HC Deb 22 March 1951 vol 485 cc2645-60

3.11 p.m.

Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton (Inverness)

The Minister of Transport is having rather a field day today, but I make no apology to the House for getting him here this afternoon to discuss some-of the problems of transport in the Highlands and Islands, because the Government agree with us in their White Paper on Highland Development, when in paragraph 22 of this report they say: It has long been recognised that transport is the crucial problem of the Highlands. The matter which I am raising is not parochial in any sense. The seven crofter counties of the Highlands constitute 14,000 square miles and are one-fifth of the land area of Great Britain. But the Highlands transport problem is even bigger, and affects very much more than half of Scotland. We shall not have economic transport until we can get re-population in the Highlands, and I am hoping that in time that may be possible. What we can get today, however, is a vision of the possibility for the future, and I say unhesitatingly that the Highlands are the one area in Great Britain where we can get a greater increase in food production than in any other part of the British Isles. Moreover, the Highlands are important from the strategic viewpoint in the maintenance of bases, and are also important for the earning of foreign currency through the tourist industry.

Transport in the Highlands is very different from the rest of Britain and requires a different approach. It requires more the type of approach that is applied to a colonial country with great area and sparse population and is, therefore, totally different from the approach of, for example, London Transport with its congested traffic and comparatively short distances. The Highlands need special consideration, and the Foreign Secretary said as much on his visit last summer. I cannot help contrasting his announcement on that occasion, when he said we could have £750,000 for road construction, with his rather sad announcement the other day of the miscalculation by £1¼ million on the Festival of Britain site.

The road grant which the right hon. Gentleman gave us could cover only little more than 100 miles of road in the Highlands, but in my constituency alone—most of the examples I give are from my constituency, whose problems are of the same type as are met with in all the crofter counties—there are still 165 miles of road waiting for attention under the crofter counties scheme. In Inverness-shire, for instance, there are 1,668 miles of road altogether. Of these, 228 miles are trunk roads, which are already looked after by the Minister of Transport, but the remaining 1,440 miles are classified and unclassified roads. The truth of the matter is that repairs and reconstruction of these roads for quite a long time have not kept pace with deterioration, and the question of roads is probably the most important consideration in island transport.

There are certain factors why reconstruction has not kept pace with deterioration. First, 50 per cent. of the classified and unclassified roads in Inverness-shire are gravel carriageways, which are subject to deterioration from weather conditions more than any other type of road. There has been a delay in expenditure during the war years and a delay in anticipation of reconstruction. Not enough has been done, therefore, in road maintenance for the past 15 years.

Furthermore, a quite considerable upsurge of life in the Highlands is taking place despite these difficulties, and this is shown in certain ways. For instance, over a certain area in Inverness-shire it is found that the bus mileage which, in 1938, was one million reached, last year, the figure of 6½ million. We should not be far wrong in reckoning that the bus mileage has gone up to something like 6½ times what it was at pre-war. There has, therefore, been a greatly increased bus traffic, and buses have increased in size. Lorries also have increased in size and now the five-ton lorry is the general rule.

The number of private cars also has increased. There are now 50 per cent. more—a far greater increase than in any other part of the country—than before the war. We also have the scheme for transporting children to school. The mileage covered in this way in Inverness-shire alone is 35,000. There are 150 vehicles in use, and the cost of transport to school worked out at £25 per child per annum. This represents a considerable additional use of the roads.

I do not think that the Ministry of Transport altogether understand the problem of the maintenance of roads in the Highland counties. I cannot quite understand, for instance, why they did not grant the full amount asked for this year by the county authorities in Inverness-shire for the maintenance and repair of classified roads. We know that a percentage grant is made for Class I, II and III, roads, the figures for which were very carefully worked out by the county authorities. That would have entailed granting what would have amounted to an expenditure of £117,200 by His Majesty's Government which would have enabled the county authorities, who had carefully worked out their requirements, to give from their rates the remaining proportion and would have obtained what they estimated to be the maximum effort on the roads. For some reason or other the Ministry of Transport said, "There you are; you have £75,000, get on with that." That simply means that they have not been able to make the best use of the finance and resources available.

I could sum up the question of roads in this way: taking the problem as I know it exists in Inverness, and as I know it exists in the other crofter counties, the country has, in order to get the roads there in a decent condition, to face, sooner or later, an expenditure of £20 to £25 million at the present purchasing power of the pound. Any failure to do this in the near future will only mean that we shall have to spend more later.

