HC Deb 18 December 1953 vol 522 cc733-67

12.36 p.m.

Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke-on-Trent South)

First I want to congratulate and thank all who have taken part in the proceedings this morning. I was brought up to believe that punctuality is a mark of efficiency, and I believe in giving credit where credit is due. Making allowances for the interruptions, the House has been very efficient in working to time this morning, and to that extent hon. Members deserve credit.

On behalf of a large number of local authorities and of people living in industrial centres, I want to raise the question of the need for commencing the construction of national motor roads, and to ask for a start to be made in 1954 on the London—Glasgow motor road, and especially for a start on the section between Stafford and Lancaster. I want to emphasise this latter with all the energy at my command. I ask also for a large loan to finance the construction of the national motor roads and for the formation of a national motor roads construction corporation by several of the largest civil engineering concerns pooling a proportion of their capital equipment for the purpose of making our country efficient and to save life and limb.

During the war it was acknowledged, even by America, that our civil engineers could construct aerodromes quicker than any others in the world. Today we are asking that the Minister, who has great energy and capacity and now has great administrative machinery at his disposal, should use his energy and capacity for the purpose of applying to the construction of modern roads in peace-time that dynamism which we showed in war-time in constructing aerodromes and airfields.

Is it admitted that this country is in a serious economic condition? If it is, then the time has arrived when the roads of our industrial areas should receive reasonable priority. Is it still admitted that our exports are paramount? If so then the industrial areas, which are maintaining us all by their exports, and are therefore contributing most to our maintenance, should have priority. Is it still admitted that we need efficiency in industry? Everyone concerned in industry admits this and is working to introduce the maximum efficiency.

We also need efficiency outside industry so that we can have the maximum speed on our roads with a minimum of cost. We owe it to the industrial centres in particular to introduce the greatest possible efficiency to enable our people to be transported from their homes to their work and back again as quickly as possible. It is also essential that freight should be carried on the roads as efficiently and as cheaply as possible. Do we want to reduce road accidents or are we just playing about with the subject? If we do, fundamental action is required, and it is on that point that I want to speak.

I challenge fundamentally the Government's policy on the roads and the views of those hon. Members, who are not here today, who give priority to other areas over the industrial areas. It is time that we had this problem in correct perspective and I want to place as many facts as possible on record so that those who consider this debate later can see our objectives in that perspective. I plead in particular for the industrial areas. The Minister rightly reminded us the other day that London was not Britain. The facts are that 5 million people live within a radius of five miles of Manchester, 2,225,000 live in the remaining area within a 10 miles radius and 11 million live within a 20 miles radius of Manchester. On average there are approximately 500 people living in every square mile in Great Britain, 600 in every square mile in South Wales, 900 in Glasgow, 1,300 in London and 2,130 in every square mile in Lancashire.

Thanks to the courtesy of the chairman of Leyland Motors, I have been provided with a chart dealing with road accidents. The chairman is a public-spirited man who could never have reached his present high position had he not been efficient, and it is well known throughout the world that efficiency is stamped on everything produced by his company. So sick is that company at the things seen on the roads of that mighty industrial area where the works are situated that it has expressed its indignation in a chart, which I shall produce later to the House. The standards of our roads are mid-20th century standards and in proportion to population the number of accidents in Lancashire is double the number for the rest of the country.

It was our forefathers in the industrial areas who were tortured and who suffered in the Industrial Revolution. Now we are working to produce the maximum efficiency in industry but it is the descendants of those people who are, in the main, losing their lives on the roads. The figures are appalling. That is why I acted as I did last week. I listened very carefully to the statement made by the Minister of Transport last week and I realised what was going on. Those who care most dare most, and it was with these facts at the back of my mind and with a desire to speak on behalf of the people among whom I live and work that I took the action that I did. Mr. Speaker found himself in as great a difficulty as anyone last week. Only one who cared and dared most and who had the courage to take the necessary action enabled us to consider this subject for two hours this morning instead of for the few minutes that were permissible under the Rules of the House the other day.

It was the facts to which I have referred, and further facts which I shall give to the House, that made me indignant. The road accident chart which I received from the chairman of Leyland Motors last night reveals a terrifying picture. It has to be seen, studied and analysed to be believed. In six and three-quarter years within the area covered by the chart there were 4,010 casualties, and 166 of the accidents were fatal. The average distance between the site of each accident was 26 yards. Those are staggering figures.

I saw the face of Mr. Speaker light up the other day when reference was made to something which gave him great pleasure and satisfaction, the birth of his grandson. I have seen the Minister of Transport in the company of his son. The Minister worships that son and will do all he possibly can for him. That applies to most parents. Every one of the red spots on this chart which I produce to the House represents tragedy and the homes of broken-hearted parents and relatives.

So that the Minister may realise the situation and so that those who do not accept my argument may be convinced, I should like to quote extracts from one or two leading articles which have been devoted recently to the Minister's statement on road policy. I quote first from the "North Staffordshire Sentinel" of 9th December, 1953. It says: …the outlay envisaged by the present Government, of a Treasury contribution of £50 million spread over three years, is miserly. I should like to make it quite clear that no matter what Government happened to be in power this is the kind of speech that I would be making this morning if there were no fundamental change in our road policy. The leading article continues: Instead of a bold, realistic approach to this ever-increasing problem of the roads the Government offers a perfunctory 'make do and mend' scheme. For the time being they have abandoned all idea of providing the country with the modern motor roads which are becoming absolutely essential not only for road safety but for the movement of commerce. Here is an extract from the "Manchester Evening Chronicle": Nowhere in this country is the roads problem more acute than in the North-West. The proposals for removing bottlenecks, mentioned by the Minister of Transport this week, will remain in the blueprint stage for a few years yet. The newspaper was speaking on behalf of an area where the number of road casualties is two and a half times the average for the whole country. The "Manchester Guardian" said: The Government's 'extended programme of major road improvements' does not even justify its title, let alone the hopes that had been pinned to it… A bold decision to reconstruct the main North-South and East-West routes serving Great Britain would pay dividends for generations; and it would also help to solve many local problems, by diverting through traffic from the narrow streets of towns which lie athwart our existing highways. We welcome the Minister's proposal to deal with the Stafford-Stoke road, but we should like to have from him further information about it. Is it correct that the improvement only involves a length of road from Strongford Road to Trentham on the A.34? When will the very dangerous road through Trent Vale be dealt with and by-passed? When will the new motor road to by-pass Stoke-on-Trent and Newcastle-under-Lyme be begun and finished? It is admitted that, day and night, the main road between London, Manchester and the North is one of the busiest and most congested in the country. Hundreds of mothers in our constituencies whose children have to cross these roads daily to school are suffering great anxiety, and we ought not to be complacent while this situation exists.

