HC Deb 08 December 1953 vol 521 cc1810-21
The Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. Alan Lennox-Boyd)

Mr. Speaker, with permission I will make a statement about expenditure on roads. The Government have had under review the whole question of the need for further expenditure on road improvements and construction. The severe economies in capital investment which this Government and their predecessors have been compelled to practise and impose, coming on top of war-time restrictions, have meant that for the past 14 years or so the highway system of this country has been largely starved of development. There has at the same time been a substantial increase in traffic, particularly heavy goods traffic and it has become clear that we cannot afford any longer to delay an extended programme of major road improvements without serious damage to our economy.

The Government have accordingly decided that, subject to annual approval of estimates by Parliament, there should be a considerable increase of expenditure on road improvements. We contemplate that annual payments from the Road Fund for this purpose should rise from their present level of about £5million a year to between £14 million and £15 million in 1957–1958 and should continue at that level for a period of years. The need for completing preparatory work and land acquisition for the larger schemes will mean that actual physical work in the first two years will be limited and the total expenditure relatively small, rising to nearly £12 million in 1956–1957.

Under this programme it is intended to approve in the next financial year schemes representing a total Government expenditure, over the whole period of their execution, of more than £19 million. The total Exchequer expenditure on the schemes to be authorised in the next three financial years will be about £50 million.

The House may like to have some idea of the more important schemes which we hope to approve in the first years of this programme. I should make it clear that the initiative for schemes on classified roads rests with the local highway authorities, who have also their own financial contribution to make, and mention of such schemes is subject to that qualification, and to full consultation with them.

Of the schemes to be approved in 1954–55, involving a total Exchequer expenditure of over £19 million, some £4½ million will fall to Scotland, including £3 million for the Whiteinch-Linthouse Tunnel in Glasgow—on which a good deal of preparatory work will be required before actual construction can start—and £1 million for the first part of the Glasgow-Stirling Road improvement, to be followed in 1955–56 by the authorisation of the second part costing another £1 million. As regards the Highlands, we propose to maintain and, if possible, increase the rate of expenditure in that area to which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland referred on 14th July last.

As regards Wales, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and Minister for Welsh Affairs will tell the House this afternoon what we propose to do about communications with west South Wales. Apart from this, I am glad to say that we hope to include a scheme for the reconstruction of Conway Bridge in next year's programme.

As for England, the following schemes are included among those to be authorised during the next financial year:

  1. (1) Cromwell Road Extension.
  2. (2) The Wilderspool level crossing, Warrington (A.45)—provision of a bridge.
  3. (3) East Retford By-pass (Great North Road)—first part.
  4. (4) Doncaster Mill Bridge—reconstruction and widening.
  5. (5) Cavendish Bridge (A.6)—replacement of temporary 'bridge.
  6. (6) Markyate By-pass (A.5).
  7. (7) Stafford-Stoke Road (A.34)—provision of three lengths of dual carriageway.
  8. (8) Western Avenue (Middlesex) (A.40)—duplication of carriageways.
  9. (9) Loughton (Bucks) By-pass (A.5).
  10. (10) Ashford (Kent) By-pass—completion.
In addition to the larger schemes I have mentioned, there will, of course, be a substantial number of smaller schemes amounting in the first three years to several million pounds. In selecting these, I shall have particular regard to black spots where a comparatively small expenditure in each case is likely to bring a big dividend in road safety. I shall also have regard generally to the need to complete schemes already started where a large amount of capital investment is at present lying idle.

Among the large schemes proposed to be committed in later years are the completion of the long-delayed construction of the Dartford—Purfleet Tunnel, which represents £9 million of Government expenditure to be committed in 1955–56, and the Preston By-pass in Lancashire in 1956–57 at a total estimated cost of £2 million, to be followed, I hope, in 1957–58 by the authorisation of the Lancaster By-pass at a similar cost.

I will circulate in the Official Report a further list of large trunk road schemes which, subject of course to circumstances ruling at the time, I hope to include among those to be authorised during the next three years.

These proposals, Sir, do not include provision for such major and desirable projects as the Forth and Severn Bridges. I regret that our resources are not sufficient to enable us to include these schemes in the present programme. In the meantime an investigation is being carried out into Sir Bruce White's plan for incorporating a road bridge in the structure of the present Forth railway bridge, but I can say that unless this investigation should indicate a preferable alternative, I shall be prepared to authorise the British Transport Commission to proceed immediately with improvements to the present ferry service.