I have spoken to the right hon. Gentleman about ferries, especially the ferry across to Skye. I believe that he is willing to make the ferries part of the high road. I hope that he will also consider the question of making a trunk road through Skye from the south end to the north end of the island. That would also be very convenient because it would provide the shortest and quickest route to the outer islands. If we could get a trunk road through to Dunvegan a steamer service to the outer islands would be very convenient.

I pass to the question of transport rates. The Minister told us today that he is seeking the advice of the Transport Tribunal for a flat rate increase throughout the country of 10 per cent. I would like to know what is to be the procedure in his seeking this advice. Are interested parties to be consulted? For example, will the Scottish Consultative Committee be consulted on this matter? Are the recommendations of the Cameron Report to be taken into consideration?

I received a specific promise from the Prime Minister last June, when I drew his attention to the burden of freight rates in the Highlands, that in the case of the draft charges scheme which was to be submitted to the Transport Tribunal, there would be full opportunity to make representations to the tribunal at a public inquiry on behalf of users in remote areas. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is keeping that consideration in mind because in the Highlands we are already seeing signs that the law of diminishing returns is beginning to show itself. Our case in the Highlands, even before the rise of 16$ per cent, last year, was for a reduction, for special consideration, in the matter of fares. Only today I received a letter from a baker in Inverness who has been written to by a client in Sutherland, who says that he is closing his account. His reasons were simply that the heavy carriage charges were crippling him.

I wish to give one or two examples of the way in which high freight rates are hurting industry in the Highlands. It might emphasise the point if I state that the increase of 16⅔ per cent. last year meant an increase in the building trade in Inverness of 12s. 1d. per thousand bricks, or approximately £12 per house, that is, it added £12 to a cost of a house. In Beauly, which is further on, it added £15 to a cost of a house. I have here many other examples which I could give, but I have not the time to do so. I will, however, send them to the right hon. Gentleman if he is interested in seeing them.

I give one example. We have in Inverness a welding industry called Resistance Welders Limited. They are very fine engineers and build the fastest welding machine in the world. They have great difficulties because of the cost of steel. Steel which, in Glasgow, costs nothing in respect of freight charges, costs 15s. a ton—or did before last year's increase—in Aberdeen and 35s. 6d. per ton in Inverness for freight charges. Following the increase last year the figure has now risen to 41s. per ton in Inverness. That is an example of how freight charges are crippling industry.

There is another example. In the north of Scotland we pride ourselves on our specialised agriculture. In the Black Isle a good many seed potatoes are produced. Farmers in the south wish to have seed potatoes clear of disease, but the freight charges on the carriage of their seed potatoes is crippling the trade to the extent that many of those farmers are refusing to buy any more.

Yet another example is provided in the case of the tourist trade. At this time of year a lot of people who have the time available are thinking of going to winter sports. We can offer certain winter sports in Scotland. There should never be any doubt in anyone's mind, if thinking of cost, whether they should go to Switzerland or Scotland. As passenger rates are, it is little more expensive to go to Switzerland than to go to the Cairngorms. We want to attract all the tourists we can for the good of the country, and I submit that the best thing the Minister can do is to cut fares by half during the winter, spring and autumn months, and he will then find that he will get a better return than he gets at present.

Now I want to say a word or two about sea transport. I recognise the difficulty here. Many types of transport in the Highlands are really lifelines; they are lines which are uneconomic at present, and will remain so until we get proper re-population, but they are essential to keep life going. It is rather like that with steamer lines. Macbraynes get a subsidy of about £240,000 a year, and the demand made on them all the time is, of course, for greater speed, greater frequency and reduced costs. At the same time, the shipping company has to face steadily rising operating costs, piers and harbours are deteriorating, and consignments of traffic, especially from the Islands, are small. Now those two things must be reconciled, and I suggest that to get the development we want in the Highlands we must try to marry the service to the adequate and efficient rather than to the economic. Then, in course of time, we shall get a return.

Meantime, I think we can avoid certain examples of inefficiency, two of which I should like to quote to the right hon. Gentleman. For instance, a steamer which comes from the outer Isles arrived on a Saturday at Malaig. It is scheduled to arrive at 2.15, but the train away from Malaig leaves at two o'clock so that those arriving in the steamer have not a hope of getting away from Malaig till Monday morning.