I want the Minister to take particular note of this. Until the new motor road to by-pass Trent Vale is completed, can the lowest possible speed limit which he has authority to apply be imposed between Hanford and the North Staffordshire infirmary and can we have daily police patrols on that length of road between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.? If the Minister does not accept my suggestion, will he consult my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) who lives on that main road. My hon. Friend has raised the matter with the police several times, but, unfortunately, according to the information which he and others have given me, no action has been taken. I am forced to raise the matter publicly in the House because it is time some action was taken about that deadly road.

A new road is planned from London through Stafford, Stoke-on-Trent, Manchester, and Lancashire to Glasgow. This road is one of the most urgently required. It is easy to talk about it. I have had sufficient experience of life to enable me to retain my faith and confidence in main principles and to appreciate that at the same time, allowance must be made for individuals, especially those who bear responsibility. What I ask is that super priority over everything else should be given to the main road between Stafford and Carnforth where the daily casualty rate is two and a half times that of the average for the country. Not a penny more should be spent in London until those areas have had justice.

Can we be told the total expenditure proposed for the area within a 50-mile radius of London and the area within a 50-mile radius of Manchester? Is it correct that it is proposed to spent £3 million on the Cromwell Road in London? Is it correct that it is proposed to spend £9 million on the Dartford Tunnel? If so, then I plead without any hesitation or compromise that priority over the London area should be given to the needs of Lancashire and to the Barton and Trafford bridges in particular.

We can speak best about the areas which we know and the areas in which we were born. Within a few miles of where I was born are to be found the worst road conditions in the country. That is not the fault of anyone as an individual, and the local authorities all desire to play their part. Between Worsley and Trafford Park, within a length of three miles, in six years there have been 125 accidents including 5 deaths. There are eight terrible bends and three narrow bridges. The Barton Bridge is crossed by 9,600 vehicles every day, and the roadway is only 17 feet wide. On an average the bridge closes 19 times a day to allow vessels to pass on the Manchester Ship Canal. These are the sort of facts which must be faced. It is time we faced up to them, because people in industry are becoming cynical and are saying, "What is the use of having maximum efficiency in industry unless we have maximum efficiency on the roads?"

Several times right hon. Gentleman on both sides of the House have expressed their confidence in Sir Edwin Plowden and men like him. No Socialist can express confidence in Sir Edwin Plowden. If anyone is still prepared to do that, then let him consult the "Financial Times." I believe that it is Sir Edwin and those associated with him, and all Ministers who have accepted their advice who are responsible for the situation that we face today. Fundamentally, the allocation of capital investment during the past six years is responsible for the present situation. I know that an indictment can be built up in respect of the past 50 years. I know that the roads of this country have never caught up with our needs and that is also the case with housing. That is a long and terrible story. However, as a realist I am dealing with the immediate situation, and I say that some of the millions of pounds that we have spent on rearmament ought to have been devoted to our roads.

I should like answers to the following questions. Is it true that we have spent less on our roads since the end of the war than other countries have spent on theirs? Can we be given the gross investment upon roads in proportion to the national income over a number of years and also the gross investment in fixed capital?

So that I might be informed on this subject, I wrote to a number of surveyors, and I have before me their answers. As an example, I will quote the reply of the surveyor to the Staffordshire County Council. He says: As you are aware, the action already taken by the Chairman of the County Council, Alderman W. Nevill, O.B.E.. and the Chairman of the County Roads and Bridges Committee, Councillor G. H. Philpott, in connection with this vital question has taken it from a purely political issue and given it the full support of all parties. I do not know why he put that in, but, still, he did. Here is an extract from an enclosure in that letter: The first essential is to determine a short-term policy, say a five-year programme, for the widening and improvement of the carriageways of all the through routes, some of which are carrying over 40,000 tons per day, the minimum width of these carriageways to be 30-feet three-lane construction with footpaths in and around built-up areas and horizontal and vertical alignments to give effective visibility. The enclosure contains references to local and national factors. It goes on: In addition to the shorter five-year policy, the construction of certain sections of the motorway for immediate use is vital if the question of the inadequate road system of the county is to be dealt with practically and realistically. That is Staffordshire. It goes on: The first major project should be the Stafford outer by-pass, estimated to cost £1,500,000. This scheme will eliminate the present dangerous traffic conditions in this area and at the same time substantially improve the flow of the heavy concentrations of both through and local traffic….The Staffordshire County Council are most concerned and disappointed at the meagre sums likely to be allocated to the county for the improvement of the essential traffic routes…. A date to be given for the Stafford motorway by-pass and some indication of the dates the Minister has in mind for dealing with Newcastle inner by-pass, Stone by-pass, Rugeley by-pass, Tam-worth by-pass and Lichfield by-pass, or alternatively when he proposes to carry out the construction of the London route motorway through Staffordshire…. It is because I am reinforced by expert opinion of that kind that I have made the kind of contribution I have today. Stoke-on-Trent is a developing mining area. Our output is to be greatly increased, and we are exporting pottery, which is the admiration of everybody, all over the world. If we are expected to produce the maximum of results with the maximum efficiency, then we are entitled to expect that efficiency shall not finish at the pottery, at the pit or at the door of the works.

In Leylands, we are building the finest motor vehicles in the world. Many years ago some Russians said to me that they would buy as many Leyland motors as they possibly could because, although they cost more initially, the extra cost was recouped in a very short time by the saving in maintenance costs. At Eccles, we build the Gardner engine, which speaks for itself. In Trafford Park, 60,000 people travel daily into and out of that bottleneck. The conditions there have to be seen to be believed.

What I am asking for today and many of my hon. Friends who are well-informed about conditions in these industrial areas will support me in this—is that super-priority should be given to these large industrial areas. It is time that the Minister, the Ministry and the Cabinet re-examined the position and looked at it from the point of view of the needs of our industrial areas, so that a fundamental change may be brought about and so that we in our time may take steps to build new motor roads and thus save the lives of many of our people in the future.

1.3 p.m.

Mr. Richard Law (Hull, Haltemprice)

At the beginning of the powerful and sincere speech to which we have just listened, the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) said that it was his intention to put the tremendous problem of road development into proper perspective. But he ended his speech by saying that the schemes in his own constituency and his own neighbourhood must have super-priority over everything else. The hon. Gentleman is, of course, quite entitled to do that, but, if he will allow me to say so, that is really not putting the problem of road development into proper perspective.

Mr. Ellis Smith

I am quite willing to listen to anyone criticising what I said, but I would point out that I was speaking for a large industrial area of Lancashire and Staffordshire.

Mr. Law

Yes, an area with which the hon. Gentleman is most closely associated.

I still maintain that that is not putting the matter into proper perspective, because there must be other industrial areas which have equal priority. To get this problem into perspective, one does not have to balance one area against the other. One has to balance the claims of road development against all the other claims being made upon the resources at the disposal of the Government.

I quite agree—and I do not suppose there is any hon. Member in the House, including my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation, who does not—that the road system in this country is hopelessly inadequate, hopelessly old-fashioned and hopelessly uneconomic, but we cannot, especially at this time, have everything we want at one and the same moment. We want to clear away the slums, to build new houses, to increase our exports, and to improve and develop our Health Service. We must maintain a balance between all the demands made upon the resources of the nation.

