§ 11.5 a.m.
§ Mr. G. A. Pargiter (Southall)
I beg to move,That this House, recognising that the long overdue modernisation of our roads system, which now carries over 70 per cent. of all inland goods transport, is essential to ensure maximum industrial and agricultural productivity; that the annual proceeds of taxation of road transport now exceed by over 10 times the present total annual expenditure of the Government on such roads; and that the economic loss alone from road accidents is now estimated at £150 million per annum, is of the opinion that Her Majesty's Government should give consideration to the need to make available adequate grants to local authorities for the purpose of rapidly overtaking arrears of road maintenance, to complete partially constructed major road projects and to improve inadequate bridges on important routes, and to prepare a comprehensive major road plan to be commenced as soon as possible thereafter having regard to the development plans now completed by local planning authorities.I do not think that I need apologise to the House because of the nature of the subject that I have chosen having regard to its importance and also the amount of correspondence that I have received from various sources since it was first announced that I would move this Motion.
May I, at the outset, congratulate the Joint Parliamentary Secretary on being here in place of the Minister who, I understand, is still away. We can only express the hope that as he brings new blood to his Department, he will also be making announcements to us which will allay the very considerable anxiety which is felt in all parts of the House upon this problem of roads.
The Motion is designed to draw attention to the seriousness of the situation and to make certain suggestions to Her Majesty's Government. It would have been possible to have put down a very controversial Motion, which would not have found very much favour in the eyes 638 of the Department, but I am more concerned that we should get something done and meet in a spirit of reasonableness on this matter than to put down something which would invite criticism and difficulties.
I want, first of all, to refer to a statement made in another place on Wednesday, 4th November, during the debate on the Address. The noble Lord the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster made a statement which I sincerely hope does not really represent the Government's policy, although he was, of course, speaking on behalf of the Government. I believe that I am permitted to quote from a Ministerial statement in another place.
The noble Lord referred to two other noble Lords who had spoken on the subject of roads during the course of the debate, and he said:This is a matter which is occupying the immediate attention of a Committee of the Cabinet. We realise the dangers, and we realise something else—namely, that it would be very easy to have enormous expenditure on this problem. I am sure that the wise thing will be for the Government to deal with the danger issues first and then to have a policy—and not only to have a policy but to have in preparation a plan—whereby"—and these are the words to which I would particularly draw the hon. Gentleman's attention—if there should come to this country in the future some increase in unemployment, preparations will be ready and work can immediately be begun."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 4th November, 1953, c. 101.]The implication in that statement seems to be that any question of a major road policy has to depend upon the volume of unemployment. If we are to have, as I believe the Government are committed to, a policy of full employment, it is obvious that any question of planning for the roads will be put off for a long time; or at least, if they are optimistic about future employment it will be put off for a long time, if the noble Lord's remarks really represent the Government view. I hope we shall hear that the Government have more in mind than merely the preparation of a plan which will be put into effect when there is further unemployment in the country.
I should like to refer to some of the figures that I have used in the Motion itself. There has been a tremendous growth in the proportion of goods carried 639 by road. It is estimated that 70 per cent. of all our inland transport of goods is by road. It is as well to look at the figures of road accidents. In 1952, possibly due to a vigorous approach to road safety problems and to propaganda, there was a decrease of 3.9 per cent. in the total casualties. That is very laudable and acceptable, but the alarming fact is that in the first nine months of this year there has been an increase of 8½ per cent. over the 1952 figures for the same period.
This is really terrifying. Already this year 3,601 people have been killed in nine months, and more than 165,000 injured. We have over 5,000 people killed each year on our roads. This is no matter for complacency. At this stage I can refer to the figures which have fortuitously come to light just at the moment, with reference to the Road Safety Week last month. These figures reveal that during that Safety Week, with propaganda going at full swing throughout the country, more people were killed than in the same period during the previous year. That is a very serious state of affairs. What worries me most is the atmosphere of complacency which exists—that this is something that we have to accept.
It is very interesting to compare these figures with those for the railways. We all know that if a railway accident of any sort occurs, even if only one or two people are killed, an inquiry is held, and there are headlines in the Press. But half a dozen people may be killed in an accident on the road, and that, for the most part, goes unnoticed. Largely because of the last serious accident on the railways the British Transport Commission are committed to spending some £17,300,000 on an automatic train control system. I had the good fortune to travel on a part of the railway where it was in operation experimentally, and it certainly seems to be very good. I believe that the spending of £17 million is justifiable, if it saves lives, no matter how few.
Comparing the figures for roads and railways, we find that more than 5,000 people are killed each year on the roads, whereas, on the railways, only 399 have been killed in 41 years. Yet the railways are spending £17 million on automatic train control, while, on the roads, there 640 has been an allowance, over a two-year period, of some £2½ million or £3 million to eliminate black spots. That is an additional amount, which was granted because of the terrific rate of road accidents.
Let us look at the vehicles involved. In 1939, there were 3,148,000 vehicles on the road. In 1953, that figure had risen by almost two thirds, and there are now about 5,210,000 vehicles. Offset against that is what we have spent on the roads. Total expenditure—not just Government expenditure—in 1939, was £65 million. In 1953, it was £80 million. If one transfers that £80 million to its real value—and I am indebted to the "Westminster Bank Review," which has done so—one finds that that sum is worth £32 million. When one examines the problem in the light of these figures one sees what a serious situation has developed.
Now I come to the problem so far as it concerns the road vehicle manufacturing industry. There are 300,000 people engaged in the manufacture of road vehicles, and they are all engaged in the manufacture of bigger and faster vehicles. We have to keep on building bigger and faster vehicles to maintain our place in the export market. It is no good saying that we can have a set of slower vehicles for the home market and keep the faster ones for the export market. It cannot be done. We have to keep pace. Therefore, these vehicles are going on the road in any case, and we have to look at the road system in conjunction with that fact.
There are 1½ million people engaged in the transport industry. The total amount spent on road transport is estimated to be about £1,500 million a year. That is a considerable figure. It is about 12½ per cent. of the total national income. What do we take out of the industry? In taxation, we take a total of about £300 million. The estimated amount for this year is £300,600,000. As a mere bagatelle, we take by way of Purchase Tax some £70 million. That makes a total of about £370 million, which is taken from the industry by way of taxation and Purchase Tax. I am not arguing about Purchase Tax, because that applies to various types of other goods. I could argue whether it should apply to commercial vehicles, but I do not propose to do so today. I merely refer to the fact that we take this £70 million in addition 641 to the £300 million which we take in taxation.
Another fact which is of vital importance, quite apart from the loss of life and limb, the injury, suffering and anxiety caused through road accidents, is that it is estimated—and some people may say that the figure should be less and others that it should be more—that the cost of road accidents at the present time is in the nature of £150 million a year. That is a dead loss. It does not return anything at all. There is the loss of earning capacity, the loss of workers, the loss of people's lives, and the throwing of their dependants upon charities and upon the State. There is no room for complacency in this.
I must now say something about the Government. I do not propose to say too much about them because this fact can be thrown at all Governments, over a long period of years. I do not want to say too much in an attack on Governments in general, because I should be an anarchist, but the position is that in the current year Government expenditure is just in excess of £34 million. That means that local authorities spend considerably more than the Government. The local authority expenditure is about £46 million, as against the £34 million Government expenditure, making the overall total of approximately £80 million, to which I have referred.
The accident figures show that it is very doubtful whether exhortation now has very much effect upon road accidents. That is an alarming fact in itself, which, having regard to our experience this year, we must appreciate. It is sometimes argued that what we should really do is to administer more shocks to the people. But there is a limit to the amount of shocks which one can administer, even on the question of road accidents. People become immune to shocks in due course, and they cannot be maintained.
That may be what is happening with regard to Road Safety Weeks. The effect may be wearing off. We must, therefore, look more seriously at the cause of accidents rather than the various forms of exhortation. All the responsible bodies concerned have agreed that better and newer roads will save lives. Experience has shown that where new road construction has taken place and black spots have been eliminated, there has been a 642 very remarkable reduction in the accident rate, particularly in the death rate.
That is a pointer to this question. I think a very notable contribution towards tackling this problem was the speech made by His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh at the opening of the Motor Show. He showed a very great understanding of the problem, and he was in no doubt at all as to the necessity of a proper road system as being of value in the reduction of road accidents.
I do not want to detain the House too long, but I want now to turn to the Report of sub-committee D of the Select Committee. All the bodies concerned appeared before it and gave evidence with regard to the need for greater expenditure on roads. We know that the Select Committee's job is, as far as possible, to reduce expenditure. That is its main aim and mission in life. Therefore, it would appear that it did not matter very much to the Committee what evidence was presented: it was quite satisfied that there was no evidence of serious deterioration in road conditions.
This is contrary to the responsible highway authorities and to the advice tendered by the Ministry. It is even contrary to the advice tendered by the Treasury, and when the Treasury is prepared to say that not enough money is being spent on the roads it is really time something was done. Yet the Committee decided there was no material evidence of serious deterioration. Perhaps the important word is "serious."
§ Mr. F. Blackburn (Stalybridge and Hyde)
I think the Select Committee said that it had no convincing evidence. It did not say that it had no evidence, but no convincing evidence.
§ Mr. Pargiter
"Convincing" evidence? It comes to the same thing. The responsible bodies all appeared and drew attention to this problem, and yet the Committee said that it had no convincing evidence. One must assume that a bridge must collapse, that the foundations of a road must completely give way, that there must be a disaster before the Committee is satisfied that the evidence is convincing that the roads have deteriorated. One can only assume that many of the Members of that Committee are non-road users, that they travel by other means, and, therefore, do not really know what is going on.
643 We must leave the Committee with its opinion, but I hope that the Minister is not going to hide himself behind the Report of the Select Committee, especially having regard to the evidence tendered from his own Department.
The evidence was convincing in more ways than one. It showed not only lack of expenditure, but also that the expenditure incurred was so small that it was likely to be abortive. In other words, we were putting thin carpets on roads requiring major reconstruction. Then what happens? Before long they are in as bad condition as before, and the expenditure incurred, the material and the labour involved, are really very largely wasted because sufficient money was not made available to do the job properly in the first instance, so that the road in improved condition would last 10, 15 or 20 years. That is another aspect of the matter which is of importance, and I hope the Minister will consider it.
What projects have we? Let us take London. No doubt, other hon. Members will want to deal with projects in other parts of the country, but I know something of the problems in and around London. For instance, consider the Cromwell Road. There it is, in a state of animated suspension. There are the Purfleet to Dartford Tunnel, the Great Cambridge Road, the Staines bypass and Western Avenue. Whichever way we go, north, south, east or west, we find the vast problem of the exits from London.
I am not suggesting that the exits should make the traffic faster at points where it converges on our towns. That is the last thing I want. I want the exit roads and the main arteries to go outside the towns, well away from them, so that the traffic may move reasonably swiftly.
Let us take another example which arises simply out of the lack of proper development planning that, I hope, will be rectified. I refer to the Kingston bypass. It has now got traffic lights; it has pedestrian crossings; it has bridges and it has subways. It has everything, and yet it is no longer a bypass. It is actually a link between the two sides of the built up area along the road, and it is entirely failing to fulfil the functions for which it was provided. It is not only the fault of the Ministry. Partly it is due to our failure to see that we have bypass roads 644 that are kept as such and for their purpose. In that connection, it seems to me that our development plans will be of considerable help.
Apart from the projects that are partly completed we need new projects, new traffic arteries. We want them through the Midlands and Lancashire. The Liverpool and East Lancashire Road, a major road completed in a congested area, shows what can be done with the expenditure of sufficient money. There is no doubt at all that that road, a connection between Liverpool and Manchester, has contributed very largely to the proper movement of traffic and has been of great importance in the reduction of road accidents in that area. It makes it all the more important that we should have more of such roads.
In arguing the case for better roads I do not want to see all our country lanes turned into motor roads. I think it would do all of us motorists good sometimes to stop our motor cars at the entrance to a country lane and walk along it. It would do us good to go on foot through the villages instead of tearing through them. We could then appreciate the beauties of our countryside better than the average motorist does at present. It is important that our villages should be adequately by-passed. That is an essential thing, because at present on too many of our roads and main traffic arteries there is no option but to go through the towns and villages.
We want roads to form main lines of communication around the towns with proper feeding points to the towns. Our present methods are death traps. Our main roads are intersected by all sorts of roads. In London, the North Circular Road is an example of how a major artery is cut across by main roads. Even the North Circular Road could in places be made better than it is at present by the expenditure of money on it.
There is the matter, which affects the Transport Commission, of the surfaces of roads over railway bridges. There has been a long-standing dispute between the highway authorities and the Commission, and with the Railway Executive before that. It has been going on since 1947, when the question of the surfacing of road surfaces over bridges was the subject 645 of a communication between the associations concerned. In 1947, agreements which had previously been in force were decided to be obviously long out of date. The highway authorities were doing repairs at a loss, and they said, "This is a problem for British Railways. We are not prepared to carry all these losses."
According to one association there has been prevarication and delay ever since then. If anyone drives along a good surface up to the point where it passes over a bridge, and then finds it is rough, let him not blame the highway authority. The real culprit is the Transport Commission, and possibly, in a lesser degree, the Ministry, through not insisting that the bodies concerned should get together and negotiate a proper agreement for the purpose of getting the work done.
My Motion refers to a long-term plan. I think the time has now come to put the long-term plan into operation. The development plans for the areas have now been completed. I hope that under them we shall not do again what we have done in the case of the Kingston bypass. I hope that we shall eliminate some of our main arteries so that they will become secondary roads carrying a large amount of traffic; but instead of having some of them as our main roads we should have completely new through-traffic arteries.
The question has been raised of the amount of labour and material which is required. But times have changed; we no longer need thousands of men with wheelbarrows and pickaxes to build new roads or make road improvements. Mechanisation, largely as a result of the war, has gone ahead by leaps and bounds, and we can do a mile of road with a comparatively small amount of labour at present. The foundations and the levelling and all that requires to be done can be performed with mechanical aid. The amount of labour required is, therefore, not the most serious problem. It may be argued that there is the problem of material. I am assured that at present there is adequate material for many of these major road improvements to be begun and for progress to be made with them, and I hope the Minister will not argue on the basis of a shortage of material. I am sure it is not a question of the availability of plant and materials.
We come to the question of financing this work. I submit this to the Parlia- 646 mentary Secretary for consideration: if we cannot get the money regularly in the form of an annual grant, which could be foreseen over a period of years—and it is necessary to be able to plan over a period of years—will he consider the possibility of making Treasury loans through the Public Works Loan Board to properly constituted authorities or, alternatively, financing the work as education capital development is financed? That is an annual expenditure, but it is fairly well planned and the position is fairly well known in advance. The money could be provided by Treasury bills for short periods. There are, indeed, many means which could be used if it is necessary to deal with this problem on a capital basis. There is, of course, a corollary: the amortisation would have to be a charge on the Road Fund.
I am not arguing that the whole of the Road Fund must be spent on the roads. I appreciate that a good deal of it has to go to the normal channels of taxation. What I am saying, and what everybody responsible for the work is saying, is that a larger proportion of the huge amount collected in taxation from road users ought to be returned to the roads in some way. If we cannot do it directly and if it must be in the form of the amortisation of loans so that we can get on with the work, then let us do it that way. The Treasury will still control and decide exactly what money will be issued in any case and they will keep a tight control of when the work is done.
Another alternative suggestion which I offer for the consideration of the Department—I believe it has been put to them—is that highway authorities are bedevilled by annual planning and the annual grant. Is it not possible for highway authorities to submit a three-year programme? If they did, they could plan their work very much better and do it more economically. They would know in advance what they would get from the Treasury, and that would lend itself much more readily to a proper system of road maintenance. At the moment, they prepare a scheme for road maintenance and development and get a communication from the Department telling them how much money they will get. Immediately they get busy and carve the plan about. That process has been going on for years.
647 The next thing is that they send a deputation to the Minister, who goes to the Treasury, who reluctantly yield another £500,000 or £1 million. Then the highway authorities have to go back and recast their plans because a little more money is to be made available to them. By the time the grant is known to them it is round about April or May. After the final intimation, they have to do some new planning, and that is a major cause why so many road schemes start, topsy-turvy, in the autumn or approaching winter. It is because they are not planned sufficiently far in advance.
Whatever is done about the grants, the announcement should be made some months in advance so that the highway authorities can start work on the word go, as soon as spring arrives. After all, it is more economical to do the work in fine weather when they do not have to pay men for standing about in the wet. It is better to plan the work so as to do the major part of it in the summer.
To give an opportunity to those hon. Members who have a good deal to say on this important problem I shall not detain the House for very much longer. There is an urgent need to apply vigour and imagination to the problem of our roads. We know the cost will be high but we know there will be great economy in transport as a result of taking action. The cost of this problem is added to every item in our production; it enters the cost of our food, homes, clothing and fuel. Transport enters into the cost of everything, and if we can cheapen it we shall cheapen the cost of living to a considerable extent. It would also assist in the national effort, because it would help the export trade. If we could move goods more cheaply we should be better able to compete with other countries. When we consider that a very high percentage of the cost of exports arises from transport, we see that if we can reduce that cost at any point it is vitally important to the nation that we should do so.
Above all, let us shake ourselves out of this complacent acceptance of loss of life, the biggest cause of which is undoubtedly already well-established, our antiquated and very inadequate road system.
§ 11.35 a.m.
§ Mr. Ernest Davies (Enfield, East)
I beg to second the Motion.
First, I want to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter) on the very convincing and moderate manner in which he has put forward a most important case for increased expenditure on the roads. He has framed his Motion in moderate terms and has avoided party propaganda in the hope that the Government will find themselves able to accept it and I hope the Parliamentary Secretary, in his new post, will have the very pleasant duty today of accepting a Motion from this side of the House on behalf of the Government. If so, that will be something rare from the Ministry of Transport.