Finally, I should add that the programme which I have outlined relates only to major improvements and new construction and does not cover the maintenance and minor improvement of roads. The provision to be made for this in 1954–55 is receiving separate consideration and I hope that I shall be able to inform local highway authorities of the results rather earlier than has previously proved practicable.

Mr. H. Morrison

Having regard to all the talk in Ministerial quarters about the restoration of financial stability, prosperity, and well-being, is the Minister aware that this is a pretty miserable effort? In order to help us, can he tell us the total annual revenue of the so-called Road Fund, if there is such a thing after the original depredations by the present Prime Minister, in relation to the increase from £5 million a year to between £14 million and £15 million a year to be spent upon roads in 1957–58?

With regard to the schemes in England, I find no mention of Hyde Park Corner, which I should have thought everybody would agree is among the major points of traffic congestion and one of the danger spots of London.

With regard to the Forth Bridge and the Severn Bridge, is it not time the Government told us what their views are? All that we are told is that resources are not sufficient to enable the Government to include the schemes in the present pro- gramme. After that, the statement goes all haywire, and there is an indication that the final conclusion in respect of the Forth Bridge will be an improvement in the ferry facilities. I am conscious of all the difficulties, but the Government have led the Scots to believe that the Forth Bridge was coming, and other facilities as well. Surely we are entitled to know.

I put it to the Minister that the statement will cause a great deal of disappointment in quarters which are interested in highway development. After the boasts of the Chancellor and others that everything in the financial garden is beautiful, it will come as a great surprise and disappointment to those who want a progressive highway policy.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I will attempt to answer the questions which the right hon. Gentleman has asked. With regard to the Forth Bridge, I met representatives in Edinburgh some months ago and the view was expressed that the major scheme in Scotland for the next three years ought to be the White inch Tunnel. I have no reason to dissent from that conclusion. I included in my statement today reference to inquiries into other methods of speeding up traffic across the Forth. The Severn Bridge will fall to be discussed this afternoon during the Welsh debate.

With regard to Hyde Park Corner, I should, of course, be delighted to improve facilities there, but there is a very real danger that those of us who mainly live and work in London think that London is the only place where improvements are required. Perhaps this danger is more often found in the case of former "bosses" of the London County Council than of others.

The right hon. Gentleman said that this was a miserable programme, but to commit the Government to an expenditure of £50 million in the next three years is a very formidable undertaking. It would have been easy to come to the House, as the Minister of Transport in the Labour Government did in May, 1946, with a much more ambitious programme and then withdraw the whole thing within 12 months. I do not propose to do that. What I have put forward is a realistic programme.

Mr. Elliot

While I congratulate my right hon. Friend on this very extensive programme, far surpassing the efforts of his predecessors, might I urge upon him that the progress of the Whiteinch Tunnel should not delay the investigations into the improvement of the Forth Bridge traffic? Can he tell us when we may expect the report of the committee which is inquiring into the possibility of incorporating a road bridge in the existing railway bridge? Might I add that Scotland as a whole will be very proud indeed to learn of the extensive programme which has been outlined by the Minister for immediate construction?

Mr. Woodburn

Is the Minister aware, as I am sure he is, that his statement about the Forth Bridge will cause a great deal of disappointment? Might I point out that I know, and everybody will recognise, that it is common sense to go ahead with the Whiteinch Tunnel, because it was stupid to bore a hole for water and not at the same time bore a hole for traffic?

Will the Minister take into consideration, in regard to the Forth Bridge, that it is important that when material and labour become available there should not be a minute's delay in proceeding with the work? The policy of the Labour Government was that every step should be taken short of starting the work, and all preparations were set on foot to be ready when the bridge could be started. Will the Minister give a pledge that those preparations will not be interrupted, so that immediately facilities are available, there will be nothing to prevent work from being started?

Mr. G. Thomas

On a point of order. In view of the fact that tomorrow Scottish affairs will be discussed, and also in view of the fact that it is only once a year that Welsh matters are discussed, could not there be some other time when this important statement could be debated?

Mr. Speaker

In answer to that point of order, may I say that I have no intention, nor would the House expect me, to allow the statement to be debated at great length. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) for raising that point, because it clearly would be unfair to those who represent Wales to take too much of their time.