The hon. Gentleman said—and I readily believe him—that he would have made exactly the same speech whatever Government were in power. The hon. Gentleman is always forthright, but I think there is one very great distinction between this Government and the last Government. That distinction is that whenever any problem of this kind arose, the late Government always announced, and developed in speeches, a tremendous scheme which would give us every kind of advantage within 12 months at the outside, but then nothing ever happened except another economic crisis. The present Government do not act in that way. They produce something which is modest and practicable and which can be made effective. When it has been made effective, they then take the next step towards securing the great scheme.

I sincerely believe that the statement made by my right hon. Friend 10 days ago was not inadequate when we consider the question of roads in relation to all the other problems which beset us. I believe that if we consider that statement against the background and in the context in which my right hon. Friend was speaking, it represents a notable start to solve a very difficult and tremendously important problem. But, having said that, I must say that there was one thing in my right hon. Friend's statement which literally shook me. It was not something which he said, but something which he omitted to say, and, but for the intervention of the hon. Gentleman opposite, I believe that I would have been shocked into speechlessness by this terrible omission in my right hon. Friend's statement. After developing his plan, my right hon. Friend said: These proposals, Sir, do not include provision for such major and desirable projects as the Forth and Severn Bridges."—[Official Report, 8th December, 1953; Vol. 521, c. 1823.] He said nothing more about bridges.

Has my right hon. Friend never heard of the Humber Bridge? Is he not aware that a project to build a bridge across the Humber went through both Houses of Parliament more than 20 years ago, and was only postponed because there was a General Election at that time? The fact of the matter is that Hull, which is one of our most important ports, and one on which we depend both for exports and imports, is exceedingly badly served from the point of view of transport because of its geographical position. One day—and the sooner the better—either a bridge or a tunnel will have to be built across the Humber in the interests not only of Hull, but of the whole of the country's exporting industry.

I am not saying that the Humber Bridge must have super-priority over everything else, because, quite clearly, much must be done before we get down to a project of that kind. Indeed, I think it could be argued that such a project ought to be left until there is some sign of a recession in trade, that it ought to be left as a pump-priming operation. Granted the difficulty and the fact that there must, in the nature of things, be some delay, it appears to me, to my constituents and to the city and port of Hull that this was something which was not in the mind of my right hon. Friend for a single moment.

I ask my right hon. Friend to lookup the records to see how far this project got 25 years ago, how important it was then considered to be, and to ask himself whether, since that time, any circumstances have intervened to make it any less important today. Even though I do not except that the Minister can promise very much now I hope it will be put on his list of important projects.

1.10 p.m.

Mr. Harold Davies (Leek)

I do not wish to encroach for more than a few minutes on the time available because I know there are other Members who may wish to put national or local points of view.

My first point is that we pay for the roads whether we use them or not. The£50 million that the Minister is granting, while it may be good in itself, is only a palliative, because we know from statistics issued by the British Road Federation that we are already £90 million in arrears. Will the Government look at the problem again and further road policy in next year's Budget?

The roads are as much a social service as are housing and education. If we accept Kipling's bon mot that transport is civilisation then there can be no adequate civilisation without adequate road and transport systems. All through Britain, particularly in London and in towns like Stoke-on-Trent, we are suffering from what I call modern parking disease. The paralysis of our cities is a tragic waste of money. We have the most congested roads in the world. Great Britain has about 18 vehicles per mile of road: America, 17; Belgium, 16; Holland, 9: Switzerland, 7; and Italy, 6. Taking the Class I and II roads together, however, we have 106 vehicles per mile moving over those roads.

In terms of money the result of this parking disease and paralysis of movement costs the country, on vehicles alone, £60 million a year. We lose £26 million on lost time on the roads;£12 million on fuel—it was even more when we were importing more dollar petrol; on tyres and rubber, £3 million; on repair of vehicles, £9 million, and, in support of my hon. Friend's point about accidents, through insurance alone the cost is £10 million a year. Those figures, which are from a reliable source, are calculated on 1946 prices, because I have not had time to recast them into terms of present-day cost. Even if we see our way to spend the money necessary it will take a long time to solve the problem, but it will be an investment which will give a bountiful reward.

Another comparison can be drawn from capital investment. The railways had £218 million of capital investment between 1945 and 1952; airways, £69 million; coal production, £152 million; gas, £177 million; electricity, £676 million, and manufacturing industry had £2,237 million of capital invested between 1946 and 1952. The roads—a paltry £43 million.

I have argued before that the Minister of Defence himself should take an interest in British roadways. We talk of making Britain safe from a strategic point of view, but it would be absolute chaos—in a mid-20th century war, which, God forbid, we should ever have—if we had to move people from, and bring forces into London at the same time on our inadequate roadways.

Lastly, cannot something be done about Britain's canals, which snuggle, unused, in the heart of the Welsh and English counties? When we travel by train we see miles of beautiful waterways. Cannot we do something to co-ordinate those canals and undertake research to find a powerful little tugboat though not so fast as to wash away the banks? Is there not need for capital investment on the canals in conjunction with the roadways? I hope that the Minister will not consider canals an anachronism. I do ask the Minister to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to consider, in the next Budget, the problem of capital investment in British roadways.

1.15 p.m.

Sir Ian Fraser (Morecambe and Lonsdale)

I commend to the Minister the use of the toll road method which has been so successful in the United States. I will not develop the argument, because I wish to be brief. I know my right hon. Friend is aware of it, and there is much to be said for it. Neither we nor our constituents want more taxes or more rates so let us beware about asking for enormous developments here, there and everywhere which, along with all the nation's other commitments, probably could not be paid for.

I wish to ask the Minister to give further consideration to a local matter affecting my constituency. At Lancaster there is a bridge—Skerton Bridge—with two main roads coming up to it. There are, therefore, usually four lines of traffic trying to cross it but it can only take one line in each direction. It is a bottleneck, and anyone who travels to Morecambe or to the Lake District from the south or south-east will find, from time to time, a queue one, two, three or even five miles long waiting to cross.

Would the Minister consider putting that bridge a little higher in his list of priorities? It is not only a question of visitors' access to Morecambe and Heysham and to other beautiful towns of the Lake District, but the business of Barrow has also to be taken into account. When looking again at this problem will the Minister give further consideration to this particular bottleneck, because I think it is a very important matter?

1.18 p.m.

Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)

I wish to make a special point about the North-East. We welcome the Minister's statement—any statement is better than none, however inadequate it may be. We welcome the fact that he is taking some action, but we absolutely fail to understand how he has come to overlook the North-East entirely. In his first list the nearest place to the North-East is Doncaster Mill Bridge; in his second list, Sinderby Bridge. This has upset the whole of the North-East, regardless of politics.

The Minister will see that his North-East colleagues have put down a Motion, and I think they should have been here this morning to press the case, along with those of us representing other constituencies in the North-East. We have received representations from the Durham and the Northumberland County Councils, who are upset at the total lack of consideration for their problems shown by the right hon. Gentleman.

