and learned Member for Horn-church (Mr. Bing) has levelled against the Ministry of Transport. I should like to deal with his opening remarks, in which he sought to blame private enterprise. The hon. Member is a member of the legal profession, and he knows full well that if there is any sort of trouble with a private builder, it is up to these people to deal with the builder. If the hon. Member does not know, I will try to explain the position to him. The answer is to wind up the company and enforce your rights. It is bringing in party politics to try to lay the blame on private enterprise in a Debate which should be confined to a local problem. I hope that the protest I have made will be brought to the attention of the hon. and learned Member's constituents.
§ 12.7 a.m.
§ The Minister of Transport (Mr. Barnes)
I acknowledge at once the generous way in which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Horn-church (Mr. Bing) has raised this matter. I confess that I fully appreciate the reason why he has raised this matter on the Adjournment, on looking through the correspondence and history of the case. In the circumstances prevailing, as my hon. and learned Friend rightly said, the people living in the surrounding estates are suffering from this state of affairs.
I will deal with the Southend Road first. I hoped, at one period, that it would be possible to make a really good job of the restoration. I do not question any of the correspondence I have had with my hon. and learned Friend, which he accurately quoted. One thing that was very clear when this matter first came before us was that the Government had entire responsibility for the restoration in connection with the war damage claim, this road having been closed by the R.A.F. for war purposes.
On examination of the problem, it occurred to me, from the report of my engineers, that it was desirable, when the money was spent, to make the job complete by widening the road at the same time. In my correspondence with my 2663 hon. and learned Friend I mentioned that fact, but I hope it was also noted that I put in a proviso to the effect that it would be done if financial circumstances permitted. Unfortunately, in the intervening period the financial circumstances of the Ministry of Transport became so severely restricted that today it is not possible to undertake new reconstruction work. In fact, there is hardly sufficient capital to keep open vital lines of communication.
No one regrets more than I do that in the later stages I had, against my better judgment, to fall back on the limited Government liability, namely, that at this stage we could only spare funds necessary to carry out restoration. Last month I authorised that work to proceed and, as far as I know, there is nothing to prevent the restoration of the damage to the Southend Road.
I hope my hon. and learned Friend will not press me to pin down liabilities in this matter. It is hardly for me to comment on the actions of either the County Council or the Urban District Council. In this instance I have endeavoured to state my own Departmental position clearly. As I say, I regret the fact that we cannot now provide funds for the widening of the Southend Road, but the authorisation to complete the restoration process has been given and, as far as I know, there is no reason why it should not proceed.
With regard to Lee Gardens Avenue, Hornchurch, this, too, in some respects is an unfortunate state of affairs. It arises from time to time in the acquisition of land for large schemes. In this case the Dartford and Purfleet Tunnel Scheme is an exceedingly large, important and expensive project, which, because of the necessity to restrict capital investment, has had to be stopped. As often happens in large schemes of this kind, other matters intervene. In this case the lines of the approach road, which were determined many years ago, were subsequently altered, and the Ministry of Transport found itself with this particular stretch of land which it no longer required.
Of course, the best solution would be for the land to be acquired by the Horn-church Urban District Council. The problem that my hon. and learned Friend raises now is particularly difficult 2664 for me because the Ministry of Transport cannot possibly begin to undertake any responsibility for local roads. What we have done in all our negotiations and discussions with the Hornchurch Urban District Council is to make it quite plain that we shall place no obstacles in the way, but will provide every facility of access to enable the adjoining properties to get their outlet.
Of course, we, as a Ministry, cannot undertake any cost in this respect. The Hornchurch Council has been asked to put this road into good condition, but so far it has not done so. I do not exactly know the way out of this difficulty. I will undertake to read very carefully what my hon. and learned Friend has stated. I shall be able to see copies of the correspondence to which he has referred. I will see if it is possible to get my divisional road engineer and the other authorities together to see whether there is a way out of this difficulty.
I do not see how I can go back on the main problem which I have to face, which is that I cannot find the funds for any substantial alteration, but I am, I think, entitled to say that, taking into account the Hornchurch Urban District Council and its relationship to the various projects it puts before the Government, I am sympathetic. I appreciate the difficulties of the area, with which I have been familiar all my life. I know how rapidly it developed between the wars. But if one takes the overall attitude of the Government to the proposals and projects of the Hornchurch District Council, I think it will be seen that it has not been treated ungenerously.
On this question of the local roads, and on this one in particular, without committing myself tonight or attempting to assess any blame, I will say that I do appreciate the main point made by the hon. and learned Member. While the three bodies—the Ministry, the County Council and the Urban District Council—are unable to come to agreement on this matter, his constituents are suffering inconvenience. Therefore, I will undertake again to look personally into this matter and see whether I can bring the parties together to try to find a way out of the difficulty. In my view, probably the best way would be for the Urban District Council to acquire this land from the Ministry of Transport. Then they would 2665 have the complete right to do what is necessary. As far as we are concerned, whether with regard to facilities for tenants to get access to the main road or whether it is a matter for the Urban District Council to construct the roads, we shall give them every facility we can.
§ Mr. Barnes
I will look into that aspect. That raises the financial issue which I mentioned. We will leave it at that for tonight.
Does the Minister agree with the allegations of the hon. 2666 and learned Member for Hornchurch regarding the difficulties—that they are in any way to be attributed to the private builder, as he suggested in his opening remarks?
§ Mr. Barnes
I will not enter into a controversy of that kind. All I am concerned with at the moment is to find out where my Department comes into the matter and the history of this thing. From my knowledge of the way this area has developed, I would say that if I went into it more thoroughly, I would probably end up on the side of my hon. and learned Friend rather than on the hon. and gallant Member's side.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at Twenty Minutes past Twelve o'clock.