Mr. Peter Thorneycroft (Monmouth)

Integration of inland transport!

Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton

Yes, it is a question of integration. One passenger who was stranded at Malaig over the week-end wrote to the British Railways, and the answer he got from the Railway Executive was simply this: The steamer to which you refer is not booked to connect with the 2 p.m. from Malaig, no doubt as there is very little traffic That is the sort of thing which will result in even less traffic.

Another example I should like to give of the kind of circumstance which really can be avoided is this: the managing director of the Auto and General Electrical Services, Millburn Road, Inverness, brought it to my notice. The driver of a motor van was instructed by Messrs. Macbraynes' agent in Stornoway to be on the pier there at 9.30 p.m. on the 10th of this month. He arrived there with the van at 8,20 p.m., reported to the shipping office and arranged for his lorry to be shipped on to the boat to Kyle.

He left the van on the pier and waited the arrival of the steamer. The steamer was late and did not get in until 10.10 p.m. The vehicles were the last goods to be loaded, and at 10.30 p.m. the dock foreman instructed the driver to bring the van to the loading point, which he did and was then ready to drive on to the slings. At 11 p.m. all the dockers left except the foreman, who then informed the driver that he could not be loaded until Monday. This was Saturday. On Sunday, of course, nothing very much happens at Stornoway. So he was stranded that week-end. I would point out that five minutes would have sufficed to have loaded that vehicle on to the ship, and the delay in getting the van away from Stornoway till Monday caused the firm to upset all its schedule of deliveries to Skye for Monday. That type of thing is, I think, entirely unnecessary.

In Norway, where they have a similar but very much longer coastline to the West Highlands, they do the bulk of their travel by sea. I believe that by increasing the number of piers and examining the services to see that they really do the best they can to supply the needs of the population we would get a good deal of progress.

I spoke the other day about air services, so I will not say very much about them today, except that I regard the establishment of a flying boat service, on the West Coast particularly, as another life-line which would make a colossal difference to life in the Highlands. I hope that the Government will give earnest consideration to that in the near future.

I have here a rather interesting book written by a Mr. James Cameron, who is a Radical, judging by most of his books, with a strong dislike of Tories and landlords in particular. Nevertheless, he is a fair-minded man, and I should like to quote from the book which he wrote in 1912. It is about the Highlands and describes, among other matters, the difficulties of travel there. He speaks about the Highland Railway and the wonderful benefit it was for the whole of the Highlands. He says: So late as the 'sixties … it took close upon a week to make the journey from the island of Skye to Edinburgh, when today one can at a reasonable hour breakfast comfortably in Portree, the capital town of the island, and have supper in the Scottish metropolis before the licensed houses have closed their doors. If one is looking at it in that way, I would point out that if we had an air service it would be possible to breakfast comfortably in Portree and arrive in the metropolis before the licensed houses had opened their doors in the morning; but, to all intents and purposes, we are still in exactly the same state as regards transport in the Isle of Skye as we were in 1912. He also tells how the Highland Railway was started. He says: There is no class of capitalist during the last 30 years who has been more fiercely assailed than the landed proprietor. He also says: … yet the Highland laird can never be shorn of the credit that from his class there sprung the men who supplied the funds, and laid deep and broad the foundations of the greatest commercial and industrial undertaking ever known in the North. The building of the Highland Railway was one of the finest engineering feats in Britain, and Mr. Cameron quotes the various people who helped in the initial stages. They included the Duke of Sutherland, the Earl of Seafield, Sir Alexander Matheson, Mr. Merry, of Belladrum, Lords Albot and Ronald-Leverson and Gower, the Earl of Fyfe, Mr. Aenas Mackintosh, of Raigmore, and Lord Tweedmouth. He says: The most striking thing, perhaps, in the almost 60 years' existence of the Highland Railway Company is that those who have been controlling the railway never for a moment lost faith in the potentialities of the Highlands and Hebrides as having within them inherent powers of industrial and agricultural growth. To all intents and purposes, the Minister of Transport controls the railways today. I sincerely trust that he is able to maintain that faith. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), speaking in the recent Civil Aviation debate, used a phrase which caught my fancy. Often Scotland and the Scottish air services have been known as the Cinderella of the British European Airways Corporation. He said that they ought to regard the Highlands not as a Cinderella, but as a sleeping beauty. That is an exceedingly good way of looking at the matter, and I believe it is true that this sleeping beauty could be awakened, not by a kiss from a prince, but by wise action which the right hon. Gentleman could initiate.