I want to emphasise two points in particular. We are a Development Area. That means that our industrial output today is far higher than it was before the war. As a Member representing a constituency in a Development Area, I should like to point out that one of the factors which deter new firms going into Development Areas—and, after ail, they are being persuaded very often to go oat of their traditional areas—is the question of transport. I have argued, and will continue to argue, the case for differential freights to assist firms going into Development Areas, but in any case transport is a large element in determing whether firms go into Development Areas. For that reason, not only the North-East but Development Areas as a whole are entitled to special consideration from the right hon. Gentleman.

The other consideration I would mention briefly is the project of the Tyne Tunnel. This is a matter to which I hope the Minister will refer when he replies to the debate. I believe that there was an understanding that this tunnel would be next in priority to the Dartford Tunnel, and it was generally understood that the shields and equipment would move up from the Thames to the Tyne. It appears from the right hon. Gentleman's statement that we have lost that priority. If that is so, it will be a serious blow to the North-East.

Having called the Minister's attention to the feeling in the North-East about this special project, I will say no more except to tell him that he must expect in the near future urgent and strong representations from the local authorities in the North-East and from everyone concerned about the industrial prosperity of the North-East.

1.22 p.m.

Mr. Ronald Russell (Wembley, South)

Like all those who have spoken this morning, I intend to be brief in my remarks as I know there are several other hon. Members who hope to speak.

I want to emphasise a few points which I feel, have not been stressed quite enough. I am sure that during the course of the last few weeks we have all received a report issued by the National Road Transport Federation listing the improvements which they think ought to be made. The stupendous fact quoted in the report is the total cost which they estimate of all these schemes, which is £500 million. Bearing in mind what the country is already called upon to bear, it is obvious that we cannot do much more from the Exchequer point of view than my right hon. Friend has already announced. I therefore suggest that further consideration be given, next year, possibly, when the time is more suitable, to financing some of these projects by loans, because I do not see how else we can hope to break the back of this problem, except by adopting some extraordinary means of financing the work.

Another point I want to emphasise is the saving in cost both to the health services from the point of view of accidents and to industry in general by the speeding up of transport which would result from having an adequate road system. It is not easy to give any concrete figures on that point, but various statements have been made, like the one which my right hon. Friend has quoted in connection with London transport, and other industries have also quoted figures. There would obviously be an enormous economy in the health services and to industry if the accident black spots could be eradicated and the speed of traffic in general increased.

The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) said that not a penny more should be spent in London until a great deal had been done in Lancashire and Staffordshire. I am sure we all want to see road improvements in all parts of the country, irrespective of where they are, but it must be realised that the first improvement which my right hon. Friend has announced in London is a very vital one—the Cromwell Road extension—because it is the route from here to London Airport, which must have been one of the main factors taken into consideration. When one realises that it is possible to travel from Manchester to London by air in almost the same time that one can travel from London Airport to this House by road, it seems essential that we should do something to speed up the traffic between here and London Airport.

I want also to say a word on the problem of Central London itself. This is a question not so much of spending large sums of money on new roads but of clearing the London streets of the cars which are parked there, in many cases on both sides and all day long. I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to push ahead with the plan, which has already been announced, for relieving the streets of London of the many cars which are parked there, by building garages under squares, on blitzed sites and places like that. I know that this will cost something, but it is possibly nothing like as serious a problem as that of making new roads. If something is not done very quickly, we shall be brought almost to a standstill at certain times in Central London. This problem is urgent, and I know that we all wish my right hon. Friend all success in solving that problem as in solving the main problem in the country as a whole.

1.26 p.m.

Mr. W. T. Proctor (Eccles)

I wish to stress one particular case. I am not at all satisfied that this is the ideal method of dealing with this problem from a Parliamentary point of view. My opinion is that we should have a special day or two on which to consider this problem as a whole, when we should not be speaking in an empty House but considering this vital matter from the point of view of the nation as a whole.

I welcome what has been done by the Government, but, like other hon. Members, I do not feel that they have done enough. I wish to make a special plea for priority in the case of Barton Bridge which is situated in my constituency and which, to a large extent, serves the people of my constituency and that great industrial trading estate in Trafford Park. It is the greatest trading estate, not only in this country but in the world, and I should have thought it would have found a special place in the affections of hon. Members opposite since it is a private enterprise trading estate and not one that has been promoted by us, as so many of the others have been in various parts of the country.

The trading estate and the canal itself were created as a result of the toil and genius of the people of Manchester. What is really out of date is the transport connecting the trading estate with the community. At present, 50,000 workers are engaged there, and the amount of upset and inconvenience which are caused there is almost unimaginable. During the war there were 75,000 people engaged in Trafford Park at the peak period. To deal with any emergency, it is essential that transport improvements should be made. This is one of the factors which the Minister should consider from the point of view not only of the convenience of the people, but of the national interest in case of an emergency.

I want to stress three points. First of all, the lives of the people are concerned. There is no spot that is potentially more dangerous to the working community than this place. My hon. Friend has mentioned the width of the bridge, and no one can see the traffic pouring over there in both directions, with foot passengers walking along a very narrow path, without being made aware that there will certainly be a tragedy on Barton Bridge unless something is done. When we lift our voices in the House of Commons and warn the Government of such a potential danger, unless they do something about it they will be responsible for the tragedy which ensues.

I know of no place where such tremendous inconvenience is caused to people going to and from work as at Barton Bridge. This upsets not only the work of the people but their home life. They get back from work half an hour later than the time which they had arranged and their whole evening is upset. There is also very great difficulty in getting workers to go to the industrial firms in Trafford Park. I know of several firms who have had to leave the estate because of the great difficulty they had in persuading people to work there, owing to the bad transport arrangements. I want to express our appreciation of the fact that the Minister went there, looked at the problem, studied it, and decided to make a start on the approaches to the bridge, but I plead with him to press on with all speed, and to recognise that this really is one of the highest priorities in relation to our traffic problems.

A few days ago an hon. Member said to me, "I think you represent Eccles. I have a letter here from a man who travels through there on the Ship Canal," and he handed me the letter, in which the writer said: Another matter I would like to bring to your notice, and I hope it will be of interest to you. The amount of money to be allocated towards the improvement of roads, the building of bridges, etc. Might I draw your attention to one place in particular, Barton Bridge over the ship canal at Eccles, connecting Lancashire and Cheshire. There are three roads converging from the Lancashire side and two from the Stretford side through Trafford Park. When a vessel of any large size is passing through, the bridge is off to road traffic from five to 10 or more minutes. The convoys of wagons and cars are enormous from both sides. I do not think there can be a place anywhere in this country to top this wastage of time. He goes on to suggest that the B.B.C. should send their television cameras and take pictures of what goes on at Barton Bridge, so that the whole community can see the industrial chaos and dislocation which is caused there.