I, too, shall refrain from introducing party propaganda, which normally brings a different note to our transport debates. What follows after the Parliamentary Secretary has spoken depends entirely on him, and thus I cannot speak for my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), who presumably will follow him.
This question of the necessity for greater expenditure on the roads to improve and extend the road system is one which confronts us irrespective of our present or past transport policies, irrespective of the ownership of the various forms of transport, which is normally a matter for controversy in the House. Further, the problem has become far too great and far too widespread to be tackled any longer on a piecemeal basis. Following debates which have taken place and pressure which has been exerted upon them the Government have made certain piecemeal contributions towards increasing expenditure—£2 million on eliminating black spots, £1 million increase in approved expenditure after the last debate in another place, and an increase of £1 million to be expended over two years in the Highlands.
But although all such increases are to be welcomed and any authorisation of any of the very many projected schemes would be equally desirable, the problem has passed the stage at which it can be tackled in that way. It has reached a point at which it is essential, as my hon. Friend pointed out, that there shall be a long-term road plan. That is not only because of the deterioration which has 649 taken place, but because of that fact it is not necessary to be a prophet to see how the problem will increase and become greater as time goes on.
The Road Research Laboratory states that we have at least 250,000 new motor vehicles coming on tothe roads each year, and that by 1960, compared with over 5 million motor vehicles on the roads today, there will be about 6½ million vehicles. We are confronted with this steady increase in the number of vehicles on the roads in the future, and it is quite obvious that something has to be done not only to raise the present standards, but to increase the availability of these arteries for the traffic which will flow along them.
I know that during this debate each one of us can put forward special claims for schemes in our constituencies, and I am sure that many hon. Members have the intention of doing so. I shall, therefore, make only one special plea for one of the arteries out of London to which reference has already been made and which passes through my constituency. The London-Cambridge trunk road will be known probably to all hon. Members here; it was built some years before the war as a single carriageway. At the same time land was acquired, levelled and prepared, for a dual carriageway, but work was stopped upon it, with the result that the road is congested, many accidents occur and the speed of traffic is slower but conditions less safe than would be the case had the work been completed.
Because work stopped on that road, money has had to be spent on palliatives—guard rails have been put up, at one or two intersections widening has taken place, at others, traffic lights have been erected, and so forth. There has been a steady expenditure of money upon that road, which would, in the aggregate, have contributed substantially to the construction of the dual carriageway and present traffic difficulties and tragic accidents avoided.
It is essential, in my view, that a long-term national road plan be prepared, with priorities as to the types of work which would be undertaken and the major schemes which would require to be carried through. Because capital investment would be limited in any case, we must have priorities, but we must prepare for the future use of the roads, as well 650 as for improvement of the present situation.
Since the war, this country has made great strides in economic, industrial and social development, but, at the same time, while we have been increasing our production and generally increasing the social standards of the community, the roads have actually deteriorated. There has been no corresponding effort to improve the road system to cater for the increased production, to serve industry, trade and agriculture and the travelling public.
Furthermore, the consequence is that there is today a lack of relationship between one form of social development and another. We are building new towns, we are bringing new industries to the development areas, and we are engaged in town and country planning, yet the road system has not been adjusted, expanded or improved to meet these new social amenities which have been created. The new towns bring in not only the question of roads but of railway communications and other forms of transport, each of which is inter-related.
If we take the case of Harlow, we find a lot of the traffic flowing to London in the Harlow direction on the Liverpool Street-Cambridge line comes on to the roads because of the inadequency of that unelectrified service, particularly in the northern part of the Greater London area.
We have to look at transport as a whole and make a long-term plan for capital investment. In doing so, we have to take into account that in some forms of transport unquestionably there are excessive facilities and in other forms they are inadequate. The excessive facilities have arisen, of course, through the changing location of industry, through its changing transport needs and those of trade and agriculture and the public.
It seems to me that this problem can only be tackled in two ways. One is to make the roads adequate to serve the needs of trade and industry and to take all the traffic which requires to run upon them. The alternative is one which is unpleasant to face, and that is that the roads will become inadequate for the traffic and then there will have to be restrictions on their use. Admittedly, to make the roads adequate to the needs of today takes time and money and the 651 total capital necessary is not at present available because of past neglect. If action is not taken, I fear that it will be found essential to restrict the use of the roads in some measure because of the great congestion that arises, because of the delays which take place and because of the great danger to the public using the highways.
It may well be that we shall be driven, in these circumstances, first to ban private parking within certain congested areas or even to ban the entry of private cars into these areas, as is done in some of the American cities. No one would advocate that as yet, but we may be driven to take that step. Secondly, it may be necessary to impose a far more restrictive licensing system than we have today in order to reduce the number of vehicles on the roads. The class of users which might suffer most under any such restrictions, and which any Government might be forced to bring in, would, naturally, be the ancillary users—the present C licence holders.
The third possibility, which, I think, is something which should in any case be tackled more seriously than it is at present, is the question of staggering hours of work. The peak period of traffic is becoming concentrated in to an even shorter period than it was before the war. All who travel about London at the peak period, and in some other large urban areas, know this only too well. The shorter hours of work are now very similar in many industries and offices and this means that here in London, particularly between five and six, travelling by bus or tube is by no means a pleasure. At the same time, transport costs rise as facilities must be provided at the peak period.
If there is no voluntary staggering of the hours of work—that is, varying the time of the start and the hour of ending work in offices and in industry, in the worst affected areas—I can see the time coming when it will be necessary to introduce compulsory staggering at Government instigation. Again, it is far better if this can be avoided by an adequate road policy. If the roads are not made adequate, then I fear that restrictions of this type will be forced upon us.
The cost of making the roads adequate is tremendous, but other countries have 652 found it possible since the war to expend far more of their national income and far more of their resources upon improving and extending their road systems than we have. We have stated—and, here, again I agree with my hon. Friend—that it is not one Government which is responsible. This goes back to the economic retrenchment of 1946. At first, we had shortage of materials, then economic and financial crises, and it has always been road expenditure which has been cut down. It is not a question of being unable to afford the money, but of being unable to afford the neglect from which the road system is suffering.
As I have stated, other countries have spent far more than we have. Before the war, we were, comparatively speaking, spending a high percentage of our national income on the roads. The sum of £3 5s. 3d. per £1,000 of the national income was spent on the roads, compared with only 7s. 4d. in 1952. That is a terrific drop. These figures were given by a speaker for the Ministry. Other countries seem to be able to afford to spend more, though the population of Britain is more dense than in any other European country except Belgium, and the traffic on our roads is denser than in any other country in the world.
In 1950, which is the latest year for which comparable figures are available—the current figures, I understand, are not dissimilar—whereas in the United Kingdom £1 0s.l0d. per head of the population was spent on roads, Sweden was able to spend nearly three times as much—£2 19s. 4d.; Norway, two and a half times as much—£2 13s. 0d.; Finland, more than twice as much; France, half as much again—£1 11s. 0d.; and Belgium, £1 3s. 9d. per head of the population on its road system.
It is not relevant to argue that in some of those countries, because of weather conditions, for instance, the cost of maintenance may be greater than here, because if the figures are broken down it is found that the bulk of the money spent in this country in 1950 was applied to maintenance and not to construction or improvement; 90 per cent. of the expenditure was on maintenance, and only 5 per cent. on new construction and 5 per cent. on improvements, whereas in all the other countries to which I have referred 653 the proportions were different, with France, for instance, spending 26 per cent. on, construction, 18 per cent. on improvements and 56 per cent. on maintenance. Incidentally, in all those countries, except France, petrol costs less, and, therefore, in the collection of this form of taxation to obtain money for expenditure on the roads the motor user is not prejudiced in the same way as in this country.
How are we to finance this huge expenditure? I agree with my hon. Friend that we must look for other means of financing than out of current expenditure "above the line" in the Budget. We must consider whether we cannot go "below the line" in the Budget, because a great deal of this work is capital investment.
The Road Fund has become a farce and is today quite meaningless. When it was originally devised it was a fair device—for far too short a time, as it happened—for ensuring that the taxation taken from the road user was used to improve the transport system which he used. But the Road Fund is now merely a matter of bookkeeping, and motor taxation is quite unrelated to road expenditure. Because motor taxation is today so high, it has become indispensable to the national revenue and, as a consequence, cannot all be devoted to road expenditure.
It is another matter to argue that it is far too high and should be reduced because of its effect on the cost of living, transport charges, and so on; but as far as its relationship to the roads is concerned, it has none today. It seems to the motor vehicle user and the trader that the road user is an easy prey to taxation and an easy victim for the Chancellor; he is, alas, accessible carrion to the Treasury vultures. He has definitely been discriminated against, and this discrimination should come to an end.
It is no use urging reduction of motor vehicle taxation at the same time as we advocate far more expenditure on the roads. I suggest, however, that it would be possible to bring some meaning back to the Road Fund, which could be done through the suggestion of creating a road charge for servicing purposes, interest and amortisation on the Road Fund. In other words, the Treasury would guarantee paying to the Road Fund 654 sufficient to meet the servicing charges of the road level. I do not necessarily put that forward as the best way of financing, but that suggestion and others have been put forward for making road expenditure, to the extent that it is capital investment, come out of capital, to be financed in the normal way in which capital expenditure is financed. The time has come for the Government to give serious consideration to this possibility.
I hope that the Government can give an assurance today regarding increased road expenditure an indication that they accept the urgency of this matter to the safety of the community, to production and to economy. I hope they will say that they are considering this as a matter which ranks for priority in increased expenditure so that the road system not only can be maintained and maintenance arrears overtaken, but that it can be improved and extended to meet the needs of modern industry and be brought up to date better to serve the community.
The minimum requirements are those which my hon. Friend has put forward in his Motion. First, there should be increased expenditure to ensure adequate maintenance and the overtaking of arrears, and this should be planned in accordance with need and not in accordance with what the Treasury decide is available. I regret very much that the Treasury found it necessary to reject the proposal of the Select Committee on Estimates that a better means should be devised of assessing the needs of road expenditure and the adjustment of grants to that need. The Treasury brushed that proposal aside as being something which it could not do. According to the Treasury there are too many separate highway authorities and the difficulties are too great to allow of a better means of assessing the need than exists today.
The second requirement is the completion of partially constructed works where, in many cases, capital is lying idle and maintenance charges are being incurred which yield no return. Thirdly, the Government should formulate a long-term plan for capital investment in transport as a whole, and particularly on the roads, which have a fair claim to priority in view of the way that capital investment has been denied to them ever since 655 the war. Finally, serious consideration should be given to the possibility of alternative means of financing the necessary capital expenditure.
If the Government fail to carry out some such programme as this, industry, trade, and the community will suffer, and the Government will have to consider alternative means of reducing the dangers of the roads and minimising congestion which may well not be welcome to any section of the community. I therefore hope that it is going to be possible for the Government to accept this Motion today, and proceed with an adequate road policy.
§ 12 noon
§ Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)
I crave your indulgence, Mr. Speaker, and the indulgence of hon. Members for this maiden speech. If it is not presumptuous for me, I should like to express the appreciation of all hon. Members to the hon. Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter), who proposed the Motion, and the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies), who seconded it, for the very moderate manner and the reasonable and reasoned arguments which they put forward in its support.
I wish to confine my remarks to that part of the Motion which relates to road accidents and to the state of the roads at present and which, therefore, relates road safety to road improvements. I would say at once that I am not convinced that road improvements, as they are generally known—improvements which would increase the convenience and the speed of traffic—are necessarily improvements which would increase safety.
Before developing the contrary argument to that, may I refer to two points in the Motion, which I do not think further the case put forward by the hon. Member for Southall. The first point was that 70 per cent. of goods traffic now use the roads. That seems to me a very sound argument for spending money on some other form of transport system. In this country we have a highly developed system of railways, and if money could be spent on them to attract at least a large part of that 70 per cent. of goods transport which is using the roads, then it might be money well spent from the point of view of the safety of our roads.
656 The second point which I do not think furthers the hon. Member's case is the statement that expenditure on the roads is only one-tenth of the proceeds of transport taxation. I was glad he did not use the argument that is so frequently used, that Purchase Tax on motor vehicles must be added in order to judge what the motoring public pays. That argument has always seemed to me rather like saying that Purchase Tax on mink coats must be used in order to improve the breeding of minks.
The argument that motor fuel tax should be used solely for the motoring public is also as fallacious. It is a national revenue, and one might as well say that the tobacco tax should be used to improve pipes and cigarettes. The real comparison is the £33 million spent on roads out of the Road Fund, and the £65 million collected by motor vehicle taxation for the Road Fund. That, as the hon. Member for Southall has said, is not the whole story, because there is some £50 million or so collected from the ratepayers.
If the motoring public are saying that all the money collected from them must be spent on the roads, then the general body of ratepayers have a strong argument in pointing to the £50 million collected from them for the use of the roads. I do not think that the argument about the volume of traffic on the roads, nor that about the expenditure of the money collected from the motoring public furthers the case for more expenditure on the roads. That does not mean that the case is not a good one for the expenditure of more money on the roads. It is undoubtedly a good one, provided that the money is spent in a proper way and that proper priorities are considered.
That brings me to my main point. I understand that the present policy of Her Majesty's Government is to expend any extra grants on curing black spots and trying to remedy those places where accidents have occurred and where there is an obvious danger. I urge that policy to be continued as a matter of priority, and that absolute priority should be given to eliminate the danger spots. If that is done I can see no justification for improvements to the roads, which merely increase the speed or convenience of motor traffic. I am not 657 impressed by the argument so frequently put forward that the autobahnen in Germany reduce accidents by 80 per cent. That, in fact, was a misreading of the evidence which was before the Select Committee. That evidence was that accidents on the autobahnen were 17 per cent. of the motoring miles as compared with the accidents on the old State roads in Germany. It was not a reduction of 80 per cent. in the accident total.
What is impressive about the autobahnen in Germany is that it was necessary to place a speed limit on them, and that was done because of the frighteningly high rate of accidents. The same has happened with the super-highways in America. In the case of the Pennsylvanian Turnpike it was necessary even to reduce the speed limit which was placed on that road, and on the Jersey Turnpike, which is described as America's most modern super-highway, a speed limit has been necessary.
Coming nearer home I should like to refer to the arterial roads in or around London, to which the hon. Member for Southall has referred. Here the same principle applies. I suppose it would be considered that roads like the Great West Road and the North Circular Road are improvements as compared with the older, more congested and narrow roads through the suburbs. But it is questionable whether they are safer for all road users. In fact, the arterial roads through built-up areas which are de-restricted are those roads on which the accident rate is at present terrifyingly high.
As a result, safety measures have had to be introduced on them, which have had the effort of impeding traffic and as such they would not be considered by some as road improvements. Two improvements come to mind at once. One is the Medway Parade at Ealing on the Great West Road, where over a period of 2½ years 32 people were injured, and four of that number were fatalities. Only after loss of life and limb, and after public demonstrations by protest marches up and down the road were traffic lights with press button installed. The result has been extremely gratifying. The accidents since then have merely been minor ones of one vehicle bumping into the back of another as they stop at the lights, which perhaps is salutary.
658 The other and more recent example was on the North Circular Road at Willesden, where again, after a number of fatalities and a public demonstration of protest marches up and down the road, three sets of press button lights have been installed. They have not been installed for long, so one cannot give figures, but by an inspection of the road, it is easy tosee it has thereby been made much safer. It is regrettable that lives have to be lost and that this undignified method of protest march has to be adopted before these improved roads can be made safe. I make this as no party point because, in the case of the Medway Parade, it was the previous administration which was, so to speak, bullied into providing the safety measure by the protest march. In the other case of the North Circular Road it was this administration.
The conclusion which I want hon. Members to draw from this is that improvements, as they are usually known, do not increase safety but make it all the more necessary to intensify safety measures. It is unfortunate from the point of view of improvements for the convenience and safety of traffic that, if we increase speed, we increase accidents and that if we reduce speed, we reduce accidents. It is unfortunate from the economic point of view, but it is perfectly true. Therefore, if there are to be improvements to surface, width and straightness of roads, we must be prepared to submit to greater safety and disciplinary devices.
And not only on the improved roads. Hon. Members will know from personal experience the tendency, when one has been driving along a good road and approaches a built up area or a town, not to reduce speed to the level which is necessary for safety through that built up area. Two good examples come to mind, Markyate on the Watling Street and Great Missenden in Bucks. Both are cases of villages with very narrow streets tortured by immense industrial traffic and approached by good roads either side. The traffic does not slacken pace sufficiently as it passes through those built up areas because of the speed encouraged on either side.
While, therefore, I am not obstructing the expenditure of more money on the roads, I want it to be realised that 659 improvements which increase maximum speed make it all the more necessary to intensify the safety devices, not only on those roads, not only the adjoining roads in built up areas, but also by impressing upon the drivers a higher standard of driving and of vehicles. If we are to have better roads, we must at the same time have better drivers and better vehicles. If there is to be greater expenditure on the roads, it must be coupled with severe treatment of the bad driver and of the defective vehicle. Get them both off the road, the one by suspension of licence and the other by confiscation of the vehicle.
This conflict between convenience and safety goes to the root of our administration of the roads in this country. By its very name the Ministry of Transport is concerned mainly, and should be concerned mainly, with providing an economically efficient transport system. That may be quite contrary to a safe transport system; that is to say, safety may be sacrificed to motor traffic convenience.
I have often felt that the admirable Road Safety Committee of the Ministry of Transport might do much better work if it were independent of that Ministry. After all, road safety is not a matter only for the Ministry of Transport—the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, and the Home Office are all concerned with road safety. If that Road Safety Committee were a more independent body, perhaps advice could be sought from it and given by it to other Ministries.
If the long-term plan proposed by the hon. Member for Southall could be placed before an independent committee of that type, advice could be given purely from the point of view of road safety. If that advice were given, I am sure it would be something on these lines: that since 78 per cent. of all accidents occur in built-up areas, let us concentrate first on those built-up areas and on the black spots in those areas upon this principle, first to keep the traffic flow steady at a moderate and uniform rate and, secondly, to make suitable provision for pedestrians.
