HC Deb 05 March 1951 vol 485 cc198-206

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— [Mr. Pearson.]

11.44 p.m.

Mr. Rankin (Glasgow, Tradeston)

In raising the question of the construction of the Whiteinch—Linthouse tunnel tonight, I would like to explain that I speak for the City of Glasgow. Last Thursday the City Corporation unanimously backed the demand for this new tunnel. Trade unions, employers, distributors of all kinds, passengers and the trade interests in the City are all agreed on the need for the tunnel. In this House, so far as Glasgow is concerned, the parties are united on this question and Parliament itself sanctioned the construction of the tunnel as far back as 1948. This new tunnel is not merely a desirable facility, but is an essential facility, for Glasgow at present has only four bridges, separated by not more than a mile in the centre of the city; and moving west there are six miles of river front which lack modern cross-river communication.

The only method of crossing the river is by means of ferries which are quite inadequate. They carry, on the average, 35,000 passengers and over 3,000 vehicles per day, and this volume of traffic causes delay at peak hours. For vehicles whose drivers refuse to wait on the ferry the method of crossing the Clyde is to travel six miles along the river front and to cross in the city centre and move back along the opposite side. This is a fantastic method of progress in an age when we are crossing the Atlantic in a little over four hours. In fact, with the development of supersonic speed in the air I can visualise the time when to cross the Atlantic will take no more time than is now taken in crossing the River Clyde at Linthouse. It is absurd for the greatest shipbuilding centre in the world and for the premier city in Scotland.

Mr. Manuel (Central Ayrshire)

West Scotland.

Mr. Rankin

This mode of transport makes worse the existing congestion in the streets of a city which is already over-congested with traffic. The lack of the tunnel affects the supply of utility services such as gas, electricity and water, and I am assured by those who are engaged in our heavy industries that it is actually slowing down production at a time when the Government are appealing to every employer and workman to increase productivity to the utmost.

I understand that the Minister of Transport is entirely sympathetic to the claim which we in Glasgow have presented and which I voice tonight, but I am led to believe that the nigger in the woodpile is the Chancellor of the Exchequer. That being so, I want to present to him the demand—or request, perhaps, I should say—that he will consider the position that the city is now faced with with regard to its development. The Secretary of State for Scotland has laid it down that our local authorities must present by 1st July this year plans for the re-development of their areas. In Glasgow, owing to the narrow nature of its streets, and the fact that they are entirely unplanned, a new system is absolutely indispensable.

Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South)

The premier city!

Mr. Rankin

I have no time to argue with the hon. Gentleman. If we had more time I should deal with him in a kindly fashion.

If there is to be a proper plan for the development of the City of Glasgow then it must be based on a completely new road system. In the outer ring in that road system which is visualised the Whiteinch-Linthouse Tunnel is an integral part.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)

Would not legislation be required to make the provision of this tunnel possible?

Mr. Rankin

As I pointed out at the beginning, legislative sanction has already been given by Parliament and the problem that now presents itself to the City Corporation is not that of getting Parliamentary sanction but of convincing those in authority of the need for prosecuting this work immediately. That is my business tonight, Mr. Deputy-Speaker.

As I said, the Minister of Transport is sympathetic, and I hope that he will tell us that he will do all he can to help forward our effort. One thing he can do, and I am pressing him to do it now, is to grant the Corporation the necessary finance to carry out the preliminary work in preparation for the construction of the tunnel, which is an integral part of the development plans for Glasgow which must be submitted to the Secretary of State for Scotland by 1st July, or, if he so decrees, a little later.

Then there is the other suggestion, that if the necessary finance for the tunnel itself is not forthcoming from his Ministerial purse my right hon. Friend should approach the Chancellor of the Exchequer and put this project before him as a work that is necessary as far as the defence requisites of the city are concerned. Because of the small number of bridges at present in existence if, unhappily, in the event of war, any bridges were to be put out of action then chaos would reign in the city. From that point of view, I submit that this tunnel should be treated as a necessary project in the defence plan for Glasgow.

Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)

What amount of money is involved in this project?

Mr. Rankin

The amount involved in the preliminary work of carrying out the borings that are necessary to find the proper course for the bridge is in the neighbourhood of £76,000. The total amount involved in the construction itself is about £2,500,000. Both of these figures are, of course, insignificant in the light of the astronomical amounts we deal with so easily in this House. I urge the Minister to use his influence in the proper quarter to ensure that Glasgow Corporation, if they were to decide to go ahead with the project on their own, would be given the necessary powers to raise a loan to carry out this essential project.