The great road system of this country must be developed in connection with railways as well as for its own sake. I suggest that heavy long-distance transport should travel by rail whenever possible, to relieve the road system. The back room boys should be getting to work on the possibility of having a freely transferable load from road to rail, so that this heavy traffic could travel partly by rail and partly by road. We must put our transport system into a condition in which it can serve the people no matter how great the emergency which may come upon us.

While we cannot immediately accomplish the ambitious schemes which have been planned, very much more capital and effort should be put into this work to complete our transport system and make it really workable. From 1929 to 1931, when the Labour Government were in power, huge sums of money were spent on the railways—and they were very largely brought up to date—to try to relieve the unemployment which existed at the time. If the railways had not been improved then they would not have been able to carry the traffic which saved the nation when the emergency struck us in 1940.

I plead with the Government to regard this as a vital moment in our history, when they should have the courage to make great efforts to put right our transport system. But Barton Bridge is a No. 1priority, and I hope that the Minister will be able to assure us that the work will be continued straight through, so that, very soon, we shall see the danger and disorganisation eliminated from that area.

1.35 p.m.

Mr. Stephen Swingler (Newcastle-under-Lyme)

I shall be fairly brief, and I make no apology for returning to the great subject of Staffordshire roads. We are determined that, if the Minister learns nothing else during his period at the Ministry of Transport, he shall know all about the highways and byways of Staffordshire before he is finished. Some hon. Members seem to think that those Members who represent Staffordshire constituencies have been doing a great deal of special pleading about the roads in their county. I want to repudiate that allegation.

It is absolutely indisputable that Staffordshire is one of the greatest industrial areas in this country. With its coal, pottery, iron and steel, and the vast expansion of engineering, it is one of the industrial keystones of our economy. It is also indisputable that most of the people who use the highways of Staffordshire have nothing to do with the county. We plead for more road development in Staffordshire not merely for the benefit of those who live there but for the benefit of the country and its economy as a whole. We are concerned about those people who have to travel from London to Holyhead or Manchester, from Birmingham to Liverpool, and in many other directions, and who have to go through the congested industrial area of Staffordshire.

As the Minister well knows, all the Members representing constituencies in the county recently received a very important and detailed memorandum on the situation from the Chairman of the Staffordshire County Council. He also happens to have been the Chairman of the Highways Committee of that county for the past seven years. He described the situation by saying: The main trunk and Class I roads of the County have long been obsolete having regard to their width and alignment, and bearing in mind the large volume of traffic they are called upon to carry, particularly heavy commercial vehicles and abnormal loads. This unfortunate state of affairs has applied throughout the whole of my Chairmanship,"— of the Highways Committee— resulting in a sense of complete frustration, particularly when it was fully realised by the Committee that on safety and economic grounds major improvements and increased maintenance works were vital. The case we have been trying to impress upon the Minister in connection with the highways of Staffordshire is based not merely upon the appalling state of affairs arising from the appalling obsolescence of the roads in the county, but also upon a comparison between our situation and that of other counties. It has to be realised that only 20 per cent. of the trunk roads passing through Staffordshire have a carriageway of 30 ft. width or more, compared with, for example, 47 per cent. of the Lancashire roads and 38 per cent. of the Cheshire roads.

I am making a comparison not with those counties which are so much richer and more salubrious than Staffordshire, but with neighbouring counties which have very serious road problems of their own. If we remember that only one-fifth of the trunk roads in Staffordshire have a carriageway of 30 ft. width or more, compared with 47 per cent. in Lancashire, and that only 1 per cent. of the Class I roads in Staffordshire have a carriageway of 30 ft. width or more, compared with 32 per cent. in Lancashire and 10 per cent. in Cheshire, I think it will be agreed that the Staffordshire Members are not indulging in special pleading.

We get a smaller grant allocation from the Minister than either of these other counties, because we are so much worse off—that is a fantastic state of affairs—although we have a greater weight and volume of traffic passing over our roads. It is calculated that every day in 1938 there were 122,000 tons of traffic passing over the trunk roads in Staffordshire and that at present, according to the census taken in 1950, the figure is 176,000 tons;50,000 tons more daily of weight of traffic passing over the trunk roads of Staffordshire than there were before the war.

Moreover, they are passing right through the county town of Stafford and right through the Borough of Newcastle-under-Lyme. None of the major projects that have been in the pigeon-holes for years and years has been carried out, and only a very small improvement is proposed at the present time. We are, therefore, very seriously perturbed about this state of affairs, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) said, because of the great dangers and the appalling loss of life on the roads, and because of the calculable economic losses that are being sustained because of this inefficient road system.

We thank the Minister for doing something about the Stafford to Stoke road, and hope he will get on with that job straight away, but we also want him to get on right away with the plans that have been in the pigeon-holes so long for getting those major roads to pass around those towns. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will come to Stafford and have a look at this terrible situation, at all this amount of industrial traffic, all those huge generators and things of that kind that are passing through the little bottlenecks in towns like Stafford and Newcastle-under-Lyme. There have been plans made over the years for getting by-pass roads to go round those towns. The damage as well as the danger being experienced are simply terrible.

We are also concerned about the statement that the Minister is to make and what the Government are to do about allocations to counties, because we are very seriously aggrieved in Staffordshire about the allocation to counties. We consider that our allocation should not only be more but comparatively more because of the importance of the county's volume of traffic and the backward state of the roads, compared with those of our neigh-hours. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will be able to give some further indication that we shall get a greater allocation for counties next year and that Staffordshire in particular will get a much greater allocation.

It depends upon the Minister's asking for more revenue, and we are here today to stiffen the spine of the Minister, or to support him in demanding more revenue from the Treasury. That is what is required. He must demand more investment in this very important contribution that the roads make to our economy. If the Minister will say today that he is convinced of the necessity for a much greater capital investment in roads and of the necessity for a much greater allocation to county councils and borough councils for road improvement, and if he will ask the House, such as it is today, to give him support in trying to get greater capital investment in the roads and greater allocations to those councils, I am sure that the debate will have proved thoroughly worth while, and I am sure the Minister will get, at any rate from this side of the House, the support he requires.

1.44 p.m.

Mr. A. G. Bottomley (Rochester and Chatham)

I am confident I speak for both sides of the House when I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) on raising this subject of road policy, and I particularly congratulate him on the sincere and forceful speech he made.

I was rather disappointed at the contribution made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Law). He appears to be in line with all ex-Ministers of Tory Administration in saying that his own Front Bench are a pretty poor lot but that on the other hand he prefers them to a Labour Administration, one of the reasons being that a Labour Administration began things in a large way without finally carrying them out, whereas Conservative Administrations do little by little. What he meant by that was, in a piecemeal fashion. I would say this to the right hon. Gentleman that we achieved in our period of office record production, record exports, full employment and fair shares. When this Government go to be judged at the next General Election the electors will say what they think is the better record, and I am quite sure it will be that of the Labour Administration.