The first aim of keeping the traffic flow steady at a uniform rate can be achieved 660 by improvements to road junctions. I am thinking more of the road junctions in the centre and using London as an example. Ludgate Circus, the Elephant and Castle, Knightsbridge and Hammersmith Broadway are all places in which there could be great improvement in increasing the steady flow of traffic. The aim could also be achieved by removing bottlenecks, one of which that comes to mind at once is at the end of the Strand. I have used London examples, but no doubt hon. Members have many in their own constituencies. The second aim is to provide for the pedestrians and I am not thinking so much of the crossings as the provision of refuges and the widening of pavements, if necessary by cutting back the frontages into arcades, where pedestrians in busy shopping areas are forced into the road, thereby impeding the traffic and increasing the danger to themselves.
I hope the Government will be able to accept this Motion. I express this hope, not because I want to see motor ways take the place of the railways, but because I want to see an end of this tragic loss of life by delay in the installation of road safety devices, a delay which is caused by the lack of funds and perhaps by proper considerations of economy on the part of the Ministry. It is false economy, because if the figure given by the hon. Gentleman of £150 million lost on road accidents a year is right, then £100,000 was lost on the Medway Parade before a comparatively small sum was spent on the installation of traffic lights there.
If this long-term plan is adopted, the Ministry might be set fairly free to instal such safety measures and end the procrastination in the installation of its life saving devices. So I join with the hon. Member for Southall in pleading with the Government to accept this Motion and to go further than the escape phrase of "giving consideration" and to lay down priorities. These are the priorities for which I ask: first, to eliminate the black spots, and as these black spots are mainly in the built-up areas, and as 78 per cent. of the accidents occur in built-up areas, to concentrate the work there first. Then, when possible, we should construct and improve roads outside the built-up areas, and finally realise that it will be necessary to intensify safety precautions both on 661 those roads and adjoining roads and in connection with the drivers and vehicles. I am indeed most grateful to the House for so patiently listening to this first speech of mine.
§ 12.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Goronwy Roberts (Caernarvon)
I am indeed glad to be called at this juncture, because I deem it a real privilege to follow the Hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) and, on behalf of all hon. Members, to congratulate him most warmly on the success of his first speech in this assembly. I am sure that we must all feel that it was a contribution of unusual spirit and originality for a maiden speech. The vast majority of hon. Members prefer in their maiden speeches to cross the road of argument by the non-controversial subway, but I thought that I saw the hon. Member darting in and out of the traffic once or twice. As a Welshman, I must confess that I have a deep regard for people who occasionally cross the road against the lights.
I believe that in a debate on roads in which so many hon. Members will want to speak, particularly after the very able opening speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Southall, one ought to try to take as many short cuts as possible. Our difficulty in Wales—and we must hear about the problems of Wales this morning—is that we have so few short cuts. The Principality is the worst served area, in the matter of communications, both internal and external, in the whole of the United Kingdom. I want to touch on one or two of the worst examples and to press upon the Government, I am sure with the support of all reasonably minded Members of this House, for afresh look at the problem.
One of our external problems is how to secure proper communication between the new manufacturing industries of South Wales and the Midlands. My South Wales colleagues tell me that the position is rapidly arising where the development area of South Wales is becoming bottled up and, of course, the keynote of that problem is the Severn Bridge. I see that my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), a former Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport, is present and I look forward to hearing his contribution. I hope that with his special knowledge of the problem he will press the matter of 662 the Severn Bridge again today. It would be a major contribution to the enlargement of our export industries from the Midlands through the South Wales ports, which are closest to the dollar market, and it would also contribute to the economic security of new industries in this traditionally depressed area.
Within South Wales there are points of extraordinary difficulty about communications. I give one example of a level crossing in Port Talbot through which the terrific traffic of men and merchandise between Cardiff and the West and back again must flow. I am told that this one level crossing, the only outlet between Cardiff and Fishguard along that densely populated line of country, is closed for an average of three hours out of every 24. Obviously, an internal bottleneck of that sort needs urgent consideration. At the moment that kind of thing militates very greatly against our economic development.
A rather similar case to that of Port Talbot, and not a constituency point because it happens to be outside my constituency, is the bottleneck of the Conway Bridge in North Wales. The hon. Member for Crosby knows that a very large number of his constituents travel to my constituency to spend their holidays, but they must first get through two serious bottlenecks. They are bottlenecks to which my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White) has many times called the attention of the House, namely Queensferry Bridge and the Conway Bridge.
These two are right in the course of the North Wales trunk road, and at the moment I am informed by people in Conway that the outlook there is really serious. The Minister very kindly came to see the bridge the other day. He was most sympathetic but we still do not know exactly what he proposes to do. I press the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, when he replies, to hold out some measure of immediate hope both to the people who live in the vicinity of that bridge and the people who have to use it.
A tremendous amount of traffic goes along that road. The bridge is only 10 feet wide and is now restricted to one way traffic. Loads must be regulated and reduced and there is a limit of 5 m.p.h. on this main artery. Many firms are diverting their loads at great cost to 663 themselves and to the public for a distance of eight or 10 miles. The loads include foodstuffs, as we are major producers of meat and milk in that part of Wales, and indeed Lancashire and the general Merseyside area are some of our best customers.
I now turn briefly to a rather different point. This too affects us in Wales but it also has application to any rural county in the Kingdom. It is the problem of road improvement in rural areas, and particularly in connection with hill farming schemes. I am not aware that the difficulty which I propose to raise has been put to the House before, and I want the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to help us. I have in my possession a copy of are port by the county surveyors of some five mid-Wales counties, but the point raised in that report applies to all counties which have hill farms. I should like the Minister to accept this copy of the report and study it. I think he will find it extremely interesting.
In particular, I would ask the hon. Gentleman to consider the following. Paragraph (4) of the First Schedule of the Hill Farming Act specifies the making or improvement of roads or bridges as works which may be included in hill farming schemes for grant purposes. I have helped to prepare a great many of these for constituents. So far as it goes, paragraph (4) of the First Schedule operates quite well, but up to now the Act has been interpreted as precluding making of grants under the Act for the repair of public highways. This interpretation has been carried a stage further by Section (4) of the Livestock Rearing Act, 1951, which governs the making of grants for the provision of certain categories of roads and cattle grids.
Many hill farming schemes cannot be effective unless work is done on the county road approaches. I am not talking of access roads, but county roads approaching the farms concerned. My hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Kenyon), himself a practising farmer, is familiar with marginal and hill fanning problems, but in his county this question is by no means as pressing as in many parts of Wales and Scotland. At the moment, the Ministry of Agriculture are requesting county councils to give an undertaking that if a hill farming 664 scheme is approved the county council shall improve the road within a year or so. Under present circumstances such assurance cannot be given because the money for unclassified roads must be given for roads having a higher traffic value.
Is this interpretation of the Act valid? Is it not possible to include within the operation of the grants scheme, the rehabilitation, not simply of access roads within farming land, but actually unclassified roads, or what one might even call county council highways? This clearly is a very important point as it obviously has a bearing not only on food production as such and on the cartage of feeding stuffs, stock and coal, but also on the entire problem of rural depopulation. I make an appeal to the Parliamentary Secretary to consult the Minister of Agriculture to see whether this real problem of nearby roads can be considered. I do not think it would amount to a vast sum of money in any given period, but an immense amount of good could be done for a relatively small expenditure.
I have only touched on a small number of problems which affect the Principality. There are a great many other points which I and other hon. Members would like to raise, but I put it to the House that it is completely impossible adequately to deal with the road problem in the Principality, or with any other subject affecting it, in these conditions of having a general debate on the road and traffic problems of the entire United Kingdom. My parting remark is that the real solution to the problem of internal communications in Wales—this means roads, railways and air services, for we have not any air service, which in itself is a problem—is to devolve on Wales the finance and authority needed to deal with the subject on its own.
§ 12.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Higgs (Bromsgrove)
The hon. Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter) is to be congratulated, first, because his was the first name drawn in the Ballot for Private Members' Motions this Session, and, secondly, because he selected a subject which I and, I think, many hon. Members will say at the end of the Session was the most important choice by Private Members during the whole Session.
665 The complexity of the subject has been very well illustrated by the last two speeches. In an excellent maidenspeech my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) avoided party controversy with great delicacy without shirking the otherwise controversial parts of the subject. He made out what sounded a perfectly good case for saying that the greater part of expenditure on the roads ought to be within the built-up areas. Immediately following came the almost equally convincing case by the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. G. Roberts) for the expenditure of at least a substantial part of what is available on rural roads. I shall not attempt to interfere between Lancashire and Wales—[An Hon. Member: "And Worcestershire?"]—I shall mention Worcestershire, but I hope that we can look at the problem as a whole.
I do not propose to take up the time of the House in saying what I have already said—that we have to do something about this problem. On the ground of saving life and limb, on the ground of increased productivity, on the ground of keeping down cost, on the ground of the tourist trade, the pleasure and health of our population and what is due to the motor driver in the contribution he makes in taxation, I take it that that case has been made out. The only reason for difficulty about granting what is asked now is that in the years of post-war planning, for which we all share responsibility, other forms of social expenditure were over-emphasised in comparison with this form, which has become a "Cinderella." We should not be in this difficulty today if speeches made today had been made in 1943, 1944, 1946 and 1948.
We have heard today and on other occasions that the building of new roads does not of itself reduce accidents. I have been fortunate enough to come across one or two statistics relating to that matter, which may be of interest to the House. The first is the result of some research carried out in the United States and presented to the President's Highway Safety Conference recently. It shows that where there are the equivalent in America of our old-fashioned main roads of a 20-foot roadway with a single white line in the middle, the rate of deaths per 100 million vehicle miles is about seven. Where the same road is widened and the numbers of traffic lanes 666 increased by providing more white lines but a dual carriage way is not provided, the rate of death goes up from seven to nearly 10 per 100 million vehicle miles. When one goes the whole way and provides a dual carriageway physically divided, not by a white line, but by an island down the middle, then down goes the death rate per 100 million vehicle miles to less than two.
That, to me, is a very interesting statistic, because the difference is sufficiently marked to allow for all the errors there must be in estimating things like vehicle miles. Further, it shows that this is a problem which does not stand tinkering with. It is no good setting back the curves and widening roads a couple of feet here and there. The only solution is to go the whole way and try, as far as possible, to attract the real volume of traffic, such as that mentioned by the hon. Gentleman opposite, between Birmingham and South Wales—and that is why I mentioned Worcestershire because it goes through there—on to one road, and to make that road a good one.
That seems to me to be one lesson which we have learned from statistics of that sort. If another statistic is wanted, I would recommend hon. Members to compare the rate at which deaths and injuries increased in the 10 years before the war, when some work was being done on road construction and improvement and when the rate of vehicle miles—as represented, for instance, by petrol consumption—increased more rapidly than the deaths and injuries, with the rate over the last 10 years during which time there has been an increase in vehicle miles but virtually no road construction of improvement, when they will find that accidents increased in a much higher proportion than in the pre-war period.
I assume that people recognise that something has to be done about this problem, and for a few minutes I want to discuss the practical consequences which flow from such a decision. First, I would point out that, even if my hon. Friend were able to say that we are to spend £100 million on roads and that the order for doing so was to be given this week end, it would still be two or three years before any improvement was seen in road safety or productivity.
In those three years at least 15,000 people who are alive today would be 667 killed in motor accidents, and 600,000 others injured. Consequently, it is of vital importance, not only that we should impress upon the Government the need that exists today, but also that although they are unable or unwilling to do anything at the moment, they should make the necessary preparations, so that when they are able to start the work will come to fruition quickly.
I propose to ask a series of questions to that end. The question of priorities has been mentioned. I wonder whether that question has really been settled. It is a question which has, of course, to be settled at two levels—at the Governmental level and at the highway authority level. Again, when the money is available, is it to be spent on maintenance or on improvement? The arguments which I have already put forward lead me to say that it should be spent on improvement.
There is another reason for my saying that. I frequently travel between this House and Worcestershire. Between Stratford and Banbury I travel on a road which has a surface like a billiard table, but the corners are as blind as ever they were. Owing to the wonderful surface, there is a temptation to go faster, only to find that the corners which used not to be very sharp are now quite sharp. That in itself is dangerous.
We have reached the stage when at the present rate of maintenance a Class 1 road will only be resurfaced every 20 years, a Class 2 road every 118 years, and a Class 3 road every 2,000 years.
§ Mr. Higgs
I hope to live to see those arrears caught up. Nevertheless, in comparison with road improvement, I think that maintenance ought to take a lower proportion of the money available.
What about the plans for individual projects? Have they been drawn up, and is every highway authority and county council able to produce straight away a plan which has been thoroughly thrashed out and which could, if necessary, be put out to tender? Have they got that far? Have they all the help they need from Government Departments to make those plans as modern as possible? There has been considerable pressure, and very 668 rightly so, to reduce the amount of land occupied by a new road. Has it been decided whether the dividing islands shall be 15 or 20 feet wide, whether there shall be pavements and cycle tracks, and wide grass verges as well?
Have those questions been considered? In urban areas, particularly, have the standard widths all been laid down and finally settled so that local authorities when they have the opportunity to acquire property needed for road widening, and so on, may know the width to which they have to go? Has it been decided whether the high street has to be widened or if there is to be a bypass, so that even if the work cannot go ahead at the moment all the necessary preparations can be made in advance in order that the work can go ahead quickly when the time comes?
Another very important preparation that can be made is, of course, in the matter of research. All hon. Members who give thought to this problem are familiar with what goes on in the Road Research Laboratory and study what comes out of it with great interest. Is that Laboratory and the work it does both inside and out hampered in any way by lack of funds? One thing is certain and that is that when we come to do these roads—after all the effort it will have taken to get them—we must see that they are the best that can be produced and that they will not go out of date 10 years later. This is especially necessary if their cost is financed on some long-term capital basis.
Our statistics begin with the local policeman who goes to the scene of the accident, but he has a lot of other work to do apart from compiling statistics. In any case, such statistics cannot be entirely dependable. Does our road research include, what is done in the case of every other form of transport, a really careful inquiry into an accident? Should we not take a cross-section of accidents of different kinds and get someone, who understands these matters from all angles, to get right to the bottom of their causes? If such a cross-section were taken of 200 or 300 accidents are there not lessons to be learnt in that way which could not be learned from pure statistics, lessons which would guide us when we come to construct new roads and improve existing ones?
669 When the time comes when we are able to go ahead, shall we find the technicians with requisite experience. I wonder what proportion of our top road designers or of the clerks of works who actually supervise the job, now available and employed, have ever seen a new major road built at all? I know of at least one county council which is anxious on that point. When such authorities are given the permission and the resources to go ahead, have they the technical staff to see that the work is carried out?
We have to remember, too, that the beginning will have to be a gradual one. If our technicians are to be increased in number and in experience, the beginning must be a gradual one, and I believe this to be the strongest point in the case for a beginning, however small, being made now. If we could begin now a few stretches of, perhaps, only one of the major new motor ways that are planned, at least we should have some technicians in training, we should be finding out how existing paper plans look, and we should be getting experience in the use of post-war machinery and all the other things about which we shall have to learn when we start again.
Incidentally, it is worth notice that if a small experimental length like that were to include a bridge or two it might be no bad thing, because we used to have virtually a world monopoly in the building of bridges and I cannot dissociate the fact that we are losing contracts of that sort from the fact that we are building no bridges at all at home.
I have mentioned machinery. Where is the heavy road making machinery that was in use when operations ceased in 1939? In what sort of condition is that machinery likely to be in 1954–55? I hope that my right hon. Friend and his Department have given some thought to this question. I believe it is inevitable that the most efficient road making machinery will now have to come from abroad, not because we, ourselves, are unable to make it but because other people, in America and Germany for instance, where roads are being made, are gaining their experience, while our manufacturers have not the same opportunity.
In any event, the machines which are needed these days are large, complicated, expensive machines which must not be 670 expected to appear overnight when suddenly there is some unemployment, as has been suggested, or when, in the end, the toll of accidents persuades us that something must be done. The whole road making machinery industry, the quarrying industry which gets the stone which is part of the raw material, the organisations of highway authorities, all need a planned phase for beginning gradually and increasing until the work is in full swing.
I do not know how many people will have to be killed upon the roads in a week, or a year, before we realise that it is not enough to talk in platitudes, that we have really to lay such a plan before the people that they will see that this House of Commons, and the Government over which it exercises, I hope, some small control, realise that 5,000 deaths and 200,000 injuries on the roads in a year is something which cannot be ignored.
§ 12.55 p.m.
§ Mr. A. J. Irvine (Liverpool, Edge Hill)
This has been an interesting debate, and I should like to add my tribute to the maiden speech of the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) who, in a Parliamentary sense, is a close neighbour of my own. I was, for that reason, particularly interested to hear his speech.
I am glad to intervene in this debate because reference has been made to the Report of the Select Committee on Estimates, and to a particular paragraph in that Report. I had the honour to serve upon the sub-committee of that Committee which heard the evidence. My hon. Friend the Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter) made reference to the Report, and I think it really is very important that the opportunity should be taken, as early as possible, to get it clearly on the record that it is all too easy to entertain misapprehensions about what is in this Report, and to read into it a good deal that is not there.
I agree with nearly everything that the hon. Member for Southall said upon this subject, but I got the impression that he was, perhaps, under a misapprehension as to the effect of this Report, and I have reason to believe that that misapprehension is fairly widely held outside this House. The passage in the Report, to 671 which a good deal of attention has been given, stated:…Your Committee are bound to record the fact that they have received no convincing evidence of such deterioration of the roads, consequent upon the restriction of expenditure upon maintenance, as would constitute anappreciable danger to road users or a serious threat to the preservation of the value of the roads as a national asset.My hon. Friend the Member for Southall made the point, which I, too, would make in this connection, that, of course, anyone who reads this Report, which has been widely read outside this House and no doubt inside it too, must bear in mind the purpose and functions of this Committee. It is a Committee whose purpose and function is to investigate the Estimates and to make a report as to any possible economies, within the limits laid down by existing policy. It would be quite outside the function and duty of the Committee to make any recommendation for greater expenditure upon the roads, no matter how much the members of the Committee mightfeel, as many members of this Committee did, that such greater expenditure was urgently necessary.