Mr. Callaghan

Further to that point of order. May I draw your attention, Mr. Speaker, to the fact that the debate today is about rural Wales, and that it will not cover such important matters as the Severn Bridge? May we please have a question about the Severn Bridge before this discussion is concluded?

The Secretary of State for the Home Department and Minister for Welsh Affairs (Sir David Maxwell Fyfe)

Further to that point of order. May I point out that the Motion on the Order Paper covers the Second Memorandum of the Council for Wales and Monmouth shire, which in paragraphs 21 to 25 deals with Welsh communications?

Mr. Speaker

I understand from what the Home Secretary has said that there will be an opportunity later on for debating it.

Mr. Callaghan

Is it not clear that the Minister for Welsh Affairs will not deal with the problem of the Severn Bridge, because the White Paper we are to discuss does not mention the Severn Bridge and has nothing to do with it?

Mr. Speaker

Order. In any case, I do not see how we can debate the Severn Bridge now.

Mr. Ellis Smith

On a point of order. I propose to give you notice, Mr. Speaker, that I shall raise this matter on the Motion for the Adjournment for the Christmas Recess, subject, of course, to your approval, in order that some of us may speak about poor old England.

Mr. Speaker

Did I understand the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) to give notice that he intends to raise this matter on the Motion for the Adjournment?

Mr. Ellis Smith

Yes, Sir.

Mr. H. Morrison

On a point of order. Is it not rather outside the usual boundaries of procedure that, when a very important statement of this kind is made, which, controversy apart, affects all hon. Members all over the country, it should be terminated at this time, particularly as the Minister has taken the opportunity to declare his deep and ingrained antagonism to the interests of Greater London?

Mr. Speaker

Order. I do not think that we can go on when notice has been given to raise the matter on the Motion for the Adjournment. I think that would anticipate the discussion.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. S. Silverman

Further to that point of order. May I draw your attention to the fact that this practice of giving notice to raise a matter on the Motion for the Adjournment because an hon. Member is dissatisfied with a Minister's reply has normally been limited to answers to Questions which have been asked? At the moment, no Question has been asked by anybody, and the Minister has not replied to any Question, certainly not to a Question by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith). Therefore, I submit that it is only to the practice of terminating supplementary questions that this notice should apply.

Mr. Speaker

It is true that normally this point arises when a Question has been asked and the answer is unsatisfactory to the hon. Member, who gives notice to raise the matter on the Motion for the Adjournment, but the ground for that is that we do not anticipate discussions of matters on which notices are given. That is the real basis of the rule about Questions, but I fancy that it applies here as well.

Mr. Bevan

Is my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent. South (Mr. Ellis Smith) going to raise on the Motion for the Adjournment all the matters to which the Minister referred in his statement; and, if not, is it not therefore in order to ask questions about those parts of the statement which my hon. Friend is not likely to raise on the Motion for the Adjournment?

Mr. Speaker

As far as I could understand it, and it was not easy to hear, the notice given by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) was of the most general character.

Mr. Ellis Smith indicated assent.

Sir I. Fraser

May I submit to you, Mr. Speaker, that it can hardly be in line with our precedents to permit a private Member, much as I sympathise with what he did, to operate what amounts to a personal veto. I do not think that has been done for a long time, and certainly not in the long time that I have been in this House.

Mr. Speaker

In this matter of giving notice, all hon. Members are equal, and if one hon. Member does give notice he is entitled to be assured that his discussion will not be anticipated by the rest of the House. In that there is no difference. [Interruption] I beg the House to listen to me. We have spent a lot of time on this matter, and I think that the House will agree, on reflection, that, interesting as the statement is, it is unfair to our colleagues from Wales to take up too much time on this matter. I would ask the House to bear that in mind.

This statement covered a large number of places, and if every hon. Member wished to ask a question upon it or to speak, we should be prolonging the discussion very much, and I must say that it is very difficult for the Chair to choose one place as against another as the subject of questions. If one hon. Member asks a question, why should not somebody else? I think the House would be wise to adopt the course which I am now counselling.

Mr. Shinwell

On a point of order. With great respect, does not your decision to accept, as you are no doubt compelled to do, the submission of my hon. Friend, raise a precedent? May I explain? In the event of a statement being made by the Government of their own volition, if immediately after the statement is made in the House an hon. Member rises and, because of dissatisfaction with the statement, intimates his intention to raise the matter on the Motion for the Adjournment, would that not preclude even a question being asked following the Minister's statement? Therefore, could there be any purpose at all in Ministers making such statements if the House were then precluded from even asking questions about it in such circumstances?