3.35 p.m.

Major McCallum (Argyll)

I should like to congratulate my noble Friend the Member for Inverness (Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton), on having been fortunate enough to be able to initiate this short debate and on having raised this most interesting problem of the transport difficulties in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. The former Lord President of the Council admitted in Inverness last year, that the Highlands and Islands of Scotland presented a very special problem in the development difficulties of this country. I am quite certain that the Secretary of State for Scotland also feels that way. In fact, only two or three weeks ago, at the invitation of the Secretary of State, I, as a member of the transport group of the Highland Panel, went to Stornoway to attend an economic conference on, amongst other things, the subject of transport difficulties in the Highlands.

It was rather significant that the Secretary of State did not care to face the music himself, but he did ask the Highland Panel to go for him, and we did. What was the main gist of the argument at that conference? It was, indeed, the same thing as my noble Friend the Member for Inverness has pointed out—transport difficulties, the resuscitation of life and even the prevention of the development of further unemployment in the Highlands today. The members of that conference, the people of the island of Lewis and the burgh of Stornoway, asked that the Government should realise that transport is the key to all these matters in Highland life.

I quite admit that the Government themselves realise that fact, and I am sure that the Minister of Transport does; in fact, he has told us so on several occasions. What are they going to do about it? While I admit this is very difficult, I suggest that there is one method, to which my noble Friend has referred. It is that, until the populations and traffics of the Highlands become sufficiently numerous and heavy to give an economic return, whether it is a matter of steamers, railways or air, the more populous parts of the country and the industry of the country must carry the more sparsely populated areas. That is no new thing. It is done already by the Post Office and by the Hydro-Electricity Board. Development has been carried on by the Hydro-Electricity Board in carrying supplies to many sparsely populated and remote areas, the Board knowing full well that the losses incurred on these developments would be recouped by larger developments elsewhere.

There is also the Report drawn up by Sheriff John Cameron on the question of freight rates in the Highlands. I recently asked the hon. Lady the Joint Under-Secretary when that Report would be published. I understand that it is not yet published, and therefore, although I know its contents. I do not feel entitled to refer to it. There are. I believe, one or two solutions put forward in that Report, and I wonder whether the Minister of Transport, in his reply, will be able to make some reference to it. It is a difficult problem, and nobody would pretend that it will be easy to overcome.

I want to make one other point in regard to agriculture. In these days of the small meat ration and so on, everyone in this country, and particularly the Government, is looking to the Highlands of Scotland to produce more beef and mutton, and farmers in that part of the country are doing and will do their very utmost. But, here again, they are in difficulties with this question of freight rates and transport costs.

It is perfectly true that certain hon. Members opposite refer to the farmers of Great Britain as being "feather-bedded," but I would point out that the farmers of the Highlands of Scotland—the hill farmers—are not by any manner of means "feather-bedded." They do not benefit by the guaranteed prices fixed in consultation with the National Farmers' Union. They do not benefit by even the same freight rates, but have to pay even higher freight rates in their endeavours to carry on their agriculture because they are farther away from markets. Would it not be possible for the Minister of Transport to make some recommendations to the Chairman of the Transport Commission to see if he, also, cannot make a special concession for the Highlands and Islands in regard to railway and whatever other transport means he controls?

I also ask the Minister of Transport and his right hon. Friend the Minister of Civil Aviation to make every endeavour to treat the Highlands and Islands as a special area. When I look at a Report issued the other day on the development of the use of the helicopter in this country, I feel very doubtful whether we shall get such special treatment. I know it is not the responsibility of the Minister of Transport but of his right hon. Friend, but if there is one way in which the transport difficulties of this area could be overcome, it is by the development of the helicopter. How much reference to the helicopter is contained in this Report? On page 11, there are five words, the uneconomic Western Isles service. That is all the reference that Report makes to the matter. In other words, the Committee which went into this thing has not made an objective study of how helicopter development could assist the transport system of the Highlands and Islands.