To look round for economies, in this of all fields, is a thankless and rather unpopular, but none the less necessary, task, but that was the purpose of this investigation. As a matter of fact, running throughout the evidence which we heard on that sub-committee, there was the proposition that expenditure on roads and highways, because of the economic stringencies of our present situation, was far less than was desirable, and far less than it should be. That was recognised by all. It was spoken to by witnesses and recognised by the Committee. But it is very important to get on the record, so that it will be understood in quarters where otherwise it might not be understood, that the purpose and duty of this Committee was to concentrate upon seeking economies, and that it would have been entirely outside its function to recommend an increase in expenditure under any head however desirable they might think it.
§ Mr. Ivor Owen Thomas (The Wrekin)
Is my hon. Friend quite correct on that point? Surely the real function of a Committee of this kind is not merely to save money but to seek to ensure, as far 672 as possible, wise expenditure, especially in the field of necessary social services.
§ Mr. Irvine
I am obliged for that intervention because it gives me the opportunity of underlining what I have said. The Select Committee is appointed, in the words used in this Report, to examine the accounts put before them, and to report on what, if any, economies consistent with the policies implied in those Estimates may be effected therein. I think my hon. Friend will agree that that entirely bears out what I have said. My hon. Friend's intervention is valuable, if I may say so, for bringing out once again a misapprehension which is widely held, and is evidently held by my hon. Friend. There is a direct requirement to apply our minds to the matter of economies.
The second point I desire to make about this Report is this. We have said that we receivedno convincing evidence of such deterioration of the roads, consequent upon the restriction of expenditure upon maintenance, as would constitute an appreciable danger to road users.It has to be observed, upon a fair reading, that that sentence is of limited effect, and we confine our observations to deterioration due to economy in maintenance. I am only mentioning this because the matter has been misunderstood outside.
There is nothing there to say that better roads are not an urgent necessity in the country from the point of view both of commercial needs and road safety. There is no denial in that or any other part of the Report of the need for new roads and bypasses. There is no denial of the need for straightening bends and removing bottlenecks in one main road and trunk road after another throughout the country. This is a very important distinction. It is no mere quibble.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southall suggested that members of the Committee, judging by what was in the Report, could not be road users. It is difficult nowadays to be a Member of Parliament and not a road user. The main difficulty confronting Members of Parliament is to find the time to go anywhere on foot. I can assure hon. Members that the members of the Committee who went into this matter have at least average experience of use of the roads by car.
673 I myself constantly travel between London and my constituency up the A.5 road. I go north along the A.5 and I leave it at Atherstone and then I go through Lichfield and on to Merseyside. It is largely true that, so far as the limited factor of surface deterioration is concerned, compared with pre-war days there has not been a noticeable deterioration. If we limit the inquiry, which is all that this sentence in the Report does, to deterioration of roads through arrears of maintenance, leaving aside matters of design, bottlenecks, the necessity of new roads and the rest, it is found that this observation in the Report, if I may respectfully say so, is fully justified.
§ Mr. Barnett Janner (Leicester, North-West)
Does not all that my hon. Friend has said indicate that the Report itself is very misleading? Ought not a Report of that nature to take into consideration for future purposes the necessity, not of giving an apologia in the House, but of putting into the Report itself what it really means, so that it can be understood by everybody who are, after all, getting a bit tired of this delay, and so that they may realise that the Committee does not mean to suggest that nothing has to be done?
§ Mr. Irvine
I am obliged to my hon. Friend. In this connection I cannot over-emphasise that I am speaking entirely for myself. It would be most presumptuous for me to speak for the Committee, and I do not do so. What I am attempting to do now—and I attach some importance to the need for it—is this: I apprehend that what is contained in the Report has been widely misunderstood outside—
§ Mr. Irvine
—and because that is so, I am taking this opportunity to say and I am glad that it should be on the record—that I think that, in large measure, interpretations of the Report have been based on a misapprehension.
To take the particular instance of the A.5 road, which serves well enough as an example, on this point of arrears of maintenance, I believe that the deterioration is not marked. I think hon. Members will probably agree that that is so. The trouble with that road—and the same is true of many roads—is not that arrears 674 of maintenance have affected the surface, the trouble lies in failures of design, bottlenecks, narrow bridges, sharp bends. That is an entirely different thing.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner) shakes his head, but he is a lawyer like I am, and even lawyers surely recognise the difference between defects in roads through arrears of maintenance and defects in roads arising from design. Journeys up that road and along many roads like it reveal time and again bottlenecks which, in everybody's interest, should be eliminated, sharp bends which ought to be straightened out, stretches of road which should be widened, and bridges which should be replaced by wider and better designed bridges. But, of course, it is entirely consistent, in my view, to express the point of view which I am now expressing and at the same time to recognise the truth of what is contained in this paragraph in the Report which has aroused controversy, namely that arrears of maintenance as such have not resulted in serious deterioration.
The paragraph in the Report that has attracted this attention states that no reliable judgment upon the point can be finally made until a far-reaching inquiry has been made into all the facts and all the available evidence from every quarter has been considered. It is important that the public should know the very limited extent to which, upon this point, the Committee received evidence. The fact that there was not sufficient evidence to reach a reliable judgment on the point is recorded in the Report. But we could hardly be expected to ignore the evidence of the Chief Engineer of the Ministry. That was evidence which we did receive upon this point. It is to be found on page 19 of the Report, and his answer is in reply to question 179.
The Chief Engineer of the Ministry, speaking with all the authority with which he can speak upon a matter of this kind, said this:I would say that the trunk and the first-class roads are probably at least as good as they were before the war; they are not deteriorating. We are doing more surfacing now than we did before the war, due to mechanical methods which are now used; but we have been encouraging local authorities over the years to give preference to the higher class of roads, their first-class roads, and we see that the trunk roads get enough to keep them going.675 There are the words—"they are not deteriorating." That is what the Chief Engineer of the Ministry said when applying his mind to the question of the effect of arrears of maintenance, and we had to have regard to that very important evidence. It was interesting evidence. It was directed to this point, and it was a matter which no doubt affected the observations under this head which are incorporated in the Report.
I should be the first to recognise the importance of the other consideration, however, that there were witnesses there who could have given evidence on this matter and who did not have the opportunity. For example, the representative of the Joint Standing Committee of the Automobile Association and the Royal Automobile Club was there. It may well be that he had a great deal of evidence upon this problem, but he was not asked any questions about it, or given the opportunity of dealing with it. The questions which were put to him concerned another matter.
There was also a representative of the British Road Federation. He was not asked questions upon this point. The questions put to him dealt with other matters. Hon. Members have since been circulated with a memorandum from that Federation, which includes this passage:Arrears of road maintenance on trunk and classified roads alone (50 per cent. of the total road mileage) are estimated £90 million due to the greatly reduced expenditure since 1939. The present rate allows a standard of only 60–70 per cent. of prewar.I am trying to be fair to the Federation in dealing with this matter. There is a statement, contained in a memorandum circulated by the Federation, which is in direct conflict with the evidence which was before us by the Chief Engineer to the Ministry. It is only fair to recognise that the witness from the Federation who was before the Committee did not have the opportunity of making that statement because he was not asked questions directed to the point.
My purpose in drawing attention to these considerations is to do what I can to eradicate from the public mind an impression that may exist that we regarded ourselves as in a position to make a recommendation founded upon reliable, compendious and adequate 676 evidence upon the effect of arrears of maintenance upon the state of the roads. We ourselves point out the need of further evidence on this.
The number of witnesses questioned upon this matter were few. Almost the only witness who was questioned upon it—and he was a very important witness—gave a very direct and interesting answer, but we did not regard ourselves as having received sufficient evidence from a large enough number of quarters to justify a conclusion upon the point, and we make that clear in the Report, if it is carefully read. I am, therefore, glad to have the opportunity of placing it upon the record that full support of my hon. Friend's Motion is compatible and consistent with the acceptance of the Report of the Select Committee.
Our function was to investigate economies, and that fact manifestly coloured our consideration of the problem and our decision upon it. The observation which has attracted such great attention in the Report is confined to deterioration consequent upon arrears of maintenance. It bears no relation to the admitted need for greater expenditure on better designed roads, new roads and bypasses, better bridges, and the rest. Finally, we did not claim to have heard sufficient evidence to justify a conclusion that, even in terms of expenditure upon maintenance, the situation was not deteriorating.
§ 1.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Russell (Wembley, South)
I am very glad to have an opportunity of making a very short intervention in this debate. I shall not waste any time by congratulating the hon. Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter), who moved this Motion. I am sure that we are all in agreement about the importance of the subject.
I should like to make one comment about one word in the Motion which is, perhaps, a little misleading. It refers to a "long-term plan" and to preparing "a comprehensive major road plan." I feel that a more appropriate word than "plan" would be "programme." My impression is that there are any number of plans in the pigeon-holes of the Ministry of Transport, local authorities and other Departments, which are only waiting for finance and the permission to 677 go ahead before they are put into operation. What we need is more finance and some action.
Many hon. Members probably have constituency road problems to put forward. I must confess that I have not. There are occasions when all roads lead to Wembley, and last Wednesday was one.
§ Mr. Russell
Normally, the people who go to Wembley on these occasions do not mind the appalling congestion which they have to put up with in order to enjoy a football match or any other sporting event. In any case, it would be impossible to alter all the roads leading to Wembley so as to allow the traffic to move more speedily on those occasions.
§ Mr. Russell
I agree with what the hon. Member for Edge Hill (Mr. A. J. Irvine) said about the A.5 road. It has a very good surface, but it is extremely narrow and has a great number of bottlenecks. That should be a first priority in the construction of new roads. There is a scheme for a new road going up towards the Midlands, which will provide a relief for A.5 on the one hand and the Great North Road—A.1—on the other. The Great North Road is another road which is completely inadequate for the volume of traffic which it has to bear.
The hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) mentioned the possibility of restrictions which might have to be applied if we could not have the scheme of new roads which we all want. Nobody likes restrictions—least of all myself—but there is one problem which I should like to mention and which concerns the question of very heavy loads and very wide vehicles which one sometimes sees on main roads today. Coming to this House from my home in Radlett, a few months ago, I was astounded to see a tank transporter travelling northwards up Hendon Way, carrying, of all things, a railway coach. I began to wonder what British Railways were doing in sending railway coaches by road, but upon making inquiries I discovered that 678 the coach in question was to be used by a railway in Northern Ireland which has a different gauge from ours.
Apparently it is more economic, faster and, from the point of view of the industry, more efficient to send railway coaches by road than by rail or by sea. Since then I have seen, on several occasions, railway coaches going up Hendon Way and Watford Way. They crawl along at about five miles an hour up the slightest gradient, and are a very great hindrance to other traffic. They sometimes need large detachments of police to clear the way for them. If we cannot provide the roads to fit the traffic—which we must do if we are to solve this problem—I begin to wonder whether we shall not need to put some restriction on the carrying of these exceptionally heavy loads by vehicles of exceptional width, which make other traffic even slower than it is normally made by the present state of the roads.
§ Mr. Charles Royle (Salford, West)
Is not the hon. Member making out a strong case for a better system of co-ordination between road and rail?
§ Mr. Russell
I do not want to enter into the merits of that problem. I want to see great improvement in our roads. At any rate, we may have to consider doing something about the problem of very excessive loads.
Lighting on the roads is a very important factor in the prevention of accidents. There is an appalling number of different standards of lighting on the main roads in different parts of the country. I do not want to enter into the merits of the new lighting schemes, but some are obviously much better than others, and there are systems nowadays that obviate the necessity of headlamps. That is a matter which ought to be tackled—I know it is—by the Minister of Transport—the question of headlamp dazzle. One wonders when we are to have the report promised us for so long. The lighting question is very important in the elimination of accidents.
It is said in the Motion that the economic loss from road accidents is now estimated at£150 million a year. There is also a loss due to congestion and delay. This was touched on by one hon. Member, I think. The actual amount of that loss is very difficult to estimate, but 679 I hope that the Minister, and particularly the Treasury, will not overlook the amount of money which will be saved if we can reduce accidents and avoid congestion. I think that is a point which many Government Departments have been apt to overlook in the past. It is the key to the whole problem. If we spend money on the roads there will be a return in saving in other ways.
§ 1.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Frank McLeavy (Bradford, East)
I agree with many of the points which the hon. Member for Wembley, South (Mr. Russell) has made in his short speech. I propose to be short myself in order to allow adequate time for other hon. Members who wish to speak. I thought that the hon. Gentleman, in his remarks about the traffic on the roads, and particularly about the railway coach, was perilously near to criticising the private enterprise policy of the Minister of Transport.
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Higgs), who spoke a little earlier, is not now in his place, for I should like to comment on one particular point he made. He rather suggested that the speeches that had been made from this side of the House might have been made in 1945, 1946 and 1947. I am perfectly sure that the hon. Gentleman did not wish to imply that the Opposition now, the Government at that time, were not gravely concerned about the condition of the roads.
I think he failed, when making that remark, to appreciate that we had just come through the Second World War, and that—and this ought to go on record—far from being unconcerned about the planning of our road system, in 1946 the Labour Government announced a 10-year programme for highway developments as part of the general plan for Britain's post-war reconstruction. It is due entirely to the economic condition of the country, particularly from 1946 onwards, that more money was not made available for our roads.
I am not going to suggest that any particular Government are responsible for the condition of our roads. There is an accumulation of neglect by all Governments over a long number of years. Certainly, it dates back to long before the 680 time of the First World War, but there is no doubt at all that the neglect of our roads by Parliament over a long number of years has created arrears of work and expense which cannot now be further delayed.
I know full well that road authorities throughout the country have done a good job of work with their limited financial resources. I know that through their various associations they have repeatedly made representations to Parliament and the Government upon the danger of delay in increasing the amount of money available for our roads. Many of us here now have served upon local government authorities, and we can recall from our own memories large schemes for widening roads, the construction of bypass roads, the construction of arterial roads, which have had to be put aside by our local authorities because of the inadequate grants that have been made available by the Government, or Government refusal to accept schemes or proposals altogether.
Arrears of road maintenance on trunk and classified roads alone are estimated at £90 million, due to the greatly reduced expenditure since 1939. It is claimed that the present rate allows a standard, as was stated by my hon. Friend the Member for Edge Hill (Mr. A. J. Irvine), of 60 per cent. to 70 per cent. prewar. Before 1939 trunk Class 1 and Class 2 roads were being resurfaced on an average of one in 90 years. Now it is estimated that it is one in 42 years.
The various forms of safety measures, the laying of reflecting studs and white lines, the improvement of sight lines by substituting open fences for hedges, and so on, are in themselves very much restricted by the financial position confronting the road authorities. I think that the alarming deterioration in the condition of our roads, if we are to arrest it at all, requires a substantial stepping up of Government expenditure.
The heavy taxation yield from vehicle licences, fuel and Purchase Tax—although I understand that many Members think we should not today refer to Purchase Tax—on road vehicles, totalled, in the past six years ending 31st March last, £1,200 million against a budgeted expenditure of over £20 million. The Government allocated only £165 million 681 to roads. It is, of course, well known that the taxation of road transport is a very happy hunting ground for Chancellors of the Exchequer of whatever party.
We have reached a position where not only must we provide more money for the re-equipment and resurfacing of roads and the construction of new roads but, in spite of what my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) said, we must also look forward toa time when there will be a considerable reduction in road taxation itself. The congestion on our roads and the slowing down of vehicles add to the running costs, and it seems to me that only a bold policy of road reconstruction, coupled with reduction of taxation, will bring any easement to the industry.
We have had a long period of heavy increases in taxation, which are reflected in increased transport costs. It is vitally important, in the interests of the industry, that costs should be reduced, for if the cost of transport is to continue to rise this might well mean that we price ourselves out of the export market. Transport costs represent a much larger factor in the price of goods than appears on the surface and they play an important part in the economic life of the nation.
Turning to the purely financial side, it is important to consider how far it is possible to reduce loan charges in connection with our roads. I join with my hon. Friend the Member for Southall and hon. Members opposite in urging the Government to try to find a new financial basis whereby the very heavy cost of loan charges can be considerably reduced. I believe that the financing of our roads is so vitally important that not only should Parliament make available sufficient money but we should make sure that where local authorities have to raise loans for this purpose they do not have to pay exhorbitant rates of interest.
It is essential in the interest of our roads and of the finances of local authorities that a new formula be found whereby the loan charges can be reduced and a more reasonable and up-to-date method found of financing the road expenditure of local authorities.
§ 1.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Beresford Craddock (Spelthorne)
I propose to follow the example of the hon. Member for Bradford, East (Mr. McLeavy) and to be brief. May I make one passing comment on his opening remarks about my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Higgs)? I listened to my hon. Friend's speech and I must say, in fairness to him, that I did not get the impression that he was trying to make any party point. Indeed, as I think all hon. Members will agree, the whole debate today has been on a very high level, completely devoid of any party politics; and that is as it should be, because we are discussing a question into which party politics should not enter at all. The toll of the roads and the question of the economy of the nation are all bound up with this important problem, and if there is any blame or praise to be attached then the present Government and other Governments are equally to be blamed or to be praised.
I shall take only a few minutes, and I want to deal with two specific points, but before I do so I should like to make a passing comment on the speech of the hon. Member for Edge Hill (Mr. A. J. Irvine) and on his defence of the Report of the Select Committee. I am sorry he is not in his place; as he is not here, I shall not enlarge on what he said beyond this: I feel that part of the Report at least was misleading in its wording.