11.55 p.m.

Mr. J. N. Browne (Glasgow, Govan)

As the right hon. Gentleman is well aware, I and my hon. and right hon. Friends on this side have been worried about the question of this tunnel for a very long time. Before Christmas my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) and I had a meeting with the Minister and pressed him at least to sanction the preparation of plans. I am very glad the hon. Member for Tradeston (Mr. Rankin) has also raised this point and demonstrated the solidarity of the House on this matter. One point he did not mention was the urgent need for a trunk road north to south in the West of Scotland. It is quite wrong that the City of Glasgow should have to bear all the trunk traffic; it should be able to go through a tunnel instead of through the centre of the City. Estates such as Hillington are developing rapidly and are suffering because in the city there is this bottleneck. If only the Minister were the hon. Member for Govan he would know the difficulty of getting across the city, it is a difficulty that everyone experiences who works on one side of the city and lives on the other.

In conclusion, I want to name some of the authorities in Glasgow who have recommended this tunnel—the Scottish Co-operative Wholesale Society, Ltd., the Chief Constable, the Clyde Navigation Trustees, the Chamber of Commerce, the Merchants' House, the Glasgow Trades Council, the Scottish Division of the Road Haulage Executive, the Clyde Shipbuilders' Association, the Amalgamated Engineering Union, the Associated Blacksmiths' Forge and Smithy Workers Society, the National Union of Seamen, the National Federation of Building Trades Operatives, the Renfrew County Council, the Glasgow Institute of Architects, the Scottish Building Contractors Association, the Western Regional Hospital Board, the Scottish Gas Board, the Scottish Milk Marketing Board, and Sir Robert Inglis, who has been appointed by the right hon. Gentleman to examine the traffic position in Glasgow.

11.57 p.m.

The Minister of Transport (Mr. Barnes)

My hon. Friend the Member for Tradeston (Mr. Rankin) began by emphasising that the whole of the interests in Glasgow are behind this proposal, and that has been strongly supported by the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Browne). I am not surprised to find that everyone in Glasgow supports it. I do not know any highway scheme that is not supported by everybody in the locality—obviously so, because any scheme that the authorities of a district submit for consideration is bound to represent advantages locally. Therefore, I find that as a general rule it commands universal support.

With regard to this particular project. [have had the opportunity of 'becoming acquainted with all the arguments in favour of the scheme, because on two occasions I have met fully representative delegations from the Glasgow City Corporation. In addition, hon. Members of the House who represent Glasgow constituencies, both individually and collectively, have forcibly impressed on me from time to time the need for this development.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tradeston referred to my sympathy, and that, again, is obvious. Any Minister is anxious to further the work of his Department. Naturally, a Minister of Transport is anxious to carry out any highway improvement that will facilitate the movement of traffic, meet the general convenience of the public and facilitate the process of trade. But I think hon. Members are fully aware that in recent years the Government have had to exercise the most stringent control of capital expenditure. As I have explained on more than one occasion, the sums which have been allocated to the Road Fund do not provide the amount necessary to carry out any constructional work.

When I met representatives of the Glasgow City Corporation I made it clear to them that I could not sanction the scheme. I conveyed that verbally to them and in December of that year the City Corporation addressed a communication to me in which they asked for authority to proceed with the expenditure of £75,000 to do the preparatory work, but they accompanied that request with a further suggestion that it should carry with it authorisation for the scheme itself. I have been unable to do that, and I must make it clear to my hon. Friend that I cannot go beyond the undertaking that I then gave to the City Corporation.

In discussing preliminary work, it is easy to give a wrong estimate of the items which are small in relation to the total cost which, in the case of this scheme, is a formidable one. In March, 1948, when one of the Corporation's Private Bills was before us, the figure of £2,880,000 was given as the total cost of the scheme. Since then, costs have risen; but there is no need for me to stress that. The first time it was put to my Department that we should consider favourably the preparatory work in connection with these development plans the figure of £26,000 was mentioned to me, but I do not want to labour that. On that occasion I said that if this was vital to Glasgow City Corporation and they themselves were then prepared to accept the cost of doing the preparatory work, provided it was agreed with my Department that what was essential and only what was essential to meet the preparatory work should be done, I would consider giving them an undertaking that when the scheme was finally agreed—though no date was mentioned—I would consider it for grant. That is as far as I have gone in any of my meetings with the Glasgow City Corporation representatives and I regret that I cannot go beyond that this evening.