In conclusion. I wish to reinforce what was said by my noble Friend just now, by quoting one or two differences in prices with which farmers—and I am now talking more especially of the farmers of the Highlands and Islands, and particularly of those of the Island of Islay, which is one of the nearest islands to Glasgow—have to contend at the present time. I will give a few examples of freight charges for agricultural produce in 1944—towards the end of the war— and those of today. Artificial manures have gone up from 13s. 6d. per ton in 1944 to 26s. 3d. a ton today, and if the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman means that there is to be a further 10 per cent. increase, that will be another blow to these farmers. Basic slag has gone up from 12s. to 24s. 1d. a ton, and feeding cake from 17s. 3d. to 33s. a ton. In nearly every case there has been a rise of, roughly, 100 per cent. between 1944 and 1950, although we know that the farmers cannot expect to get a similar increased return for their produce.

Again, the freight rates charged for whisky carried on the cargo boats—not passenger steamers or mail boats—have risen by nearly 100 per cent. For instance, in 1944 the rate was 2¼d. a gallon, whereas today it is 4d. a gallon. That is how prices have risen in those areas. In the case of livestock, sheep which used to be charged in 1944 at 1s. 9d. each, are today charged at 2s. 4d. each.

These are the things with which the population of the islands are contending today. We maintain that, in view of the remote area and the difficulties of transport, some special consideration should be given to our constituents in the Highlands, and that things should be made easier for them, instead of, as at the moment, being made more difficult for them than for the ordinary agricultural population in the rest of the country. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will consider the difficulties of the transport system there, and will be able to help us in this matter.

3.45 p.m.

Mr. John MacLeod (Ross and Cromarty)

I shall make my remarks as brief as possible, but I hope that at some date we shall have an opportunity to discuss Highland problems as a whole. I fully realise that today we are dealing with only one aspect of those problems, and that is the question of the transport difficulties. I shall try to reduce that to one point only.

I want to support the remarks which have been already made by my noble Friend the Member for Inverness (Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton). We shall always find tremendous transport difficulties throughout the Highlands until the road system and the method of financing that system is completely reviewed by the Minister of Transport. The point I want to emphasise here is that the Minister of Transport should be able to make grants towards the reconstruction and repair of roads of all classes that are in public use. Many of the roads, as my noble Friend said, throughout the Highlands—roads of all classes—are gravel surface roads. It is impossible for the county councils, unless they get increased grants, to solve the problem. It is impossible for them to solve the problem until they can tar all those roads, and they find it more and more difficult each year even to tar the roads.

We have this one most unsatisfactory question of parish roads. Many Highland parishes have a considerable mileage of these roads which are not eligible for grants of any kind. Surely those roads are just as much means of transport to the local inhabitants as the main roads? They should get better treatment than this. At the present, the only way to get a grant for these roads is for the county council to agree to take them over. But here is the rub. They cannot take these roads over at all until they are brought up to a suitable standard to enable the county to include them amongst the highways. How can they do this? At present it is only a proportion of the shilling rate which can be levied by the district council to raise the finance to do this. Anyway, why should we make it a condition that these roads should be brought up to this standard before they are taken over by the county council?

That, really, is the one point that I wanted to make. I think all these roads should be eligible for grants, and until they are eligible we shall not solve this problem at all. What are we finding at this moment in the Highlands? Today bus services are being cancelled—in an area where there is no other method of transport whatsoever; and in some places there is no bus service at all because the inhabitants have not got any road at all on which to travel.

I hope that we shall have a further opportunity of debating this very vexed problem. There is involved here a strategic problem which needs very full discussion on the Floor of this House. In the meantime what I am worried about more than anything else is to see how in the world we can give those people in the Highlands, who have no roads at all, the roads which they so much desire, and which it is of national importance that they should have.

3.49 p.m.

Mr. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)

I shall ask only one question of the Minister of Transport, because I think he is already aware of the difficulties in my constituency as he is of those in most other Highland constituencies. That question relates to sea freights. The services which run on the sea are, in the Orkneys and Shetlands, as it were, our road transport. The right hon. Gentleman, unfortunately, does not take responsibility for any trunk routes in our county. We feel that he ought to take it and also find means of considering our sea services as a main route, in much the way as they are in the Western Isles. There, they get some help, they get very considerable help. We do not want to ask for help for ourselves, but we are bound to do so. Will the right hon. Gentleman now consider giving us some help of the kind given to the Western Isles—some help for the shipping companies in the North of Scotland to bring down the freights in the Orkneys and Shetlands?