One of the two points with which I wish to deal is on the general aspect of this problem and the other is on a particular aspect which affects my constituency. The Motion urges Her Majesty's Government, among other things,to prepare a comprehensive major road plan to be commenced as soon as possible thereafter.It may well be—I do not know—that in the pigeon holes of the Ministry of Transport there is some comprehensive plan of road development, but as one travels about the country one sees very little evidence that there is such a thing in being. By way of illustration, let us consider one of the great highways of the country, mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, South (Mr. Russell)—the Great North Road. I have been travelling up and down that road a 683 good deal in the seven or eight years since the war. When we talk about a "Great North Road," I picture a great broad highway leading up to the Highlands, but I am sorry to say the Great North Road is nothing like that. In my view it is a very poor, narrow, winding road, very suitable in the days when Dick Turpin galloped up and down on his famous horse Black Bess but totally inadequate to carry the huge volume of traffic which passes over it seven days a week in modern times.
§ Mr. H. Boardman (Leigh)
Does the hon. Member know that Dick Turpin has not used that road for many years but has been in the Treasury Chambers far too long?
§ Mr. Craddock
I am obliged; that is my opinion, too.
Admittedly there has been a good deal of improvement on that road in the last three or four years but it all seems to be piece-meal and haphazard. Large parts of the road have been widened, dangerous corners have been cut off, and there are some stretches of three or four miles at a time where we have a double track. That is all very good but—and I give this as an illustration of the point I am trying to make—if the double tracks have been put down in order to speed the traffic, that aim is entirely frustrated by the many bottlenecks on this stretch of roughly 290 to 300 miles between London and Newcastle. There are very many bottlenecks on this main road, such as Stamford, Newark, Doncaster and Newcastle itself. Indeed, during the summer, and particularly when there are race meetings at Doncaster and Newcastle, the traffic position is chaotic.
A comprehensive plan of road development is needed from many points of view, The most important point of view is the saving of life, but we must also consider the economic point of view and the time and money lost through delays. If there had been such a plan, the first thing to have done would have been to cut out the towns which I have mentioned and to build by-passes. That would have been a much wiser way of spending money than the way in which it appears to have been spent.
I wholeheartedly support the hon. Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter) when 684 he advocates a comprehensive plan of road development. We must have such a plan. If we take the example of the road to which I have drawn attention, it may well be that the plan of a new arterial road would be based on the existing road. In that case every piece of improvement that is to be done should be fitted into the main plan, otherwise a very large part of the piece-meal expenditure going on just now must be wasted. On the other hand, if the existing road is not to be used as the basis of the new road and another main arterial road is to be built along side, further east or further west of the existing road, I submit that the only expenditure which should be undertaken on the existing road is that necessary to maintain its surface until the new highway is built.
Mention of bypasses leads me quite naturally to my second and particular point, namely, the urgent necessity of a bypass road for Staines. I make no apologies for pressing this particular constituency point, because not only does it affect an important part of my constituency but, as every hon. Member here, I think, realises, Staines is on one of the main highways to the west and southwest.
I fully appreciate that one can spoil even a good case by exaggeration, but I know that many hon. Members on both sides of the House use this road and are familiar with it, and I think that they will agree that the traffic conditions through Staines High Street are nothing short of scandalous and appalling. Even in winter time on a week day, there is great congestion. Every Saturday throughout the year the congestion is simply shocking, and during the summer, with holiday-makers going south, south west and west and again on days when race meetings are held at Epsom and Ascot, the chaos that exists is quite indescribable.
I am down there practically every Saturday, and I have made it my business to time myself in getting from the east end of Staines through the High Street to Bridge Street, where the bridge goes over the River Thames. The distance is approximately one mile. I am perfectly certain that every hon. Member will be quite astounded when I say that on one occasion it took me 47 minutes to cover that mile. In these modern days, if it 685 is going to take that time—1¼ miles in one hour—I am bound to say that is nothing very much to boast about.
The chaos is further aggravated by the fact that a very large amount of military traffic goes along that main highway. Long trailers used by the Royal Air Force carrying aircraft, huge lorries and tenders carrying tanks all add to the congestion. It really is—and I repeat it again—absolutely appalling. About a year or 18 months ago there was a suggestion put forward by the Ministry of Transport in connection with the railway bridge that crosses the main high street, a bridge used by the Southern Railway. It is a low bridge and a great deal of this Army traffic has difficulty in getting underneath it. It was suggested that the road should be lowered to give a greater distance between the surface of the road and the bridge. I have no idea how much that so-called improvement would cost. It would cost, I should say, £30,000 to £40,000 and, in my view, would be a complete waste of money.
In answer to a Question on the cost on the 18th May, my hon. Friend's predecessor said that the cost of a by-pass would be £600,000 to £700,000. We all know that the financial position of the country is acute.
§ Mr. Craddock
It is certainly improving since we have come into power. I agree about that. I should have thought that this was not a tremendously large sum in comparison with the immense burden carried by the country today. If it is not possible to be taken wholly on the vote of the Ministry of Transport, I think that that highway, which is so important from the defence point of view, carrying as it does so much military traffic, might well form part of the defence expenditure of the country.
Finally, may I say that we all recognise and appreciate what the hon. Member for Edge Hill said in his defence of the Select Committee's Report. There is wise expenditure and unwise expenditure. May I also say that there is wise economy and false economy. I believe that cheeseparing and a niggardly approach to this most important problem can only be characterised as false economy. I earnestly hope that my hon. Friend and 686 his right hon. Friend will do their best to find as much money as possible to carry out these necessary improvements in our road system.
§ 1.47 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Fenner Brockway (Eton and Slough)
I want to raise two constituency points. I shall, therefore, be very brief, because I recognise that even Eton and Slough are only a limited part of the whole country. I am so anxious about the situation in Eton that I feel that I overtaxed the attention of the House when I raised this matter in a Question the other day. As Mr. Speaker is in the Chair, I apologise to him for that, and to the House. It was simply because I am scared about the situation there.
I began in my supplementary question to quote a statement by the Chairman of the Transport Committee of the Eton Urban District Council, who is also a master at Eton College. I want to complete that quotation now. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Peters field (Mr. Legh), who is sitting beside the Minister, will be very familiar with the situation because he is one of the Old Boys from my constituency, and he will know exactly to what I am referring. This is what a master at Eton says:The dangers of Eton High Street and of the College area are perfectly frightful, and I am very anxious lest some extremely serious accident should take place. For example, some 20 boys might easily be knocked down at one go when they are all coming out of chapel, specially on a dark winter's evening. I shudder to think of an accident happening similar to the one at Chatham.I am not only concerned about the boys at the College, though their crossing between the Burning Bush and the chapel on a winter's evening, with cars speeding around that corner, might easily repeat the danger at Chatham. I am also concerned with the fact that there is what is in effect a narrow country lane, passing between these old shops and old tea cafes, which is now taking the main traffic between north and south, and about the children at the elementary schools and the old folk in the alms houses there.
There is a speed limit which goes all the way through Slough, across the playing fields which divide Slough and Eton, and which applies to this Eton High Street as well. But motorists, as they 687 travel through Slough and then come to the comparatively open space of the playing fields, tend to forget that there is a speed limit. They come to the "Burning Bush" corner, at which one enters Eton, and they are not reminded as they enter Eton that there is a speed limit. Having gone through this open space, the tendency is to forget the speed limit and to speed through the Eton High Street.
I beg of the Minister, out of a sense of urgency of the danger in Eton High Street, not only to examine very carefully and to put into operation as far as possible the constructive suggestions which have been made by the chairman of the transport committee of the urban district council, but to make an alternative route, linking north and south, a priority when he considers the plan for the country generally. It is not only a matter of the safety of people in the narrow Eton High Street; it is also a matter of the general traffic from north to south, from the industrial Midlands and the North to Southampton Docks and other areas.
My second point is the necessity for a bypass for Slough. This scheme has been on the books for I do not know how many years. Some £163,000 has already been tied up in it. At Bray, £63,000 has been spent on the foundation of the new bridge. The principles of the Vicar of Bray used to change with every monarch, but the stones of the bridge of Bray simply lie wasting there whatever Government is in office. They have been lying there ever since 1939, with some £63,000 having been spent on what should be this new road, which would be of benefit not only to Slough, but to the whole of the traffic to the West.
Some hon. Members will have tried to go through Maidenhead on the Great West Road.
§ Mr. Brockway
Yes, it is difficult. In view of all the expenditure already tied up in this scheme and of the fact that Slough is a developing town, into which 17,000 additional people are coming, very great attention should be given to the proposal for that alternative route, which, as I say, is needed not only by Slough, but for the benefit of the whole traffic to and from the West. Having made these two points, which, I confess, are 688 constituency points, but which, I hope, are of some national interest also, I ask that the Minister and his Department will pay some attention to them.
§ 1.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Cole (Bedfordshire, South)
I want to occupy the time of the House for a few minutes in looking at roads and transport largely from a national angle. It is a fine thing, and it will be noted by the public, how entirely absent any question of political difference has been from this debate today, and, for that matter, over the years. May this complete absence of politics in this subject ever be so if we are to get anywhere in accomplishing our objects.
My hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page), whose admirable maiden speech we all enjoyed, referred to the fact that something like 70 per cent. of the country's traffic is now carried on the roads, and he suggested that we might change this ratio. While we might be able to change it a little, my view is that it will be quite inevitable that the percentage of traffic using the roads will remain at about that figure.
There is a tremendous amount of traffic which cannot be carried other than on the roads. I speak feelingly about this, because I have given some attention to this aspect. As a user of the roads, I wish that more traffic was carried on the railways, but I have come to the conclusion that in view of the necessity of deliveries and saving time in double off-loading, it is inevitable that a lot of the traffic must be carried on the roads—I hope, our better roads—now and in the future.
As a nation we stand unbowed and erect, and I hope we may ever remain so in the world at large. We are making great efforts to maintain our place in the markets of the world and in every way which makes the country a great nation, yet at the same time, owing to the force of circumstances, many of which are not within our control, part of our assets is something like 20 years out of date to our present needs.
The roads are the arteries of the body of the nation, arteries in which the pulses are London, Birmingham, Glasgow, Manchester, Liverpool and the other great centres. Those arteries are clogged 689 at frequent points by the amount of bad, out of date and inadequate road designs for our present-day needs. The result is that the nation's lifeblood of transport and the speed of communication is being held up in its proper passage through the arteries, and we are not having the healthy commercial, industrial body of production which we ought to have in this day and age if we are to survive.
Since the war, and particularly in the last two years or so, the position has been that any and every kind of vehicle has been put on to our roads and used. There is now practically no limitation of any kind, although until a year or two ago the home supply of vehicles was controlled by shortages and export needs. Today, with a not too unreasonable delay, anybody can obtain a vehicle, large or small, and put it on the roads. And so we are going on with an ever-increasing number of vehicles, but with roads which do not change.
It is a good thing that people can obtain the vehicles that they require, whether for enjoyment or for industry. It is right that people should have a chance to enjoy the happiness which they desire. In addition, we all know that the home market is the financial buttress of our export market for vehicle production. But the time has come when, with all these new vehicles coming upon the roads and no improvements being made in the highway, we are approaching, if we have not reached, what I referred to in the debate in July as the meeting of the irresistible force with the immovable object. The irresistible force is the proper and understandable demand of industrialists and private persons to obtain motor vehicles; the immovable force is the unchanging character of the roads which those vehicles have to use.
It is interesting to note that the number of vehicles on our roads has increased by something like 800,000 in the last three years. The total number of vehicles is now running at a figure of over 5,200,000, and in the debate in July my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport gave the estimate that by 1965 we should have 6 million vehicles on the roads. Nineteen sixty-five is only 12 years away, which is not a long time in which to undertake a proper road programme, and unless we have some drastic improvements mean while I hesitate to think what the con- 690 gestion and the densities on our roads will be like in 1965.
I wonder whether hon. Members realise that there are about 8 million driving licence holders in this country. That is, one in every six of the population has a right to drive a car. That figure is not decreasing and it will not decrease, because as more people get cars of their own so will the number of drivers increase. That is a considerable problem.
What we are facing today—and I am not blaming anybody for it; we have had many troubles in the last 15 years—is an entire absence since 1939 of any road policy. We are up against it now. What we should have done in due time by the ordinary process of development must be done in an accelerated way to catch up with the leeway of the past. It is not now enough to lay down a 10, 15, 20 or 25-year programme. It will not do, for it will not meet our present requirements. It must be telescoped into a much shorter period to make up what we have lost.
I want to emphasise that this is not a matter of comfort; it is not a matter of desirability or of convenience for the body politic. It is a matter of dire necessity from the point of view of the existence and survival of this country in the export field. Reference has been made—it is so obvious that it does not need elaboration—to the fact that if we can have these vehicles, not necessarily faster, but capable of being more efficiently moved from one spot to another, it will have desirable repercussions on the cost of living.
What I am concerned with is that if we are aiming at a high level of production then we must have the means and the tools, as we had in the war, to effect that high level of production for our overseas exports. It is quite obvious that that is bound up with our economic survival.
Having said that, may I remind hon. Members that we must not underrate the difficult task that has faced past Governments, and faces this Government and future Governments. Roads are an expensive business. All of us here today have our own constituency road problems. I myself had the honour of leading a deputation from my constituency to my right hon. Friend the Minister of 691 Transport in September of last year on the question of the road which leads from Dunstable to Luton. We were not asking for hundreds of thousands of pounds, but for a comparatively small sum. We were courteously received by the Minister who told us that, much as he would like to help, in face of the shortage of money he could not do anything.
Most hon. Members could produce such examples as that, and they are all important to us and to the people immediately concerned. Then there are the large schemes of a general nature which will occur to most hon. Members, and my right hon. Friend the Minister and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary have a big job to settle the priorities for local projects. I can only trust that my own particular constituency matter will not be too far down the queue when the time comes.
A further point I want to make is about money. I do not believe that, in the circumstances of today, it is either practicable or wise to attempt to finance all these large projects from day-to-day revenue. I am sure that if we pursued that line of policy it would, in the end, prove impossible. After all, these roads, local and national, are not just for today. Why should we in this day and age do all this for posterity? A road is not made to last for six months only, but when we are road making we think in terms of 20, 25 and 35 years. I hope that the roads we build will be in that category.
I think it is only proper that we should ask posterity—and I am sure posterity would agree with me were it able to say so—to share the cost of what we are trying to provide. I am sure it would prefer to share the cost rather than that we should do nothing at all about it now because we have not got enough money to pay for it.
I believe there is enough money about in this country to provide the loan capital. I think it will be a matter of loan or of public subscription, if necessary, in order to make these large projects possible in the future. We have heard that the matter is not so much one of labour and materials. It is, in fact, a matter of £ s. d. to be provided.
I want to suggest for the earnest consideration of the Government that they 692 should look at this question on an extensive basis and make it the subject of a long-term loan of such a nature that the money will be forthcoming. I believe that the money will be made available to the Government, because this will be of direct assistance to the people who will enjoy the facilities provided. Because of that I believe they will put up the money for this purpose.
Finally, I hope that this debate will provide my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary with more and more ammunition to persuade the Treasury, who itself has a difficult job, that we and the people are in earnest about this problem. I hope they will be able to persuade the Treasury, even though it may have relented now, to relent a good deal more so that we shall be able to get these road schemes undertaken.
§ 2.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Clifford Kenyon (Chorley)
This debate highlights very prominently the time lag between Governments and politicians and science. We are discussing a problem today that arises from the development of the internal combustion engine in general and of a progress which has followed that development, together with the failure of successive Governments to see that the extension of that development necessitated action outside the industry.
The roads of this country were determined in the past by horse traffic, and it is very remarkable that today they follow almost the same lines as when they were first made. Mr. Drake, the county surveyor of Lancashire, has drawn up a road plan for Lancashire, with which, no doubt, the Ministry of Transport are fully conversant. Here I quote one sentence from his statement:Consider the turnpike roads of the county as they existed in 1829. To a quite remarkable degree the present-day system comprises these same routes—the only substantial additions being in the coastal zones and in the new link between Liverpool and East Lancashire.Today, the roads in the County Palatine follow the same routes as they did in 1829. It is true they have been improved; it is true that dangerous corners have been eliminated; it is true that they are a great improvement; but, nevertheless, they follow the horse traffic routes of a century ago.
693 The internal combustion engine has changed all that. From the time that it came on to the roads there ought to have been from successive Governments a policy for the development of the roads to meet the increased burdens on the highways.
Today, we are in the position that Governments have lagged far behind science in this respect. I think there was some vision of this when the Road Fund was first established. It was felt by the Government of the day that if the Road Fund were established and the money in it was applied to the improvement of the roads, one would balance the other. Unfortunately, we found, as we have found on many occasions, that when taxation is imposed it is used up in the national revenue and no specific use can be made of it.
I agree with the views put forward today. We ought to have a comprehensive plan financed by loans. I do not see how it can be done in any other way. The comprehensive plan drawn up for Lancashire alone by the county surveyor amounts, in all, to £100 million. Taking the country as a whole, therefore, it is impossible forus to face up to the required expenditure of a comprehensive plan. So we must take those separate danger points as they exist and deal with them. In this respect the county surveyor of Lancashire has drawn up a road plan for the county, including a north-south motor road, entering Lancashire at Warrington and passing out through the Westmorland border. I urge the Ministry to look at that plan carefully and to give Lancashire the opportunity of putting it into operation.
The county surveyor has informed us that the moment the word "go" is received they are ready to start, because the plan is so far advanced. They have labour and they have materials. All they are waiting for is the sanction of the Ministry of Transport and, of course, the Treasury. The road is necessary to us now, as Lancashire Members will know. In the north-south road there are certain bottlenecks. The hon. Member for Lancaster (Mr. F. Maclean) will bear me out that Lancaster has a deplorable bottleneck and there are others at Preston. All the traffic from the south, from Liverpool and Manchester through Bolton and all the traffic from North Wales converges on Preston to reach the west coast of 694 Lancashire at places such as Blackpool, as well as the industrial traffic going north.