So far as the Minister personally is concerned, I think he knows I have a regard for his energy and his boldness. I remember when he was Minister of State for Colonial Affairs telling him of a problem concerning British citizens from overseas and those who lived in the East End of London permanently, and suggesting to him that if he would go to see it personally that would be much better than reading reports or being told them by Civil Servants of what the problem was really about. He accepted the challenge, and, I think, did a pretty useful job. I only wish he would apply himself in the same way to road policy.

Like hospitals, like factories, roads at the moment are being sacrificed to political expediency. At the moment the Government want to claim that they have built so many houses, and no matter what it costs in other directions they concentrate on housing at, I think, an unfortunate cost to the economy of the country as a whole. That calls for that boldness and energy of the Minister in impressing on his colleagues in the Government the need to spend more and more on roads.

I do not want to quote any but authoritative journals. What better than the "Municipal Engineering Journal," which on 11th December said this about the Minister and road policy: When the Minister of Transport proudly announced in the House of Commons on Monday that the Government had decided on 'a considerable increase of expenditure on road improvements' it must have reminded many of Aesop's fable of the mouse which crawled out of the mountain. For the previous two weeks—ever since the rumour that Parliament was to allocate funds to improve roads—highway engineers had been awaiting the details. The 'considerable increase' turned out to be some £50 million in the next three financial years. In view of the Government's indifference this may indeed, in Mr. Lennox-Boyd's words, appear a 'formidable undertaking.' But related to the work which must be carried out if we are to survive as an exporting nation, it is taking cheeseparing to the point of absurdity. When we in this House are backed up by expert opinion of that sort, I hope the Minister will show his energy and boldness in obtaining the necessary investment in road works.

I have a particular constituency interest, too. I have raised the subject of the Rochester by-pass road before, and what I have said is on the record, and I do not want to weary the House by going into the details again today. The Minister has said that our highway policy as a whole has been starved for about14 years. I would remind him to look at the records. He will see that 30 years ago the Ministry considered that the Rochester by-pass road was necessary. When I spoke last on this subject I said the traffic was getting heavier, and that there would be an increase in the number of accidents. I regret to have to say now that that forecast has been proved correct. In the third quarter of this year 416 people were injured in Chatham and Rochester compared with 382 in the third quarter of last year. Therefore, it is really a problem. It is a matter of saving life, of saving damage to body, and I think the Minister should look at the matter, though not in isolation, for I grant him that.

If he cannot do anything about the Rochester by-pass road he could go ahead with the local authority to make that narrow High Street and adjoining roads in the area much safer than they are at the moment. Perhaps I may be forgiven if I mention another matter. There is the Gravesend Road. There are going to be some traffic alterations which I think will prevent accidents. People in that part have been very alarmed because a 30 miles-an-hour speed limit sign has been placed at the bottom of the hill, and lorries, vans and cars, which come over the hill at great speed, cannot pull up when they reach the 30 miles-an-hour sign. Between the area further back and this sign there are many houses. This is relatively a built-up area. If that sign had been moved, public anxiety would have been allayed. I am quite sure the Minister realises the importance of good public relations, and in that sense, therefore, I urge upon him to see that in carrying out improvements he also has regard to public interest and to good public relations.

The Minister is now about to do something we all welcome—to authorise the completion of the tunnel from Dartford across the river, which will carry all the heavy traffic in a much better way than might have been accomplished had the tunnel not been completed. Has he considered this point: by allowing traffic to use the tunnel he will cause an even greater congestion on the Kent roads. I was thinking of the Rochester by-pass, the Maidstone by-pass and the Ashford by-pass, which is to be improved. Is not the way to deal with this problem to have one main road running through Kent and to do a really big job? Kent is not only important from the point of view of getting people to holiday resorts but also because it is the nearest point to the coast on the other side of the Channel. This project would therefore be important from a strategic point of view. Consider how valuable such a road would have been had it existed during the last war.

I urge upon the Minister to consider the possibility of carrying on, either from Dartford or further up the road, one main trunk road going down to the coast. That would ease the problem on the three bypass roads. We have already pressed the importance of these three roads but we know it is not easy for him to do all this work in view of the heavy commitments which he has.

The pressure today has come from Staffordshire and other parts of the country, and I have impressed upon him how universal is the support for the improvement of roads in Kent because I have sent him correspondence from people in the North of England who said they had no idea that the roads in the South were so bad until they saw for themselves. I am therefore raising the matter; not with local support, but with general support. The Minister ought to show a more realistic and imaginative approach. Unless this is done he will have made no real contribution as Minister of Transport, and I for one will regret that.

1.52 p.m.

The Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. Alan Lennox-Boyd)

I think the whole House will be grateful to the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) for the manner in which he has introduced the discussion. He was, I think, quite right to remind us, as he always does, of the importance of England, and I hope that a Minister of Transport who had at least one English grandmother can genuinely say that he, too, thinks it is important. Scotsmen and Welshmen in the House would be wise to realise that there is a strong body of feeling which regards the importance of England as sometimes not being adequately stressed in discussions of this kind.

The hon. Member also spoke in a very nice way of myself and my son, and I certainly have a very vivid recollection of a very wintry morning some months ago when he and I and the hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Proctor) met at six o'clock in the morning by Barton Bridge in Lancashire. I shall deal later with one or two projects in Lancashire, including that bridge, but however little I can do at this moment, my recollection of that bridge will remain very vivid. I am glad to hear that the hon. Member, who has precipitated this debate by a rather unusual use of his Private Member's opportunity, has not been carpeted by the Labour Party Executive. I am delighted that he has escaped the fate which came to the hon. Member for Reading, South (Mr. Mikardo).

We have had a very interesting discussion. The hon. Member for Eccles very wisely said that another function of the Government should be to attempt by inducement to divert heavy traffic back from the road to the rail.

Mr. Ellis Smith

I have been a little slow. I should have said that I only took advantage of one of our Parliamentary rights.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

A perfectly proper advantage, and I am delighted to have this opportunity, although I agree with the hon. Member for Eccles that probably some longer discussion is desirable if we are to do justice to these most important problems.

The hon. Member for Eccles said how important it was to try to divert heavy traffic back from the road to the rail, as far as possible, and he suggested that the back-room boys should get together—I think that was his phrase—to find ways in which this could be done. I remind him that in the Transport Act, 1953, we have done a good deal to make this possible, not only by altering the basis of railway charges and giving them a freedom which they have never had before in the field of charges, but also by the provision dealing with the transferable container, which he mentioned in the course of his most interesting speech.

This is a matter of great importance, but however much we can divert traffic back to the railways, and heavy traffic at that, clearly there will be a road problem with us for a number of years. I greatly wish it had fallen to me to be able to announce a much more ambitious programme of major road construction. No Minister of Transport could be satisfied with the modest proposal which I have put forward

I must remind the House and the country, however, that these proposals do not include the grants for maintenance and minor improvements. On those we are still having discussions—inter-Governmental discussions—and I hope it will be possible to tell the local authorities what they can expect in this very large field earlier in the year than hitherto has been possible, for I am very conscious of the difficulties of planning their own budgets.