3.50 p.m.

The Minister of Transport (Mr. Barnes)

May I say to the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) that I have not had to face the problem of any financial assistance to the Orkneys and Shetlands—for which I am very thankful— and therefore I can only undertake to look at the problem which he has raised to see exactly what are the commitments involved.

The question of rail freight increases has featured in this debate, and the hon. Member for Inverness (Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton) asked me to comment on what would be the procedure. I would emphasise that, so far, the British Transport Commission have not been in a position to submit to the Tribunal their complete freight charges scheme. Everyone connected with this problem recognises that it is a very formidable one. The British Transport Commission requested me some time ago to give them an extension of time, and I have now been informed—and this was implied in the statement which I made earlier today—that they expect to have their charges scheme ready for the Transport Tribunal by August of this year.

It is under that kind of procedure that these problems must be fought out between the British Transport Commission, as the body charged with the responsibility for providing the services, and the traders and users of the services. The organisations which represent them will have full and ample opportunity of submitting their case to the Tribunal. The Tribunal is, of course, a learned and expert body which will be able to obtain all the financial and other information they require from the Commission, and will hear the case of the traders and the interests throughout the country. So far as I know, the Highlands are equipped with various bodies to put their case clearly before the Tribunal. Therefore, it appears to me that this procedure is eminently fitted, possibly more than ever before in our history, to deal with these problems.

Major McCallum

Would a body like the Highlands and Islands Advisory Panel be able to put their views to the Tribunal?

Mr. Barnes

The Tribunal itself decides its procedure and who it admits to give evidence, but from our experience so far—if I may express a personal opinion and one in no way binding the Tribunal— I should not think that there would be much doubt about that. In any case, they are very anxious to get all the information from bodies who know the problem and who can submit the necessary evidence. It is quite clear that the Minister himself is not, and never can be, in a position to judge these problems as adequately as can be done under this procedure.

Mr. P. Thorneycroft

Does that apply to the flat rate increase of 10 per cent.?

Mr. Barnes

I dealt with that point this morning, and I do not intend to be drawn into a controversy of that kind. I think that if the answer which I gave this morning is examined carefully in the OFFICIAL REPORT tomorrow, the hon. Gentleman will see that a reply has been given to that question.

Time is very limited to deal with this important matter of traffic in the Highlands, and I have made my statement about the Tribunal procedure because, in my view, it gives an adequate opportunity, and one much more thorough than I have ever experienced before, for the examination of these problems. I do not think the general rise in prices bears more heavily on one part of the country than on another, but the isolated aspect of this district is in this case an important factor.

In various ways, the Ministry of Transport have given very substantial financial assistance to transport in the Highlands, more so than to any other part of the United Kingdom. If we take the MacBrayne firm, in 1948–49 the amount of subsidy given was £204,000; in 1949–50 it was £277,027; and in 1950–51 £269,271. That represents very substantial assistance. Until this year, when it was liquidated, the Railway Freights Rebate Fund gave considerable assistance to transport. In 1948–49, £169,000 in round figures was given; in 1949 it was £235,000; and in 1950–51 it was £227,000.

The Crofter County Scheme, which was planned before the war, was designed to open up road facilities throughout the whole of the Islands. About half of that scheme of 1,200 miles of road has been completed. The original estimate was £4½ million. There is work proceeding on 31 miles now, which will cost £336,000, and further work is contemplated that will cost £486,000. Then there is the £750,000 referred to by the noble Lord the Member for Inverness; that is an extra grant in addition to the figures I have already quoted.

On the Highland roads generally, the sum of £2½ million was spent on maintenance, and £1½million towards that £2½million came from the Road Fund. Since 1945, £1¼ millions have been spent in addition on the maintenance and improvement of trunk roads, and the Ministry of Transport, in taking over certain through-roads in the Highlands, stretched very substantially the standard of measurement of what is a trunk road. Many roads have been taken over and improved that normally would not be classified to the standard of a trunk road, and that was in order to meet the problem which we have been discussing here.

Owing to the timetable today, I cannot go further into many of the points that have been raised, but I will undertake that they will all be passed to different departments in my Ministry for consideration.