I got into trouble some time ago for advocating what I am told cannot be contemplated, that we should have nearer the mouth of the Ribble either a tunnel under it or a bridge over it. That would take a large amount of the traffic which at present converges on Preston and would keep it near the coast. I understand that it would be an expensive project, but I am sure that it would have a place in any comprehensive road plan, and even a Lancashire north-south road would require an expenditure of about £18 million.
I suggest to the Minister that Lancashire should be given an opportunity of putting that plan into operation over three, four or five years. By the end of that time it would change all the through traffic problems of the county. I am sure it could be done and it is not too much to ask. The county has changed tremendously. The surveyor says:Our great county, far and away the most populous in the country, has a vital part to play in the nation's fight for life…Yet we are sentenced by an obsolescent road system to endure a main road accident rate which is over two-and-a-half times the average for the country.That is a tragic thing. Because of our congested main road system we have in Lancashire an accident rate of two-and-a-half times the average for the country. It ought to be dealt with immediately.
Coming to the question of the road plan, the surveyor gives us the figures:During the 6¾ year period April, 1946, to December, 1952, there were 4,010 casualties on the road, including 166 deaths. The magnitude of this will be realised if it is appreciated that if all the persons injured and killed were spread out evenly along the road there would be little more than the length of a cricket pitch between each.This accident rate can, we know, be reduced.
I do not say that good roads wilt obviate accidents. I believe that the greatest culprit on the road is the driver. We can have the best roads in the world, but unless drivers drive more carefully, we shall still have accidents. Yet many of those accidents are due to places where there are bottlenecks. Drivers are held up considerably at them and the first thing they do when they have got through 695 is to try to make up for lost time. If there was an even flow of traffic right through, there would not be the number of accidents that we have today.
Another feature of this road is that the surveyor has narrowed it from the width of the previous main roads in the country. The previous width of the Rainford bypass, the Liverpool-East Lancashire road and the Hutton bypass was 120 feet. The new road, which will carry the same volume of traffic, is only 103 feet. The surveyor has, in every possible way, done his utmost to save waste of agricultural land and he has succeeded.
As I have said, the estimated cost of this north-south motorway is about £18 million. If the Ministry of Transport will realise the necessity for this road for the industrial traffic of Lancashire and for the pleasure traffic of Lancashire—because the Lancashire coast is a great pleasure area—and will give the county the opportunity of going forward over a number of years, we shall see a vast change in the traffic position in the county.
On behalf of the county I press that this road shall be fully and favourably considered and that we shall have the opportunity of showing what can be done; for the moment we get the word we can start. Everything is ready and we can go right ahead with the construction of this road, which will be of immeasurable benefit to Manchester and to all those who use the roads in Lancashire.
§ 2.20 p.m.
§ Air Commodore A. V. Harvey (Macclesfield)
This is a most satisfying debate and I congratulate the hon. Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter) on moving his Motion. I feel that this is not an ordinary Friday afternoon debate but a debate which affects the whole country, the people and their welfare and standard of living. Too much stress cannot be placed upon the importance of what we are discussing. The two points to which I want to refer are the deaths and injuries on the roads and how the condition of our roads affects the country's economy.
If our standard of living, which we are all trying to raise, is to be retained, it is absolutely essential that the transport system of this country—and I am speaking now of the roads—should be 696 improved and made efficient. We are having to compete now with other countries to obtain export orders, countries which are paying considerably lower wages and which do not possess the welfare state as we know it. As a consequence we are losing orders abroad. I believe that if the roads of Britain and our transport system can be improved it can make an enormous difference when it comes to competing in foreign markets. It does not matter how efficient workpeople and managements are in industry or how well our factories are equipped if we do not have good roads and a good transport system.
Production in British industry must not fall below what is possible. One should remember that 70 per cent. of all the goods that are carried are carried by road transport. It was said from the benches opposite that perhaps many of these goods should go back to the railways. That would be an admirable answer if it could be achieved, but I do not think that that is likely to happen. In the main, it is quicker and cheaper to transport most goods by road. In 1950 the cost of all transportation in Britain was £1,600 million and, out of that, road transport took £1,220 million or 75 per cent. of the total figure.
If roads are built to satisfy present day requirements I am told that the cost of vehicle operation could be reduced by 32 per cent. If we had such roads, the saving on operating vehicles would be something like 40 per cent. less fuel, 30 per cent. less tyre wear and a saving of 50 per cent. on running time. Rubber, fuel, and other materials have to be brought great distances by sea for the motor transport industry and they are all of strategic value to the country.
The hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Kenyon)referred to the North-South motorway running from Westmorland to Cheshire and I should like to support his plea in that connection. As we all know, Lancashire is the hub of industry and the county must have its problems of transport to the ports eased. I hope that when my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary replies he will refer to that point. The figures relating to our roads are quite staggering. I am told that if London Passenger Transport Board could increase the running speed of its vehicles by one mile 697 an hour it would save over £2 million a year. The very thing that we want to do is to cut down the cost of transport so that workers pay less to travel to work. Politics apart, the whole aim of this country is to bring down the cost of living, but, as has been said, we shall not see for four or five years the results of whatever we spend today on this problem and therefore the problem should be tackled straight away.
The arrears of work on classified roads amounts to 5 per cent. of the total road mileage and the cost is estimated at £90 million today. The present rate is 60–70 per cent. of the pre-war figure. It has already been said that the rate of re-surfacing these roads works out at once per 42 years. I think that the roads are just as important in one aspect as agriculture or the fighting Services. Without efficient roads I do not know what would happen if, unfortunately, we were involved in another war. Apart from the pain and misery caused to those involved in road accidents, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Road Accidents estimate that the consequential loss is £140 million a year. That figure is far too great and the loss of life is far too grave for these matters to be neglected one week longer.
Accident prevention today is mainly undertaken by propaganda and the services of the police, but that kind of approach has worn stale. The only way to prevent accidents is to have well designed and properly built roads. That is the real answer today. If one stirs up enthusiasm locally for the prevention of accidents it appears to affect the issue for a few weeks and then the effect wears off.
In May, 1946, the Government of the day announced a 10-year programme of highway development which, if carried out, would have met the reasonable needs of transport. I appreciate, of course, the difficulties that faced the previous Administration. The first stage of that work was the taking over of large arrears of maintenance which had accumulated during the war. That was an enormous task after the damage done by the tanks and other heavy vehicles of the British Forces, the Americans and our other Allies. In that respect, however, a good job was done and the surfaces of most roads are today fairly good.
The second stage was the elimination of black spots, the construction of motor- 698 ways, the strengthening of weak bridges, and the relief of traffic congestion in London and other cities. That task has not been accomplished, but I hope the present Government will tackle the problem straight away. We are allowed to debate these problems but there is not enough imagination employed in the approach to the whole subject. I should like to see more bridges over roads to carry vehicles. There ought not to be difficult steps for children to climb, and subways ought to be built. The whole matter should be tackled from the engineering point of view and not as a series of stop-gap operations.
The London-Manchester road, for instance, is absolutely unbearable. Private cars and vehicles get delayed and motorists try to make up for lost time by cutting out of the line of traffic and overtaking heavy lorries. It is a disgrace to our whole system of living that we should tolerate these roads and bear a loss of life throughout the country that runs into thousands of people every year. These deaths on the road are worse than civilian deaths in war-time. One never knew when a V.2 might come down on our streets in war-time, but there is an even worse state of affairs when it comes to accidents on the roads.
I suggest that when bad drivers have got into trouble and are convicted for bad and negligent driving, they should undergo a driving test. Many thousands of drivers, like myself, have never had an examination for a driving licence. I believe that if all of us went through the test many would fail to pass the present day standards. It would be difficult to test everyone, but where a motorist has been persistently in trouble through bad driving or negligence he or she should undergo a test and, if found not to be up to standard, his licence should be suspended until the test is passed. It is far more important to save lives than to allow an indifferent and dangerous driver the privilege of motoring on our highways.
From a strategic point of view, our roads have to be maintained. In this little congested island with 50 million population struggling to live by exports we must have efficient and safe roads. I congratulate my hon. Friend on his new appointment and I ask him to give an assurance that steps will be taken to put 699 this matter right—not immediately, but to make a start right away—thus giving this Government the distinction of being the Government which improved our roads.
§ 2.31 p.m.
§ Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South-East)
I rise to express the hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will find it possible to accept the Motion. From the appearance of the Chamber and the atmosphere in which the debate has been conducted, he may well find it not beyond his powers to accept the Motion. If he does we may hope to see its terms translated into action.
I join with the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey) in congratulating the hon. Gentleman on his appointment. He has come in when the Transport Act has been passed and will have the task of administering it and, I have no doubt, of dealing with the letters of complaint about to arrive on his table from those who have to pay the Transport Levy. For the sake of hon. Members opposite I hope that there will not be many by-elections while that is going on.
I could take up many of the points made by the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield, but I forbear from doing so except to say that while there are many reasons put forward for new roads they seem to boil down to the simple question of two figures. In 1939, we had 3,100,000 vehicles on the roads and today there are 5,200,000. All the other arguments that have gone on between Members of the Select Committee and those who are not Members of the Select Committee as to whether the roads have deteriorated and conditions worsened may be debated, but if we practically double the number of vehicles on the roads in 15 years and do not build a single new road to cope with them—here I am not ascribing responsibility to anyone in particular—it must follow, remembering the state of the roads in the 1930's, that we have an inadequate road system. That is generally agreed on both sides of the House.
I wish to congratulate the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) on his maiden speech, which was very thoughtful and spoken with authority. Those of us 700 who knew the hon. Member before he was elected, were not surprised to hear him speaking on this matter. The Pedestrians' Association have secured a notable recruit in the hon. Member. He has held high office in that organisation and whenever the voice of the motorist is raised in this House we shall undoubtedly hear the voice of Crosby raised in defence of the pedestrian. I was interested in the hon. Member's reference to the Jersey turnpike from New York to Philadelphia. I had the fortune to travel over it this spring. It is true that they had to put a speed limit on that road. When Father Devine was fined for exceeding the top limit of 65 miles an hour he put a curse on the road and forbade his followers from using it from then on. As it is a toll road it had a bad effect on the revenue. Perhaps that is an argument against tolls.
What impressed me was the ruthless way in which the Americans stopped up the access roads to the turnpike. They had no compunction in blanketing communities along the road. Another thing which impressed me—I doubt whether I shall get the same sympathy from Government supporters here—was the way in which the Americans suppressed advertisements. No advertisements were on that road. In view of the way in which the Government want to thrust advertisements down our throats through television, I do not suppose that I shall have the support of hon. Members in that.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter) on raising this matter and also on the terms of his Motion. I suppose that we shall not hear very much from the Parliamentary Secretary today, despite the forecast of new road schemes we have seen in the newspapers. Knowing the sad lot of Parliamentary Secretaries, I am well aware that the Minister wants to preserve to himself the pleasure of making any announcement and I therefore do not expect that an announcement of a new roads scheme will be forthcoming this afternoon.
I very much regret the absence of any Minister from Scotland. There is a whole flock of them; we could have had at least one on the Government Front Bench. I also regret the absence of the Minister in charge of Welsh Affairs. My hon. Friend the Member for Caernarvon (Mr. G. Roberts) raised the question in 701 regard to Wales and that subject is the principal reason for my speaking now. I know where the Minister in charge of Welsh Affairs is. He is stopping up another hole in the leaky boat of the Government at Brecon, where the Conservative candidate has resigned because he is in disagreement with the policy of the Government on agriculture. That is probably a good enough reason for his not being here, but we very much regret his absence.
I wish to turn to the reason why the Treasury consistently oppose expenditure on the roads. The reason is to be found in the words of Lord Woolton speaking in a ministerial capacity on a Motion in another place referring to road plans when he said, according to the journal "Highways and Bridges":If there should come to this country some degree of unemployment, plans will be ready and work can immediately begin.This is really the basic objection of the Treasury to doing anything about roads now. They live in the halcyon days of the mid-19th century when roads were made by Herculean navvies using picks and shovels. The Government believe that if there is unemployment in the future that is the way to provide employment by making roads again.
This out-of-date mentality still pervades the Treasury and, apparently, they have foisted it on to Lord Woolton. "Highways and Bridges" is a technical journal and it used better words than I could think of in commenting on Lord Woolton's statement. It said:The latter portion of Lord Woolton's statement shows a deplorable relapse into the lunatic economics of the nineteen-twenties…On some jobs it was even specified that no concrete-mixers should be used since hand mixing would employ more labour. The inevitable result was that work was hopelessly uneconomic and incredibly slow…To regard road construction as an outlet for casual unemployed labour is the height of folly and we beg the Government, and Lord Woolton, to get more in touch with realities. New roads will cost money, but the cost will rise to astronomical proportions if hand labour is used. No contractor in his senses would dream of embarking on major works of this kind without equipping himself with suitable machinery…Lord Woolton must surely realisethat in this age of mechanisation the pick and shovel are regarded as very nearly prehistoric in large-scale civil engineering jobs and hand labour as economically impossible.If he does nothing else, will the Parliamentary Secretary kindly cut out my quotation and send it to the Treasury?
702 That is the view of civil engineers and any of us who has had anything to do with road works knows that it is true. Yet this is the very reason restraining the Treasury, in the mid-1950s, from going ahead with construction of road works. I beg the hon. Gentleman to let the Treasury know how roads are constructed in the 1950s and that it is not a matter of waiting for unemployment. If unemployment does come and we start to make roads by pick and shovel methods they will be too costly to build by those methods.
Some of my hon. Friends have asked me particularly to mention Wales. I was disappointed not to find in the Annual Report for Wales and Monmouth, issued on 30th June, any reference to the Severn Bridge. Can the Parliamentary Secretary tell us whether that bridge is still the first priority project in this country for major road schemes? I mean, of course, in the United Kingdom, and I wish to make that clear to my English colleagues.
The Severn Bridge is the keystone to opening up the bottleneck in Wales which was described by my hon. Friend the Member for Caernarvon. The order for its construction was made as long ago as 1947, and, to the best of my recollection, it preceded the economic crisis by six weeks. At its peak, the building of the Severn Bridge will employ 2,500 men. We have been held up through the lack of labour and steel, but I believe that both—certainly steel—are now corning much more easily. As my hon. Friend the Member for Caernarvon said, the economic future of South Wales is linked industrially with the Midlands. Since the end of the war, 450 new firms have established themselves in South Wales.
We need the Government, first of all, to go ahead with the A.38 road from the Midlands, through Gloucester, to Bristol, and to link up South Wales with that road by means of the Severn Bridge. That will release a great deal of the products that need to move into and out of South Wales at the present time. There are a few people in Wales—not very many—who, according to their campaign for a Parliament for Wales, regard it as an iniquity that Welsh water should be exported to English cities.
I wish to say now that we want English exports to come through Welsh ports, 703 and we certainly want English imports to come through them. If I were to go to my dockers in South Wales and say that it is regarded by some as an iniquity that Welsh water should be exported to English cities, they would just blow the whole idea out of the room in a hearty gale of laughter, and that is what it deserves. We are linked very closely on these issues, and everyone in South Wales recognises the close economic affinity between the two parts of the country.
I wish to emphasise another point made by my hon. Friend, which is the need for increased maintenance of Class 3 roads and unclassified farm roads. He made the case very strongly—and it is an accurate case—that in Wales one of the deterrents to getting the maximum food production is the poor communications that lead down to the roads. The hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Kenyon) knows this to be the case in his own hill farms. This is especially true of Wales.
I put to the Parliamentary Secretary the practical proposition that if he wants the maximum food production he should consider whether he can classify some more of the unclassified farm roads—they are not solely, but mainly, farm roads—in rural Wales today, so that the Exchequer would bear some part of the cost of those roads and would give the local authorities an opportunity of putting their share into the expense.
There are two other points I wish to raise. The first is, why was less spent this year than last year on road maintenance in Wales? The figures are contained in the White Paper. There is not much in it, but the amount is less. There has been an actual reduction in the sum spent on the maintenance of highways in the year ending June, 1953, as against June, 1952. I think that is going the wrong way.
Will the Parliamentary Secretary please try to get published—if it is not his responsibility—the report of the committee under the chairmanship of Lord Lloyd, the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Welsh Affairs? This was a committee, of which the Parliamentary Secretary may or may not know, which investigated, among other things, the problem of communications in Wales. Had it been a secret committee, then one would not have expected to know its 704 findings. But the fact is that this committee held meetings in the Guildhall in Swansea, and industrial associations prepared memoranda which they submitted to it.
I ask the hon. Gentleman to get this report published. There cannot be anything particularly secret about Lord Lloyd's recommendations on future communications for Wales. If the reason for its non-publication is that a little piece of grit has got into the machinery, then I ask the hon. Gentleman to do what he can to remove it. Although evidence has been taken by the committee, we have been refused permission to know what recommendations it has made on the subject. We want to know, and I ask the Minister to tell us. That is all I wish to say at the moment, much as I should like to have taken up many of the other points made in the course of this useful debate.
§ 2.46 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. Hugh Molson)
In using his good fortune in the Ballot in order to give the House an opportunity of discussing this very interesting and important matter—the improvement and development of our roads—I think that the hon. Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter) has enabled this House to discharge its especial duty of discussing something which, at the present time, is very topical and which is engaging the attention of a number of representative and responsible bodies throughout the country. I am particularly glad to have this early opportunity—and may I thank hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House for the kind welcome they have given me in my new responsibilities—of indicating the general attitude of the Government in this matter.
I hope that all hon. Members who have raised individual constituency problems will forgive me if I do not deal with them today. I shall be very happy to deal with all these matters in correspondence. But we really have a large national issue to discuss today, and I am sure it will be better if we deal with individual problems in correspondence, or, better still, by any hon. Gentleman who has his own constituency problems coming to see me.
705 The special problems of Wales have been raised both by the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. G. Roberts) and by the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan). It is a coincidence that the White Paper announcing the Government's policy with regard to the development of rural Wales, and with particular reference to roads, is being published this afternoon.