On 12th February, I replied to the Corporation's request of December and conveyed my view very clearly to them. I must emphasise that the Road Fund only permits the maintenance of our existing road system to a standard of between 60 and 70 per cent. of what it was before the war, and that there is a large number of similar schemes, many of which—although I do not wish to draw comparisons between the importance of a scheme to one city and the importance of schemes to other parts of the country—have far greater claims than the Whiteinch-Lint-house tunnel. I have given this matter full consideration and regret that I am unable to go beyond the offer which so far I have been able to make to the Glasgow City Corporation.

Mr. Hoy (Leith)

I notice that my right hon. Friend used the figure of £26,000 in connection with the preparatory work, while I understand from my hon. Friend the Member for Tradeston (Mr. Rankin) that the sum involved is £76,000. I think we ought to be clear as to which figure is correct. While Glasgow Corporation may be quite willing to undertake an expenditure of £26,000, they may not care to face up to a sum in the neighbourhood of £76,000.

Mr. Barnes

The figure of £75,000 emerged at the last meeting that I had with the Glasgow City Corporation representatives, and I did not rule that out. What I said to them in my reply of 12th February was that there could be no commitment in respect of the main project and that I could not approve any expenditure on preparatory work unless it could be shown to be immediately essential for planning purposes. I only referred to the £26,000 because that was the first figure mentioned to me when we were considering the proposal. I may say that the Secretary of State for Scotland himself presided over that meeting. When one goes into a meeting with a figure in one's mind and is confronted with another figure, one wonders whether that is the figure. I did not get far at that meeting, but I undertook to reconsider the matter.

Arising from that, the Glasgow City Corporation wrote to me on 20th December and confirmed that the figure they now wished to spend on preparatory work was £75,000. That would have possibly been open for consideration, because hon. Members must bear in mind that this is a Class I project which carries with it a grant of 75 per cent. In that case, a large measure of responsibility is thrown upon me. In conveying to me that the sum now was £75,000, the Corporation gave a broad outline of what preparatory work was necessary—the employment of consulting engineers to prepare plans and contract documents; the making of trial borings in the river bed and the testing of materials; the acquisition of certain properties on a line to the northern approaches of the tunnel which the Corporation consider necessary to make available to the consulting engineer at the outset of the work.

They said, in their letter, that the development plan for the first five years is definitely intended to include the tunnel project and the relative approach roads. They also said that they are seeking authority as a matter of urgency for the whole project, and not merely for the preparatory work. Hon. Members will see clearly that putting language of that description into a request to me, arising from an interview, that I should consider the preparatory work, was asking me to commit myself to the whole project. As I have been trying to explain tonight, in view of the other commitments that we have, it is not possible for me to give any undertaking that an expenditure of this description can be incurred.

Mr. Rankin

I wish to raise a point concerning the £26,000. So far as I understand the cost of the work of construction is not disputed, although while £2,800,000 is now possible, I would point out that £2,500,000-odd was the cost when it was first put forward. But, as far as I understand, the constructional engineers, those who prepare the plans, and so on, get 3 per cent. of the total cost of construction. Three per cent. of the cost of construction amounts to the figure which the Corporation have mentioned—the figure that I mentioned of £76,000—so I do not understand how the Minister gets the figure of £26.000 at all.

Mr. Barnes

I thought I had made it clear that I was not labouring the point of £26,000. What I did say was that that was the first figure that was submitted to me as the cost of the pre- paratory work. I went into that conference with the Glasgow City Corporation representatives, with the Secretary of State for Scotland in the chair, to see if it was possible to come to an agreement on that figure. It was at that meeting that the second figure of £75.000 was submitted to me. I was not disputing the desirability or the need or the justification for the £75,000. Certainly, I have not considered that sum, but I was prepared to consider whether the same offer that I was going to make with regard to the £26,000 should be made with regard to the £75,000.

Whether it is £26,000 or £75,000, I think it follows that the same obligation rested upon both myself and the Glasgow City Corporation, especially as the national funds would ultimately have to contribute 75 per cent. of this expenditure. They should agree with my Department as to what amount of work was actually necessary to meet the point of preparing their development plans which have to be deposited with the Secretary of State on 1st July, of which great play has been made.

Lieut-Colonel Elliot (Glasgow, Kelvingrove)

Would it not be possible, at any rate, for the Minister to say that this £75,000 could be expended, that he would allow the permits, and that it would be possible for this preliminary work to proceed?

The Question having been proposed after Ten o'Clock, and the Debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order

Adjourned at Fourteen Minutes past Twelve o'Clock.