I have to recognise, however, that we must look at this picture as a whole. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprise (Mr. Law) said, we have to balance all the demands made on the Government from many different quarters. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has constantly pointed out the very heavy burdens we now have to bear, including a load for defence which is unprecedented in peace-time. Although our balance of payments is in a much better state than it was two years ago, we cannot possibly be satisfied either with our reserves or with the level of our exports. Productive investments must be increased in many other directions as well as in road construction if we are to maintain the steady growth in our national income.

I would remind all in the House and outside who want to see a much larger amount voted to road improvement that the utmost economy is still needed in our national finances and that there are many other claims on the savings of the people, each of which can make out a very strong individual case. All these things are paid for in the long run out of the savings of our people, and these savings are very heavily mortgaged for a long time ahead.

I clearly recognise that much of this expenditure will be productive and will yield useful returns and good dividends, but it is the same with a great many other things which we ought to do, and the Government have to take an overall view of the situation and judge the priorities in what appears the wisest way.

To me the most satisfactory feature of the announcement which I was able to make on 8th December was this: for many years, indeed since the Budget of 1947, there has been virtually no money whatever allowed for new construction, not by the Labour Government—which only a year before, in 1946, had come forward with a very ambitious programme of £80 million to be committed in the first year; not throughout the remaining years of their Government, nor at all under the Conservative Government, have we been able to authorise any expenditure on new construction until now.

When last year, as Minister, I had to deal with the possible collapse of the Runcorn-Widnes Bridge in Lancashire, I could only defend the amount of money to be spent on that bridge by treating it as maintenance, for there was no money for new construction. Now at least we have broken that freezing in the field of new construction. Although I would not pretend that we can go so far as people outside want, and as I as Minister would like, at any rate it is the end of the period of a complete ban on major construction work, let us hope.

Mr. Bottomley

There is no difference between us about the need to balance and make sure that we spend money in a proper way. There is no difference between us on the point that good roads increase production and help to increase exports. Having those considerations in mind, will the right hon. Gentleman say if he is satisfied with the amount of money he has from the Treasury to meet necessary requirements?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I would not pretend that all the requirements are being met, but I do claim that we have a fair share. Bearing in mind other claims on our limited national resources and the starving of road construction in the last 14 years, local authorities themselves have not adequate manpower to deal with a a much more ambitious programme. I do not mean the people who will actually lay the roads, but the designers and skilled men planning the construction. The Government have committed themselves in the year ahead to £19 million on new construction and £50 million in the next three years, and that will put a very heavy strain indeed on the manpower of local authorities. I think they will find that their work is cut out.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, South (Mr. Russell) suggested that if this cannot be met out of the Exchequer grant a greater expenditure should be met out of a loan, but in whichever way it is reckoned, in the long run the money comes from the savings of the people. I do not think it is very profitable to find some other way of disguising that undoubted fact.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice helped me by putting the question of road construction into proper perspective. He asked me something to which I fear I cannot give an equally helpful answer. I am sorry if Hull Corporation and local authorities in the area have found it shocking that I did not mention the Humber Bridge. I was not able to mention a number of schemes which, although desirable in themselves, I fear cannot figure in our programme at this stage. I recognise the immense importance of the great City of Hull and the territory it serves to our country, of which it is a major port, but I would be misleading both the city and my right hon. Friend if I gave a promise that a project costing £15 million would figure in the programme for the immediate future. Of course I have taken note of what my right hon. Friend said, and I will certainly not forget that one day it should be done.

I have been guided in the proposals I put before the House a few days ago by the need to concentrate as far as possible on areas of great industrial importance. Living a great deal of the year in London and going a great deal through Staines to the West Country and the south, I should very much like to have seen a start made on the by-passing of Staines. I cannot imagine a more irritating hold-up to a large number of people than that, but the greatest hold-up is at weekends and, looking at the picture of Britain as a whole, I could not possibly defend granting £1½ million to that project when there are such appalling congestions in industrial Britain.

Some 60 per cent. of the money we are proposing to spend on road improvements will be spent on roads in the industrial areas. I have been at pains to see that in England, Scotland and Wales the concentration should be on industrial areas. At the same time, naturally, we have been very anxious to go forward with any scheme likely to aid road safety. We must always remember, however, that 80 per cent. of all the accidents are in built-up areas and what can be done for road improvement in built-up areas is necessarily very limited.

Also, I have been naturally anxious to finish schemes upon which a lot of public money has already been spent, in particular the Dartford-Purfleet undertaking, which I think all hon. Members, from whatever part of the United Kingdom they come, will welcome. I have found it really indefensible to have to spend and authorise the spending of £12,000 a year to keep this tunnel drained before it is even in use. The £9 million which will be committed to that project will, I think, not only end an absurd situation, but will help the flow of traffic of an industrial character across that very important waterway.

With these considerations in mind, let us look for a moment at some of the points raised by the hon. Member who initiated the debate. The hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Swingler) said that he hoped hon. Members from Staffordshire would not be accused of special pleading. But he added that he trusted the Minister of Transport, whatever else he might not learn during his sojourn in Berkeley Square House, would not be ignorant of the claims of Staffordshire. I can assure him that the old sage of Lichfield himself could not want more and better Boswells than I have had around my doors during the last 18 months.

As both hon. Members were kind enough to mention, we have a very substantial contribution in the improvements that have been promised for immediate execution on the Stafford-Stoke Road. The hold-up on this road is notorious. I think it will really help if these three links are provided with dual carriage ways. This is a first step, not the final answer but the beginning of better times. I was asked for further details. We propose that the three links should be Wood Farm to Crown Inn, Aston; Meardale Cottage to Milestone-Stone 2½ and Strongford Bridge to Trentham. The existing carriageway is inadequate for heavy industrial traffic and the addition of these three wider lengths ought to help to get the traffic moving faster.

I realise that it is only a first step, but I hope it is an indication to the hon. Member—who at this season of the year I hope I may call my hon. Friend—that we realise the great importance of Staffordshire. It would be nice to be able to say that I could authorise the spending of £4 million in order to bring all the roads in Staffordshire up to a width of 30 feet, but if I did that the large majority of counties where the roads are not of that width would have a genuine grievance. We are very conscious of the importance of Staffordshire and I recognise that as much as anywhere traffic through Staffordshire is genuinely through traffic and advantages there will help the flow of industrial traffic as a whole.

Lancashire is of prime importance. Any road proposals that left Lancashire out would stand condemned. As hon. Members know, we are proposing to effect a number of very substantial schemes in Lancashire in the next few years. I announced on 8th December that in the programme at once there would be the Wilderspool level crossing at Warrington. I have been urged since I became Minister that this is one of the first problems which should be tackled.