§ Mr. Molson
The hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East asked me about the publication of the Lloyd Report. He suggested that it was just a matter of a little bit of grit which I might be able to remove. I think he overlooked the fact that this matter was raised with my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and Minister for Welsh Affairs on 29th October, when my right hon. and learned Friend gave the reasons why he did not intend to publish the Report of the Lloyd Committee. The chief reason is that my noble Friend is a Member of the Government, and it is not customary to publish reports in which one Member of the Government makes recommendations to his colleagues.
But what, I am sure, hon. Gentlemen opposite, and, indeed, on this side of the House, desire to know is what the Government are prepared to do for Wales, and that is contained in the White Paper that is being published today.
My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South (Sir W. Darling) undertook not to make a speech provided that I said at least a sentence about Scotland. That seemed to be an offer which I ought to accept, both in my own interests and those of the House as a whole.
§ Mr. Molson
Not that the House does not listen with the keenest enjoyment to speeches by my hon. Friend, but because I knew other Members wished to speak and I thought that, out of consideration for them, I ought to accept the offer. I will say, therefore, that the Ministry has very much in mind the urgent needs of Scotland in these matters. In particular, as I indicated in reply to a Question this week, we have very much in mind the need for improving upon the Carlisle-Glasgow road.
§ Mr. Callaghan
The hon. Member went further than that. He said that the White inch Tunnel had also a very great priority. Does he now wish to say that he has put the priority of the Glasgow-Stirling tunnel above that of the White inch Tunnel?
§ Mr. Molson
During this last fortnight I have been more troubled about priorities than about anything else. I would point out that priorities are always relative, that we take into account all the legitimate claims, in each respect, and then take into account the money available. The priority finally emerges as a result of that sum being correctly calculated.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I do put this point very seriously. It really does seem to me that it is the duty of the Ministry to draw up the lists of priorities of schemes and to tell us in what order they consider the economic needs of the United Kingdom will be best met. We all realise we cannot have our own cases met, but there is at least a case for the Ministry to make clear, and to get the House to accept, what they think ought to be done first.
§ Mr. Molson
No, we do not accept the principle that we should announce in advance the priorities which should be observed. The priorities are subject to modification from year to year, and it is only when a programme for a year—or perhaps a longer period of time—is announced that the priorities become apparent to those who make a study of the subject.
I must say a word of appreciation of the maiden speech that we have heard from the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page). It was particularly acceptable to me as so much of what he said is exactly in line with what I am going to say in the course of my remarks. Until the hon. Gentleman for Cardiff, South-East spoke, I did not know that the hon. Member for Crosby was a pillar of the Pedestrians' Association, but I think it extremely desirable that we should have a recruit to this House who is interested in the preservation of the life of pedestrians on the road. Since I have now become Chairman of the Road Safety Committee I feel the better for his help, co-operation and collaboration in this matter.
There is no doubt that the standard of the roads, as a whole, has deteriorated 707 since before the war, and that at the same time there has been a great increase in the traffic upon them. I think that the hon. Member for Edge Hill (Mr. A. J. Irvine) somewhat misunderstood the evidence which was given to the Select Committee by my Department. At that time it was admitted that both Class II and Class III roads had already begun to deteriorate, and since that time we feel that the same now applies to Class I roads and also to trunk roads.
§ Mr. Irvine
In saying that, I hope the hon. Gentleman does not think I have in any way misrepresented the evidence of the Ministry before the Committee? I should be very reluctant to think that that had occurred. I did, in fact, quote a verbatim statement made by the Ministry about the position at the time.
§ Mr. Molson
No, I did not think, for a moment, that the hon. Gentleman had in any way misrepresented. I was at pains to find out what the evidence was that my Department had given to the Committee, as the hon. Gentleman did stress the point, and I gather that was the evidence given.
I am now in a position to say that since the time the evidence was given the deterioration has extended to Class 1 and to trunk roads. Indeed, it would be a remarkable thing if there had not been a deterioration. I do not intend to weary the House with many figures, but these are really so fundamental to understanding the position that I hope the House will forgive me if I do give them. These figures are adjusted in order to take into account the increased costs since before the war. If we take the average expenditure between 1936 and 1939 as 100, we find that in the case of maintenance—and minor improvements, which cannot really be distinguished—in 1948–49 it was down to 60 per cent.:
|1949–50||66 per cent.|
|1950–51||62 per cent.|
|1951–52||70 per cent.|
|1952–53||73 per cent.|
|1953–54||69 per cent.|
§ That is bad enough, but when we come to the major improvements and to new construction the figures are:
|1948–49||21 per cent.|
|1949–50||25 per cent.|
|1950–51||25 per cent.|
|1951–52||17 per cent.|
|1952–53||16 per cent.|
|1953–54||24 per cent.|
§ At the same time that we have been obliged by the war and by the economic aftermath of the war to carry out these drastic economies, there has been a very great increase in the volume of traffic using the roads. The total number of vehicles has increased by 60 per cent., but in the case of buses it is 75 per cent., and in the case of goods vehicles over 2½ tons it is over 300 per cent., so that those particular vehicles which inflict the greatest damage upon the roads are those which have increased in the largest proportion.
§ The increase in the actual amount of traffic is only about 23 per cent., but the traffic of goods vehicles—and they are the ones that do most of the damage—on trunk and Class 1 roads shows an increase of 88 per cent. since 1938, and this increase in the total volume of traffic has continued steeply during the last three years. I concede, therefore, in reply to the speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter), and his Motion, that during the last 15 years the road system has deteriorated and the need for good roads has increased.
§ I now turn to consider the facts stated in the recital of the hon. Gentleman's Motion. I was surprised to read that 70 per cent. of all inland goods transport is now carried by road. This figure was, I think, given by the Federation of British Industries in a memorandum. I understand that it is substantially correct, although it is important to realise that the percentage of ton-mileage is a good deal lower, and is still under 40 per cent. I think it only right to mention that, in order that we should appreciate the very great share which the railways still bear in dealing with long-term and distant traffic.
§ Mr. Molson
Yes. The Motion proceeds to point out that the annual proceeds of taxation of road transport now amount to more than 10 times as much as is being spent on the roads.
§ Mr. Pargiter
The amount spent by the Government on the roads, as distinct from that which is spent by local authorities. That is rather important.
§ Mr. Molson
I quite agree. I beg pardon. I do not know why it is that even in official publications reference is still made to the Road Fund. In fact, by the Finance Act, 1936, the arrangement under which certain heads of taxation were allocated to the maintenance of the roads was brought to an end. This had always been an exception to the general principle by which the proceeds of taxation are received by the Treasury and are then paid out to different Government Departments in accordance with the needs that the Departments are able to establish and that the House of Commons is prepared to approve.
Parliament terminated that exceptional arrangement, and I agree, therefore, with what the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) said, that to refer to the Road Fund is at the present time quite farcical. The Ministry of Transport, in dealing with roads, is now in exactly the same constitutional position as any other Government Department where it asks for money from the Treasury and, when it is agreed, it presents Estimates to the House of Commons. There is no logical connection between the amount of taxation which is raised from transport and the amount of money that is spent upon the roads. This is one of several matters on which I find myself in complete agreement with my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby.
I cannot exactly confirm the estimate of £150 million per annum as being the cost of road accidents. That, I think, is a figure which was originally produced by Professor Jones of Leeds University. The Ministry of Transport is engaged upon a calculation at the present time, and certainly it is not by any means an exaggerated figure. We expect to arrive at a figure just very slightly lower. Certainly, whatever the economic cost may be, I am sure that we should all wish to put first emphasis upon the amount of human suffering and grief which results from these road accidents.
After this recital, to which I take no exception, the Motion then deals in logical sequence, first, with the making of adequate grants to local authorities for road maintenance, secondly for the completion of partially constructed major road projects, thirdly for improving inadequate bridges, and finally reference is made to a comprehensive major road 710 plan. During the current financial year, the total estimate granted to our Department for roads was £5 million on major improvements and £26.2 million on minor improvements and maintenance.
Last year my right hon. Friend gave very careful consideration to the way in which he could best spread the limited money made available to him. He was finally convinced that the inadequacy of size and design of our roads for dealing with a greatly increased volume of traffic was more serious than inadequate maintenance. I am very glad to note that hon. Members on both sides of the House in their speeches today seem to have come to the same conclusion.
The House will remember that in the figures which I quoted at the beginning of my remarks, I pointed out that since the war maintenance has been less reduced than the expenditure upon major improvements and new construction. Last year, therefore, my right hon. Friend diverted £2,250,000 from maintenance to improvements designed to eliminate black spots. In July of this year the Chancellor of the Exchequer made available to my Department an extra £1 million, and a substantial proportion of that, also, was expended upon the same purpose. I am sorry to say, however, that the total has proved to be inadequate for doing all that we should like to do. Consequently, we have been driven back upon a statistical criterion, which means that we must wait for an accident to occur before we take action to remove a black spot. It is a matter of great grief to us that that should be the case.
The Motion urges that priority should be given to completing projects which, in most cases, were started before the war and were then abandoned. The hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Fenner Brockway) gave us an example in that connection. Where capital has already been sunk in road improvements and where, owing to this interruption of the work, we are receiving no return whatsoever upon the capital which has already been sunk, we are naturally most anxious to complete the job, and it is obviously economical to do so. Unfortunately, however, even the completion of those jobs would cost £20 million and, therefore, a careful estimate of priorities has to be made even in dealing with these uncompleted jobs.
§ Mr. Callaghan
That is a rather extraordinary statement. Does the hon. Gentleman mean to say that somewhere in the eyries of Berkeley Square House, on the sixth floor, someone is going to hide away the priorities which have been decided, and that Parliament is not going to be told what they are? If that is so, what is the justification for it?
§ Mr. Molson
That is not what I meant. I meant that the priorities can and do change from time to time. I am going to deal with the matter of longer term programmes later on. Priorities are decided only when a fixed programme is decided, and then they are announced.
There are a number of major road projects of reconstruction which are urgent from many points of view, and we are extremely anxious to undertake them as soon as possible. The first consideration which I should apply—and from all that has been said today I know that the House will agree with me—is in the matter of road safety. It is most distressing to us that, as an hon. Member mentioned, the figures which we gave to the Press yesterday show an increase in the rate of accidents this year over those for this time last year. I should like to utter a word of warning, and to express my agreement with what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby that, in many cases, where one improves a highway in order that the traffic may move more freely and more speedily, one does not necessarily reduce the danger to life by doing so.
The second consideration is that of production. Hon. Members will have read in the Press last Saturday that the Federation of British Industries and the Trades Union Congress—both in agreement—at the National Production Advisory Council on Industry, asked that urgent attention should be given to the improvement of the roads from the point of view of increasing the nation's production. The Chancellor of the Exchequer agreed to a meeting of the Emergency Committee of the National Production Advisory Council on Industry, with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Trans- 712 port in the chair, in order to go into this matter and see what is required to be done.
It is interesting to note that in a recent speech Sir Harry Pilkington, the President of the Federation of British Industries, said that if given a choice industry would prefer an increased expenditure upon the roads to a corresponding reduction in taxation. My right hon. Friend and I recently received a deputation from the Chambers of Commerce on exactly the same subject, so when the hon. Member for Southall chose this subject for debate in this House today he was giving the House an opportunity to discuss a matter which is really uppermost in the minds of responsible and representative bodies.
It is manifestly absurd for us to be calling upon industry and agriculture to increase production and reduce costs if the inadequacy of the transport available to them means that they are unable to dispose of their products or to obtain their raw materials reasonably quickly and cheaply. The whole matter is at present engaging the very close attention of the Government, and its importance is realised not only by the Ministry of Transport, which is considering this matter all the time, but is fully realised by all Departments connected with industry and agriculture. Inadequate bridges, for example, make necessary long detours which waste time and petrol, and they also result in those heavy loads, to which so many hon. Members have referred today, being diverted from the main roads and going on secondary roads which were never designed to carry burdens of that sort.
I now turn back to the sentence in the Motion asking for adequate grants to local authorities for road maintenance. I recognise that, after the extreme economy that has been imposed upon all road authorities during the last 15 years, the time is coming when there will have to be increased expenditure to make up for arrears of maintenance. The old adage about a stitch in time applies to roads as much as it does to everything else, and we have ignored that adage for too long, but we cannot, within the limits of our financial and economic resources, both start a programme of major improvements and embark at the same time on any ambitious scheme for speeding up the maintenance of our existing roads.
713 We must do all we can to increase the amount of maintenance work done. Nevertheless, I hope that from what I have said, and also because of the preference which hon. Members have shown for the work of major improvement upon the roads, that they will agree that the first priority should be given to the improvement rather than to the maintenance of the existing road surfaces.
I should like to say a word about research. One hon. Member, Iwas very glad, referred appreciatively to the work that is being done by the Road Research Laboratory. If we are going to embark upon a new programme of road improvement, and, perhaps, later of road construction, then it is vitally important that we should make certain that we are getting the best possible value for the money.
It is one of the peculiar characteristics of this country—and it applies to roads as much as it does to agriculture—that soil conditions in one place may vary almost completely from those only a short distance away, and if we are going to get the cheapest and most enduring and most satisfactory roads it is extremely important that we should make a very careful study of the soil. A lot has been done in this country in the way of such things as soil stabilisation during the last few years. There are also in some parts of the country extremely good and yet cheap substances for road maintenance. If we are to get the best results out of our programme it is extremely important that we should see that research ascertains for us exactly what is the most suitable road to build in any part of the country.
The hon. Member for Southall refers in the Motion to "a comprehensive major road plan." Such a plan was announced in 1946 by the right hon. Member for East Ham, South (Mr. Barnes). It did not survive the financial crisis of 1947. The cost would be tremendous. The total estimated cost would be at present day prices of the order of £160 million for these new motor roads. That was, of course, only a part of the general programme which at that time the right hon. Gentleman considered necessary in order that the country should have satisfactory roads.
The first year's commitment, including the maintenance and the improvement of existing roads as well as the new road programme, amounted to £80 million. It 714 is important to compare that with the total figure of road expenditure for the current year, which is approximately £33 million.
I think the whole House, which has been urging that we should do something immediately to improve our existing roads, will agree that it is not possible for us to embark in any ambitious way upon that new programme at present. I think that is implicit in the Motion, because the hon. Member puts it last and also subjects it to the reservation that it should be commenced only "as soon as possible." It is anybody's guess when and whether it will be possible to embark on such a scheme. I had an estimate the other day from the Ministry of the cost of such roads, and the cost is unlikely to be less than £200,000 per mile. Thus, without in any way rejecting that as an objective in the future, I am bound to say that in my opinion it will be some time before we can make much headway with this programme.
§ Mr. Pargiter
I fully appreciate the difficulties. What I am concerned about is that there should be a plan, clearly designed in the light of the development plans which planning authorities have prepared. In that way we can see how the major roads will fit in, so that we may get rid of the situation which has existed in the past whereby when a new road was put down a lot of other roads had to cross it.
§ Mr. Molson
I have a great deal of sympathy with that. It was in order to try to deal with it that the hon. Member made two alternative suggestions. The first was that these roads should be financed out of loans. I do not think that is likely to commend itself to a Government of either his party or of mine. When the hon. Member referred, on the other hand, to the desirability of three years' programmes, I entirely agreed with him that something of that sort would be desirable. When they agree to a road scheme being undertaken which will extend over two or more years, the Ministry of Transport as far as possible make a promise that the grant will be available for completing the job. That is, of course, always subject to the right of this House to refuse supply in the following year. That is an important principle from which there is not likely 715 to be any departure. But so long as the expenditure of the country is fairly steady it is possible by administrative action for a Government Department to give a considerable measure of security to a local authority that undertakes a programme of any kind.
We have found it extremely difficult to do that during the last few years when we have been working upon such a very small financial margin. I have no doubt that what the hon. Gentleman said about the difficulty of not knowing exactly where we stand until April has frequently been the case. We recognise the disadvantages of that. We desire to give the local authorities reasonably good notice in advance, and as and when finances become a little more readily available it will be the endeavour of the Ministry of Transport to do all that is required to give the local highway authorities an adequate sense of security for the future.
The hon. Gentleman, I think, went a little further and asked that finances should be provided to enable local authorities to begin now to prepare their plans for quite a considerable period ahead. We are quite prepared to consider that in so far as the finance is available, but I cannot give any undertaking upon that subject. We are fully alive to the importance of being able to prepare a plan and to look a reasonable distance ahead. There is no doubt at all that if we are to be confronted by a shortage of surveyors, engineers and other technical people for carrying out this programme when it is started, then obviously it is a mere matter of administrative prudence to try to encourage local authorities to get on with the work as soon as possible.
I should like to say to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Cardiff, South-East that we do not intend that road work shall be done exclusively by hand labour. We recognise the desirability that machinery should be employed to the fullest possible extent.
§ Mr. Molson
I hope that I have indicated to the House the attitude of the Government to this great problem.
§ Mr. Molson
The position with regard to the Severn Bridge is, I understand, like that of all the other questions, one of priority. It will be considered, together with all the other claims, having special regard to what the Government are prepared to do for South Wales. There will shortly be a debate on the Welsh problem, as the hon. Gentleman knows, and that question will be dealt with in that debate. We are not yet in a position to say exactly what is the priority of the Severn Bridge at the present time.
I welcome this debate, and the Government have no difficulty in accepting the logical and moderate wording of the Motion. I am not in a position to go beyond that at the present time. The hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East, with his pleasant and lambent wit and his extensive knowledge of my senior colleagues, said that he did not think I should be authorised to announce any great programme even if it had been agreed upon. He does know my right hon. Friend, who is much more magnanimous in these matters than most other senior Ministers. My right hon. Friend would have been very glad for me to do so if the Government were yet in a position to make an announcement upon the subject. It is, however, still under discussion, but we have every intention that my right hon. Friend shall make a statement to the House upon the road programme before Christmas in order that the country may know our intentions.