Mr. Speaker

The Minister did make a statement in order to impart information to the House. It has been customary, when such statements are made, for questions to be asked in eludication, but I must say that what has happened this afternoon has given me cause for some thought, and it has happened very suddenly. I hope the House will allow me to consider it, and if, after reflection, there is anything I can usefully say, I will gladly say it. In the meantime, I would ask the House to proceed with its business.

Mr. H. Morrison

I am sure the House is very much obliged to you, Mr. Speaker, for the statement you have just made, because if this were allowed to pass it would mean that any hon. Member could bring any supplementary questions, whether on a statement or on an original Question, to a sharp end. [Interruption.] I do not wonder that the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) should say that it is a good thing, because it could be an instrument in the hands of the Government. I ask you to consider this question because usually notice to raise a matter on the Motion for the Adjournment is not given until supplementary questions have been substantially exhausted. Having regard to the situation which has arisen—which, I gather, is on the whole pleasing to the Minister, and I understand that—may I ask the Leader of the House whether in these circumstances, and in view of the inevitably wide interest in the matter, he would give facilities for a debate upon it before the House rises.

The Lord Privy Seal (Mr. Harry Crookshank)

I do not think that is a point of order, nor is this the normal time when I make statements regarding the business. Of course, if the Opposition desire that to be considered in regard to next week's business, while hoping that we may rise on Friday, no doubt they will make representations.

Mr. Lewis

On a point of order. May I put to you, Mr. Speaker, with the greatest respect, a submission which I trust you will consider in the sense in which I am putting it to you? It is that, strictly speaking, you were not accepting the notice given by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith), because it was not in accordance with the rules of the House? Is it not true that before a Member can say that he wishes to raise a matter on the Adjournment, it must be a matter that does not need legislation, and that therefore my hon. Friend is out of order in giving notice to raise this matter?

Mr. Speaker

That point does not arise at all. In reply to the right hon. Gentleman the deputy Leader of the Opposition, I recollect that about two or three years ago there was a great desire on the part of the House to ask a lot of questions arising, I think, out of a Private Notice Question put to a Minister, and that the right hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Glenvil Hall)—I am glad to see my recollection confirmed by the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede)—gave notice that he would raise the matter on the Adjournment. That had the effect then of putting a stop to further questions. My recollection is that on that occasion, or after it, my predecessor decided that, in the case of a Question, he would only accept a notice of raising a matter on the Adjournment from the hon. Member who asked the original Question. All these points do not apply to a notice given in the middle of exploratory questions on a statement made by a Minister, and I shall have to consider the matter. I ask the House to let me do so.

Mr. C. Williams

Should we not get out of our present difficulty if the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) withdrew his notice, which would enable English Members to put a few questions?

Mr. Speaker

We have taken too much time on this matter. An interesting point has arisen, and I have done my best to deal with it. I hope I am right.

Mr. Dodds

In giving consideration to this matter, will you bear in mind, Sir, that one of the issues raised in the statement concerns tens of millions of people in London, namely, the Dartford-Purfleet tunnel?

Mr. Speaker

I shall bear all those considerations in mind. I have no doubt that the House will find an opportunity of debating them.

Following is the further list of Trunk Road schemes additional to those referred to in the Statement:


Each costing over £100,000

Aintree—Liverpool Road, widening (A.59).

Allerton diversion, abolition of level crossing (A.1).

Borrowash By-pass, one carriageway only (A.52).

Bridgwater Relief Road, section of new road avoiding the town centre (A.38).

East Ham—Barking By-pass, completion of duplicate carriageways (A.13). King John's Bridge, Tewkesbury, construction of new bridge on new site (A.38).

Leven Bridges (Fife shire)—(A.955), construction of two new bridges.

Newbury Park Station Bridge, reconstruction and widening (A. 12).

Oxford—Islip turn, widening and improvement (A.40).

Perthshire, improvement of A.9.

Sinderby Bridge (Yorkshire), construction of new and wider bridge (A.1).

Stormy Down—Redhill (Glamorgan), widening (A.48).

Tabernacle Chapel—Discoed Arches, widening and improvement (A.48).

Tilbury, Hairpin Bridge, construction of new bridge and improvement of access to Docks (A.126).

Whitchurch By-pass (Glamorgan) (A.470).

Classified road schemes are being discussed with local highway authorities.