When I was at Barton Bridge one or two people took me on one side to say that however important this project was I should deal with Wilderspool crossing first. The hon. Member for Eccles asked what we were talking about and we pretended it was quite a different subject. We are going to tackle Wilderspool. This very important project is to be put in hand. We propose by 1956–57, at a cost of £2 million, to deal with the Preston by-pass and, in the year after we hope, with the Lancashire by-pass as well. Each of these by-passes will cost £2 million. They will be built as motor roads with dual carriageways and they will continue from part of the Birmingham-Shap motor road and yet each meanwhile will bring its own benefit to the great county of Lancashire.

The Preston by-pass will be 8¾ miles long and the Lancaster by-pass about 11½ miles long, and when these are completed some part of the romantic plan which had been prepared in Lancaster by the most vigorous engineer, Mr. James Drake, in "The Road Plan for Lancashire," will be a reality. I should like to pay particular tribute to the county surveyor for the work he has done in Lancashire and the very vivid way in which he has brought the needs of the county to the attention of the wider world.

I have also announced as an immediate scheme the improvement of the Aintree-Liverpool Road, which appeared in the list that I circulated in the Official Report when I made my statement a week or so ago. In addition, apart from all these schemes, there will be a number of smaller schemes in Lancashire, and I shall do all I can to see that they get a fair share of the money that is now available for schemes on classified roads.

I wish it had been possible to do more about Barton Bridge, but the hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Proctor) knows that we have approved the beginning of the tipping operations to form an approach to the bridge, although, I have to add, without prejudice to any decision that I must arrive at as to when actual construction can start. But I agree with the hon. Member that the traffic that passes over that bridge and the vast number of people who go to their work across it makes this a project of very great importance. I shall never forget its importance, and, I take it. I shall not be allowed to do so.

I should like briefly to deal with one or two other points which hon. Members have raised. My hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) referred to the possibility of toll and roads and bridges. As the House knows, three toll projects exist at the moment by statute. The Mersey tunnel was built on a toll basis, the Dartford-Purfleet Act allows for tolls to be levied when this project is completed, and the Forth Bridge Act allows the same. I believe that there is a case for considering tolls in relation to bridges and tunnels where traffic is saved an expensive detour by the provision of that bridge or tunnel—

Mr. Harold Davies

It is a bit of an anachronism.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

—and I have a completely open mind about it. The hon. Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) says, "It is a bit of an anachronism." If we are to assume that all the money paid by motorists should go to the construction or maintenance of motor roads, it is clearly an anachronism that until that happens they should be asked to pay for the provision of new facilities. But I do not believe that a Government, of any complexion, would regard the payments out of the Road Fund as any different from ordinary Exchequer payments in any other Ministry, and it is not conceivable that any future Government would assume that money raised by motor taxation must be solely devoted for the benefit of motorists. That argument if applied to other forms of indirect taxation would get us in great difficulty. Those who think that the provision of toll facilities of this kind are an anachronism would do well to ponder whether, if that is the only way in which in our straitened economy we can provide these facilities, it is not better after all to face up to that possibility.

Mr. Harold Davies

Hear, hear.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

My hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale asked me about the Skerton Bridge and expressed the hope that we could raise it in priority. It will be by-passed by the Lancaster by-pass which is proposed for 1957, and this should relieve the serious congestion at the bridge. The hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) suggested that the North-Eastern Division had been left out of all these proposals. He did, however, refer to the Doncaster Mill and Lock Bridge, which is an important project, which I know very well, and on which I received a deputation some months ago. We are proposing at a cost of £180,000 for trunk roads and £75,000 grant money to deal with this undoubted hold up, and we also have proposals in the North-Eastern area for discussion with the local authorities to the tune of £500,000, comprising projects below £100,000 each. I should be glad to discuss with the hon. Member any time he cares to come the sort of projects which we have in mind.

The hon. Member asked also about the Tyne Tunnel. This would be a very expensive project. When I was abroad my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary received a deputation from the Tyne Tunnel Committee. We could not, unfortunately, promise to include this in our proposals for the first three years, but I am fully seized of the importance of this project and I shall do my very best to find a place for it in our programme, although it cannot, I am afraid, be in the first three years.

Mr. Willey

I am obliged for what the right hon. Gentleman says, but this is what worries the authorities in the North-East. They had a very sympathetic response from the Parliamentary Secretary. I appreciate his difficulties when he saw the deputation, but it was a great shock to the authorities when next day the Minister made his statement. The authorities are worried about their loss of priority and feel that the Whiteinch Tunnel has taken their place.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

The hon. Member knows very well—none better—that they have had pedestrian facilities already. I must be quite frank in saying that the order of priorities for tunnels at the moment is for the Whiteinch Tunnel to start next year and the Dartford—Purfleet Tunnel to start the year after; these two projects come first. I am, however, fully conscious of the importance of the Tyne Tunnel. I am equally aware of the need for the Blackwall Tunnel duplication, where congestion is appalling. I shall do all I can to see that both those projects figure in the programme.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, South, commenting on the Cromwell Road extension, quite rightly drew attention to the fact that it will largely speed up traffic on the way to London Airport. When I remind the House that last year hundreds of thousands more people came to Britain through London Airport than came through Dover, our busiest passenger seaport, hon. Members will realise the great importance of these facilities. Quite apart from the aid to London Airport traffic, the Cromwell Road extension will also speed up the traffic in this part of London and genuinely aid smoother development

My hon. Friend asked about underground parking. I am very anxious to see action taken in that field and I shall have various suggestions to make, I hope, before very long.

Mr. Ellis Smith

And opposition.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

And there will be opposition, as the hon. Member says. I understand also, however, that in Lancashire, which invariably helps to lead the way, the city of Manchester is also interested in the same sort of project to which my mind has been turning.

The right hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bottomley) asked one or two questions about the by-passing of the Medway towns. This project definitely figures in our programme; it is an essential step. It does not figure in the first three years, but it definitely has a place in our plans; and anything I can do to help to accelerate it, I shall gladly do. The right hon. Member welcomed the Dartford-Purfleet Tunnel and the completion of the Ashford By-pass, both of immense importance in the county of Kent. He asked a question about the placing of a speed limit sign, on which, I understand, my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary is having conversations in the Department this afternoon. We shall see what we can do to meet the right hon. Member's point of view.

Mr. Bottomley

Will the Minister mention the through trunk road?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I will, again, examine the possibilities of the through trunk road, which the right hon. Member suggested, arising out of the Dartford-Purfleet Tunnel. My feeling at the moment, however, is that that is probably not the best way in which to take the undoubtedly increased flow of traffic that will come as a result of the building of the tunnel, but I am ready to discuss that with the right hon. Member or with the local authorities as soon as the House reassembles.

I thank hon. Members on both sides of the House for the helpful way in which the debate has been conducted. It will not be the last debate we shall have on road congestion and road construction, but it has, at least, cleared the air of a number of misunderstandings. I hope that hon. Members going home to industrial constituencies, particularly in the north of England and in the Midlands, will carry with them the knowledge that the Government and the House of Commons as a whole realise the contribution which those areas are making to the life of Britain and have no intention that distance from London should make their problems any less seriously considered than if they were on our doorstep.