§ Colonel Ralph Clarke (East Grinstead)
My hon. Friend spoke of the influence that sub-soil has upon road foundations and of certain experiments which have been undertaken. I am sure he appreciates that the cost of maintenance is much higher in some counties than others because of the sub-soil. For instance, maintenance costs are higher on a clay sub-soil than on gravel or solid rock. Is that taken into consideration in the making of grants, or are the grants based purely on a road mileage?
§ Mr. Molson
All relevant considerations are taken into account in deciding grants, but I very much doubt whether that particular problem of sub-soil is taken into account.
§ 3.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Cledwyn Hughes (Anglesey)
The Parliamentary Secretary has made an engaging and sympathetic speech, but he has said nothing which leads us to hope that the Government have any positive and constructive plan to deal with the problem that is before the House today. I join with hon. Members in thanking my hon. Friend the Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter) for raising this subject today. In his excellent speech, my hon. Friend tackled the problem objectively and directed our minds to the fact that the state of our roads and the need for their radical improvement is one of our great national problems.
Good road systems are essential for a number of reasons which have been mentioned by hon. Members. There are military and industrial considerations, and there are the needs of the tourist trade and the agricultural industry, but most of all we need a national road policy which will be calculated to lessen the grim and terrifying toll of dead and injured due to road accidents. Road casualties are continuing to increase. Road accidents cost £150 million annually, amounting to 15 per cent. of all the operating costs of road transport and about twice the expenditure on road maintenance and construction. These are startling figures. The British Road Federation have said that "road safety can be purchased"—by adequate expenditure. If this is true, the Government should take the most urgent action to review their policy.
I wish to underline the points which have been raised by my hon. Friends the Members for Caernarvon (Mr. G. Roberts) and Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan). Reference has been made to the Annual White Paper on Government action in Wales, and the Second Memorandum of the Council for Wales deals with the same problem and calls attention to the shocking state of roads in the rural areas of Wales, a state which, I have no doubt, is paralleled in the rural areas of England and Scotland.
A few months ago it was announced that an additional £1 million was to be spent on roads in the Highlands of Scotland. We applaud this, but I want the Minister to note that Scotland compares very favourably with Wales, in that Class III and unclassified roads account 718 for only 60 per cent. of Scottish roads, whereas the corresponding figure for Wales is 78 per cent. In my own constituency, Anglesey, the lack of money makes it impossible for the highway authority to tackle its job effectively.
I should like to quote from the Anglesey Plan for Road Development, which says:Many of our main routes are inadequate. There are serious bottlenecks in many places which can only be cured by major improvements…At present, such schemes are generally not permitted, but during the present year some relaxation of the rule was offered for small major improvements.…Out of several schemes put forward by Anglesey, the Minister allowed only one.This illustrates the serious situation in our rural areas.
I do not think that anyone in the House would question the importance of Class III and unclassified roads to the agricultural industry in particular, and generally as an amenity in the country-side, but how can highway authorities in our rural areas do their job? They just have not got the money to do it. I contend that the present method of apportioning grants for Class III roads is wrong and distinctly unfair to our rural counties.
It is only as recently as 1946–47 that grants of 50 per cent. were given towards the maintenance of Class III roads. They are still almost in the same category as regards standards and conditions as the unclassified roads. The method of grants for Class III roads' maintenance and minor improvements should be revised and given on a mileage basis of £150 per mile. That is the only way to solve this problem. This would result in a small increase on the present total grant for the whole country, and it would certainly insure a much fairer and more beneficial distribution of the total sum.
§ Mr. Callaghan
Does my hon. Friend realise—he probably has not had a chance to look at it—that the White Paper on Rural Wales quite clearly rules out any prospect of giving additional assistance to any classified roads, although there is some prospect of some improvement for unclassified roads?
§ Mr. Hughes
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. I have not had the opportunity of reading the White 719 Paper, but I know that when that part of it comes to be read in Wales there will be widespread disappointment at the Government's failure to tackle that problem.
The position of unclassified roads is even worse. They have been long neglected and are in their old prewar condition because the authorities just have not got the money to spend on them. The traffic on them has doubled in tonnage since 1939. This is largely because of the mechanisation of agriculture. These old unclassified roads now have tractors and other mechanical vehicles churning them up and the authorities cannot afford to give them attention. The carriageways are totally inadequate to carry this mechanised traffic with the result that the grass margins become torn up and the crude drainage system existing on them completely ruined with disastrous results to the road generally.
To effect improvements and to widen the carriageways, the present annual expenditure would have to be doubled in order to effect the improvements even in a period of 25 to 30 years. If this small inadequate programme were carried out, for example, in a rural county like Anglesey it would involve a 6 per cent. increase on the present heavy county rate.
What is to be done about the unclassified roads. If they are allowed to deteriorate at the present rate they will become even more dangerous and in some cases impassable. I suggest that the only way is for the Government to give a grant of £100 a mile towards all unclassified roads. Added to the present road expenditure, this would solve the problem throughout the rural areas of Great Britain and would amount to a sum of not more than £5 million per annum for the whole country.
In the case of Class III and unclassified roads grants per mile seem to be the only way of getting out of the impasse, and I shall be glad if the Minister will give the matter his consideration, because this problem of Class III roads and unclassifiel roads is related closely to the problem of agricultural production and distribution and to the prosperity of our rural areas. It is an urgent problem which the Government must face at an early date.
§ 3.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Ralph Assheton (Blackburn, West)
I should like to add my welcome to those that have been given to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, who has made such an interesting speech. I should also like to congratulate my hon. Friend on the splendid way in which he dealt with Questions the other day when he had to take the place of the Minister and answer at least 50 at short notice. We are glad to see him in his new office, and I hope he will take the interests of the road users very much to heart.
I frequently address this House on the need for economy, and I consider myself a financial purist; the way in which we have treated our road system in the last few years has shown false economy. I am certain that we have made a great mistake, and it looks as if we may continue to make it, because although I was glad to hear my hon. Friend accept this Motion on behalf of the Government, I did not feel that he was as forthcoming as some of us had expected.
Those of us who use the roads and study them are impressed by one or two things. In the first place, we constantly see what we think a waste of money on the roads in making certain very minor improvements. We also see in many cases, and in many counties, most inadequate supervision of the staff. Frequently, we find that the output per man is not high. At the same time, we find no big drive for real development.
The hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Kenyon) spoke at some length about the acute problem in Lancashire. I have no doubt that when the Parliamentary Secretary studies the Lancashire problem, he will decide that it has the greatest priority of all. However, I do not ask my hon. Friend to deal with that point now. We have to think on rather broader lines than we have been doing lately. We shall not solve this problem by small improvements and by dealing with an odd bottleneck here and there. We must have a much bolder plan of development. The Parliamentary Secretary, during his Parliamentary career, has been more of a planner than I, but when it comes to physical things like roads I am as big a planner as anybody. We must have a properly planned road system and we have not had one properly planned since the time of the 721 Romans. We must have a sensible plan because the trade and defence of the country depend on it.
This is not a frivolous, extravagant demand on behalf of people who want to ride about in big motor cars. It is a matter of the trade and industry of this country. I read the other day that it was expected that we should be asked to lend £20 million or £25 million to Ceylon. I shall not go into details of that proposition, but I am certain that many of the millions of pounds that we have spent in other countries in the last century would have been much better spent in developing our roads. It was nice to build a railway system for the Argentinians although they deprived us of the profit of it by appropriating it and paying very little for it. That money would have been better spent in developing our roads. It is not a question of spending money lightly, but of real development in the interests of the country as a whole, in the interests of our trade and in the interests of our industry.
I am not one to back the road against the rail. I was a railway director in the days of private railway enterprise and I think it a pity that the railways were not allowed to take a hand in the development of road transport in the early stages. That was one of the great mistakes made by Parliament. We must not go on making mistakes. We must have a big development plan based on the realisation that it is capital expenditure of great importance, and to ensure that our road system is at least up to the trade and industry which we hope this country will maintain.
§ 3.40 p.m.
§ Mr. F. Beswick (Uxbridge)
This has been an interesting and useful debate and my hon. Friend the Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter) can take great satisfaction from the turn which it has taken. One or two hon. Members have mentioned the restraint and effectiveness with which he made his case and I support those remarks. It is only to be expected, because my hon. Friend is able to make a case from very profound experience. He has had experience as an engineer in making vehicles for use on the road, he is a road user, and as a local authority member of very long standing he has had experience of the administrative side. It 722 is only to be expected, therefore, that he can handle a problem of this kind with restraint and understanding, and, of course, he has had the powerful support of my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies).
It seems to me that the debate adds up to these facts—that we agree that the traffic volume is up, that the number of accidents is up, and that the overall need is much greater while the spending on road construction and road maintenance in real terms is only half of that of the prewar figure, and out of a larger national income. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary is to be congratulated upon the very frank way in which he recognises the present position. We listened to his speech with great pleasure.
If I may also congratulate him upon his promotion to his present office, I should like to add the hope that his next promotion will be to the Treasury, because if he wants to tackle this problem it will have to be tackled from a desk in the Treasury rather than from a desk in the Ministry of Transport. The need that he has expressed is the need as expressed by the Ministry of Transport, but the action will be action as permitted by the Treasury, and that is what worries some of us.
We were also a little worried by the Parliamentary Secretary's reluctance to deal with priorities. He said that he was troubled with priorities. That is precisely the problem that we want to know about. Until we know something about priorities we can have no real assurance that there will be some action. We shall await eagerly the statement which we have been promised. We hope to find in it some mention of priorities. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blackburn, West (Mr. Assheton) said that he liked to think in real terms of real things, and the planning of real things. In this connection we, too, should like to see rather more solid and concrete examples of what the Government propose to do and how and when they propose to tackle these problems.
It would seem to me that the case which has now been made out has been made out on four counts—road safety; the point of view of the efficiency of our national economic system; the necessity of obtaining the fullest value for money spent; and the proper and sensible de- 723 ployment of our national resources and capital investment. As to road safety, I would only add that it seems to me now that in the field of propaganda we have met against the law of diminishing returns and that the most recent figures show a most deplorable position. I am quite sure that when they next meet the Treasury on this subject the Parliamentary Secretary and the Minister will have the moral support of the whole nation behind them if they demand more money for this work.
As to the efficiency of our national economic system, we were very interested to hear that even the Chancellor of the Exchequer is impressed by the argument from that point of view and that meetings are to take place, or are taking place, with leaders of industry to discuss this point. Figures have been given today. The hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey), in particular, gave interesting figures showing the extent to which transport charges enter into the costs of production. In the great wad of material that has come to hon. Members in recent days, one of the most interesting figures that I have noticed is that which records the alleged fact that in a £1,500 house £200 is attributed to transport charges. If that is at all representative then, clearly, we have here a very important factor when we are dealing with national productivity.
My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) said some very wise words about the deployment of our national resources. I agree with him that our social and economic system today is in many ways becoming completely lopsided. We are spending huge sums of money on the development of new physical resources but denying ourselves the benefits which could flow from them because we do not adjust the other relevant patterns to fit the new physical facts and possibilities. My hon. Friend the Member for Southall said that we were building bigger and faster vehicles, but were not permitting ourselves to use the speeds and efficiency for which they are built. I have no specialist knowledge on road transport matters. Whenever possible I like to get up into the air above the roads. It is appalling sometimes to come down to this 20th century farce of the traffic jam.
724 My hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Kenyon) emphasised this. While he was speaking, I thought of a story in which he may be interested. It is said that an aircraft was invented capable of travelling at 25,000 miles an hour. When it was announced by the inventor to his friend, the friend said, "Now we shall be able to go round the globe in one hour." The inventor said, "No, it will be two hours." His friend said, "It is 25,000 miles round the world, your machine will travel at 25,000 miles an hour; therefore, you can get round the earth in an hour." Then the inventor said, "But it will still take an hour to get to the airport." It really is absurd that we should save hours in the air through the modern miracles of jet engines and then squander time, temper and petrol in traffic queues when we get on the ground again.
I am pleased that the Parliamentary Secretary has said that the Government are ready to review the priorities of capital investment. I am not suggesting that air transport priority should come down, but I do suggest that in the order of priorities road construction should move up. We understand from the acceptance of this Motion that the Parliamentary Secretary agrees with that proposition. Still less do I suggest that the priority of rail transport should come down. I was interested to hear what the right hon. Member for Blackburn, West said on that point. He is now confessing, rather too late, that road and rail transport should be developed together. We only wish he had taken that line a few months ago. The fact is that road, rail and air should be developed together as a transport service.
Another very strong point made by a number of hon. and right hon. Members is that so much money has been spent on uncompleted schemes, thus locking up capital, that it is depriving us of advantages which could come from a comparatively small additional amount of money invested. Many instances could be given and I might be forgiven if I mentioned one constituency case. There is a bridge which has been doubled in width, but the extra width cannot be opened to traffic because the approaches have not been widened. It would be madness to allow the full width of the bridge to be used while the approaches remain as bottlenecks.
725 I was grateful to the predecessor of the hon. Gentleman, who came out to my constituency one Saturday afternoon to study the problem. Ultimately, he announced that he would see that work was done on widening the approaches. I am informed, however, that the only work done so far is the painting of a white line down the middle of the bridge. I would be grateful if the Parliamentary Secretary could do something more about that matter.
Reference has been made by a number of hon. Members to the Road Research Laboratory, and I was very pleased to hear the appreciation of it which was expressed by the Parliamentary Secretary. This institution, like many other fine institutions, happens to be situated in my constituency. The Select Committee which went into this problem of expenditure on roads was obviously very impressed with the evidence given by Sir Ben Lockspeiser, Dr. Lee and Dr. Smeed, on behalf of the Laboratory. The Committee recommended that the work should, in fact, be extended.
In that evidence, two examples were given of how newly developed methods could make genuine savings in cost. The Parliamentary Secretary referred to one of them, and the other was a new method of spraying road surfaces. It was found that by this method work which was at present required to be done at intervals of three years need only be done every five, 10, or even 15 years. The work done in the matter of soil stabilisation is probably even more important. It has apparently been found that by mixing soil with cement in certain ways, it is possible to halve the construction cost of roads. In other words, we could do twice the amount of construction with the same amount of money. Here are very important results indeed.
The Select Committee referred to the necessity for ensuring that these results are not only known to the highway authorities, but are understood and used by them. It was suggested that with additional staff, the Laboratory could discuss the possibilities on a personal basis with the engineers responsible for applying them instead of leaving it simply to a circular. I would like to think that the recommendation of the Select Committee in this matter, that an additional amount of money should be 726 given to the Laboratory for this purpose, will be put into effect by the Minister's colleague.
It also seems that we have to do much more research actually on the roads. For example, although decisions are taken today as to whether we should have concrete or surfaces of a flexible construction, as yet there is very little scientific data about the comparative economics of one form of surfacing as against another.
There is a stretch of ground to the east of Bedford which is known as Alconbury Hill, along the length of which the soil is of an unusually even character. A new road was started pre-war along this surface in order to straighten out the bends of the old road. Hundreds of thousands of pounds have been spent on this project, but that expenditure is completely sterilised while the work remains uncompleted. It has been agreed that the Laboratory could co-operate in the making of this road and that different sectors of the road could be laid with different surfaces.
As the subsoil is the same, the comparative costs would be acceptable as evidence of the efficiency of the different materials. This would be a most valuable piece of research, and it would also mean, of course, the construction of part of a new road. I hope that the Minister's words in accepting this Motion mean that a piece of research of that kind will now be allowed to go ahead.
Mention has been made of the necessity for new roads, and there is an indication that in the future we shall make a start on some new auto roads. I wonder whether, in the statement which is to be made by the Minister, we could have a firm promise of at least one new road in the immediate programme. I think this is essential. We need it as a sort of pilot model, or as an extended full-scale experiment.
Some doubts have been expressed about these motor roads. Reference was made to the fact that in the United States it had been found necessary to impose a speed limit on such roads, but that, of course, is no proof of what the behaviour would be on similar roads in this country. After all, the Americans found at one time that it was necessary to impose prohibition, but no one suggested that we should follow their example. It seems 727 to me that with one new road we could find out much more about the behaviour of the motorist, and the economics of the whole business before embarking on a major programme of new auto roads.
There is a further point regarding the Road Research Laboratory. It is now doing a good deal of research in conjunction with industrial firms. It receives payment from those industrial firms for the work done but, under the present economies, any receipts which it gets as a result of specific pieces of work done for outside firms is deducted from its annual grant. It is thus not allowed to have the additional staff necessary to enable it to undertake these researches for industry, and, at the same time, carry out the remainder of its research programme. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary, in his new mood, will be able to see that that wrong is righted.
We, on this side of the House, hope that the acceptance of this Motion by the Parliamentary Secretary means that the policy of "make do and partially mend" is now over, that we shall have a revision of priorities, and that expenditure on roads will now be given its proper place in our national order of priorities. I hope it will mean that we shall see the end of the foolish economies that have been practised recently, that we shall get a little more generous spending, and that it will also be wise spending. Wise spending will mean, among other things, the encouragement and expansion of the Road Research Laboratory and the increasing acceptance of its recommendations.
I assure the Parliamentary Secretary that the pleasureable time he has had today is unlikely to be repeated in the future. There are many more controversial matters which he will have to face, and among them will be a very controversial discussion indeed in the event of the statement which we are promised not fulfilling the hopes that he has raised this afternoon.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
That this House, recognising that the long overdue modernisation of our roads system, which now carries over 70 per cent. of all inland goods transport, is essential to ensure maximum industrial and agricultural productivity; that the annual proceeds of taxation
of road transport now exceed by over 10 times the present total annual expenditure of the Government on such roads; and that the economic loss alone from road accidents is now estimated at £150 million per annum, is of the opinion that Her Majesty's Government should give consideration to the need to make available adequate grants to local authorities for the purpose of rapidly overtaking arrears of road maintenance, to complete partially constructed major road projects and to improve inadequate bridges on important routes, and to prepare a comprehensive major road plan to be commenced as soon as possible thereafter having regard to the development plans now completed by local planning authorities.